Charles Rathbone Low.

Captain Cook's three voyages round the world; with a sketch of his life online

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Indian Navy, Fellow of the Royal Geograph
Member of tJie Royal United Service Institution

(Late) H.M. Indian Navy, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and




Bancroft Ubrarr






AMONG the most remarkable voyages of discovery of which
we have record, those made by the celebrated Captain Cook
hold in popular estimation, and deservedly so, the first place.
This is due as much to the magnitude and importance of his
discoveries as to the interest of the incidents he details ; the
graphic and accurate, yet simple, descriptions of the people
and places he visited ; and the sad fate that ultimately over-
took him, which has cast around his name a halo of romantic
interest as one of the martyrs of scientific exploration.

James Cook was born in November, 1728, at Marton, in
Cleveland, near Great Ay ton, in Yorkshire. He was of
humble parentage, and, when only two years of age, his
father, who was a day labourer to a farmer, removed to
Great Ayton, where he was employed in the same capacity
by Mr. Thomas Scottowe.

At first young Cook assisted his father in the different
branches of husbandry, but, at thirteen, was placed under the


care of Mr. Pullen, the village schoolmaster at Ayton, where
he learned arithmetic and book-keeping, and is said to have
displayed a remarkable aptitude for figures.

About January, 1745, when James Cook was seventeen
years of age, his father bound him apprentice to learn the
grocery and haberdashery business, at Snaith, about ten miles
from Whitby ; but after a year and a half's servitude, having
contracted a strong predilection for the sea, his master was
willing to indulge him in following the bent of his inclination,
and agreed to cancel the indentures. Accordingly, in July,
1746, the future circumnavigator was bound apprentice to
Mr. J. Walker, of Whitby, for the term of three years, which
he served to the full satisfaction of his employer. He first
sailed on board the Freelove, chiefly employed in the coal
trade between Newcastle and London ; and, in May, 1748,
was employed in assisting to rig and fit out for sea the Three
Brothers, a ship of 300 tons, thus acquiring that intimate
knowledge of the rigger's art which forms so important an
element in the education of a sailor. After performing two
coaling voyages in this ship, she was chartered by the
Government as a transport, and conveyed troops to Dublin,
thence embarking other soldiers to Liverpool. Cook con-
tinued to serve in her, in the Norway trade, until the
expiration of his apprenticeship, and, in the spring of 1750^
we find him shipping as a seaman on board the Maria, under
the command of Captain Gaskin ; in her he performed some
voyages in the Baltic trade. In 1752, Mr. Walker, of Whitby,
was glad to avail himself of his services as mate of one of his
ships, called the Friendship, and he gave so much satisfac-
tion to the owner that, it is said, he was offered the post of
master of the vessel, which, however, he declined. Hence-
forth his services were devoted to his country.

In the spring of 1755, hostilities broke out between this
country and France, and strenuous efforts were made to
man the ships of war. As press-warrants had been issued,
Mr. Cook, whose ship then lay in the Thames, afraid of being
pressed, at first resolved to conceal himself ; but afterwards,
reflecting on the difficulties of doing so ; he adopted the reso-


lution of entering the navy as a volunteer, " having a mind,"
as he expressed himself, "to try his fortune that way." In
pursuance of this design he repaired to a house of rendezvous
in Wapping, and entered on board the Eagle, of 60 guns, at
that time commanded by Captain Hamer ; on the appoint-
ment, in the following October, of Captain (afterwards Sir
Hugh) Palliser to the command of this ship, Cook's diligence
and attention to the duties of his profession, although in the
humble capacity of a foremast hand, attracted the notice of
that discerning and intelligent commander, and he afforded
him every encouragement. Cook's meritorious conduct also
came to the ears of his friends in his native county, and
representations were made to his captain by the Member for
Scarborough, which resulted in his being recommended for a
master's warrant on board one of His Majesty's ships. After
some delay he was appointed master of the Mercury, and
proceeded in her to North America, and was of signal service
during the reduction of Quebec by the combined military
and naval expedition under General Wolfe and Admiral Sir
Charles Saunders ; as is well known, the chief credit of that
famous exploit fell to the lot of the sister service, which covered
itself with glory, though at the sad cost of the loss of Wolfe,
whose death dimmed the lustre of even so great a victory.

