Home > 225 Years Ago: April - June 1769

225 Years Ago: April - June 1769


On Thursday, 13th April, 1769 the Endeavour sailed into Matavai Bay, Tahiti. On Thursday, 13th July she sailed out again, 225 years ago.

Island Upon Island

After spending over a month sailing through the Pacific Ocean without seeing any sign of land, on the 4th April Cook "saw land... an Island of about 2 Leagues in circuit and of an Oval form with a Lagoon in the Middle for which I named it Lagoon Island... We saw several of the Inhabitants", but he did not stop. [Local name Vahitahi.]

On the 5th saw "a low woody Island of a circular form and not above a Mile in Compass. This Island I call'd Thrum Cap". [Local name Aki Aki.]

On the 6th saw an island "the border of land and Reef surrounding this Lake like a wall appear'd to be of a Bow-like figure, for which reason I named it Bow Island". [Local name Hao.]

On the 7th saw "an Assemblage of Islands join'd together by Reefs... and on this account they are called the Two Groups." [Local names Marokau and Ravahere.] Then saw a small Island inhabited by only "birds and for this reason is call'd Bird Island." [Local name Reitoru.]

On the 9th saw "a double range of low woody Islands join'd together by reefs by which means they make one Island... it is therefore call'd Chain Island." [Local name Anaa.]

On the 10th "saw Osnaburg Island, (so call'd by Capt Wallis the first discovrer)". [Local name Maitea.]

And then, finally, on the 11th "At 6 AM Saw King Georges Island... very high and Mountainous." [Local name Tahiti.] Sydney Parkinson thought "the land appeared as uneven as a piece of crumpled paper, being divided irregularly into hills and valleys; but a beautiful verdure covered both, even to the tops of the highest peaks".

Healthy eating - or not

Joseph Banks sometimes went up to the masthead to get a better look. On the 10th "as soon as I came down a shark att the stern attackd the net in which tomorrows dinner was towing to freshen"!!!!!

James Cook reflected on the state of his crew, including what has become an often repeated passage:

"At this time we had but a very few men upon the Sick list and these had but slite complaints, the Ships compney had in general been very healthy owing in a great measure to the Sour krout, Portable Soup and Malt; the two first were serve'd to the People, the one on Beef Days and the other on Banyan Days, Wort was made of the Malt and at the discrition of the Surgeon given to every man that had the least symptoms of Scurvy upon him, by this Means and the care and Vigilance of Mr Munkhous the Surgeon [William Brougham Monkhouse] this disease was prevented from geting a footing in the Ship. The Sour Krout the Men at first would not eate untill I put in pratice a Method I never once knew to fail with seamen, and this was to have some of it dress'd every Day for the Cabbin Table, and permitted all the Officers without exception to make use of it and left it to the option of the Men either to take as much as they pleased or none atall; but this practice was not continued above a week before I found it necessary to put every one on board to an Allowance, for such are the Tempers and disposissions of Seamen in general that whatever you give them out of the Common way, altho it be ever so much for their good yet it will not go down with them and you will hear nothing but murmurings gainest the man that first invented it; but the Moment they see their Superiors set a Value upon it, it becomes the finest stuff in the World and the inventer an honest fellow."

According to Falconer's Marine Dictionary of 1780, Banyan Days is "a cant term among common sailors, denoting those days on which they have no flesh-meat; it seems to be derived from the practice of a nation amongst the eastern Indians, who never eat flesh."

Joseph Banks was also in reflective mood. "As I am now on the brink of going ashore after a long passage thank god in as good health as man can be I shall fill a little paper in describing the means which I have taken to prevent the scurvy in particular.

"The ship was supplyd by the Admiralty with Sower crout which I eat of constantly till our salted Cabbage was opend which I preferd as a pleasant substitute. Wort was servd out almost constantly, of this I drank from a pint or more every evening but all this did not so intirely check the distemper as to prevent my feeling some small effects of it. About a fortnight ago my gums swelld and some small pimples rose in the inside of my mouth which threatned to become ulcers, I then flew to the lemon Juice which had been put up for me... in less than a week my gums became as firm as ever and at this time I am troubled with nothing but a few pimples on my face".

