Captain Cook's Journal During His First Voyage Round the World/Preface

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STRANGE it must appear that the account of perhaps the most celebrated and, certainly to the English nation, the most momentous voyage of discovery that has ever taken place—for it practically gave birth to the great Australasian Colonies—has never before been given to the world in the very words of its great leader. It has fallen out in this wise.

After the return of the Endeavour it was decided that a full and comprehensive account of the voyage should be compiled. Cook's Journal dealt with matters from the point of view of the seaman, the explorer, and the head of the expedition, responsible for life, and for its general success. The Journals of Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander looked from the scientific side on all that presented itself to their enthusiastic observation.

What could be better than to combine these accounts, and make up a complete narrative from them all?

The result, however, according to our nineteenth-century ideas, was not altogether happy. Dr. Hawkesworth, into whose hands the Journals were put, not only interspersed reflections of his own, but managed to impose his own ponderous style upon many of the extracts from the united Journals; and, moreover, as they are all jumbled together, the whole being put into Cook's mouth, it is impossible to know whether we are reading Cook, Banks, Solander, or Hawkesworth himself.

The readers of the day were not, however, critical. Hawkesworth's book,[1] which undoubtedly contains all the most generally interesting passages of the three writers, gave a clear description of the events of the voyage in a connected manner, and was accepted as sufficient; and in the excitement of devouring the pages which introduced so many new lands and peoples, probably few wished for more, and the Journals were put away as dealt with.

Since that time it has been on several occasions in contemplation to publish Mr.—after Sir Joseph—Banks' Journal; but this has never been accomplished.

Cook's Journal was in triplicate. The Admiralty Orders of the day enjoined that the captain should keep a journal of proceedings, a copy of which was to be forwarded to the Admiralty every six months, or as soon after as possible. In the case of this voyage the ship was two and a half years from England before any opportunity of sending this copy occurred. The ship was the whole of this time in new and savage lands. When Batavia was reached the duplicate of Cook's Journal was sent home, and six months later, when the ship arrived in England, the full Journal of the voyage was deposited at the Admiralty.

The Secretary of the Admiralty, Sir Philip Stephens, a personal friend and appreciator of Cook, appears to have appropriated the Batavia duplicate, as we find it in the hands of his descendants, and passing thence by sale, first to Mr. Cosens in 1868, and then in 1890 to Mr. John Corner.

The other and complete copy is still in possession of the Admiralty, though in some unexplained manner it was absent for some years, and was only recovered by the exertions of Mr. W. Blakeney, R.N.

A third copy of the Journal also terminates a few days before reaching Batavia. It is in the possession of Her Majesty the Queen, and from its appearance was kept for, and probably presented to, George III, who took great interest in the voyage.

Neither private possessors nor the Admiralty have felt moved to publish this interesting document until Mr. Corner acquired his copy, when, being an enthusiastic admirer of Captain Cook, he determined to do so, and was making preliminary arrangements, when he suddenly died, after a few hours' illness. His son, anxious to carry out his father's wishes, which included the devotion of any proceeds to the restoration of Hinderwell Church—the parish church of Staithes, whence Cook ran away to sea—has completed these arrangements, and the present volume is the result.

The text is taken from Mr. Corner's copy so far as it goes, paragraphs from the Admiralty copy, which do not appear in the former, being added, with a notation of their source.

The last portion, from October 23rd, 1770, which is only given in the Admiralty copy, is necessarily taken from it.

The three copies are, practically, identical, except for the period August 13th to 19th, 1770, during which the wording is often different, though the events are the same.

It is not very difficult to account for this.

The two first-mentioned Journals are in the handwriting of an amanuensis, Mr. Orton, the clerk. No autograph journal is, so far as is known, in existence, but some rough original must have been kept, as both copies bear internal evidence of having been written up after the lapse of an interval after the events described.

This is markedly the case in the Australian part of the Journal.

It is known that Botany Bay was at first called by Cook, Stingray Bay, on account of the number of rays caught there; but after Banks had examined his collection, and found all his plants new to science, Cook determined to call it Botany Bay. It is, however, called Botany Bay from the first in the Journals.

The name, "New South Wales," was not bestowed without much consideration, and apparently at one stage New Wales was the appellation fixed upon, for in Mr. Corner's copy it is so called throughout, whereas the Admiralty copy has "New South Wales."

It would therefore seem that about the period of the discrepant accounts Mr. Corner's copy was first made, and that Cook, in the Admiralty copy, which for this part is fuller, revised the wording of his description of this very critical portion of the voyage.

The Queen's Copy has been written with especial care, and by several different hands. It was evidently the last in point of time.

In reading Cook's Journal of his First Voyage it must be remembered that it was not prepared for publication. Though no doubt the fair copies we possess were revised with the care that characterises the man, and which is evidenced by the interlineations and corrections in his own hand with which the pages are dotted, it may be supposed, from the example we have in the published account of his Second Voyage, which was edited by himself, that further alterations and additions would have been made, to make the story more complete, had he contemplated its being printed.

This does not, however, in any way detract from the interest of a transcript of his record on the spot; and though many circumstances recorded in Hawkesworth, from Banks or others, will not be found, it is probable that an exact copy of the great navigator's own impressions, and the disentanglement of them from the other interpolated matter, will be welcome.

In printing this Journal the only alterations that have been made are the breaking-up into chapters, with modern headings; the addition of punctuation; and in the form of the insertion of the daily record of wind, weather, and position of the ship. These in the original are on the left hand page in log form. To save space they have been placed at the end of every day's transactions.

The eccentricities in the spelling have been preserved. A good many of these would seem to be due to Mr. Orton, the transcriber, as Cook's own letters are generally correct in their orthography. The use of the capital letter was usual at the time.

References will be found to sketches and plans which have not been reproduced.

Cook's knack of finding names for localities was peculiarly happy. Those who have had to do this, know the difficulty. Wherever he was able to ascertain the native name, he adopts it; but in the many cases where this was impossible, he manages to find a descriptive and distinctive appellation for each point, bay, or island.

He seems to have kept these names very much to himself, as it is seldom the officers' logs know anything of them; and original plans, still in existence, in many cases bear different names to those finally pitched upon.

Cook's names have rarely been altered, and New Zealand and Australian places will probably for all time bear those which he bestowed.

In the orthography of his native names he was not so successful. The constant addition of a redundant "o" has altered many native sounds, such as Otaheite for Tahiti, Ohwhyhee for Hawaii; while his spelling generally has been superseded by more simple forms. This is a matter, however, in which great difficulties are found to the present day by Englishmen, whose language presents no certain laws for rendering any given sound into a fixed combination of letters.

Cook's language is unvarnished and plain, as a sailor's should be. His incidents, though often related with circumstance, are without exaggeration; indeed if any fault is to be found, it is that he takes occurrences involving much labour and hardship as such matters of course, that it is not easy for the reader, especially if he be a landsman, to realise what they really entail.

Cook was assiduous in obtaining observations to ascertain the Variation of the compass—i.e., the difference between the direction shown by the magnetic needle and the true north. He is constantly puzzled by the discrepancies in these observations made at short intervals. These arose from the different positions of the ship's head, whereby the iron within a certain distance of the compass is placed in different positions as regards the needle working the compass card, the result being that the needle is attracted from its correct direction in varying degree. This is known as the Deviation of the compass. The cause of this, and of the laws which govern it, were only discovered by Captain Flinders in 1805. Happily for the navigators of those days, little iron entered into the construction of ships, and the amount of the Deviation was not large, though enough to cause continual disquiet and wonderment.

Cook's longitudes in this voyage are all given as west of Greenwich, not divided into east and west, as is usual at this day. The latter system again has only been adopted universally since his time.

Though Cook himself gives, at the beginning of the Journal, a note of the method of reckoning days adopted, it may not be amiss to give further explanation here.

It was the usual custom on board ships to keep what was known as Ship time—i.e., the day began at noon before the civil reckoning, in which the day commences at midnight. Thus, while January 1st, as ordinarily reckoned, is from midnight to midnight, in ship time it began at noon on December 31st and ended at noon January 1st, this period being called January 1st. Hence the peculiarity all through the Journal of the p.m. coming before the a.m. It results that any events recorded as occurring in the p.m. of January 1st in the log, would, if translated into the ordinary system, be given as happening in the p.m. of December 31st; while occurrences in the a.m. of January 1st would be equally in the a.m. of January 1st in both systems.

This puzzling mode of keeping the day at sea continued to a late period, and was common to seamen of all nations.

The astronomical day, again, begins at noon after the midnight at which the civil day begins, and hence is a whole day later than the ship's day. This does not enter into Cook's Journal, but one of the logs of the Endeavour, extant, that of Mr. Green the astronomer, was kept in this time, and the events of say Thursday, June 24th, of Cook's Journal, are therein given as happening on Wednesday, June 23rd. These differences of reckoning have been a fertile source of confusion in dates in many voyages.

Besides Cook's Journals there are other Journals and Logs of the voyage extant. Perhaps it may be necessary to state that a Log is the official document in which the progress of the ship from hour to hour is recorded, with such official notes as the alteration in sail carried, expenditure of provisions and stores, etc. A Journal contains this information in a condensed form, with such observations as the officer keeping it may feel inclined to insert.

The ship's Log Book of the Endeavour is in the British Museum. Mr. R.M. Hudson of Sunderland possesses Cook's own log, not autograph however, presented by Cook to Sir Hugh Palliser, the ancestor of his wife.

The Journals of all the officers of the Endeavour are preserved at the Public Record Office. There is, however, nothing to be got out of them, as they are mainly copies one of the other, founded on the ship's log.

The portion of Mr. Molineux's, the Master's, Log that exists (at the Admiralty) is a most beautifully kept and written document, enriched with charts and sketches that attest the accuracy of Cook's remark, that he was a "young man of good parts."

The log kept by Mr. Green, however, does contain a few original remarks, some of which have been made use of. This book contains a mass of astronomical observations, and witnesses to the zeal of this gentleman in his especial duty.

He records in one place, when far away from land, his disgust that the officers were unwilling to aid him in lunar observations. No doubt they saw no particular use in them when there was no coast to fix; but there is ample proof that he received every aid when Cook thought it necessary.

Sufficient charts have been placed in this book to enable the reader to follow the more interesting parts of the voyage; some being reproductions of Cook's own charts, others modern publications. In the case of the coast of East Australia, the coast-line as laid down by Cook, and as now known, are given side by side for comparison.

It must be understood, that although this book is styled Capitain Cook's Journal, he was on this voyage only a Lieutenant in Command, and therefore only Captain by courtesy.


Florys, Wimbledon Park,
April 7th, 1893.

  1. "Hawkesworth's Voyages" 3 vols, 4to., 1773.