A distinct group on Cook’s ships were the "experimental gentlemen"1, the name given by the seamen to the supernumerary scientists, astronomers, andpossibly the artists too, who went on the voyages. Cook sometimes referred to them as "my philosophers", but at other times he was not so complimentary. "Curse the scientists and all science into the bargain!", he railed on one occasion.2 Along with their assistants and servants, the "experimental gentlemen" were a diverse group. They were no part of the established naval order and, for the most part, were unused to shipboard life and naval discipline. They presented Cook with problems in personal relations and control, not encountered in his previous experience and remote from the experience of the majority of naval captains of his, or any other era. That he could maintain good relations with men so various as Banks, Solander, Green, Wales, the two Forsters and the other supernumeraries on his ships, as well as direct and control his crews, is just one aspect of Cook’s genius. The part the "experimental gentlemen" played on the first two voyages forms a considerable portion of Cook historiography. How they reacted to naval discipline and organization has received little mention. The logs and journals of seamen do not lend themselves to the portrayal of personal relationships. It was only when the Forsters, father and son, appeared on the scene, that new insights into captain-crew and captain-supernumeraries’ relationships were more perceptively revealed.
Relationships on the First Voyage
Howard T. Fry has shown how a power struggle broke out in 1768 between the Royal Society and the Royal Navy for the overall control of the scientific and exploratory voyage then being planned; how the civilian, Alexander Dalrymple, turned down the offer of a divided command and refused to sail on the enterprise unless he was given "the free command".3 In the end, as it turned out, Cook was appointed to command the Endeavour, and civilians who went on the voyages with him, passed unmistakably under naval control. On the first voyage, the relations between Cook the commoner, and that "gentleman of large fortune", Mr Joseph Banks, must have been of a special kind. Unfortunately, the historical record contains little as to what they were like. Banks, according to Beaglehole, "simply, we may say, walked on board the Endeavour, elbowed her officers out of the way and was made welcome."4 David Mackay has suggested that, "Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the "effortlessly superior" way in which Banks foisted himself on the Endeavour".5 One searches Banks’ journal in vain, for comment on Cook as a captain and/or commander of men. Cook’s logs and journals are similarly barren of comment about Banks as a person. We know that Banks commandeered Cook’s berth and that he and Solander shared the great cabin of the Endeavour with Cook. Shortly before they sighted the New Zealand coast, Banks wrote:
Now do I wish that our freinds in England could by the assistance of some magical spying glass take a peep at our situation: Dr Solander setts at the Cabbin table describing, myself at my Bureau Journalizing, between us hangs a large bunch of sea weed, upon the table lays the wood and barnacles; they would see that notwithstanding our different occupations our lips move very often, and without being conjurers might guess that we were talking about what we should see upon the land which there is now no doubt we shall see very soon.6
What place Cook occupied in his own great cabin, Banks omits to mention. He was writing with his aristocratic "freinds"(sic) in mind, in an age when "the lower orders"(which included Cook, the son of a farm labourer), were of interest to the ruling élite of England, only as background servants and providers. We know that Cook and Banks learned a great deal from each other, using each other’s journals to supplement their own. We know that Cook treated Banks and Solander with consideration and respect, providing facilities for scientific investigation whenever possible, although Banks may not have always agreed that this was so. Cook was required to balance the needs of navigation, exploration and scientific research. Banks had only the latter as his major preoccupation. We know that Banks wanted to go ashore on the south coast of the South Island of New Zealand, but Cook declined "to harbour".
