Home > 225 Years Ago: April - June 1778

225 Years Ago: April - June 1778

 

On 1st April, 1778 Captain James Cook in the Resolution and Charles Clerke in the Discovery had just arrived at Nootka Sound on the West coast of America.

"As soon as the Ships were securely Moored, other business was taken in ha[n]d", wrote Cook, "the observatorys and Instruments for making observations were set up on a elevated rock on one side of the Cove close to the Resolution". According to William Bayly, astronomer on the Discovery, it was "a small rock that was surrounded by the sea at high water". "A party of men with an officer was sent ashore to cut wood and clear a place and make conveniences for watering" continued Cook "and the Forge was set up to make conveniences for watering and the Forge was set up to make the iron work wanting about the foremast, for bisides one of the bibs being defective the larboard Trestle-tree and one of the cross-trees was sprung."

They were visited every day. On the 4th, "in the evening", wrote James Burney, First Lieutenant on the Discovery, "several of the larger Canoes saluted us, by making a Circuit round the ships and giving 3 Halloos at their departure. they paddle in most excellent time, the foremost man every 3d or 4th Stroke making flourishes with his paddle. the halloo is a single note in which they all join, swelling it out in the middle and letting the Sound die away."

The next day Thomas Edgar, Master, on the Discovery, recorded "About 4 this afternoon one of the Resolutions 4 Pounders, shotted with Grape Shot went off by accident occasion'd by a spark from the Armourers Forge, but happily did no mischief tho many people were working before it in the Woods."

On 6th James King, second lieutenant on the Resolution, noted "the head of the Mast was found Gall'd, which made it Necessary to fix a piece on to fill up the Cap, but when they began to cut away the head for that purpose, they found both the Cheeks so rotten, that there was no possibility of repairing them but by fixing on new ones, & that could not be done without gettg the Mast out… it however was considerd as a lucky cxircumstance that this should happen here, where such proper wood is to be got, for in this Cove is a considerable quantity of drift wood which is sufficiently large & well Season'd for our purpose." The next day "it came to blow in squalls, attended with rain; on the 8 a tent was spread over the Carpenters for them to work under… As a good many of our lower shrouds were old & found very bad, We began fixing a new set of Main ones from an 8 Inch Hawser, & took the best of the Main & fore shrouds for rigging forward."

On the same day David Samwell, surgeon's first mate on the Resolution, noted "2 or 3 men employed in brewing small Beer which is now served to the Ship's Company instead of Brandy… the Indians trading about the Ship as usual."

Repairing the Ships

A few days later on 13th Cook "went into the woods with a party of men and cut down a tree for a Mizen Mast and the next morning it was got to the place where the Carpenters were at work upon the Fore-mast." Two days later King commented "Many of the Natives were alongside who regarded this piece of duty with an attention & astonishment that is far from common with them… I have observd half a dozen canoes close together, & not heard a single word spoken by any for an hour or more, This silent conduct of theirs is apt to strike us the more, as being so very difft from the behaviour of the Islanders we have visit'', whose perpetual din is the most tiresome & vexatious circumstance of our intercourse with them."

"On the Morning of the 15th", wrote Cook the Foremast being finished got it along side and set the Carpenters to work to make a new Mizen Mast", but the next day when it "was more than half done… they descovered that the Stick they were making [it] of was sprung or wounded, supposed to have been done when it was cut down; so that their labour was lost and we had a nother tree to get out of the wood which employed all hands half a day."

The 19th was "a fine day, the first since the 7th," noted King. "Got the Top & TopGallt masts on end, lower topsail yards across, rattled the Shrouds & set the rigging up." Cook decided that "having now got the most of our heavy work out of hand, I set out early the next morning with boats to take a view of the Sound. I first went to the West point where I found a large Indian Village" now known as Yuquot. "From this place I proceeded up the West side of the Sound" and then "crossed over to the other side of the Sound… I now found what I had before conjectured, that the land under which the ships laid was an island", now called Bligh Island. "The day being now far spent, I proceeded for the Ships".