At the siege of Quebec, Sir Charles Saunders committed
to his charge the execution of services of the first importance
in the naval department. He piloted the boats to the attack
of Montmorency, conducted the embarkation to the Heights
of Abraham, and examined the passage, and laid buoys for
the security of the large ships in proceeding up the river.
He was employed for several nights taking soundings opposite
the French camp at Montmorency, until at length he was
discovered by the enemy, who sent a number of canoes, filled
with Indians, to surround him ; and he narrowly escaped
capture by pulling for the Isle of Orleans, the Indians seizing
the stern of his boat as he sprang ashore. The courage and
address with which he acquitted himself in these services,
and the admirable completeness of the plan of the channel '
and its soundings, which he furnished to the admiral, gained


him the warm friendship of Sir Charles Saunders and his
successor, Lord Colville, who continued his zealous patrons
during the remainder of their lives.

After the conquest of Canada, Mr. Cook was appointed,
on the 2nd of September, 1759, master of the Northumber-
land^ bearing the broad pennant of Lord Colville, which lay,
during the ensuing winter, at Halifax. But Cook, whose
chief anxiety was to rise in his profession, resolved to qualify
himself for promotion, and counteract the deficiencies of his
early education by application to those sciences and branches
of knowledge which are essential to success. Inspired by
this noble ambition, instead of devoting his spare time to
amusements, he was engaged in improving his mind. During
the hard winter of 1759 ne fi rst rea -d Euclid, and applied him-
self to the study of mathematics and astronomy, without any
other assistance than was afforded him by a few books and his
own industry.

Mr. Cook's commission as lieutenant was dated the 1st
of April, 1760. In September, 1762, we find him assisting
at the recapture of Newfoundland ; and subsequently,
while the British fleet lay at Placentia, he was engaged
surveying the heights and harbour in order that it might
be put into a state of defence, a task which he per-
formed with such marked ability, as to attract the favourable
notice of the Governor of Newfoundland, Captain (after-
wards Admiral) Graves. Towards the close of the year,
Lieutenant Cook returned to England, and, on the 2ist of
December, was married at Barking to Miss Batts, whose god-
father he was said to have been, although, it should be added,
there was only a difference of fourteen years in their ages.
For this lady, by whom he had six children, he entertained a
tender affection through life ; but, like all great seamen, he
placed the requirements of the public service before his per-
sonal predilections, and was ever ready at the call of duty to
resign the solace of her society for years. In 1763 Lieut.
Cook accompanied Captain Graves when he went out for the
second time as Governor of Newfoundland, and he carried
out a survey of its coasts, as well as of the islands of


Miquelon and St. Pierre, which had been ceded to this
country by France in the treaty of peace. He again re-
turned to England, but, early in the following year, accom-
panied his former captain, Sir Hugh Palliser, who had been
appointed Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, and
continued the prosecution of his surveys of those coasts and
of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. His charts were considered
admirable and most trustworthy, while he did not confine
his labours to marine surveying alone, but explored the
interior of Newfoundland. In 1765 he was with Sir William
Burnaby on the Jamaica station ; he was employed by the
Admiral in carrying despatches to the Governor of Yucatan,
relative to the wood-cutters in the Bay of Honduras, and
a record of this mission, which he performed in an emi-
nently satisfactory manner, was published in 1769. Return-
ing to Newfoundland, he observed an eclipse of the sun
on August 5th, 1766, an account of which appears in the
seventh volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the
Royal Society.

