On 1st July, 1779 Captain Charles Clerke in the Resolution and Captain John Gore in the Discovery were sailing northward from Kamchatka seeking to find the North West Passage.
The next day Clerke recorded “we had it Calm with a thick Fog till between 3 and 4 when there came on a breeze which for a few minutes dispers’d the Fog and we got a sight at the Land extending from N 59º W to N 83º W Distant 25 Leagues… Carpenters repairing the large Cutter and making an Arm Chest. People spinning Spunyarn & picking Oakum… The Hills about this part of the Country must be very high from our frequently seeing them at so great a distance.”
According to George Gilbert, midshipman on the Resolution, the foggy weather “intirely frustrated our intentions of surveying this part of the Coast of Kamchatka”.
On 3rd David Samwell, surgeon on Discovery, wrote “about noon we saw the Coast on our larboard beam and soon after discovered Land on our starboard bow, which made us at first suppose that we were embayed… However, in the Evening we found the Land on our right to be the Island of St Hillarion or St Laurence which we saw last Year”.
Clerke now “stood to the Noward towards Behrings Straits.” On the 5th the “People picking Oakum and spinning Spunyarn. At Noon saw Land to the NE which I conclude to be one of those high Isles laying nearly in the middle of the Straits.” Next day “that I might be assur’d my conjectures were true… I shap’d a Course to take a look at this land… we soon after saw the other Island and I was convinc’d they were the Isles I supposed them… I now resumed my Course again to the Noward… we got sight of the Asia Coast to the Westward and haul’d for it… We soon after saw the Ettern Extreme of Asia… I steer’d again to the Noward… we saw the peak’d Hill upon the American Shore… this is the only remarkable Hill about this part of the Country and is therefore an excellent Landmark… we pass’d in the Night many small pieces of Ice which from the dirt upon them I should suppose they were lately broke from the shores.”
However, according to Gilbert “The fog still
continuing, by the assistance of the Time keeper we passed thro the straits without seeing either continent or the two small Islands in the middle, tho the passage on each side is not above six Leagues wide; which is a convincing proof how much it is to be depended upon.”
On 7th Samwell wrote “about six o’Clock this Morning we saw Ice a head extending from SE to NNW, at 7 we came up with it and found it to be a large field of which we could see no end in any direction.” Clerke realised “we could not possibly make any way to the Noward upon the American Coast I bore away to the Wtward along this immense body of Ice to which we could see no bounds from our Masts Head… the surface of this Ice was exceedingly rough and uneven and in many places at least 20 feet above the level of the Water.”
The next day as he “continued to stand along the edge of the firm Ice [he] was oblig’d to run through large quantities of the drift [ice], which I found rather a disagreeable business, as in spight of all our endeavours we got some such thumps as I fear our Bows are hardly equal to, but I am exceedingly desirous now of making my way to the Noward if possible as we have all the Season before us. Among this drift Ice was a number of old Trees and pieces of Wood.”
On 8th Samwell noted “heavy Showers of Snow all Morning, the Weather cleared up about 2 o’clock & we were close in with the Body of Ice of which we could see no end in any direction… From the appearance of the Ice hithero We have not the least Hopes of a Passage.” The next day “we passed through a great quantity of loose Ice against some of which the Ship received 2 or 3 heavy blows in her Bows.” It was no better on the Resolution as Clerke reported the next day. “We continued our endeavours to force our through [the drift ice] till we found the flakes very large and so thick as not possibly to be avoided and when we did encounter them their weight was such as wholly to stop the Ship, the shocks we receiv’d by them hurt the face of the Cut Water and bruiz’d and damag’d the Sheathing about the Bows”. He now decided “to search out some spot as clear of Ice as I possibly could and there pass a few days”.
James King, the first lieutenant on the Resolution, noted “Capt Clerke, nor any one else, could see any prospect of getting any further to the Noward, till the Season was somewhat more advancd”.
On 11th Clerke “pass’d vast quantities of loose Ice [and] saw a number of the Morses laying about upon the different pieces”. The morse, also called the sea cow, is now known as the walrus. “As the Winds were very light and the Water smooth I thought it a good opportunity of procuring a Cargo of fresh Beef, so rought too, hoisted out the Boats and attack’d them.”