James Trevenen, midshipman on the Resolution, "with several other of our Midshipmen attended Captain Cook in this expedition, in which we rowed him not less than 30 miles during the day. We were fond of such excursions, altho' the labour of them was very great, as, not only this kind of duty, was more agreeable than the humdrum routine on board the Ships, but as it gave us an opportunity of viewing the different people & countries, and as another very principal consideration we were sure of having plenty to eat & drink, which was not always the case on board the Ship on our usual allowance. Capt. Cooke also on these occasions, would sometimes relax from his almost constant severity of disposition, condescend now and then, to converse familiarly with us. But it was only for the time, as soon as we entered the ships, he became again the despot." The next day, wrote King, "Got the Mizen mast in & rigg'd it got the Topmast on end; the Carpenters making a Foretopmast in the room of the one carry'd away." On 22nd Cook "Having a few Goats and two or three sheep left I went in a boat accompaned by Captain Clerke in a nother, to the Village… During the time I was at this village Mr Webber who was with me, made drawings of every thing that was curious both within and without doors".

Leaving Nootka Sound

On 23rd Cook "bent the Sails, tooke down the Observatorys, got them and the Instruments on board. The 24th and 25th were spent in clearing and puting the Ship in a condition for sea; getting on board some small spars for different uses and some pieces of timber to saw into boards for the use of the Ship."

According to King, "Captain Cook has honour'd this place with the Name of King Georges Sound, but it is call'd by the Natives Nook'ka." According to Samwell they had "brewed small Beer enough to last the Ship's Company for two or three months, we are now ready for Sea".

 

A VIEW of the  HABITATIONS in NOOTKA SOUND
A VIEW of the HABITATIONS in NOOTKA SOUND
by John Webber

"Groups of people clad in skins standing on beach, two boats at extreme right, one at centre left, flat-roofed houses in the background, the right one with a trunk on the roof. Before and around the houses are racks for drying fish. It is possible that the houses depicted belong to the village of Yuquot " wrote Rudiger Joppien and Bernard Smith in their book, The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776 – 1780, Yale University Press, 1988.

Clerke "began serving the Ships Beef, Pork and flower again, our corn'd Pork being out." The next day, the 26th Cook "cast off the Moorings and with our boats towed the Ships out of the Cove".

According to George Gilbert, AB on the Resolution and son of Joseph Gilbert, master of the same ship on the previous voyage, "Being now as compleatly refitted as out stores and the Country would admit of, after a stay of five weeks we sailed from hence on the 27th of April 1778… We had no sooner got out of the sound but the same evening a very hard gale came directly off the land, attended with the most severe squalles we had yet experienced, which drove us quite off the coast. The ship very unfortunately too at this time sprung a leak in her starboard buttock acasioned by the violence of the gale… The fish and spirit rooms were intirely filled with water, which rendered our situation rather alarming, as knowing the ship was much decayed in her after parts. The people were now put to two watches and kept constantly employed at the hand pumps and bailing with buckets, yet! could scarce keep the leak under. In this disagreeable situation we remained for two days after which the gale abated". According to Falconer's Marine Dictionary of 1780 the buttock is "the convexity of the ship behind, under the stern".

View of  Mount Edgcumbe
View of Mount Edgcumbe

John Ledyard, corporal of marines on the Resolution, wrote "We continued our course, after this the coast trending about N.W. untill the 10th of May… without any particular occurrence." Along the way Cook passed a "Mountain I called Mount Edgcombe and the point of land that shoots out from it Cape Edgcombe", possibly after the mount overlooking Plymouth Sound and Earl George Edgcumbe commander in chief, Plymouth, 1773. When the "NE Wind left us and was succeeded by light breezes" named the land Cape Fairweather.

View  of Kaye's Island
View of Kaye's Island

On 4th, Samwell saw "the high Mountain called by Bering Mount St Elias, it is the highest Mountain we have seen on the Coast and is covered with Snow". But by 10th the coast was "trending to the Southward & Westward according to Muller's Chart of Bering's Discoveries, which reduces our Hopes of finding a Northwest passage to a low ebb. To Day Captn Cook accompanied by the Surgeon went ashore on an Island off which Bering came to anchor, he mentions it as lying not far from Mount St Elias & we found its situation agree pretty well with his Acct. Captn Cook went up the Hill above the Beach and left a Bottle there containing a paper on which was wrote an acct of our two Ships touching here &c." Vitus Bering, a Dane, had joined led the Russian navy and led an expedition that arrived in this area in 1741. An account of the voyage was produced by Gerhard Friedrich Müller, with an English translation by Thomas Jeffreys appearing in 1761. William Anderson was the surgeon on the Resolution.

