Home > 225 Years Ago: July - September 1774

225 Years Ago: July - September 1774


On 1st July, 1774, Captain James Cook in the Resolution "reached two high Islands" one on which the Vulcano is" called by the Natives Amattafoa and the other which is round high and Peaked Oghao." The two Tongan islands were Tofua and Kao.

The next day they saw "Land from the Mast head", which the following day "bore up for it under all the Sail we could set." It proved to be "an Island of so little consequence" that they sailed on. "Near the Reef were seen several Turtle which occasioned my giving that name". It was Vatoa, a south-eastern islet of the Fiji group, and the only one of that group seen by Cook. They sailed west for the next fortnight.

The 13th was, Johann Forster noted, "This day two year we left Plymouth; & are now probably gone through the greater part of those disagreable circumstances, which we must undergo." The next day he remarked "how difficult it must be for a Man like me, sent out on purpose by Government to collect Natural Curiosities, to get these things from the Natives in the Isles, as every Sailor whatsoever buys vast Quantities of Shells, birds, Fish etc. so that the things are dearer & scarcer than one would believe, & often they go to such people, who have made vast Collections, especially of Shells viz. The Gunner & Carpenter, who have several 1000 Shells: some of these Curiosities are neglected, broke, thrown over board, or lost."

Arrival at The New Hebrides

On 17th Cook "saw land bearing SW" and later on decided "this was the Australia Del Espiritu Santo of Quiros or what M. D. Bougainville calls the Great Cyclades". The island was Maewo. The next day its northern end was rounded in a gale and the ship sailed south between it and the island called by Bougainville "the Isle of Lepers" - Omba. On 20th they crossed Patteson Passage "with a view of geting to the South to explore the lands which lies there", and sailed down the west coast of Pentecost Isle (Raga). To the south they saw the island of Ambrin and behind it Paama and Epi.


Landing at             Mallicollo
"Landing at Mallicollo" by William Hodges
On 22nd, approaching Mallicollo (Malekula) "we perceived a creek which had the appearence of a good harbour". Cook "sent Lieutt [Richard] Pickersgill and the Master [Joseph Gilbert] in two Arm'd boats to Sound and look for Anchorage". The following day "a good many [natives] came round us, some came in Canoes and others swam off'... four I took into the Cabbin and made them various presents". Later, after some misunder-standing some natives "began to Shoot Arrows... a Musquet discharged in the air and a four pounder over their heads sent them all off in the utmost confusion; those in the Cabbin leaped out of the Windows... About 9 o'Clock we landed in the face of about 4 or 500 Men who were assembled on the Shore, arm'd with Bows and Arrows, clubs and Spears, but they made not the least opposission, on the contrary one Man gave his Arms to a nother and Met us in the water with a green branch in his hand, which [he] exchanged for the one I held in my hand". Just before departing Cook remarked "they have not so much as a name for a Dog, consequently can have none, for which reason we left them a Dog and a Bitch".

Forster recorded that several officers and crew ate a poisonous red fish. "Several had violent vomiting & purging, great heat in the face & head-ache; others felt a benumbing pain in their Arms, knees & Legs".

The ship sailed on 24th, passing several small islands on its southern journey passed the larger islands of Ambrin and Epi. Cook named some "Shepherds Isles, in honour of my Worthy friend Dr Shepherd Plumian Profr of Astronomy at Cambridge." For two close to the large island of Efate he "named the one Montagu and the other Hinchinbrook and the large Island Sandwich, in honour of my Noble Patron the Earl of Sandwich".

On 27th George Forster noted that some of the poisoned crew were "emaciated to mere shadows [and] we had not one lieutenant able to do duty; and as one of the mates, and several of the midshipmen were likewise ill, the watches were commanded by the gunner and other mates".

Two days later the ship was off Eromanga and sailed along its northern coast. On 1st August, Forster noted he had recently "had the ill-luck to slip on the deck, when it had been washed, & though I did not fall, I got however a hurt by it, & since that time I feel a kind of uneasiness in the Groin, & the bowel stands a bit out, but may be shoved back at the least touch." He went on "we were this morning alarmed by a fire in the Stewarts-room, where near the Lamp a piece of Otahaitee-cloth was left... it was soon found & put out."


Landing at             Erramanga
"Landing at Erramanga" by William Hodges
On 2nd they looked for an anchorage down the west coast, the next day down the east coast, finally anchoring on 4th. Cook "went with two boats to view the coast and to look for a proper landing place, wood and Water". At "a Sandy Beach, where I could step out of the boat without weting a foot [he] landed in the face of a great Multitude with nothing but a green branch in my hand... I was received very courteously... in short I was charmed with thier behavour". Soon, however, he had "to give orders to fire as they now began to Shoot their Arrows and throw darts and Stones at us, the first discharge threw them into confusion but a nother discharge was hardly sufficient to drive them of the beach and after all they continued to throw Stones from behind the trees and bushes".
Landing at             Tanna
"Landing at Tanna" by William Hodges
They sailed south to another large island "being guided by a great fire we saw upon it." On 5th Cook realised it "was a Volcano which threw up vast quantities of fire and smoak and made a rumbling noise which was heard at a good distance." It was the island of Tanna and the volcano was Mount Yasur. Cook "sent two Arm'd Boats under the command of Lieutt Cooper and the Master to examine and Sound" a potential anchorage which was deemed suitable. The "Launch was hoisted out, laid out warps and warped father in". The ship was moored by four anchors. "Placing our Artillery in such a manner as to command the whole harbour, we embarked the Marines and a party of Seamen in three boats and rowed in for the Shore... two divisions of the Natives were drawn up on each side the landing place... not one was without arms: In short every thing conspired to make us believe they intended to attack us... I thought it was best to frighten them away... and accordingly order[ed] a Musquet to be fired over the heads of the party... this was the Signal for the Ship to fire a few four pound Shott over them which presently dispersed them and then we landed".


