Home > 225 Years Ago: July - September 1776

225 Years Ago: July - September 1776


At the beginning of July, 1776 Captain James Cook in the Resolution was in Plymouth Sound accompanied by the Discovery, whose captain Charles Clerke was still in London. The crew "were served with fresh beef every day during our stay." The first recorded punishment on the Resolution was noted by midshipman John Watts on 5th: "Punish’d John Herrold, Cook, with 6 Lashes for Drunkenness, Neglect of Duty & assuming a Character he was not able to support".

On the same day Clerke wrote to Joseph Banks telling him "I this day reciev’d a Letter from Lord Sandwich acquainting me he shall certainly order the Discovery to Sea very soon, in short giving me to understand that if I cannot leave Town by the 10th or 11th inst I must give it all up… I shall certainly be cleared the 16th or 18th inst. & shall then be happy - if the Resolution sail’d tomorrow I shou’d be soon enough at the Cape for our every purpose".

On 8th Cook wrote "Received by express my Instructions for the Voyage and an order to proceed to the Cape of Good Hope with the Resolution, and to leave an order for Captain Clerk to follow as soon as he joined his Ship, he being at this time in London."

The next day Johann Forster, scientist on the Second Voyage, approached Cook’s printers, William Strahan and John Stuart, applying for proof prints of any plates that were ready. They insisted that he sign a bond undertaking that he would only use the materials for his translations, and he assured them "that he had no intention to make such translation, but would publish his own account of the voyage". And so, George Forster sat down to nine months of work writing his "Voyage round the World" and Johann began revising his "philosophical observations".

On 10th Cook wrote "The Commissioner and Pay Clerks came on board and paid the Officers and Crew up to the 30th of last Month and the Petty officers and Seamen two Months wages in advance: the latter is no more than is customary in the Navy, but the former was an indulgence ordered by the Admiralty in consideration of the Voyage, the better to inable them to provide necessaries for it." Sailors in those days were expected to provide necessary personal equipment.

Last Letters Before Setting Sail


James Cook's             Signature The same day Cook wrote to Banks "…On my arrival here I gave Omai three guineas which sent him on shore in high spirits, indeed he could hardly be otherwise for he is very much carressed here by every person of note, and upon the whole, I think, he rejoices at the prospect of going home… the Council of the Royal Society have decreed me the Prize Medal of this year. I am obliged to you and my other good friends for this unmerited Honor."

The medal was Sir Godfrey Copley’s gold medal, awarded to the author of the best paper contributed to the Transactions of the Royal Society by a Fellow, and bestowed on Cook for his report on the methods used by him to preserve the health of his men during the Second Voyage. Cook also wrote to Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, "… thank your Lordship for the many favors confered upon me, and in particular for the Very liberal allowance made to Mrs Cook during my absence. This, by enabling my family to live at ease and removing from them every fear of indigency, has set my heart at rest and filled it with gratitude to my Noble benefactor."


On 11th Cook wrote "Delivered into the hands of Lieutt Burney, first of the Discovery Captain Clerkes sailing order". James Burney had previously sailed on the Adventure.

The Resolution Sets Sail

The next day Cook "Weighed and stood out of the Sound with a gentle breeze... On the 14th at 8 PM we were off the Lizard".

The following day John Williamson, third lieutenant, wrote "Found ye Sailroom & Store Rooms forward to leak, & the Rain pouring into ye Officers Cabins through ye Ships Sides to the Destruction of every thing therein: A Barbarous neglect of ye Officers in Deptford Yard."

On 16th Cook wrote "at Noon St Agnes Light house on the isles of scilly bore NWBW distant 7 or 8 Miles". And the next day William Anderson, surgeon, recorded "A little before noon the isle of Ushant bore WbS½S… The Ship smoak’d between decks with Gun powder."

On 20th William Harvey, master’s mate, wrote "search the people’s chest’s & Bedding in order to find several things that had been stolen." The next day Williamson commented again "The Cabbins in general very leaky, & most of ye Upper Works, particularly mine & ye Surgeon’s".