Arrival at Tahiti
A View of Matavai Bay in Otaheite
A View of Matavai Bay in Otaheite... from One Tree Hill

"As soon as the Ship was properly secure'd I went on Shore accompanied by Mr Banks and the other gentlemen, with a party of Men under arms" wrote Cook.

Robert Molyneaux, Master, recorded in his journal that "at 2 PM the Boats returnd on Board. Mr Gore, having conducted the Gentlemen where the Queens House formerly stood, found no remains of it. The whole place seems to have undergone a general change in almost every respect; sent a boat to trade with the Natives for Provisions. The Captain & the other Gentlemen went to the West side of the Bay. AM the People Employd Overhauling the rigging. Got the Armourers Forge up & Got some water off for Present use."

Cook was prepared for trading. "As our stay at this place was not likly to be very Short, I thought it very necessary that some order Should be Observed in Trafficing with the Natives: that such Merchantdize as we had on board for that purpose might continue to bear a proper value, and not leave it to every ones own particular fancy which could not fail to bring on confution and quarels between us and the Natives, and would infallible lesen the Value of such Articles as we had to Traffic with: in order to prevent this... Rules were ordered to be observed".

The First Few Days

Cook was mindful of his purpose for being here and "resolved to pitch upon some spot upon the NE point of the Bay properly situated for observing the Transit of Venus and at the same time under the command of the Ships Guns, and there to throw up a small fort for our defence, accordingly I went a Shore with a party of men accompanie'd by Mr Banks, Dr Solander and Mr Green. We took along with us one of Mr Banks Tents, and after we had fix'd upon a place fit for our purpose we set up the Tent and Mark'd out the ground we intended to occupy."

I prefer Parkinson's version of what happened next. "Mr Banks, the captain, and myself, took a walk in the woods, and were afterwards joined by Mr Hicks, and Mr Green. While we were walking, and enjoying the rural scene, we heard the report of some fire-arms, and presently saw the natives fleeing into the woods like frightened fawns, carrying with them their little moveables. Alarmed at this unexpected event, we immediately quitted the wood, and made to the side of the river, where we saw several of our men, who had been left to guard the tent, pursuing the natives, who were terrified to the last degree; some of them skulked behind the bushes, and others leaped into the river. Hearing the shot rattle amongst the branches of the trees over my head, I thought it not safe to continue there any longer, and fled to the tent, where I soon learned the cause of the catastrophe.

"A centinel being of his guard, one of the natives snatched a musket out of his hand, which occasioned the fray. A boy, a midshipman, [Jonathan Monkhouse, brother of the surgeon] was the commanding officer, and giving orders to fire, they obeyed with the greatest glee imaginable, as if they had been shooting at wild ducks, killed one stout man, and wounded many others. What a pity, that such brutality should be exercised by civilized people upon unarmed ignorant Indians!

"When Mr Banks heard of the affair, he was highly displeased, saying, "If we quarrelled with those Indians, we should not agree with the angels."

The following day, on the 16th, Robert Molyneaux recorded: "read the Articles of war & Punish'd Richd Hutchins seaman with a dozen lashes for disobidience."

The Artists' and their Work

On the 17th, wrote Cook, "At 2 oClock this Morning departed this Life Mr Alex Buchan Landscip Draftsman to Mr Banks, a Gentlemen well skill'd in his profession and one that will be greatly miss'd in the course of this Voyage, he had long been the subject to a disorder in his Bowels which had more than once brought him to the Very point of death and was at the same time subject to fits of one of which he was taken on Saturday morning, this brought on his former disorder which put a period to his life. Mr Banks thought it not so adviseable to Enterr [inter] the body a shore in a place where we was utter strangers to the Customs of the Natives on such Occations, it was therefore se[n]t out to Sea and commited to that Element with all the decencey the circumstance of the place would admit of."

Banks was distraught. "His Loss to me is irretrevable, my airy dreams of entertaining my freinds in England with the scenes that I am to see here are vanishd. No account of the figures and dresses of men can be satisfactory unless illustrated with figures: had providence spard him a month longer what an advantage would it have been to my undertaking but I must submit."

