Home > William Wales' Journal of His First Voyage - Part 2

William Wales' Journal of His First Voyage - Part 2


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 2, below, covers his first observations of Canada. His experience of Journal writing prior to this voyage was nil. His evident enthusiasm and experience on this assignment was to stand him in good stead for his eventual voyage on Resolution.

Wendy Wales


July 25th. This afternoon I told 32 islands of ice as I stood on the quarter-deck. This number is about double of what I have ever seen before, at one time.

The manner in which these islands are formed had been matter of much dispute; and various, indeed, have been conjectures of seemingly very learned authors concerning them. But I cannot, however, help thinking, that the cause and manner of their formation might very easily be made out from a few principles; and these facts, obvious to every one who visits these Straits. But as this would lead me to controvert opinions of several Gentlemen, who in all probability, are much more conversant in these things than I can pretend to be, I shall only here put down those circumstances; and leave it to every person to form his own judgement of the matter.

1st. The northern shore of these Straits, as it is usually called, is one continued chain of small islands; which form almost an infinite number of little bays, and inlets. 2d. The rocks which form the shores, are very high; and in most places almost perpendicular. 3d. The water is very deep close to the shore, in most places 60 or 70, and in several 120 fathoms, and upwards. 4th. The tides rise here sometimes upwards of 6 fathoms, and set through these Straits with great velocity, and almost in all directions. 5th. There fall, during the winter season, vast quantities of snow, and at this time the frosts are also very intense. 6th. The wind blows from the northern quarter, at least, three quarters of the year. 7th. During the months of June and July, the vast quantities of snow, which lie exposed to the sun, melt very fast, and the water running into those bays and inlets, must cause a strong current to set off from the shore. 8th. There are no ice mountains any where on those shores. 9th. These islands come not from Greenland; but are continually seen to set that way, until they get out of these Straits after which their course becomes more southerly. Lastly, they are not ice, but snow frozen. These circumstances, which are attestable by too great cloud of witnesses to be disputed, will, I apprehend, form sufficient data, whereby to give a very satisfactory answer to the problem in question.

This day, as I was observing the sun’s meridonal altitude, there came along side of us three Eskimaux in their canoes, or, as they term them, Kiacks, but who had very little to trade, except toys. None of these had along with them any weapon that I saw, except a kind of dart, evidently constructed for sea purposes as it had a buoy fixed to it made of a large bladder blown up.

The men have on their legs a pair of boots made of seal skin, and soled with that of a sea horse; these come barely up to their knees; and above these they have breeches made of seal, or deer skin, much in the form of our seamens short trousers. The remaining part of their cloathing is all in one piece much in the form of an English shift; only it comes but just below the waist-band of their breeches and has a hood on it, like that of a woman’s cloak which serves instead of a cap. Over these they have a kind of foul-weather jacket, made of the same leather with the legs of their boots, which they fasten very tightly about their necks and wrists; and when they are in their Kiacks (which also are extremely well described by Mr Crantz) are likewise fastened in such a manner round the circular hole which admits the man’s body, that not the least drop of water can get into it, either from rain or the spray of the sea.

The dress of the women differs not from that of the men, excepting that they have long tails to their waistcoats behind, which reach quite down to their heels; and their boots come up quite to their hips, which are very wide, and made to stand off from their hips with a strong bow of whalebone, for the convenience of putting their children in. I saw one woman with a child in each boot top.

As to their persons, they seem to be low; but pretty broad built, and inclined to be fat: their hands remarkably small; their faces very broad and flat; very little mouths, and their lips not remarkably thick; their noses small, and inclined to what is generally termed bottled; their eyes are black as jet, and their eye-lids so encumbered with fat, that they seem as if they opened them with difficulty; their hair is black, long and straight; and notwithstanding that they seem encumbered with a superfluity of flesh, they are remarkably brisk and active; more especially in the management of their Kiacks, which exceeds every thing of the kind that I have seen. All I can say with regard to their disposition is, that if they really deserve the character which authors have given of them, they are the most complete hypocrites that nature ever formed*.

  • It may not be amiss to observe here, that I have had, whilst at Churchill, an exceeding good opportunity of learning the disposition of those people; as there are several of them come almost every year, by their own free will, to reside at the factory; and can with truth aver, that never people less deserved the epithets of "treacherous, cruel, fawning, and suspicious;" the contrary of which is remarkably true in every particular. They are open,

July 26th. This evening I observed the moon’s meridional altitude 2º35´ alt. of the eye 12 feet. A little before noon the following observations were made for determining the magnetical variation;


’s Alt.L. Limb.       Azimuth    
37 2 ¼   75º 25´ from a mean of 3 observations by the chief mate.
39 52 ½   89 50 from a mean of 4 observations by myself.
41 3     2 42 from a mean of 5 observations by Mr. Dymond.

The height of the eye about 12 feet. Lat. 62º 12´N. And by calculating these three sets separately, and taking a mean of the three results, the variation will come out = 44º¾.

