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The Cannibal Islands: Captain Cook's Adventure in the South Seas

The Cannibal Islands: Captain Cook's Adventure in the South Seas

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


More than a hundred years ago, there lived a man who dwelt in a mud cottage in the county of York; his name was Cook. He was a poor, honest labourer--a farm servant. This man was the ...
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  More than a hundred years ago, there lived a man who dwelt in a mudcottage in the county of York; his name was Cook. He was a poor, honestlabourer--a farm servant. This man was the father of that James Cookwho lived to be a captain in the British Navy, and who, before he waskilled, became one of the best and greatest navigators that ever spreadhis sails to the breeze and crossed the stormy sea.

  Captain Cook was a true hero. His name is known throughout the wholeworld wherever books are read. He was born in the lowest condition oflife, and raised himself to the highest point of fame. He was aself-taught man too. No large sums of money or long years of time werespent upon his schooling. No college education made him what he was.An old woman taught him his letters, but he was not sent to school tillhe was thirteen years of age. He remained only four years at thevillage school, where he learned a little writing and a little figuring.This was all he had to start with. The knowledge which he afterwardsacquired, the great deeds that he performed, and the wonderfuldiscoveries that he made, were all owing to the sound brain, the patientpersevering spirit, the modest practical nature, and the good stout armwith which the Almighty had blessed him. It is the glory of Englandthat many of her greatest men have risen from the ranks of those sons oftoil who earn their daily bread in the sweat of their brow. Among allwho have thus risen, few stand so high as Captain Cook.

  Many bold things he did, many strange regions he visited, in his voyagesround the world, the records of which fill bulky volumes. In thislittle book we shall confine our attention to some of the interestingdiscoveries that were made by him among the romantic islands of theSouth Pacific--islands which are so beautiful that they have been aptlystyled "gems of ocean," but which, nevertheless, are inhabited by savageraces so thoroughly addicted to the terrible practice of eating humanflesh, that we have thought fit to adopt the other, and not lessappropriate, name of the Cannibal Islands.

  Before proceeding with the narrative, let us glance briefly at the earlycareer of Captain James Cook. He was born in 1728. After receiving thevery slight education already referred to, he was bound apprentice to ashopkeeper. But the roving spirit within him soon caused him to breakaway from an occupation so uncongenial. He passed little more than ayear behind the counter, and then, in 1746, went to sea.

  Young Cook's first voyages were in connection with the coasting trade.He began his career in a collier trading between London and Newcastle.In a very short time it became evident that he would soon be a risingman. Promotion came rapidly. Little more than three years after theexpiry of his apprenticeship he became mate of the _Friendship_, but, afew years later, he turned a longing eye on the navy--"having," as hehimself said, "a mind to try his fortune that way." In the year 1755 heentered the King's service on board the _Eagle_, a sixty-gun ship,commanded by Sir Hugh Palliser. This officer was one of Cook's warmestfriends through life.

  In the navy the young sailor displayed the same steady, thorough-goingcharacter that had won him advancement in the coasting trade. Thesecret of his good fortune

if secret it may be called

was his untiringperseverance and energy in the pursuit of one object at one time. Hisattention was never divided. He seemed to have the power of giving hiswhole soul to the work in hand, whatever that might be, withouttroubling himself about the future. Whatever his hand found to do hedid it with all his might. The consequence was that he became afirst-rate man. His superiors soon found that out. He did not requireto boast or push himself forward. His _work_ spoke for him, and theresult was that he was promoted from the forecastle to the quarter-deck,and became a master on board the _Mercury_ when he was about thirtyyears of age.

  About this time he went with the fleet to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence,and took part in the war then raging between the British and French inCanada. Winter in that region is long and bitterly cold. The gulfs andrivers there are at that season covered with thick ice; ships cannotmove about, and war cannot be carried on. Thus the fleet was for a longperiod inactive. Cook took advantage of this leisure time to studymathematics and astronomy, and, although he little thought it, was thusfitting himself for the great work of discovery which he afterwardsundertook with signal success.

  In this expedition to Canada Cook distinguished himself greatly--especially in his surveys of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and in pilotingthe fleet safely through the dangerous shoals and rocks of that inlandsea. So careful and correct was he in all that he did, that men inpower and in high places began to take special notice of him; and,finally, when, in the year 1767, an expedition of importance was aboutto be sent to the southern seas for scientific purposes, Cook was chosento command it.

  This was indeed a high honour, for the success of that expeditiondepended on the man who should be placed at its head. In order to markthe importance of the command, and at the same time invest the commanderwith proper authority, Cook was promoted to the rank of lieutenant inthe Royal Navy. He had long been a gentleman in heart and conduct; hewas now raised to the social position of one by the King's commission.

  From this point in his career Cook's history as a great navigator anddiscoverer began. We shall now follow him more closely in his brilliantcourse over the world of waters. He was about forty years of age atthis time; modest and unassuming in manners and appearance; upwards ofsix feet high, and good-looking, with quick piercing eyes and brownhair, which latter he wore, according to the fashion of the time, tiedbehind in a pig-tail. It was not until the end of his first voyage thathe was promoted to the rank of captain.