According to Cook he also left "two Silver penny pieces (date 1772) which with many others were furnished me by the Revd Dr Kaye. And as a mark of my esteem and regard for that Gentleman I named the island after him. Keyes Island". Richard Kaye, FRS was rector of Kirby, chaplain to the king and a trustee of the British Museum. The island is now called Kayak Island.

View of the Land in PRINCE WILLIAM'S Sound
View of the Land in PRINCE WILLIAM'S Sound

"On the 12th at nine in the morning", wrote Ledyard, "we entered an inlet… at six in the evening perceiving bad weather approaching… both ships anchored… The pinnace of the Resolution with the first lieutenant, some other gentlemen and myself went to the opposite shore to shoot some wild fowl." The first lieutenant was John Gore. The inlet was named Sandwich Sound by Cook, after the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, but in the published version of his journal the name appeared as Prince William's Sound, after George III's third son, Duke of Clarence, later William IV. The ships had anchored off Cape Hinchinbrook, named after the country seat of the Earl of Sandwich.

Some local inhabitants appeared and came aboard the ships. Clerke gave them a "Glass Bowl, with which they seem'd much delighted, and toss'd me, in spight of all my motions to the contrary, one of their Frocks, which was made of Water fowl Skins, and exceedingly well calculated, to keep out both Wet & Cold; then, both Boats put off and made for the Shore, paddling & singing with all the Jollity imaginable. We either found these good folks on of their Jubilee Days, or they are a very happy Race".

They sailed on until Cook found "a fine bay or rather harbour" which he later called a "very snug place" and named Snug Corner Bay. Samwell on 14th wrote "we secured the Ship with the small Anchor; in carrying this out in the Launch one of the Sailors was so unfortunate as to get his Leg entangled in the Buoy rope which carried him down with the Anchor, however he disengaged himself when he got to the bottom & came up again & saved his Life tho' he had his Leg broke in a very dangerous Manner."

"We heeled the ship to port" wrote Gilbert, "to examine the leak on the starboard buttock… it being close below the wale and occasioned by some of the seems being very open and the oakum quite rotten and great part of it got out. In two days we repaired this defect being obliged to put two and half inch rope along the seams which were too wide for caulking."

On 18th King noted "two boats, one with Mr Gore & the other with the Master, were sent away, the first to explore the Inlet to the Noward: the other to the N end of the Island near us to make observations on the tides." William Bligh was master on the Resolution. "They returned by Dusk, Mr Gore had proceeded up the Inlet & perceivd that it took a direction to the NE, & he thought that it bid fair for opening a communication to some other Sea; but the mate that was with him form'd a very contrary opinion… the Captn judg'd it the Wisest way to lose no more time, being certain that if we were amongst Islands, we shoud soon come to more Passages". Henry Roberts was the master's mate referred to here. Cook had sent him and others "to sketch out the parts they examined".

 

A man of Prince  William's Sound
A man of Prince William's Sound
by John Webber
A woman of  Prince William's Sound
A woman of Prince William's Sound
by John Webber

 

"The Men had Mittins made of the skins of bear paws, and high crowned conical straw caps… But I saw not a woman with a head dress of any kind, they had all long black hair a part of which was tied up in a bunch over the forehead. The men had beards though not large… and the women in some measure endeavoured to imitate them by tattowing or staining the chin" wrote Cook.

Cook Inlet

"Having got clear of Sandwich Sound", wrote Samwell, "we stood along the Coast to the Southward & Westward from the 20th to the 25th of May, when we discovered another Opening… for which we stood… This Opening in the Land appears promising and as we continued our Course to the Northward and westward we find the Passage still open". On 28th Cook "observing the Ship to drive to the Southward, in order to stop her droped a Kedge anchor with an 8 Inch hawser bent to it, but in bringing the Ship up the hawser parted near the inner end and we lost both it and the anchor." Samwell "found by our Lines to the great Disappointment of our Hopes that the Tide of Ebb set to the Southward, which was strong proof that the Place we were in is only a River. However Captn Cook not being willing to trust to this Circumstance alone proceeded on, coming to an anchor every ebb tide & weighing with the flood." Two days later "Tho' we have seen several Smokes on the Shore since we came into this River (for such we now take it to be) yet we saw none of the Natives till to day". The next day "we found that we had got pretty near as high up thus this River as it seemed we could get, at least we saw that it divided into two narrow arms… Captn Cook sent the Master in the large Cutter abt 2 o'Clock accompanied by the Discovery's Boat to examine that Branch to the northward."