Lieutenant Cook returned to England in 1767, when much
interest was felt by the astronomical and scientific world
at the approaching transit of Venus over the sun's disc in
1769. Acting on the advice of Captain Wallis, who had just
returned from his voyage round the world, it was decided
that Otaheite, in the Society Islands, would be the most
convenient spot for carrying out the observations ; and,
after some delay, Lieutenant Cook was selected to command
the expedition, which was fitted out under the auspices of
the Royal Society and the patronage of his Majesty King
George the Third and the Board of Admiralty, whose
instructions to him embraced the prosecution of discoveries
in those seas, which had been already partially explored
by our countrymen, Captains Wallis, Carteret, and Byron.
These officers, by their discoveries, had greatly contributed
towards increasing our knowledge of the islands in Polynesia ;
but how far the Pacific Ocean extended to the west, by what
lands it was bounded on that side, and the connection of
those lands with former discoveries, remained unknown until


Cook, on his return from his first voyage, brought back a
solution of these points.

After Lieutenant Cook's return from his first voyage, he
was promoted to Commander on the igth of August, 1771 ;
and on the gth of August, 1775, ten days after his arrival in
England from his second voyage, he was raised to the rank
of Post-Captain in the Royal Navy.

For the species of enterprise on which he was engaged
during these years, Captain Cook appears to have been
eminently qualified. The earliest habits of his life, the
course of his service, and the constant application of his
mind, all conspired to fit him for it, and gave him a degree
of professional knowledge which few officers had then or
have since attained.

His frame and constitution were robust, inured to labour
and capable of undergoing the severest hardships. When
necessity required it, he could submit, uncomplainingly, to
the coarsest and most unpalatable food ; and, indeed, tem-
perance in him was scarcely a virtue, so great was the
indifference with which he submitted to every kind of self-
denial. The qualities of his mind were of the same hardy,
vigorous kind as those of his body. His understanding
was strong and perspicuous ; his judgment, especially in pro-
fessional matters, quick and sure. His designs were bold,
and, both in the conception and in the mode of execution,
bore evident marks of original genius. His courage was cool
and determined, and accompanied with an admirable presence
of mind in the moment of danger. His manners were plain
and unaffected ; his temper, it was said, was open to blame
on the score of hastiness and passion, but on the other hand
he was generous, benevolent, and humane.

Such was the outline of Captain Cook's character ; but its
most distinguishing feature was that unremitting perseverance
in the pursuit of his object, which was superior to the oppo-
sition of dangers, difficulties, and hardships. During the
long and tedious voyages in which he was engaged, his
eagerness and activity were never in the least abated. No
incidental temptations could detain him for a moment ; even


those intervals of recreation which sometimes unavoidably
occurred, were submitted to by him with a certain impatience
whenever they could not be employed in making further
provision for the more effectual prosecution of his designs.
It is not necessary here to enumerate the instances in which
these qualities were displayed, as his whole life bore witness
that he was the possessor of them ; but we will briefly state
the results of the great and important enterprises in which
he was engaged.

Perhaps no man ever made greater additions to our know-
ledge of the twin sciences of geography and navigation than
Captain Cook. In his first voyage to the South Seas he
discovered the Society Islands ; determined the insularity of
New Zealand ; discovered the straits called after his name,
which separate the two islands, and made a complete survey
of both.

With wonderful skill and perseverance, amidst perplexities,
difficulties, and dangers, he explored the eastern coast of
Australia, hitherto unknown, for an extent of twenty-seven
degrees of latitude, or upwards of 2,000 miles.

In his second expedition he traversed the southern hemi-
sphere, between the fortieth and sixty-seventh degrees of
latitude, having sailed nearer to the South Pole than any
previous navigator ; and it was not until 1823, just fifty years
later, that Weddell penetrated 214 miles further south, though
it was reserved for the late Sir James Clark Ross, in his
memorable voyage in 1841, in Her Majesty's ships Erebus
and Terror the same that carried Franklin and his
associates on their last voyage to prove the existence of an
antarctic continent, 450 miles in length, in 78 4'.

During this voyage Captain Cook discovered New Cale-
donia, one of the largest islands in the South Pacific, the
island of Georgia, and other islands, besides settling the
situations of the old and making several new discoveries.

But the third and last voyage was distinguished above
the others by the extent and importance of its results.
Although he had richly earned repose by reason of his great
services in the two former voyages, Cook voluntarily quitted


the comfortable quarters he had been allotted in Greenwich
Hospital by the bounty of the King, and once more embarked
on the dangers inseparable from the navigation of unknown
seas, the dealing with savage races, and the search for the
mysterious " north-west passage,"* which had baffled so many
of our most experienced navigators, and which, seventy years
later, was destined to engulf the great Franklin and upwards
of 100 gallant officers and seamen at the moment when the
secret was yielded up to their energetic research.

