Home > 225 Years Ago: October - December 1777

225 Years Ago: October - December 1777


On 1st October 1777 Captain James Cook in the Resolution and Charles Clerke in the Discovery were anchored at Moorea, having arrived the day before. "The Ship being a good [deal] pestered with rats," wrote Cook "I hauled her within thirty yards of the Shore, being as near as the depth of water would allow." William Charlton, midship-man on the Resolution, "got a Hawser out of the Ballast Port with some Spars lash't upon it with a desire to get some of the Rats out of the Ship, we having a Great Number of them on board."

The next day wrote David Samwell, surgeon's first mate on the Resolution, "the King of the Island paid a Visit to Captn Cook, who made him several Presents, among the rest was a Cotton Gown with which he was much pleased". George Gilbert, AB on the Resolution and son of Joseph Gilbert, master of the same ship on the previous voyage, commented "We found provision of all kinds very scarce being barely able to procure enough for present use, had a party on shore cutting firewood whilst we stayed here".

So that by 6th they were ready to sail but, continued Gilbert, "The Natives having stolen a small goat from us and not returning it on Capt Cooks demanding it back, the next morning he set out with the Marines of both ships and some Gentlemen, in all about 35 people well armed; and marched across part of the Island in search of it; likewise three boats were sent manned and armed round to meet him during this excursion. Where ever Capt Cook met with any Houses or Canoes, that belonged to the party (which he was informed) that had stolen the goat, he ordered them to be burnt and seemed to be very rigid in the performance of His orders, which every one executed with the greatest reluctance except Omai, who was very officious in this business and wanted to fire upon the Natives; but as they every way fled and left their all to the mercy of the distroyers none of them were killed or hurt Which in all probability they would have been, had they made the least resistance; several women and old men, still remained by the houses whose lamentations were very great, but all their tears and entreaties could not move Capt Cook to desist in the smallest degree from those cruel ravages; which he continued till the evening, when he joined the Boats, and returned onboard having burnt and destroyed about 12 houses and as many canoes, part of the planks he brought away with him. The next morning he went round again with three boats where he completed the devastation he had left undone the day before; and all about such a trifle as a small goat which was that evening brought onboard by the Natives. I can't well account for Capt Cooks proceedings on this occasion as they were so very different from his conduct in like cases in his former voyages".

On 11th Cook "got out to Sea, when I steer'd for Huaheine with Omai in his Canoe in company, he did not depend intirely upon his own judgement, but had got on board a Pilot, I observed that they shaped as direct a Course for the island as I could do." Thomas Edgar, Master, on the Discovery, put it slightly differently: they sailed "in company with the Royal George Canoe Captain Omai."

Arrival at Huaheine

They arrived the next day and, according to Cook, "Our arrival brought the next Morning being the 13th all the principal people in the island together, this was just what I wished, as I wanted to sittle Omai in the best manner I could". William Bayly, astronomer on the Discovery, noted that "Omi is very ill at present & Capt Cook is a little indisposed at present… We have ½ of our people ill with the fowl disease & 4 or 5 has had the Yallow jaundice." "The Horses were landed" wrote Samwell "& the Tents and Astronomer's Observatories erected ashore, the whole attention of the Natives was taken up in looking at the Horses & when Omai with any of our Gentlemen took a ride they were followed by Thousands of Indians running & shouting like mad People." On 14th Edgar "About 4 in the Afternoon shav'd the left Side of an Indians Head & Right Eye Brow & flogg'd him out of the ship for theft."

The next day James Burney, First Lieutenant on the Discovery, recorded that "Omiah whose intention hitherto, had been to settle at Huaheine, now declared he would fix at Uliete, this new revolution however did not last above 3 days when he resumed his former plan again". Gilbert explained why: "Omai, tho generally understood to have been brought from Otaheite, was in reality a native of this Island; and now chose to make it the place of his Residence in preference to any other Island in the Cluster; accordingly all our carpenters were set to work to build him a house of the planks of the canoes destroyed at Eimeo; which in about a fortnight they compleated it. His principal furniture were a bed in the English fashion, several tin pots, and kettles, and a hand organ, on which he used to play and devirt the Natives; he had likewise a brace of pistols and a musket, for which we left him a small keg of gunpowder; we also left him a horse, and a mare, for which he had a saddle and bridle and understood the management of them very well. Capt Cook purchased a small space of Land round his house for him from the chief, and planned out a garden in which he sowed several kinds of seeds that we brought out with us and planted some vines, brought from the cape of good Hope which seemed to prosper very well till they were plucked up in the night by some of the Natives, for which one of them was the next day brought onboard, had his ears cut off, and kept in Irons on the Quarterdeck; after he had been in confinement a week some of our people took pitty on him and released him in the night so that he made his escape; Capt Cook was exceedingly angrey on this occasion, but could by no means find out the person that did it. The Two Boys that we brought with us from New Zealand, were left here as servants to Omai; tis almost impossible to conceive their distress at being forced to part from us; it being entirely against their inclination to stay here, as it was their ernest desire to go with us to England, but that Capt Cook would not permit; they had now become so well reconciled to us, as not to have the least desire to return to their own Country.

