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William Wales' Journal of His First Voyage - Part 1


In August 1768 Captain Cook travelled by coach to Deal to take command of the Endeavour prior to sailing to Plymouth for the start of what has become known as his First Voyage. Travelling on the coach with him was Charles Green the astronomer. They were both engaged as observers of the forthcoming Transit of Venus and, no doubt, their conversation encompassed the fact that Green’s brother-in-law William Wales had already been dispatched to Hudson Bay to do the same job [see Cook’s Log, page 27, vol. 27, no. 1 (2004)]. Neither of them at this stage could have envisaged that William Wales was destined to become astronomer on Cook’s Second Voyage on the Resolution.

Wales’ journal of his Hudson Bay voyage and his time there was read to the Royal Society on 8th and 15th March 1770, and was published by them in Philosophical Transactions, pages 100-136, vol. lx, the same year. It will be reproduced in Cook’s Log in four parts, to help us get a better understanding of this man and the experiences he brought with him when he joined Captain Cook on board the Resolution.

Part 1, below, covers the voyage to Hudson Bay in Canada. Wales had asked to be sent to a warm climate, but found himself heading north at the end of May the year before the occurrence of the Transit - any later and the hostile nature of the weather in the Bay would have rendered it impossible for him to arrive in time for the event.

Wendy Wales

Journal of a Voyage, made by Order of the Royal Society, to Churchill River, on the North-west Coast of Hudson’s Bay; of Thirteen Months Residence in that Country; and of the Voyage back to England; in the Years 1768 and 1769: By William Wales.

** It must be observed, that the Astronomical, and not the Nautical Day, is every where to be understood in the following Journal.


May 29th. H A V I N G settled all my affairs in London; about 22 hours I set off for Greenwich, where I received my instructions from the Rev. Mr Maskelyne, his Majesty’s Royal Astronomer.

May 30th. About 2 hours went on board a Gravesend boat; got to that place about 7, and went directly on board the ship. A. M. delivered my instructions to Mr. Dymond, for him to copy according to Mr. Maskelyne’s directions.

May 31st. About 2 hours weighed, and the wind being contrary, we tided it all the way from that place to Yarmouth road; where we arrived, and came to an anchor, about 20 h. on Saturday, June the 4th.

We lay in Yarmouth Road until the 7th, when we unmoored, and came to an anchor in Cairstown harbour on Sunday, the 12th, about 14 hours; having had strong gales, and thick weather, with drizzling rain almost all the time.

We lay in this place, and in the road, till Thursday 23rd, taking in ballast and live stock; having for the most part nasty thick, and cold fogs: About 16 hours the commodore made the signal to un-moor, and about 18 h. we got under way, and stood through Hoy-sound. At 20 h. Hoy-head bore S.E. by compass, dist. About 4 miles. At noon I observed the sun’s meridian altitude to be 54º 10´ ¼, whence the true lat. of the ship was 59º 3´ ¾; the course by compass since 20 h. was W. N. W. at the rate of 4 6/7 miles per hour. Hence the lat. of Hoy-head is 59º 2'N. and if we account its long. west of Greenwich 3º 20´. The long. of the ship at this time was 4º 5'W.

June the 24th. From the run and course of the ship, and different bearings therefrom, I deduced the latitudes of the following places, and their longitudes from the head of Hoy as annexed.


Skerry     lat. 59 ºc 12' ¼ N. long. 56' ¼ W.
Stack of Skerry 59   7 ¾ N.   3   W.
East Barra 59   7 ½ N.   2 24 ½ W.
West Barra 59   5   N.   2 40   W.

Wednesday June 29th. Being by account in long. 19º 4´ W. and by a tolerable observation this day at noon in lat. 56º 57’20''N. I took the following observations to ascertain the time by Mr. Dymond’s watch.

Time per watch      Alt. ’s L. L.
4h 58´ 14''      27º 55 ¼
5 2 55        21  
  3 41        15 ¼
  4 27        9  
  5 16        0 ¾

The quadrant was truly adjusted and the height of the eye above the water about 12 feet. Hence I infer that the watch was too fast for apparent time 3´ 53''.

At 13h 5´ the eclipse of the moon was considerably begun; I estimated it about 3 digits.

At 14h 11´ I judged the beginning of total darkness happened; but clouds rendered it a little uncertain.


      14 11 0
Watch too fast       3 53
Beginning of total darkness observed     14 7 7
Time at Greenwich by strict calculation     15 13 50
Long. West = 16 40¾ =   1 6 43

This must be considerably too little. Indeed I am of opinion my reckoning is so, as we have, these two last days, had a great swell from the eastward, which I have not skill enough in navigation to allow for.

June the 30th. By comparing Mr Dymond’s watch with Captain Richards’s, which he says goes very exactly, I find that Mr. Dymond’s has gained at the rate of 9´½ per day; and therefore 3´ 38? must be taken from the time of the observation, more than I yesterday allowed, which will make the long. of the ship at 5h. yesterday 17º 35´¼; but this is undoubtedly too small, a circumstance which I cannot account for.

