“We continued to see birds every day, sometimes in greater numbers than others; and between the latitude of 10 degrees (“deg.”) and 11 deg., we saw several turtle. All these are looked upon as signs of the vicinity of land. However, we discovered none till daybreak in the morning of the 18’th, when an island made it’s appearance bearing NE b E. and, soon after, we saw more land bearing N., and entirely detached from the former. Both had the appearance of being high land.”
– The Journal of Captain Cook from January 18 of 1778.
This was the Journal entry made for this day in 1778 when British explorer Captain James Cook (above) made what was likely the most unexpected of his discoveries… the existence of an island group in Pacific Ocean – the Hawaiian Islands.
Captain Cook and His Voyages
British Royal Navy lieutenant James Cook, a surveyor in the Royal Navy, was commissioned a lieutenant in command of several different ships in the Royal navy and with his crew made three voyages through the Pacific Ocean between 1768 and 1779. With these crews he charted courses around the island of Tahiti, Antarctica, Australia and also New Zealand. He had earned considerable fame and renown in Britain for his first two voyages, and was even called “the first navigator in
Europe” by a member of the House of Lords. In 1776, he sailed from England on his third voyage, this time as commander of the H.M.S. Resolution and Discovery. He set out to return a native of Tasmania to his home island and then continue to the American Northwest to find the Northwest Passage, a navigable channel that was believed to connect the North Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. In January 1778, having sailed to Tasmania and other known South Pacific islands, Cook’s two ships reached the unknown Hawaiian Islands. Cook named the island group the Sandwich Islands, in honor of John Montague, who was the earl of Sandwich who was one of his main backers in England.
Cook and His Men Meet the Friendly Natives of Hawaii
The natives were all very friendly with Cook and his men, never having seen European ships of the size and elaborate construction as Cook had with him. They apparently “thought that Cook was a god and that his men were supernatural beings,” in the words if the Mariners Museum. Cook took note of the native’s appearance and their and their attitude when they met on the 19’th:
“These people were of a brown colour and, though of common size, were stoutly made. There was little difference in the casts of their colour but a considerable difference in their features; some of their visages not being very unlike those of Europeans. The hair of most of them was cropped pretty short; others had it flowing pretty loose and, with a few, it was tied in a bunch at the crown of the head. In all it seemed to be naturally black but most of them had stained it as is the practice of the Friendly Islanders (Tongans), with some stuff which gave it a brown of burnt colour…. They seemed very mild and had no arms of any kind, if we except some small stones which they had evidently brought for their defence; and these they threw overboard when they were found that they were not wanted.”
But things were not destined to go quite so smoothly with relations between Captain Cook and these native Hawaiians in the future; certain small acts of thievery did not set too well with the Brits, starting with a butchers cleaver stolen just a day after this encounter. But the amity held for the rest of this time. Cook and his ships left Hawaii and
continued to explore from California to Alaska, charting previously unexplored territory. Cook returned to Hawaii in January of 1779 and after staying a month, they left. But the foremast of the Resolution was damaged in high seas so they returned to Hawaii to make some repairs. A cutter from Resolution was stolen, and a native was killed by Cook’s crew in retaliation. This caused violence to break out and in the ensuing fracas, and on Feb. 14 0f 1779, Captain Cook was killed (above). But all of that was in the future on this day in 1778 when Europeans first laid eyes on this island paradise which would become the 50th of the United States of America in 1959.
“Captain Cook’s Voyages, 1768 – 1779”, selected and introduced by Glyndwr Williams, The Folio Society, London, 1997.