Writing later to the naturalist, Robert Brown, who went with Flinders, Banks pontificated:
Your commander deserves, in my opinion, great credit for the pains he must have taken to give you a variety of opportunities of landing and botanizing. Had Cook paid the same attention to the Naturalists, we should have done more at the time... .8
As this remark was made as late as 1803, more than thirty years after the
voyage, some of Cook’s decisions may have rankled with Banks. On the whole, however, what differences there were, between the two men, appear to have been minor. The journals of both, give the impression, nowhere explicitly stated, but evident throughout, of ready co-operation in the aims and activities of both parties, the above incident, perhaps excepted. There are two letters that Cook wrote to Banks that help to illustrate the relationship that existed between the two men. The first, undated, but written shortly after Cook was promoted to post-captain in 1771; the second, shortly after the start of the second voyage:
‘Wills’ Coffee House
Your very obliging letter was the first messenger that conveyed to me Lord Sandwich’s intention, Promotion unsolicited to a man in my situation in life, must convey a satisfaction to the mind that is better conceived than described... The reputation that I may have acquired on this account by which I shall receive promotion, call to mind the very great assistance I received therein from you, which will ever be remembered with the most grateful acknowledgements by
Your most obliged humble servant,
[signed] Jams Cook9
‘Wills’ Coffee House
Resolution Cape of Good Hope
18th Novr 1772
Some Cross circumstances which happened at the latter part of the equipment of the Resolution created, I have reason to think, a coolness betwixt you and I, but I can by no means think it was sufficient to me to break off all corrispondence with a Man I am under m[a]ny obligations too
* * * * * * * * *
these hints may be of use to you in providg for your intinded expeditation, in which I wish you all the Success you can wish your self and am with great esteem and respect
Your most Obliged Humble Servt
[signed] Jams Cook
Joseph Banks Esqr 10
Resolution Cape of Good Hope
18th Novr 1772
The first of these letters shows Cook acknowledging past patronage that he had received from Banks. The second shows him carefully mending any fences that may have been broken as a result of the state of affairs surrounding the alterations to the
and her return to her near original condition prior to the commencement of the second voyage. The "Cross circumstances" were, it is generally agreed, between Banks and the Admiralty, not between Banks and Cook. How relations would have developed, had Banks accompanied Cook on the second voyage, is a matter for conjecture. Midshipman John Elliott, writing well after the event, thought:
For a more proud, haught[y] man could not well be, and all his plans seemed directed to shew his own greatness which would have accorded very Ill, with the discipline of a Man of War, and been the means of causing many quarrels in all parts of the Ship.11
The historian, James A. Williamson has opined:
it was fortunate that Banks did not go, for a quarrel must have ensued. He had come to regard the shipping as transport for his expeditions of Naturalists and Artists while Cook’s main object was geographical discovery.12
Determining the effects of Banks’ decision to opt out of sailing on the second voyage, must remain one of those "pregnant trifles of history", looking for which, will continue to be, "an attractive game, very suitable for academic circles in the winter season."
Relationships on the Second Voyage
The relationships that the Forsters, father and son, had with Cook and the officers of the Resolution constitute a four year saga, even longer, if the dispute over the publication of the official account of the second voyage, is included. Of Yorkshire-Scottish-Polish extraction, Johann Reinhold Forster is portrayed by Beaglehole as, "one of the Admiralty’s vast mistakes... Dogmatic, humourless, suspicious, pretentious, rheumatic...a problem from any angle."14 From this derogation, Michael Hoare has rescued in part, his "tactless philosopher", and has done much to restore him "to his rightful place in the science of Europe and the Pacific".15 Hoare has shown how the elder Forster’s relations with Cook were, "now excellent, now poor according to the mood of the moment, but never lacking in the respect for each other’s very different attainments."16 Hoare makes too, the valid point that whereas the astronomers, Wales and Bayly, on the Resolution and Adventure respectively, had their very specific instructions,17 the Forsters had none. They made their own scientific agenda. Hence problems arose partly from the fact that there were no instructional or contractual documents to which either side could appeal.18 Two quotations may suffice here, to illustrate something of the complexity of the relationships that existed between Cook and the Forsters:
Sept ye 14th X  then the Captain began to reflect upon my conduct; he arrogated himself an Authority, which he had not, & I supported my Independency of him, with a Spirit which becomes a Man of honour; the Dispute went however too far, & though I had once desired to drop the affair as insignificant, Capt Cook however went on, having been exasperated by some false Insinuations from his first Servant who is Stewart to our Mess; & so some hot & unguarded Expressions came out on both sides & he sent me by Force out of his Cabin, the Use of which he had originally agreed upon, I should have, in consideration of bearing so great a Share in the Mess, & because he could not procure me the Enlargement of my Cabin, which he had promised to me. In General these Captain’s Servants had caused Disagreements between the Captain & several Officers, & especially did they by false reports of Answers & Messages cause several Disturbances & Petty-Officers had been reprimanded for the same reasons.19
