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A masterful retelling of three voyages that changed the world This vivid book retells the story of Captain Cook's great voyages in the South Seas, focusing on the encounters between the explorers and the island peoples they "discovered." While Cook and his men were initially confounded by the Polynesians, they were also curious. Cook and his crew soon formed friendships—and often more intimate relationships—with the islanders. The islanders, who initially were not certain if the Englishmen were even human, came to experiment with Western customs and in some cases joined the voyagers on their expeditions. But familiarity quickly bred contempt. Shipboard discipline was threatened by these new relationships, and the culture of the islands was also changed forever. Captain Cook, initially determined to act as an enlightened leader, saw his resolve falter during the third voyage. Amicable relations turned hostile, culminating in Cook's violent death on the shores of Hawaii. In this masterful account of Cook's voyages, Anne Salmond—a preeminent authority on the history of the south seas—reimagines two worlds that collided in the eighteenth century, and the enduring impact of that collision. Anne Salmond is Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies at the University of Auckland and a Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University. An award-winning author, she was made Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1995 for services to literature and the Maori people.
During Captain Cook's third and last Pacific voyage, Alexander Home was a master's mate on board the consort ship, Discovery. In his old age, he used to spin a yarn about an incident that happened at Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand in 1777, a moment of 'glorious fun' amidst the hardships of the voyage:
When we were in New Zealand, Neddy Rhio, one of my messmates had got hold of a New Zealand dog, as savage a devil as the savages from whom he got it, and this same dog he intended to bring home to present to the Marchioness of Townsend, his patroness. But one day, when Neddy was on shore on duty, a court-martial was held on the dog, and it was agreed nem.con. that, as the dog was of cannibal origin, and was completely a cannibal itself, having bit every one of us, and shewn every inclination to eat us alive if he could, that he should be doomed to death, and eat in his turn, we being short of fresh provisions at the time.
The sentence was immediately executed, the dog cooked, dressed, and eat, for we could have eat a horse behind the saddle, we were all so confoundedly hungry; but, considering that Neddy had the best right to a share, we put past his portion in a wooden bowl, and by way of having some sport, we cut a hole in the dog's skin, and as Neddy came up the side, I popped his own dog's skin over his head with the tail hanging down behind, and the paws before. He looked the grin horrid, told us we were all a set of d-d cannibals, as bad as the New Zealanders we were amongst, and dived down below quite in the sulks.
I had locked up his share, and went down after him to see if hunger would overcome his delicacy, and sure enough, after growling and grumbling and swearing a reasonable time, he looks at me very woefully and says, 'D-n you, did you not even leave me a share?' 'That I did', says I, 'Neddy, my boy, and here it is for you.' So poor Rhio munched up his dog, cursing all the while as heartily as we were laughing at him. Ah! Those were the glorious days; but we are all going now. Rhio, poor fellow, came to be a post-captain, and fell at the taking of Copenhagen. Home and his messmates found this episode hilarious, yet cannibalism was no laughing matter during their visit to New Zealand. Just three years earlier during Cook's second Pacific voyage, the ships had been separated in a storm and the Adventure took refuge in Queen Charlotte Sound, where local Maori attacked a boatload of her crew and killed them all. Cook's ships had often returned to the Sound since their first arrival there in 1770, and there had been violent clashes with local people, including several shootings. Revenge, when it came, though, was shocking. A launch commanded by the Adventure's second lieutenant, James Burney, sent out to search for the missing cutter, found rowlock ports and a shoe, and then human flesh bundled up in flax food baskets in a small bay, and the tattooed hand of one of the sailors. Rounding the point to the next bay they found Grass Cove 'throng'd like a Fair', attacked the crowd with muskets and wall-guns (swivel guns like small cannons), landed, and found cooking fires burning and dogs chewing on the roasted hearts, lungs, heads, hands and feet of their comrades.
