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Contending With Adversity


As the ships sailed toward the Kamchatka Peninsula, Clerke and King sought to set the tragedy in some kind of perspective. For Clerke, coming to terms with the death of Cook took the form of a concise essay of about 5,000 words on the everyday life of the Hawaiians. He dwelt on musical instruments, tools, social structure, and arts and crafts, and he even reported accurately on the Hawaiian method of freehand drawing. "They dye their Cloth in a variety of fashions. We several times saw them, during our stay, lay on the different colours by hand with an Instrument resembling a Pen made with a Reed." But recalling the grand welcome at Kealakekua Bay only left him baffled and somber.

The face of insult was never seen; cordial attachment seemed to dictate every act throughout all ranks of people, and had not that misfortune happened to the Resolutions Fore Mast, which occasioned our second visit, these People must have been looked up to as patterns of Hospitality and benevolence; how they will stand in the eye of the world now I cannot presume to say.

Cook's name is mentioned only twice, and Clerke would "leave it to superior Judgements to settle the secret springs and original causes of Action." The essay was an anodyne to his grief.1 King likewise wrote on Hawaiian life and times. He, too, skirted the subject of open hostilities with only a veiled hint that a tragedy had occurred, but he also felt bound to recall the benevolent attitude of the Hawaiians after the violence. "They gave us many marks of their being sorry at what happen'd, & gave us that test of former friendship by putting themselves in our power."2

Conditions aboard ship fell from bad to worse. On just one day aboard Resolution forty fathoms (230 feet) of the bower anchor cable had to be cut away as useless, "a heavy misfortune," and a gale split a sail, snapped a sheet, which had to be spliced before another sail could be hauled up, and carried away a boom.3 Sail makers constantly worked at stitching, and deck hands at plugging open seams. On April 5, another bad day, sheets, halyards, and clew lines gave way so fast the topmen could not keep the sails set. The advance to the north brought complaints from the sailors, and they lined up at the surgeon's cabin with sniffles and frostbite. When the sea otter furs were broken out with the winter gear, Clerke displayed only a momentary flicker of his former cheerfulness: "serv'd slops to the People whose Galantry among the Isles has render'd as naked as when born."4

On April 7 Resolution sprang a leak when a dozen feet of sheathing under her larboard bow were ripped away. The sailors manned the pumps, but a forward compartment still made ten inches of water every four hours, forcing up part of her lower deck and damaging stores. A cask of bread weighing 236 pounds was opened to reveal that almost half had to be thrown out, "a most unfortunate stroke," and foresails and mizzens split to pieces with resounding cracks above the wind. Five days later the water was rising at twelve inches hourly. Something had to be done. On the 14th the trouble was located down in the bilges, and there in the semi-darkness a work crew freed the clogged holes and gutters ("limbers") in the floor timbers aft of the mainmast and along the keel, releasing the flood into the pump well. All hands manned the pumps and bailed with buckets, which were hoisted topside hand over hand. After two days of these desperate measures the pumps alone were able to keep pace with the leak. As if these troubles were not sufficient for Clerke, Resolution became so leaky that the only place where the sail makers could spread out their sails was in his cabin, which was already a sick room. A gale on the 18th split every sail aloft and brought snow which lay thick on both ships.

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