Topic: Enlightenment Voyage: Romantic Discoveries (2010) by Debbie McCauley

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This paper on the reaction of Lieutenant James Cook and his crew to encountering the people and landscape of Aotearoa during the voyage of the Endeavour (1768-1771) was written by Debbie McCauley on 18 August 2010 as part of a BA in Humanities and Information & Library Studies.

‘When Cook-lamented, and with tears as just

As ever mingled with heroic dust,

Steer’d Britain’s oak into a world unknown,

And in his country’s glory sought his own,

Wherever he found man, to nature true,

The rights of man were sacred in his view’ 

(From Charity 1781 by William Cowper)

This essay will discuss the impact that encountering the Māori people of Aotearoa had on the 18th century attitudes of the crew of the Endeavour. It will discuss the attitudes that the explorers had before making contact and how they came to make sense of their new, unfamiliar and occasionally shocking interactions and surroundings and the extent to which these attitudes reveal the tendencies of Enlightenment or Romantic thought.

The Endeavour, a sturdy 32 metre long Yorkshire collier set sail on the first “scientific maritime expedition” (Smith, 1989, p. 2) on 26 August 1768, the voyage being organised by the combined efforts of the Royal Society and the Admiralty. At the helm was Lieutenant James Cook (1728-1779) who came from humble Yorkshire beginnings. This remarkably talented eighteenth century explorer captained three major scientific voyages of discovery over a ten year period. Along with being an extraordinary ships commander he was proficient in surveying, mapmaking, navigating, mathematics and astronomy.

Cook’s crew of 94 included astronomer Charles Green (1734-1771) along with the wealthy and enthusiastic young naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) who had paid £10,000 to join the voyage. Banks brought along with him botanist Dr. Daniel Carl Solander (1733-1782); naturalist and Bank’s secretary Herman Dietrich Spöring (1733-1771); professional artist Alexander Buchan (?-1769) to sketch landscapes and people and natural-history draughtsman Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771) who was to draw and paint plants and animals.

The crew of the Endeavour were operating in the midst of the Enlightenment. Knowledge was pursued through scientific investigation which included accuracy of observation and documentation. Solander, a former student of Carolus Linnaeus (?-1778), was familiar with his scientific method of classifying plants known as the “Linnean system” (Robson, 2004, p, 44). This would have a major influence on how the botanical discoveries of the voyage were classified, described and displayed. This Enlightenment methodology can also be seen in the systematic recording of information in the journals of Cook, Banks and Parkinson, as well as in Parkinson’s detailed botanical drawings. Conversely there is a flavour of the Romantic in the information imparted by Parkinson’s artwork and the reaction to the new lands and peoples recorded by Cook and Banks. “The narratives of discovery on board the Endeavour as occurring at the cusp of the Enlightenment and Romantic eras” (Open Polytechnic, 2006, p. 40).

In 1768 one third of the earth was still a mystery. Cook’s voyage was to observe the transit of the planet Venus but he was also handed sealed orders to be opened on the other side of the world once this was achieved. Venus was due to pass in a direct line between the Earth and sun, transiting across the sun’s face, an occasion not due to be repeated for another hundred years. If scientists could correct previous calculations of the sun’s distance from Earth they could then accurately establish longitude, helping future navigators and sailors to establish their location. The recently discovered island of Tahiti was selected by astronomers as one of several observation sites around the world. The Endeavour arrived in Tahiti on 13 April 1769. The observation proved unsuccessful as accurate timings were not possible due to an unexpected optical illusion. Another disappointment occurred when the artist Buchan died of an epileptic fit on 17 April 1769. This meant that Parkinson was called upon to produce scenic paintings as well botanical drawings, although Spöring was also able to contribute. Docking (1990) comments about Parkinson, “one aspect of his work served the cause of science in a documentary way; the other provided works which appealed to popular romantic taste” (p. 16).

The crew had set off under the guiding principles of Enlightenment theory of scientific exploration, little knowing that the exotic and new countries and islands of the Pacific would have a profoundly Romantic effect on them, even resulting in a new genre of romantic landscape painting known as the ‘typical landscape.’ This is a type of investigative landscape painting that evolved partly through the merging of science and art but also from the European response to encountering the new landscapes of Pacific. They realised that the unfamiliar rocks, plants, animals, peoples and climate should be depicted in a scientific manner to create a romantically accurate pictorial record of this new land. This empirical stimulus was unlike the Enlightenments theoretical notions of picturesque and beautiful landscapes. There was an, “abandonment of classical ideals of order, for an order based on a closer scrutiny of things in themselves” (Smith, 1989, p. xi). The geographic environment of New Zealand, accurately depicted, gave the paintings meaning in context. As Smith (1989) explains, “The placing of plants, animals, and primitive peoples in their appropriate environmental situation became a matter of increasing importance for the landscape-painter” (p. 4) and, many would say, influenced the rise of Romanticism when viewed in the salons of Europe.

