On 1st April, 1780 Captain John Gore in the Resolution and Captain James King in the Discovery were approaching the tip of South Africa. Gore was, apparently, not intending to stop off at the Dutch held Cape of Good Hope but press on for the island of St Helena in the Atlantic.
On 6th George Gilbert, midshipman on the Discovery, observed “six sail from the masthead at a great distance, which we afterwards learned were French ships of the Line that had been crusing there and now going to the Mauritius; a fog coming on we saw them only a few minuits - a little afterwards we fell in with a Large ship that continued to hover about, at a distance, for two or three days and then bore down to us. Which appearing rather suspicious, we hove too and cleared for action. She passed close to windward of us, with Imperial Colours, and stood on”.
The coast was sighted on 7th and two days later “we fell in with Cape Lagullas”, wrote John Rickman, first lieutenant on the Resolution, “where about 9 in the morning we saw a small vessel cruising, which proved to be the East-India Company’s snow, Betsey, looking out for the East-India fleet… She confirmed the account we had received of the Spanish war. We exchanged some trifles, and soon parted.
“The Resolution having wrung the head of Her rudder very much”, continued Gilbert, she “was not able to turn up round the Cape to Table Bay; therefore was obliged to put into False Bay, which is sixteen miles distant over land, where we arrived” on the 12th.
According to William Ellis, Surgeon’s second mate on the Resolution, they “moored ship, and fired thirteen guns as a salute to the governor, for as yet there was no fort erected; they contrived to return an equal number, having a few pieces of cannon fixed before the store-houses.”
King was visited by a Dutch corporal “with a paper containing a string of Questions, to two of which I wrote answers, our being English men of war & not having the smallpox on board.” Soon after they anchored “Mr Brandt the Governor of this place came to see us… Capt Cook had always lived with Mr Brandt the many different times that he had been at the Cape, and that Gentlemans sorrow at the melancholy fate of his friend, renewed ours also. Nevertheless we could not help other sensations of joy arising, in the sight of an old friend, the last we took leave of now near three years & a half ago”.
Gilbert noted we “received a proclamation of the King of France that had been issued out to all Commanders of their ships and vessels of war, forbidding them to intercept or molest us; it was found onboard one of their Frigates, taken by Admiral Keppels Fleet, and sent out by the Admiralty for us at our return. We found the Nassau and Southampton [East]India ships lying here, being affraid to venture out on account of the French Fleet we had seen on the Coast. About ten days afterwards the Sybil Frigate arrived at Table Bay, and conveyed them Home.”
King noted that on the Resolution there were eight men in sick quarters and on Discovery none. “How exceeding different this from the State of Sir Edward Hughes Squadron of 5 Sail who only in a passage from England had above 200 men at the Hospital here”, he wrote. “Next to the care of divine providence the remarkable health the ships companys enjoyed must be attributed to the Sourkrout & Portable soup, & not less to the method taken by Capt Cook & followed after his death, of making the people live upon the produce of the countrys or places, however uncommon & contrary to our prejudices rather than suffer them to eat putrid salt meat.”
According to Andrew David’s book The Charts and Coastal Views of Cook’s Voyages, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780 (Hakluyt Society, 1997) William Bayly, astronomer on the Resolution, landed on 13th “with his instruments with the intention of having them taken to Cape Town, presumably to be set up at the site of his former observatory. However, on finding the road was very rough and stony, Bayly decided that the risk of damaging them was too great and so set up his observatory in the vicinity of the anchorage and from the usual set of equal altitudes Bayly obtained a satisfactory rate for K3”, one of the chronometers.
On 1st May Gore wrote to the Admiralty Secretary, “Please to acquaint Their Lordships that an account of our Proceedings from Leaving Kamtschatka on our second attempt for a passage between Asia and America to Capt Clerkes Death together with my proceedings since to the Time of leaving Kamtschatka the second Time (and on our Rout to England) will I expect to come to hand some Time in August this Year. And by the same Rout as the dispatches sent from Kamtschatka by Capt Clerke.
“I now make use of The Opportunity to send by Capt Pasely of His Majesty’s Ship Sibyl Two Journals one of Capt Cooks, the other Capt Clerkes, together with Mr Baylys Observations and some of Mr Webbers Drawings. This I now do That their Lordships may not be disappointed in a Further Knowledge of our Voyage. Should any accident from Enemies or bad weather Put it out of My power to reach England with the Sloops under my Command in Particular the Resolution She being very Weak in her Hull. However Bad weather I Hope to avoid having the good weather for my Passage. Enemies: I have (as it appears to me) Sufficient reason to think that there cannot be much Danger from Them. This not only from the information of your Letter to Capt Cook… which I have. But that of some Others in Particular the Governour Here, who has ashured me and that from good information that Not only the French But the Spaniards and Americans also will Treat us As friends provided we do not molest any of Their Ships. Hence I think it the Most prudent and safe to avoid sailing in Company with any of our Ships. But to proceed for England by our selves and by such rout as may be the best for avoiding even the Probable Track of an Enemy. Which I mean to do as Near as I can on our Passage from this Place to England.
