James Cook was enabled to make some curious observations upon the savage inhabitants of those desolate regions. Destitute of the necessaries of life, without clothes, without efficient shelter from the almost perpetual severity of this glacial latitude, unarmed, and unlearned in any industrial art which would enable them to construct the more necessary utensils, they passed a miserable life, and could only exist with difficulty. In spite of these facts, of all the articles offered in exchange they invariably chose the least useful. They joyfully accepted bracelets and necklaces, and rejected hatchets, knives, and fish-hooks. Careless of what we consider valuables, our superfluities were their necessaries.

Cook had reason to congratulate himself upon the selection of this route. He took thirty days to double Tierra del Fuego, from the date of his entrance into the Straits of Lemaire to his arrival, three degrees north of Magellan. No doubt a much longer time would have been needed, if he had followed the winding course of the Strait of Magellan. His very exact astronomical observations, in which Green joined him, and the directions he gave for this dangerous navigation, smoothed the difficulties of his successors, and rectified the charts of L'Hermite, Lemaire, and Schouten.

Captain James Cook
Captain James Cook.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

Cook noticed no current of any importance from the 21st January, the day upon which he doubled Cape Horn, to the 1st of March, in a distance of one hundred and sixty leagues of sea. He discovered a good many islands in the Dangerous Archipelago, which he respectively named, Lagoon, Arch, Groups, Birds, and Chain Islands. The greater number were inhabited and were covered with vegetation, which to sailors who for three months had seen only sea and sky, and the frozen rocks of Tierra del Fuego, appeared luxuriant. Soon they found Martea Island, which Wallis had named Osnaburgh, and on the next day, 11th of June, the island of Tahiti was reached.

Two days later, the Endeavour cast anchor in Port Matavai, called Port Royal by Wallis, and where that captain had had a struggle with the natives, over whom, however, he had triumphed without much difficulty. Cook, aware of the incidents of his predecessor's stay in this port, wished above all to avoid similar scenes. Moreover, it was essential to the success of his observations that no interruption or distraction should occur. His first care was to read out standing orders to his crew, which they were forbidden under heavy penalties to infringe. He first declared that he intended in every possible way to cultivate friendly relations with the natives, then he selected those who were to buy the needed provisions, and forbade all others to attempt any sort of traffic without special permission. Finally, the men who landed were on no pretext to leave their posts, and if any soldier or workman parted with his arms or implements, not only would the price be deducted from his wages, but he would be punished in proportion to the exigency of the case.

In addition to this, to guard the observers from attack, Cook decided on constructing a sort of fort, in which they might be sheltered within gun range of the Endeavour. He then landed with Messrs. Banks, Solander, and Green, soon found a favourable spot, and in presence of the natives immediately traced out the extent of land he intended to occupy. One of them, named Owhaw, who had had friendly intercourse with Wallis, was particularly profuse in his protestations of friendship.

As soon as the plan of the fort was fixed, Cook left thirteen men and an officer in charge of the tents, and accompanied his associates into the interior of the island. But he was speedily recalled by the sound of firing.

A very painful incident, the consequences of which might have been serious, had occasioned this.

One of the natives had surprised a sentinel near the tents, and had possessed himself of his gun. A general discharge was immediately directed upon the inoffensive crowd, but fortunately no one was injured. The robber meantime was pursued and killed.

A great commotion ensued, and Cook was profuse in his protestations, to pacify the natives. He promised payment for all that he required for the construction of his fort, and would not allow a tree to be felled without their sanction. Finally, he had the butcher of the Endeavour mast-headed and flogged, for threatening the wife of one of the chiefs with death.

This proceeding effaced the recollection of the painful antecedents, and with the exception of some thieving by the natives, the friendly relations remained undisturbed.

And now the moment for the execution of the primary object of the voyage approached. Cook accordingly took steps for putting the instructions he had received into effect. With this view, he despatched observers with Sir Joseph Banks to Eimeo, one of the neighbouring isles.

Four others proceeded to a favourable distance from the fort, where Cook himself proposed to await the transit of the planet. Hence the point of observation was called Point Venus.

The night preceding the observation passed with many fears of unfavourable weather, but on the 3rd of June, the sun rose in all its glory, and not a cloud troubled the observers throughout the day.