Monday, 6 June 2011

Cook, Hawkesworth and Wheelbarrows, 1775

The most Striking Likeness of the late Captain James Cook.
From A new, genuine and complete history of the whole of Capt. Cook's Voyages.
London 1790.

James Cook’s first voyage between 1768 and 1771 was a collaboration between the British Admiralty and The Royal Society to send an expedition to the South Pacific aboard the renamed and refitted ex-Whitby Collier HMS Endeavour.  The aims of the expedition were to observe the 1769 Transit of Venus across the sun and, given sealed and secret orders so that Cook did not know his ultimate objective until well into the voyage, to seek evidence of the postulated Terra Australis Incognito or “unknown Southern land”.  Sailing with Cook were the naturalist Daniel Solander and the wealthy amateur botanist and Fellow of the Royal Society Joseph Banks.  The three year voyage achieved much, the identification of Botany Bay, (first named Stingray Bay, later Botanists' Harbour and Botanists’ Bay, and finally Botany Bay in his journal, probably to honour the botanists aboard), taking possession of the east coast of Australia, mapping the coasts of New Zealand and defining the shape of the southern hemisphere. Returning home to England Endeavour stopped, from the 1st to 4th May 1771, at St. Helena.

On the 12th July 1771 Cook wrote to the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Navy from Endeavour in the Downs formally passing the records of the voyage, in seven parcels of documents, to the Commissioners.  These included the monthly muster books, reports of surveys and the public papers of five men who died on the voyage.  Log books and other papers from the voyage had been given to HMS Portland off Ascension on May 10th and had arrived in England three days before Endeavour.

The Admiralty at this time did not publish official accounts of the expeditions it financed, relying on the private sector to do so.  Following a process that relied upon a mix of author capabilities and political patronage, the Admiralty would select a writer who would then take the logs and journals from the voyage and work them into a coherent narrative of the voyages being published.  The selected author, as copyright holder, was then free to arrange whatever deal was possible with printers and booksellers.

Dr. John Hawkesworth, c. 1715 - 1733,  from The British Essayists, London, 1802

In September 1771, the British Admiralty chose John Hawkesworth to compile the official account of Cook’s first voyage and provided him with his logs and journals.  The plan was to include accounts of the voyages of Byron, Wallis and Carteret in a single volume and that of Cook in a second which, in fact, became two.  Hawkesworth was a literary critic, essayist, editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, associate of Samuel Johnson and man about town in 18th century London.  Although he was by no means a literary giant, Hawkesworth had, according to biographer John Abbott, “a gift for understanding the public taste and writing for it.”  Free to secure the best publishing arrangement he could, Hawkesworth sold the rights to William Strahan and Thomas Cadell for the, then, enormous sum of £6,000, the highest amount paid for a copyright in the 18th century plus twenty-five sets of the final published work.

However such was the interest in Cook’s expedition that in September 1771, within two months of his return, a “Journal of a Voyage round the World in His Majesty’s Ship Endeavour, in the years 1769, 1769, 1770 and 1771” was published anonymously in London.  Usually attributed to James Magra or Matra, an American midshipman on the Endeavour the first edition contained a dedication to the Lords of the Admiralty and to Mr. Banks and Dr Solander.  Following complaints by the latter two this dedication was withdrawn and the Admiralty placed advertisements in the papers cautioning the public against spurious accounts of the voyage.

To read the “official” version the public had to wait until June 9th 1773 when the first edition of 2,000 sets of the three volumes of “An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of His present Majesty for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere” was published.  Selling out very quickly a second edition of 2,500 sets was issued on August 3rd and the work became so popular that in 1774 German, French, and Dutch translations were published.

However eagerly anticipated by the public widespread criticism in the press made the publication a personal disaster for Hawkesworth.  Reviewers complained that the reader had no way of telling which part of the account was Cook’s, which Banks’ and which Hawkesworth’s.  Others objected to Hawkesworth’s minimizing the role of Providence in Cook’s avoidance of several disasters and others were offended by the books’ descriptions of sexual encounters with the Tahitians.

In November of that year he was dead, The Edinburgh Magazine recording:

“...his mind was wounded deeper than he was willing to confess, by the clamours and censures to which his work had exposed him.  His spirits sunk under the blow.  Bodily illness was added to passionate, desponding affliction of mind.  He had disdained to be thought the imitator even of Johnson; and he now saw his labour reprobated as the disgrace of his country.  His life terminated on the 16th of November 1773 and we are not certain that this good man, did not, such is human frailty, actually perish by his own hand.