Besides several smaller islands in the South Pacific, he
discovered, to the north of the equinoctial line, the group
called the Sandwich Islands, which, from their situation and
productions, have attained a position of importance not yet
assumed by other groups in Polynesia. He afterwards
explored what had hitherto remained unknown of the western
coast of America, from the latitude of 43 to 70 44' north,
containing an extent of 3,500 miles, ascertained the proximity
of the two great continents of Asia and America, passed the
straits between them, and surveyed a considerable extent of
coast on each side ; and it was not until 1826 that Captain
Beechey passed Cook's farthest, and again, many years later,
Sir Robert McClure and Sir Richard Collinson.

But Cook was destined never to return to England, and,
on the I4th of February, 1779, on the shores of an island he
had given to the civilised world, this great mariner perished
by the daggers of a horde of savages whom it had been
his utmost endeavour to conciliate by kind and friendly

Those who are conversant with naval history need not be
told at how dear a rate the scientific advantages which are
sought to be attained through the medium of long voyages
at sea have always been purchased. Scurvy, that dreadful

* Strictly speaking, Cook was engaged in discovering the "north-east"
passage, from which point he attacked the great problem of Arctic navigation.
On this side Captain Beechey reached as far as 71 25 ', by which means a space
of about 150 miles only remained unexplored between Point Barrow, the N.E.
point reached by Captain Beechey, and Point Beechey, the N.W. limit of Sir
John Franklin's land expeditions from the mouth of McKenzie's River. This
interval was surmounted by the late Sir Robert McClure.


disorder which is peculiar to this service, and whose ravages
have marked the tracks of discoverers, as witness the records
of the voyages of Lord Anson and other navigators, must
have proved an insuperable obstacle to the prosecution of
such enterprises, unless the preservation of the lives of our
seamen were deemed a matter of no moment. It was
reserved for Captain Cook to show the world, by repeated
trials, that voyages might be protracted to the unusual length
of three or even four years, in unknown regions, and under
every change and rigour of climate, not only without affecting
the health, but even without diminishing the probability of
life in the smallest degree. The method he pursued was
fully explained by himself in a paper which was read before
the Royal Society, in the year 1776, a few months after he
quitted England on his last voyage, on which occasion Sir
Godfrey Copley's gold medal was awarded him ; and he also
noted in his journal, up to the time of his death, whatever
improvements were suggested by experience.

With respect to his professional abilities, Captain King,
his able lieutenant, well observes, " I shall leave them to the
judgment of those who are best acquainted with the nature
of the services in which he was engaged. They will readily
acknowledge that to have conducted three expeditions of so
much danger and difficulty, of so unusual a length, and in
such a variety of situation, with uniform and invariable
success, must have required not only a thorough and accurate
knowledge of his business, but a powerful and comprehensive
genius, fruitful in resources, and equally ready in the applica-
tion of whatever the higher and inferior calls of the service

Owing to the great care taken by Captain Cook of his men,
and the sanitary precautions he adopted, his voyages were
distinguished among those of the century for the small loss
incurred in their prosecution. But the last was destined to
be fatal to many of the officers who sailed in the two ships,
the Resolution and Discovery. In addition to Captain Cook,
killed on the I4th of February, 1779, Captain Clerke, who
succeeded to the chief command, succumbed, at the age of


thirty-eight^ to consumption, from which he had suffered before
he left England, on the 22nd of August in the same year ;
and Captain King, the accomplished historian of the voyage
after the death of Cook, died, at Nice, in the autumn of 1784,
of disease caused by the hardships and vicissitudes of climate
to which he had been exposed. King George the Third was
not forgetful of the services of his great subject, whose dis-
coveries shed no less glory on his reign than the victories by
sea and land, which we Englishmen regard with so much
pride and satisfaction. He settled a pension of 25 per
annum on each of the three surviving sons of the great
circumnavigator, and a pension of ,200 a year on the

