Home > 225 Years Ago: January - March 1775

225 Years Ago: January - March 1775


On 1st January, 1775, Captain James Cook in the Resolution having passed Cape Horn and entered "the Southern Atlantick Ocean", landed on Staten Island, off Tierra del Fuego. They killed many sea lions, fur seals "cheifly for the sake of their Blubber or fat to make oil... the flesh was too rank to be eat with any tolerable relish". The next day Robert Cooper, First Lieutenant, wrote "Today boil'd Shags & Penguins in the Coppers for the Ships Company's Dinner".

They sailed on 3rd. Cook noted that "the SW Coast of Terra del Fuego, with respect to Inlets, islands &ca may be compaired to the Coast of Norway". The next day there was a heavy squall. "It came so suddenly upon us that we had not time to take in the Sails and was the occasion of carrying away a topgt mast, a Studding sail boom and the loss of a Fore studding sail. The Squall ended in a heavy shower of rain, but the wind remained at SW; our Course was SE with a view of discovering that extensive coast which Mr Dalrymple lies down in his Chart in which is the Gulph of St Sebastian... I had some doubts about the existence of such a Coast and this appeared to me to be the best rout to clear it up and to explore the Southern part of this ocean."

Two days later Charles Clerke, Second Lieu-tenant, recorded, "The Carpenters at work upon a spar we got at Norfolk Island forming it into a Main Top Gallant Mast", but the next day added, "Carpenters converting the Mast of ye Sloop we have in store into a Main Top Gallant Mast - the Norfolk Island spar proving but indifferent."

On 9th Johann Forster, naturalist, wrote "many dread to fall in with Land, for fear that this might retard our early arrival at the Cape [of Good Hope]: but as Land might have new plants, birds & fish, & the little Store of Brandy will of course necessitate the Capt to return in time to the Cape, I am quite impartial".

South Georgia

On 14th Cook saw "an Island of ice", which turned out to be land "wholy covered with snow." Two days later he noted that it "proved to be an Island", which he named "Willis's Island after the person who first saw it". Thomas Willis, was a midshipman from Holywell. Another nearby island he named "Bird isle, on accout of the vast number that were upon it". He sailed past "Cape North" and along "the Main land", which "seemed to form several Bays or inlets".

On 17th Cook sailed into "an Inlet... Not a tree or shrub was to be seen, no not even big enough to make a tooth-pick. I landed in three different places, displayed our colours and took possession of the Country in his Majestys name under a descharge of small Arms." Cook "called the Bay we had been in Possession Bay", and noted within it "vast tracts of frozen snow or ice not yet broke loose." He sailed along the coast naming the bays, capes and islands they passed, including on 18th one "called Coopers isle, after my first Lieutenant" and on 20th another which "obtained the name of Pickersgill Island after my third officers." The First Lieutenant was Robert Cooper, and the Third Lieutenant was Richard Palliser Pickersgill.


"Possession Bay in the Island of South Georgia" by William Hodges

The same day, Clerke wrote "I did flatter myself from the distant soundings and the high Hills about it, we had got hold of the Southern Continent, but alas these pleasing dreams are reduc'd to a small Isle, and that a very poor one too - as to its appearance in I think it exceeds in wretchedness both Terra del Fuego and Staten Land which places 'till I saw this, I thought might vie with any of the works of Providence in that particular." Cook noted "the lofty Mountains were cased with snow and ice, but the quantity which lay in the Vallies is incredable, before all of them the Coast was terminated by a wall of Ice of considerable height. It can hardly be doubted but that a great deal of ice is formed here in the Winter which in the Spring is broke off and dispersed over the Sea: but this isle cannot produce the ten thousand part of what we have seen, either there must be more land or else ice is formed without it... This land I called the Isle of Georgia in honor of H. Majesty", King George III.

I "did not doubt but that I should find more land than I should have time to explore. With these Ideas I queted this Coast and directed my Course to the East South East". On 23rd "after two hours of thick fog... clear weather gave us a Sight of 3 or 4 rocky Islots". The next day he named them "Clerke's Rocks, after my second officers, he being the first who saw them."