They stayed ten days to "take in a large quantity of both wood and Water". William Wales, the astronomer, "took the Watch & Astron. Quadt on shore & got Altitudes". Forster "went ashore & got some plants... the Ships-crew hawled three or four times the Seyne & got upwards of 310 pounds of Fish, chiefly Mullet, Tenpounders & Angelfish". All three activities were repeated nearly every day.

On the 8th Cook "sent the Launch to the other side of the harbour to take in ballast". The next day Forster "went with Mr Sparman [botanist], Mr Patton [surgeon], my Son, my Servant & a Marine, who was to convoy us." Two days later. according to Cook, "two or three boy's got behind some thickets and threw 2 or 3 stones at our people, who were cuting wood, for which they were fired at by the petty officers present. I was much displeased at such an abuse of our fire Arms and took measurers to prevent it for the future." Later "we struck the main-top-mast in order to fix new Tristle-trees and a pair of new back stays."

On 17th first lieutenant Robert Palliser Cooper "Punish'd Wm Tow Marine 1 dozen for trading with the natives when on guard on shore". Two days later, Cook "sent the guard on [shore] with Mr Wales as usual... A good many of the Natives were, as usual assembled near the landing place and unfortunately one of them was Shott by one of our Centinals, I who was present and on the Spot saw not the least cause for the commiting of such an outrage and was astonished beyond Measure at the inhumanity of the act".

Three days later "during the night the wind had veered round to SE; as this was favourab[l]e for geting out of the harbour, we at 4 a.m. began to unmoor and at 8 wieghed our last anchor and put to Sea. As soon as we were clear of the land, I brought-to to wait for the Lau[n]ch which was left behind to take up a Kedge Anchor & hawser we had out to cast by... I named the Harbour, Port Resolution after the Ship as she was the first who ever entered it."

They sailed east to the island of Futuna, then west rounding the southern tip of Tanna, north-west past Eromanga, Efate and Malekula. They rounded the top of Malekula sailed through Bougainville Strait, along the east coasts of Malo and Espiritu Santo and many other small islands. By 1st September they had circumnavigated Espiritu Santo and Cook "haveing made the Circuit of [the isle] and with it finished the Survey of the whole Archipelago so that I had no more business there, besides the Season of the year made it necessary I should think of returning to the South.

New Caledonia

Three days later "as we were Steering to the South we discovered land bearing SSW". The next day "we were three leagues from the land... which I named Cape Colnett after one of my Midshipmen [James Colnett] who first saw this land... It was to us a matter of no great moment whether we plyed up the Coast to the East or bore down to the west. I chose the latter".

They found a suitable anchorage, where they stayed for a week. They were surrounded by natives. Wales landed "and got Altitudes for the Time by Mr Kendall's Watch, and also of the Water for determining the time of low Water." The next day, wrote Cook, "Mr Wales and Lieutenant Clerk went to the sandy isle to make preparations for observing an Eclips of the [sun]... About one PM the Eclips came on... Mr Wales measured the quantity eclipsed by a Hadlies Quadt a method I believe never before thought of". The island was called Observatory Isle, now known as Pudiu.

On 8th "A Fish was procured from the Natives by my Clerk... it was of a new genius... only the Liver and roe was dressed of which the two Mr Forsters and my self did but just taste. About 3 or 4 o'Clock in the Morning we were seized with an extraordinary weakness in all our limbs attended with a numness... I had almost lost the sence of feeling not could I distinguish between light and heavy bodies... We each of us took a Vomet and after that a sweat which gave great relief... When the Natives came on board and saw the fish hanging up, they immidiately gave us to understand it was by no means to be eat". It was a Toadfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus).

On 13th "I went a shore and by Vertue of our being the first discoverers of this Country took posession of it in his Majestys name and as a farther testimony had an Inscription engraved on a large tree close to the Shore near the Watering place, seting forth the Ships Name date &ca &ca as I had done at all others we had touched at, where this cerimony was necessary." They sailed west along Cook Reef, which the runs along the coast. By 15th "we were already carried far out of sight of land... it became now a necessary object to know its SE Extremity".

Sailing along the reef was never easy. On 16th Forster recorded "we were within 4 miles of the reef, & a strong Swell set the Ship gradually towards it. The Cutter & pinnace were hoisted out, to tow the Ship off... I had for several days a head ache the remainders of the poison, for my Son had the same Symptons. To day our Lips began to set out some little pustules."