The myth of the ‘noble savage’ intersects both Enlightenment and Romantic thought. This was mainly influenced by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754) where he states that, “Man in his natural state was born essentially good and free of all prejudices” (as cited in the Open Polytechnic, p. 11). It become accepted as common knowledge that the ‘noble savage’ was inherently good but lived by following his own impulses according to his own sense of natural laws of reason, religion and morality. The ‘noble savage’ was viewed as inferior as they hadn’t achieved the same level of civilization and technology as the European, and yet celebrated as living in a utopian mystical harmony with nature as the Ancient Greeks did. They were uncorrupted by the negative effects of modern civilization, better off living in their natural state of childlike peace and innocence where simplicity brought wisdom. This myth was to be challenged by contact with the Māori of Aotearoa.

After three months in Tahiti, Cook left on 13 July 1769 with one additional member and Banks’ exotic souvenir, the priest Tupaia (?-1770), a ‘noble savage’. Along with a cultural advisory role, he had geographical, navigational and interpretational skills that proved crucial when he was able to understand the dialect of the Māori. Banks seems to value the skills Tupaia will bring aboard but an attitude of superiority comes through in his journal when he writes, “I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity as some of my neighbours do lions and tygers at a larger expense than he will probably ever put me to” (Beaglehole, 1962, pp. 312-313). Cook commented sagely that Tupaia “was a shrewd, sensible ingenious man, but proud and obstinate, which often made his situation on board both disagreeable to himself and to those about him, and tended to promote the diseases which put a Period to his life” (Beaglehole, 1955, p. 442). The extensive geographical knowledge of the Polynesian peoples is indicated by the chart of 74 islands drawn for Cook in 1769 by Tupaia. He also experimented with watercolours, now known as being by the ‘Artist of the Chief Mourner’.

The voyage of the Endeavour changes from one of science to one of discovery when Cook opens the secret orders written and sealed a year ago in London. They instruct him to search for the ‘Great Southern Continent’ and if failing discovery to head for the coastline Abel Tasman (1603-1659) found in 1642. The myth of the ‘Great Southern Continent’ came from the Ancient Greeks who philosophised that it must exist for the earth to be balanced. The possibilities presented were staggering; untold riches; settlement rights and the solving of the enduring mystery of a geographical legend. The country who could first find it and map it could then claim it as its own.

After searching the Pacific unsuccessfully for the ‘Great Southern Continent,’ the Endeavour reached Turanga Nui (named Poverty Bay by Cook) in Aotearoa on 9 October 1769. Cook found the Māori inhabitants hostile and unwilling to trade, probably due to wariness and mistrust on both sides. Three approaches were violently repulsed and several natives killed and wounded. Cook, who was shaken by the Māori’s fierce combativeness, laments in his journal, “had I thought they would have made the least resistance I would not have come near them but as they did I was not to stand still and suffer either myself or those that were with me to be knocked on the head” (Beaglehole, 1955, p. 171). Three survivors were kidnapped and entertained on board the Endeavour with “all imaginable kindness” and “to the surprise of every body became at once as cheerful and merry as if they had been with their own friends” (p. 171). Cook seems perplexed by their reaction when their friends have been killed and they have been, to their knowledge, kidnapped. Cook has found that his assumptions about rules of behaviour and the ease of setting up trade with friendly natives are flawed and the result is misunderstanding and regret. Lamb (1991) believes that this bewildering incident with the resulting loss of predictable action is, “Cook’s experience of the sublime” (p. 107). As the Open Polytechnic (2006) states, “enlightenment thinking was thrown into a quandary in cook’s encounter with Māori off Poverty Bay in 1769” (p. 39). Banks wrote gloomily in his journal that it was the most “disagreeable day My life has yet seen” (Beaglehole, 1962, p. 403). Concluding that the visit has been a disaster a disillusioned Cook names the place Poverty Bay and leaves after two days. 

