CHAPTER VI. Narrative of Captain Cook's Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, to the Period of his Death.
After our commander had finished the business of the inscription, he went in his boat round the harbour, to examine what the shore afforded. His more particular object was to look for drift-wood; but he did not find a single piece throughout the whole extent of the place. On the same day, accompanied by Mr. King, his second lieutenant, he went upon Cape Francois, with the hope, that, from this elevation, he might obtain a view of the sea-coast, and of the adjoining islands. But when he had gotten up, he found, that every distant object below him was obscured in a thick fog. The land on the same plain, or of a greater height, was sufficiently visible, and appeared naked and desolate in the highest degree; some hills to the southward excepted, which were covered with snow.
On the 29th, Captain Cook departed from Christmas Harbour, and proceeded to range along the coast, with a view of discovering its position and extent. In pursuing his course he met with several promontories and bays, together with a peninsula, all of which he has described and named, chiefly in honour of his various friends. Such was the danger of the navigation, that the ships had more than once a very narrow escape. On the same day, another harbour was discovered, in which the vessels came to an anchor for one night. Here the captain, Mr. Gore, and Mr. Bayley went on shore to examine the country, which they found, if possible, more barren and desolate than the land that lies about Christmas Harbour: and yet, if the least fertility were any where to be expected, it ought to have existed in this place, which is completely sheltered from the bleak and predominating southerly and westerly winds. Our commander observed, with regret, that there was neither food nor covering for cattle of any sort; and that, if he left any, they must inevitably perish. Finding no encouragement to continue his researches, he weighed anchor and put to sea on the 30th, having given to the harbour the name of Port Palliser. On the same day, he came to a point, which proved to be the very eastern extremity of Kerguelen's Land. In a large bay, near this point, there was a prodigious quantity of sea-weed, some of which is of a most extraordinary length. It seemed to be the same kind of vegetable production that Sir Joseph Banks had formerly distinguished by the appellation of fucus giganteus. Although the stem is not much thicker than a man's hand, Captain Cook thought himself well warranted to say, that part of it grows to the length of sixty fathoms and upward.
The result of the examination of Kerguelen's Land was, that the quantity of latitude which it occupies doth not much exceed one degree and a quarter. Its extent, from east to west, still remains undecided. At its first discovery, it was probably supposed to belong to a southern continent; but, in fact, it is an island, and that of no great extent. If our commander had not been unwilling to deprive M. Kerguelen of the honour of its bearing his name, he would have been disposed, from its sterility, to call it the Island of Desolation.
It should here be mentioned, that M. de Kerguelen made two visits to the coast of this country; one in 1772 and another in 1773. With the first of these voyages Captain Cook had only a very slight acquaintance; and to the second he was totally a stranger; so that he scarcely had any opportunity of comparing his own discoveries with those of the French navigator. M. de Kerguelen was peculiarly unfortunate, in having done but little to complete what he had begun; for though he discovered a new land, he could not, in two expeditions to it, once bring his ships to an anchor upon any part of its coasts. Captain Cook had either fewer difficulties to struggle with, or was more successful in surmounting them.
During the short time in which our voyagers lay in Christmas Harbour, Mr. Anderson lost no opportunity of searching the country in every direction. Perhaps no place, hitherto discovered, under the same parellel of latitude, affords so scanty a field for a natural historian. All that could be known in the space of time allotted him, and probably all that will ever be worthy to be known, was collected by this gentleman. A verdure, which had been seen at a little distance from the shore, gave our people the flattering expectation of meeting with a variety of herbage: but in this they were greatly deceived. On landing, it was perceived, that the lively colour which had imposed upon them, was occasioned only by one small plant, not unlike some sorts of saxifrage. It grows in large spreading tufts a considerable way up the hills. The whole catalogue of plants does not exceed sixteen or eighteen, including several kinds of moss, and a beautiful species of lichen, which rises higher up from the rocks than the rest of the vegetable productions. There is not the appearance of a shrub in the whole country. Nature has been somewhat more bountiful in furnishing it with animals; though, strictly speaking, they are not inhabitants of the place, being all of the marine kind. In general, the land is only used by them for breeding, and as a resting place. Of these animals the most considerable are seals; being of that sort which is called the ursine seal. The birds, which have already been mentioned as very numerous, chiefly consist of penguins, ducks, petrels, albatrosses, shags, gulls, and sea swallows. Penguins, which are far superior in number to the rest are of three kinds, one of which had never been seen by any of our voyagers before. The rocks, or foundations of the hills are principally composed of that dark blue and very hard stone, which seems to be one of the most universal productions of nature. Nothing was discovered that had the least appearance of ore or metal.