A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 5

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Rocky Islands discovered. See the Island Maitea and arrive at Otaheite. Ship crowded by the Natives.

1788. September.
Being clear of the land we steered towards the east-south-east, it being my intention to pass to the southward of New Zealand, as I expected in that route to meet with constant westerly winds; in which however I was disappointed, for they proved variable and frequently from the eastward blowing strong, with thick misty weather. The thermometer varied from 41 to 46 degrees.
Sunday 14.
On the 14th at noon we were in 49 degrees 24 minutes south latitude and in 168 degrees 3 minutes east longitude, which is on the same meridian with the south end of New Zealand. We altered our course, steering to the northward of east, and frequently saw rock-weed which I supposed to have drifted from New Zealand. The sea now became rougher from our being exposed to a long swell which came from the north-east.
Friday 19.
On the 19th at daylight we discovered a cluster of small rocky islands bearing east by north four leagues distant from us. We had seen no birds or anything to indicate the nearness of land except patches of rock-weed, for which the vicinity of New Zealand sufficiently accounted. The wind being at north-east prevented our near approach to these isles; so that we were not less than three leagues distant in passing to the southward of them. The weather was too thick to see distinctly: their extent was only 3 1/2 miles from east to west and about half a league from north to south: their number including the smaller ones was thirteen. I could not observe any verdure on any of them: there were white spots like patches of snow but, as Captain Cook, in describing the land of New Zealand, near Cape South, says, in many places there are patches like white marble, it is probable that what we saw might be of the same kind as what he had observed. The westernmost of these islands is the largest; they are of sufficient height to be seen at the distance of seven leagues from a ship's deck. When the easternmost bore north I tried for soundings, being then 10 miles distant from the nearest of them, and found bottom at 75 fathoms, a fine white sand: and again at noon, having run six leagues more to the east-south-east, we had soundings at 104 fathoms, a fine brimstone-coloured sand. The latitude of these islands is 47 degrees 44 minutes south; their longitude 179 degrees 7 minutes east, which is about 145 leagues to the east of the Traps, near the south end of New Zealand. Variation of the compass here 17 degrees east. While in sight of the islands we saw some penguins, and a white kind of gull with a forked tail. Captain Cook's track in 1773 was near this spot, but he did not see the islands: he saw seals and penguins hereabouts, but considered New Zealand to be the nearest land. I have named them after the ship the Bounty Isles.
Sunday 21.
This day we saw a seal, some rock-weed, and a great many albatrosses. I tried for soundings but found no bottom at 230 fathoms depth. Our latitude 47 degrees 32 minutes south, longitude 182 degrees 36 minutes east.
October. Thursday 2.
Were in 40 degrees 27 minutes south latitude and 214 degrees 4 minutes east longitude. It being calm, and a number of small blubbers about the ship, I took up some in a bucket, but I saw no difference between them and the common blubbers in the West Indies. We frequently in the night-time observed the sea to be covered with luminous spots caused by prodigious quantities of small blubbers that, from the strings which extend from them, emit a light like the blaze of a candle, while the body continues perfectly dark.
Friday 3.
The 3rd in the morning we saw a seal. Captain Cook has remarked seeing seaweed when nearly in the same place. Our latitude 40 degrees 21 minutes south, longitude 215 degrees east. Variation of the compass 7 degrees 45 minutes east. Being now well to the eastward of the Society Islands I steered more to the northward.
We continued to have the southern oceanic birds accompany us and a few whales. The people caught albatrosses and fattened them in the same manner which they had done when off Cape Horn. Some of these measured near eight feet between the tips of the wings when spread.
Thursday 9.
On Thursday the 9th we had the misfortune to lose one of our seamen, James Valentine, who died in the night of an asthmatic complaint. This poor man had been one of the most robust people on board until our arrival at Adventure Bay, where he first complained of some slight indisposition for which he was bled, and got better. Some time afterwards the arm in which he had been bled became painful and inflamed: the inflammation increased, with a hollow cough, and extreme difficulty of breathing, to his death.
Monday 13.
The 13th in the afternoon we saw two land birds like what are called sand-larks. Our latitude at this time was 28 degrees 3 minutes south and longitude 223 degrees 26 minutes east.
Tuesday 14.
The next morning we saw a tropic bird and some fish. The winds were light and variable with calms from this time to the 19th, when a breeze sprang up from the north-east, which gradually came round to the eastward and proved to be the tradewind. Our latitude on the 19th at noon was 24 degrees 13 minutes south, longitude 222 degrees 17 minutes east. Variation of the compass 5 degrees 19 minutes east.
Saturday 25.
On the 25th at half-past seven in the morning we saw the Island Maitea, called Osnaburg by Captain Wallis, who first discovered it. At noon it bore south-west by west one-quarter west, six miles distant. Our latitude 17 degrees 50 minutes south, longitude 212 degrees 24 minutes east. Variation five degrees east. As Captain Wallis and Captain Cook had both passed near the south side, I ran along the north side, which is remarkably steep. The island is high and round and not more than three miles in its greatest extent. The south side, where the declivity from the hill is more gradual, is the chief place of residence of the natives; but the north side, from the very summit down to the sea, is so steep that it can afford no support to the inhabitants. We steered pretty close in to the northward of the east end, where we saw but few habitations: a very neat house on a small eminence, delightfully situated in a grove of coconut-trees, particularly attracted our notice. About twenty of the natives followed us along shore, waving and showing large pieces of cloth; but the surf on the shore was too high to think of having any communication with them. I observed a great number of coconut-trees but did not see one plantain-tree. There were other trees but of what kind we could not distinguish: near the east end are two remarkable rocks, and a reef runs off to the eastward about half a league.
The latitude of Maitea is 17 degrees 53 minutes south; and by our timekeeper its longitude is 1 degree 24 minutes east from Point Venus. Variation of the compass 5 degrees 36 minutes east.
We continued our course to the westward, and at six in the evening saw Otaheite bearing west three-quarters south; the island Maitea, then in sight, bearing east half south, eight leagues distant. As there was great probability that we should remain a considerable time at Otaheite, it could not be expected that the intercourse of my people with the natives should be of a very reserved nature: I therefore ordered that every person should be examined by the surgeon, and had the satisfaction to learn from his report that they were all perfectly free from any venereal complaint.
Sunday 26.
On the 26th at four o'clock in the morning, having run twenty-five leagues from Maitea, we brought to till daylight, when we saw Point Venus bearing south-west by west, distant about four leagues. As we drew near a great number of canoes came off to us. Their first enquiries were if we were tyos, which signifies friends; and whether we came from Pretanie (their pronunciation of Britain) or from Lima: they were no sooner satisfied in this than they crowded on board in vast numbers, notwithstanding our endeavours to prevent it, as we were working the ship in; and in less than ten minutes the deck was so full that I could scarce find my own people. At nine in the forenoon we were obliged to anchor in the outer part of Matavai Bay, in thirteen fathoms, being prevented by light variable winds from placing the ship in a proper berth. In this station the west part of One-tree hill bore south by east half east one mile distant.
This passage of fifty-two days from Van Diemen's Land may be rated as moderate sailing. We passed New Zealand with the spring equinox and the winds, though strong, were at no time violent. To the southward of 40 degrees 0 minutes south they were variable; between the latitudes of 40 and 33 degrees south the wind kept in the north-west quarter; afterwards till we got into the trade the winds were variable, mostly from the eastward, but light and inclinable to calms. The ship was 3 degrees 22 minutes in longitude to the eastward of the dead reckoning, which the timekeeper almost invariably proved to be owing to a current giving us more easting than the log. Our track was as distant from any course of former ships as I could conveniently make it and, though we made no new discoveries, except the small cluster of islands near New Zealand, yet in other parts of the track, as has been noticed, we met with signs of being in the neighbourhood of land.
It may not be unworthy of remark that the whole distance which the ship had run by the log, in direct and contrary courses, from leaving England to our anchoring at Otaheite, was twenty-seven thousand and eighty-six miles which, on an average, is at the rate of a hundred and eight miles each twenty-four hours.