On 22nd Anderson wrote "at noon Cape Ortegal bore SbE… Smoak’d the Ship Gunpowder moistend with Vinegar." Two days later, according to Cook, "we pass’d Cape Finister with a fine gale at NNE. The Longitude of this Cape by the Watch is 9°29' W and by the mean of forty one Lunar observations, made before and after we past it, and reduced to it by the Watch 9°19'12''."

Clerke Leaves London

On 29th Clerke secured his freedom when a court consisting of Sir John Mawby, Sir Richard Topham and nine gentlemen gathered in St Margaret’s Hall in Southwalk Town Hall to hear the applications from many prisoners, of whom 31 had their requests turned down. Clerke wrote his will, leaving £100 to "my good Friend Sir Robert Ainslie at present his Majesty’s Ambassador at Constantinople" and £50 to "my good friend Dr Maty of the British Museum". It is not known how Clerke came to know Ainslie, but Paul Maty was his brother-in-law, having married his sister Hannah Clerke in St Mary’s Church, Wethersfield, Essex on 18 September 1775 not long after Charles’ return from Cook’s Second Voyage. He was the Assistant Librarian at the British Museum, and son of Matthew Maty a principal librarian of the museum.

On 30th Cook wrote "I observed with a night Telescope the Moon totally Eclipsed… the Moon was hid behind the Clouds the greatest part of the time… Finding that we had not hay and Corn sufficient on board to last the Stock to the Cape of Good Hope, I determined to touch at the Island of Teneriffe to take in more, thinking I should be better supplyed there than at the Island of Madeira."

On 31st Daniel Solander, naturalist on the First Voyage, wrote to Banks "This morning Dr Forster called upon me and told me he had been very desirous of seeing you before you spoke to Lord Sandwich, to explain what he particularly wished to be favor’d with; which is: to have 2 copies of the Prints & Maps which are allready engraved that he may take them with him abroad to the Continent, and agree there with Engravers for to have them copied, and which will take a good deal of Time. He proposes to have different Plates for each Translation. He proposes to set out for the continent at the end of this or beginning of the next week; and that was the reason why he wished to have it so soon as he mention[e]d in his Letter of last Sunday. He is not so anxious about having immediately the Letterpress; as he is now going abroad and shall stay about a month-and he hopes L[or]d Sandwich will herein favor him, as it seems the Plates are immediately under the Direction and the property of the Admiralty. He therefore sollicits to have an order for having 2 impressions of each plate & map now ready, one for the french & the other for the German."

August and September on board the Resolution

The Island of Tenerife

On 1st August Cook "Anchored in the Road of St Cruz… of the Island of Teneriffe… Found riding here the La bousole a French Frigate commanded by M. Baurdat, two brigs of the same Nation, an English Brig from Lkondon bound to Senegal and fourteen sail of Spanish Vessels… we were visted by the Master of the Port who did no more than ask the Ships name… I observed that all the Ships had four Anchors out, two to the ME & two to the SW and their Cables buoyed up with Casks, ours suffered a little by not observing this last Custom. Captain Baurdat was at this place making in conjunction with Mr Varila a Spanish gentleman astronomical observations for asserting the going of two Watch Machines they had on board the Frigate. They had a tent on the pier head in which they made their observations and compared their watches every d[ay] at Nook with the Clock on shore… The three days Comparrisons which we made [between their watches and Cook’s] assured us that the Watch had not materially if atall altered her rate of going". Jean-Charles Borda and Don Joseph Varela y Ulloa were testing chronometers made by the Swiss Ferdinand Berthoud, a watchmaker in France. Cook had Kendall’s K1 chronometer, the copy of Harrison’s H4, that he had taken on the Second Voyage. It was necessary to check the rate at which chronometers (or watches as they were called at that time) gained or lost time each day by means of astronomical observations ashore.

On 2nd Anderson "went on shore and in the Afternoon four of us hir’d Mules to ride to the city of Laguna. We arriv’d there between five and six in the evening but found a sight of it very unable to compensate for our trouble as the roads were very bad & the Mules but indifferent." On the 6th and 9th as they sailed south he recorded again "Clean’d the Ship & smok’d her with Gunpowder."

Danger Approaching the Cape Verde Islands

On 10th Anderson "saw the island Bonavista about half a mile to the westward…I was looking over the Starboard quarter at the Land as it still appear’d very near, when I thought something like breakers appear’d at a distance but hesitated whether I should mention it or not least it might be a mistake. Fortunately at this instant the Captain came over to the same place and just as I was going to mention my suspicions he observ’d something of the same sort and orderd them to starboard the helm. In less than a minute the cry of hard-a starboard became general & we could now see a range of breakers at a very small distance: upon which we were steering a direct course. Orders were given to brace the yards sharp up; but I who could only be an idle spectator in this scene of confusion went abaft and had a clear prospect of our impending danger. For the space of ten minutes I thought it utterly impossible we should avoid striking on the rocks: but the moenuvre with the sails being pretty quick I had the pleasure to see the ship lye parallel to them. This glimpse of hope was notwithstanding almost instantly obscur’d, for the wind being gentle with a considerable swell she approach’d nearer the rocks though going a head. At last however we clear’d the large range and also a single place over which the sea broke that seem’d to threaten danger after passing the other."

Looking for the Discovery at Port Praia

On 12th Anderson "saw the isle of Mayo" and passed between it and "the island St Iago", which is larger. The next day "pass’d a small bay with a pleasant grove of of trees and one house near. Before nine pass’d near Port Praya & hoisted our colours, thinking the Discovery might be here as orders were left for her to look for us, but found she was not in the Bay. The Portugeze fort and two large Dutch Ships suppos’d to be Indiamen which lay in the bay hoisted their colours in return."

As they sailed south clearing the air below decks continued and on 22nd Anderson noted "Aird the peoples bedding upon deck."

On 23rd Cook wrote "caught two Sharks; a great many small Dolphin about the Ship, several of which we caught with a white fly and rod. Omai first showed us the way and caught twice the number of any body besides".

"On Sund September the first we cross’d the Equator in the Longitude of 27°38' W with a fine gentle gale at SEBS and notwithstanding my apprehensions of falling in with the coast of Brazil in stretching to the SW I kept the Ship a full point from the wind. I however found my fears were ill grounded for on drawing near the coast we found the Wind more and more Easterly, so that by the time we were in the Lat. of 10° South we could make a South Easterly course good."

Cook summarises the first seven days of September in this one paragraph in his journal and his next paragraph covers the rest of the month - very different from the journal of his First Voyage.

Crossing the Equator

On 1st September, according to Anderson, "The afternoon was spent in the ridiculous ceremony of ducking those who had not cross’d the Equator before. This is one of those absurd customs which craft and inconsiderate levity has impos’d on mankind and which every sensible person how has it in his power ought to suppress instead of encouraging."

On 12th Anderson noted "At night a very bright Meteor like a large star appear’d in the SE which vanish’d almost instantly". The following day "in the twilight saw such a bright Meteor as mentiond yesterday a little above the horizon which appear’d like a setting star but was of a very short duration."

On 16th "In the morning early Fresh breezes or Moderate gales with squalls and a good deal of rain… The upper works of the Ship so open (or rather her sides) that the water pour’d into the Cabins of the Gun room so as to render them unfitt to sleep in. Cleand & smoak’d below."

On 22nd Harvey wrote "Issued out Wort, The Rob of Oranges & Lemons made into a small Punch & given to those that the Surgeon thought [should have it to ward against scurvy]". This episode is not mentioned by the surgeon, Anderson.