This lady had soon cause to deplore the loss, in their
country's service, of others only less dear to her than her
gallant and lamented husband. In October, 1780, the month
when, by the return of the Resolution and Discovery, Mrs.
Cook was first made aware of the irreparable loss she had
sustained, her second son, Nathaniel, sixteen years of age, was
lost on board the Thunderer man-of-war, which foundered in
a gale of wind. The youngest son, Hugh, a student of
Christ's College, Cambridge, died of fever at the early age of
seventeen, on the 2ist of December, 1793 ; and, on the 25th of
January in the following year, the eldest son, aged thirty-one,
who bore his father's name, and commanded the Spitfire sloop-
of-war, was driven to sea while attempting to board his ship
off Poole in a heavy gale, and perished, together with the
boat's crew. His body was afterwards recovered, and con-
veyed to Spithead on board his own ship, whence it was
removed to Cambridge, and buried by the side of his
youngest brother, whose funeral he had attended only six
weeks before. Mrs. Cook was herself brought to the brink
of the grave by these accumulated bereavements, but she
recovered her health, and lived to the extraordinary age of
ninety-three, having survived her husband fifty-six years.
She died on the I3th of May, 1835, at her residence at
Clapham, to the poor of which she left a charitable bequest,
and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Andrew's the Great,


Cambridge, by the side of her two sons. Within the com-
munion rail of that church is a tablet, having an appropriate
design descriptive of naval discovery sculptured at the top,
and below, a shield, the device of a globe and a star, with
the motto,

" Nil intentatum reliquit."

On the tablet is the following inscription to the memory of
Captain Cook ;



Of the Royal Navy,
One of the most Celebrated Navigators that this or former ages can boast of ;

Who was killed by the natives of Owyhee in the Pacific Ocean,
On the i4th day of February, 1779, in the fifty-first year of his age.

In continuation of the above, is an inscription to his widow
and their sons, with the names and ages of three children
who died in infancy ; and, on the slab in the middle aisle,
beneath which lie Mrs. Cook and her sons, is a brief record
of their names and ages at the date of decease.

But though it is a meet and proper thing that this country,
even by a cenotaph, should record its sense of the services
and devotion to duty of one of the noblest of its sons,, yet
more interest attaches to the memorials that have been raised
to our great countryman on the scene of his labours and of
his death. Until within the past year, however, no suitable
monument to the memory of Captain Cook had been raised
in th,e Sandwich Island, though this remissness did not
extend to the officers of the Royal Navy, who have ever
been proud of numbering the name of James Cook among
the most distinguished in the long roll of naval worthies.
About 100 yards from the beach, where he was so cruelly
murdered, stands a portion of the trunk of a cocoa-nut tree,
set in a bed of loose stones and broken lava, and bearing
four plates of copper, upon which appear the following


inscriptions, rudely stamped, apparently with a punch. On
the largest of these, the following is the only portion that is
now decipherable :

" This bay was visited by Her Majesty's ship Carrysford, Right Honourable
Lord George Paulet."

A second plate bears the following inscription :

"This tree having falleia, was replaced on this spot by Her Majesty's steam-
vessel Cormorant, G. T. Gordon, Esq., Captain, which visited this spot May 18,

The third plate has the following inscription :

" This sheet and capping were put on by the Sparrow Hawk, September 16,
1839, in order to preserve this monument to the memory of Cook. Give this a
coat of tar."

On the fourth plate the following may be deciphered :

" Near this spot fell Captain James Cook, R.N., the renowned navigator,
who discovered this island A.D. 1778. His Majesty's ship Imogene, October
1 7th, 1837."

Yet another rude memorial, supposed to be by the officers
of the Blonde, attests the estimation in which the name of
Cook is held by the Navy. About a mile from the bay, and
at an elevation of some 500 feet above the level of the sea, is
a post, about 10 feet in height, set in rude blocks of lava,
enclosed within a wall of the same material, and bearing the
following inscription upon a plate of copper :


Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowCaptain Cook's three voyages round the world; with a sketch of his life → online text (page 1 of 46)