Cook would not have been aware of the furore nor of Hawkesworth’s death having departed Plymouth in HMS Resolution, July 13th 1772, on his second voyage during which, in addition to testing Larcum Kendall’s 1769 K1 copy of Harrison’s H4 Chronometer, his was the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle, he sailed further south than any previous mariner (71°10′ S) and also discovered South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Homeward bound he arrived in Cape Town on March 22nd 1775 and saw, for the first time, a copy of “Voyages”.  Hawkesworth had, as we know, written in the first person in Cook’s name with much of Banks’ journal appearing to be by Cook which was to prove particularly embarrassing on his arrival at Jamestown in May.  He had also altered or omitted from the original text, shifted paragraphs and added thoughts of his own.  Cook was particularly unhappy that most of the navigational detail had been removed, making the journal practically useless for other mariners.  He later wrote: “It is no wonder that the account which is given of (St. Helena) in the narrative of my former voyage should have given offence to all the principle inhabitants.  It was not less mortifying to me when I first read it, which was not till I arrived now at the Cape of Good Hope; for I never had the perusal of the Manuscript nor did I ever hear the whole of it read in the mode it was written, notwithstanding what Dr Hawkesworth has said to the Contrary in the Interduction.  How these things came to be thus misrepresented, I can not say, as they came not from me".

The primary cause of his embarrassment was the following passage. (Hawkesworth, 1773 Vol. III, page 797)

Hawkesworth had taken this from Banks’ original journal, now in the State Library of New South Wales.

All kinds of Labour is here performd by Man, indeed he is the only animal that works except a few Saddle Horses nor has he the least assistance of art to enable him to perform his task.  Supposing the Roads to be too steep and narrow for Carts, an objection which lies against only one part of the Island, yet the simple contrivance of Wheelbarrows would Doub[t]less be far preferable to carrying burthens upon the head, and yet even that expedient was never tried.  Their slaves indeed are very numerous: they have them from most parts of the World, but they appeard to me a miserable race worn out almost with the severity of the punishments of which they frequently complaind.  I am sorry to say that it appeard to me that far more frequent and more wanton Cruelty were excercisd by my countrey men over these unfortunate people than even their neighbours the Dutch, fam'd for inhumanity, are guilty of.  One rule however they strictly observe which is never to Punish when ships are there.

Banks was to have participated in the second voyage but withdrew at the last minute after the alterations he had demanded to be made to Endeavour rendered the ship unstable and had to be dismantled.  Johann Forster was appointed to fill the vacant position and his son Georg was appointed as a draughtsman to his father.   Though the expedition was rich in scientific results the relationship between the Forsters and Cook and his officers was often problematic, due to the elder Forster's fractious temperament.  After his experience with the Forsters Cook refused to take scientists on his third journey.

Parts of the notes below have been adapted from Richard Aulie’s 1999 papers on “The Voyages of Captain Cook” accessible at and “The Three Voyages of Captain Cook” Vol. I.

Arriving off Jamestown on the 15th May his second visit to St. Helena, departing on the 21st May, was as brief as his 1771 visit had been, but this time he spent several days ashore: "I received a very pressing invitation, both from "Governor Skottowe and his Lady to take up my aboad with them during my stay". John Skottowe, Governor from 1764 to 1782, was a son of Thomas Skottowe, on whose farm at Great Ayton Cook had spent his early years.  Cook took up the offer of "the use of a Horse to ride out whenever I thought proper", which he did every day.  His journal entries were long and glowing about the countryside, the industriousness of the men, and the women, who he described as “celebrated beauties, possessed of "an easy and genteel deportment and bloom of Colour."

On disembarking at Jamestown Cook soon found that the inhabitants of St. Helena Island were not altogether happy with him.  The Hawkesworth edition of the Endeavour voyage had already arrived and naturally the section on St. Helena was looked at first, with a good deal of interest, and “his” comments on wheelbarrows and the treatment of slaves were not to anyone's approval.  The English ladies lost no time in pointing out that they really knew the wheel and Cook was mortified.  His hostesses were good-natured, but all the same an ocean storm was easier to face than their badinage.  George Forster enjoyed Cook’s discomfiture and Mrs. John Skottowe, the St. Helena born, wife of the Governor, displayed her talents at pleasant raillery from which the sea captain had no escape except to blame the "absent philosophers" who had not consulted him.  Although his explanation was sufficient and the hospitality cordial, Forster noted that "there are many wheelbarrows and several carts on the island, some of which seemed to be studiously placed before Captain Cook's lodgings every day".

How the slaves were treated was far more serious a question than whether wheelbarrows were used and the English settlers were upset by the published charge of cruelty which in Banks’ journal, above, was plain enough.  Quite likely Cook had forgotten Banks' outrage, otherwise he would not have been surprised to find that the English settlers were offended because Hawkesworth had tarnished their reputation.

“In order... to gain some knowlidge of” St Helena, Cook “took a ride into the Country in company with Mr Stuart [a passenger on the Dutton] and Mr George Forster... I was agreeably surprised with the prospect of a Country finely diversified with hill and vally, Wood and Lawn and all laid out in inclosures." “I visited a small Garden the Governor has in Town.  In the afternoon paid a visit to Capt Tippet Chief Engineer of the Isle & Commander of the Artillery".

Two days later Cook wrote "the two Mr Forsters and myself dined with a party at the Country house of one Mr Masons, at a remote part of the island, which gave me an oppertunity to see the greatest part of it, and I am well convinced that the island in many particulars has been misrepresented.  He also tramped and on his ride into the country observed the slaves repairing the roads and tending the pastures, and asking them how they were getting on.  Not unexpectedly they told him what their masters wished him to hear.