Parkinson's portraits were the first visual record of the anatomy, tattooing, clothing and adornment of Māori. According to Salmond (1991) it is likely that the Portrait of a New Zealand Man by Parkinson “represented one of the men who visited the Endeavour off Whareongaonga on 11 October 1769” (p. 143). The original pencil sketch shows a partial moko but the pen-and-wash version referred to here is a mirror image, depicting the head and shoulders of a Māori warrior with a full moko. Instead of a single feather as in the pencil sketch, in the wash version he has three feathers attached to his top knot, along with a carved bone comb, greenstone ear-pendant, flax cloak and hei-tiki around his neck as well as a small beard and moustache. The pen-and-wash version seems a classical allusion to the ‘noble savage’. Parkinson seems to have struggled with the distinct facial features of the Māori, and Bell (1980) suggests that this is because they are “the images of a man attempting to characterise a new experience both for himself and for his contemporary audience” (p. 8). Banks description on 11 October 1769 records that, “their hair always black was tied on the tops of their heads in a little knot, in which was stuck feathers of various birds in different tastes according to the humour of the wearer” (Beaglehole, 1962, p. 407).

The Endeavour next reached Uawa (now known as Tolaga Bay). Tupaia went in first and the crew had 5 successful days of trading with Māori. Parkinson became quite romantically lyrical about the beauty of this cove. He wrote in his journal, “the country about the bay is agreeable beyond description, and, with proper cultivation, might be rendered a kind of second Paradise. The hills are covered with beautiful flowering shrubs, intermingled with a great number of tall and stately palms, which fill the air with a most graceful fragrant perfume." (quoted in Begg & Begg, 1969, p. 30). They left Tolaga Bay on 29 October 1769

When the Endeavour arrived at Te-Whanganui-a-Hei (named Mercury Bay by Cook) on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula on 12 November 1769 the crew were immediate taken with a sublime landform in the form of a natural arch underneath which the sea flowed and with a small fortified pa atop. In admiration Banks wrote that it was, “the most beautifuly romantick thing I ever saw” and, “what made it most truly romantick was that much the largest part of it was hollowd out into an arch which penetrated quite through it” (Beaglehole, 1962, p. 432). The more practical Cook appraised that, “from this it should seem that this people must have long and frequent wars, and must have been long accustom’d to it otherwise they never would have invented such strong holds as these” (Beaglehole, 1955, p. 200).

The hand-coloured engraving View of an arched rock on the coast of New Zealand with an hippa, or place of retreat, on the top of it measures 225 x 270mm and is based on a sketch of Parkinson’s. The view is from inside Mercury Bay and there is a small canoe with a sail beneath the arch. The Endeavour is at anchor to the right beyond the rock, conceivably a place of refuge and safety from the threat of war presented by the fortified pa and the sublime immensity of the natural archway. The impressive proportions of the archway are enhanced by the minuscule size of the figure waving a flag on the top right hand side of the arch and the insignificant size of the Endeavour. The overall arrangement is balanced and the hand colouring greatly enhances the overall scene. The palisades and some buildings of the pa (Te Puta o te Paretauhinu) are atop of the rock, with barely distinguishable canoes pulled up on the lower reaches. According to Filer (2009) this scene no longer exists, “The pa was destroyed in inter-tribal warfare around 1800 and the arch, gradually eroded by the sea, collapsed many years ago” (p. 14).

There was one fatal incident at Mercury Bay but despite that they managed a visit to a Māori Pa and concluded that the Māori could be a friendly, if possibly cannibalistic people, another challenge to the ‘noble savage’ theory. “Scenes such as this heightened the challenging study of humans living naturally in the majestic rawness of Nature, but the often unpredictable behaviour of the Māori’s raised more questions than those vindicated in he moral preconceptions of the ancient European dream of Man encamped in Arcadia” (quoted in Brown, 1988, p. 13).

During the eleven day stay Cook and Green were able to record an accurate longitude by observing the Transit of Mercury. They left on 15 November 1769.

After rounding the north of Aotearoa, Cook sailed down the west coast of Te Ika a Maui (the North Island) and entered a large inlet, Totaranui (named Queen Charlotte Sound by Cook) on 15 January 1770. This place became a refuge for the Endeavour, a base of sorts for the future where the crew could rest and recoup with safe anchorage, plentiful food, fresh water and timber for repairs along with good relations with local Māori. As Salmond (2003) explains, “curiosity led to inquiry, and relationships were forged across cultural boundaries” (p. xxi).

On examining some bones near an earth oven in Queen Charlotte Sound Cook had his first visual evidence of cannibalism. As a result some of the sailors called this place “Cannibal Cove” (Salmond, 2003 p. 143). Cook seemed to accept it as a matter of tradition, “it should seem that these people have such a Custom among them” (Beaglehole, 1955, p. 174). Banks is horrified at the practice which he has taken longer to accept the evidence of, “I was loth a long time to believe that any human beings could have among them so brutal a custom... they eat none but the bodies of those of their enemies who are killd in war, all others are buried” (Beaglehole, 1962, p. 443). There can be no mistaking the visual evidence which he records thus, “the bones were clearly human, upon them were evident marks of their having been dressd on their fire” (Beaglehole, 1962, p. 455). However the evidence of cannibalism does not dull Banks enthusiasm for the place as on 17 January 1770 he is woken by bellbirds singing and romantically describes their song as, “the most melodious wild musick I have every heard, almost imitating small bells” (Beaglehole, 1962, p. 456).