On 28th Anderson wrote "A considerable sea from the NW. Steerd EbS. The ship made a great deal of water at the side seams which wet her entirely between decks so that few could sleep dry in their beds. This was not from the rain so much as the sea breaking upon her side. In short it appears that the negligence of those who caulk’d her has been the cause of this: a circumstance so uncomfortable in a long voyage & so unfavourable to the health of the people that it well deserves the enquiry of those under whose inspection ships are fitted out."

August and September on board the Discovery

The Discovery Sets Sail

On 1st August Clerke wrote to the Admiralty Secretary from Plymouth "I got down here on Tuesday night - was busied yesterday in getting two men in lieu of two I’ve sent to the Hospital, one with Small Pox which was rather an unfortunate precedent, but I’ve exchang’d the only two marines that have not had this distemper for others who have, and among the seamen there are only two who have not had it - these are two very good men very desirous of going the Voyage and as the contagion can go no farther I think I may venture to go on."

The same day he also wrote to Banks "I write to tell you I’ve nothing to say worth telling you but I know you will have [me] write at any rate… I have a fair Wind my last Anchor apeak so farewell - Cook sail’d tomorrow it will be 3 Weeks [ago] a damn’d long stretch but we must see it out - I shall get hold of him I fear not - my respects to the Doctor [Solander] assure him he shall hear from me at the Cape [of Good Hope] - Huzza my Boys heave away - away we go". In the early afternoon the Discovery set sail.

According to Ellis, surgeon’s second mate, "on the 7th in the morning, they saw Cape Finisterre, bearing SSE½E distant five or six leagues, and in the afternoon of the 13th saw Porto Sancto, and the next day Madeira."


Title Page             of Rickman's Journal According to Rickman, second lieutenant, "on the 20th, seeing a ship to windward bearing down very fast, and suspecting her to be an American privateer, all hands were ordered to quarter, to be in readiness to engage. She proved to be a Lisbon trader, who by the violence of the gale the day before, had been driven many leagues to the Westward of her course, and was in some distress. We spared her those things of which she stood most in need, and pursued our Voyage.

"Nothing remarkable till the 18th, when the ship’s company were put to short allowance of water, and the machine erected to distil seawater… These precautions were taken lest the Resolution should have left St Jago, and the Discovery obliged to proceed to the Cape, without being able to procure a fresh supply."


Looking for the Resolution at Port Praia

"On the 26th and 27th" wrote Ellis, "passed the islands Sal, St. Nicholas, and Bonavista, and early the next morning stood in for Porto Praya bay, as Captain Clerke was not without hopes of finding the Resolution there." Rickman added "An officer was sent ashore with all speed to make enquiry, who brought word back that the Resolution had touched at that Port; but had hastened her departure, as the rainy season was approaching, and it was unsafe to remain there long during its continuance… The officer was no sooner returned, and the boat hoisted on board, than we made sail with a gentle breeze".

On 1st September "a dreadful tempest arose", wrote Rickman, "in which we every moment expected to be swallowed up. The thunder and lightening were not more alarming, than the sheets of rain, which fell so heavy as to endanger the sinking of the ship… our maintop-gallant yard carried away in the slings and the sail frittered in a thousand pieces; the jib and middle stay-sails torn clear off, and the ship so strained as to make all hands to the pumps necessary. The afternoon was employed in repairing the damages."

On 5th Rickman "saw a sail, the second we had seen since we passed Cape Finisterre on the coast of Spain. We were at this time intent on fishing; and having hooked a shark of an enormous size, both officers and men were engaged in getting him on board... The weather continuing fine, the Captain ordered the great guns and small arms to be exercised; the ship to be smoaked, and the bedding to be aired."

Crossing the Equator

On 17th they crossed the equator. William Bayly, astronomer, wrote "It being customary to duck the Seamen at their first crossing the line which is frequently productive of Accidents; but to prevent it Capt Clerke gave the People a double Allowance of Grog to enable them to be merry and not to have any ducking."