It may perhaps be worthy of remark, that the island of God’s Mercies, or, as some call it, the Upper Savage Island, lies in the mouth of an inlet, running northward; out of which come the greater part of those islands of ice, which are so much taken notice of in these parts. I have been told by gentlemen in the Hudson’s Bay service, that some of their ships have formerly been driven by the ice into this inlet, where they found a fine open sea, without any bounds that they could see to the northward. This inlet is called the North-Bay.

I beg leave likewise to mention what I apprehend to be a mistake in Crantz’s history of Greenland, where he says that those pieces of ice which are of vitriol colour are salt, and consist of salt water frozen to ice; but I can, from my own experience, assert, that when the salt water, which they catch by the sea washing over them, is wiped clean off, they are entirely fresh. I will not take upon me to say that they are not made from salt water; but if they are, it must have deposited all its salts before it was frozen to ice.

Generous, and unsuspecting; addicted too much (it must be owned) to passion, And too apt to revenge what they think an injury, if an opportunity offers at that moment; but are almost instantly cool, without requiring any acknowledgement on your part (which they account, shameful), and I verily believe, never remember the circumstance afterwards. Mr Ellis observes, "That they are apt to pilfer from strangers, easily encouraged to a degree of boldness; but as easily frightened." Now I cannot help thinking that he would have conveyed a much better idea of them if he had expressed himself thus: They are bold and enterprizing even to enthusiasm, whilst there is a probability of success crowning their endeavours; but wise enough to desist, when inevitable destruction stares them in the face.
Perhaps few people have a greater genius for arts, which shews itself in every one of their implements, but particularly in their boats, harpoons, darts, bows and snow-eyes, which last are most excellently contrived for preserving the eyes from the effect of the snow in the spring. But a volume might be written on these subjects, and perhaps not unentertaining.

July 27. This evening I told 58 islands of ice, all going directly across the Straits from the mouth of the above-mentioned inlet, at the rate of several miles per hour.

From this one circumstance, we have an irrefragable argument to prove the impossibility of Capt. Middleton’s hypothesis, relating to the very slow progressive motion of these islands, and the long time which, he thinks, they take up in dissolving. For admitting his hypothesis to be true, and that there were no other islands of ice but what came out of this bay; not only Hudson’s Straits, but even all the adjacent sea would in a very few years be so entirely choaked up with them, that it would be impossible to force a ship amongst them, could a master of one be found so imprudent as to venture; which must be inevitable destruction. The truth is, their motion and dissolution are apparently so very quick, that I am of opinion it must be a pretty large island which is not dissolved in one summer. How Capt. Middleton could drop into such a palpable mistake, is very difficult to say: he most certainly had as great an opportunity of informing himself of the truth of what he wrote on this subject, as any person whatever; and in this case had not the least inducement whatever he might be thought to have in others, to speak contrary to his knowledge.

July 29th. At 15h. we hauled the wind to the southward, the ice being quite thick a-head of us. At 19h. hauled the wind to the N.W. and stood through the ledge of ice, as, for aught that appeared to the contrary, it might reach quite to Cape Walsingham, which now bore S.W. It consisted of large pieces close jambed together: in the place where we attempted to pass through, it was not quite so close. It is really very curious to see a ship working amongst ice. Every man on board has his place assigned him; and the captain takes his in the most convenient one for seeing when the ship approaches very near the piece of ice which is directly a-head of her, which he has no sooner announced, but the ship is moving in a quite contrary direction to what it was before, whereby it avoids striking the piece of ice, or at least, striking of it with that force which it would otherwise have done. In this manner they turned the ship several times in a minute; the wind blowing a strong gale all the time.

A little before noon, being in lat. 62º48´N. and Cape Walsingham bearing S W. by S. I made the following observations for determining the magnetical variations.


Alt.   L.L.   Azimuth         Variat. W.    
33 º 48 ´ 63 º 40 ´          
34   6   68   37   > 37 º 19 ´
34   39   68   30            
34   54   70   30            
35   6   72   10   > 39 º 6 ´
35   11   71   0            
35   18   72   30            
  22   70   32   > 39 º 18 ´
  30   74   30            

The alt. of the eye was 12 feet, and the mean of these three results gives 38º 34´ for the variation required. But it may be necessary to remark, that the very great motion which the ship had at the time, renders the observations dubious.

July 30th. This evening I staid upon deck till after midnight, in hopes to have observed the ’s distance from a star; but, after trying for near an hour, I was obliged to give it up, on account of the twilights, which are amazingly bright in these high latitudes. There is another great inconvenience which attends observations of this kind here, viz. a red haziness round the horizon, to a considerable height, rendering the stars very dim; but at the same time large, something like the nucleus of a comet. I have been disappointed by one or other of these, two or three times before; but this is the more vexatious, as we are now amongst many islands headlands, &c. whose longitudes are entirely unknown, and on which account an observation would have been singularly useful.

From this time to Friday, August 5th, no circumstance material happened; but on that day I got the following observations for determining the longitude of the ship.

