CHAPTER VI. Narrative of Captain Cook's Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, to the Period of his Death.
As our voyagers, on the 24th, were steering to the eastward, a fog clearing up a little, which had involved them for some time, and which had rendered their navigation both tedious and dangerous, land was seen, bearing south-south-east. Upon a nearer approach, it was found to be an island of considerable height, and about three leagues in circuit. Another island, of the same magnitude, was soon after discovered, and in a short space a third, besides some smaller ones. At times, as the fog broke away, there was the appearance of land over the small islands, and Captain Cook entertained thoughts of steering for it, by running in between them. But, on drawing nearer, he found that, so long as the weather continued foggy this would be a perilous attempt. For if there should be no passage, or if our people should meet with any sudden danger, there was such a prodigious sea, breaking on all the shores in a frightful surf, that it would have been impossible for the vessels to be gotten off. At the same time, the captain saw another island; and as he did not know how many more might succeed, he judged it prudent, in order to avoid getting entangled among unknown lands in a thick fog, to wait for clearer weather.
The island last mentioned is a high round rock, which was named Bligh's Cap. Our commander had received some very slight information concerning it at Teneriffe, and his sagacity in tracing it was such, as immediately led him to determine, that it was the same that M. de Kerguelen had called the Isle of Rendezvous. His reason for giving it that name is not very apparent; for nothing can rendezvous upon it but fowls of the air, it being certainly inaccessible to every other animal. The weather beginning to clear up, Captain Cook steered in for the land, of which a faint view had been obtained in the morning. This was Kerguelen's land. No sooner had our navigators gotten off Cape Francois, then they observed the coast to the southward, to be much indented by projecting points and bays; from which circumstance they were sure of finding a good harbour. Accordingly, such a harbour was speedily discovered, in which the ships came to an anchor on the 25th, being Christmas-day. Upon landing, our commander found the shore almost entirely covered with penguins and other birds, and with seals. The latter, which were not numerous, having been unaccustomed to visitors, were so insensible of fear, that as many as were wanted for the purpose of making use of their fat or blubber, were killed without difficulty. Fresh water was so plentiful, that every gully afforded a large stream; but not a single tree or shrub, or the least sign of it, could be met with, and but very little herbage of any sort. Before Captain Cook returned to his ship, he ascended the first ridge of rocks, that rise in a kind of amphitheatre, above one another, in hopes of obtaining a view of the country; in which, however, he was disappointed: for, previously to his reaching the top, there came on so thick a fog, that he could scarcely find his way down again. In the evening, the seine was hauled at the head of the harbour, but only half a dozen small fish were caught. As no better success attended a trial which was made the next day with hook and line, the only resource for fresh provision was in birds, the store of which was inexhaustible.
The people having wrought hard for two days, and nearly completed their water the captain allowed them the 27th, as a day of rest, to celebrate Christmas. Many of them, in consequence of this indulgence, went on shore, and made excursions, in different directions, into the country which they found barren and desolate in the highest degree. One of them in his ramble, discovered, and brought to our commander, in the evening, a quart bottle, fastened with some wire to a projecting rock on the north side of the harbour. This bottle contained a piece of parchment, on which was written the following inscription:
Ludovico XV. Galliarum
rege et d. de Boynes
regi a Secretis ad Res
maritimas annis 1772 et
It was clear, from this inscription, that our English navigators were not the first who had been in the place. As a memorial of our people's having touched at the same harbour, Captain Cook wrote, as follows, on the other side of the parchment:
de Rege Magnae Britanniae,
He then put it again into the bottle, together with a silver twopenny piece of 1772. Having covered the mouth of the bottle with a leaden cap, he placed it, the next morning in a pile of stones, erected for the purpose, upon a little eminence on the north shore of the harbour, and near to the place where it was first found. In this position it cannot escape the notice of any European, whom accident or design may bring into the port. Here the captain displayed the British flag, and named the place Christmas Harbour, from our voyagers having arrived in it on that festival.