A Voyage Towards the South pole and Around the World/Volume II/Chapter 3

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A Voyage Towards the South pole by James Cook
Vol.II, Book IV: Chapter III

Range from Christmas Sound, round Cape Horn, through Strait Le Maire, and round Staten Land; with an Account of the Discovery of a Harbour in that Island, and a Description of the Coasts.

1774 December

At four o'clock in the morning on the 28th, we began to unmoor, and at eight weighed, and stood out to sea, with a light breeze at N.W., which afterwards freshened, and was attended with rain. At noon, the east point of the sound (Point Nativity) bore N. 1/2 W., distant one and a half leagues, and St Ildefonzo Isles S.E. 1/2 S., distant seven leagues. The coast seemed to trend in the direction of E. by S.; but the weather being very hazy, nothing appeared distinct.

We continued to steer S.E. by E. and E.S.E.; with a fresh breeze at W.N.W., till four o'clock p.m., when we hauled to the south, in order to have a nearer view of St Ildefonzo Isles. At this time we were abreast of an inlet, which lies E.S.E, about seven leagues from the sound; but it must be observed that there are some isles without this distinction. At the west point of the inlet are two high peaked hills, and below them, to the east, two round hills, or isles, which lie in the direction of N.E. and S.W. of each other. An island, or what appeared to be an island, lay in the entrance; and another but smaller inlet appeared to the west of this: Indeed the coast appeared indented and broken as usual.

At half past five o'clock, the weather clearing up, gave us a good sight of Ildefonzo Isles. They are a group of islands and rocks above water, situated about six leagues from the main, and in the latitude of 55° 53' S., longitude 69° 41' W.

We now resumed our course to the east, and, at sun-set, the most advanced land bore S.E. by E. 3/4 E.; and a point, which I judged to be the west point of Nassau Bay, discovered by the Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral Hermite in 1624, bore N. 80° E., six leagues distant. In some charts this point is called False Cape Horn, as being the southern point of Terra del Fuego. It is situated in latitude 55° 39' S. From the inlet above-mentioned to this false cape, the direction of the coast is nearly east, half a point south, distant fourteen or fifteen leagues.

At ten o'clock, having shortened sail, we spent the night in making short boards under the top-sails, and at three next morning made sail, and steered S.E. by S., with a fresh breeze at W.S.W., the weather somewhat hazy. At this time the west entrance to Nassau Bay extended from N. by E. to N.E. 1/2 E., and the south side of Hermite's Isles, E. by S. At four, Cape Horn, for which we now steered, bore E. by S. It is known, at a distance, by a high round hill over it. A point to the W.N.W. shews a surface not unlike this; but their situations alone will always distinguish the one from the other.

At half past seven, we passed this famous cape, and entered the southern Atlantic ocean. It is the very same point of land I took for the cape, when I passed it in 1769, which at that time I was doubtful of. It is the most southern extremity on a group of islands of unequal extent, lying before Nassau Bay, known by the name of Hermite Islands, and is situated in the latitude of 55° 58', and in the longitude of 68° 13' W.; according to the observations made of it in 1769. But the observations which we had in Christmas Sound, and reduced to the cape by the watch, and others which we had afterwards, and reduced back to it by the same means, place it in 67° 19'. It is most probable that a mean between the two, viz. 67° 46', will be nearest the truth. On the N.W. side of the cape are two peaked rocks, like sugar-loaves: They lie N.W. by N., and S.E. by S., by compass, of each other. Some other straggling low rocks lie west of the cape, and one south of it; but they are all near the shore. From Christmas Sound to Cape Horn the course is E.S.E 1/4 E., distant thirty-one leagues. In the direction of E.N.E., three leagues from Cape Horn, is a rocky point, which I called Mistaken Cape, and is the southern point of the easternmost of Hermite Isles. Between these two capes there seemed to be a passage directly into Nassau Bay; some small isles were seen in the passage; and the coast, on the west side, had the appearance of forming good bays or harbours. In some charts, Cape Horn is laid down as belonging to a small island. This was neither confirmed, nor can it be contradicted by us; for several breakers appeared on the coast, both to the east and west of it; and the hazy weather rendered every object indistinct. The summits of some of the hills were rocky, but the sides and vallies seemed covered with a green turf, and wooded in tufts.

From Cape Horn we steered E. by N. 1/2 N., which direction carried us without the rocks that lie off Mistaken Cape. These rocks are white with the dung of fowls, and vast numbers were seen about them. After passing them we steered N.E. 1/2 E. and N.E., for Strait Le Maire, with a view of looking into Success Bay, to see if there were any traces of the Adventure having been there. At eight o'clock in the evening, drawing near the strait, we shortened sail, and hauled the wind. At this time the Sugar-loaf on Terra del Fuego bore N. 33° W.; the point of Success Bay, just open of the cape of the same name, bearing N. 20° E.; and Staten Land, extending from N. 53° E. to 67° E. Soon after the wind died away, and we had light airs and calms by turns till near noon the next day, during which time we were driven by the current over to Staten Land.

