Home > 225 Years Ago: October - December 1774

225 Years Ago: October - December 1774


On 1st October, 1774, Captain James Cook in the Resolution was sailing ESE from "the land we had lately discovered New Caledonia. If we except New Zeeland it is perhaps the largest Island in the whole South Pacifick Ocean."

On 3rd Johann Forster, naturalist, "got a cold from the wet, which rushed into my bed through the Decks, for the working of the Ship has opened all the Seams & we have no pitch to caulk & pitch them." Two days later his son, George, noted "All our officers who had made several voyages round the world, and experienced a multitude of hardships, acknowledged at present, that all their former sufferings were not to be compared to those of the present voyage, and that they had never before so thoroughly loathed a salt diet."

Norfolk Island

On 10th "an Island was discovered" by Cook "bearing SWBS". After dinner "hoisted out two boats in which my self, some of the officers and gentlemen went to take a view of the Island and its produce... We found the Island uninhabited... the chief produce of the isle is Spruce Pines which grow here in abundance and to a vast size, from two to three feet diameter and upwards, it is of a different sort to those in New Caledonia and also to those in New Zealand and for Masts, Yards &ca superior to both. We cut down one of the Smallest trees we could find and Cut a length of the uper end to make a Topgt Mast or Yard... Here then is a nother Isle where Masts for the largest Ships may be had."

They had landed on the north coast at the eastern end of Duncombe Bay below where the Cook Monument now stands. The trees were the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria excelsa). According to Forster, "the plants are for the greatest part of New Zeeland ones... The Parrots are nearly the same as in N. Zeeland", adding the island "afforded us upon the whole more good things than the large Isle of N. Caledonia."

Cook "took posission of this Isle as I had done of all the others we had discovered, and named it Norfolk Isle, in honor of that noble family." William Wales, astronomer, noted that it was named "after the Duchess of Norfolk." Forster added that she "recommended it to Capt Cook to have one Isle named after her."

"We saw no Inhabitants nor the least reason to believe it had ever been trod by human feet", wrote Wales. They set sail the same evening, and Cook's "design was to touch at Queen Charlottes Sound in New Zealand, there to refresh my people and put the Ship in a condition to cross this great ocean in a high Latitude once more."

Arrival at New Zealand

They sailed south east enduring gales, which on 17th "split the Jibb to pieces, lost great part of it, remains good for little, being much worn. Day-break saw Mount Egmont (covered with everlasting snow) bearing SE½E". The next day "at 11 Anchored before Ship Cove the strong fluries from the land not permiting us to get in."

Forster "went after dinner ashore, & hauled the Seine, but got no Fish. I shot 8 Shags, the Captain one & one Curlew, & 9 young ones were knocked down from the Nests... Next morning at 4 o'clock we warped deeper into the bay & got a good birth about 9 o'clock, & when I went soon after ashore & collected some old plants, of which we had but few Specimens. I found likewise a new plant... Capt Cook examined again every thing about the place where our Tent had been last time, & there we found several Trees cut down, that we left standing & especially was one Tree cut down with a crosscut-Saw, which we had left standing & to which our Tent-rope had been fixed last year... all these Arguments convinced us, that the Adventure had been here after us."

On 20th, Cook "sent all the Sails wanting repairs a Shore to the Tent and in the AM several empty Casks. Carpenters employed fixing Cheeks to the Top-masts, Caulkers caulking the sides and Seamen overhauling the rigging." Two days later Cook went with "the Botanists to viset several parts of the Sound." The next morning, according to Forster, "my Son drew a new Fish... & I described the same. Mr Sparman went ashore & shot a few birds, which we put into Spirits."

Repairs to the ship continued over the next few days. Some Maoris arrived and brought great quantities of fish, for which Cook "made them presents of Hatchets, Knives, Cloth & Medals". They told a story "that a ship has lately been lost, some where in the Strait, and all the crew Killed" though "they had no hand in the affair". No one could get to the truth, so Cook concluded "our people had Misunderstood them and that the story refered to some of their own people and boats."

Repairing the Ship

On 1st November, Cook "fidded the Fore Topmast and Set up the fore rigging." According to Falconer's Marine Dictionary of 1780, a fid is "a square bar of wood, or iron, with a shoulder at one end... used to support the weight of the top-mast, when erected at the head of the lower-mast... The fid, therefore, must be withdrawn every time the top-mast is lowered." Two days later "fided the Main Top-mast and set up the Main & Top-mast rigging. Compleated the Ship with Wood and Water and nearly finished all our other work except Caulking which goes on slowly, as having only two Caulkers and a great deal to do and which must absolutely be done before we can put to sea." According to the ship's log, "Punished Jno Marra with a Dozn Lashes for Drunkenness and going out of the Ship without leave". Whether his intention was to desert is not clear.