Some fourteen hundred slaves did the bidding of the four hundred or so of the "Principal Inhabitants," who no doubt were relieved to find how easily Cook dismissed the charge of cruelty.  He had no wish to stir up trouble for his compatriots, and his statement that "there is not a European settlement in the world where slaves are better treated and better fed than here" might have been technically correct.  As compared with Banks, however, he was more than a little disingenuous, especially because he observed, with typical perspicacity, that the slaves "subsist chiefly on Yams, Rice and Fish" even while the island teemed with 2,500 cattle, 3,000 sheep, besides hogs, poultry, and goats--animals rarely of benefit to the slaves, as he noticed, but rather reserved for the settlers and the company ships.  Although the English were obviously industrious, Cook could see that they really should be setting aside more land for fresh vegetables, "articles that are always wanting to Shipping”.
Arrival at St. Helena also confirmed the utility of Kendall’s K1 watch.  On both voyages Cook had approached St. Helena from the Cape of Good Hope.  Using the lunar distance method on his first voyage he followed the common practice of aiming for a point well to the east and then, when the island's latitude was reached, latitude being easy to find, steered west until land was sighted.  On the second voyage "depending on the goodness of Mr Kendals Watch, I resolved to try to make the island by a direct course, it did not deceive us".  The passage was made in company with an East Indiaman, and one incident was recorded by John Elliott, able seaman: "The day before we saw St Helena, the Dutton spoke us, and said they were afraid that we should miss the Island, but Capt Cook laugh'd at them, and told them that he would run their jibboom on the Island if they choose".  Cook’s log is full of praise for the watch and the charts of the southern Pacific Ocean he made with its use are remarkably accurate.

The K1 watch was also taken by Cook on his third and final voyage in 1776 and, in 1788, went with Captain Arthur Phillip on the "First Fleet" voyage that began the British colonisation of Australia.
Kendall's K1 Watch, now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

He also noted the changes since his previous visit.  “Within these three years a new church has been built; some other new buildings were in hand; a commodious landing-place for boats has been made; and several other improvements, which add both strength and beauty to the place”.

During his stay the necessary repairs which had not been made at the Cape were carried out, all the empty water casks were filled and the crew were served with fresh beef, purchased at five-pence per pound.  “Their beef is exceedingly good, and is the only refreshment to be had worth mentioning.”

Stamps issued in 1995 to Commemorate Cook's Second Visit*

Leaving St. Helena on 21st May Cook disembarked at Portsmouth the 30th July 1771 and travelled to London.  Unlike his reception four years earlier, Cook was welcomed as a hero by the general population, as well as by the Admiralty.  A notable absentee, though, was Joseph Banks, who stayed away for a month, probably embarrassed at his behaviour prior to the voyage in 1772.  When the two men eventually met, all was forgotten and their good friendship resumed.

Not wishing to have the account of his second voyage ghost-written, though by this time Hawkesworth had been dead for three years, the Admiralty allowed Cook to publish, and receive all proceeds from the journal of his second voyage, which he duly did with the editorial assistance of Dr John Douglas, Canon of Windsor.  Cook was happy with the collaboration, later writing to Douglas that ‘I shall always have a due sence of the favors you have done.’

In the year before its publication Cook commented, "It will want those flourishes which Dr. Hawkesworth gave the other, but it will be illustrated and ornamented with about sixty copper plates, which, I am of opinion, will exceed everything that has been done in a work of this kind . . . As to the journal, it must speak for itself. I can only say that it is my own narrative, and as it was written during the voyage."

In the published narrative of this second voyage, Cook was determined to prevent the kind of editorial license that John Hawkesworth had enjoyed with his first. Despite the literary limitations acknowledged here, he assumed full authorial control:

“I shall therefore conclude this introductory discourse with desiring the reader to excuse the inaccuracies of style, which doubtless he will frequently meet with in the following narrative; and that, when such occur, he will recollect that it is the production of a man, who has not had the advantage of much school education, but who has been constantly at sea from his youth; and though, with the assistance of a few good friends, he has passed through all the stations belonging to a seaman, from an apprentice boy in the coal trade, to a Post Captain in the Royal Navy, he has had no opportunity of cultivating letters.  After this account of myself, the Public must not expect from me the elegance of a fine writer, or the plausibility of a professed book-maker; but will, I hope, consider me as a plain man, zealously exerting himself in the service of his Country, and determining to give the best account he is able of his proceedings”. He also added a footnote near the conclusion:
“In the account given of St. Helena, in the narrative of my former voyage, I find some mistakes. Its inhabitants are far from exercising a wanton cruelty over their slaves; and they have had wheel carriages and porters' knots for many years.  This note I insert with pleasure.”

In 1777 “A Voyage towards the South Pole and round the world, performed in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 was published in two volumes and contained sixty-three engravings, including portraits, maps, charts, and views.   Its immediate popularity exceeded even that of Hawkesworth's account of the first voyage.  Four English editions were published in 1777 and four additional editions in English were printed between 1778 and 1784.  Translations were also published in Dutch, French, Italian, German, Swedish, and Russian by the end of the eighteenth century.

* So far as I am aware no stamps have been issued depicting wheelbarrows.

Other sources of information used:

No comments: