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225 Years Ago: July - September 1778


On 1st July, 1778 Captain James Cook in the Resolution and Captain Charles Clerke in the Discovery were in English Bay, Unalaska, on the West coast of America.

"It is called by the Natives Samgoonoodha", wrote Cook, "here is great plenty of good Water but not a single Stick of Wood great or small." David Samwell, surgeon's first mate on the Resolution, recorded "Having light airs and foggy Weathr which prevent us getting out of the Harbour most of our people were sent ashore to gather Vegetables such as wild Cellery & Sorrel which grow here in great plenty. In the afternoon Captn Cook went with a Party to shoot Grouse". Samwell accompanied John Gore, first lieutenant on the Resolution, on a visit to "an Indian Town".


by John Webber
"The Houses were not to be seen till we came close upon them" continued Samwell. "These Huts are seemingly under ground & the entrance is from the top". To enter "we descended down a Ladder made of a thick piece of wood with steps cut in it… into a Passage about four foot wide… it is very dirty having a large Bowl of stale Urine lying in it & much stinking fish scattered about it… on each Side and at each end of this passage are the Apartments where they sit & work in the day time and sleep at Night".


The next day Cook "put to sea and steered to the North". He "concluded that the Coast of the Continent took a NE direction and I ventured to steer the same Course." Clerke commented "both our Russian Maps are exceedingly erroneous… I now flatter myself we may find our way to the Noward, without any capital Impediment, and if we are fortunate in a mild Season, may still have time to look well about us."

On 6th, according to John Rickman, second lieutenant on the Discovery, "we were now in Bhering's Straits." William Ellis, surgeon's second mate on the Discovery, wrote "At nine, captain Cook sent an order to captain Clerke to put the ship's company to two-thirds, allowance of beef, pork, bread, and flour, as we were now in a latitude where fish were very plentiful, and he thought it prudent to reserve as much of the ship's provisions as he could with propriety, lest it might be wanted in future upon more pressing occasions: in consequence of this order, hooks and lines were distributed to the ships companies." However, two days later Clerke wrote "Calm and fair Weather… During this absence of the Breeze we caught such a supply of Cod, that we all hands heartily wish to have no more fishing Weather for this Week to come at least."

On 9th Cook "steered EBN to get nearer the Coast… both high and low grounds were perfectly distitute of Wood but seemed to be covered with a green turf, except the elevated Mountain which were covered with Snow." They sighted a river "which I shall distinguish by the name of River Bristol… The night was spent making short boards".

The next day Samwell noted "as we kept shoaling our water… we made the Signal for the Discovery to go a Head… she wore & fired a Gun as a Signal of Shoal Water… On weighing the Water it was found fresher than that [at] Sea which makes it probable that we were off the Mouth of a River".

On the 11th James King, second lieutenant on the Resolution, noted "The Fog was so thick, that although we could not see the Discovery, yet we could hear her motion thro the water".

Cape Newenham

"The 15th", wrote Rickman, "we came to an anchor in 17 fathom water… Here the cutters from both ships were manned, and all the gentlemen went on shore… After spending the greatest part of the day in botanizing with Mr. Nelson, we returned on board; leaving on the bluff part of a rock a bottle behind us, in which were enclosed some blue and white beads with a note of the ships names, the date when left, by whom, and on what expedition." According to Cook he had "sent Lieutenant Williamson to this promontory [where] he took possession of the Country in His Majestys name". King noted that "Captain Cook with great Politeness told Mr Williamson that the Cape which he was on shou'd be Call'd after the Name of any friend of his. It was therefore nam'd in honour of Sr Edwd Newenham of Ireland."

They were amongst "a labyrinth of rocks, shoals, and spits of sand" according to John Ledyard, corporal of marines on the Resolution. "On the 17th to crown our joys it came on to blow, and we parted our best bower cable in the bend and lost the anchor. On the 18th the gale abating we spent the day in sweeping for our anchor which we finally recovered by the exertions of a mad-hardy Tar, who dived to the freezing bottom and hooked a grapling to the ring. The anchor was in five fathom water." None of the journals give the man's name.