“Shoul’d I sail in Company with any of our Ships and They on the passage Meet an Enemy who attacks Them I could not (I think) even from my own Feelings avoid Joining the Attack in Their defence, in which the consequence Probably would be (in case we were worsted) the Loss of many Things that Otherwise would have been perserv’d and that Perhaps in resentment for our non Acceptance of a Generous Protection.
“Please Further to inform Their Lordships that my proceedings Since I have had the Command being but little more than the making a passage From Kamtschatka to this Place, I beg Leave to decline A written Account at this Time. The Map will point out my Track From Kamtschatka to Macao in China.
“Capt Pasely sails for England in a Day or Two Taking two of our India Ships under his Convoy, and as one of Them sails Heavily I hope to Be in England close at Their Heels and have the Honour to give an Account of my Proceedings in Person, in the mean Time a Gentleman (One of our Masters Mates) who goes with Capt Pasely as an Assistant In making the Lunar Observations and who on their arrival in England will be dispatch’d from the first Port Chargd with the Care Of the Journals and Maps afore mention’d, Together with a Ruff Logg Book of mine by which the above Gentleman Mr Portlock will be able to point out to their Lordships somewhat more of our Passage From Kamtschatka Than can be understood by the Map.”
Gore ended the letter “Mr Portlocks Character is fair and he is in My Opinion deserving.” Nathaniel Portlock had started the Third Voyage as an AB on the Discovery, been promoted to Master’s mate and then transferred to the Resolution after Clerke’s death. He joined the Sybil on 29th April.
Captain Thomas Pasley had left England on 10 February in his ship Sybil to protect the two East India Company ships on their homeward journey. They arrived at Falmouth on 27 August 1780. Pasley rose to be an admiral and was created a baronet in 1794.
William Hollamby, midshipman on Discovery, was appointed master’s mate in Portlock’s place, and Alexander Mouat, AB on Discovery, was appointed midshipman.
On 4th May “there was an eclipse of the Sun, the end of which was observed satisfactorily by Bayly… and by Bligh” - see Andrew David, 1997. William Bligh was Master on the Resolution.
During their stay, wrote Gilbert, “The carpenters of both ships were employed in making a new Rudder for the Resolution which was soon compleated, having refitted the ships and taken in a sufficient quantity of stores and provisions” and, as Ellis put it, “as much live-stock as we could find room for”. According to John Ledyard, corporal of marines on the Resolution, they had “120 live sheep on board, and the Discovery a like proportion”. Gore wrote on 9th, “Completed our Provisions at this place to five Months of all Species, exclusive of our bad Beef and Pease, both of which I ordered to be surveyed; and find, from the Report of the Surveyors, that the Master of the Discovery Mr Edgar, thinks the Beef fit for use. My own opinion is the contrary, and I believe agrees with that of every candid person of both Sloops”.
John Webber, the artist on the Resolution, visited the menagerie at the Cape and drew a gnu he saw there. He also made drawings of a giraffe and a hippopotamus from drawings by Captain Robert Jacob Gordon, Commander of the Dutch forces at Cape Town. See The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776 – 1780 by Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith (Yale University Press, 1988).
Lieutenant Molesworth Phillips, who was in charge of the marines on shore when Cook died, is said to have fought a duel at the Cape with Lieutenant John Williamson, who had been in charge of the launch just off shore during the fracas. They were previously said to have fought a duel on 17th September 1777 at Tahiti.
According to Gilbert “After a tedious stay of a month, on the 9th of May we sailed for England”. Ellis added, “we took up our anchors and made sail, but our wind failed us before we could clear the bay, and we were obliged to come-to again. The following day we were more fortunate; and having stood out to sea, pursued a southerly course for some time, to avoid falling in with any ships of the enemy, which, not withstanding the edict that was issued, might give us more trouble than we wished to experience.” They lost sight of land on 12th.
According to James Trevenen, midshipman on the Discovery, there was “a gale of wind off the Cape that not only hindered us from advancing on our way, but drove us considerably out of it. After this, constant calms were extremely mortifying to a set of people, who, having been above four years absent from their native country, were eagerly impatient to revisit it”.
On 4th June Ledyard noted, “the Discovery’s boat brought us word, that in exercising the great guns, the carpenter’s mate had his arm shattered in a shocking manner, by the part of the wadding being left in after a former discharge; another man slightly wounded at the same time.” William Walker was the carpenter’s mate and James Flood, AB, the other man injured.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 42, volume 28, number 2 (2005).
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