This 'shocking scene of Carnage and Barbarity' was described in detail in Burney's report, and imprinted on shipboard memory. Cook's men had known about Maori cannibalism since their first visit to New Zealand, but had not expected to encounter it so closely. This was the stuff of sailors' nightmares, a tale of man-eating 'savages' come true. When Cook sailed into the Sound several months later, looking for the Adventure, his sailors avidly traded for human bones while local Maori concealed the killing of the Adventure's men from him. Rumours reached him of a fight between the crew of a shipwrecked European vessel and local people, but these were garbled and inconsistent. Upon asking a chief about the Adventure, Cook was assured that the ship had been there ten months earlier, and that it had safely left the Sound. This was true, except for the fact that some of her crew had been killed and eaten. Cook accepted the chief's story, and spent a peaceful three weeks in the Sound on his way back to England. When news of the fate of the Adventure's boat crew finally reached him at the Cape of Good Hope, Cook thought that the sailors might have been responsible. In his journal at the time, he commented:
I shall make no reflections on this Melancholy affair untill I hear more about it. I must however observe in favour of the New Zealanders that I have allways found them of a Brave, Noble, Open and benevolent disposition, but they are a people that will never put up with an insult if they have an opportunity to resent it.
Now, early in the third voyage, Captain Cook was back in Queen Charlotte Sound, and still keeping an open mind about the killings. Until he knew what had provoked local Maori, he was determined to do nothing to harm them:
It appeared to me that they were apprehensive we were come to revenge the death of Captain Furneaux's people: seeing Omai on board whose first conversation with them generally turned on that subject; they must be well assured that I was no longer a stranger to that unhappy affair, and I did all in my power to assure them of the continuence of my friendship, and that I should not disturb them on that account.
For local Maori, though, his response was difficult to grasp. The warriors in the Sound regarded Cook's assurances of friendship with bemusement, for as he had noted earlier, they would 'never put up with an insult if they have an opportunity to resent it'. To kill and ritually eat members of another group was the epitome of insult, 'biting the head' of their ancestors, an act which attacked their mana, their capacity to act effectively in the world. A true rangatira (leader) was bound to retaliate with all the force at his command to such an insult, or his gods would withdraw their presence, leaving both leader and people bereft and defenceless. Mai (Omai), a young Raiatean who had been on the Adventure and had since spent two years in England, understood this very well, and reacted to Cook's restraint with incredulity. During this stay in the Sound both Mai, and local Maori who regarded themselves as friends to the British, often urged Captain Cook to exact retribution from those who were responsible for the killings.
Many of the sailors, too, were thirsty for revenge. They were outraged that people who had cooked and eaten their comrades should walk about unscathed. Lieutenant Burney, who commanded the launch which had discovered the feast at Grass Cove, was back in the Sound for the first time since that horrific experience. In addition to Burney and Mai, there were many old Polynesian hands on board the ships: Cook's first lieutenant John Gore and Charles Clerke, the captain of his consort vessel the Discovery, both now on their fourth voyage to the Pacific; eight others who had been on Endeavour and then the Resolution during Cook's first and second Pacific voyages; and several more sailors from the Adventure. Some of these men could now speak Polynesian languages quite well, and they had also learned something about mana. In discussing the killing of the Adventure's men with various of the groups in the Sound, they must have frequently been urged to take utu (or equal return) against the offenders.
Cook's inaction was all the more inexplicable because Kahura, the man primarily responsible for killing his men, had visited the camp at Ship Cove and boarded his ships on several occasions. In Maori terms, this was provocative behaviour. At Grass Cove, the sailors' heads and hearts had been cut from their bodies and eaten in the whangai hau ceremony, destroying the mana of the victims and leaving their kinsfolk bereft of ancestral protection. Each time Kahura visited Cook's ships, he was flaunting the power he had gained by killing their compatriots. The other Maori groups in the Sound watched with bated breath, waiting for the British to retaliate. According to Cook 'many of them said he was a very bad man and importuned me to kill him, and I believe they were not a little surprised that I did not, for according to their ideas of equity this ought to have been done.'
Towards the end of their visit, therefore, when Cook let Kahura sit in his cabin on board the Resolution and had the ship's artist, John Webber, paint his portrait, this was too much for his men. When Mai was asked to bring Kahura to the great cabin, he exclaimed furiously, 'There is Kahura, kill him!' Cook ignored him so Mai walked out in disgust, only to return soon afterwards, vehemently protesting:
Why do you not kill him, you tell me if a man kills an other in England he is hanged for it, this Man has killed ten and yet you will not kill him, tho a great many of his countrymen desire it and it would be very good!