On 27th "I now reckoned we were in the Latitude 60° and farther I did not intend to go, unless I met with some certain signs of soon meetings with land... I was now tired of these high Southern Latitudes where nothing was to be found but ice and thick fogs." The next day he noted the "Ice islands, which this time surrounded us, were nearly all of equal height and shewed a flat even Surface, but they were of various extents, some were of two or three miles in circuit. Typical tabular ice bergs.

South Sandwich Islands

On 31st "the fog very fortunately cleared away a little and we discovered land ahead... three rocky islots of considerable height, the outer most terminated in a lofty Peak like a Sugar Loaf and obtained the name of Freezland Peak, after the Man who first discovered it". Samuel Freezland, was a seaman from, according to the muster books, Holland. Johann Forster called him a Foremast-man in his journal and his son George, in his journal, called him German. The rocks name later became Freezeland Peak and then Freezeland Rock. It is now called Freezland Rock in recognition of the original spelling.

On 2nd February Cooper wrote "Serv'd double distill'd Spirit for the people's Grog having no more Cape Brandy or Arrack on board, which is mix'd 7 to 1, a very hot disagreeable mixture, tho' weak."

To the south Cook saw and named an island "Southern Thule because it is the most southern land that have yet been descovered" and what he thought "was a deep Bay which I called Forsters Bay". It is now called Forster's Passage.

Cook sailed north, passing and naming the Capes of Bristol, Montagu, Saunders, and giving, on 6th, the whole land "the Name of Sandwich in honor of the Earl of Sandwich". In fact the capes were islands, and the whole group is now called the South Sandwich Islands. Cook decided "it would have been rashness in me to have risked all which had been done in the Voyage, in finding out and exploaring a Coast which when done would have answered no end whatever, or been of the least use either to Navigation or Geography or indeed any other Science; Bouvets Discovery was yet before us, the existence of which was to be cleared up and lastly we were now not in a condition to undertake great things".

Two days later, Forster wrote "This Wind seems to conduct us nearer & nearer to the end of our Carreer. We have already passed that Meridian we habe been West of London before, & are also now round the Globe. I suggested to Capt. Cook, to call the First Isle we have met with here to the South, South Georgia". His son George wrote in his journal that his father suggested Southern Georgia.

Contemplating the Voyage

They sailed east, passing many ice bergs. On 15th Cook "steered NE in order to get into the Latitude of Cape Circumcision." By 21st they were "5° to the East of the Longitude Cape Circumcision was said to lie in, so that we began to think that no such land ever existed... Having now run over the place where the land was supposed to lie without seeing the least signs of any it was no longer to be doubted but that the Ice hills had deceived us as well as Mr Bouvet... I had now made the circuit of the Southern Ocean in a high Latitude and traversed it in such a manner as to leave not the least room for the Possibility of there being a continent, unless near the Pole and out of reach of Navigation; by twice visiting the Pacific Tropical Sea, I had not only settled the situation of some old discoveries but made there many new ones and left, I conceive, very little more to be done even in that part. Thus I flater myself that the intention of the Voyage has in every respect been fully Answered".

On 24th Forster wrote "we go still East, & at 4 o clock in the morning northward, for we have now intersected our firs track, we made 2 years ago, when we fell in with the ice, & also entirely circumnavigated the Globe."

