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January - March 1769

 

The beginning of 1769 saw Endeavour heading southwards down the east coast of South America.  Joseph Banks wrote “New years day today made us pass many Compts [i.e. compliments] and talk much of our hopes for success in the year 69”.

 

Approaching Tierra del Fuego

 

The weather got colder and colder.  On 6 January, James Cook “gave to each of the People a Fearnought Jacket and a pair of Trowers: after which I never heard one man complain of cold not but the weather was cold enough”.  Joseph Banks noted that they were also called “Magellan Jackets (made of a thick woolen stuff allowd them by the government calld fearnought)”.  He put on a “flannel Jacket and waistcoat and thick trousers”.  The officers, mates and midshipmen received only trousers, being expected to provide any other clothing they needed themselves. 

 

On 11 January, Cook “saw the Land of Terra del Fuego extending from the West to SEBS, distance off shore between 3 and 4 Leagues”, i.e. between 9 and 12 nautical miles.  They “saw some of the Natives who made a smook [smoke] in several places, which must have been done as a signal to us as they did not continue it after we pass’d”.

 

Banks thought “Its appearance was not near so barren as the writer of Ld Ansons voyage has represented it, the weather exceedingly moderate so we stood along shore about 2 Leagues off, we could see trees distinctly through our glasses and observe several smokes made probably by the natives as a signal to us.  The captain now resolved to put in here if he can find a conv[en]ient harbour and give us an opportunity of searching a countrey so intirely new”. 

 

The next day, “After dinner a small breeze sprung up and to our great Joy we discoverd an opening into the land and stood in for it in great hopes of finding a harbour; however after having ran within a mile of the shore were obliged to stand off again as there was no appearance of shelter and the wind was on shore”.

 

The eastern-most point of Tierra del Fuego is Cape San Diego.  To the east of it is Staten Island, with the Strait of Le Maire between.  To the south of Tierra del Fuego are several islands, including the Hermite Islands.  One of them is Hornos Island.  The southernmost extremity of this island is Cape Horn. 

Strait of Le Maire

 

Endeavour sailed past “Cape St Diego at the west [side of the] entrance of Strait Le Maire” on 13 January.  Cook sought somewhere to anchor, so the next day “set the Master to examine a small Cove... the Master return’d with an account that there was Anchorage”.  Endeavour’s Master was Robert Molyneux, who had previously sailed through the Straits of Magellan in January 1767, in Dolphin, under the command of Captain Samuel Wallis.  Lieutenant John Gore had also been on that voyage, having previously sailed through the same Straits in the same ship in February 1765, led by Commodore John Byron.  Several ethnographic items brought back by Byron from these Straits were examined by Daniel Solander when he worked at the British Museum in 1766.

 

As Endeavour approached what is now called Thetis Bay, Cook decided “that Anchoring here would be attended with some risk, and that it would be better [to find somewhere else to] compleat our Wood and Water.  However, I sent a Boat with an officer a Shore to attend on Mr Banks and People who was very desireous of being aShore at any rate, while I kept plying as near the shore as possible with the Ship”.  According to Banks, “while the ship plyd off and on Dr Solander and myself went ashore in the boat and found many plants, about 100, tho we were not ashore above 4 hours; of these I may say every one was new and intirely different from what either of us had before seen…  Inhabit­ants I saw none but found their hutts in two places, once in a thick wood and again close by the beach; they are most unartificaly made, Conical but open on one side where was marks of fire so that probably the fire servd them instead of a door”.  Cook was not impressed when “they return’d on board bringing with them several Plants Flowers &ca most of them unknown in Europe and in that alone consisted their whole Value; they saw none of the Natives but met with several of their old Hutts”.

 

Bay of Good Success

 

It was not until 15 January that they finally anchored—in the Bay of Good Success.  Cook, using ship time, recorded their arrival as being on 16 January.  He “hoisted out the Boats, and Moor'd with the Stream Anchor, while this was doing I went a Shore accompany’d by Mr Banks and Dr Solander to look for a Watering Place, and to speak with the Natives who were assembled on the beach at the head of the Bay to the number of 30 or 40; they were so far from being afraid or sur­prised at our coming amongest them that three of them came on board without the least hesitation… they were not at all surprised at our fire arms, on the contrary [they] seem’d to know the use of them by making signs to us to fire at Seals or Birds that might come in the way”.

 

The next day, wrote Molyneux, “A Lieutt with a Party of seamen & Marines went on shore to fill water, and cut wood.  Capt Cook took a Boat & Proper Instruments to survey the Bay.  Messs Banks, Solander, Green & Monkhouse with 4 Servants & a Seaman went into the Country, to gather Plants & other Produce of the Country.  Mr Buchan also went”.  By the end of the day Cook had “finished the Survey of the Bay”.  However, “Mr Banks and his Party not returning this Evening as I expected gave me great uneasiness as they were not prepared for staying out the night, however, about noon [the next day] they returned in no very comfortable condition”.