The calm being succeeded by a light breeze at N.N.W., we stood over for Success Bay, assisted by the currents, which set to the north. Before this we had hoisted our colours, and fired two guns; and soon after saw a smoke rise out of the woods, above the south point of the bay, which I judged was made by the natives, as it was at the place where they resided when I was here in 1769. As soon as we got off the bay, I sent Lieutenant Pickersgill to see if any traces remained of the Adventure having been there lately; and in the mean time we stood on and off with the ship. At two o'clock, the current turned and set to the south; and Mr Pickersgill informed me, when he returned, that it was falling water on shore, which was contrary to what I had observed when I was here before, for I thought then that the flood came from the north. Mr Pickersgill saw not the least signs of any ship having been there lately. I had inscribed our ship's name on a card, which he nailed to a tree at the place where the Endeavour watered. This was done with a view of giving Captain Furneaux some information, in case he should be behind us and put in here.

On Mr Pickersgill's landing he was courteously received by several of the natives, who were clothed in guanicoe and seal skins, and had on their arms bracelets, made of silver wire, and wrought not unlike the hilt of a sword, being no doubt the manufacture of some Europeans. They were the same kind of people we had seen in Christmas Sound, and, like them, repeated the word pechera on every occasion. One man spoke much to Mr Pickersgill, pointing first to the ship and then to the bay, as if he wanted her to come in. Mr Pickersgill said the bay was full of whales and seals; and we had observed the same in the strait, especially on the Terra del Fuego side, where the whales, in particular, are exceedingly numerous.

As soon as the boat was hoisted in, which, was not till near six o'clock, we made sail to the east, with a fine breeze at north. For since we had explored the south coast of Terra del Fuego, I resolved to do the same by Staten Land, which I believed to have been as little known as the former. At nine o'clock the wind freshening, and veering to N.W., we tacked, and stood to S.W., in order to spend the night; which proved none of the best, being stormy and hazy, with rain.

Next morning, at three o'clock, we bore up for the east end of Staten Land, which, at half past four, bore S. 60° E., the west end S. 2° E., and the land of Terra del Fuego S. 40° W. Soon after I had taken these bearings, the land was again obscured in a thick haze, and we were obliged to make way, as it were, in the dark; for it was but now and then we got a sight of the coast. As we advanced to the east, we perceived several islands, of unequal extent, lying off the land. There seemed to be a clear passage between the easternmost, and the one next to it, to the west. I would gladly have gone through this passage, and anchored under one of the islands, to have waited for better weather, for on sounding we found only twenty-nine fathoms water; but when I considered that this was running to leeward in the dark, I chose to keep without the islands, and accordingly hauled off to the north. At eight o'clock we were abreast of the most eastern isle, distant from it about two miles, and had the same depth of water as before. I now shortened sail to the three top-sails, to wait for clear weather; for the fog was so thick that we could see no other land than this island. After waiting an hour, and the weather not clearing, we bore up and hauled round the east end of the island, for the sake of smooth water and anchorage, if it should be necessary. In hauling round, we found a strong race of a current, like unto broken water; but we had no less than nineteen fathoms. We also saw on the island abundance of seals and birds. This was a temptation too great for people in our situation to withstand, to whom fresh provisions of any kind were acceptable; and determined me to anchor, in order that we might taste of what we now only saw at a distance. At length, after making a few boards, fishing, as it were, for the best ground, we anchored in twenty-one fathoms water, a stony bottom, about a mile from the island, which extended from N. 18° E. to N. 55° 1/2 W.; and soon after, the weather clearing up, we saw Cape St John, or the east end of Staten Land, bearing S. 76° E., distant four leagues. We were sheltered from the south wind by Staten Land, and from the north wind by the island; the other isles lay to the west, and secured us from that wind; but beside being open to the N.E. and E., we also lay exposed to the N.N.W. winds. This might have been avoided by anchoring more to the west, but I made choice of my situation for two reasons; first, to be near the island we intended to land upon, and, secondly, to be able to get to sea with any wind.

After dinner we hoisted out three boats, and landed with a large party of men; some to kill seals, others to catch or kill birds, fish, or what came in our way. To find the former it mattered not where we landed, for the whole shore was covered with them; and by the noise they made one would have thought the island was stocked with cows and calves. On landing we found they were a different animal from seals, but in shape and motion exactly resembling them. We called them lions, on account of the great resemblance the male has to that beast. Here were also the same kind of seals which we found in New Zealand, generally known by the name of sea-bears; at least we gave them that name.