On 24th, Ellis wrote "in the evening, the corporal of marines fell overboard and was drowned." According to Rickman the incident occurred on the 20th: "George Harrison, Corporal of Marines, sitting carelessly on the bowsprit diverting himself with the sporting of the fishes, fell over-board. He was seen to fall, and the ship was instantly hove to, and the boats got out with all possible expedition; but he was never seen to rise. His Dutch cap was taken up at the ship’s stern; and as it was known he could swim as well as many man on board, the boats made a large circuit round the ship, in hopes to recover him, but in vain."

On 25th, wrote Rickman "we observed a ship to the Southward, which by her course we took for the Resolution: We crouded sail, stood after her, and soon came up with her. She proved to be a Dutch advice-boat bound to the Cape."

August and September in London

Johann Forster

On 9th August Forster in London wrote to Banks accepting 400 guineas for the main set of George Forster’s botanical drawings and his zoological drawings during one of the post-voyage financial crises. They are now in the Natural History Museum, London. This set of two volumes comprised 301 drawings, including 47 finished water colours, 41 outlines, 10 pen-and-ink drawings, plus 203 pencil sketches. There were 33 of mammals, 140 of birds, 3 of reptiles, 81 of fishes and 14 of invertebrates.

Later in the month Forster wrote to Solander "As I don’t know whether Mr Banks is in or not, I take the Liberty to direct these lines to you. Mr Banks, when at my house, desired me not to be too precipitate in regard to the Affair of the proof-sheets & impressions of plates which were promised me by His Lordship & Capt Cook; & gave me to understand this affair might be settled to my satisfaction, as the plates & proof sheets for the two Translations. I have postponed to send to his Lordship a letter which I then had ready, and will be passive provided Mr Banks will undertake that kind service to me and procure me from his Lordship by Wednesday next the Impressions of the plates which are ready, together with an order or promise in His Lordship’s own hand writing, importing that I shall have the Proof Sheets immediately, so as each of them leaves the press, & not as Capt. Cook directed his Agents, only 10 days before the Publication of the work. If I don’t get these trifling proofs that his Lordship intends seriously to keep his word, I must appeal to the Public & and set the Affair in its proper light; & you may think that Capt Cook who gave me his word shall be proved to have forfeited the Appelations & the Characters of a Gentleman, & an honest man; how far this will be agreeable to you, Mr Banks, Lord Sandwich, & all those who patronize him you will easily judge yourself, for I have undeniable proof in my hands."

The Endeavour Voyage Remembered

On 27th a Mr. H. J. Norris wrote to Solander "In Hawksworth’s publication it is said the Endeavour sailed from St. Helena the 4th May 1771 & arrived in the Downs the 12th June, w[hi]ch is but 59 days passage, quicker than I ever heard of - but I believe it should be the 12th July - 8 weeks passage is reckoned very quick, but the common run of our India ships is from 9 to 10 & 11 weeks - Capt. Wallis in the Dolphin was 9 weeks - therefore I am persuaded that it is an error [of] the transcriber, or of the press - & that it must be the 12th July the Endeavour arrived in the Downs - the India ships she came out with from St. Helena arrived the 9th July by the printed account which the Company publish & the Endeavour sailed more heavily than any ship of the fleet. I could give you a dozen more errata’s in Hawkesworth’s publication, in Lat[itudes]: & Longitudes".

On 10th September the Deptford Yard Officers wrote to the Navy Board requesting payment be made to Robert Clemenson for nets made out of contract for the Resolution and Discovery, his prices being reasonable, 225 years ago.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1876, volume 24, number 3 (2001).

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My Social Studies Teacher Assigned us explorers to become experts on and she assigned me to James Cook. We had to pretend that we were the explorer in my case, James Cook and write Journal Entries about our Voyage. I had no idea what to write down. And then I found this website. I found the exact date that I had to write a journal entry and got to work. I don't think I could have found a more perfect website. I will make sure that I pass this information on to my Social Studies teacher so she can tell her 5th grade students for years to come! - Thank You So Much For the PERFECT website! - Nevaeh Mock
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