On 1st January, 1780 Captain John Gore in the Resolution and Captain James King in the Discovery were at Macao.
On 11th Gore wrote to King, “In case of separation on leaving this place (which you are to take all possible means to avoid), look for me five days in the place where you last saw me, and in case we do not meet in that time, you are to make the best of your way to Princes Island at the S. W. end of the Straits of Sunda; not meeting with me there, you are to complete your Wood and Water, refresh your people in the best manner you can, thence make the best of your way for the Island St Helena; by the way, look in at the Cape of Good Hope for me; should you not find me there, and find it necessary to refresh your people, do so. Not meeting with me at St Helena, make such stay there as may be necessary for refreshing; then make the best of your way for England by such Rout as you may think most prudent for the preservation of His Majesty’s Sloop under your Command, and at the same time consistent with their Lordships Instructions, leaving for me at all proper places written accounts of your proceedings.”
The same day George Gilbert, midshipman on the Discovery, wrote “Two of the Resolutions people run away with their six oard cutter in the night and were not heard of afterwards.” Thomas Edgar, Master on the Discovery, wrote, “AM at 2 John Cave, Quarter Master & Michael Spencer, Sea Man run away with the Resolution’s Great Cutter under cover of a Dark Morning, & got clear off.” The next day Rickman, first lieutenant on the Resolution, wrote, “we were the whole day detained in endeavouring to recover them; but to no purpose.” King was ordered by Gore to send “to the Resolution’s carpenter one of our small cutters.”
On 13th Gilbert wrote, “Having compleated our water, overhauld our rigging, caulked the ships sides, and after a very tedious and unnecessary stay of six weeks we sailed and stood to the Southwards.” William Ellis, Surgeon’s second mate on the Resolution, added they were “in company with a Swedish ship which had just arrived from Wampo, but being a fast sailer she soon left us.”
King felt moved to write “I presume we may fairly conclude that our voyage of Discovery is now at an end. Capt Gore purposing to proceed to England with all speed. I shall therefore shorten this Journal of proceedings since my command to this Sloop, simply remarking the times of making land or when we stop at any place, with the occurrances at those places. A Log might be of some service to ships going the same track, but I imagine a Journal can be of little use.” [!!!!!]
Gilbert continued “On leaving the Land we had a very hard gale of wind and bad weather for eight days, till we made the Island of Pulocondore which is small and high, and covered with wood”. Pulau Condore, now called Con Son, lies to the south of Vietnam.
They arrived on 20th when Ellis wrote “Wood being an article we could not procure at Macao, a party were sent on shore to cut some… The day following we bought three or four fish of some the natives”. Rickman wrote “In pursuit of game, of which there was plenty, our gentlemen fell in with a party of natives, one of whom accompanied them to the ships. We made him understand, that we wanted provisions… being informed, that buffaloes were on the island, we purchased seven… Here we found the cabbage-tree and other succulent greens, with which our people made very free without asking questions.”
On the 28th “we took up our anchors and made sail”, wrote Ellis. “When out of the harbour we shaped our course for the straits of Banca”, which lie between Sumatra and the island of Bangka. On 2nd February they passed “an Island whose name I do not know”, wrote King, “having now no map of these seas on board”. Ellis noted, “Sumatra is low, and covered with trees to the very edge of the water, the whole forming to appearance an impenetrable wood”
On 7th King saw “the west part of Java”, to the south of Sumatra and separated from it by the Sunda Strait, and the next day “saw a sail at Anchor in the Channel we must pass thro. Not knowing what she might prove & for what purpose she was in so singular a place, we cleared ship & got clear for Action”. The Resolution, wrote Rickman, “did the same, hoisting English colours. It was some time before they shewed any, but at length they hoisted Dutch colours. We sent our boat on board, and received the first news of a Spanish war”. According to King “the Dutch ship was from Batavia bound to Europe, the crew very sickly having buryed four men since their departure from that place”.
