Civil Time, Ship’s Time and the Effects of Illness
When Joseph Banks recorded events in his journal, he used civil time, meaning that each day begins at midnight. So 10 am comes before 2 pm on the same day. However, in the eighteenth century, naval officers used nautical or ship’s time rather than civil time. Ship’s time means that each day begins at noon. So 2 pm comes before 10 am. Hence, Captain Cook’s journal entries begin with the events of the afternoon, followed by midnight, followed by those of the morning, and end with noon.
As Endeavour was sailing westwards across the Pacific, she crossed 180° longitude on 7 October, 1769. The journal writers should have adjusted their dates for the lost day, but they did not do so. When they reached Batavia, they were told that what they thought was 10 July, 1770, was really 11 July. Cook noted the change in his journal. However, Banks was so ill at Batavia, and for several weeks afterwards, that it is likely that some of his entries were written up later with dates supplied rather vaguely from memory, and the lost day forgotten.
In this article I shall use civil time, and assume that Cook’s entries were dated correctly.
Sunda Strait and Princes Island (Panaitan)
On 1 January, 1771, James Cook, in Endeavour, had just entered Sunda Strait, which lies between the large islands of Java and Sumatra. Progress was slow due to the winds over the next few days, as the ship passed the islands of Thwart the Way (Sangiang) and Krakatoa (the volcanic island that exploded on 26 August, 1883).
On 5 January, Captain Cook wrote, “At 3 oClock in the PM Anchor’d under the SE side of Princes Island in 18 fathom water, in order to recrute our wood and water and to procure refreshments for the People which are now in a much worse state of hilth then when we left Batavia”.
Banks noted “that there were many houses and much Cultivation upon Cracatoa, so that probably a ship might meet with refreshments who chose to touch here in preference to Princes Island”. A little earlier on 1 January, he wrote, “I had been unacountably troubled with Musquitos ever since we left Batavia, and still imagin’d that they increasd instead of decreasing, although my opinion was universaly thought improbable; today however the mystery was discoverd, for on getting up water today, Dr Solander who happned to stand near the scuttle cask observd an infinite number of them in their water state in it, who as soon as the sun had a little effect upon the water began to come out in real Effective mosquetos incredibly fast”. The scuttle was a small hatchway through the ship’s deck. This cask was kept next to it.
After Endeavour had anchored at Princes Island (Pulau Panaitan), Cook “went a shore to look at the watering place and to speak with the Natives some of whome were upon the beach. I found the watering place convenient and the water to all appearence good provide[d] proper care was taken in the filling of it; The Natives seem’d inclined to supply us with Turtle Fowles &ca. Articles that I intended laying in as great a stock as possible for the benefit of the sick and to suffer every one to purchas what they pleased for themsilves, as I found these people as easy to Traffic with as Europeans”.
Meat was desperately needed, as Cook commented the next day, when he wrote, “Served Turtle to the Ships company, Yesterday was the only salt Meat Day they have had sence our arrival at Savu which is now near 4 Months”.
Endeavour was anchored at the island of Panaitan for over a week, during which Cook did not make daily entries in his journal. Instead he summarised their time there on 14 January, the day before their departure. “We were employ’d Wooding and watering being frequently interrup[t]ed by heavy rains; having now compleated both we hoisted in the Long boat and made ready to put to Sea, having on board a pretty good stock of refreshments which we purchasd from the Natives, such as Turtle, Fowles, Fish, Two species of Dear, one about as big as a small Sheep, the other no bigger then a Rabbit; both sorts eat very well, but are only for present use as they seldom lived above 24 hours in our possesion. We likewise got fruit of several sorts, such as Coca nutts, Plantains, Limes &ca. The Trade on our part was carried on chiefly with mony (Spanish Dollars) the natives set but little Value upon any thing else, such of our people as had not this article traded with old Shirts &ca at a great disadvantage”.
Banks did write each day, perhaps because he found more to do, trading with the islanders, and botanising. Daniel Solander described the plants, and Sydney Parkinson drew them. On one occasion Banks obtained “a deer of a kind weighing about 40 lb”, possibly a Muntjac. Another day, Banks “set out accompanied by our second Lieutenant and went along shore” to the town of Samadang, composed of “near 400” houses. “When our curiosity was satisfied we hird a large sailing boat... which carried us home time enough to dine upon the deer we had bought the day before, which provd very good and savoury meat”.
Life was still precarious. One night, wrote Banks, Endeavour was driven “so near being ashore that the foot of the rudder touchd several times, and indeed gave the first intimation of our danger, but by the alertness of the officers she was hove into deep water in a very short time”. Towards the end of their stay, Banks was “seizd with a Return of my Batavia Fever, which I attributed to being much exposd to a burning sun in trading with the Natives”.