Hoare adds a footnote to Forster’s account:
Forster was never one to see himself as the focal point or cause of controversy; there always had to be a conspirital skeleton lurking in a cupboard and intent on his misfortune. Perhaps here there was, but the antics and figure Forster was cutting were surely ripe for satire, pricking and stimulating. There were in both ships if we take only Bayly as a witness, young bloods and blades enough to make sure their Prussian ‘experimental gentleman’ was provoked enough to be entertaining! Evidence would seem to support that this hereafter became a studied pastime for some...20
The sequel to the above dispute was, Forster alleged:
Sept ye 17th X Capt Furneaux brought me word Capt Cook was sorry for having acted with such violence against me, & by my Son desired me to come to an Accommodation, for I had insisted upon a Satisfaction: I desired to be reintroduced by Capt Cook into his Cabin, & then we would decide the Affair. He came next morning to my Cabin, & desired me to come into the great Cabin, where after several Discourses, we both yielded without giving any thing up of honour, & then shook hands; & having found, that the insinuations of the Capts Servants had the day before exasperated Capt Cooks mind against me, it was settled, this should never more happen.21
Cook does not comment on these encounters with Forster Senior, so there is only a one-sided account of the altercation. As Michael Hoare adds, "The confrontation tells us much about the stubborn forceful character of both parties."
It also gives some insight into that ticklish thing, which was Forster’s "honour", and into some of the problems involved in eighteenth century naval channels of communications at sea. The conflict occurred outside New Zealand waters so that it was no part of Cook’s and the Forsters’ New Zealand experiences. When New Zealand landfalls were made, the biologists were so busy collecting specimens and recording their discoveries, that there was no time for acrimony. Cook provided ample opportunity for scientific research ashore. The only sour note that emerges from Johann Reinhold’s journal while the
was in New Zealand waters, was his complaint while at Dusky Sound, about the lack of light in his cabin by day, because the ship was moored so close inshore among the trees, which, together with the fog and rain, obliged him to light a candle when he wanted to write. "None of the other cabins on the same deck was subject to this inconvenience", he wrote. He expressed his dissatisfaction with his cabin by averring, "my and my Sons accommodation were the worst in the whole Ship, under all circumstances, in hot and cold climates, in dry & moist weather, at Anchor & at Sea."
The previous month (March 1773), while the Resolution was still on the first ice-edge cruise, Johann Reinhold had described how, as a result of having to prepare a better and warmer berth for two ewes and a ram which were being taken to New Zealand:
no more convenient place could be devised than the space between my and the Masters Cabin. I was now beset with cattle & stench on both Sides, having no other but a thin deal partition full of chinks between me & them. The room offered me by Capt Cook, & which the Masters obstinacy deprived me of, was now given to very peaceably bleating creatures, who on a stage raised up as high as my bed, shit and pissed on one side, while 5 goats did the same afore on the other side. My poor Cabin was often penetrated by the wet, & all the many chinks in it admitted the air & the cold from all sides freely; so that my Situation became every day more unfavourable, at the increasing cold weather.24
Accommodation for the Supernumeraries
Life at sea was not made altogether-easy, for those world-circling, supernumerary scientists, the Forsters. Compare the standard of accommodation offered to them with that which Banks so readily assumed as of right, for himself and Dr Solander on the Endeavour. Compare too, the furnishings that had been considered for the "Great Cabbin" that Banks was to have occupied on the Resolution on the second voyage, but which came to nought. They had included, "Green Base [baize] floor Cloth, "Mr Buzzagio’s Stove" and Brass Locks and Hinges to the Doors"25
There is a letter from Banks to the naturalist Archibald Menzies who sailed with Vancouver in the Discovery in 1791. In it, Banks wrote, "How Captain Vancouver will behave to you is more than I can guess, unless I was to judge by his conduct towards me, -which was not such as I am used to receive from persons in his station."26 (Emphasis added.) It is so likely that Cook was one of the naval captains that Banks had in mind when he wrote these words, that it can be concluded that Cook’s conduct towards Banks was, such as the imperious President of the Royal Society was, "used to receive". Banks’ use of this phrase, and the term, "persons in his station", implies a great deal about social gradations in eighteenth-century England and the respect that the ruling classes thought was due to them. As Richard Church has explained:
