Home > 225 Years Ago: October - December 1772

225 Years Ago: October - December 1772


On 1st October, 1772 James Cook, in the Resolution, was sailing in the South Atlantic towards the Cape of Good Hope. According to Richard Pickersgill, third lieutenant on the Resolution, they sailed against "southerly winds, which continued untill the 9th and distress'd us much as we were a great way from the Cape and in want of water."

On 10th "in the Evening", wrote William Bayly, astronomer on the Adventure, "The Surgeon & Lieutenant of Marines had some words & I belive some blows were given by the Surgeon." Thomas Andrews was the surgeon. James Scott was of Second Lieutenant rank.

The next day, according to Johann Forster, on the Resolution, "the Pintadas [Cape Pigeon] took in the Afternoon bait & about 8 were caught on hooks & with baits of pork or mutton." Andrew David, in his Charts and Coastal Views of Captain Cook's Voyages, volume two, comments that "the moon rose about two-thirds eclipsed. The end of the eclipse was observed by Cook with a 4-foot re-fractor, by the elder Forster with a 2-foot achromatic telescope by Ramsden, by Wales with a 6-inch achromatic telescope by Dollond, magnifying four times, by Hervey with a quadrant telescope, by Pickersgill with a 3-foot refractor and by Gilbert with the naked eye."

Three days later Johann Forster "saw Albatrosses, Pintadas, Terns, Petrels of all kinds & caught a Fulmar (Procellaria glacialis) with a hook & Line & my Son [George] drew it." It was a specimen of the Antarctic Fulmar (Fulmar glacialoides).

According to Cook, on the 17th they "saw a Sail to the NW standing to the Eastward which hoisted Dutch Colours". She stayed nearby until the 20th when they "lost sight of the Dutch Ship having outsail'd her."

Forster reported that by the 20th "we had now already began to serve to the Ships company the 2d Vat with Sower Kraut, or of pickled & fermented sliced Cabbage." After commenting on the sailors' reactions to the food during the voyages of the Dolphin and Endeavour, he goes on "This time we found the people liked it immediately & but few find faults with it, & I must confess being very much used to it in Prussia, Germany & Russia".

Four days later "as the Adventure was a good way astern we shortened sail for her & hoisted the boat out & Mr Charles Clerck, I [Johann Forster] & my Son went out shooting" with great success.

Bayly noted, on the 25th, "the first Lieutt [Joseph Shanks] taken with relapse of the Gout of which he has been confined to his cabbin this 3 Weeks past but had been able to walk a little for some days."

Arrival at Cape Town

On 29th October, James Burney, able seaman on the Resolution, recorded in his journal: "this Afternoon Saw the Land & next Morning Anchord in Table Bay at the Cape of Good Hope."

Pickersgill wrote "We found no ships here as it was so soon in the Season, and as soon as possible, I was dispatch'd to acquaint the Governor with our arrival & to desire such refreshments as the Place afforded who no sooner heard who we were, but he told me he had orders to supply us with every thing we possibly might want and if there was any thing we could not get without his assistance; that he would allways and at all times whilst we stay'd here be ready to serve us as we were bound on an universal cause and Indeed every body here strove as much as possible to contribute to our happyness." Upon Pickersgill's return, Cook "saluted the Garrison with Eleven Guns which was returned. Moored NE & SW a Cable each way, hoisted out the Longboat and began to prepare to heel and Water the Sloop &ca."

"Our people all in perfect Health and spirits", wrote Charles Clerke, Second Lieutenant on the Resolution, "owing I believe in a great measure to the strict attention of Captain Cook to their cleanliness and every other article that respects their Welfare." On the 2nd November he wrote "Anchor'd here a Dutch East India Ship from Middleburg [Holland]. She's been four months upon her Passage - has buried 150 Men with the Scurvy and sent about 60 to the Hospital here, immediately upon her Arrival". The next day "Anchor'd here a Dutch East India Ship from Zealand [Holland] bound to Batavia, she has been out 23 Weeks and buried 41 Men."

John Elliott, midshipman on the Resolution, recorded in his journal: "Immediately behind the Cape Town arises a range of mountains of immence height, and quite flat in the Top, resembling a Table, and hence the Bay receives the name of Table Bay. Mr Grindal, Mitchel, Roberts and Myself attempted to go to the Top, but by the time we got halfway up, we found ourselves enveloped in a thick Fog, and began to consider ourselves in not a very safe situation. Therefore returned, after experiencing much difficulty in obtaining the height we did."

