On 1st October, 1779 Captain John Gore in the Resolution and Captain James King in the Discovery were at Petropavlosk, in Avacha Bay on the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east coast of Russia. Thomas Edgar, Master on the Discovery, wrote “strong Gales & squally with heavy showers of rain. Struck Yards & topmasts & got the Top G. Masts down on Deck, Spritsail & topsail Yards fore & Aft.”
The next day David Samwell, surgeon on Discovery, wrote “Captn Gore having required the Officers of both Ships to give him their Opinions in writing of the Course we should take in our passage home, they delivered them in to day and it was found that they all agreed”. William Harvey, third lieutenant on the Resolution (and who had sailed with Cook on the First and Second Voyages), wrote in his letter “The Ship being in a crazy condition, altho just repair’d, as we wanted Canvas & Rigging [they should] make & settle the Latitudes & Longitudes of the Principal places of the Japan Isles, as we have not time to make a compleat Survey of them, from hence to China, w[h]ere we can get every thing that is necessary to carry us to the Cape of Good Hope, without touching at that unhealthy place Batavia”.
The next day “Being the Anniversary of the Empress’s Coronation”, wrote Samwell, “it was observed by the Russians as a high Festival, great Guns were fired at long intervals on board the [Russian] Sloop & on shore during most part of the Day & several Vollies of small Arms. At Noon the Resolution fired 20 Guns in Honour of the Day and C. G. made a present of Beef & Rum to the Officer and Serjeant to entertain their Company on shore.”
On 4th King “took the opportunity of a light breeze & the assistance of the boats to get the ship near where the Resolution was, & secured here with a Bower coasting anchor within a Cables length of the village & entrance of the harbour.” That evening, added Samwell, “The Gent. of both Ships were invited to dine on board the Resolution…the Priest… arrived with his Wife and Daughter. The Serjeant’s wife & all the Kamtschadale Women of the Town came on board and we had Russian, Kamtschadale & Kurilski dances performed… During this Time a Messenger arrived from Bolsheretskoy with Presents of tea & sugar for the Commanders & officers of both Ships”. The next day Edgar “served the Last day’s Spirits to the Ships Company”. The next afternoon, noted Samwell, “There was a slight Eruption of the Volcano”.
On 7th King wrote “The Tents, sails & observatory being all dryed, in the forenoon had them & the people on board”. Bayly transferred to the Resolution bringing with him the timepiece K3, and leaving the experienced King to make astronomical observations on the Discovery. According to Samwell “A Woman who from our first arrival fled from her friends & lived with the Drummer of the Discovery in the Tent, wants to accompany him to England.” James Holloway was the marine’s drummer. The next day King wrote, “The drummer had left the boat to go & see a Kamskadale woman he had connected himself with. He was invaleed having been long lame in his knee… I had no Idea that the fellow would be such a fool as to willingly stay behind. People were sent in search of him & they found him with his lass in some hut in the woods.”
The same day, wrote Samwell, “The Resolution having left some Seines on shore drying; the Morning was taken up in fetching these on board and by the Time we were ready to sail the Wind came round directly against us, so that we were obliged to continue here much against our Inclinations, as we begin to think it high time to be gone from here”. Edgar “servd Spruce Beer to the Ship’s Company.” Gore wrote to King with their intended course; “You are therefore (in case of separation) to look for me five days in the place you last saw me, not joining me in that time, you are to make the best of your way to Macao in China, and in your way to look into all places where you think it probable I may touch.”
Farewell to Kamchatka
On 9th in the “afternoon a light Breeze springing up”, wrote Samwell, “we came to sail and by night got out of the Bay of Awatschka; we brought a dozen or 14 dogs with us in the 2 Ships and C. K. brought one of their Sledges away with him.”