Four days later he wrote, "saw in the morning the same Isle, where we had been a sevennight before... it will prove at least 40 or 50 leagues long, & is therefore the greatest new Tropical Island we have hitherto seen... It lies NWbW & SEbE, but seems to be but narrow across, for Capt Cook saw on the hill the Sea on the other side of it. It deserves to be called New-Caledonia, as we do not know its true Name, for what we got from the Natives were only Names of Districts on the Isle." Five days later, he reported their intention to "push on towards New-Zeeland to prepare our Crew for a fresh Southern cruize, by a plentifull eating of Greens & fresh Fish."

As they sailed along Cook saw "a vast cluster of ... elevated objects... various were the opinions and conjectures about them and occasioned the laying of several trifling Wagers." Forster wrote "all the military Men think them to be Trees, whereas the Experimental-Men are of Opinion they are Stone-Pillars erected by Nature." They approached a large island covered in them, which took several days to round. By now Cook was determined that they were trees and named the island the Isle of Pines. A suitable anchorage off a small island was found and he "went ashore accompaned by the Botanists... we found the trees to be a kind of spruce pine, very proper for Spars which we were in need of... On this little isle which was a mere sand bank not exceeding half a mile in circuit were, besides the Pines, a variety of other trees, Shrubs and Plants which gave sufficient employment to our botanists the time we stayed upon it, which occasioned it to be called Botany Isle." now called Améré.

On 30th September, Cook "considered the little Advantages that could accrue by exploreing this Coast, as its extent was already pretty well determined, the great risk we must run, and the time it would require on account of the dangers attending it I determined not to risk the Ship down to leeward amongest these shoals, where we might be hemed in as to find it difficult to return." They sailed SSE, 225 years ago.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1661, volume 22, number 3 (1999).

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Henry, thank you for your question. Captain Cook wrote in his journal for 6 August 1774 when he landed at Tanna. He describes how several old men appeared to be in charge of the people, but one particular old man that Cook dealt with was called Paowang - somebody else on the ship recorded the old man's name as Pawyangom. Cook also describes how active the volcano was during his visit. Captain Cook also recorded the name of a young man who was very helpful, he was called Wha-agou. On the 17 August Captain Cook was introduced to a very old man who was the Chief of the Island, Cook records his name as Geogy, though somebody else recorded his name as Yogai, and his son's name was Yatta. Cook was at Tanna for 14 days, and records the island and its people in detail. Please let me know if you would like these details.
By Cliff Thornton on 2/10/2022 12:54:57 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I know James captain cook also arrived on the island of Tanna in the southeastern part, natively called Iatukuri village during that century, where he name the harbor Port Resolution after his "Boat HMS Resolution" and now the village called port Resolution, and also name a small rocky island at the same area after his Name "Captain Cook" the island has no people living there only oak trees and stones the island still exists until today and every villager and people around Tanna Island are well known about the island Name 'Captain Cook" my question is do you have any records of those people who James Cook, first met them when he comes ashore at the harbor on Tanna?
By Henry Thomas on 2/10/2022 1:15:02 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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US Merchant Marine retired this is so interesting.
By Ronald Driggers on 12/14/2020 4:38:55 PM Like:1 DisLike:0
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Jonah, Captain Cook's ships sailed along the coast of Ambrym, but did not land at that island.
The island is named Ambrrym, on some maps and Ambrym on others. Cook recored in his daily journal that the island was called Ambrrym by local islanders.
By Cliff Thornton on 4/29/2019 8:41:58 PM Like:0 DisLike:2
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Am impresive of these documents. DId James cook name the Island of Ambrym afer being given a yam??
By jonah Mail WIlliam on 4/29/2019 3:43:57 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Abong, I have looked at the ethnographic collections of several museums. Most have items, usually weapons, that are claimed to have come from New Hebrides, some are even attributed to the island of Malekula, but I have not found anything specific to Port Sandwich. If you read the details of Cook's stay at Port Sandwich, he was primarily there to restock the ship with wood, water and provisions. There was little opportunity for the crew to barter for items.
By Cliff Thornton on 8/10/2017 10:08:34 PM Like:1 DisLike:0
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I would like to get photos about artifacts that Cook collected in 1774 during his visit in Port Sandwich ion the island of Malakula
By Abong Marcelin on 8/10/2017 4:00:55 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Albert, it is thought that Cook obtained the names for the different islands of Vanuatu from the islanders who visited his ship to trade. He recorded the name of the island firstly as Paoom, but it has been also recorded as Paama and Pa Uma.
By Cliff Thornton on 4/17/2017 1:28:59 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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How did Captain Cook came about to naming Paama Island? Was it named after someone?
By Albert James on 4/16/2017 11:33:04 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Richard, the information which you seek was not recorded. In his journal, Captain Cook recorded the name of the island as Tanna, saying that Mr Forster, one of the naturalists on board, had been told the name by some of the islanders. Mr Forster recorded in his own journal that the word Tanna signifies "earth" in the Malay language.
By Cliff Thornton on 12/14/2016 9:40:32 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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