The Resolution, wrote Ellis, proceeded “to a small high isle called Cracatoa… The Discovery, in the interim, was dispatched to a Dutch East Indiaman, at some distance, to procure some arrack, as our stock of spirits was nearly exhausted, and to enquire if there was any particular news from Europe, after which she was to proceed to Prince’s-Island, and there wait our arrival.” We continued our course to Carcatoa, off the west end of which we saw another Dutch East Indiaman at anchor; and having let go our anchor, and secured the ship, the pinnace, with a proper officer, was sent on board to learn if we could be supplied with any arrack. In the evening the boat returned, with an account that the captain would furnish us with three or four legers… This ship had been as far as Japan, and was very richly laden.”
The next day, continued Ellis “shooting parties went out, but met with nothing worth notice; the inhabitants, who were all dressed in the Malay fashion, behaved with civility... The town, which consists of twelve or fourteen houses, is situated in a pleasant spot, about half a mile from the shore, and surrounded with trees of various kinds… All the houses were elevated upon posts”. Rickman wrote, “several of our people fell ill of the flux, and so continued for some time”.
King in the Discovery “set all the sail we could” but “the wind slackening & the Current setting very strong to the South… we could not fetch the ship that was at anchor. We drop ours therefore as near her as we could; & sent Lieut Williamson to go on board… on his return [he] informed us that she was a Dutch ship 7 months from Europe… England was at War both with France & Spain… Mr Williamson was informed that the water at Crocotova was very good and always preferred by the Dutch to that on Princes Island”.
The Discovery arrived at Princes Island on 12th. King commented, “Since entering the streights of Banka, we have begun to feel the powerful effects of the noxious air of this part of the world. Not the healthiest among us but finds a loss of appetite, an insufferable langour & a suffocating heat. Most of us have coughs, & those who are worse complain of pains of the head. Two of the men are now lying dangerously ill of malignant putrid fevers”.
Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith describe this painting (pencil, wash and water-colour) in their book The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776 – 1780 (Yale University Press, 1988): “The one documented drawing Webber made at the time is his A Deer of Princes Island… It captures the feeling of a nimble but defenceless animal surprised in its lair. To take the drawing out of the realm of the type specimen and compose the animal in close relationship with its habitat, here reveals Webber’s ‘modernity’ in scientific draughtsman-ship.”
The next day “having got plenty of water on board we sailed” from Krakatau, wrote Rickman, and “on the 15th we entered the bay of Prince’s Island, where Capt. Cook, when he commanded the Endeavour, anchored in his return to Europe.” Cook had arrived on 1st January 1771. According to Gilbert Princes Island was “generally alowed to be the hotest and most unhealthy place in the world. The people here are Malays of whom we purchased great plenty of fowls and turtle at a modrate price; we compleated our water from a standing pool which was but indifferent”.
The ships sailed on 18th and, according to Gilbert, they “were lucky in having fine weather and in general favourable winds” during their passage to Africa.
On 26 March, Gore wrote to King: “As the putting in at the Cape of Good Hope may be the means of our missing the Convoy from St Helena for England, and as I wish to be there in time to sail with them; you are therefore in case of separation (which you are to take all possible means to prevent) to look for me two days in the place where you last saw me (I will do the same for you), not joining me in that time, you are to make the best of your way to the Island St Helena, and not put in at the Cape of Good Hope, unless in case of absolute necessity. On your arrival at st Helena refresh your people in such manner as may seem best unto you; and in case I should not join you before the Convoy is ready to sail, make your way with them for England, in such manner as the Commanding Officer of the Convoy and you may think most safe. Take care to leave for me with the Governor of St Helena a written account of your proceedings.”
However, only three days later King was writing “Capt Gore sent for our Carpenters to examine the state of their rudder, which it was found to be very badly shook, & no remedy to be applied at Sea. This circumstance joined with the indifferent state of health of the Resolution’s people… induced Capt Gore to alter the Rendezvous he had given me from St Helena to Table bay, C of Good Hope”.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 48, volume 28, number 1 (2005).
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