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Passage to "Staeten Landt"


Endeavour was standing south from Raiatea, as Tupaia the high priest gazed at his homeland receding into a purplish haze. Taiata, his little Tahitian boy, was standing forlornly nearby. The date was August 10, 1769, and the great sail canoe was carrying them away from the islands of their sea-going ancestors. Cook was standing on the quarterdeck listening attentively to the Polynesian traveler, who seemed to know his islands.

Tupaia gave the name "Oheitiroa" to the small island they skirted four days later; this was the present Hiti-roa. If Cook would keep a little east by north, which he knew the wind was not allowing, he would come upon "Mannua"; in that direction the nearest land happened to be the coast of Peru. Or if he would sail west for only ten or twelve days, urged his young, priestly navigator, he would find plenty of islands. Two of them did seem to match the description given by Samuel Wallis two years before in the Tongan Archipelago. Cook admired the impressive chart Tupaia had drawn to show the distribution of seventy-four islands. Tupaia was credible, but Cook was resolved instead to follow his instructions and continue standing south into uncharted seas in search of the great southern continent.

A large swell was coming up from the southwest. Day after day, the sea, like a great carpet, gently unrolled beneath Endeavour. On August 16 the morning light was breaking hard across the decks when suddenly there it was--rising on the eastern horizon and giving unmistakable promise of high land. Joseph Banks hurried up the companionway in excitement; maybe the search was already over. When the sailors all agreed that, yes, it certainly was a landfall, Tupaia helpfully supplied a name. Cook gave the order to bear away for a look and for two hours Endeavour following the new course. Everyone gazed expectantly until Tupaia's land dissolved into clouds. Alas, Banks did not record the name he gave.2 As they hauled the wind south again the northwest breeze brought flying showers, dampening their hopes. But Banks was not easily downcast. That swell, he remembered, meant only that they were not yet under the lee of the continent.


As the latitudes increased day by day Banks became the undisputed leader of the continentalists. But the mariners really were not chasing any will-o'-the wisp on those untrackted wastes, although it is surprising to find Cook chasing a cloud. They did have a destination that was specifically identified in the "Secret Orders" given to Cook by the Admiralty. Of course, the orders were not exactly secret, the public having read about them in the newspaper before Cook left London. He was ordered to run south to the 40th parallel, and, if he did not make any discovery, to proceed westward between latitudes 35º and 40º until he fell in with the east side of the land, "now called New Zeland," that had been discovered by the Dutch navigator Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. They even had a map of the place. True, it wasn't much of a map--only one wavy line Tasman had marked on his chart to indicate the coastline he had followed.3 But for Cook this mere squiggle represented the opportunity of a lifetime.

Had Tasman found the southern continent? That was the fundamental question, and indeed the shade of Cook's intrepid predecessor seemed to hover over the quarterdeck during this portion of the voyage. Below, as the waning tropical sunshine streamed through the slanted windows of the great cabin, Cook, Banks, Daniel Solander, and the officers discussed what lay ahead.

For a century or so atlases and globes had shown "Zeelandia Nova Nova," and brief digests of the Tasman voyage were also available in translation. Cook had brought along an extract of Tasman's journal that was translated in 1694 from the Dutch. Quite likely Banks passed around the latest source of information; this was a four-page summary of the voyage in a small volume entitled, Account of the Discoveries made in the South Pacific Ocean, Previous to 1753, that was published by Alexander Dalrymple in 1767. Although Tasman's complete journal was not available in English (in fact not until 1968), enough was known to make plain that he had seen something worth investigating, and the Admiralty was determined to act.4

Commissioned by the Dutch East India Company to search for the continent, Tasman set out from Batavia (now Djakarta, Indonesia) in two tiny ships, of 120 and 200 tons, first making southwest to the island of Mauritius for supplies, then southeast toward the 50th parallel, well below Australia. While stretching east in heavy weather, he sighted land on November 24, 1642, and anchoring briefly, honored the Governor General of Batavia by naming his discovery "Anthony van Diemen's Land"--later changed to Tasmania.

After sailing east across the sea named after him, he saw mountainous land on December 13; his two ships were off South Island of New Zealand at about 42º10'S. The coastline could only have appeared eerie and foreboding through the mists thrown up by the heavy surf. Following this formidable coast northward for five days, Tasman anchored, again without landing, in a sheltered cove fronting what appeared to be a vast, open bay. He did not know that he had found Cook Strait. A treacherous flood tide surging seaward led him to suspect that an opening in the land hidden somewhere might connect the huge bay with the Eastern Sea; he wanted to go and find out. But tragedy intervened.

When hostile canoes approached he sent a small boat to warn his consort; the boat was attacked and four of his officers were killed. This sudden calamity and a timely offshore wind induced him to strike out again into the threatening seas north along the coast, leaving his problem unsolved. On January 4, 1643, finding the seas rolling in unimpeded from the northeast and the land falling away to the south (and east), he realized he had reached the end of the coast, and named its termination "Cape Maria van Diemen." Whereupon Tasman sailed back to Batavia, discovering the Tonga and Fiji Islands en route and achieving in effect a circumnavigation of Australia.5

For one hundred fifty-seven years Tasman's brief glimpses of the New Zealand coastline had tantalized geography. What had he seen? The continent, Tasman was convinced, and the movers and shakers of Europe were inclined to agree. He named his discovery "Staeten Landt" because he was reminded of the "Staeten Landt" that was discovered by two of his countrymen in 1616 off the Atlantic entrance to the Strait of Magellan. Since both were thought to be parts of the southern continent, they had to be connected by dry land. The continental status of the Atlantic partner was settled once and for all by the simple procedure, undertaken by another of his countrymen in 1643, of sailing around it, and its name was changed forthwith to Staten Island (now Argentinian, named Islan de los Estados). But nothing was settled when the name of Tasman's "Staeten Landt" was then changed to New Zealand. It might still be continental. The Dutch, meanwhile, deciding to get on with commerce and trade, effectively withdrew from the South Pacific.6 There the question remained for any nation aspiring to maritime supremacy. The English, taking up where the Dutch left off, won the day.

From fo'c'sle to taffrail a sense of high excitement gripped the sailors on that wilderness of a sea. Here they were on His Britannic Majesty's Endeavour on their way to explore the continent. Beginning at the 30th parallel, the oceanic birds began circling overhead as daily escorts. First to appear were the "pintados" (a petrel), albatrosses, and shearwaters. "All these kind of birds are generaly seen at a great distCE from land," Cook admitted on August 25. On that day, a twelvemonth before, the ship had shown her stern to Plymouth. It was time to break out the Cheshire cheese and a cask of port kept under lock and key for just this occasion. "We livd like English men and drank the hea[l]ths of our freinds in England," wrote Banks on the anniversary.

Apparently the sailors rarely lacked either the occasion or the means to celebrate, and never the inclination, for Banks informs us that many of the private wine casks were already broached and filled with sea water, to the discomfort of their owners; he thought it was just as well he had not laid in a supply for himself at Madeira Island. One of the celebrants was boatswain's mate John Reading, who on the night of the 27th drank himself senseless with three half pints of rum all at once. Since this was common with him, no further notice was taken than to put him to bed, until he was found the next morning to have departed this life.7 It is curious to find a member of Cook's crew with so modest a capacity.

By late August Endeavour was approaching the latitude given by Tasman for his discovery, or rather, re-discovery, since the natives who had murdered his sailors obviously had been there first. The brief account of that violent episode, with images of helpless sailors being clubbed to death and the survivors swimming for their lives, had invested the shadowy, almost legendary events of the Tasman voyage with a vivid reality, and the remembrance of "Murderer's Bay," the name given by Tasman for his anchorage, added a grim fascination to the expectation of adventures ashore. Banks was convinced that soon he would be collecting plants on the continent. Cook, while willing to concede the possibility, saw before him a series of geographic problems to be solved. Was New Zealand peninsular or insular? Did a passage bisect the land as Tasman had surmised? He would find out. He would undertake a cartographic survey of the entire coast, locating that passage if it were there, and fix the exact position of Cape Maria van Diemen. He would give shape and substance to that single line Tasman had scratched on his chart so long ago. Tasman of 1642 required Cook of 1769.


The wind freshened and backed a piece. On August 30th the temperature was 52º. All but a few of the birds departed. Just after midnight the gale struck, bringing thundering, black seas out of the west. Cook ordered the topsails reefed. In the dark of night the nimble topmen clawed their way up the quivering ratlines, through the din of cracking canvas, and out along the great yards that dipped windward over the crests. Frothing water surged over the gunnels and across the decks and the demented wind shrieked through the stays and shrouds. The squalls brought hail and driving rain with lightning all around the horizon. When the gale did not abate by the next day Cook ordered the ship brought to under her main course that arced rock-hard before the wind. Every night toward dawn whenever the clouds parted a comet could be seen in the north.