According to William Ellis, Surgeon’s second mate on the Resolution, “Sunday the 10th (1779) was calm throughout the day. The next day we had a breeze from the N. W. which in the course of the twenty-four hours shifted to N.E. Our business now was to trace the coast, and our course varied as the land fell back or projected.” The next day “At noon the Lopatka, which is the southernmost extreme of this peninsula, bore about W. ¾ N. distant between three or four leagues… towards five and we saw Schumschu, the first of the Kurilskoy islands”. Shimushiru is the northernmost of the Kuril Islands. The next island to the south is Paramushiru. According to Samwell it was the 13th when they saw “Soomscht and Pooroomoseer, being at a great distance to the Eastward of them we could only observe that they both appeared t be high Islands”. They saw no more of the Kuril Islands “being too far to the Eastward of them.” George Gilbert, midshipman on the Discovery, commented, “accoarding to the Rusions manniscrip charts, they are small and eighteen in number extending in a Chain SSW”.
On 15th “we altered our course”, wrote John Rickman, first lieutenant on the Resolution, “in search of some islands, which the Russians said were inhabited by people of a gigantic size, who were covered with hair; but who notwithstanding were very civil, and would supply us with cattle and hogs, with which their island abounded. These islands, however, we never found, though we continued searching for them”. The next day, noted Samwell, “the last of the fresh Beef was served to the People” and on the next day “Exercised our Men at the Great Guns & small Arms.”
On 19th “a storm came on”, wrote Rickman, “and we lost sight of the Discovery; but next day were in company, and resumed: our course, the gale continuing”. According to King after losing sight of the Resolution he “burnt false fires but not answered. At 4 the wind increased to a perfect storm, close reefed the topsails & handed the Fore topsail. At day break saw the Resolution upon our Lee Quarter… our last Goat fell over board.”
On 24th Ellis “passed much grass [in the sea], and saw a duck, a shag, and a land bird. These being certain indications of the proximity of land, we of course kept a good look out; besides we judged ourselves to be at no great distance from Japan.” Gilbert commented “From the incorectness of most old maps, Japan is generally understood to be one large Island, when instead of that it is a cluster of several; but three of them only are extensive the others being very small. They lie close together and are including the whole, almost the size of Great Britain.”
It was on 26th “At six o’Clock [in the] Morning” that Samwell “saw the Coast of Japan bearing wbs”. King “found the coasts bold & high, with hills rising one above the other; somewhat suddenly so as not to form extensive valleys. Upon the tops of the lower hills we observed many clear patches & also groves of trees that seemed planted by art.” Samwell continued “The latter part of the forenoon we were becalmed at the distance of 6 or 7 Miles from the Shore, during which time we saw three or four Fires made on the Side of a Hill, probably as some Signal for us… We judge this part of the Coast to be the northern Extream of the great Island Niphon”. It was the island of Honshu. “Having light breezes”, wrote Gilbert, “we made but little progress along the coast which trends due South”.
The next day Rickman “saw a sail, seemingly very large making towards us from the shore. We cleared ship, and made the signal to the Discovery to do the same. She was a square rigged vessel with two masts, very short, and built much in the manner of the Chinese junks. We hoisted English colours. She looked at us, but made sail to the westward, and we continued our course.” The next day Samwell found “the Land was covered with a haze which hid it from our View. The Wind having come to the SE, at eight o’Clock at Night we tacked Ship and stood from the Land steering East. N. Small Beer finished.”
On 29th “we stood in again for the Land & at daylight saw it a head of us, & soon discovered a Japanese Vessel under Sail standing along shore but a considerable distance from us.” Rickman added, “We again hoisted English colours, but she paid no attention to them, and we pursued our course.” Ellis wrote, “By the help of our glasses we could perceive those on board to be in much confusion; no doubt they were apprehensive of being taken.”
On 30th Samwell “Saw the Land from the Mast Head to the Westward of us, but whether it was the Coast or Islands we were at too great a distance from it to determine and continued so the whole Day” and the next day “being a considerable distance to the Eastward of Japan we did not see any Land to day.”
On 1st November “we stood WSW for the Land… and at four o’Clock we saw the Land from the Mast head bearing West… and saw four Japonese Vessels under Sail near the Shore. Night coming on we had but an undistinct View of the Coast; to the South it ends in a very craggy point of a moderate height, a little way to the Northward of which rises a very remarkable Mountain, pretty high and of the Shape of a Sugar Loaf, the top of it is flat like the Crater of a Volcano & from its appearance it is not improbable but this may be one”. It was Fujiyama.