The next day, 1st June, "about two o'Clock this Morning the Boats… returned, and gave such an account of it that Captn Cook gave up all thoughts of proceeding any further". According to Bayly they "hoisted English colours on a pole & took possession by turning a turf &c – left a bottle with a paper in it whereon was wrote the Ships names, & that of the Capt & the time of our being here as is usual on these occasions & each drank a bumper of Porter to his Majesties health."

The next day Cook "wieghed with the first of the Ebb and with a gentle breeze at South plyed down the River, in the doing of which, by the inattention and neglect of the Man at the lead, the Ship struck and stuck fast on a bank that lies nearly in the Middle of the River… At the flood tide made the Ship floated off without receiving the least damage". According to Samwell "From this day to Saturday the 6th of June we have been working with the Tides down the River having contrary Winds all that time." The river was not named by Cook, but in the published version of his journals it appeared as Cook's River and was renamed by Vancouver in 1794 to Cook Inlet.

On 6th Samwell wrote "We got clear of this River having been disappointed a second time in our Hopes of finding a Passage through the Continent of America, so that we now begin to think that our only chance will be through Bering's Straits… We stood to the Southward & Westward for the most part (but varying our Course according to the Direction of the Coast which we had all along in view) without any remarkable occurrence till Friday, the 19th".

That day, wrote Heinrich Zimmerman from Holland, "two of the natives clad in sealskin from one of the nearby islands came paddling rapidly towards us and approached our ship, the Discovery. They held themselves by ropes which we threw to them, doffed their caps three times, and as we could understand nothing of their language and they likewise knew nothing of ours… they gave us a small square box and went their way. We opened the box and found therein a small piece of paper on which were written five lines in Greek letters. We could understand nothing of it but recognized the dates 1776 and 1778 and concluded from these circumstances that Russians had been wrecked on this island. Captain Clerke signaled to Captain Cook and joined him on our ship. The latter, however, would not stop, much less investigate the matter".

According to Samwell the signal was made "by firing three Guns and hoisting an Ensign at the maintop gallant mast head" and the note was "in the Russian Language".

On 21st "during the Course of the Day we caught abt 130 fine Halibut each upon an Average weighing 40 Pounds… While we were busy fishing a small Canoe came off the Shore with one Man in her who had a green breeches on, he shewed no degree of Timidity in coming alongside where he sold us some Spears other things he had with him for beads & nails… when he went away he took his Hat off & made a low Bow which we returned, not being willing to shew any disrespect to so polite a Gentleman."

View  of the Coast of AMERICA
View of the Coast of AMERICA

"To the North Westward of us there are three remarkable high Mountains, one of which is a Volcano from which smoke issues continually… From June 21st to Friday the 26th Standing along the Coast having for the most part light Winds & foggy Weather… at 3 o'Clock we heard a Noise which we supposed to be breakers on which we were much alarmed, the Weather being so thick that we could hardly see the Ship's Length ahead; we immediately tried Soundings found ground at 22 fathoms which convinced us that we were very near the Land and made Captn Cook" resolve to come immediately to an anchor, and we hailed the Discovery which was close to us to do the same… About ½ after five it clearing up we saw with Terror and Surprize the imminent Danger we had so narrowly escaped, we found ourselves in a Bay at the distance of about a Mile from the Shore, off the middle of which we saw two Rocks which we had passed so near in the Fog." Cook commented, "There were several breakers about them and yet Providence had conducted us through between these rocks where I should not have ventured in a clear day", and Clerke wrote "very nice pilotage, considering our perfect Ignorance of our situation". According to Samwell "we called this place where we anchored Providence Bay… Capt. Cook sent the Pinnace ashore for some sallad & Scurvy Grass." They were off Sedanka Island off the larger Unalaska Island.

English Bay, Unalaska

The next day, the 27th, wrote Cook "the fog partly despersed. At 7 AM wieghed and steered to the North… the wind faild and obliged us to Anchor." They sailed on and anchored in a bay for a few days on 28th. According to Samwell the next day "We hoisted out our launch sent her ashore to fill the empty Water Casks both Ships completed their water". On 30th "Many Canoes trading about the Ship… We find many Notes written in the Russian Language among these People dated in the Year 1776". The weather was, wrote Samwell "moderate & hazy", 225 years ago.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 22, volume 26, number 2 (2003).

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