A number of the sailors had fallen sick; Tupaia came down with a stomach ache; and the supplies of fresh food were dwindling. The yams had become rotten after only a week at sea, and although the plantains had kept better, they had been consumed quickly as fodder by the hogs. After mid-August the hogs and fowl had begun dying off due to the falling temperatures and the want of proper food. The gale was adding full measure to these troubles. For eight hours the sailors, blinded by salt spray and worn out by constant work with little time for sleep, food, or dry clothes, staggered short-handed to their stations.

Since Endeavour was riding under her main course, Cook could not have been afraid of being dismasted; he would experience a worse storm or two during his Pacific years. And the officers seemed always able to take a daily noon sight and to do a lunar in order to compute the ship's position. But the gale sufficed to remind them all of what the Pacific could still teach them--about the winds of the high latitudes, for one thing. On September 1 they were at 40º12'S. Cook, having reached Tasman's parallel, had imagined he would turn west, according to his orders, and run down this latitude to New Zealand. The track he followed for the next five weeks suggests that he knew exactly where the east coast of New Zealand was, and how best to sail there. But this he could not have known. Or could he?

Cook knew he was well to the east of New Zealand; by how much he could not be certain. Although he knew his own longitude, which was 146º29'W, he did not know what the longitude of his coming landfall would be. For all he knew, the east coast of New Zealand might extend out into the Pacific for a thousand miles. Dalrymple had the continent reaching eastward across the South Pacific for 100º of longitude, which would have placed it in the neighborhood of the South American coast. At that rate Cook was already sailing across Dalrymple's continent. Actually, he was 34º26' of longitude east of his coming landfall, or the equivalent of about 1,249 nautical miles along his September 1 latitude of 40º12'S; but he did not know that. If the most direct route from the Society Islands had been followed, he could have sailed directly southwest for about 2,300 miles. But in carrying out his orders to search for land he had sailed due south from Raiaeta; his September 1 position was 1,406 miles south of the Raiatea latitude, which he had determined to be 16º46'S. He had actually sailed 1,474 miles. The prevailing westerlies throughout August had pushed his intended track even farther east, so that he was 228 miles east of the meridian of Raiatea, which he had determined to be 151º27'S, with the gale driving him even farther off course.8

On September 1 Cook was on the edge of the band of westerlies that future sea captains would learn to call the 'roaring forties.' Sailing due west into the teeth of the gale was out of the question. He had intended to sail on south for a while, but the tempest and the grim conditions aboard ship obliged him to put aside this plan, and he decided instead to labor north into better latitudes, and then approach New Zealand at an angle.

At night, whenever the scudding clouds broke, the sailors could see the comet lingering, reaching upward from the foot of Orion to Aldabaran across 42º of arc, and casting a lurid spell on the ocean nightmare. The temperature had fallen to 44º. On September 2 Cook gave the order to hand the main sail and wear ship under the foresails, which gave better control. The object of the order to "wear" ship was to reverse direction. That meant the winds were so fierce, the seas so high, he could not safely "tack" directly across the eye of the wind. Instead, the ship swung with and away from the wind, through possibly 300º or more, to come around and have the wind on the other beam. This was an especially tricky maneuver; the sailors had to respond instantly to the shouted commands lest the ship broach--capsize--by taking a sudden wave broadside. Endeavour, responding to her helm and to the altered positions of the great yards, gradually swung to port, away from the wind, and began battering and plunging her way northeast through the solid crests and troughs.

Sydney Parkinson, who as the ship's artist did not have to climb ratlines, had not counted on this sort of adventure. When the storm was over he wrote: "The sea ran mountain-high, and tossed the ship upon the waves; she rolled so much, that we could get no rest, or scarcely lie in bed, and almost every moveable on board was thrown down."9 By the 3rd of September the gale had spent itself, and the exhausted topmen let out all the reefs to give the ship a full suit of sail. In the dying sun she looked like a pyramid of pink clams. The familiar aroma of beef and pork, chopped from the salt casks and boiled with wheat and laced with brandy, once more wafted through the messroom.

When the winds shifted round to the east, Cook on September 5 changed course to the west, crossing his southward track to enter a new track northwest. Soon the oceanic birds returned in splendor: the familiar pintados; the sullen albatrosses, wheeling about or sitting on the water; joined by immense flocks of whale birds; and some gannets and a few boobies. The days became pleasant for Endeavour after her ordeal. With a confident breeze in her coattails she made good way among the cruising white horses, averaging sixty-six miles during a twenty-four hour period. One day the horizon suddenly disappeared behind a dark curtain; it was an approaching rain squall that flattened the sea as it came, and as quickly passed by leaving rivulets pouring into the scuppers. On the 10th Banks noticed a "Mother Careys chicken black above and white underneath." He was fond of dropping that sailor's term; it was another cosmopolitan storm petrel, that Daniel Solander named Procellaria passerina. A fog bank was seen resembling land, occasioning a change of course for a look; Cook did not see fit to report this mistake. On the 15th, with a stiff wind backing out of the east, Endeavour ran flat-out for one hundred thirty-nine miles, her longest daily run on the passage from Raiatea. On another day when the winds fell Banks and Solander went out by boat to shoot petrels and catch jelly-fish. Sparkling days followed one another.