As they sailed south they “were brought up by a compact body of Pack’d Ice, extending a great way” wrote King. “This stoppage was unexpectd & destroyd Captn Clerke intentions yesterday; & which the men do not seem to regret as they heartily wish to see at once what can be done, & to have no more of it when once they turn their backs to it.” The ships “stood NbE” noted Samwell. But, on 13th Clerke “saw Ice ahead… we could see no kind of limits from our Masts Head so were oblig’d to tack and stand to the Soward… At Noon tack’d and stood towards the Ice again”.
The next day, they had “Light Winds and fair Weather” so, as he had done on several previous days, Clerke “hoisted out the Jolly Boat and sent onboard the Discovery to compare the Time Keepers.” The next day “at ½ past 4… the Fog so thick we could not see our Consort, we fir’d a Swivel every ½ Hour which was answer’d till 6 when the fog in some measure dispersing we saw Her again”.
On 16th they had “Foggy weather till 8”, wrote James Burney, first lieutenant on the Discovery. Then “the wind freshning, cleared away the fog and we found ourselves embayed”. According to Henry Roberts, master’s mate on the Resolution, “what drew us into this snare was our mistaking the solid body of Ice, for that of a floating field, having saild round its point to the North, a considerable distce before we discovered the firm ice & perceiv’d our error”. Clerke “stood to the Soward” until the next day when “made all sail to the Noward… Clean’d Ship below and had fires Fore & Aft to give her a good Airing.”
On 18th John Rickman, second lieutenant on the Discovery, wrote “a large bear passed us in the water; but made for the ice at a great rate. In half an hour we saw multitudes of them upon the ice, making to the eastward, when we observed the sea-cows, as the bears approached them, flying like
sheep pursued by dogs.”
The next day “at 2 in the Morning found the Ice turned short to the South” wrote Burney. It was the furthest north they achieved during this season at latitude 70º 33' N.
On 20th William Ellis, Surgeon’s second mate on the Resolution, wrote “At two in the afternoon we saw two white bears swimming by us, and the jolly boat (which had been hoisted out to compare the time-keepers) being along-side, three or four of the gentlemen with musquets in their hands jumped into her, and went in pursuit of them, and soon returned with both.” Clerke “endeavour’d to weigh the large one by the lump, but broke the Stilliard in the attempt so was oblig’d t be content with the weight of Her Quarters when cut up which amounted to 436lb… This was a most comfortable supply… of very palatable and wholsome fresh Meat”.
The next day Clerke decided “it is now clearly impossible to proceed in the least farther to the Noward upon this Coast and it is equally as improbable that this amazing mass of Ice should be dissolv’d by the few remaining Summer weeks which will terminate this Season but it will doubtlessly remain as it now is a most unsurmountable barrier to every attempt we can possibly make. I therefore think it the best step I can take for the good of the service to trace the Ice over to the Asiatic Coast, try if I can find a Hole that will admit me any farther North, if not see whats to be done upon that Coast where I hope but cannot much flatter myself with meeting better success, for this Sea is now so Choak’d with Ice that a passage I fear is totally out of the question.”
Clerke’s journal ends with this entry.
On 23rd the Discovery, wrote Samwell, “got among a large Body of loose Ice. All the forenoon we were attempting to work out of it, during which time the Ship received many heavy blows on her Bows which we immagine must have done her much damage; the Resolution got out into clear Water about 9 o’Clock, but the Ice collecting round us fast we were blocked in at last in spite of all our Efforts, & that in a very dangerous Situation just on the edge of the Ice where there was a heavy Swell, which heaving her violently against the Ice must in a short time have stove in some of her planks had we not luckily drove in further among the Ice into smooth Water about noon, where we made her fast to a large piece with Ice hooks and lay very quiet. The Weather being thick and foggy we have lost Sight of the Resolution; while we lay here we bent new Sails, our old ones being not trust Worthy in blowing Weather, and secured our Rudder from the Ice… At 1 o’Clock it fell calm, but at 5 o’Clock in the Afternoon a light Breeze springing up from the Northward we loosened the Ship and hoisting our Sails pressed through the Ice; abt this time we heard a Gun from the Resolution at a great distance off, which we immediately answered. At 7 o’Clock we got into clear Water excepting a few pieces of Ice here & there. We found that the ship made water in Consequence of the blows she receiv’d this Morning. We fired a Gun which was not answered, & at 9 o’Clock fired another which was answered by the Resolution a head of us with two Guns, one of which we returned; at 10 o’Clock having very thick foggy Weather we came among some large pieces of loose Ice and kept firing a Gun every half hour in answer to the Resolution; at 11 we joined her and learned that she had received no Damage among the Ice. We directed our Course to the Southward & Eastward in order to get clear of the Ice, as it appears impracticable to proceed to the Westward for the Coast of Asia except in a lower Latitude.”
The next day, Samwell continued, “Running among some loose Ice, the Ship makes 3 Inches of Water an Hour… In the Afternoon we came among a great Number of Sea Horses, on which the Boats of both Ships were hoisted out & during the afternoon we killed with our Muskets 20 of them & wounded many more. The People did not eat them, their Blubber was the most valuable to us for making oil”, i.e. for the lamps.
On 27th Rickman recorded “the leak still
continuing rather to increase than abate, our Captain, with Mr. Bailey the astronomer, and Mr. Burney, our 1st lieutenant, went on board the Resolution, to report our situation to the Commodore, whom they found so ill as to be past all hopes of recovery. Upon calling a council of officers, it was unanimously agreed, that we should proceed as fast as possible to some port, where we might repair our damages, and Kamshatka was appointed our place of rendezvous.” The next day “we came in sight of the Asia shore, very high and covered with snow”. They continued south.
On 30th Samwell “saw the Coast of America on our larboard Bow… The Land of America is mountainous & has much Snow upon it.” The next day the ships “sailed across the Mouth of the Bay of St Laurence where Captn Cook landed last Year & met with some of the Natives, the Tschutki; we saw nothing of them now being at too great a distance from the Shore”.
Rickman noted “nothing remarkable till August the 5th, when we had an observation” to determine their position. Burney summarised the days “to the 17th [as] making the best of our way towards the SW, without any occurrence worth remarking.” However, Roberts noted on 11th: “The fore top Gallt sail, being much torn and bad in many places, it was cut up to repair other sails.”
On 13th Rickman wrote “we had the Resolution’s boat on board, to compare time, who brought the disagreeable news of the Captain’s being given over by the surgeon.” Two days later King added “Captain Clerke had with a degree of fortitude & good spirits that was really astonishing strugled with his disorder, & continued to command the expedition till now, when he has desired me, under his authority to inspect, & give the necessary orders. Never was a decay, so melancholy & gradual.”
On 21st Burney “saw the Coast of Kamtschatka, the Shupanoveskaya Mountain”. Zhupanovskaya.
The next day King recorded “At ½ past 8 depart’d this Life Captn Charles Clerke, he had since the 16th been entirely confin’d to his bed, when giving over all hopes of Recovery, he resignd himself to his situation with an equanimity that doubtless lessen’d the Sensations of the beholders.”
Samwell added “Captain Charles Clerke our Commander in Chief died of a Consumption which he had been labouring under ever since he left England… [He] was a sensible Man & a good Sailor, but did not possess that degree of Firmness & Resolution necessary to constitute the Character of a great Commander. He was ever diffiident of himself & consequently wavering and unfixed in his Conduct, except where a certain Line of Action was chalked out to him & then no man was readier to pursue it than himself; he was fitter to be second than first in Command, fitter to execute than to plan. However his Perseverance in pursuing the Voyage after the death of Captn Cook, not-withstanding his own bad state of Health, will ever reflect Honour upon his Memory. The most remarkable part of his Character was his happy convivial Turn & humourous Conversation in which he excelled most Men... The Vacancies occasioned by his Death will not be filled up till we get into the Harbour of Peter & Paul, which we expect to do in a day or two.”
Roberts noted “Captn Gore succeeded to the Command, the Discovery therefore the leading ship”. John Gore, First Lieutenant on the Resolution, was an American, possibly born in Virginia, who had been master’s mate on two voyages round the world in the Dolphin with Byron and Wallis, Third Lieutenant on the Endeavour, with Banks to Iceland.