On 5th, Cook, "at 8 o'Clock went in the Pinnace up the Sound accompanied by Mr F. and his party. I had some thoughts of finding the termination of it or to see if it communicated with the sea, in our way we met with several people out fishing of whom we made the necessary enquiries, they all agreed there was no passage to Sea by the head of the Sound. After proceeding five Leagues up, which was farther than I had ever been before, we met a Canoe conducted by four or five men who confirm'd what the others had told us". They rowed to an inlet "on the SE side of the Sound four or five leagues above Ship Cove... proceeded ENE down the Inlet which we at last found to open into the Sea... It was four o'Clock in the after noon before we made this discovery". They had rowed along Queen Charlotte's Sound to discover what is now known as Tory Channel. Forster recorded, they "came on board after 10 o'clock, fatigued with sitting & exhausted with fasting."

The next day, Joseph Gilbert, the Master, wrote "Punish'd Jno Keplin with a dozen lashes for leaving the Boat when on duty and declareing he would go with the Indians. He thought proper to come back of himself".

Forster's antagonism with Wales comes out in a passage written on 8th. "The Astronomer, wants still to stay here in order to settle the Longitude of the place; though it must seem very strange, that a Man who has been 3 times here, & each time during 3 weeks at least, could not settle the Longitude in that time." The next day, Forster, "took Greens in for Seastore... the Natives brought us a good many fish of which we bought a good many for Seaprovision, & salted them down for that purpose." The next day "We went ashore to the Indian-Cove for to look out a piece of timber for a Spar".

Cook reflected on the accuracy of his 1769 chart. "Mr Wales having from time to time communicated to me the observations he made in this Sound, for determining the Longitude... the error of the Chart is therefore 0°40´... from the multitude of observations which Mr Wales took the situation of few parts of the world are better assertained than that of Queen Charlottes Sound. Indeed I might with equal truth say the same of all the other places where we have made any stay at. For Mr Wales, whose abilities is equal to his assiduity, lost no one observation that could possibly be obtained. Even the situation of such Islands as we past without touching at are by means of Mr Kendalls Watch determined with almost equal accuracy."

This day, the 10th, "weighed and stood out of the Sound with a gentle breeze at WNW. At 8 hauled round the two brothers and steered for Cape Campbel", on the South Island. The next day "the wind veered... and forced us more to the East than I intended... From this Cape [Palliser on the North Island] I shall, for the third time, take my departure... My intention was to cross this vast Ocean nearly in these Parallels, and so as to pass over those parts which were left unexplored last summer."

Across the Pacific Ocean

They sailed south and then east with many gales blowing. On 19th Forster recorded, "the Ship rolled very violently: & as Mr Harrison, the Watchmaker has represented to the board of Longitude that a Ship's position in rolling weather deviated never beyond 20° from its perpendicular position, I am perfectly sure, that our Ship was more than 40° degrees deviating, in some of the most violent rolls." On 27th Charles Clerke, Second Lieutenant, wrote, "we've had a fine steady Gale and following Sea these 24 Hours, and run the greatest distance we've ever reach'd in this ship." Cook, "now gave up all hopes of finding any more land in this Ocean and came to a Resolution to steer directly for the West entrance of the Straits of Magelhanes, with a View of coasting the out, or South side of Terra del Fuego round Cape Horn to Strait La Maire. As the world has but a very imperfect knowlidge of this Coast, I thought the Coasting it would be of more advantage to both Navigation and Geography than any thing I could expect to find in a higher latitude."

Tierra del Fuego

At midnight on 17th December they finally saw land. "Upon this discovery we wore and brought o with the ships head to the South and then sounded... The land now before us can be no other than the west Coast of Terra del Fuego... As this was the first run that had been made directly a Cross this ocean in a high Sothern Latitude I... must observe that I never was makeing a passage any where of such length, or even much shorter, where so few intresting circumstance occrued... I have now done with the SOUTHERN PACIFIC OCEAN, and flatter my self that no one will think that I have left it unexplor'd, or that more could have been done in one voyage towards obtaining that end than has been done in this."

