The 1950s and '60s saw the production of John Cawte Beaglehole's epoch-making four volume editions of The Journals of Captain James Cook; his two volume, The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks; together with other essays and articles bearing on Cook's life and voyages. His great corpus of work culminated in the posthumous publication of The Life of Captain James Cook, in 1974.1 Reviewers and historians (with possibly only one exception),2 have been loud in the praises of Beaglehole's works. One, has called attention to the "immeasurable debt", that he and other students of Cook owe to the Journals.3 Another, has underlined the fact that, "Beaglehole's work is an extensive and lasting watershed in Cook researches from which all further critical work must and will flow."4 The editors of a notable selection of papers by Cook scholars have observed that Beaglehole has, "dominated the field of Cook studies in a way that no individual now can, or ought to do."5 It may be presumptuous to attempt to summarize all that Beaglehole has written on Cook as a commander/governor of men, but the attempt will be made. Where it falls short, readers who would know more, will have to refer to the originals. A bibliography of Professor Beaglehole's writings on Cook is attached at the end of this article.
The Journals of Captain James Cook
In his introduction to Cook's journals of the first voyage, Beaglehole notes that, "Cook had never previously under his command more than the smallest crew... He had thus for the first time to exercise his gifts as a commander and he did so brilliantly".6 Cook's biographer also remarks, "On the first voyage Cook did not have choice of his men, though five of them, Peter Flower, Thomas Hardman, William Howson, John Charlton and Isaac Smith transferred with him from the Grenville and the Newfoundland survey."7 An early comment on the young crew of the Endeavour reads, "few, it seems, failed to win Cook's respect in the situations to which destiny or the Navy Board, or the press, had called them."8 In this first introduction, Beaglehole judges Cook as, "a mild though determined disciplinarian; his floggings do not rate very high as a punishment compared to the ordinary naval standard."9 Cook's "skill as an administrator and his success in maintaining the health of his crews", is discussed in a long passage containing the statement:
It was not that Cook was unique or original in his approach to the problems of diet at sea. Wallis showed a similar concern, as he was similar in other ways to Cook in his consideration for his men. The uniqueness, the originality of Cook was in the reduction to a sort of passionate system of his determination to replenish and vary his supplies, together with his eagerness to experiment and record.10
To show Cook's good opinion of his crew, an extract from his letter to the Admiralty of 23 October 1770 is quoted: "they have gone through the fatigues and dangers of the whole voyage with that cheerfulness and Allertness that will always do Honour to British Seamen."
In his introduction to Cook's journals of the second voyage - first published in 1961 - where Cook praises his crew, Beaglehole adds, "Cook however he might write, never paid idle compliments."12 Cook's easy acceptance of Furneaux's conclusions that Van Diemen's Land was part of mainland Australia, was, says Beaglehole, "perhaps here another instance of his [Cook's] principle, always patent though always unstated, of never criticizing his subordinates in a document going to his superiors."13
On Marra's attempt to desert at Tahiti during the second voyage, Beaglehole compares Cook's lenient treatment of him with his earlier harsher treatment of Marine Gibson when the latter deserted during the first voyage.14 On the trials and tribulations of the third ice-edge cruise, he declares, "Surely this statement, 'we were not now in a condition to undertake great things' applies to the men as to the ship, to Cook himself as well as to his company. They had had enough; and their captain must have been weary with strain of navigating that small ship in that sea."15
In his introduction to the journals of the third voyage, Beaglehole ruminates on "the people - the almost chance assemblage of men who carried out the orders." He adds:
We cannot call them anonymous because we know their names; but the majority of them are, w must feel, anonymous characters. Nor is the assemblage entirely chance, because there are men in it who have sailed with Cook before-who, we must assume-even if we do not know, were willing or eager to sail with him again; though few perhaps would have insisted on following him out of a safe retirement like William Watman of Greenwich. A great number deserted, while the ships' companies were building up; and men who knew Cook by tavern talk, and did not fancy long voyages, might well desert at the prospect of a three year's sentence. It was one way of assuring a steady crew. Those who stayed might reflect that, while they would undergo discomfort, as long as they were with Cook their lives would be reasonably safe.16
Alexander Home is cited to show Cook's attitude to desertion, when the
was at Raiatea during the third voyage:
Upon the discovery of this spirit of desertion Captain Cook Turned his men up and Made a Long speech on th[a]t head. He Made use both of Entreateys and Threats and with a Deal of Art and Eloquence, for he could speak much to the purpose but this was but one of the Smallest Ackomplishme[n]ts of that Excellent man. Amoungst Other things he told them they Might run off if they pleased. But they might Depend upon it he would Recover them again:… They might fly if they pleased to Omiah King Ottou or to the Most distant Country known to these people. His authority would bring them back and Dead or Alive he'd have them.17
"Such arguments, especially when backed up by a few dozen lashes, seemed unassailable...", mused Beaglehole.18
The Life of Captain James Cook
In this work, there is a paragraph which sums up John Cawte Beaglehole's view of Cook's relationships with his crews. It is worth quoting in full:
Another aspect of the humane captain is a fundamental sympathy for his men, rather wider than the few specific affections or likings that we can trace, not entirely based on the determination to extract the maximum of efficiency. After all, he had been an apprentice of the benevolent John Walker. Desertion was not a thing he could tolerate, but he could very well understand, even sympathise with, the deserter. He saw no sense in working men to exhaustion. He believed in the system of putting a ship's company into three watches instead of two. He had his men under control not only for the ordinary reasons, but because his strict rules of hygiene required it. Captains who visited Cook, not knowing his habits, might be quite astonished to find an air of religious observance, a clean and tidy ship, a clean crew: On board Cook's ships, they said, it was always Sunday. Officers who came under his command from other vessels on the other hand, were inclined to find his discipline too loose. They learnt better soon enough. There was no need for a man who put first things first to set up as a martinet. Woe indeed for the person who sinned on first things. Yet it was Cook who gave up the great cabin to the sail-maker for his work when the conditions on deck were so desperately discouraging; it was he who insisted, when there was any shortage of food, on a strictly even distribution, from the captain to the ship's boy. He could unbend to the midshipmen on a hard day's rowing, and throw them as a bonus the ducks that had been shot. If they called him a despot, they also called him Toote.19 He allowed some customs to be kept up, one presumes as things traditionally held valuable by seamen, on which there was in his day another school of thought. The equator-crossing ceremony was by no means a gentle one, and Furneaux would have none of it.20 The drunken fighting on Christmas Day was permissible only after the ship's safety had been provided for. We must see it as an emotional outburst that was part of the pattern of a brutal century. Considering it thus, we may be able to tolerate more easily the floggings that Cook inflicted, which did not, it appears, trouble either the conscience of his officers or the feelings of his men. He could not be said to have flogged his way round the world, but he was a naval officer, he needed some means of punishment, and he used the standard means. He certainly did not flog for the pleasure it gave him. It was thought by George Forster, a landsman, and a sensitive youth, that he punished rarely and unwillingly. If reading in the logs and journals of half a dozen lashes, a dozen lashes, once or twice two dozen lashes, our sensations are not agreeable, we may study the records of the fleet on the American station in which Cook served, and decide that his floggings do not modify his essential humanity.`21
On the Character of Captain James Cook
It is in his shorter works in particular, that we see Beaglehole's absorption with getting to know the inner workings of Cook's mind. In his article, "On the Character of Captain James Cook" (1956), he protests, "One of the difficulties is that he was, to use the old phrase, a man of action. That kind of man did not commonly in his century, strew round him the keys of his heart.'22 On Cook's temper he opines, "there is general agreement that the Captain's temper was rather short, though his anger was short-lived too".23 Always stressing Cook's humanity, he declares:
the humanity that is kindness, understanding, tolerance, wisdom in the treatment of men, a quality practised naturally as well as planned for, is what gave Cook's voyages their success, as much as the soundness of his seamanship and the brilliance of his navigation. It went with some sternness, … some flogging, a disposition to experiment, and a good deal of the psychological insight that comes from practical experience... If there was any trace of inhumanity in him, it was exercised on himself.24
The way Beaglehole saw Cook exercising control over his men in the Pacific and preventing scurvy, is exemplified in the following opinion:
He did not see any special advantage in citrus fruits. His great contribution to the subject was his realization that what was needed was fresh food in general, and clean water, and, as a counter to depression, variety of food; and as another contribution, cleanliness of person, clothes and quarters; and as an aid to that a dry and disinfected ship. His men were always emptying and refilling water-casks, gathering wild celery and coconuts; the first task at any populated island was always to trade for hogs and fowls and fruit, and not to give the men their heads with curios and women. Cook was always ringing the changes on the beer and wine and spirits allowed as a drink by the Government; always brewing what was called "Spruce beer" from the foliage of the spruce tree or any tree like it.25
Cook's issue of needles and thread to seamen of the second voyage to repair ragged clothing; the stopping of the daily allowance of grog for those seamen found with dirty hands; Cook's fairness in the distribution of windfall refreshments and the conservative nature of some seamen with regard to spruce beer; all receive comment. The question of the severity of Cook's floggings, is seen in this work as follows:
If you read through the logs of the voyages quickly, you may be startled by the number of floggings reported therein, and you may be rather appalled by the indignity put upon your fellow human beings. Is this the humane Captain Cook you may ask, who had to flog his sailors round the world? There are a number of observations to make in answer to this question. In the first place we are dealing with the eighteenth century, with H.M.S. Resolution and not H.M.S. Pinafore. If you work out the number of floggings in relation to the three years' length of the voyage, you will find that they are not many. Thirdly, you will find that the individual flogging compared to the standard of the age, was not severe-generally indeed it was astonishingly mild. Once or twice only, a man got two dozen lashes spread over two successive days, for the grossest disobedience or dereliction of duty. The standard punishment was a dozen, sometimes reduced to half a dozen. What were these punishments inflicted for? For drunkenness and refusal to obey orders, for insolence to officers or petty officers, for a number of unspecified sins summed up in that vague term 'mutiny', for attempted desertion, for the quite unforgivable loss of weapons by sentinels on shore, whose ideas of duty was to go fooling with the native girls. There were other unforgivable offences: dirtiness between decks, or the dirtiness of a man who made it a practice to throw his chewed quid of tobacco into the ship's food while it was cooking: or the bullying or other maltreatment of native peoples.26
Captain Cook and Captain Bligh
On 3 August 1967, Professor Beaglehole delivered the Dr. W.E. Collins Lecture at Victoria University of Wellington, where he compared the characters and careers of Captains Cook and Bligh.27 The work is a masterly survey, which contains an early statement that both men were exceedingly humane men, careful of the lives of those who served under them.28 At one point, however, Beaglehole states, "Cook himself in his journals, rarely writes down positive compliments about his subordinates, officers or men, though we can find one or two."29 Here Clio, who the ancient Greeks called the "Muse of History", must have nodded, for the Professor forgot the quite considerable number of favourable remarks Cook had made about some of his men at different times in his journals. Beaglehole himself had noted them, either in his introductions, footnotes or appendices to earlier works. The following list of men and tributes by Cook, will show how appreciative he was, of good work by men under his command:
This list is not claimed as exhaustive. The single eulogy of the third voyage, on William Anderson, stands in marked contrast to the more numerous tributes from the first two voyages. This lack can be explained by the fact that many of the commendations of the first and second voyages were made, some, as part of reports and recommendations at the ends of the voyages, and others, as the result of the deaths of revered shipmates. There were not, of course, comparable reports from Cook at the end of the third voyage. In addition, other than Anderson's death, the only other reported death of note on the last voyage, prior to Cook's, was that of William Watman. No words of Cook's about Watman survive, but Lieutenant King's words were, "belov'd by his fellows, for his good, & benevolent disposition".53
In Beaglehole's comparison of Cook and Bligh, the floggings ordered by the two men are compared. Both are seen as moderate floggers, compared with the overall standard of the navy of their day:
The lashes which Cook and Bligh inflicted were not numbered in the hundreds. They were normally, with Cook, half-a-dozen, or a dozen, and might rise in serious offences to two dozen; with Bligh, a dozen, two dozen; but I should say, without going into careful figures (emphasis added), that Bligh gave fewer individual floggings than Cook did… . For the Resolution, from 1776 to 1779, I have noted down about sixty, in a complement of 112, probably not a complete list….54(Emphasis added.)
The Professor goes on to list some of these offences, and adds in a footnote:
Cook does not generally mention such things in his journal, and we have no master's or ship's log for this voyage [the third]. I have simply noted down the entries in the 'journal' of William Charlton, a midshipman, P.R.O. Adm 51/4557, which looks very like a copy of the 'remarks' in the ship's log.55
Beaglehole's remarks on the floggings that Cook ordered, remained the only attempted analysis of Cook's rate of flogging that I am aware of, until Greg Dening produced his table in 1992.56 As indicated above, John Cawte Beaglehole freely admits that his analysis is not backed up by any careful counting of the floggings Cook ordered. Anne Salmond has created a, "Calendar of Punishments during Captain Cook's Three Pacific Voyages" as an appendix to her Trial of the Cannibal Dogy. In a future article, I propose to examine in somewhat more detail, than either Dening or Salmond has done, Cook's flogging rates.
In his comparison of Cook and Bligh, Beaglehole makes reference to Cook's failure to realize the value of lemon or lime juice in preventing scurvy, despite Dr James Lind's earlier recommendation of 1754. "But he did of course realize the value of fresh food in general, fresh vegetables and fruits of all sorts, of an ever-renewed supply of fresh water."57 In addition to Alexander Home's diatribe against Cook's causing greens to be mixed with soup and wheat, Beaglehole also cites the former's advice about Cook ordering his crews to walk about in the country, when liberty was given, "For good health did not depend on food alone; it depended also on a cheerful mind, as it depended on proper clothing and cleanliness of ship and person."58 On desertion, he argues, "Men did not desert because they hated their commanders, or salt pork, or weevily biscuits; they deserted for love."59 On Cook's relations with his officers, Trevenen is quoted to show how Cook the despot ("not the tyrant"), could unbend on occasions, "tip a heiva" when exasperated, but, "The quick rage was quick to subside. There was no personal or permanent enmity about it, nothing ignoble, no self-importance or vanity."60 His biographer saw Cook as:
a tall and well-built man, over six feet tall with a 'presence', and you can, I fancy, put up with a great deal of selfless swearing from such a man, when a different sort of person might irritate you extremely."61
In contradistinction to Bligh, Beaglehole notes Cook's lack of vanity, his "scrupulous" rewriting of reports to the Admiralty on officers, so that they were not denigrated or humiliated. Bligh, on the other hand, is seen as a very self-conscious, self-righteous man, who elevated himself above his officers, deriding them and offending them.
Some Problems of Cook's Biographer
Beaglehole's next minor work about Cook was his, "Some Problems of Cook's Biographer" (1969).63 In this paper he confides:
There is one problem, however, on the side of personality which has worried me as an aspirant biographer a great deal for a long time. It is hardly a matter of private life. It is connected quite closely with Cook's career as an explorer, his behaviour as a commander of men...
After discussing Cook's stubbornness, patience and "temper subject to hastiness and passion',
he points out that this hastiness of temper was something commented on by shipmates of the third voyage and was not something heard about on the earlier voyages, "perhaps because fewer men wrote unbuttoned commentaries, and none had to write an obituary; perhaps because the captain managed to maintain an iron control over himself".
Cook the Man
1969/70 was the bicentenary of Cook's rediscovery of New Zealand from a European point of view (not the Maori). 1970 was also the bicentenary of Cook's exploration of the east coast of Australia. These years were marked by a number of ceremonies, displays and anniversary meetings. At a Cook Bicentenary Symposium under the aegis of the Australian Academy of Science, Beaglehole gave a lecture on "Cook the Man".66 After delineating the physical Cook, he listed some of the terms used by the "admiring observers" of Cook, his shipmates on the voyages: "Cool, courageous, firm, vigilant, active, resolved, humane, patient - both passionate and patient-unaffected, of unremitting perseverance - and I have used some of the others already." Beaglehole himself opted for "stubbornness".67 His summation of Cook's treatment of his sailors reads:
And he knew his men; he knew the stubbornly conservative British sailor. He was a practical psychologist as well as a practical dietitian, and their stubbornness was no match for his. Well, most of the time. It was only early in his first voyage that he flogged men for refusing their ration of fresh meat. Thereafter he trusted to the force of example, to the natural wish of mankind not to be excluded from any imagined good, and to the removal of any alternative. By the time he had reached Tahiti on his first voyage he was writing his famous reflection on seamen and novelty in diet.68
The remainder of the work contains a number of references, many of which have already appeared in foregoing pages of my articles on Cook. "Cook the Man" ends with a quotation from Boswell that is a well-chosen remark on Cook's accuracy of observation, statement and judgment: "My metaphor was that he had a balance in his mind for truth as nice as scales for weighing a guinea."
As I said at the beginning of this article, the inadequacies of this survey of Professor Beagehole's opinions on Cook as a commander or governor of men, can be remedied by reading his works at first hand. At the date of publication, his minor works on Cook lie scattered in a number of journals, pamphlets and books. Their compilation into say, one book, or a set of books, would render a valuable service to all those interested in the career of "that extraordinary man", Captain James Cook.
Beaglehole, J.C., The Discovery of New Zealand, Wellington, 1939, London, 1961.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 28, number 4 (2005).
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1755 - 1757
1772 - 1779