James Trevenen, AB on the Resolution, described how they "went to the North by one channel & returned by another, both very narrow, & had not the weather always continued moderate, they might very well have proved fatal to us." The ships progressed slowly. On 30th Clerke noted "These have been 24 Hours of very disagreeable Weather, & miserably ill calculated for our exploring business… we've been firing Guns, beating Drums, and ringing of Bells, a great part of these 24 Hours, to understand each others situation".

Death of William Anderson

On 3rd August Cook "resumed our Course to the Northward… Mr Anderson my Surgeon who had been lingering under a consumption for more than twelve Months expired between 3 and 4 this after noon. He was a Sensible Young Man, an agreeable companion, well skilld in his profession, and, and had acquired much knowlidge in other Sciences". Samwell recorded "he was born in Scotland & at his Death was about 30 years of age. He had been Surgeon's 1st Mate of the Resolution last voyage and having taken some pains to learn the Otaheite Language he was better acquainted with it than any one in the two Ships, & he was the only Person among us who could pretend to any degree of Knowledge in Botany & being withal a sensible and a modest young Man his Death was much regretted". Cook "to perpetuate the Memory of the deceased for whom I had a very great regard, I named [nearby land] Andersons Island", though it is now known as St Lawrence Island, the name given to it by Bering in August 1728. "As we saw no land in the Morning the body was committd to the Deep", wrote King, "otherwise the Captain wishd to have interr'd it on shore".

Cook wrote to John Law, surgeon on the Discovery, "I do hereby appoint you Surgeon of His Majesty's Sloop the Resolution in the room of Mr Anderson deceased; requiring and directing you forthwith to take upon you the duty of Surgeon on her accordingly, to hold the same employment until further order together with such allowance of Wages and Victuals &ca as is usual for the Surgeon of the said Sloop, and for so doing this shall be your Order." Cook made a similar order appointing David Samwell, surgeon's first mate on the Resolution, to be surgeon of the Discovery and another making Robert Davies, surgeon's second mate on the Resolution, to be "Surgeon's first mate" on the same ship.

On the 5th, wrote George Gilbert, AB on the Resolution, "The weather being very foggy we came to an anchor within a small high Island laying close to the main [land], where Capt Cook and some Gentlemen went onshore and gave it the name of Sledge Island from part of one they found upon it;; they brought onboard a few vegitables, which we had boiled in our peas; but did not preceive any Natives here." Rickman noted "Mr. Nelson, and his associates found great quantities of wild celery, and a kind of wild fetch or chichilling, of which the ship's company made the proper use."

As they sailed northwest the next day Cook "had an opportunity to observe the Suns Meridean Altitude for the Latitude and to get altitude both in the fore noon and after noon to obtain the Longitude by the Timekeeper."

On 9th "about 2 A.M. we came again to an anchor", wrote Rickman, "a strong current from 5 to 6 knots an hour setting against us; but the ships pitching bows under, and the water from the upper deck running, as through a sieve, to the lower deck, in less than half an hour, every thing between decks was afloat; so that the poor men had not a dry rag to put on. This obliged us to weigh as fast as possible; but, in our situation, that was a work of no small labour and difficulty, as at this time many of our hands, through fatigue, and being constantly exposed to the rain and snow, and in a damp ship, were ill of colds, attended with slow fevers, which rendered them incapable of duty. Out of 70 hands, officers included, we could only muster 20 to the capstern."

From America to Asia

Cook observed the continent including a "Point of land which I named Cape Prince of Wales… being the Western extremity of all America hitherto known".

The next day the ships sailed across Berings Strait to Asia. "We stood into the Mouth of a large Bay", wrote Samwell, "& at 10 o'Clock came to an anchor in 12 fms Water with a gravelly bottom, off shore about 2 miles. We could see with our Glasses an Indian Town near the Beach and several people flocking together to look at us; Captain Cook went ashore in the Pinnace accompanied by his own & the Discovery's large Cutter… many of our people mixed among them without any Reserve… They parted with every thing they had very readily except their Bows and Spears, & these they would not sell for any Consideration".

According to Clerke, "Their chief demand with our People in the course of Traffick was for Tobacco and Snuff, but that all sovereign Herb now begins to run very short in both Ships, and there unfortunately was very little of it among our People who were on shore."


by John Webber
"The Summer huts were pretty large, and circular and brought to a point at the top; the framing was of slight poles and bones, covered with the skins of Sea animals" wrote Cook.

"Webber's composition captures not only the bleakness of the landscape… but also the details of the simple skin tents and clothing, both elements he would study more intensely in separate drawings made on the spot" wrote William Hauptmann in his book John Webber 1751-1793. Pacific voyager and landscape artist. Landschaftsmaler und Süd-seefahrer mit Captain Cook, Kunstmuseum, Bern and Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1966.


To Cook they appeared to be in "the Country of the Tchuktschians explored by Behring in 1728… After a Stay of between two or three hours with these people we returned to the Ships… and steered to the NE". They re-crossed Berings Strait to America and sailed north-east up its coast. On 12th they "crossed the arctic circle", recorded Rickman.

On 14th Cook named the coast Point Mulgrave after Constantine John Phipps, the 2nd Lord Mulgrave. "The land appeared very low next the Sea, but a little back it riseth into hills of a Middling height" now called the Mulgrave Hills.

Frosty and Icy Conditions

Three days later "The frost set in and froze so hard, that the running rigging was soon loaded with ice, and rendered almost impossible to make the sheafs or blocks traverse without the assistance of six men to do the work of one" wrote Rickman. "The ice was seen hanging at our hair, our noses, and even at the men's finger's ends, if they did but expose them to the air for five or six minutes".

Cook "percieved a brighness in the Northern horizon like that reflected from ice, commonly called the blink; it was little noticed from a supposition that it was improbable we should meet with ice so soon… At 1 PM the sight of a large field of ice left us in no longer doubt about the cause of the brightness… Here were abundance of Sea Horses, some in the Water but far more upon the Ice".

"On the 18th at Noon our latitude was 70° 44´" the farthest north the ships ever reached. The nearest land "was much encumbered with ice for which Reason it obtained the name of Icey Cape".


by John Webber
The sea horse, also known as the morse, is now called the walrus. Ledyard described them as "between a quadrupede and a fish, their heads are somewhat like those of a dog, without ears, except two large white tusks that project downward from the upper jaw… they have a thick skin like that of a horse". Gilbert considered the name sea horse. "Why they are so called I can't imagine, for they bear not the smallest resemblance to that animal."


"On the 19th we lay to among the ice", wrote Ledyard, "and sent the boats to the ice to hunt the sea-horse." Gilbert described the difficulties incurred: "to prevent being suprized in their sleep they always appoint one as a sentinall and place it in the middle to keep watch over them… As we approached them with the ships they would lie very quiet till we came within two cables length of them, when the one that had the watch would make a great noise to allarm the rest upon which they all began by degrees to raise their heads and shoulders and look around them and then crawl to the edge of the Ice and plunge head foremost into the water, so that by the time we had got within a ½ a cable length of them there would not be one remaining; the noise they make is a mean betwixt the barking of a dog and the bellowing of an Ox… unless we fired at them upon the Ice it was twenty to one that we could hit them in the water, as they dive immediately… After we had got them onboard they were skinned and cut up by the butcher. The hides we preserved for the Rigging, the Blubber or fat we put into casks to melt down into train oil for our lamps; and the flesh disgustfull as it was we eat thro' extreme hunger, caused by the badness of our provisions and short allowance, which were but just enough to exist upon and were now reduced on account of this supply".

Ledyard and other sailors considered the meat "an ill reward for their labor… when they understood that the short pittance of European food was to be withheld from them, and this substituted in its room. But Cook was determined upon the point, and set the example himself by making it his constant food while it lasted. The people at first murmered, and at last eat it through mere vexation… the Tars swore they would eat it or any thing else that Cook did, for they were certain that nothing would kill him in the heavens above or the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth."