It was Parkinson who took over Buchan's role. Rudiger Joppien and Bernard Smith in their book "The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages" comment "None of the draughtsmen in Banks's service, Buchan, Parkinson and Sporing, was capable of drawing figures correctly in the proportions of classical sculpture or of endowing them with vitality. Poor Buchan... would never have been equal to the task. Parkinson a skilled illustrator of plants, had had as yet little experience in drawing the human figure; and Sporing, Banks's clerk, who was called in after Buchan's death to act as a second draughtsman, though a good man for depicting precise detail was totally unskilled at figure drawing...

"The drawings that Parkinson completed in the Society Islands fall into three main groups: first, the drawings of plants, birds and fishes, which he made daily for Banks; second, linedrawings of the Tahitians and their economic activities... and social activities...; and third, line and wash drawings of landscapes."

The conditions were not ideal for painting, as Banks noted. "The flies have been so troublesome ever since we have been ashore that we can scarce get any business done for them; they eat the painters colours off the paper as fast as they can be laid on, and if a fish is to be drawn there is more trouble in keeping them off it than in the drawing itself. Many expedients have been thought of, none succeed better than a mosquito net which covers table chair painter and drawings, but even that is not sufficent, a fly trap was nesscessary to set within this to atract the vermin from eating the colours."

Fort Venus is Built

Cook was a master of the understatement: "Saturday 22nd to Thursday 27th. Nothing worthy of note happend"!!!!

He continued "the people were continueally at work upon the Fort and the Natives were so far reconciled to us that they rather assisted us than not. This day we Mounted Six swivels at the Fort, which was now nearly finished, this Struck the Natives with some fear, and some fishermen who live'd upon the point move'd farther off". On the 29th "this Day got the four Guns out of the Hold and mounted 2 of them on the Quarter Deck, and the other 2 in the Fort on the bank of the River. For this day or 2 past about 30 Double Canoes, in which might be between 2 & 300 people, had come into our neighbourhood this made us keep a very good lookout & a strick eye over all their motions."

On the 1st May "This afternoon we set up the Observatory and took the Astronomical Quadt a shore for the first time, together with some other Instruments. The Fort being no[w] finished and made as Tenable as the Time, Nature and situation of the ground, and materials we had to work upon would admit of. The North and south parts consisted of a Bank of earth 4½ feet high on the inside, and a Ditch without, 10 feet broad and 6 feet deep: on the west side faceing the Bay a Bank of earth 4 feet high and Pallisades upon that, but no ditch the works being at highwater mark: on the East side upon the Bank of the River was place'd a double row of casks: and as this was the weakest side the 2 four pounders were planted there, and the whole was defended besides these 2 guns with 6 Swivels and generally about 45 Men with small arms including the officers and gentlemen who resided aShore. I now thought my self perfectly secure from any thing these people could attempt."

Oh, how wrong could he be?

Tuesday 2nd. "This morning about 9 oClock when Mr Green and I went to set up the Quadt it was not to be found".


Banks had already observed the Tahitians ability to remove items unexpectedly, writing on the 25th "I do not know by what accident I have so long omitted to mention how much these people are given to theiving. I will make up for my neglect however today by saying that great and small cheifs and common men all are firmly of opinion that if they can once get possession of any thing it immediately becomes their own. This we were convinced of the very second day we were here, the cheifs were employd in stealing what they could in the Cabbin while their dependants took every thing that was loose about the ship, even the glass ports not escaping them of which they got off with 2."

The Tahitians Observed

Banks observed a woman mourning, "tears stood in her eyes which the moment she enterd the tent began to flow plentifully. I began to enquire the cause; she instead of answering me took from under her garment a sharks tooth and struck it into her head with great force 6 or 7 times. a profusion of Blood followd these strokes and alarmd me not a little; for two or 3 minutes she bled freely more than a pint in quantity, during that time she talkd loud in a most melancholy tone. I was not a little movd at so singular a spectacle and holding her in my arms did not cease to enquire what might be the cause of so strange an action, she took no notice of me till the bleeding ceas'd nor did any Indian in the tent take any of her, all talkd and laugh'd as if nothing melancholy was going forward; but what surpriz'd me most of all was that as soon as the bleeding ceas'd she lookd up smiling and immediately began to collect peices of cloth which during her bleeding she had thrown down to catch the blood. These she carried away out of the tents and threw into the sea, carefully dispersing them abroad as if desirous that no one should be reminded of her action by the sight of them; she then went into the river and after washing her whole body returnd to the tents as lively and chearfull as any one in them."

