CHAPTER IV. Narrative of Captain Cook's second Voyage round the World.
Captain Cook and his philosophical friends, while they were traversing this part, of the southern ocean, paid particular attention to the variation of the compass, which they found to be from 27 50' to 30 26' west. Probably the mean of the two extremes, viz. 29 4', was the nearest the truth, as it coincided with the variation observed on board the Adventure. One unaccountable circumstance is worthy of notice, though it did not now occur for the first time. It is, that when the sun was on the starboard of the ship, the variation was the least; and when on the larboard side, the greatest.
On the 8th, our commander, in consequence of no signals having been answered by the Adventure, had reason to apprehend that a separation had taken place. After waiting two days, during which guns were kept discharging, and false fires were burned in the night, the fact was confirmed; so that the Resolution was obliged to proceed alone in her voyage. As she pursued her course, penguins and other birds, from time to time, appeared in great numbers; the meeting with which gave our navigators some hopes of finding land, and occasioned various speculations with regard to its situation. Experience, however, convinced them, that no stress was to be laid on such hopes. They were so often deceived, that they could no longer look upon any of the oceanic birds, which frequent high latitudes, as sure signs of the vicinity of land.
In the morning of the 17th, between midnight and three o'clock, lights were seen in the heavens, similar to those which are known in the northern hemisphere, by the name of the Aurora Borealis. Captain Cook had never heard that an Aurora Australis had been seen before. The officer of the watch observed, that it sometimes broke out in spiral rays, and in a circular form; at which time, its light was very strong, and its appearance beautiful. It was not perceived to have any particular direction. On the contrary, at various times, it was conspicuous in different parts of the heavens, and diffused its light throughout the whole atmosphere.
On the 20th, our navigators imagined that they saw land to the south-west. Their conviction of its real existence was so strong, that they had no doubt of the matter; and accordingly they endeavoured to work up to it, in doing which the weather was favourable to their purpose. However what had been taken for land proved only to be clouds, that in the evening entirely disappeared, and left a clear horizon, in which nothing could be discerned but ice islands. At night the Aurora Australis was again seen, and the appearance it assumed was very brilliant and luminous. It first discovered itself in the east, and in a short time spread over the whole heavens.
In the night of the 23rd, when the ship was in latitude 61 52' south, and longitude 95 2' east, the weather being exceedingly stormy, thick, and hazy, with sleet and snow, our voyagers were on every side surrounded with danger. In such a situation it was natural for them to wish for daylight: but daylight, when it came, served only to increase their apprehensions, by exhibiting those huge mountains of ice to their view, which the darkness had prevented them from seeing. These unfavourable circumstances, at so advanced a season of the year, discouraged Captain Cook from putting into execution a resolution he had formed, of once more crossing the antarctic circle. Accordingly, early in the morning of the 24th, he stood to the north, with a very hard gale, and a very high sea, which made great destruction among the ice islands. But so far was this incident from being of any advantage to our navigators, that it greatly increased the number of pieces they had to avoid. The large pieces, which broke from the ice islands, were found to be much more dangerous than the islands themselves. While the latter rose so high out of the water, that they could generally be seen, unless the weather was very thick and hazy, before our people nearly approached them, the others could not be discerned, in the night, till they were under the ship's bows. These dangers, however, were now become so familiar to the captain and his company, that the apprehensions they caused were never of long duration; and a compensation was, in some degree, made for them, by the seasonable supplies of fresh water, which the ice islands afforded, and by their very romantic appearance. The foaming and dashing of the waves into the curious holes and caverns which were formed in many of them greatly heightened the scene; and the whole exhibited a view, that at once filled the mind with admiration and horror, and could only be described by the hand of an able painter.
In sailing from the 25th to the 28th, the wind was accompanied with a large hollow sea, which rendered Captain Cook certain, that no land, of any considerable extent, could lie within a hundred or a hundred and fifty leagues from east to south-west. Though this was still the summer season in that part of the world, and the weather was become somewhat warmer than it had been before, yet such were the effects of the cold, that a sow having farrowed nine pigs in the morning, all of them, notwithstanding the utmost care to prevent it, were killed before four o'clock in the afternoon. From the same cause, the captain himself and several of his people had their fingers and toes chilblained. For some days afterward, the cold considerably abated; but still it could not be said that there was summer weather, according to our commander's ideas of summer in the northern hemisphere, as far as sixty degrees of latitude, which was nearly as far as he had then been.
As he proceeded on his voyage, from the 28th of February to the 11th of March, he had ample reason to conclude, from the swell of the sea and other circumstances, that there could be no land to the south, but what must lie at a great distance.