On arrival in Table Bay, Cook obtained permission from the Dutch Governor to survey the bay, which he delegated to Joseph Gilbert, the Master of the Resolution, and Pickersgill. Cook left it to be sent to the Admiralty, remarking "there is so little danger in sailing in and out of the Bay that any sailing direction I can give will be quite unnecessary."

Cook, the Forsters and others "fix'd our selves at Mr Brands, the usual residence of most Officers belonging to English ships". Christoffel Brand was portkeeper at Simonstown (False Bay).

Unfortunately for Cook, "the Bread we wanted was unbaked and the Spirit, which I found scarce, to be collected from different parts out of the Country [so] it was the 18th of November before we had got every thing onboard and the 22nd before we could put to Sea." In the meantime "the Seamen onboard were employd in overhauling the Rigging and the Carpenters in caulking the Sloops sides and Decks &ca." During their stay "the Crews of both Sloops were served every Day with new baked Bread fresh Beef or Mutton and as much greens as they could eat, they also had leave to go on shore 10 or 12 at a time to refresh themselves."

The two ships' astronomers "Wales & Baily got all their Instruments on shore, in order to make astronomical observations, for assertaining the going of the watches and other purposes". Cook was probably pleased to record "the result of some of those observations shewed that Mr Kendals Watch had answered beyond all expectations by pointing out the Longitude of this place to one minute of time to what it was observed by Messrs Mason & Dixon", who were on the expedition of Marion du Fresne which called in at the Cape in December 1771. However, "this cannot be said of Mr Arnolds" watch, which "varied in its rate sometimes more than half a minute pr Day".

Anders Sparrman joins the voyage

Elliott recorded "Here we took in a Mr Sparrman, as a Botanical assistant to Mr Forster, which made our number on the Quarter deck Thirty two." Anders Sparrman had, for seven months, been a teacher to six children, but had not been able to devote as much time to Cape flora as he wished. He was visited by Major Hendrik von Prehm, commander of the fort and a friend, who brought with him Johann Forster and his son George. "By this means" wrote Sparrman, "I had the pleasure of enjoying their company for a couple of days. As the southern continent... had taken no small hold on my imagination, this was sufficient reason for me to congratulate these gentlemen on the trust reposed in them, and the good fortune they had in visiting as naturalists, so distant and unknown a part of our globe. I found them not only eager each for his own part to fulfill what the world expected and required of them, but they even went so far in their zeal for the more accurate investigation of nature, as to think of procuring an assistant, at no small cost to themselves, and therefore offered me my voyage gratis, with part of such natural curiosities as they might chance to collect, on condition of my assisting them with my poor abilities. Such an unexpected return to my compliment, had almost deprived me of the power of answering them, had not my heart dictated to me the most lively expressions of gratitude to them for the confidence they placed in me."

George Forster explained that they went with him on several botanical rambles, "which always furnished us with an abundant harvest, and gave us the greatest apprehensions that with all our efforts, we alone would be unequal to the task of collecting, describing, drawing, and preserving (all at the same time) such multitudes of species, in countries where every one we gathered would in all probability be a nondescript. It was therefore of the utmost importance, if we meant not to neglect any branch of natural knowledge, to endeavour to find an assistant well qualified to go hand in hand with us in our undertakings."

There was no special cabin for Sparrman, so he had to sleep among the books in the great cabin.

New appointments

On 18th November, Burney wrote "on this good day I left the Resolution being appointed 2d Lieutenant of the Adventure in the room of Mr Shanks who quitted on account of his health". Or, as Cook put it, "Mr Shank first Lieutenant of the Adventure having been in an ill state of health ever sence we left England and not recovering here, requested my leave to quit in order to return home... [I] appointed Mr Burney one of my Midshipmen second Lieutenant of the Adventure in the room of Mr Kemp whom I appointed first." Arthur Kempe had been a midshipman with Byron 1764-6.


Hodges painting of the Cape of Good Hope

"A View of the Cape of Good Hope, taken on the spot, from on board the Resolution, Capt. Cooke."

