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Around South Island


Chart-making resumed. The officers began taking their altitudes of the Sun and triangulations of the land. Before long Cook inscribed two prominent landmarks that in future years would guide him in and out of Cook strait. At the tip of North Island, off the port beam, was "Cape Palisser," which he named for his friend Hugh Palisser; and to starboard, jutting out from South Island, was "Cape Campbel," for Vice-Admiral John Campbell who first brought him to the Royal Society. From the southern landscape, etched dramatically by the late afternoon sun, rose a "prodeigious high mountain the summit of which was covered with snow" (Tapuanaka, at 9,465 feet).

As Endeavour proceeded south, the officers began to argue with their captain: the land they were leaving astern might not really be an island. After all, they had turned north at Cape Turnagain, on October 16, so actually they had not seen about sixty miles of that coastline. An isthmus might therefore extend eastward from the part they missed to connect with a continent lying somewhere to the southeast. Now, the notion of an isthmus had never entered Cook's head, but nonetheless he gave in to the importunings of his officers, who might have been pulling his leg, and gave the order to bear away north for a look. Let them never announce that he would leave a bit of coast unexamined. Several canoes came alongside; because the Maoris were friendly and asked for nails the moment they set foot on deck, Cook was convinced they already knew of the ship. At 11 A.M. on February 9, there in plain sight, was Cape Turnagain dead ahead. He asked the sceptics "if they were now satisfied that this land was an Island," whereupon once again they turned their heads to the south.52

On a calm day Banks was out shooting petrels and shearwaters and watching the albatrosses take off, when several canoes approached. Because Tupaia could not induce them to come alongside, Cook was of the opinion that these particular Maoris had not heard of the ship before. In the evening, when someone thought he saw land to the southeast, Cook promptly obliged by steering southeast. Endeavour sailed through a star-lit night for about thirty-eight miles without running aground, before returning at daybreak.

Early on February 16 a large headland "seemingly detached from the Coast" began to attract attention. All eyes were on this elevation taking shape ahead quite like a circular island; all except Gore, who took to staring at a cloud to the southeast, which had become a popular direction on the quarterdeck. All day long he kept insisting that land lay out there, even when his cloud disappeared, but everyone ignored him. The next morning the ship was abreast of the hill, which was the most prominent landmark since leaving Cook Strait; Cook responded to the honor by naming it "Bank's Island"--the present Banks Peninsula. Looking beyond, everyone could see "Tovy-poenammu" diminishing into the southwest haze. But Gore had already started in again about land to the southeast. Gore was tiresome, but all the same Cook gave the order to wear ship southeast; let no one say he left land behind. Endeavour sailed southeast and south, all that day and night until at noon on the 18th, Gore having subsided at last, Cook steered west again, to close a kind of box-shaped course. This track meant that a patch of coastline had been left unseen. In the middle of the night the officer of the watch rushed below with the unsettling news that land was hard ahead. Cook wearily followed him down the companionway to say it was just a white cloud.

At 10 A.M. on February 19 the ship fell in with the land that was still flowing away to the southwest, and Banks, overjoyed at seeing his continent again, began to muse. Various Maoris of Queen Charlotte Sound had said, first, that a passage connected both seas, and second, that the land to the south could be sailed around in four days or so. Since the first had proved true, from thence the second might be likewise, even though Tupaia, he recalled, had said the Maoris were all a bunch of liars. But why would they deceive? About five days south of Cape Palissar, Banks reflected, the ship had turned away from the coast, and then, at some distance south, had returned to bring up this land just ahead. Banks did a little arithmetic. Between those two landfalls he figured was a considerable stretch of more than "20 leagues in width." It had to be another strait. The Maoris could not see across to this coast. The land they talked about to the north was insular, as they said, and this land now in sight to the south was without doubt the continent at last. Of course, all this was conjecture, he conceded, and he was obliged to admit that his unseen space was a topic "that future observations will most probably clear up," for it had become clear that Cook had no intention whatever of sailing north for a look. 53 So it came to pass that Cook did leave a patch of the New Zealand coastline unseen; the distance was about seventy-five miles.

At 44º38'S, Cook was rather surprised to find the coast extending that far. Stalled by light airs, he was growing restless and anxious; if what the Maoris had said was true, this land could not be connected farther north, since it was certainly impossible to sail around in four days. The mountainous country at which he was gazing was more extensive than any the Maoris had talked about. All the same, admitted Banks, the continentalists had dwindled until only he and one poor midshipman were left, and with the sails fluttering in the failed wind, the other sailors were beginning "to sigh for roast beef."

Suddenly a fresh gale sprang out of the north. Seeking the advantage, Cook cracked on the canvas, and the mail topgallant mast and fore-topmast studding-sail boom went over the side. He was off "Cape Saunders" on February 25, having gained only 1º17' of latitude in six days, even with the breeze. He was impatient to finish as much of the coast as possible, or to get round it if it were an island. But the wind began whiffling around all points of the compass, switched to a southwest gale with squalls of rain, and split the topsails to pieces. The temperature dropped to 48º. Endeavour was driven far southeast, far out of sight of land, and this time Cook had no say in the matter. On the 27th the ship lay-to in a hollow sea under the foresail with her head tucked-in to the south. "No standing upon legs without assistance," observed Banks. On March 2 Endeavour was even farther southeast, about one hundred fifty miles from land; at a latitude of 48ºS, Cook had no way of knowing he was well below the southern tip of South Island.54 Only then were the topmen able to let the reefs out of the sails, as he began forcing his way back along the track on which he had been driven.

Seals, a few whales, and penguins were seen. In the afternoon of March 4 Endeavour ran in for the land appearing in the west. Cook wrote "Molyneux's Harbour" on his chart in honor of his master. Since no land could be seen farther south, the sailors hoped that this finally was the long-sought southern termination. The next day they were at 46º50'S, computed by dead reckoning while cautiously probing southwest through a thick haze. When the weather cleared, Banks's hopes rose. "We Continents had the pleasure to see more land," which Cook noticed was "makeing like an Island." No visible connection to the north, Cook decided, meant either a total separation, a deep bay, or low land. He was right the first time, although he did not attempt to find out; Endeavour was east of the present Stewart Island, which lies off the southern tip of South Island.

In the journals for the next few days we do not find the same tenacity of purpose Cook had displayed the previous December; he saw no reason to court danger in the fog for the sake of settling this particular geographic problem. Seven hundred forty miles of latitude south of Cape Maria van Diemen in cold weather, he wanted only to find out if New Zealand were insular or continental, and the sooner the better. More land on March 6 raised Banks's hopes a notch. "Our unbelievers are almost inclind to think that Continental measures will prevail at last."

On the 9th of March the land seemed to end in a point, much to the regret of the "Continent mongers." Banks diverted himself by admiring the veins of polished granite on the southern exposure, he said, "that shone as if they were realy paved with glass." Not all the sailors, meanwhile, were impressed by the approaching hour of finally settling the status of New Zealand; a birthday party was staged that day, hosted by fun-loving master's mate Richard Pickersgill, who cooked a Tahitian dog in a stew for his mates. All day on March 10 the long, hollow swell rolling up from the south removed all doubt.

Cook's reckoning of the southernmost point (Southwest Cape on Stewart Island), calculated from about twelve miles offshore, was 47º19'S and 192º12'W. He was only 2' too far south for his latitude, but his longitude was not nearly as accurate as it was for Cape Maria van Diemen; he was 20' too far west, or about 13.6 miles at that latitude. This means he thought he was a safe 13.6 miles west of Southwest Cape, when in fact Endeavour was a good deal closer to running aground. At sunset when Cook marked the position of "South Cape" on his chart, Banks gracefully conceded "the total demolition of our aerial fabric calld continent."55

Heavy weather out of the north and west obliged Endeavour to stand clear under shortened sail while gradually working north. In the afternoon of March 13 she again made the coast, menacing in the gloom, from which snow-clad mountains rose in the distance. After standing off the blunt-faced "West Cape," Cook saw a commodious harbour with a broad, deep entrance. But with darkness falling and the wind uncertain, he bore away north, fixing "duskey Bay" on his chart; the sight of that bay would remain fixed in his memory for another day. A short distance north a cleft appeared just wide enough for a ship to slip through, with rocky cliffs rising perpendicularly from the sea on either side.

Banks, who was agitating for going ashore and had already picked out three or four likely places, was all for sailing in. Cook said, no, too risky, and that was that. Banks was miffed at not having his own way, but he was not responsible for the safety of the ship, which sailed on. No landing was made during the circuit of South Island.

It was an awesome coastline--mountains and valleys in the background draped with snow, wooded slopes cloaked in fog, no sign of habitation, and always that dreaded surf. On March 20, haze and rain brought Endeavour under close reefed topsails. About ten miles offshore and at the 42nd parallel, her position determined by dead reckoning ("by Accott"), she entered the track followed by Tasman in 1642, and in much the same weather. Cook wrote: "A prodigious swell rowling in upon the Shore from the WSW, I did not think it safe to go nearer." Thinking that the same chain of snowy mountains ran from one end of "Tovy-poenammu" to the other, he wrote "Southern Alps" on his chart. "No country upon earth can appear with a more ruged and barren aspect than this doth from the sea."

Endeavour rounded the northwestern point of South Island on March 24, and with an irritating headwind in her teeth, slowly made way east across the present Tasman Bay that fronts Cook Strait. "The sea is certainly an excellent school for patience." wrote the impatient Banks. In the evening of March 26 Endeavour anchored off the present d'Urville Island, not far west of Queen Charlotte Sound, and Banks lost no time in hurrying ashore.56 The circumnavigation of New Zealand was complete.

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