The Way North is Blocked by Ice

Cook realised "we were in a manner surrounded by the ice and had no way left to clear it but by standing to the Southward… with a gentle breeze Westerly and for the most part thick foggy weather." The next day "we stood West South West and West. At 2 PM we fell in with the Main ice, along the edge of which we kept". Clerke "could hear a confounded noise made by the Morses, which we knew were upon the Ice, but the Fog was too thick to discover anything that was not close under our Noses".

The following day Cook thought "the Main ice… now covered a part of the sea which but a few days before was clear and that it extended farther to the South than where we first fell in with it. It must not be understood that I supposed any part of the ice we had seen fixed, on the contrary I am well assured that the whole was a moveable Mass."

The next day "the fog cleared away" and Cook "hauled to the Westward; for finding I could not get to the North near the Coast for the ice, I resolved to try what could be done at a distance from it".

On 24th William Bayly, astronomer on the Discovery, noted "This day is the last of the Spruce Beer – we have had it 82 Day in all." As a result, wrote Thomas Edgar, Master, on the Discovery, on 26th "serv'd spirits Dayly to the ships Compy which have been serv'd but Every other day from the time of leaving King Georges Sound."

The next day Cook felt it "very improbable that this ice could be the produce of the preceding Winter alone… I am of opinion that the Sun contributes but little towards reducing these great Masses… It is the Wind, or rather Waves raised by the wind, that brings down these great Masses by grinding one piece against another, by undermining and washing away htat which lies exposed to the surge of the sea… Thus it may happen that more ice is distroyed in one Stormy Season, than is formed in several Winer and an endless accumulation prevented, but that there is always a remaining sores, none who has been upon the spot will deny and none but the Closet studdying Philosiphers will dispute."

On 29th Cook saw "land bearing SWBW; presently after this more land was seen bearing West, it made in two hills like islands", the two bluffs of Cape Shmidta. This Asian coast "in every respect is like that of America, that is low land next the Sea with elevated land farther back… being fearfull of the ice coming down upon us, I gave up the design I had formed of plying to the Westward… The season was now so very far advanced and the time when the frost is expected to set in so near at hand, that I did not think it consistant with prudence to make any farther attempts to find a passage this year". King recorded "The Captn inform'd the Ships company that he should leave the Ice as fast as he could, & that the next year should come up against it again… Those who have been amongst the Ice, in the dread of being enclosed in it… can be the best judge of the general joy that this news gave."

Trevenen reflected "This indefatigability was a leading feature of his Character. If he failed in, or could no longer pursue, his first great object, he immediately began to consider how he might be most useful in prosecuting some inferior one. procrastination & irresolution he was a stranger to. Action was life to him & repose a sort of death."

They sailed south along the Asian coast and on 2nd September "passed again the two capes that form the eastern and western extremes of Asia and America, and as we kept the middle of the channel… we had the pleasure to see both continents at once", noted Ledyard.

The next day Cook "steered SW½W for the northn point of St Lawrence Bay the same as we anchored in on the 10th of last Month… saw some of the Inhabitants at the place where I had seen them before… but none attempted to come off to us". Clerke considered "These have been a fortunate 24 Hours for our business: we have been lucky enough to have a fair steady Breeze & pleasant Weather, which in these Climes we find rather a Novelty." The next day Edward Riou, midshipman on the Discovery, "got 11 Pigs of Iron Ballast from forward into the Bread Room in order to try if it will have any effect on the Ship's Sailing, as we cannot keep up with the Resolution."

Into Norton Sound

The ships sailed south and then on the 5th Cook "steered over for the America coast". On the 7th Ellis "saw the island (Sledge Island) we anchored under on the 6th of August". The next day Cook "resumed our course along the Coast" and on the following day, continued Ellis, "At ten, captain Cook made the signal for the Discovery's large cutter, which, in company with the Resolution's, was sent ahead to sound, and soon after the Discovery, as drawing the least water, was ordered to take the lead… We continued standing on till three, when, having only four fathom and a half, the Resolution hauled up to the S S. E and fired a gun, as a signal for the Discovery to do the same". Cook noted "the Resolution at one time brought the Mud up from the bottom."

"On the 10th," wrote Rickman, "having a stiff breeze, we ranright across the mouth of the bay, for the N. W. shore, and just before night the Resolution narrowly escaped running upon a rock." The next day "Both Ships anchored in a bay… but finding no convenient Watering Place, the next day we stood round a Point of land into another Bay where we found a good place for wooding and Watering but not a safe anchorage for the Ships" noted Samwell.


by John Webber
On 13th, wrote Cook, "a family of the Natives came near to the place where we were taking off wood; I know not how many there were at first, I saw no more than a Man, his wife and child". According to Samwell "the Houses are built together in small Villages on the Sea Shore… some of them have flat roofs others slanting… the sides of some of them are made by laying one Timber on another horizontally, others are constructed with the Timbers fixed in the Ground & slanting obliquely upwards, with the interstices filled up with Grass".


"We were busied all this day wooding & waterg & on the 14 had compleat'd, having taken 13 ton of water & as much wood as could possibly be stowed away, the Decks being quite full of it, indeed I believe there never was such a quantity taken into any ship in such a space of time." The next day Cook "Being in doubt whether the coast we were now upon belonged to an island or the America Continent, and as this could not be determined with the Ships, I sent two boats under the command of Lieutenant King to make the discovery." King "set our sails & stood across the deep bay" After landing "Mr Roberts & I directly set out for the heights… & we soon saw that our business was finish'd & that the 2 Coasts were only divided by a small river… After setting some points by a pocket Compass that we carried with us, we returnd." Henry Roberts was Master's mate on the Resolution.

Cook named the area on 16th "Norton Sound, in honour of Sr Fletcher, speaker of the House of Commons… Haveing now fully satisfied myself that Mr Stæhlin's Map must be erroneous and not mine it was high time to think of leaving these Northern parts, and to retire to some place to spend the Winter where I could procure refreshments for the people and a small supply of Provisions. Petropaulowska in Kamtschatka, did not appear to me a place where I could procure either the one or the other for so large a number of men, and besides I had other reasons for not going there at this time, the first and on which all the others depended was the great dislike I had to lay inactive for Six or Seven Months, which must have been the case had I wintered in any of these Northern parts. No place was so conveniently within our reach where we could expect to meet with these necessary articles, as Sandwich Islands, to these islands, therefore, I intended to proceed, but before this could be carried into execution it was necessary to have a supply of Water, With this View I resolved to search the America coast for a harbour, by proceeding along it to the Southward and endeavour to connect the Survey of this coast with that to the North of Cape Newenham. If I failed of finding a harb. then to proceed to Samgoonoodha which was fixed upon for a Rendezvouse in case of Separ[a]tion."

Ellis commented that "several shooting parties were also formed, who met with tolerable success; but captain Cook, who was more anxious to ascertain the longitude of the place, and to make observations with the dipping-needle, than to enter into parties of pleasure, remained on board". According to Andrew David in his book The Charts and Coastal Views of Captain Cook's Voyages. Volume Three: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, Hakluyt Society, 1997, "Dip is the angle between the Earth's magnetic field and the horizontal plane at the Earth's surface. It is 90° at the magnetic poles and zero at the magnetic equator. A dipping needle by Nairne was supplied to both ships."


Chart of Norton  Sound and of Bherings Strait
Chart of Norton Sound and of Bherings Strait made by the East Cape of Asia and the West Point of America
On 17th Rickman recorded "the party that were sent out to survey the bay returned… on the 18th we weighed and sailed, retracing the coasts we had explored, without making any material discovery… On the 25th we met with a dreadful tempest of wind, rain and hail, or rather ice, between two and three inches square, by which several of our men, who were obliged to keep the deck, were severely wounded… On the 26th, the Resolution made the signal of distress. On haleing her, we were informed, that she had again sprung a leak… and that all hands were employed at the pumps and in baleing… On the 29th we were again visited with a severe storm, and involved in heavy seas… On the 30th, being both in company, the storm abated and the sea quite calm, both ships hove-to, and, while the carpenters were employed in stopping the leak in the Resolution, the people were busied in fishing", 225 years ago.


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 23, volume 26, number 3 (2003).

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