CAPTAIN COOK'S PREDECESSORS, I

The vessel upon which Byron embarked was the Wager. It was wrecked in passing through the Straits of Magellan, and the crew being taken prisoners by the Spaniards, were sent to Chili. After a captivity which lasted at least three years, Byron effected his escape, and was rescued by a vessel from St. Malo, which took him to Europe. He returned at once to service, and distinguished himself in various encounters during the war with France. Doubtless it was the recollection of his first voyage round the world, so disastrously interrupted, which procured for him the distinction conferred upon him by the Admiralty.

The vessels entrusted to him were carefully armed. The Dauphin was a sixth-rate man-of-war, and carried 24 guns, 150 sailors, 3 lieutenants, and 37 petty officers. TheTamar was a sloop of 16 guns, and 90 sailors, 3 lieutenants, 27 petty officers, commanded by Captain Mouat.

The start was not fortunate. The expedition left the Downs upon the 21st of June, but the Dauphin grounded before leaving the Thames, and was obliged to put into Plymouth for repairs.

Upon the 3rd of July, anchor was finally weighed, and ten days later, Byron put in at Funchal in the Island of Madeira for refreshments. He was forced to halt again at Cape Verd Islands, to take in water, that with which he was supplied having become rapidly wasted.

Nothing further occurred to interrupt the voyage, until the two English vessels sighted Cape Frio.

Byron remarked a singular fact, since fully verified, that the copper sheathing of his vessels appeared to disperse the fish, which he expected to meet with in large quantities.

The tropical heat, and constant rains, had struck down a large proportion of the crew, hence the urgent need of rest and of fresh victuals which they experienced.

These they hoped to find at Rio de Janeiro, where they arrived on the 12th December. Byron was warmly welcomed by the viceroy, and thus describes his first interview.

"When I made my visit, I was received in the greatest state, about sixty officers were drawn up by the palace. The guard was under arms. They were fine, well-drilled men. His Excellency accompanied by the nobility received me on the staircase. Fifteen salutes from the neighbouring fort honoured my arrival. We then entered the audience-chamber, and after a conversation of a quarter of an hour, I took my leave, and was conducted back with the same ceremonies."

We shall see a little later how slightly the reception given to Captain Cook some years afterwards resembled that just related.

The Commodore obtained ready permission to disembark his sick, and found every facility for revictualling. His sole cause of complaint was the repeated endeavour of the Portuguese to tempt his sailors to desert.

The insupportable heat experienced by the crew shortened their stay at Rio. Upon the 16th of October, anchor was weighed, but it was five days before a land breeze allowed the vessels to gain the open sea.

Up to this moment, the destination of the expedition had been kept secret. Byron now summoned the captain of the Tamar on board, and in the presence of the assembled sailors, read his instructions.

These enjoined him not to proceed to the East Indies, as had been supposed, but to prosecute discoveries, which might prove of great importance to England in the southern seas. With this object the Lords of the Admiralty promised double pay to the crew, with future advancement and enjoyments, if they were pleased with their services. The second part of this short harangue was the most acceptable to the sailors and was received by them with joyous demonstrations.

Until the 29th of October no incident occurred in their passage. Upon that date sudden and violent squalls succeeded each other and culminated in a fearful tempest, the violence of which was so great that the Commodore ordered four guns to be thrown overboard, to avoid foundering. In the morning the weather moderated somewhat, but it was as cold as in England at the same time of year, although in this quarter of the globe the month of November answers to the month of May. As the wind continued to drive the vessel eastward, Byron began to think that he should experience great difficulty in avoiding the east of Patagonia.

Suddenly, upon the 12th of November, although no land was marked on the chart in this position, a repeated cry of "Land! land ahead!" arose. Clouds at this moment obscured almost the entire horizon, and it thundered and lightened without intermission.