July 5th. Being by account in long. 45º¼ W. and by observation in Lat. 57º 43´ N. I made the following observations for determining the long. of the ship. Mr. Dymond observed the altitudes of the sun, and Capt. Richards those of the moon.


Dist. & nearest limb.       Alt. of L. L. Alt. of L. L
99º 30       40 41 22 57
  29       41 11 22 37
  25¾       41 52 21 55
  23¾       42   4 21 37
  23       42 20 22 24

There must be subtracted from the distances 48´ for the error of the quadrant: the other quadrants were right; but 3´ must be subtracted for the dip of the horizon.

The long. of the ship according to these observations will be found 47º 47´ ¾ W.

I did not make use of the telescope when I made these observations, as its field is too small to use when the ship has much motion, which was the case at this time.

We were certain that we were now well a-breast of cape Farewell; having the two preceding days passed several pieces of drift-wood. This is also strongly corroborated by the preceding observations.

July 6th. About 4h. we passed another large piece of drift-wood, which was the last we saw.

July 10th. About 22 h. the lat. of the ship being 57º 58´ N. and long. (reckoned from the observation of the 5th) 51º 20´ W. I made the following observations for determining the variation of needle.


Alt L. L           Arim.
49º 51´      81 37
50 36      83 0

3´ 18'' must be subtracted from the

’s alt. for the dip of the horizon.

From the first observation the variation comes out 31º 33´, and from the second 30º 2´; and the mean of both is 30º 47´½ westerly.

July 16th. The former part of these 24 hours we ran through several very strong replings of the tide, which made us suspect that we might be nearer the entrance of the Straights than our accountants shewed us to be; and therefore about 11 h. the whole fleet brought to, as the fog was exceeding thick. We now compared all our reckonings, and also with the commodore and brig’s people, and found them all to agree very near; mine, which was about long. 61º W. being the headmost.

About 16 h. we saw the first isle of ice; but it was at too great a distance for me to give any farther account of it.

July 18th. This day, and yesterday, we have run through several very strong riplings of tide; have passed by many islands of ice; but their distance and the thickness of the fog, rendered it impossible for me to give any account of them.

July 19th. Passed within a cable’s length of a very large island of ice, or rather frozen snow, for it appeared to me to be nothing else. It was about as high out of the water as our main-top, and was adorned both on its top and sides with spires and indented in the most romantic manner that can be imagined.

July 21st. At noon the fog was so thick that we could scarce see a man on the forecastle, and hearing two guns at some distance (the signal for bringing to) we hauled our courses. About half an hour afterwards, we fired a gun; but having no answer, we tacked, and set our courses, fore, and mizzen stays; apprehending that the signal at noon was to tack, and that we missed one gun.

All the afternoon we fired guns at short intervals, but could hear no answer. At 7 there came on a strong gale, which with the riplings we were continually running through, made a very rough sea, the waves beating continually over the quarter deck: and if we add to these, the thickness of the fog, and the great number of ice islands we were amongst, our situation must be allowed to have been truly dangerous: we weathered one island in the morning, but by about three or four times the ship’s length, and though so very near, we could not see its top for the fog.

July 23rd. About ½ past 2, we made the island of Resolution, which forms the north shore, at the entrance of Hudson’s Straits, bearing from us N.W.b.W. It lies, by my account, in lat. 60º29´½ N. and long. 65º9´W.

July 24th. This afternoon, being in lat 61º 55½N. and long. (by account) 67º46´, I made the following observations for determining the variation of the needle.


Alt. L.L. Azimuth Alt. L.L. Azimuth  
29 50½ 67 30 25 10 55 20 )  
29 13 64 20 ) variat. 24 34 54 40 ) variat. Dip
28 58 63 35 ) 38º44´ 24 8 52 30 ) 40º52´ 3´18''
      23 50 51 45 )  

Hence the mean of both gives the variation 39º 48´W.

About 10 there came along side of us a boat, with several Eskimaux women, and two or three boys; but no men. They traded with the people some of their cloaths, and a few toys of their own making; such as models of their bows, harpoons, &c. but I saw nothing else that they had to trade; nor had they any weapons, either of offence or defence, along with them. The boat is so well described and delineated in Crantz’s history of Greenland, that it is entirely needless to attempt it here.

This morning we saw the other ships under the land, bearing from us N.N.E. and whom we joined about noon.

The north shore of these straits seems to be a chain of broken islands, or rather, large, bare rocks one rising, as it were, in perspective above another. But I cannot help observing, that from the accounts of authors, I expected to have found them entirely covered with ice and snow; whereas I found them entirely bare, except in some very deep vallies. I apprehend, however that this had not long been the case, as the water every where kept continually tumbling down the rocks in prodigious torrents.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 29, number 1 (2006).

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