The word ‘aristocrat’ is also becoming a period piece. A century ago it was used literally, and acceptably, by a class-conscious community, to describe a ‘nobility or privileged class’, the titled, landowning families. The word cloaked the frequently dubious morality of those family histories and the characters and conduct of their scions. It carried an overtone of respect for these people, whatever their individual worth. The ‘aristocrat’ was ‘posh’. The concept has about it an affinity with the idea of ‘divine right", that claim which proved so fatal to our Stuart kings, but is so deep-rooted in the past, down to the structure of tribal aboriginality (as Frazer showed in The Golden Bough) that it continues to decorate our social symbolism, even in a democratic age.27
On the first voyage, Banks was a wealthy, young, landed, "aristocrat" who effortlessly bore the cost of an accompanying "suite" of seven assistants and servants, but whose expertise in science was not of the same quality as that of Forster Senior, despite his enthusiasm for botany in particular, and other sciences to a lesser degree. Johann Reinhold Forster on the other hand, "was regarded by some of the leading men of his times in England and abroad, as one of the most accomplished naturalists, linguists, scientists, anthropologists and philosophers of his day."
He was, however, a parvenu, remote from sources of patronage, paid £4,000 sterling to be the principal scientist of the second voyage. In their social standing, Banks and Forster were poles apart. Perhaps the best appreciation of the distance that separated the Forsters from the rulers of the Royal Navy of the eighteenth century (and Banks later became one of them) can be gained from George Forster’s letter to the Earl of Sandwich over the question of the writing and publication of the official account of the second voyage. The origins and course of the conflict lie outside the scope of this work, but some of George Forster’s words, in all their venom, illustrate the gap that existed. Banks, soon after his return from the
voyage, became an official adviser to the government and the Navy, ending with his appointment to the Privy Council in 1797.
Forster protested to the Earl of Sandwich:
You had the power, my Lord, to be unjust, and you exercised it most arbitrarily, changing your conditions as often as you found we complied with them, and cutting us off at last from the profits which you had secured to us by writing, without so much as one word by way of notice. The only spring to your actions was this; malice dictated, and you obeyed.30
Your last step, when he [my father] had done every thing that the most unreasonable task‑master could exact, was to say, "he shall have nothing of what I have promised, because I am a great man, and have the power to oppress him.31 (Emphasis in the original.)
An interesting sidelight on the relationships between Cook and the Forsters, is George’s allegation in his published letter to Sandwich, quoted above, that Cook as his own purser, had fleeced them in overcharging for ship’s commons and their contribution to the captain’s table.
George Forster, or in full, Johann Georg Adam Forster, who, "learned his literary, scientific, and geographical criticism in the hard and rigorously intellectual school of his father",
was at the beginning of the second voyage, just four months short of his eighteenth birthday. Apparently under the domination of the irascible, voluble, petulant, Johann Reinhold, he was nevertheless, in the process of becoming the voyage’s most skilful, philosophical and erudite observer and recorder. His
A Voyage round the World...
produced just six weeks before Cook’s
A Voyage Towards the South Pole...
was published, has been hailed as, "one of the outstanding books of travels",
in which, "we are given a marvellous picture of the world by a young man keyed to the fullness of life, educated in science and in tune with his time."
Cook der Entdecker
One of George’s other literary masterpieces has been quoted extensively and commented on by Michael Hoare, who has stated:
To my mind the best essay ever written pre-Beaglehole on James Cook, his character and work and place in European history is...’Cook der Entdecker’ [‘Cook the Discoverer’] by George Forster. Here, indeed at the factual and philosophical level, are already in 1787 many of the findings and interpretations of Beaglehole two hundred years later!36
This must be an opinion, shared by readers of "Cook der Entdecker", who appreciate the Forsterian image of Cook and his description of Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific. It is an opinion shared by the present writer, who would go further and add that an element in George’s essay and book, lacking in Beaglehole’s works, is the naval background to the achievements of Cook. Whereas the latter was a first-class academic historian, he lacked naval experience and accordingly failed in some measure to appreciate what life at sea in the navy was really like. This comes through in his introductions to Cook’s journals; in some of his footnotes to them; and in some of his other writings. It is not so much a case of his being wrong, or misinformed-his research was exhaustive and monumental-but, the essential feeling for the sea and things naval, is simply not there. How could it have been? In contrast, George Forster had had his sea-going experience, knew at first hand what life was like in a naval vessel at sea in the eighteenth century, and had the competence and command of the English language to write vivid and perceptive accounts of the conditions he had experienced. It is a great pity that "Cook der Entdecker" is not available to a wider public than those scholars who are able to consult it in scholarly libraries.