They were, in general, so tame, or rather stupid, as to suffer us to come near enough to knock them down with sticks; but the large ones we shot, not thinking it safe to approach them. We also found on the island abundance of penguins and shags; and the latter had young ones almost fledged, and just to our taste. Here were geese and ducks, but not many; birds of prey, and a few small birds. In the evening we returned on board, our boats well laden with one thing or other.

1775 January

Next day, being January the 1st, 1775, finding that nothing was wanting but a good harbour to make this a tolerable place for ships to refresh at, whom chance or design, might bring hither, I sent Mr Gilbert over to Staten Land in the cutter to look for one. Appearances promised success in a place opposite the ship. I also sent two other boats for the lions, etc. we had killed the preceding day; and soon after I went myself, and observed the sun's meridian altitude at the N.E. end of the island, which gave the latitude 54° 40' 5" S. After shooting a few geese, some other birds, and plentifully supplying ourselves with young shags, we returned on board, laden with sea-lions, sea-bears, etc. The old lions and bears were killed chiefly for the sake of their blubber, or fat, to make oil of; for, except their haslets, which were tolerable, the flesh was too rank to be eaten with any degree of relish. But the young cubs were very palateable, and even the flesh of some of the old lionesses was not much amiss, but that of the old males was abominable. In the afternoon I sent some people on shore to skin and cut off the fat of those which yet remained dead on shore, for we had already more carcases on board than necessary; and I went myself, in another boat, to collect birds. About ten o'clock Mr Gilbert returned from Staten Land, where he found a good port, situated three leagues to the westward of Cape St John, and in the direction of north, a little easterly, from the N.E. end of the eastern island. It may be known by some small islands lying in the entrance. The channel, which is on the east side of these islands, is half a mile broad. The course is in S.W. by S., turning gradually to W. by S. and W. The harbour lies nearly in this last direction; is almost two miles in length; in some places near a mile broad; and hath in it from fifty to ten fathoms water, a bottom of mud and sand. Its shores are covered with wood fit for fuel; and in it are several streams of fresh water. On the islands were sea-lions, etc. and such an innumerable quantity of gulls as to darken the air when disturbed, and almost to suffocate our people with their dung. This they seemed to void in a way of defence, and it stunk worse than assafoetida, or what is commonly called devil's dung. Our people saw several geese, ducks, and race-horses, which is also a kind of duck. The day on which this port was discovered occasioned my calling it New-Year's Harbour. It would be more convenient for ships bound to the west, or round Cape Horn, if its situation would permit them to put to sea with an easterly and northerly wind. This inconvenience, however, is of little consequence, since these winds are never known to be of long duration. The southerly and westerly are the prevailing winds, so that a ship never can be detained long in this port.

As we could not sail in the morning of the 2d for want of wind, I sent a party of men on shore to the island, on the same duty as before. Towards noon we got a fresh breeze at west; but it came too late, and I resolved to wait till the next morning, when, at four o'clock, we weighed, with a fresh gale at N.W. by W., and stood for Cape St John, which, at half past six, bore N. by E., distant four or five miles. This cape, being the eastern point of Staten Land, a description of it is unnecessary. It may, however, not be amiss to say, that it is a rock of a considerable height, situated in the latitude of 54° 46' S., longitude 63° 47' W., with a rocky islet lying close under the north part of it. To the westward of the cape, about five or six miles, is an inlet, which seemed to divide the land, that is, to communicate with the sea to the south; and between this inlet and the cape is a bay, but I cannot say of what depth. In sailing round the cape we met with a very strong current from the south: It made a race which looked like breakers; and it was as much as we could do, with a strong gale, to make head against it.

After getting round the cape, I hauled up along the south coast, and as soon as we had brought the wind to blow off the land, it came upon us in such heavy squalls as obliged us to double-reef our top-sails. It afterwards fell, by little and little, and at noon ended in a calm. At this time Cape St John bore N. 20° E., distant three and a half leagues; Cape St Bartholomew, or the S.W. point of Staten Land, S. 83° W.; two high detached rocks N. 80° W.; and the place where the land seemed to be divided, which had the same appearance on this side, bore N. 15° W. three leagues distant. Latitude observed 54° 56'. In this situation we sounded, but had no bottom with a line of 120 fathoms. The calm was of very short duration, a breeze presently springing up at N.W.; but it was too faint to make head against the current, and we drove with it back to the N.N.E. At four o'clock the wind veered, at once, to S. by E., and blew in squalls attended with rain. Two hours after, the squalls and rain subsided, and the wind returning back to the west, blew a gentle gale. All this time the current set us to the north, so that, at eight o'clock, Cape St John bore W.N.W., distant about seven leagues. I now gave over plying, and steered S.E., with a resolution to leave the land; judging it to be sufficiently explored to answer the most general purposes of navigation and geography.