Observations, Animals and Food

On 7th March Cook noted "some intervals of Clear weather when Mr Wales, Mr Clerke and Mr Gilbert observed several distances of the Sun and Moon, the result shewed that our reckoning was without any error." William Wales was the astronomer and Joseph Gilbert was the Master. The same day, Forster wrote "the preceding night one of the two Otaheitee Sows died; she was with pigs, & near the time of farrowing: there are suspicions that she was killed by the people. The only goat we have likewise fell sick, so that it seems the people are determined not to let a living Quadruped on board: & one of the Capts Dogs disappeared some weeks ago." Three days later, Cook wrote "We used the last of our Raisins which were put on board by the Victualling Office three years ago, and we thought them but little worse by keeping. It is a custom in the Navy for no ships to be supplyed with Flour, Raisins or suet for a longer time than Three Months, from a supposistion that these articles will not keep good longer, but if this is the Reason it is not well founded, for they have been found to keep as well if not better than any other of our Provisions, nothing more is required but to pack them in good and well seasoned Casks and to see that they are good when packed: I have always found Seamen prefer flour and fruit to Salt Beef and I am well assured that the one is more wholesom and nourishing than the other... I am well convinced that some improvements might be made in the Victualling which would greatly contribute to the health of Seamen and in the end be a saving to the Crown, but this is not a place for the full discussion of this subject."

Arrival at the Cape of Good Hope

On 13th Cook wrote "Every one was impatient to get into Port and for good reasons, as we had nothing but stale and Salt Provisions to live upon for a long time and for which every one had lost all taste. These reasons induced me to yield to the general wish and to Steer for the Cape of Good Hope". Two days later Forster commented "This night the Capt, my Son & I got a sore Throat." The next day "At 6 o'clock in the morning a homewardbound Indiaman was seen standing on the other tack, & after breakfast we lost sight of her. At about 10 o'clock we saw another Indiaman: she came on the other tack & we stood in for her. We hoisted Dutch colours & she did the same; then we hoisted English Colours & fired a Gun to leeward, but she kept hers. We gain something upon her, as it is thought, that she makes more leeway." Cook "now in persuance to my Instructions demanded from the Officers and Petty officers the Log Books and journals they had kept, which were delivered to me accordingly and Sealed up for the Inspection of the Admiralty. I also enjoined them and the whole crew not to devulge where we had been till they had their Lordships permission so to do."

Clerke recorded "PM confin'd Messieurs Maxwell, Loggie and Coglan for going into the Galley with drawn knives and threatening to stab the Cook... [AM] Read the Articles of War to the Crew; the Captain upon examining the Prizoners finding Mr Loggie somewhat less culpable than the other two dismiss'd him from confinement." James Maxwell, Charles Loggie and John Coghlan had been in trouble before.

"The next morning", wrote Forster, "we found our Dutchman a good deal nearer, & had her in Sight all day". "In the evening", Cook "Saw the land in the direction of ENE about Six leagues distant and during all the fore part of the night there was a great fire or light upon it."

The next day Forster "saw still the Dutchman hoisted a boat out, in order to get news from Europe." According to Cook the ship was "about two leagues from us, but we were too impatient after News to regard the distance." Forster continued "We sailed & rowed about 3 hours & then came up with her. We heard that every where was universal peace... We were likewise informed that there had been a Ship from the South Sea coming at the Cape, that she arrived on St Patricksday 1774 & went to England in April, that she lost in N. Zeeland a Boatscrew with a Midshipman & Coxswain, who were eaten by the Natives. We soon returned on board, & went to our Dinner." Cook write about the ship, a "Bownkerke Polder, Captain Cornelis Bosch, a Dutch Indiaman from Bengal; Captain Bosch very obligingly offered us sugar, Arrack and whatever he had to spare. Our people were told by some English Seamen on board this Ship that the Adventure arrived at the Cape of Good Hope Twelve Months ago and that one of her boats crew had been Murdered and eat by the People of New Zealand".

On 19th Forster saw "2 Swedish, one Danish & one English Ship. Saw the shore in the Evening. Very little Wind, nearly calm. In the morning we saw the English Ship bear down upon us, we hoisted our Colours & met her, & hoisted a boat out & I went with others on board of her, where I "wrote a letter to the Honble Daines Barrington & my Wife. We dined on board of her." Daines Barrington was a lawyer and naturalist, who had helped Forster join the voyage. Cook noted that the ship was "the True Briton, Captain Broadly from China. As he did not intend to touch at the Cape, I put a letter on board him for the Secretary of the Admiralty. The account which we had heard of the Adventure was confirmed to us by this ship; we also got from them a parcel of old News papers, which were new to us and gave us some amusement in reading; but these were the least favours which we received from Captain Broadly, he with a Generosity peculiar to the Commanders of the India Companies Ships, sent us fresh provisions, Tea and other articles, which were very acceptable and deserves from me this publick acknowlidgement."