According to Gilbert “The Current seting round this point much stronger than before, drove us so far to the eastward that we found it in vain to attempt to make the Land again and the winter advancing we stood to the southward for China; we continued to pass by great quantities of pumice stone for several days which must come from adjacent volcano.”
On 10th, wrote Rickman, it “blew a heavy gale from N.N.W.” The next day they “bore away again S. by W. but, the gale increasing towards night, hauled our wind to the northward.” And the next day “the gale continued, lay-to, with the ship’s heads to the westward. Shipped many heavy seas, and the rain fell in torrents.” On the 13th “the storm abated. Stood S.S.W. all day.”
Sulphur Island - Iwo Jima
The next day “At 11 A.M. the Discovery made the signal for land, which we answered. It then bore S.W. distant 7 or 8 leagues, and appeared like a burning mountain, from whence proceeded, as we supposed all the pumice we had seen. In the night saw volumes of flame proceeding from it, very awful.” Ellis “approached the bluff-rock, we found it had the appearance of having once been a volcano; and we were confirmed in this opinion upon viewing the W.S.W. side, where the mouth or caret was very conspicuous, and upon its sides were large masses of sulphur, and other combustible matter… we found a very strong smell of that mineral… finding it too dangerous to attempt landing, we at nine bore away to the westward. Captain Gore called it Sulphur Island.” It was Iwo Jima. They saw two islands nearby. “The 1st Island we made” wrote Samwell, “we called Peaked Island” - Kito Iwa. The last was “Saddle Island” - Minami Iwo.
On 16th Gore “got our Forge to work, making in bars such Iron as can be spared from the Ships use and for the purpose of trading for refreshments at the Bashee Islands where… I hope to make a refreshing stop.” The next day, wrote Samwell, “in the Morning the Resolution made the Signal for us to go six Miles on her Starboard quarter, in order that the Ships might have a wider prospect in looking out for land… in the Afternoon the Resolution made the Signal for us to come under her Stern on which we bore away and joined her”. The next day “in the Morning the Resolution made the Signal for us to keep four Miles on her Starboard quarter on which we hauled up more to the Westwd, and having gained our Station kept on our Course”.
Bashi Islands Missed
The Bashi or Batan Islands lay in the Bashi Channel between Formosa, to the north, and the Philippines. On 22nd Samwell wrote “reckoning we had pretty near the Latitude of the Bashee Isles we altered our Course and stood due West with a fresh Breeze at NE and squally Weather with rain… by eight o’clock it came on to bloe a fresh Gale of Wind. By the rolling of the Ship we lost a fine English Hog over board which was the only one we had left.” The next day “we reckon we cant be far from the Bashee Isles… but unfortunately at this time having a strong Gale of Wind and dark rainy Wr renders it unsafe to approach near them to look out for a Harbour; we therefore were obliged to keep on our Course towards Macao. steering WbN between them & the Island of Formosa”.
On 24th “Early this Morning there was a total Eclipse of the Moon which during the time of it’s Continuance rendered the Air as dark as pitch, but on Account of the dark rainy Wr which he had Captn King could not make an observation of it as he had intended to have done.”
Between 9 & 10 o’Clock Wm Bloom one of our Seamen fell overboard out of the fore Chains, but the Ship not having much Way & he being a good Swimmer he luckily got hold of a rope which happened to be over the Ship’s side and was taken in without having received any hurt.” William Bloom was 20 when he joined; from Hampton, Derbyshire. According to King he was “stowing the Maintopm staysl”.
Ever Closer to China
According to Heinrich Zimmerman, a German seaman on the Discovery, “We then ran towards China. On the way Captain Gore searched for the sunken Treter Islands in order to determine if their position had been correctly laid down by the Spaniards. Between 12 and 1 o’clock at night we ran on them during a heavy storm, both ships being very nearly wrecked. With a great deal of trouble we got ourselves free again during the same night, and on the next day, when the storm had subsided, we returned to them. We found that these islands had been reported by the Spaniards 3 degrees of latitude out of position.” It was the Pratas Shoals.