On 23rd Ellis “felt an unusual rumbling motion in the ship, which continued for about the space of ten seconds, an effect which we attributed to an earthquake”. Samwell “in the evening saw the lookout house of Awatscha Bay, on which a good light was shewn us after dark, at Midnight Anchord in the entrance of Awatscha Bay”. The next day King “ran into the harbour of St Peter & St Paul, followd by the Discovery, with our Colours half hoist’d”. Burney added “The Country has now a most beautifull appearance; Kamtschatka in Summer and Kamtschatka in winter one would Scarcely call the same place. Major Behm, we hear, set off for Petersburgh soon after our departure (in June). Captn Smealoff is commander in chief of Kamtschatka. The Ostrog of St Peter and Paul is under the same Serjeant who commanded when we were here before.” Samwell noted that the Russians sent a messenger “to acquaint Captain Smiloff… of our Arrival.”
On 25th wrote King, “Captain Gore made out the commissions in consequence of Captain Clerkes death; appointing himself to the command of the Resolution and me to the command of the Discovery. To Lieuts Burney & Rickman he gave commissions as 1st & 2nd Lieuts of the Resolution, & to Lieut Williamson one as 1st Lieut of the Discovery & apointed Mr Lanyon, mate of the Resolution, [as] 2nd”. William Bayly, astronomer on the Discovery, was moved to the Resolution, to replace King’s skills, and midshipmen Robert Mackay, Mathew Paul and James Trevenen moved with King. King continued “We went on board our respective ships & had the commissions read to the ships companys.”
Thomas Edgar, Master on the Discovery, wrote
“Began clearing the Forehold in Order to lighten the Ship forward. The Carpenters Empd ripping the Sheething from off the Larboard Bow at Noon”. According to Bayly they “found one of the Planks… stove in… & had not the plank been exceeding tough & good, so as to bend, there must have been a hole near a foot Square - in that case all our Pumps would have been of but little service to us.”
Samwell added “The Astronomers’ Observatories were erected on shore and a Tent for both Captains. Tents were likewise erected for the Use of the Waterers, Wooders, Brewers & Oil Boilers & Sailmakers, who are to be set at work in their different Occupations as soon as possible.” The next day “The Serjeant dined with both Captains onboard the Discovery.” Edgar noted that ashore “People Empd Wooding, Cooper repairing bad Casks, got the forge on shore & set it up to repair Iron Work. At Noon got the Sheet Anchor on shore in order to lighten the Ship forward.”
Clerke had requested that he be buried in the church of the nearby village of Paratoonka. On 27th “our old Friend the Parson of Paratoonka, Romaan Feodorowitz Vereshagin” Samwell recorded “waited upon Captn Gore. He objects to our burying Captn Clerke at Paratoonka on account of our not being Christians, at least not of the Communion of the Greek Church, but proposes to have him buried here where a Church will be built next Year & where many of the Russians are buried... Finding it in vain to argue with these people, we agreed to the Priest’s Proposal & the 2 Captns went with him on shore to choose a proper Spot, and having fixed upon one a Gang of Hands was sent on shore to cut down the Grass and underwood in order to make a Lane for the Procession at the funeral, and in the afternoon a Grave was dug at the foot of a tree near the Head of the Harbour of St Peter & Paul where he is to be buried next Sunday”.
The next day being Saturday, King allowed all “except the carpenters to wash their linnen & get their cloaths in some little order, to appear decent on Sunday”.
According to Edgar, on Sunday “read the Articles of War & mustered the Ships Company. at Noon the Corpse of Captn Charles Clerke was put into the pinnace in Order to be Inter’d when both Ships begun to Toll their Bells; as soon as the Corpse was Landed each Ship fired 20 Guns 40 Seconds between each Gun. ½ past Noon the Marines that attended fired three Volleys when the Corpse was Laid in the Ground & the Ships ceas’d firing.” Samwell added “Clerke was buried with all the military Honours due to his Rank & according to the Ceremony of the Church of England. Each Ship fired alternately twenty Guns, & three Vollies were fired by the Marines over his Grave. The Funeral was attended by the Captains & all the Officers of both Ships; the Priest, Serjeant & many other Russians were spectators as well as most of our own Sailors. The officers dined with the Captains at the Tent and also the Priest and the Serjeant.”