On 20th Cooper noted, that "The Captain releas'd the two gentlemen out of confinement they having made a concession for their behaviour & promis'd to behave better for the future".

The next day, Cook wrote, "at Noon the Table Mountain over the Cape Town bore NEBE distant 9 or 10 Leagues. By makeing use of this bearing and distance to reduce the Longitude shewn by the watch to the Cape Town, the error was found to be no more than 18´ in Longitude which she was too far to the East, and the greatest difference we have found between it and the Lunar observations sence we left New Zealand has seldom exceeded half a degree and allways the same way. It would not be doing justice to Mr Harrison and Mr Kendal if I did not own that we have received very great assistance from this usefull and valuable time piece as will more fully appear in the course of this Journal."

Anchored in Table Bay

"The next Morning, being with us Wednesday 22nd but with the people here Tuesday 21st we anchored in Table Bay", wrote Cook. Forster commented "We found here, that by going by the East round the World, we had gained a Day: as all the other Ships that had gone to the West had lost one day. The Ships gone on this Expedition are the first that are gone by the East round the world."

Forster saw "several Ship in Table-Bay & 2 went out to Europe. To morrow we hope early to go ashore. Uneasiness seases me about my poor Family! God knows best, what will be my lot!" Cook noted "several Dutch Ships, some French and the Ceres Captain Newte, an English East India Company Ship from China bound directly to England, by whom I sent a Copy of this journal, Charts and other Drawings to the Admiralty which Captain Newte was so obliging as to take charge of and as he intended to make but a very short stay at St Helena will probably be the first that carries the news of our arrival to England." According to Forster "A boat from the Ceres East-india-man Capt Knewte came on board with the 4th mate, offering us assistance. As it had the Appearance that we should come in late, I went off in the boat of the Indiaman & went ashore. I got a few letters, which though not quite fresh, let me however know, that my Family was well a year ago."

Cook " dispatched an officer to acquaint the Governor with our arrival and to request the necessary stores and refreshments, which were readily granted. As soon as the officer returned we saluted the Garrison with 13 Guns which Compliment was immediately returned with an equal number. I found here a letter from Captain Furneaux acquainting me with the loss of Ten of his best men together with a boat in Queen Charlottes Sound."

The next day Cook "went on shore and waited on the Governor Baron Plettenberg and other Principal officers." Forster "went to Mr Brand's house & took there up my Lodgings: & found there Capt Knewte, who intended to go in 2 days to Europe. I paid my Visits to the Governor & principal people, who have been kind & civil to me last time." Wales "Went with Capt Cook to the Governour & obtained leave to carry on shore & erect my Observatory & Instruments. Also agreed with the Widow Xieman For the use of the Ground whereon they stood before, and where Messieurs Mason & Dixon Observed." Cook added "my self, the two Mr Forsters and Mr Sparman took up our aboad with Mr Brant".

Cook's "first care after our arrival was to procure fresh baked Bread, fresh Meat, Greens and Wine for those who remained on board and with these articles they were provided every day during our Stay, which soon restored them to their usual strength. We had only three Men on board which were thought necessary to send on Shore for the recovery of their health; these I provided quarters for at the rate of Thirty Stivers, or half a Crown per day, for which they were provided with Victuals, Drink and Lodging. We now went to work to repair all our defects, for which purpose we, by permission, errected a Tent on shore to which was sent our Casks and Sails to repair. We also struck the Yards and Top-masts in order to repair and overhaul the rigging which we found in so bad a condition that almost every thing except the standing Rigging was obliged to be replaced with New".

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1714, volume 23, number 1 (2000).

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