The next morning "we now made sail with a fresh gale at NW and steered SEBE along the coast which extended from Cape Deseado... The Coast appeared very broken, with many inlets, or rather it seemed to be composed of a number of Islands, the Land is very mountainous, rocky and barren, spoted here and there with tufts of wood and patches of snow." The next morning they passed the southern point of Basket island, "which I called Cape Desolation, because near it commenced the most desolate and barren Country I ever saw".

Christmas Sound

They anchored on 21st. "We went to work to clear a place to fill Water, cut wood and set up a Tent for the reception of a guard, which was thought necessary as we had already discovered that barren as this country is it was not without people, altho' we had as yet seen none. Mr Wales also got his observatory and Instruments on shore, but it was with the greatest difficulty he could find a place of sufficient stability and clear of the Mountains which every where surrounded us, to set them up in, and at last was obliged to content himself with the top of a rock, not more than 9 feet over." The next day "sent Lieutenants Clerke and Pickersgill, accompanied by some of the other officers, to examine and draw a sketch of the Channel on the other side of the island and I went my self in a nother boat accompanied by the Botanists, to survey the Northern parts of the Sound." Robert Cooper, First Lieutenant, "found Willm Wedgeborough Marine missing who we imagine fell over board last night as he was seen very much in Liquor at 12 O'Clock & was drown'd".

On 23rd Cook "Sent Lieut Pickersgill in the Cutter to explore the East side of the Inlet, my self acompaned by the two Mr Forsters and Mr Sparman went in the Pinnace to the West". The next day they formed "two Shooting parties; Mr Pickersgill and his assoceates went in the Cutter and my self and the botanists in the Pinnace... we found plenty of Shags in the Clifts... we proceeded on, and presently found sport enough; for on the South side of the isle were abundance of Geese; it happen'd to be the Moulting season and the most of them were ashore for this purpose and could not fly... by one method and another, got Sixty two with which we return'd aboard in the evening, all heartily tired". According to Forster, "Every three men got a goose: & several Shags were given besides to our Pinnace-crew."

Whilst they had been away, Cook discovered, "a number of the Natives, in 9 Canoes, had been along-side the Ship, and some on board". They came back the next day, the 25th. "They are a little ugly half starved beardless Race... I gave them some Medals, Knives, &ca... They all retir'd before dinner and did not wait to pertake of our Christmas Cheer... we had not experienced such fare for some time, Roast and boiled Geese, Goose pies &ca was victuals little known to us, and we had yet some Madeira Wine left, which was the only Article of our provisions that was mended by keeping; so that our friends in England did not perhaps, celebrate Christmas more cheerfully than we did."

Forster described the next day's dinner. "Our Soup was made of geese, we had Geese, boiled, roasted, & in Pyes, & plenty of fine Sellery in the Soup & for Sallad. All went on with a great deal of mirth & Glee & we went to bed at 3 o'clock in the morning at broad daylight. We found that we could hardly shut our Eyes, or have the least comfortable nap, for the noise of the drunken Ships-Crew, who were continually fighting... The Captain sent all drunken noisy fellows a shore, to take there an airing & get sober again." The next day "we described various plants & birds. My Son, Mr Sparman & I fell sick at dinner from the Soup with Greens & could eat nothing."

On 27th Cook wrote, "having already compleated our water, I order'd the Wood, Tent and observatory to be got onboard... The Festival which we celebrated at this place occasion'd my giving it the name of Christmas Sound." The next day "at 4 o'Clock in the Morning began to unmoor and at 8 weighed and stood out to Sea with alight breeze at NW which afterwards freshned and was attended with rain." According to Forster "we steered for some Islands, we had seen towards the SE quarter... & then altered our Course & went eastward & afterwards saw the coast of Tierra del Fuego in the intervals of the Squalls." They passed False Cape Horn and headed for Cape Horn. On the morning of 29th, "at half past 7 we passed this famous Cape and entered the Southern Atlantick Ocean. It is the very same point of land which I took for the Cape when I passed it in 1769, which at that time I was doubtfull of". He had the idea of "looking into Success bay to see if there were any traces of the Adventure having been there".

According to Forster, "a boat was sent in the Bay... to nail a Chart to a conspicuous Tree, whereon was written: Resolution passed the Straights Dec. ye 31st 1774", 225 years ago.


The Resolution in Christmas Sound
"The Resolution in Christmas Sound" by William Hodges

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1689, volume 22, number 4 (1999).

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