Sydney Parkinson commented on these natives. “They wear a piece of cotton check about their waists, which reaches to their knees, and another piece over their shoulders. Their hair is very mean, and unlike that of the Malays, which is very fine”. It is the last entry in his journal, the published version of which was continued by his brother Stanfield.
Death on the High Seas
On 15 January, 1771, Cook “weighd with a light breeze at NE which was soon succeeded by a Calm... Had it calm all PM: which at 5 oClock obliged us to anchor under the South point of Princes Island”. The following day, Endeavour “stood out to sea with a breeze so gentle that at night we were still in sight of Land”, wrote Banks. Next day the winds were “so gentle that we hardly knew whether we went on or stood still. At night a booby made us a visit and slept his last sleep in the stomachs of some of our men”.
Endeavour was headed south-west across the Indian Ocean for the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope. Before setting out in his world voyage, Cook may well have conversed with the captains and masters of the English East India Company, many of whom lived in Mile End Old Town and Wapping. He would have been able to learn from their experience of taking ships from England to the Far East and back, and the suitability of the ports along the way.
Banks continued to have “my fever every day; nor was I the only sick man, many began to complain of purgings”. By 21 January, many of the men “had now the dysentery or bloody flux”.
The winds continued to be light, so the ship’s progress was slow. Occasionally a Dutch ship could be seen. On 23 January, Banks noted, “Almost all the Ships Company were now ill with either fluxes or severe purgings; myself far from well, Mr Sporing very ill and Mr Parkinson very little better, his complaint was a slow fever”. The next day Banks “was too ill today to do any thing”. According to Cook, “in the AM died Jno Truslove Corpl of Marines, a Man much esteem’d by every one on board”. John Truslove was one of many men in Endeavour whose name does not appear in Cook’s journal apart from when he died, and he was buried at sea. Cook continued, “Many of our people at this time lay dangerously ill of Fevers and fluxes. We are inclinable to atribute this to the water we took in at Princes Island and have put lime into the Casks in order to purifie it”.
The following day, “departed this Life Mr Sporing a Gentleman belonging to Mr Banks’s retinue”. Herman Diedrich Spöring acted as a clerk and secretary. He had also once been a watchmaker, and repaired several instruments during the voyage. He is probably best known for the coastal views he drew during the voyage. Banks continued to suffer. “My distemper this day turnd out to be a flux attended (as that disease always is) with excrutiating pains in my bowels, on which I took to my bed. In the Eve Mr Sporing died”.
Banks added, “One more of the People died today”. That person was Thomas Dunster, a marine. His name had appeared once in Cook’s journal when he was punished on 16 September, 1768, for refusing to take “Fresh Beef” at Madeira.
Concerned at the health of his company, on 26 January, Cook “clean’d Ship between decks and wash’d with Vinegar”. There was little wind, and it was “very hot”. Banks “endurd the pains of the Damnd almost; at night they became fixd in one point in my bowels on which the surgeon of the ship though[t] proper to order me the hot bath, into which I went 4 times at the intervals of two hours and felt great releif”. William Perry had taken over as surgeon at Batavia, following the death there of William Brougham Munkhouse.
The next day, Banks’s “pains were still almost intolerable. In the Evening Mr Parkinson died and one of the ships crew”. Cook gave more information, “departed this life Mr Sidney Parkinson, Natural History Painter to Mr Banks, and soon after Jno Ravenhill, Sailmaker, a Man much advanced in years”. The previous month, just as Endeavour was leaving Batavia, Cook had described him as “an old Man about 70 or 80 Years of age” who was “generally more or less drunk every day”.
Two days later, “in the night Died Mr Charls Green who was sent out by the Royal Society to Observe the Transit of Venus; he had long been in a bad state of hilth, which he took no care to repair but on the contrary lived in such a manner as greatly promoted the disorders he had had long upon him, this brought on the Flux which put a period to his life”. The following day, “died of the Flux Saml Moody and Francis Hate, two of the Carpenters Crew”.
On the last day of January, 1771, “in the Course of this 24 hours we have had four Men died of the Flux, viz. Jno Thompson Ships Cook, Benj. Jordan Carpenters Mate, James Nicholson and Archd Wolfe Seamen. A Melancholy proff [proof] of the Calamitous Situation we are at present in”.
John Thompson was the ship’s cook. James Cook had taken him on after protesting to the Navy Board that Thompson “hath had the misfortune to loose his right hand”. Archibald Wolf had been punished on 4 June, 1769, at Tahiti “with two Dozn Lashes for theft, having broken into one of the Store rooms and stolen from thence a large quantity of spike Nails”.
Banks ended the month feeling “better and slept some time, which my continual pains had never sufferd me to do before notwistanding the opiates which were constantly administerd”. The next day he “got out of my bed in good spirits and free from pain but very weak. My recovery had been as rapid as my disease was violent, but to what cause to attribute either the one or the other to we all were equaly at a loss”.
According to Banks, “so weak were the people in general that, officers and men included, not more than 8 or nine could keep the deck so that 4 in a watch was all they had”. Cook agreed they had “hardly well men enough to tend the Sails and look after the Sick, many of the latter are so ill that we have not the least hopes of their recovery”.
A Fresh Month Brings Fresh Winds
The winds, which had been so much against them, now swung round and helped them on their course to the southern tip of Africa. Despite “gales with flying showers of Rain”, Cook “Clean’d between Decks and Wash’d with Vinegr”.
The deaths continued. On 2 February, “departed this Life Danl Roberts Gunners Servant who died of the flux”. He was a servant to Stephen Forwood, the gunner. The next day, “John Thurman Sailmakers assistant” died. He had joined from a New York sloop anchored at Funchal, Madeira, in September 1768, and been punished in November that year “with 12 lashes for refusing to assist the sailmaker in repairing the sails”.
According to Banks, William Perry “began to think that the rapid progress of the disease was checkd... but declard at the same time that several people were still without hopes of recovery”. After the voyage, Perry recalled “A blessed S.E. trade reached us; its dry clear sky and vivifying breeze gave a comfort only to be understood after feeling the difference. Several of our crew, apparently dying at the moment of this change of weather, were snatched from death and gradually recovered. One gentleman only, Mr. Booty, afterwards fell a sacrifice, struggling hard through two the last days of a miserably painful existence”. John Bootie was a Midshipman. Also that day died John Gathrey, the Boatswain.
The state of the ship could not be forgotten. Cook remarked, “Unbent the Main Topsail to Repair and bent a nother... Appointed Saml Evans one of the Boatswains mates and Coxswain of the Pinnace to be Boatswain in the room of Mr Gathrey deceased and order’d a Survey to be taken of the Stores”.
The deaths continued. On 6 February, “died Mr Jonn Monkhouse Midshipman and Brother to the late Surgeon”. Jonathan Munkhouse is remembered mainly for fothering Endeavour after she had been damaged by the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Cook had praised him on 13 June, 1770, writing that the midshipman had “exicuted it very much to my satisfaction”.
Banks once again commented on the change that came from the Trade Winds, “as no one had been taken ill since we got the trade wind we were now well convin[c]d of its salutary effects... tho’ it prevented it could not cure intirely our disease”. By 8 February, he felt able to write, “Our people who were not very bad before the 1st of this month were now almost universaly recoverd, but there were still several in the ship who at that time were very bad; these remaind unalterably the same neither becoming better nor worse. Through the whole course of this distemper Medicine has been of little use, the Sick generaly proceeding gradualy to their end without a favourable symptom, till the change of weather stopd in a manner instantaneously the Malignant quality of the disease”.
A Slow Haul to the Cape
It was now over two weeks since they had last seen any other ships. On 9 February, Cook “saw a Ship on our Starboard Quarter which hoisted Dutch Colours”. She was probably headed for the Dutch port at the Cape of Good Hope. Cook lost sight “in the night of the Dutch Ship she having out Saild us”. The winds did mean that two days later, “some hands constantly Employ’d repairing sails”.
The deaths continued. On 12 February, “died of the flux after a long and painfull illness Mr John Satterly, Carpenter, a Man much Esteem’d by me and every Gentleman on board, in his room I apoint George Knowel one of the Carpenters Crew, having only him and one More left”. At Endeavour River, when Endeavour was being inspected and repaired, Cook had commented on 5 July, 1770, that John Satterley “I look upon to be well skilld in his profission”. Nothing is known of what Cook thought of George Nowell.
On 14 February, wrote Cook, “departed this Life Alexr Lindsey Seaman; this man was one of those we got at Batavia and had been some time in India”. The next day, “died of the flux Danl Preston Marine”. A week later, “died of the flux Alexr Simpson a very good Seaman”.
The ship continued to need attention. On 16 February, the men were “Empd repairing sails Rigging &ca”. Four days later, “the Carpenter and his Mate set about repairing the Long-boat, being the first day they have been able to work sence we left Princes Island”. After another four days, Cook “took the oppertunity of a fine morning to Stay the Main Mast and set up the Topmast Rigging”.
Apart from noting the deaths in the ship, Banks wrote very little in his journal during the 28 days of February. Indeed, there are only 16 entries. The naturalist in him did result in the following comment for 19 February, “An uncommonly large Number of Tropick birds were about the ship this day”. Then on 24 February, “An Albatross seen, the first sign we have had of approaching the South again which we have for some days done pretty fast”.
The men also needed attention. On 21 February, Cook “punished Thos Rossiter with Twelve Lashes for geting Drunk, grossly Asaulting the Officer of the Watch and beating some of the Sick”. Thomas Rossiter was one of the marines; indeed he was the drummer.
Three days later, “died of the Flux Henry Jeffs, Emanuel Pharah and Peter Morgan Seamen, the last came Sick on board at Batavia of which he never recoverd and the other two had long been past all hopes of recovery, so that the death of these three men in one day did not in the least alarm us; on the contrary we are in hopes that they will be the last that will fall a Sacrefice to this fatal desorder, for such as are now ill of it are in a fair way of recovering”.
Of these three men, Emanuel, or Manoel, Pereira had joined Endeavour at Rio de Janeiro. When she was at Tahiti, he went missing one night, and Cook “had some reason to think that he was gone with an intent to stay here”.
Approaching Southern Africa
By the end of February, Endeavour was south of Madagascar, and sailing over 100 miles a day as she was blown by the Trade Winds. Unfortunately, on 28 February, “a heavy squall from the SW attended with rain took us all a back... the Fore Topsl was split in many places”. According to Banks, “we were taken aback by a strong breeze of wind at SW, not without some danger as our people yet only recovering from their late Illnesses had scarce strengh to get the ship before the wind”.
The next day, Cook “Found the Bitts which Secures the foot of the Bow-sprit loose, this obliged us to put before the wind untill they were secured in the best manner our situation would admit”. Banks noted “Several fish were about the ship”.
The ship’s company were anxious for a sight of Africa. On 3 March, Banks saw “a Bank of Clouds... to the Wrd which had very much the appearance of Land”. The next evening “some of the people thought that they saw Land but that opinion was rejected almost without examination” as they were still a long way from the coast. Cook commented, “some people thought they saw the appearence of land to the Northward, but this appear’d so improbable that I who was not on deck at this time was not acquainted with it untill dark, when I order’d them to sound but found no ground with 80 fm [fathom] upon which we concluded that no land was near”.
However, “day light in the Morning proved this to be a Mistake by shewing us the land at the Distance of a bout 2 Leagues off. We had now the wind at SE, blowing fresh right upon the land... we wore and hauld off to Eastward... This part of the Coast of Africa... is call’d in the Charts Point Natall, it was a steep cragy point, very much broke and look’d as if the high Cragy rocks were Islands... About 2 Leagues to the NE of the point appeared to be the Mouth of a River which probably may be that of St Johns”. It lies to the south of present-day Natal.
Banks considered they were in great danger. He wrote, “Day broke and shewd us at its earliest dawn how fortunate we had been in the Calms of last night: what was then supposd to be land provd realy so and not above 5 miles from us, so that another hour would have infallibly have carried us upon it. But fortunate as we might think ourselves to be yet unshipwreckd we were still in extreme danger, the wind blew right upon the shore and with it a heavy sea ran which broke mountains high on the rocks with which it was every where lind, so that tho some in the ship thought it possible the major part did not hope to be able to get off. Our anchors and cables were accordingly prepard but the sea ran too high to allow us a hope of the Cables holding should we be drove to the Necessity of making use of them, and should we be drove ashore the Breakers gave us as little hope of saving even our lives: at last however after 4 hours spent in the vicissitudes of hope and fear we found that we got gradualy off and before night were out of Danger”.
Cook found that as well as the wind the current was also moving the ship. He wrote on 6 March, “found the Ship by Observation 90 Miles to the Southward of Account, thus far the Current has carried us to the South sence the last Observation which was only two days ago, but it is plane from the posission of the Coast that we have been carried full as far to the West also Notwithstanding we have been Standing all the time to the ENE”. Banks commented, “For these some days past the seamen have found the ship to be Drove hither and thither by currents in a manner totaly unacountable to them”.
Banks felt the drop in temperature. “For this day or two we have thought it rather colder than we should chuse; at noon today the Thermometer in the shade was at 70” degrees Fahrenheit. On 9 March, he was happily observing nature again. “Calmish. Many Birds were observd such as Albatrosses, black and grey Shearwaters cheifly setting upon the water. The surface was pretty thickly stewd with the substance that I have before often mentiond under the name of Sea Saw dust; the sea water likewise emitted a strong smell like that of Seaweeds rotting on the shore”. The next day, “many Birds especialy Gannetts were seen about the ship”.