CHAPTER III. Account of Captain Cook during the period between his first and second Voyage.
The manner in which Lieutenant Cook had performed his circumnavigation of the globe justly entitled him to the protection of government and the favour of his sovereign. Accordingly, he was promoted to be a commander in his majesty's navy, by commission bearing date on the 29th of August, 1771. Mr. Cook, on this occasion, from a certain consciousness of his own merit, wished to have been appointed a post captain. But the Earl of Sandwich, who was now at the head of the Admiralty board, though he had the greatest regard for our navigator, could not concede to his request, because a compliance with it would have been inconsistent with the order of the naval service. The difference was in point of rank only, and not of advantage. A commander has the same pay as a post captain, and his authority is the same when he is in actual employment. The distinction is a necessary step in the progress to the higher honours of the profession.
It cannot be doubted, but that the president and council of the Royal Society were highly satisfied with the manner in which the transit of Venus had been observed. The papers of Mr. Cook and Mr. Green relative to this subject, were put into the hands of the astronomer royal, to be by him digested, and that he might deduce from them the important consequences to science which resulted from the observation. This was done by him with an accuracy and ability becoming his high knowledge and character. On the 21st of May, 1772, Captain Cook communicated to the Royal Society, in a letter addressed to Dr. Maskelyne, an 'Account of the flowing of the tides in the South Sea, as observed on board his Majesty's Bark, the Endeavour.'
The reputation our navigator had acquired by his late voyage was deservedly great; and the desire of the public, to be acquainted with the new scenes and new objects which were now brought to light, was ardently excited. It is not surprising, therefore, that different attempts were made to satisfy the general curiosity. There soon appeared a publication, entitled, 'A Journal of a voyage round the World.' This was the production of some person who had been upon the expedition; and though his account was dry and imperfect, it served, in a certain degree, to relieve the eagerness of inquiry. The journal of Sidney Parkinson, draftsman to Sir Joseph Banks, to whom it belonged by ample purchase, was likewise printed, from a copy surreptitiously obtained; but an injunction from the Court of Chancery for some time prevented its appearance. This work, though dishonestly given to the world, was recommended by plates. But it was Dr. Hawkesworth's account of Lieutenant Cook's voyage which completely gratified the public curiosity. This account, which was written by authority, was drawn up from the journal of the lieutenant, and the papers of Sir Joseph Banks; and, besides the merit of the composition, derived an extraordinary advantage from the number and excellence of its charts and engravings, which were furnished at the expense of government. The large price given by the booksellers for this work, and the avidity with which it was read, displayed, in the strongest light, the anxiety of the nation to be fully informed in every thing that belonged to the late navigation and discoveries.
Captain Cook, during his voyage, had sailed over the Pacific Ocean in many of those latitudes, in which a southern continent had been expected to lie. He had ascertained, that neither New Zealand nor New Holland were parts of such a continent. But the general question concerning its existence had not been determined by him, nor did he go out for that purpose, though some of the reasons on which the notion of it had been adopted were dispelled in the course of his navigation. It is well known how fondly the idea of a Terra Australis incognita had for nearly two centuries been entertained. Many plausible philosophical arguments have been urged in its support, and many facts alleged in its favour. The writer of this narrative fully remembers how much his imagination was captivated, in the more early part of his life, with the hypothesis of a southern continent. He has often dwelt upon it with rapture, and been highly delighted with the authors who contended for its existence, and displayed the mighty consequences which would result from its being discovered. Though his knowledge was infinitely exceeded by that of some able men who paid a particular attention to the subject, he did not come behind them in the sanguineness of his hopes and expectation. Every thing, however, which relates to science must be separated from fancy, and brought to the test of experiment: and here was an experiment richly deserving to be tried. The object, indeed, was of peculiar magnitude, and worthy to be pursued by a great prince, and a great nation.