Parkinson wrote "When the natives beckon to any person at a distance, contrary to our mode they wave their hands downwards".

"The mode of dressing their food too is very singular: they make a hole in the ground, and, placing stones in it, kindle a fire upon them; and when they are sufficiently heated, they sweep off the ashes, and then lay their food upon them. At their meals the married women ate apart from the men, and we could not prevail on them to join us."

"When the natives want to make a fire, they take a piece of light wood, make a groove in it, and rub along that with another piece till the small dust catches fire: This is very laborious, and requires a considerable time to effect it."

"The chief food of the natives is the bread-fruit and bananas, which they peel and scrape with a sharp shell; but they eat sparingly of flesh, and of fish in general; but of the latter, sometimes alive, or raw; and, as they have no salt, they dip their meat into salt water. The natives, it seems, are very subject to the itch, and other cutaneous eruptions, which is the more to be wondered at as their diet cosists principally of vegetables."

"Most of the natives of this island smell strong of the cocoa oil, and are of a pale brown complexion, mostly having black hair, and that often frizzled; black eyes, flat nose, and large mouth, with a chearful countenance; they all wear their beards, but cut off their mustachios, are well made, and very sturdy, having their bellies in general very prominent; and are timorous, merry, facetious, hospitable people."

Name that Man

Surprisingly it was not until 10th May that Banks could write "we have now got the Indian name of the Island, Otahite, so therefore for the future I shall call it. As for our own names the Indians find so much dificulty in pronouncing them that we are forcd to indulge them in calling us what they please, or rather what they say when they attempt to pronounce them. I give here the List: Captn Cooke Toote, Dr Solander Torano, Mr Hicks Hete, Mr Gore Toarro, Mr Molineux Boba from his Christian name Robert, Mr Monkhouse Mato, and myself Tapane. In this manner they have names for almost every man in the ship."

Parkinson explained why. "The language is very soft, having a great number of vowels, diphthongs, and triphthongs. Every word, almost, begins with a vowel, which they most commonly drop... The natives could not repeat, after us, the sounds of the letters, Q, X, and Z, without great difficulty; G, K, and S, they could not pronounce at all... They have various sounds peculiar to themselves, which none of us could imitate; some of them they pronounced like B and L mingled together; others between B and P, and T and D."

The Ship is Not Forgotten

Molyneux is the best source for noting the activities involved in keeping the Endeavour ship-shape. Here is what he said for the month of May.

3rd "Strip'd & Overhaul'd the Foretopmast rigging."
5th "Sent the Cooper ashore with Hoops and Staves to repair the water Cask". 6th "Employ'd on the Fore Rigging which we find in good order".
9th "The Carpenters Employ'd caulking the sides. Every thing goes on very quietly."
10: "This Day Gammon'd the Bowsprit & set up the Fore Rigging."
11: "Capenters Employ'd caulking the Quarter Deck. Struck the Main Topmast to overhaul the rigging".
19: "This day the Carpenters finish'd the Quarter-deck. Got the Best Bower upon deck to get the staves from under it".
24: "Carpenters employ'd caulking the sides".
25: "The Long Boat being very leaky Haul'd her up on shore found the worms had destroy'd her bottom the Carpenters employ'd shifting it, this worm is of a new species & as destructive as any yet known."
29: "Employ'd in the rigging".
1st June "The Carpenters having finishd the Longboat Launch'd her, Lieutt Gore had orders to get her ready for going to York Island to Observe the Transit of Venus, Liett Hicks was orderd to prepare the Pinnace to go to the eastward for the same Purpose."