On September 19, Cook was at 29º0'S. He was three hundred sixty miles above (north of) the 35th parallel, which was the latitude where the Admiralty wanted him to be, having sailed 1,144 miles northwest on this second leg of his passage to New Zealand. He changed course southwest to enter his third and final leg, and Endeavour put her shoulders to the continual swell.

Apple pie--that was the treat that Banks gave his mates on September 23--made from genuine American apples. They had been a parting gift from his London friend, the physician John Fothergill, to whom they had been sent from the colonies. The pie certainly was better for whatever was ailing Solander about this time than the tonic, "Dr Hulme's Essence of Lemon Juice," prescribed for him by the ship's surgeon William Monkhouse. In Banks's opinion the medicinal properties were perfectly sound inasmuch as the syrup still tasted like real lemon juice. It was used as a remedy for scurvy. After having been prepared by boiling to a syrup, the medicine was quite useless, of course, although it did no harm. No one knew anything about the cause of scurvy.

Anyway, the ship's beef and pork were excellent, said Banks, and so were the peas. Several days a week the sailors breakfasted on boiled wheat served like "firmity"; if this oatmeal-like dish were prepared according to the custom in London, by boiling in milk, then to serve the entire crew the ship's goat was doing her utmost. As for the bread, it was "indifferent" because of the five types of vermin that could be shaken out by the hundreds and thousands. In the fo'c'sle they tasted rather like mustard. "We in the Cabbin have however an easy remedy for this by baking it in an oven, not too hot, which makes them all walk off." The surviving and hardy livestock--seventeen sheep, ten or so fowl, as many Tahitian hogs, and an English boar and sow with a brfand-new litter of pigs--had all adjusted to a life at sea. The sauerkraut was as good as ever, and we are to know that the beer purchased at "Bruff & Taylor in Hog Lane near St. Giles" was the best of the lot aboard.10

"The Southerly swell is now quite gone down," a telltale sign, thought Cook on September 24. Everyone was becoming restless. The sea seemed paler than usual, but repeated soundings showed no bottom. Any sign of land would do. The sailors fished up pieces of floating driftwood, one of which seemed fresh, another covered with barnacles. They searched the sky for any bird that might have ventured out from land.

Third lieutenant John Gore, one of the bird watchers, called a dark brown bird a "Port Egmont hen," having seen one near the Falklands. For several days the ship sailed due west just below (south) the 38th parallel. At the end of September Cook announced that one gallon of rum would be the reward to the first person who sighted land by day, and two gallons if by night, and the discoverer would have the coast named after him. The sailors were never so alert and scrambled to the mast-head. Seals, occasionally asleep on the water, were thought not to go far from land. "But the few we have seen in this sea is certainly an exception to this rule," sighed Cook. The ship sailed northwest a bit, then southwest. Banks shot an albatross with a wingspread of ten feet eight inches.11 These birds certainly did not mean land, everyone knew. Where was this continent?

Morale was high aboard Endeavour, the sailors in good humor as the tension increased pleasantly for the expected reward. Banks, with his seaweed and barnacles spread about in Cook's cabin, was a happy young man. On October 3 he wrote: "Now do I wish that our freinds in England could by the assistance of some magical spying glass take a peep at our situation: Dr Solander setts at the Cabbin table describing myself at my Bureau Journalizing." How Cook felt about having barnacles and seaweed spread out on his work table is not known. Someone on deck saw a shape on the horizon. Was it land or another cloud? "Our old enemy Cape fly away," Banks announced as the cloud drifted away. Two more of those Port Egmont hens came along. Gore, warming to the subject of birds, took it into his head that they were a sign of land. Banks agreed, especially as he remembered one from near Tierra del Fuego with "a small broadish bar of dirty white" beneath each wing. They were the ordinary Southern Skua, Cataracta skua lonnbergi, that ranges far out to sea. It was porpoise weather. Shoals of them frolicked in silver arcs a quarter mile in line, "wherever they went in a foam so that when they were so far from the ship any man would have taken them for breakers."12 The days were grand.

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