Relationships with the Artists
The other major group of supernumeraries carried on Cook’s ships were the artists. On the first voyage, Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan were part of Banks’ "suite". Buchan died four days after the Endeavour left Tahiti, so contributed little to the voyage. It was left to Parkinson with the assistance of Spöring, who was engaged originally as a draughtsman, to bear the brunt of the artwork performed thereafter. William Hodges and John Webber were the professional artists who sailed on the second and third voyages respectively. Bernard Smith has gained the impression that, "the Admiralty was not greatly interested in the appointment of professional artists to its ships." 38 He points out that had it not been for the continuing influence of men like Banks and Solander, professionals like Hodges and Webber might never have been appointed. He calls attention to the fact that Webber’s appointment was expressed in words identical to those used in the appointment of Hodges:
24 June 1776. Admiralty to Cook. Whereas we have engaged Mr John Webber Draughtsman and Landskip Painter to proceed in His Majesty’s Sloop under your Command on her present intended Voyage, in order to make Drawings and Paintings of such places in the Countries you may touch at in the course of the said Voyage as may be proper to give a more perfect Idea thereof than can be formed by written description only; You are hereby required to and directed to receive the said Mr John Webber on board giving him all proper assistance, Victualling him as the Sloop’s company, and taking care that he does diligently employ himself in making Drawings or Paintings of such places as you may touch at, that may be worthy of notice, in the course of your Voyage, as also of such other objects and things a may fall within the compass of his abilities.39
It is significant that on the third voyage, Cook cut down on professional supernumeraries as far as possible. The artist Webber, was the only one carried on the
during that voyage while the astronomer, Bayly, was appointed to the
He had the distinction of being the only professional supernumerary to sail twice on Cook’s voyages. He was appointed to the
for the second voyage, and thus never sailed in the same ship as Cook. As his scientific aides on the
for the third voyage, Cook preferred his second lieutenant, James King, trained in science and astronomy, and his surgeon, William Anderson. Webber was paid a salary of 100 guineas per annum and was remunerated for all the expenses incurred in his work. After the voyage he was employed by the Admiralty making finished drawings for engravings to illustrate the official account. Originally entered on the books of the
as a supernumerary for victuals only on 5 July 1776, he was discharged from the supernumerary list on 4 August 1778 and entered the following day as an A.B. The same sort of thing happened to David Nelson, the botanist-gardener of the third voyage. There was a precedent with Hodges on the second voyage, but whereas Hodges was returned to the supernumerary list three months before the
reached England at the end of the second voyage, and thus avoided any awkward questions from the Clerk of the Cheque at the final muster, Webber retained his position as an A.B. and appears to have drawn two pays until the end of the third voyage. After the voyage, Webber was contracted by the Admiralty to deal with the illustrations and supervise the execution of the engravings of the official three-volume account of the voyage. He was appointed "art director" and paid an annual salary of £250, equal to the salary Hodges had been paid at the conclusion of the second voyage. Webber’s contract with the Admiralty lasted from October 1780 until 1 July 1785.
Webber’s treatment compared to Forster’s
Compare Webber’s treatment with that meted out to the Forsters. From the £4,000 parliamentary grant he received, Forster Senior was required to equip himself and George for the voyage; provision and maintain himself and George; and after Capetown, Anders Sparrman as well. At the end of the voyage the Forsters were deprived of the right to compile the official account of the voyage and garner the consequent emolument, which they believed, Lord Sandwich had promised them.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 5, volume 28, number 1 (2005).
1755 - 1757
1772 - 1779