According to Falconer, gammoning is "a rope used to bind the inner quarter of the bowsprit close down to the ship's stem, in order to enable it the better to support the stays of the fore-mast, and carry sail in the fore part of the vessel." The best bower is one of the anchors, or bowers, "so called from their usual situation on the ship's bows."

The Endeavour had three boats, a long boat, pinnace and yawl built, according to a Navy Board Warrant of 12 April 1768, "by Mr Burr". Falconer explains the differences between boats: "The largest boat that usually accompanies a ship is the long-boat, which is generally furnished with a mast and sails... The barges are next in order, which are longer, flighter, and narrower... Pinnaces exactly resemble barges, only that they are somewhat smaller, and never row more than eight oars; whereas a barge properly never rows less than ten... Cutters are broader, deeper, and shorter... Yawls are somewhat less than cutters, nearly of the same form and used for similar services; they are generally rowed with fix oars."

The Transit of Venus

Cook wrote;

"Thursday 1st June 1769. This day I sent Lieutenant Gore in the Long-boat to York Island [Moorea] with Dr Munkhouse and Mr Sporing (a Gentleman belonging to Mr Banks) to observe the Transit of Venus, Mr Green having furnished them with Instruments for that purpose. Mr Banks and some of the Natives of this Island went along with them.

"Friday 2nd of June. Very early this morning Lieutnt Hicks, Mr Clerk, Mr Petersgill and Mr Saunders, went away in the Pinnace to the Eastward, with orders to fix upon some convenient situation on this Island and there to observe the Transit of Venus - they being likewise provided with Instruments for that purpose.

"Saturday 3rd. This day prov'd as favourable to our purpose as we could wish, not a Clowd was to be seen the whole day and the Air was perfectly clear, so that we had every advantage we could desire in Observing the whole of the passage of the Planet Venus over the Suns disk: we distinctly saw an Atmosphere or dusky shade round the body of the Planet which very much disturbed the times of the Contacts particularly the two internal ones. Dr Solander observed as well as Mr Green and my self, and we differ'd from one another in observeing the times of the Contacts much more than could be expected... the Thermometer expose'd to the Sun about the middle of the Day rose to a degree of heat (119) we have not before met with."

Banks did not take part in the actual observations: "I then wishd success to the observers Msrs Gore and Monkhouse and repaird to the Island, where I could do the double service of examining the natural produce and buying provisions for my companions who were engagd in so usefull a work."

Crime and Punishment

Some of the crimes committed by the seamen did not go unnoticed by Cook:

"Sunday 4th June. Punished Archd Wolf with two Dozn Lashes for theft, having broken into one of the Store rooms and stolen from thence a large quantity of spike Nails".

"Monday 12th. Yesterday complaint was made to me by some of the Natives that Jno Thurman and Jams Nicholson Seamn had taken by force from them several Bows and Arrows and Plated Hair, and the fact being proved upon them they were this Day punish'd with two Dozn lashes each."

"Monday 19th. Punished James Tunley with 12 lashes for takeing Rum out of the Cask on the quarter deck."

"Wednesday 21st. Confin'd Robt Anderson seaman for refuseing to obey the orders of the Mate when at work in the hold."

More Observations

Parkinson wrote: "It is customary for the women to wear garlands of flowers on their heads, which are composed of the white palm-leaves gathered from the spathas from which the flower proceeds. They also gather a species of gardenia, as soon as they open, and put them in their ears. Both sexes are very cleanly; they wash themselves in the river three times a day; and their hands and teeth after every meal. The children of both sexes are remarkably kind to one another, and if any thing be given them, will, if possible, equally divide it amongst them."

A Tour round the Island
Chart of the Island Otaheite
Chart of the Island Otaheite by Lieut. J. Cook

On 26th June "At 3 O'clock this morn Captn Cooke and myself [Banks] set out to the eastward in the pinnace, intending if it was convenient to go round the Island [Tahiti]". By the end Cook was able to write "The Plan or Sketch which I have drawn, altho it cannot be very accurate yet it will be found sufficient to point out the Situations of the different Bays and harbours and the figure of the Island and I believe is without any material error.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1038, volume 17, number 2 (1994).

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