Daily Archives: September 18, 2007

Item of the Day: The Life of John Ledyard (1829)

Full Title: The Life of John Ledyard, the American Traveller; comprising selections from his journals and correspondence. By Jared Sparks. Second edition. Cambridge: Published by Hilliard and Brown, 1829.



Ledyard’s journal of his voyage with Captain Cook. —Testimony in his favor by Captain Burney. —Sails for the Cape of Good Hope. —Thence to Kerguelen’s Islands and the south of New Holland. —Character of the people on Van Diemen’s Land. —Present state of the colony there. —Arrives in New Zealand. —Account of the people, their manners and peculiarities. —Remarkable contrasts exhibited in their character. —Love adventure between an English sailor and a New Zealand girl. —Omai, the Otaheitan. —Vessels depart from New Zealand, and fall in with newly discovered islands. —Affecting story of three Otaheitans found on one of them. —Arrival at the Friendly Islands. —People of Tongataboo. —Their condition, mode of living, and amusements. — Ledyard passes a night with the King. —Wrestling and other athletic exercises described. —Fireworks exhibited by Cook. —Propensity of the natives to thieving. —An instance in a chief called Feenou, and the extraordinary measures used to recover the stolen property. —Departure Tongataboo.

. . . The last expedition under Captain Cook, and the one in which our traveller was engaged, left England on the twelfth of July, 1776. It consisted of two ships, the Resolution and Discovery, the former commanded by Captain Cook, and the latter by Captain Clerke. After touching at Teneriffe, they proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope, and came to anchor in Table Bay, where they were to refit, lay in a new stock of provisions, and prepare for encountering the inconveniences and dangers of a long voyage in the great Southern Ocean, with the certainty that many months must elapse, before they could hope to arrive again in a port of civilized people.

Several days were passed here in getting all things in readiness; the men of science employed themselves in short excursions into the country; provisions were collected by the proper officers; and the sailors were busy at their daily tasks. Last of all, were taken on board various live animals, designed to be left at the islands where they did not exist, making, in connexion with those brought from England, a motley collection of horses, cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, cats, hares, rabbits, monkeys, ducks, geese, turkeys, and peacocks; thus, says our voyager, “did we resemble the Ark, and appear as though we were going as well to stock as to discover a new world. Aesop might have conversed for weeks with such a congregated multitude. The monkeys and peacocks seem to have been out of place in this assembly of sober and useful animals, and in the end they did little credit to their community. The monkeys never ceased from mischief, and the gay attire of the peacocks tempted a chief of Tongataboo to steal and carry them off.

On the first of December, Cook departed from the Cape of Good Hope, and proceeded in a southeasterly direction, intending to shape his course around the southern extremity of New Holland. After sailing twenty-five days and passing two islands, the tops of which were covered with snow, although it was midsummer in those latitudes, he came to anchor at an island, which had been recently discoverd by Kerguelen, a French navigator. A bottle was found suspended by a wire between two rocks, sealed, containing a piece of parchment, on which was written in French and Latin an account of Kerguelen’s voyage and discovery. This island was desolate, without inhabitants, trees, or shrubs. A little grass was obtained for the cattle, and a species of vegetable was found resembling a wild cabbage, but of no value. It rained profusely, streams of fresh water came down from the hills, and the empty casks were replenished. The shore was covered with seals and sea-dogs, the former of which, apparently unconscious of danger, were killed without difficulty, and they afforded a seasonable supply of oil for lamps and other purposes. Vast flocks of birds hovered around, and the penguins, so little did they understand the character of their visiters [sic] would allow themselves to be approached and knocked down with clubs. Man was an enemy, whose sanguinary prowess these tenants of the lonely island had never learnt to fear, and the simple penguin received his death blow with a composure and unconcern, that would have immortalized a stoic philosopher. The sailors were indulged in celebrating Christmas at Kerguelen’s Island; after which the ships sailed, and the next harbour to be gained was Adventure Bay, in Van Deimen’s Land, being at the southern limits of New Holland. As no discoveries were to be attempted during this run, they proceeded directly to the point of destination, at which they safely arrived within less than two months after leaving the Cape of Good Hope.

The ships being moored in this bay, called by Tasman, who discovered it, Frederic Henry’s Bay, the sailors were sent out in parties to procure wood, water, and grass, all of which existed there in great plenty. No inhabitants appeared, although columns of smoke had been seen here and there rising through the woods at some distnace, affording a sign that people were in the neighborhood. After a day or two the natives came down to the beach in small parties, men, women, and children; but they seemed the most wretched of human beings, wearing no clothes, and carrying with them nothing but a rude stick about three feet long, and sharpened at one end. Their skin was black, hair curly, and the beards of the men, as well as their hair, besmeared with a red, oily substance. They were inoffensive, neither manifesting fear, nor offering annoyance to their visiters. When bread was given them, it was thrown away without being tasted, although they were made to understand that it was to be eaten; the same they did with fish, which had been caught in the harbour; but they accepted birds, and intimated a fondness for that kind of food. When a gun was fired, they all ran off like wild deer to the woods, and were seen no more that day; but their fright was not of long duration, for they came again the next morning with as little unconcern as ever. In all respects these people appeared in the lowest stage of human advancement. “They are the only people,” says Ledyard, “who are known to go with their persons entirely naked, that have ever yet been discovered. Amidst the most stately groves of wood, they have neither weapons of defence [sic], nor any other species of instruments applicable to the various purposes of life; contiguous to the sea, they have no canoes; and exposed from the nature of the climate to the inclemency of the seasons, as well as to the annoyances of the beasts of the forest, they have no houses to retire to, but the temporary shelfter of a few pieces of old bark laid transversely over some small poles. They appear also to be inactive, indolent, and unaffected with the least curiosity.” Cook remarked, that the natives here resembled those, whom he had seen in his former voyage on the north part of New Holland, and from this and other circumstances it was inferred, that New Holland from that point northward was not divided by any strait. Subsequent discoveries overthrew this conjecture, and it has since been made know, that Van Diemen’s Land is an island separated from New Holland by a passage, or strait, nearly one hundred miles broad, and containing many small islands. It is remarkable, that no resemblance has been discovered between the language of the natives here, and that spoken by New-Hollanders.



Leave a comment

Filed under 1770's, Explorations, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel