For his third voyage Cook once again advised the Admiralty of the suitability of Whitby ships for the type of exploration being undertaken and chose the Resolution for the second time.
The support vessel was the Discovery built by G. & N. Langborn for Mr. William Herbert from whom she was bought by the Admiralty. She was 299 tons, the smallest of Cook's ships. Her dimensions were: lower deck 91'5", extreme breadth 27'5", depth of hold 11'5", height between decks 5'7" to 6'1". She cost £2,415 including alterations. Her complement was 70: 3 officers, 55 crew, 11 marines and one civilian.
Lt. Charles Clerke, who had accompanied Cook on the two previous voyages was appointed to command the Discovery. He had become a very perceptive observer, a devoted officer with a keen sense of duty.
At the time of sailing, England was at war with the American colonies. Benjamin Franklin assisted with the special dispatch issued by the Continental Congress to permit a free and unmolested voyage on the high seas for Cook's ships. France followed suit.
The Resolution sailed from the Nore on 25 June 1776 and from Plymouth on 12 July. She left without the Discovery as Clerke was temporarily in a debtors' prison because of debts of his brother. The Resolution anchored in Table Bay on 18 October and the Discovery arrived there on 10 November. At the end of the month sail was set for the Marion, Crozet and Kerguelen Islands. The latter was reached on Christmas Day 1776, and so Christmas Harbour was named. Mindful of being parted from Adventure on his second voyage, Cook set a rendezvous with the Discovery at Furneaux's Adventure Bay in Van Diemen's Land and then Ship's Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand.
The two ships arrived at Adventure Bay on 26 January 1777 for a brief visit and, just as Cook missed Sydney Harbour, so he again missed one of the world's great harbours, nearby Storm Bay and the present site of Hobart on the Derwent River.
On 12 February Cook had once again skirted Cape Farewell and Stephens Island to reach his old anchorage in Ship's Cove. The ships were repaired, the men rested, and grasses and food collected.
The next call was at Tonga, the Friendly Islands, where the Captains spent 2½ months. Cook met Fijians on Tongatapu from whom he acquired a store of Fijian red feathers, a very highly prized possession. (The 1971 $1 stamp depicting the "Collared Lory", a red parrot, was the main source of supply.) While he knew of the Fiji Island group, Cook did not go there, merely passing close to the outskirts and the island of Vatoa, as he wished to venture in the opposite direction to Tahiti.
The passage to Tahiti took four weeks and many islands were visited. Cook realised that he must now come to grips with the main purpose of his voyage. After a short stay he headed for New Albion, the Canadian coast and an attempt to find the Northwest Passage. A barren atoll was sighted on 23 December 1777, which Cook named Christmas Island when he landed on Christmas Day. On 2 January the ships headed north to one of Cook's most important discoveries, the Hawaiian Islands on 20 January.
In February 1778 Cook was seeking the west winds to take him to New Albion, and on 7 March the great continent came into sight. Following the Oregon coast Cook travelled north to what is now Nootka Sound, and was greatly impressed with the timber, the high quality furs and the friendly natives.
George Vancouver, aged 19, was a midshipman on the Discovery. He was to return in later years to explore the coastline and have his name laid on prosperity with Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver.
The two ships continued north along the coast to Alaska, Bering Straits, and the Arctic Ocean. Discovery had proved to be a very able companion ship to the Resolution. Cook was high in praise of her as she was faster and better able to claw off a lee shore than his own ship. After many weeks in the Arctic Ocean the rigging of the two ships was shattered by gales and their hulls were leaking badly from encounters with the ice. Rather than spend a dreary winter of inactivity at Kamchatka, Cook chose to return to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). His fate was decided as he could have chosen Nootka Sound, where there was an abundancy of timber and a fine anchorage.
History had spoken and, after Cook's tragic death at Kealakakua Bay, Captain Clerke took command and Lt. Gore was appointed to take charge of the Discovery. Another attempt was made to find the Northwest Passage, which also failed, and the ships sailed to Petropavlosk where, just offshore, Clerke died of tuberculosis which he had. picked up in the debtors' prison. He was 38 years old. Lt. Gore took command of the expedition and Lt. King succeeded Gore in the Discovery. Lt. Gore sent a letter and copies of Cook's reports to the Admiralty overland through Siberia and Russia by dogsled, horseback and coastal ship across the North Sea. They arrived 6 months before the two ships.
It was a fitting conclusion to this famous voyage when the ships came home via Ireland, the Orkneys and down the old collier run from Yorkshire to the Thames to anchor in the Nore on 4 October 1780.
Not much is known of the Discovery in her immediate years, but she was reduced to a prison hulk for convicts awaiting transportation to Botany Bay. [See correction below] It is a tragedy that the last of Cook's great ships was left to rot on the mud at Deptford, the scene of so much honour, for the sake of ENDEAVOUR, RESOLUTION, ADVENTURE and DISCOVERY, and the greatest navigator this world has known.
Voyages of Captain Cook by Rex and Thea Rienits;
The Seamen's Seaman by Alan Villiers;
Life of Captain Cook by J.C. Beaglehole.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 118, volume 4, number 3 (1981).
The above information about the Discovery is misleading concerning its reduction to a convict hulk.
This misunderstanding may have originated with Edward William Cooke whose much reproduced 1828 etching of the Discovery as a convict hulk was described by the artist in the caption to his work as the vessel that accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage.
Correctly, the Discovery of Cook’s last voyage was broken up at Chatham in 1797 some 14 years before the artist's birth in 1811.
The Discovery of the etching was the vessel of Vancouver’s voyage of exploration, converted to a hulk in 1818 and broken up at Deptford in 1834.
The references to the fates of both vessels are as follows.
Graham Tuck, January 2003
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