Governor Vasilyevich Schmalov recorded “the English built a coffin for him out of birch. They covered it over with sod and surrounded it with a paling fence. This burial was carried out with a cannon salute, by my command.”
According to Roberts an “inscription was… fix’d on the Tree over his grave, which was staked round, and made conspicuous.” According to Gore it read “At the foot of this Tree lies the body of Captain Charles Clerke Esqr, who succeeded to the Command of His Britannic Majesty’s Ships the Resolution and Discovery, on the death of Captain james Cook Esqr (who was unfortunately killed by the Natives at an Island in the South Sea on the 14th of February, in the year 1779). He died at Sea of a lingering Consumption on the 22nd of August in the same year, aged 38.”
On 31st, wrote Ellis, “in the morning our pinnace, in which went the serjeant, was dispatched to the mouth of the bay to assist a small vessel, which he told us had been in sight for two days past, but for want of a sufficient number of hands could not get in… In the evening she returned, having seen nothing of the vessel.” Edgar noted “Carpenters caulking the Sheething on the Larboard Bow. People Employ’d Overhauling the rigging, Wooding & Cooper repairing bad Casks; a Gang of hands hauling the Sean & Salting Salmon & some Men gathering greens for the Ship’s Company. Opened a Puncheon of Beef No 5475, Contents 186 over 2 pieces; begun serving Salt Beef to the Ships Company.”
The next day, 1st September, Gore “gave a Cask of Salt pork of Sea Horse, which we had Salted to the Northwd, to some Russians & Kamtschadales.” wrote Samwell. “Most of the Kamtschadales are now employed in catching & drying fish for the Winter and in picking Berries. Our Carpenters employed in repairing the Ships starboard Bow where they have found a plank stove by the Ice.”
Two days later he continued “A Russian Ensign (or Praposhick) of the Name of Evan Evanowitz Sind… arrived here from Bolscheretskoy with an Apology from Captn Smiloff that he did not wait upon us himself, urging in excuse that as the Sloops expected from Ochotzk were not yet arrived at Kamtschatka he had nothing to supply us with, but that he will come down as soon as they arrive. However he informs us that there are 16 heads of Cattle coming down to us from Verchnay and an Interpreter in the Russian and German Language. We Unhung our Rudder & sent it on shore to be repaired.” Edgar also “Receiv’d on board 2 tons of Shingle Ballast.”
Two days later Samwell noted “A Bullock was delivered to us by the Serjeant which was killed & one half of it kept for C. G.’s own use, & the remainder shared between the two Ships.” Edgar “recd on board 30 lbs. of fresh Beef”. Later he “got 2 four pounders out of the After Hold & Mounted them.” King added there were two more “between decks & to be got at a very short notice.” This day Gilbert was moved from the Resolution to the Discovery.
On 7th Edgar “punish’d William Poulter with 6 Lashes for Insolence.” He was one of the many seaman on the Discovery who gets no other mention in the journals.
It was not until 9th that Ellis was able to write that the expected ship “was seen standing into the entrance of the bay; upon which the pinnace with the ensign, serjeant, and an officer from the ship were dispatched to inquire if she wanted any assistance”. According to Samwell it was William Bligh “the Master of the Resolution [who] accompanied the Praposhick”. The ship was a “Sloop, or Galliot of 2 Masts”. The next day “Having no Wind 4 Boats were sent from the Ships to assist the Russian Sloop in getting in, and about 12 o’Clock she was brought to an Anchor in the Harbour of St Peter & Paul. Fired 4 Guns in coming in. She has brought over a Military Officer sent by Major Behm to take Command at St Peter & Paul and 50 Souldiers. He & the Master of the Galliot dined with Captn G. at the Tent. The Officer, who is a Potparoochick or next in rank to a Lieutenant, took the Command from the Serjeant and turned him out of his House. The Galliot has brought us some Flower, Cordage, Tar and pitch according to the promise of Major Behm, and a Letter from the Governor of Ochotzk to Captn Clerke, and another from a Surgeon at that place to the Surgeons of the two Ships. A Merchant is likewise come over in her with some Articles of Trade, such as Silk Handkerchiefs, Nankins, &c. The Sloop has brought a supply of Flower and other things for the Souldiers at this place and 2 great Guns for the Garrison.”