Passing through Cook Straight the Endeavour sailed down the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island), round the southern tip and back up the west coast, proving New Zealand comprised two large island rather than part of the ‘Great Southern Continent’. Cook spent the next 6 months circumnavigating and charting the two islands which he then claimed for Britain. Even today his map is still admired as being remarkably accurate and provides a prime example of an Enlightenment project.

Because of the superior firepower of European muskets the crew of the Endeavour were always going to suffer fewer fatalities than the Māori. “On each side there was savagery and kindness, generosity and greed, intelligent curiosity and stupidity” (Salmond, 2003, p. xx). From Cook’s journals we can see that he worried about the impact of European contact upon the new peoples and cultures that the Endeavour encounters. As Brown (1988) explains, “Pacific exploration shattered the innocence of the natives and replaced their peace with false values and desires” (p. 17). The Endeavour’s legacy included new diseases, woven cloth and introduced animals, seeds and vegetables, traditional crafts being usurped by iron tools and a change in the Māori awareness of the wider world. More change was to come in future years with the onslaught of whalers, sealers, traders and missionaries.

Cook was not to know that Māori warfare would become more bloody, even leading to the extermination of other tribes, by the introduction of muskets to tribes favoured by Europeans and that religious traditions would be denounced by zealous missionaries. The fact remains, however, that contact with Europeans was going to occur sooner or later, but it is undeniable that it had negative consequences for many Māori. Cook unfortunately seems to have taken the blame alone, standing symbolically for some as a negative precursor to colonialisation as Baker (2002) explains, “as a forerunner of British imperialism, he is a symbol of the colonialism, dispossession and oppression that sometimes followed in the wake of his explorations” (p. 6).

The influence that the Pacific encounters had on Cook and his crew was varied and wide ranging. As Salmond (2003) explains, “they were surprised and entranced by the islanders’ sexuality, infuriated by their attitudes to property, and shocked by human sacrifice and cannibalism” (p. xxi). Some sailors acquired tattoos, including Banks (Beaglehole, 1962 p, 41) and many made an effort to learn the language.

Cook’s early journal entries are very methodical, reflecting Enlightenment thought, whereas as he reaches New Zealand his journal entries become more imaginative and descriptive as his fascination, compassion and understanding of Aotearoa increased and his Romantic reaction intensified. As Frost (1998) states, “the change in the quality of Cook’s journal reflects the larger imaginative change in Cook, to which the Pacific was central” (p. 39). Cook’s peaceable nature and willingness to learn from indigenous peoples still led to a clash of cultures that saw him hacked to death during his third voyage in Hawaii on 14 February 1779.

The Endeavour left New Zealand on 1 April 1770, sighting the east coast of Australia on 20 April 1770 and anchoring off Botany Bay. On 11 June 1770 they nearly lost the Endeavour on a reef, but managed to refloat and make it to shore for repairs.

Cook and his crew reached Batavia (present-day Jakarta on Java) on 2 October 1770 requiring major repairs to the Endeavour. Soon after arrival his men began suffering from malaria, dysentery and tropical fevers of which many died including Tupaia and Spöring. Parkinson died of fever after leaving Batavia on 27 January 1771. He had already remarkably produced more than 1,300 views and sketches of people and plants. According to Docking (1990), Parkinson “merged a descriptive account of geological curiosities with a romantic feeling for the exotic” (p. 16). Unfortunately when none of the illustrators on Cooks Endeavour voyage made it back to England alternative artists and engravers who had not experienced Aotearoa were engaged to prepare their work for display and publication with the predictable inaccuracies and embellishments as a result.

The Endeavour journeys back to Britain with maps of New Zealand and Australia and an impressive natural history collection of zoological and botanical illustrations and descriptions. They reach the Thames on 13 July 1771 after nearly three years of exploring.

Whether we believe that the voyage of the Endeavour was a triumph of exploration and cross-cultural encounter or an invasion upon a different culture, the voyage itself was a great scientific, philosophical and artistic triumph where Enlightenment values and Romantic sensibilities interconnected as explorers sought to make sense of Aotearoa and her people. The written and artistic records provide a unique and incredibly valuable picture of New Zealand’s flora and fauna (including ones now extinct) and a traditional way of life from 240 years ago, before the arrival of Europeans.



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