Dist. & 's           Alt.   's   Adjust Quad      
nearest   Limb   Alt.   L.L.   Cent.              
73 º 36 ´ 33 º 47 ´ 48 º 0 ´ 2 ½   +
    34   34   9   47   50   2     +
    32 ½     22   47   23   3     +
    32       35   47   5   3     +
    32       48   46   57   2 ½   +
    32   35   2   46   55   5)13(=2 36   +
    31       14   46   40          
    30       21   46   35          
    29       32   46   23          
    29       40   46   20          

Lat. 60º 46´½N

These observations give the longit. of the ship W. 92º.

* * N.B. The height of the eye above the water was 12 feet

August 6th. Mr Dymond observed the following distances of the sun and moon, which I have taken the liberty to transcribe, and calculate by Mr Dunthorne’s method.

& Alt. L.L. Alt. Cent'  
60 56 ½ 26 9 55 2 There are no adjustments to be allowed;
  56     30   4 the height of the eye above the water was
  55     42   4 twelve feet : and the longitude of the ship,
  54   27 00   5 hence deduced, is 94º 2´¾ ; latit.
  54     12   5 = 59º 28´N.
  54     20   7  
  52 ½   40   5  


The longit. Of the ship at noon was,          
  according to my observation of the 5th, 93 º 50 ' West
  Mr. Dymond’s of this day 94   21   West.

August 7th. About 5 saw the low land of Cape Churchill, bearing from the S. to S.W.b.S. but the haziness of the horizon made the land put on a different appearance every 4´ or 5´. I cannot help taking notice of one circumstance, as it appears to me a very remarkable one. Though we saw the land extreamly plain from off the quarter deck, and, as it were, lifted up in the haze, in the same manner as the ice had always done; yet the man at the mast head declared he could see nothing of it. This appeared so extraordinary to me, that I went to the main-top-mast-head myself to be satisfied of the truth thereof; and though I could see it very plain both before I went up, and after I came down, yet could I see nothing like the appearance of land when I was there. I had often admired the singular appearance of the ice in these parts, which I have seen lifted up 2º or 3º at a distance of 8 or 10 miles, although when we have come to it, we have found it scarcely higher than the surface of the water.

At 21h. we fired a gun, and thought we heard one in answer to it; which, if true must have been from the factory.

August 8th. We saw the flag staff of the factory, with the colours on it, bearing S.W. by W. but lost it again in the haze a few minutes afterwards. At 3 we saw the factory-land, and the flag staff very plain, S.W.b.W. At 4 made the appointed signal, which was properly answered; after which, we bore away directly for the mouth of the river, and at 5 anchored, there being very little wind, and the ebb tide was running out very strong. At this time Cape Merry bore S.W. and Eskimaux Point N.W.b.W. from whence, and the run of the ship since noon, I infer that the latit. Of the factory is 58º59´N. and by Mr. Dymond’s observation in 95º33´W or, according to mine, 95º2´W.

A little before noon we weighed, and worked up the river to the usual place where the ship lies, where, about two the 9th, she was safe moored.

Wednesday the 10th, we went on shore, for the first time. We were met on the beach by Captain Richards, who went with us up to the factory and introduced us, in form, to the governor, Mr. Moses Norton, who, as well as Mr Fowler, the person who succeeded him, behaved to us with great civility, and kindness. After breakfast, the surgeon of the factory was so kind as to walk with us several miles to shew us the country.

The soil as far as we went, consisted entirely of high bare rocks, or loose gravel: amongst the latter, there shoots up, in the lower places, many dwarf willows, and birch; in the higher ones some small gooseberry bushes; but these do not grow upright as in England, but creep along the gravel like the bramble brier. I saw besides these some strawberries, many cranberries, and a few bilberries; but none of these were yet ripe, except a few of the last. I likewise saw some few plants creeping amongst the moss; but none that I knew, except the dandelion and small yarrow.

I saw some wild ducks and curlews, but could handle none of them; we shot a few birds, much about the size, colour, and make of a woodcock: these they call here stone-plover. I saw another bird, not much unlike a quail, which they call here the whale-bird, from its feeding on the offal of those fish after the oil is boiled out of it. Besides those, I saw many, and a great variety, of the gull, for seamew kind; and also of small birds, like our linnets, larks, &c. But the most extraordinary bird that I have yet met with is (I know not for what reasons) called a man-of-war, and feeds on the excrements of other birds; its way of coming at its food is also a little extraordinary; he pursues the bird which he pitches on for his supply, until fear makes it void what he wants, and so soon as this happens, he catches the morsel in his mouth; after which he leaves that bird and pursues another.

I found here three very troublesome insects. The first is the moschetto, too common in all parts of America, and too well known, to need describing here. The second is a very small flie, called (I suppose on account of its smallness) the sand-flie. These in a hot calm day are intolerably troublesome: there are continually millions of them about one’s face and eyes, so that it is impossible either to speak, breathe or look, without having one’s mouth, nose or eyes full of them. One comfortable circumstance is, that the least breath of wind dispenses them in an instant. The third insect is much like the large flesh-flie in England; but, at least three times as large: these, from what part every they fix there teeth, are sure to carry a piece away with them, an instance of which I have frequently seen and experienced.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 29, number 2 (2006).

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