Cook described the land thus: "The extent along the shore of the harbour was about two hundred yards and its depth to the foot of the hill something more, but a proportional part of the hill was included in the grant." Before they left Cook "got the Bread remaining in the bread room ashore to clear it of Vermin, the number of Cock roaches that were in the Ship at this time is incredable, the damage they did us was very considerable and every method we took to distry them proved ineffectual."

On 22nd "a man found means to get into Mr Baileys Observatory and carry off a Sextant unobserved; as soon as I was made acquinted with the theft I went a shore and got Omai to apply to the Chiefs to have it returned, he did so but they took no steps towards it being more attentive to a play that was then acting, till I ordered the performers to desist, they were then convinced I was in earnest and began to make some enquiry after the thief, who was siting in the midst of them quite unconcerned… I sent him aboard the Ship and there confined him… Omai went aboard and with some difficulty got out of the fellow where he had hid the sextant, but as it was dark we could not find it till day light the next morning when it was got again unhurt." According to Clerke "he was deprived of his Ears and turned on shore."


A View of  Huaheine by John Webber
A View of Huaheine by John Webber

"A sweeping view of Fare Harbour with peaked mountains in the back. In the bay at right the Resolution and many craft; palm trees at centre and left. By the shore a group of natives tending a double canoe with a deck-house. In the background and along the shore native huts and English tents. On the far left a mountain, which may be identified as Mt Turi" wrote Rudiger Joppien and Bernard Smith in their book, The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776 – 1780, Yale University Press, 1988.


Further Confinement and Escape

"In the night between the 24th and 25th" wrote Cook "a general Alarm was spread occasioned as was said by one of our Goats being Stolen by this very man, it proved not so, probably he found them too well guarded to put his design in execution, but we found he had destroyed and carri'd off several Vines and Cabbage plants in Omais plantation, and he publickly threatened to kill him and burn his house… To prevent his giving me and Omai any further trouble I had him Siezed and confined on board the Ship".

However, "Between 12 and 4 in the Morning of the 30th [he] found means to escape". Bayly explained "The Man & Midshipman of the watch when the man made his escape from the Resn are both disrated for neglect of duty, the Mate Mr Harvey is sent on board Capt Clerk as a Midshipman, & one of Capt Clerk's Midshipmen, Mr Martin is rated Mate on board the Resolution in his room. Mr Mackey the Midshipman is turned before the mast. It is an unfortunate stroke for both these Gentlemen as their preferment soly depended on Capt Cooks Interest… The two officers above mentioned were both in bed instead of keeping watch as ordered by Capt Cook." On 31st Cook wrote to Clerke "You are hereby required and directed to receive on board the Sloop you Command as part of her Complement Mr William Harvey and to discharge Mr John Henry Martin into His Majesty's Sloop the Resolution, taking care to comply with the Act of Parliament."

Clerke continued to suffer from tuberculosis: "Capt Cook & the officers of both Ships dined on shore with Omai. Capt Clerke seldom dined on shore being in a very ill state of health" wrote Bayly on 29th.

On 2nd November, Cook "took advantage of a breeze which then sprung up at East and sailed out of the harbour." John Williamson, third lieutenant on the Resolution, noted "Omai took his leave of us with a manly sorrow, until he came to Captn Cook, when wth all ye eloquence of sincerity he express'd his gratitude & burst into tears." The same day, wrote Williamson, "Punish'd Isaac C[arley] (Marine) wth 12 lashes for sleeping on his post, & Wm Bradley wth 6 lashes for insolence & contempt, two of ye most notorious Rascals that ever stept on board a ship."

Arrival at Raiatea

The next day they arrived at Raiatea and, wrote Cook, "were surrounded with Canoes filled with people, with hogs and fruits to exchange, so that we found plenty wherever we went." The next day he "hauled up the Cables on deck and opened one of the ballast ports, from which made a slight stage to the shore, with a view of get clear of some of the rats. The Discovery Moored a long side the South shore with the same view… On the 6th set up the observatorys and got the necessary Instruments a shore to make observations. The two following days observed the Suns Azumeths both on board and a shore with all the Compasses in order to find the Variation."

Andrew David in his book Charts and Coastal Views of Captain Cook's Voyages: Volume Three: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, Hakluyt Society, 1997, explains the importance of this work. "Variation, sometimes known as declination, is the difference between true north and magnetic north as given by the magnetic compass; it varies at different places over the surface of the Earth. Variation is obtained by amplitude by observing the magnetic bearing of the Sun when on the horizon at rising or setting and then calculating its true bearing, the difference being the variation. It can also be obtained by observing the magnetic bearing of the Sun by azimuth when the Sun is above the horizon, when its altitude must also be measured in calculating its true bearing."


Gilbert explained what happened on the night of 12-13, thus: "One of our Marines who was placed as a sentinal over the observatories, was found in the night to have quited his post; and gone with his musket into the Country. In the morning the Sergeant and four Marines were sent in search of him; but returned in the evening without getting any intelligence of him. The next morning Capt Cook went in quest of him with two Boats armed and in the afternoon found him amongst a great number of the Natives, a few miles from the Harbour. He was brought onboard and punished with two dozen lashes." The marine was John Harrison, who "deserted from his duty into the Country in order to continue through female attachment & expectation of an easy Life" noted the ship's corporal William Griffin.

On 14th a native "was detected in picking a Nail out of a mans pocket, was seized & carried on board & as soon as he was on board as he lay on the Deck Mr Williamson the 3d Lieut attempted to jump on his head, but the man avoided him – but he not being satisfyed stamped his foot on the side of the Indians face in the most inhuman manner & broke several of his teeth out & otherwise bruized the Indian very much", wrote Bayly. The punishment according to Samwell was to be "put in Irons & before he was released he received 2 dozen Lashes, Captn Cook having mitigated his Punishment in Consideration of his not having quitted his post till it was 12 o'Clock & he saw the other Sentry coming to relieve him." Griffin pointed out "The rules of the Navy don't admit of more than a Dozen lashes at one time for one Crime, although more is often given by severe Commanders."

On 24th Clerke wrote "The Afternoon the People a their own disposal. In the Morning, when turning them to their Work, we found one of the Midshipmen and one of the Gunners Mates missing, who had deserted in the Course of the Night. About nine I went away in the Resolutions Pinnace accompanied by my own Cutter, to the Easter Part of the Isle in search of them. Armourers constantly at work at their Forge." Midshipman Alexander Mouat was the son of Captain Patrick Mouat who commanded the Tamar on Byron's world voyage, 1764-6. The gunner's mate was Thomas Shaw.

According to Gilbert it was "a midshipman and a common sailor" who "run away from the Discovery in the night; in the morning when Capt Cook was informed of it, he went with some boats armed in search of them and had recourse to his usual practice on these occasions; viz: of inviting some of the Chiefs onboard, and then confineing them till the Natives had made full restitution for what ever they had been guilty off; which was always found to have the disired effect, and was certainly the best method that could possibly be taken in these cases, to avoid bloodshed; being in general very easily accomplished, as the chiefs usually come onboard of their own accord two or three times a day for their amusement."

Another day he wrote "a girl that had followed us from Eimeo informed us that the Natives were then going to seize Capt Clerke and Lieut Gore, who were onshore together, by way of retalliation for the confinement of their Chiefs. Immediately the alarm was given; we were all under arms in an instant, some were sent onshore in quest of Capt Clerke, while others went in the boats along shore to seize all canoes and to fire upon the Natives where ever they saw any, to prevent them assembling together. The people that went in search of Capt Clerke and Mr Gore, found them together before the Natives had time to form an attempt; which they certainly intended, for three or four of them that were with Capt Clerke all the time he was onshore strove very much to preswade him and Mr Gore, to go into a pool of water they were standing by to bath (where all of us frequently went for that purpose)."

"Our two Deserters were brought back after they had been away about a week; they had gone over in a canoe to Bolabola [Bora Bora], and from thence to a small Island called Tubia [Motu Iti] 12 Leagues distance from hence, where the Natives surprized them when they were asleep; and brought them onboard."

Thus ended for Cook "this affair which gave me more trouble and vexation than the Men were worth".

Clerke recorded some of the activities about the ships that Cook no longer noted in his journal. 25th: "The Carpenters painting the Ship & caulking the Launch. Sailmakers repairing Sails." 26th: "Set up the Mizen Rigging today. Carpenters caulking the Launch." 27th: "Employ'd in setting up the Top & Topgallant rigging."

3rd December "Employ'd hoging and scrubing the Larboard Side." 4th "Employ'd scrubbing & hoging the starboard side." According to Falconer's Marine Dictionary of 1780 a hog was "a sort of flat scrubbing-broom, serving to scrape off the filth from a ship's bottom, under water… This exercise is usually performed in the ship's boat".

John Ledyard, corporal of marines on the Resolution, wrote that they had spent their stay at the island "generally employed in augmenting some part of our stores or adding to our provisions which was one great concern as this was the last of these happy islands we should touch at for provisions, and where we should procure our next supply we knew not; we had ever since our arrival at the Friendly-Islands to this time, including nine months, eat no kind of the ships provisions, and had added to this salvage about nine months supply of pork more, and two or three of yams and plantains, to which we had become so habituated that we had in a manner lost the relish of our bisket, especially when we could get bread fruit."

Bora Bora

Samwell described their leaving on 7th December: "we set sail for Bolabola being accompanied thither by Oreo & some other Chiefs. We took our leave of our Otaheite Sweethearts & loaded them with Presents, they were so attached to us that they parted with us much against their Inclinations." Cook went to Bora Bora "with a view of procuring from Opoony [Puni] one of those Anchors M. Bougainville lost at Otaheite which was afterwards taken up by the Natives and sent as a present to this Chief. Not that we were in want of Anchors, but after expending all the Hatchets and other iron tools we had to procure refreshments, we were obliged to make others out of the iron we had on board to continue the trade". They arrived the next day, obtained the anchor (though it was not as large as Cook had hoped), and sailed on.

"We left these Islands with the greatest regret, immaginable; as supposing all pleasures of the voyage to be now at and end: Having nothing to expect in future but excess of cold, Hunger, and every kind of hardship, and distress, attending a Sea life in general, and these voyages in particular, the Idea of which render'd us quite dejected" wrote Gilbert. Their aim was to sail "for the NW Coast of America, there to prosecute our grand object: the Search of a NW passage to India." Before they left the Society Islands, Cook "enquired of the inhabitants if there were any islands in the North, or NW direction from them, but I did not find that they knew of any."

"By Capt Cook's desire," wrote Clerke "as the Discovery is the fastest Sailing Vessell, I make all sail every morning at daybreak and run as far as I can ahead till Sunset, when I shorten to an easy Sail for the Resolution to come up; by this means we see a good part of the Sea's we cross during the Night."

Little of note occurred. "On the 22d we crossed the equator" wrote Ledyard.

Christmas Island

"On the 24th about half an hour after day breake," wrote Cook "land was discovered bearing NEBE½E; which upon a nearer approach was found to be one of those low islands so common in this sea; that is a narrow bank of land incloseing the sea within… The meeting with Soundings determined me to anchor to try to get some turtle, as the island seemed to be a good place for them and to be without inhabitents."


Christmas  Island from a survey by William Bligh
Christmas Island from a survey by William Bligh
The next day, wrote Samwell "Captn Cook observed the old laudable Custom of keeping Christmas & dedicated this day to feasting & mirth; while he was at Dinner he received a Note from Captn Clerke acquainting him that some of the Discovery's Gentlemen walking ashore had met with some Turtle on the Beach which they had taken. This was a welcome piece of News & gave us a better Opinion of the Island that what we had hitherto entertained.

" That evening, wrote John Rickman, second lieutenant on the Discovery, "parties from both ships were invited to go a turtling… all went different ways, and in order to know where to meet, fires were made in separate directions… Our party before morning had turned more than 20 turtles… a fishing party were likewise sent out, and were no less successful… a seaman had a very narrow escape. As he was helping to draw the seine, a shark made a chop at his arm, but fortunately caught only a piece of his shirt's sleeve, with which he made off."


On 29th, wrote Samwell, "the Discovery's great Cutter, which had been these 2 days past catching Turtle within the Lagoon, returned to the Ship having left behind them 2 of the people who had strayed from the Boat & had not been able to find their way back again." Thomas Tretcher was found the next day and Bartholomew Lowman on 31st. Cook commented "Considering what a strange set of beings, the generality of seamen are when on shore, instead of being surprised at these men losing themselves we ought rather to have been surprised there were no more of them".

The same day Cook "having some Cocoanuts and Yams on board in a state of vegetation, I ordered them to be planted on the island… I also left on the island a bottle containing this inscription,

Georgius tertius Rex 31 Decembris 1777

Naves { Resolution Iac. Cook Pr
  { Discovery Car. Clerke Pr


All of this took place 225 years ago.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 2011, volume 25, number 4 (2002).

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