William Hodges
On 18th November, Cook wrote to Philip Stephens, Secretary to the Admiralty, "The Paintings which Mr Hodges has made of Madeira Port Praya and this place I have packed up and left here to be forwarded to you by the first Safe Opportunity Vizt One large painting of this place one Small one of part of Funchall and One of port praya all in Oil Colours and Some others in Water Colours of little Note." Smith and Joppien in The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, volume two, 1985, write that "most of Hodges's time appears to have been spent on the large painting of the Cape... from the excellent vantage point of the great cabin. The paintings that Cook left... were exhibited in the exhibition of the Free Society of Artists of 1774 [including one of the Cape] now in the National Maritime Musuem [at Greenwich]". They comment, "The theory of condensation that related altitude, wind, temperature and rainfall was at this time only beginning to be fully understood. Its dramatic demonstration at the Cape deeply interested the meteorologist Wales, as its adequate pictorial portrayal clearly excited the artist Hodges. Significantly, Cook says that Hodges drew the view in oils."


South From the Cape

On 23rd November Cook wrote "At 3 pm weighd and came to sail with the Adventure in Company. Saluted the Garrison with 15 Guns which compliment was returned... after having got clear of the land I directed my Course for Cape Circumcision." Burney summed up many people's views when he wrote "we lost Sight of the Land - & now I look on the Voyage as begun & not before... we now made the best of our way to the Southward to look for Cape Circumcision, which Monsr Bouvet has laid down in 54°S° Latde & 9° or 10° Et Longitude from London". Jean-Baptiste-Charles Bouvet de Lozier was a captain in the French East India Company who, on 1 January 1739, the day of the feast of the Circumcision, sighted a rocky desolate land. After ten days he was unable to land, nor to determine whether it was part of the fabled southern continent or an island - which it was.

Johann Forster noted that "the wind blew fresh all the day, & many were troubled with the Sea Sickness. I found myself somewhat squeamish, but I drank... some mulled red Wine with sugar & Pimento".

The next day Cook "served to each Man a Fearnnought Jacket and a pair of Trowers which were allowed by the Admiralty." Burney, on the Adventure put it thus, "This day both Ships Company's were servd Magellan Jackets & Trowsers, being a present from the Government".

The 27th "was George's birthday & we were all very happy." The gales continued each day. On 28th Pickersgill wrote "we plainly foresaw an approaching storm, which before Night obliged us to take in all our sails and lay too; our consort not being able to carry any, the sea which run excessive high making a fair passage over both ships; we were in this tumbling situation, when in the middle of the night we were all allarm'd by the ships being allmost full of water and in danger of going down with us; every body in the greatest consternation running about, where their distracted fancy led them without being able to find where the water came in at, untill it was discoverd to be a glass little Port in the Boatswains Storeroom cut for the convenience of Light, as carrying candles into store rooms is very dangerous, this was broke and being partly under water, when the ship reel'd that way the water gush'd voilently, the cause being discoverd the remedy was soon applyed and by Daylight we had got the ship pretty dry."

A Cold and Wet Life

Johann Forster was "fairly soused" and complained to the captain about his room which "was very little", reminding him that he had said earlier in the voyage that "when we would have passed the Cape, he would give me in the room which the Gun abaft my Cabin now takes up: for he could stow it then away." Cook now refused. The botanists began "to bring our Cape plants in order, & find that this business will give us full employment for a long while... George had been affected for some days by a looseness, caused as I believe by the cold, he got the first night, when he went on board; & the gripes plagued him ever since that day." Indeed, by 27th November Bowles Mitchel, midshipman on the Resolution, had noted "ten Men sick & many complain of severe colds".

Over the next few days the sea continued to run high. "The people", noted Forster, "had not yet been prepared for such weather, & therefore did the rolling of the Ship much damage, chairs, glasses, dishes, plates, cups, Saucers, bottles, etc. were broken: the Sea came in one or the other cabin & made all inside wet, or a lose box or cask stove out some bulkhead & brought down a cabin. In short the whole Ship was a general scene of confusion & desolation".

December began, according to Cook, with "hard gales and fair Weather. At 2 pm made sail under the Fore sail and Staysails and at 4 set the Mainsail. At 8 brot to under the Foresail untill daylight then set the Mainsail & Mn Topsail which we could not carry Long, being so very squally with rain."

On 4th "got the spare Sails up to Dry, found them in the after Sail room very wet occasioned by the Deck over it being leaky". Clerke added, "this afternoon the Carpenters set about making a new Sail Room between the Fore and Main Hatchways".

On the 5th the botanists "resumed the revisal of our Cape plants in the beforenoon, which we could not do before an account of the great rolling of the Ship... The Topgallantsails were employed for the first time since we left the Cape."

On 10th Burney wrote "this morning we fell in with an Island of Ice which at first we mistook for Land - in the afternoon we saw another & 2 penguins, Birds which are said never to be far from Land. we tried Soundings but got no ground. After this we passd great quantities of Ice every day - the Weather very cold, though near Midsummer at this part of the World - The quick silver in the Thermometer keeping constantly between 27½ & 32".

On 11th Pickersgill wrote "the Masts sails and ropes were all caked with Ice and it constantly snow'd which froze as fast as it fell, and what was more to be regretted was that most of our live stock which we had brought from the Cape Died thro' the severity of the cold... Towards the evening we saw a Prodigious number of Ice Islands and before morning the sea was so thick with them that it was with the utmost difficulty we could steer clear of them - good God! had a gale of wind now come on, what a miserable situation thus surrounded with dangers on all sides".

On 12th William Wales wrote that they passed "between two very large Islands of Ice; one was very long, low & broad; the other not so much in circumference; but very high and formed in Spires and Cliffs like those I used to see in my Voyage to Hudson's Bay."

On 14th the ships were, according to Cook, "stoped by an immence field of Ice to which we could see no end, over it to the SWBS we thought we saw high land, but can by no means assert it. We now bore away SSE, SE & SEBS as the Ice trended, keeping close by the edge of it... At 8 o'Clock brot to under a Point of the Ice".

A Dangerous Time

They "hoisted a boat out, & I", wrote Forster, "went on board the Adventure, fetched Capt: Fourneaux & the new Lieut. Mr Burney on our board & we kept him for a couple of hours, after having breakfasted together." Wales went "with the Master to try the Current & heat of the sea below the Surface... Whilst we were doing this so thick a fog came on that we could not find the ship but after rowing some time backward & forward hallowing & listening, we were lucky enough to find ye Adventure."

The ice islands, which we now call icebergs, had probably drifted out of the Weddell Sea. Cook was aware of the danger they were in. On the 18th "the gale freshened and brought with it snow and sleet which freezed on our Rigging and Sails as it fell, the Wind however veer'd more & more to the NE which inabled us to clear the Field Ice, though at the same time it carried us among the Islands which we had enough to do to keep clear of, of two evils I thought this the least. Dangerous as it is sailing a mongest the floating Rocks in a thick Fog and unknown Sea, yet it is preferable to being intangled with Field Ice under the same circumstances. The danger to be apprehended from this Ice is the geting fast in it where beside the damage a ship might receive might be detaind some time."

Cook decided on a new course of action. "I now intend, after geting a few miles farther to the North, to run 30 or 40 Leagues to the East before I haul again to the South, for here nothing can be done."

On 20th Cook "set all the Taylors to Work to lengthen the Sleves of the Seamens Jackets and to make Caps to shelter them from the Severity of the Weather, having order'd a quantity of Red Baize to be converted to that purpose. Also began to make Wort from the Malt and give to such People as had symptoms of the Scurvy". Three days later, "Having not much Wind and the day being such as would be called a tolerable good Winters day in England Cap Furneaux dined with us and returned on board in the evening." The next day "At 2 pm bring near an Island of Ice which was about 100 feet high and four cables in circuit I sent the Master in the Jolly Boat to see if any Fresh Water run from it, he soon returned with an account that their was not one Drop or the least appearance of thaw." Forster did not feel well, "an unwonted pressure on my head, & some pains in my right Ear & right Jaw".

On 25th December, "at Noon seeing that the People were inclinable to celebrate Christmas Day in their own way, I brought the Sloops under a very snug sail least I should be surprised with a gale [of] wind with a drunken crew".

The next day Pickersgill wrote "Our distress for want of water began now to affect us very much and had it not been for a lucky suggestion we should have been in a very disaggreable situation, this was to take up the Peices of Ice which generaly laid in a long train to leeward of the large ice islands, as the islands made the water smooth for boats."

At the end of the year, 225 years ago, on 30th December, 1772, the Resolution, wrote Mitchel, "Pass'd an ice island which had 86 Pengwins upon it (I counted them)". Pickersgill saw the penguins, and added "We fired a 4 pd. ball at them on which they regularly wheeld off in ranks two by two, and in that order march'd down to the water."

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1453, volume 20, number 4 (1997).

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