On 29th Ellis ”saw six Chinese fishing vessels”. Samwell was “struck with their singular Appearance so unlike that of any European Vessels, they had their Trawls out for fish; on our mentioning Macao they pointed towards it, as we proceeded on we saw great Numbers of them all round us in like Manner… between 3 & four o’Clock we saw the Land which was the Lema Islands lying at the Mouth of the River Canton, by dusk we were within 5 or 6 Miles of the Shore when we hauled upon a Wind and stood off & on for the Night.”
The next day “The Captains, now in complience with the orders of the Admiralty”, wrote Gilbert, “desired every Gentleman to deliver up to them their Journals, charts, drawings and remarks of all kinds relative to the Voyage and a diligent search was likewise made amongst the sailors. The intent of this was to prevent any person publishing an account of our discoveries, but such as their Lordships should appoint, and when they thought proper.”
On the Resolution, wrote Ellis, they “hoisted our ensign and pendant, and fired two guns, as a signal for a pilot: our soundings were seventeen fathoms, and there were many fishing vessels about, none of which took any notice of us. At one in the afternoon, a Chinese pilot came on board; and very soon after another arrived, and insisted upon conducting the ship, and without any ceremony began to order the sails to be trimmed. The first however would not give up the point, and a long altercation ensued, but at length they settled it, having agreed to divide the money which was to be paid and which amounted to twenty-five dollars.” On the Discovery, wrote King, “a pilot boat having been alongside the Resolution wanted to board us, but as it was our business to follow I saw no occasion we had for a pilot & let him pass us.” Gilbert added, we “came to an anchor in Macao Road, to our inexpressable joy and satisfaction; having had no intiligence from Europe for a space of three years, it being now exactly that time since we left the Cape of Good Hope.”
Arrival at Macao
On 1st December, he continued, they “sailed into the Typa, which is a well sheltered Harbour but rather shoal, having only 2½ and 3 fathom water with an oozy bottom; it is large and formed by four small high Islands, lying at the entrance of the River of Canton, and is about 24 Leagues distant from that City.” The islands were Macarira, Tai Pa, Wung Kum and Colowan. He continued “We lay about four miles from Macoa, a small settlement belonging to the Portuges; the citadel and other fortifications are in their possession, but the Town is cheifly inhabited by the Chinese, who will not permit them to go out of the small peninsula it is situated upon”.
King was sent ashore by Gore “to acquaint the Governor of Macao who we were, and of the general service we had been upon, begging his assistance to procure the ships company’s refreshments, and to forward me in a Chinese or Portuguese boat to Canton”. He returned, wrote Rickman, “with the magazines and newspapers for 1776, 1777, 1778, being the latest they had received. He likewise brought a confirmation of the French war, and of the continuance of the American war; and that five sail of English ships were now at Vampo near Canton, in China.” According to Ellis “Every one now was anxious to be informed of the state of affairs in England, and late as it was when the pinnace returned from the shore, all hands got up to hear the news.”
The next day, continued Ellis, “we weighed and stood towards the town, and at eight anchored again… about two miles from the town, and saluted the fort with thirteen guns, which returned an equal number. Being informed in the course of the day, by an English gentleman, that the Potugese rather wished us to be farther from the towen, we the following morning (Friday the 3d) at six got up our anchors, and made sail, and about noon dropped them again in the Typa, near the spot where the Centurion lay.”
Difficulties in obtaining supplies
On 3rd Gore wrote to the merchants at the English factory at Canton “Gentlemen, Having put in here… in order to refresh the Crews of the two Ships before they proceed to the Cape of Good Hope, and to get other supplies. To do which, I intended sending Captain King of the Discovery up to Canton to advise with you, what was the most expeditious way of proceeding, as I mean to sail in a fortnight whether I get these Supplies or no; but on Captain King’s going on shore to Macao, the English Gentlemen informed him, that he could not pass the Chinese Guards without a Chop or Permit; and, which, could not be procured here; therefore to avoid delays, I have enclosed a List of what Stores and Provisions we want, not doubting but you will, considering the nature of our Situation, get as many of the articles of Boatswains, Gunners, and Carpenter’s Stores out of the shipping, as possible; and also to procure the articles of Provisions; and to settle the payment of those things, you will take Bills on the proper Offices.”
The reply was written two days later: “We received your favor this morning and a Letter of Captain Kings forwarding your dispatch. We sincerely congratulate you on your safe arrival thus far on a Voyage, that, from the nature of it, must have been attended with much difficulty and great danger. We are sorry however to find, that Captain Cook and Captain Clerke are dead, which, though you do not mention, must of course be so. Be assured we will do every thing in our power to forward your dispatch. But we are in a situation without power; and in a country where delay and form take place of activity and effectual Service. We immediately applied to the Mandareens for leave to send down to Macao such stores, as upon enquiry, we might be able to procure, and to order a permit to be granted, allowing two persons to come up from Macao to Canton, and we hope to have an answer tomorrow; in the mean time, we shall make enquiry among our own Captains what Stores they can spare for your use. We shall be happy to see you, and Captain King, or any of the Gentlemen, at the Factory, if you find it convenient, and we hope a permission for it will soon be granted.”
According to Zimmerman “The Chinese allowed absolutely no fresh provisions to be brought to us; but three times daily another captain, a Portuguese who was Irish by birth, had three times as much delivered to him as he needed and bestowed the surplus on us.” Ellis added “All our hands were now very busily employed, some in watering, others in the holds, and the carpenters in putting the ships into a proper state of defence”
Rickman wrote, “Being now safely moored, the first thing that claimed the attention of the Commodore, was to provide as well as he could for the safety of the crews in their return home. The news of a French war… gave us much concern. Our ships were ill fitted for war; the decks fore and aft being finished flush had no covering for men or officers; it was therefore thought necessary to strengthen the stanchions and rails, and to raise a kind of parapet, musket-proof on both decks; and likewise to strengthen the cabbins as much as possible, in case of action.”
Gore wrote again to the merchants on 9th: “Yours of the 5th instant, I had the pleasure to receive yesterday morning, and return thanks for your congratulation and kind invitation. I would certainly wait upon you at Canton, but the time will not permit, my presence here being really necessary. The permit not being arrived, and Mr Ferguson having a Vessel now going for Wampo (to save time), I have thought necessary to dispatch Captain King in her, on his way to Canton, to whom I refer you, in every respect, the same as myself. I have sent a box with some Otter Skins, which the Chinese value, if any part of them will be acceptable to you, by way of present to any of your friends of the Mandareen race, they are at your service.”
Captain King’s Trip to Canton
The next day King wrote “a Merchant applied to the Capt Gore for assistance to work a snow of his up to Canton, as he had few hands & could get none here. Capt Gore judged this a good opportunity for sending me thither to expedite our affairs. He accordingly dispatched me in her, with my second Lieut Philips of the marines & 10 Seamen from both ships”. Molesworth Phillips was Second Lieutenant of Marines on the Resolution. William Lanyon, second lieutenant on the Discovery, was also in the party.
King continued, “We set out on the 11 Dec & did not get to Wampo till the 18th owing to fresh winds from the Northwd in the first & calms towards the latter part of this passage… On the 19th we got to Canton & were politely received by the select Committee & Supercargoes.”
In the meantime the English merchants had written to Gore on 12th saying “We gave the Captains of the Company’s Ships a Copy of your List of Stores wanted, and we are sorry to find, the enclosed account of what they can spare, falls so short of the quantity you stand in need of. We applied to the Mandareens for a Chop to permit you and Captain King to come up to Canton, and were to have had it today; but, yesterday a letter arrived here from a Chinese Officer… to the Mandareens… informing them, that… a report is current at Macao, that the Kings Ships are lying in the Typa, in order to intercept the two Manila Vessels which are daily expected. This will cause some delay in procuring the Chop”. Gore replied on 19th “Both your dispatches I have received, the first you will find acknowledged by Captain King; who, I hope, is with you ere this… Captain King has directions to apply to you for some Money, to the amount of two thousand dollars; please to make the sum three thousand, and transmit it to me with all possible expedition… please to inform the Chinese, that the two English Ships they mention do certainly belong to the King of England, and that they are under my Command-have been on a long Voyage on his Majesty’s business, and being on their way to England, it became necessary to put into some place to refit; to get Stores and fresh provisions, at which time China being the nearest place, I thought proper to put in here-that I am much displeased to find that the Chinese, from groundless suspicions have prevented my sailing from hence so soon as I really meant to do, unless you had applied to me to stay for the Company’s Ships; As to the Manila Ships, please, further to inform them, that I dare not meddle with them, there being no War between the Kings of England and Spain, that I know of”.
King “asked C Tasker of a country ship that was to sail on the 25th if he would take the men & stores on board. He very obligingly & readily consented... I received a letter from C Gore by a Capt Sparks of another country ship, wherein it was mentioned that he had offered his services… Upon this, every thing was got on board his Ship, and I was happy in the opportunity of doing my bisuness without being obliged to pay an exorbitant price for boats or requiring any Chinese permits, or making any precedents to be quoted by them in future cases.”
Meanwhile on the ships, wrote Rickman, “The 25th being Christmass day, was kept, as is usual with English sailors, in jollity and mirth; and what added to the pleasure of the day there was not a man ill in either ship.”
King arrived back on the 29th when, according to Rickman, “there came into the harbour of Mocao a Spanish galeon from Manilla, said to have more than four millions of treasure on board; and before we left our station there came in another worth double that sum. According to Zimmermann “having heard of our presence they remained outside the harbor for four days; at length they entered the harbor under cover of night, lay to under protection of the guns of Macao and immediately unloaded their whole cargo of gold which, according to reports, consisted of about 7 millions of Spanish dollars.”
Rickman continued “The same evening a quarrel happened between a party of our sailors, on shore with leave, and some of the town’s people, in which several were dangerously wounded on both sides; and Mr. Burney, 1st Lieut. of the Resolution, had a dagger run through his left arm in endeavoring to put an end to the fray. For this insult the Governor sent to demand satisfaction; but upon examination the town’s people were found to be the aggressors.” Gilbert noted “We made an exchange with one of our India ships, of a bower anchor, for six four pound pieces of Cannon; which compleated the Resolution to sixteen Guns, and the Discovery to 10. We sold the remainder of our furs to much greater advantage than at Kamchatka, the Chinese being very eager to purchase them and gave us from 50 to 70 Dollars a skin; that is from £11.5s to £15.15s for what we bought with only a hatchet or a saw.”
On 30th the English Merchants wrote to Gore “We have received your Letter of the 28th instant, mentioning the necessity you were under of drawing on us again. We have likewise received your Letter of advice and draft in favor of Sinqua for Dollars 873, 6m 6c 0a, which we have accepted and paid. You will please to add the above sum to the Dollars 5023½ paid by us to Captain King at Canton which will make the whole with the Exchange, amount to £1519 0s 7d, and for this you will be so good to send us a draft on Government, by the first convenient opportunity. Captain King left Canton late at night on the 26th and we hope is safely arrived at Macao. Mr Lanyon and Mr Phillips are on board the Favorite, Captain Parks, which Ship, we believe, will sail for Macao
James Burney, first lieutenant on the Resolution, wrote during their stay “On the arrival of the Resolution and Discovery to Macao Roads, we learnt that Great Britain was at War with France and with the North American States, which gave us some apprehension of being captured in our passage homeward, and in such event that we should lose our journals. Under this apprehension, I made a copy of my journal on China paper in so small a compass as to be easily conceivable, that if bereft of our other journals there might be one saved for the Admiralty”.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 35, volume 27, number 4 (2004).