For Ellis “from the eleventh to the sixteenth nothing material occurred; our wooders, waterers, armourers, carpenters, &c. were constantly employed on shore, while those on board were busied in stowing the holds, &c. On the 16th, wrote Samwell, “the Interpreter whom we expected arrived here and waited upon the Captains. He understands the German Language tolerably well but is not able to speak it. He is a Russian Nobleman who has been banished here above 30 years. His Name is Peter Matteoos Evashkin”. The next day “Both Captains went upon a party abear shooting accompanied by P. M. Evashkin, & intending to stay away for some days they carried a Cook, Tents and other Necessaries, so that they had more the Appearance of a Caravan going a long Journey than a set of Sportsmen”. King “left directions with Lieut Williamson to repair the rigging, fix new Fore & Maintopgal[lant] Backstays, Miz[en] Topm[ast] Shrouds & Backstays”. Three days later “C. King & Evashkin returned from Bear Hunting, having met with no Sport nor seen a single Bear” recorded Samwell.
On 22nd Edgar “fired 21 Guns it being the Anniversary of his Majesty’s coronation”. Ellis added, “captain Ismyloff arrived at this place from Bolscheretskoi… he was saluted with eleven guns; and having viewed the several parts of the ship, he returned to the shore, and dined in the tent with captain Gore… The next day he dined with captain King, and was saluted with eleven guns from the Discovery, and the following day was entertained by the gentlemen of the Resolution’s gun-room”. According to Samwell “in the Evening we had Kamtschadale, Russian & English Dances at the Tent, at which all the Kamtschadale Women of the Town were present.”
The next day “Captn Smilofftook his leave of us & set off, for Bolscheretskoy. C. G. made him a present of a gold Watch, a Rifle piece, a Case of Knives & some Rum… C.G. gave Evashkin a Suit of Cloaths, Shirts & other things & Captn K. gave him an excellent Rifle piece & other things. The Ships are ready for Sea but we shall wait some time longer for the Bullocks that are expected here
On 26th “The Free Masons belonging to both Ships held a Lodge at the Russian Barracks, at which they made several new Members, who were the first that ever were made in this Country and probably will be the last. To day One of the Balagans tumbled down but the People who lived in it received no Hurt as the form of the dwelling place was preserved.” According to Ellis “as this was the summer season [the local inhabitants] had retired into the balagans, which are their residence during that period of the year”.
The next day, a Monday, Samwell continued “The Masons held another lodge at which several New Members were made.” Ellis added “On Monday and Tuesday all the young women of the village were invited on board the Resolution by captain Gore, and in the evening they had a dance, at which the priest and all his family were present. The Russian dances are as dull and stupid as can well be imagined, but those of the Kamtshadales can be compared to nothing but the aukward motions of a bear, the gestures of which animal they frequently imitate.”
Rudiger Joppien and Bernard Smith described this painting in their book The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768 – 1771 (Yale University Press, 1985). “Four summer huts with conical roofs resting on poles. A winter house in the centre foreground. In the left foreground a woman carrying a bag. An upturned boat at right. Water on both sides. Two figures in the centre seated on a raised platform.”
Samwell commented “The Kamtschadales have a dance in Imitation of some of their Gambols and indeed it is probable that the whole of their dancing is taken from the Bears. They have a very sagacious Nose & smell the Scent of the human foot at a great distance, for which Reason the Kamtschadales when they go in search of them always go against the Wind”.
The following day, he continued, “Sixteen Heads of Cattle arrived here & two Horses for the Use of the Officers during their stay. This Morning Captn Gore went to Paratoonka & took the Carpenter with him to fix up the Escutcheon of Captn Clerke in the Church… A Drawing of the Crucifixion done by Mr Webber was given to the Parson.”
King recorded the “Eskutheon” had been painted by Webber. Gore “desired me to take the first favourable opportunity of getting the ships out of the harbour into the bay.”
So, in the afternoon Edgar “at 2 PM Unmoord & hove Short, at 6 carried out A small Anchor & hawser to steady the Ship”.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 45, volume 27, number 3 (2004).
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