CHAPTER II. Narrative of Captain Cook's first voyage round the world.
On the 23rd, the wind had come round the south-west; and though it was but a gentle breeze, yet it was accompanied by a swell from the same quarter, which, in conjunction with other circumstances, confirmed Mr. Cook in his opinion, that he had arrived to the northern extremity of New Holland, and that he had now an open sea to the westward. These circumstances afforded him peculiar satisfaction, not only because the dangers and fatigues of the voyage were drawing to a conclusion, but because it could no longer be doubted whether New Holland and New Guinea were two separate islands. The north-east entrance of the strait lies in the latitude of 10 39' south, and in the longitude of 218 36' west; and the passage is formed by the main land, and by a congeries of islands, the north-west, called by the lieutenant the Prince of Wales's Islands, and which may probably extend as far as to New Guinea. Their difference is very great, both in height and circuit, and many seemed to be well covered with herbage and wood: nor was there any doubt of their being inhabited. Our commander was persuaded, that among these islands as good passages might be found, as that through which the vessel came, and the access to which might be less perilous. The determination of this matter he would not have left to future navigators, if he had been less harassed by danger and fatigue and had possessed a ship in better condition for the purpose. To the channel through which he passed, he gave the name of Endeavour Straits.
New Holland, or, as the eastern part of it was called by Lieutenant Cook, New South Wales, is the largest country in the known world, which does not bear the name of a continent. The length of coast along which our people sailed, when reduced to a strait line, was no less than twenty-seven degrees of latitude, amounting nearly to two thousand miles. In fact the square surface of the island is much more than equal to the whole of Europe. We may observe, with regard to the natives, that their number bears no proportion to the extent of their territory. So many as thirty of them had never been seen together but once, and that was at Botany Bay. Even when they appeared determined to engage the English, they could not muster above fourteen or fifteen fighting men: and it was manifest, that their sheds and houses did not lie so close together, as to be capable of accommodating a larger party. Indeed our navigators saw only the sea-coast on the eastern side; between which and the western shore there is an immense track of land, that is wholly unexplored. But it is evident, from the totally uncultivated state of the country which was seen by our people, that this immense tract must either be altogether desolate, or at least more thinly inhabited than the parts which were visited. Of traffic, the natives had no idea, nor could any be communicated to them. The things which were given them they received, but did not appear to understand the signs of the English requiring a return. There was no reason to believe that they eat animal food raw. As they have no vessel in which water can be boiled, they either broil their meat upon the coals, or bake in a hole by the help of hot stones, agreeably to the custom of the inhabitants of the South Sea islands. Fire is produced by them with great facility, and they spread it in a surprising manner. For producing it, they take two pieces of soft wood, one of which is a stick about eight or nine inches long, while the other piece is flat. The stick they shape into an obtuse point at one end, and pressing it upon the flat wood, turn it nimbly by holding it between both their hands. In doing this, they often shift their hands up, and then move them down, with a view of increasing the pressure as much as possible. By this process they obtain fire in less than two minutes, and from the smallest spark they carry it to any height or extent with great speed and dexterity.
It was not possible, considering the limited intercourse which our navigators had with the natives of New South Wales that much could be learned with regard to their language. Nevertheless, as this is an object of no small curiosity to the learned, and is indeed of peculiar importance in searching into the origin of the various nations that have been discovered, Mr. Cook and his friends took some pains to collect such a specimen of it as might, in a certain degree, answer the purpose. Our commander did not quit the country without making such observations, relative to the currents and tides upon the coast, as, while they increase the general knowledge of navigation, may be of service to future voyagers. The irregularity of the tides is an object worthy of notice.
From the coast of New South Wales, the lieutenant steered on the 23rd of August, for the coast of New Guinea, and on the 25th, fell upon a dangerous shoal. The ship was in six fathom, but scarcely two were found, upon sounding round her, at the distance of half a cable's length. This shoal was of such an extent, reaching from the east round by the north and west to the south-west, that there was no method for the vessel to get clear of it, but by her going back the way in which she came. Here was another hair's breadth escape; for it was nearly high water, and there ran a short cockling sea, which if the ship had struck, must very soon have bulged her. So dangerous was her situation, that, if her direction had been half a cable's length more, either to the right or left, she must have struck before the signal for the shoal could have been made.