 

Banks described the expedition.  “Dr Solander and myself with our servants and two Seamen to assist in carrying baggage, accompanied by Msrs Monkhouse and Green, set out from the ship to try to penetrate into the country as far as we could, and if possible gain the tops of the hills where alone we saw places not overgrown with trees”.

 

William Brougham Munkhouse was Endeavour’s Surgeon.  He had sailed as surgeon in Niger when Banks went to Newfoundland.  Charles Green was the astronomer appointed by the Royal Society.  Alexander Buchan was one of two artists employed by Banks, the other being Sydney Parkinson. 

 

The weather was “fine much like a sun-shiny day in May, so that neither heat nor cold was troublesome to us nor were there any insects to molest us, which made me think the traveling much better than what I had before met with in New­foundland”.  They were proceeding very well when “Mr Buchan fell into a fit.”  It was an epileptic seizure.  “A fire was immediately lit for him and with him all those who were most tird remaind behind”, i.e. those who were carrying the baggage uphill.  “Dr Solander Mr Green Mr Monkhouse and myself advancd for the alp”, where they found the plants they had sought. 

 

“The air was here very cold and we had frequent snow blasts.  I had now intirely given over all thoughts of reaching the ship that night and though[t] of nothing but getting into the thick of the wood and making a fire, which as our road lay all down hill seemd very easy to accomplish”.  When they rejoined the seamen and servants they found them “well tho cold and Mr Buchan was stronger than we could have expected.  I undertook to bring up the rear and se[e] that no one was left behind”.

 

“We passed about half way very well when the cold seemd to have at once an effect infinitely beyond what I have ever experienced.  Dr Solander was the first who felt it, he said he could not go any father but must lay down, tho the ground was coverd with snow, and down he laid notwisth­standing all I could say to the contrary.  Richmond a black Servant now began also to lag and was much in the same way as the dr: at this Juncture I dispatchd 5 forwards of whom Mr Buchan was one, to make ready a fire at the very first convenient place they could find, while myself with 4 more staid behind to persuade if possible the dr and Richmond to come on”. Which they did, but soon “Richmond said that he could not go any further and when told that if he did not he must be Froze to death only answerd that there he would lay and dye; the Dr on the contrary said that he must sleep a little before he could go on and actualy did full a quarter of an hour, at which time we had the welcome news of a fire being lit about a quarter of a mile ahead.  I then undertook to make the Dr Proceed to it; finding it impossible to make Rich­mond stir left two hands with him who seemd the least affected with Cold, promising to send two to releive them as soon as I should reach the fire”.

 

Dorlton, one of Banks’s servants, and a sailor were sent.  They were unable to find Rich­mond and the others despite their “shouting and hallowing”.  Banks guessed the reason when he discovered “a bottle of rum, the whole of our stock, was missing, and we soon concluded that it was in one of their Knapsacks and that the two who were left in health had drank immoderately of it and slept like the other.  For two hours now it had snowed almost incessantly so we had little hopes of seeing any of the three alive: about 12 however to our great Joy we heard a shouting, on which myself and 4 more went out immediately”.  They found one seaman who had awoken “almost starvd to death”, and walked to them.  Richmond and the other man were found where they had lain.  “Richmond was upon his leggs but not able to walk, the other lay on the ground as insensible as a stone.  We immediately calld all hands from the fire and attempted by all the means we could contrive to bring them down”.  They could not do so.  “We would then have lit a fire upon the spot but the snow on the ground as well as that which continualy fell renderd that as impracticable as the other”.  They were forced to leave them there “upon a bed of boughs” and covered in more boughs “as thick as possible”.  We left them hopeless of ever seeing them again alive which indeed we never did”.  It had taken them an hour and a half.  “Peter Briscoe, another servant of mine, began now to complain and before we came to the fire became very ill but got there at last almost dead with cold”.

 

“Now might our situation truely be calld terrible: of twelve our original number 2 were already past all hopes, one more was so ill that tho he was with us I had little hopes of his being able to walk in the morning, and another very likely to relapse into his fitts”.  None of them had expected so much snow at that time of year “for even in Norway or Lapland snow is never known to fall in the summer”.

 

In the morning “about 6 O’Clock the sun came out a little and we immediately thought of sending to see whether the poor wretches we had been so anxious about last night were yet alive, three of our people went but soon returnd with the melancholy news of their being both dead.  The snow continued to fall, then began to thaw.  “Peter continued very ill but said he thought himself able to walk.  Mr Buchan thank god was much better than I could have expected, so we agreed to… prepare ourselves to set out for the ship as soon as the snow should be a little more gone off”.  About ten o’clock they set out, and “after a march of about 3 hours arrivd at the beach”.

 

The servants of Banks who died that night were Thomas Richmond and George Dorlton.  On 18 January, Banks wrote “Peter [Briscoe] was very ill today and Mr Buchan not at all well, the rest of us thank god in good health tho not yet recoverd from our fatigue”.  Molyneaux “Attempted to land the Wooding & watering Parties (under Lieut Gore) but the Surf run so high he found it impracticable so Return’d on Board.  I receiv’d orders to Clear the main hatchway down to the Keelson & receive 6 of the Guns in the Hold.  This I happily Perform’d without accident the Ships Violent motion making it dangerous”.

 

Two days later Banks and Solander found “this morn was very fine, so much so that we landed without any difficulty in the bottom of the bay and spent our time very much to our satisfaction in collecting shells and plants…  We returnd on board to dinner and afterwards went into the Countrey about two miles to see an Indian town”.  It consisted “of not more than twelve of fourteen huts or wigwams of the most unartificial construction imaginable, indeed no thing bearing the name of a hut could possibly be built with less trouble... The inhabitants we saw here seemd to be one small tribe of Indians consisting of not more than 50 of all ages and sexes.  They are of a reddish Colour nearly resembling that of rusty iron mixd with oil… Their Cloaths are no more than a kind of cloak of Guanicoe [Guanaco] or seal skin thrown loose over their shoulders and reaching down nearly to their knees; under this they have nothing at all nor any thing to cover their feet, except a few of them had shoes of raw seal hide drawn loosely round their instep like a purse.  In this dress there is no distinction between men and women, except that the latter have their cloak tied round their middle with a kind of belt or thong”.  Both Parkinson and Buchan painted.

 

Banks summarised their botanising.  “Of Plants here are many species and those truly the most extrordinary I can imagine, in stature and appearance they agree a good deal with the Europaean ones only in general are less specious, white flowers being much more common among them than any other colours.  But to speak of them botanicaly, probably No botanist has ever enjoyd more pleasure in the contemplation of his Favourite pursuit than Dr Solander and myself among these plants; we have not yet examind many of them, but what we have turnd out in general so intirely different from any before describd”.  Nearly 150 species had been collected.  Parkinson painted about 70 of them, of which 65 were later engraved for Banks’s florilegium.

 

On 21 January, Cook “weighed and made sail out of the Bay”.  Banks noted “the wind Foul, but our keeping boxes being full of new plants we little regarded any wind provided it was but moderate enough to let the draughtsmen work, who to do them justice are now so used to the sea that it must blow a gale of wind before they leave off”.

 

Rounding Cape Horn

 

As Endeavour sailed southwest she passed many islands.  The men looked for Cape Horn.  Banks wrote that a description “given by the French” placed it “upon an Island and say that it is composed of two bluff headlands”.  On 25 January he saw what might have been Cape Horn, “but a fog which overcast it almost immediately after we saw it hinderd our making any material observations upon it, so all we can say is that it was the Southermost land that we saw and does not ill answer to the description [of] Cape Horn given by the French”.

 

Endeavour in February 1769

 

On 1 February, Cook “hoisted a small boat out to try if there was any current but found none.  The weather was such as to admit Mr Banks to row round the Ship in a lightermans skiff Shooting birds”. 

 

According to Banks, on 4 February, “we now began to account ourselves certainly past the cape and the Captain (as in his orders was recom­mended) resolvd to stand as far to the westward as the winds will allow him to do… I had been unwell these three or four days and today was obligd to keep the Cabbin with a bilious attack, which tho quite slight alarmd me a good deal, as Captn Wallis had in the Streights of Magellan such an attack which he never got the better of throughout the whole voyage”.  The following day “myself a little better than yesterday, well enough to eat part of the Albatrosses shot on the third, which were so good that every body commended and Eat heartily of them tho there was fresh pork upon the table”.  

 

On 13 February, Cook reflected on the passage around the bottom of South America.  “We are now advanced about 12° to the westward of the Strait of Magellan and 3½° to the northward of it, having been 33 days in doubbling Cape Horn or the land of Terra del Fuego, and arriving into the degree of Latitude and Longitude we are now in and without ever being brought once under our close reefe’d Topsails since we left strait la Maire a circumstance that perhaps never happen'd before to any Ship in those seas so much dreaded for hard gales of wind insomuch that the doubling of Cape Horn is thought by some to be a mighty thing and others to this Day prefer the Straits of Magellan.  As I have never been in those Straits, can only form my judgement on a carefull comparrison of the different Ships Journals that have pass’d them and those that have sail’d round Cape Horn particularly the Dolphins two Last Voyages and this of ours being made at the same Season of the Year when one may reasonably expect the Same winds to prevail.  The Dolphin in her last Voyage was 3 Months in geting through the Straits… and I am firmly peraswaided from the winds we have had, that had we came’d by that passage we should not have been in these Seas; besides the fatiguing of our people the Damage we must have done to our Anchors Cables Sails and Rigging none of which have suffered in our passage round Cape Horn”.

 

Not a great deal was recorded in the journals during February.  Banks took to calling the ship “Mrs Endeavour”.  On many days the ship travelled over 100 miles.  On a few days it was calm enough for Banks to go out in the boat and shoot a few birds and catch fish.  

Endeavour in March 1769

 

On 2 March Banks hoped “we were now so near the peacefull part of the Pacifick ocean that we may almost cease to fear any more gales”.  The next day being calm, he went out in a boat and killed 69 birds… The weather is now become pleasan[t]ly warm and the Barnacles upon the ships bottom seemd to be regenerate, very few only of the old ones remaining alive but young ones”.  Cook wrote in his journal “Employ’d [the men] filling salt water in the fore hold”.  Banks explained why the following day.  “The ship goes 5 knotts without rowling or pitching which she has not done this great while; this we attribute to the empty water cask[s] in the fore hold having been filld with salt water yesterday”.

 

On 12 March, Cook “Put the Ships Compney to three watches they having been at watch and watch since our first arrival upon the Coast of Terra del Fuego”.  He had first put the men on three watches on 20 September, 1768, soon after sailing from Madeira.  He put them on two watches on 17 December, soon after leaving Rio de Janeiro.

 

During the night of 15 March, wrote Banks, “This night happend an occultation of Saturn by the moon, which Mr Green observ’d but was unlucky in having the weather so cloudy that the observation was good for little or nothing”.  Green expected to see Saturn disappear behind the dark or unlit area of the moon and reappear, about an hour later, from the moon’s bright side.

 

The following day Banks writes about the water taken on at Tierra del Fuego.  It “has remaind till this time perfectly good without the least change, an instance which I am told is very rare, especialy as in our case when water is brought from a cold climate into a hot one. This however has stood it without any damage and now drinks as brisk and pleasant as when first taken on board, or better, for the red colour it had at first is subsided and it is now as clear as any English spring water”.

 

On 24 March “about 3 in the Morning one of the People saw or thought they he saw a Log of Wood pass the Ship; this made us think we were near some land, but at Day light we saw not the least appearences of any and I did not think my self at liberty to spend time in searching for what I was not sure to find”.

 

Since leaving England no one had died from sickness—a remarkable achievement for those days.  Four had died from accidents, and now one was to commit suicide.  As usual, Banks gives the fullest account of the events of 25 March, 1769.

 

“This even one of our marines threw himself overboard and was not miss’d till it was much too late even to attempt to recover him.  He was a very young man scarce 21 years of age, remarkably quiet and industrious, and to make his exit the more melancholy was drove to the rash resolution by an accident so trifling that it must appear incredible to every body who is not well accquainted with the powerfull effects that shame can work upon young minds.  This day at noon he was sentry at the Cabbin door and while he was on that duty one of the Capts servants being calld away in a hurry left a peice of seal skin in his charge, which it seems he was going to cut up to make tobacco pouches some of which he had promisd to several of the men; the poor young fellow it seems had several times askd him for one, and when refus’d had told him that since he refusd him so trifling a thing he would if he could steal one from him, this he put in practise as soon as the skin was given into his charge and was of course found out immediately as the other returnd, who was angry and took the peice he had cut off from him but declard he would not complain to the officers for so trifling a cause.  In the mean time the fact came to the ears of his fellow soldiers, who stood up for the honour of their Core 13 in number so highly that before night, for this hapned at noon, they drove the young fellow almost mad by representing his crime in the blackest coulours as a breach of trust of the worst consequence: a theft committed by a sentry upon duty they made him think an inexcusable crime, especialy when the thing stole was given into his charge: the Sargeant particularly declard that if the person acgreivd would not complain he would, for people should not suffer scandal from the ill behaviour of one.  This affected the young fellow much, he went to his hammock, soon after the Sargeant went to him calld him and told him to follow him upon deck.  He got up and slipping the Sargeant went forward, it was dusk and the people thought he was gone to the head and were not convinced that he was gone over till half an hour after it happnd”.

 

William Greenslade was the marine.  William Howson was one of Cook’s servants, and had been with Cook in Grenville.  John Edgecumbe was the marine sergeant. 

 

James Cook, Charles Green and Richard Pickersgill took observations on most days to determine their position as they got closer and closer to Tahiti. 

Ian Boreham


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 29, volume 42, number 1 (2019).

 

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