Cook had promised Kahura he would do him no harm, however, and he was determined to act as an 'enlightened' leader. He wrote, 'As to what was past, I should think no more of it as it was some time sence and done when I was not there, but if ever they made a Second attempt of that kind, they might rest assured of feeling the weight of my resentment.' He had been told that the sailors (particularly Rowe, who commanded them that day) had provoked the attack, and although Clerke agreed that there was no purpose to be served by killing Kahura, many of the sailors were of a mind with Mai, and found their impotence galling. Burney spoke for them when he wrote:
It seemed evident that many of them held us in great contempt and I believe chiefly on account of our not revenging the affair of Grass Cove, so contrary to the principals by which they would have been actuated in the like case.
The scene was now set for the mock trial of the dog on board the Discovery. James Burney, the living witness of what had happened at Grass Cove and the ship's first lieutenant, was chafing at Cook's failure to act. The Discovery was Cook's consort ship, so the trial was staged at a safe distance from their commander. It was a marvellous way of letting Cook and Clerke know what the sailors (and some of their officers) thought of Maori cannibals, and how they ought to be handled.
* * *
Such exemplary trials of animals were not unprecedented in Europe. In The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Darnton tells a tale of eighteenth-century printer's apprentices in Paris who lived a hard life with their master, sleeping in a filthy, freezing room, working long hours and being beaten and abused. The master's wife in this workshop adored her cats, especially la grise (the gray), a favourite, and fed them well, while the cook gave the apprentices cat's food - old, rotting scraps of meat. Finally the apprentices rebelled. For several nights one of their number, who had a gift for mimicry, yowled and meowed above the master's bedroom until he and his wife thought they were bewitched. In desperation they ordered the apprentices to get rid of the cats, except of course her favourite, who must on no account be frightened. The apprentices, armed with weapons, went after every cat they could find, beginning with la grise, beat them until they were half-dead, then dumped their bodies in the courtyard where the entire workshop staged a trial. The cats were charged with witchcraft, tried, convicted and hung. When their mistress came out and saw a bloody cat dangling from a noose, she let out a great shriek, to the joy of all the workers. For weeks afterwards the apprentices re-enacted their trial and killing of the cats with roars of laughter and 'rough music', running their composing sticks across the type cases, thumping their mallets and pounding the cupboards. They had managed to let their master and mistress know just what they thought of them, without exposing themselves to punishment, and the memory was both hilarious and intensely satisfying.
Animal trials, not always burlesque, had in fact been held in Europe for centuries. As Jean Duret, a French jurist, explained in 1610, 'If beasts not only wound, but kill and eat any person ... they should pay the forfeit of their lives and be condemned to be hanged and strangled, in order to efface the memory of the enormity of the deed.' Pigs, dogs or wolves might thus be accused and tried in a civil court. In 1712, for example, a dog in an Austrian garrison town which bit a municipal councillor was solemnly tried and sentenced to one year's imprisonment in an iron cage in the marketplace. At mid-century a cow and an ass were tried in France for crimes against people. In England in 1779, Tom Paine told the tale of a Sussex farmer whose dog was sentenced to be hanged by local judges, who disliked the way his master had voted in a parliamentary election.
On board British ships, too, as Joseph Banks recounted for the Endeavour voyage in 1769, animals were involved in similar rough rituals. Dogs and cats as well as men who had not yet 'Crossed the Line' were ceremonially ducked from the yardarm on crossing the equator, unless someone paid in rum to redeem them. This was a dangerous proceeding, evocative of the old custom of ducking witches; and on that occasion Banks paid in brandy to save himself, his servants, his greyhound and a nondescript mongrel he called his 'Bitch Lady' from being dropped into the ocean.
The trial of the cannibal dog, then, was not aberrant behaviour for eighteenth-century Europeans. It was 'rough humour', and like all such carnival antics, not quite a joke. During this period in Europe, animals such as cats and dogs were often treated as part of human society, as metonyms (partial representations) of their masters. Many people still believed in witches at this time, and cats, dogs and other creatures were thought to act as 'familiars', carrying out evil deeds for their masters and mistresses. In the trial of the kuri (Polynesian dog), Cook's sailors were treating the dog as a stand-in for local Maori, since the dog had exhibited the same fearful tastes as its original owners. By trying and convicting the dog of cannibalism, they could show how they felt about Kahura and his compatriots, while laughing at their own horror. The trial was on board ship, though, where captains were the masters. The Discovery's men were also telling Cook and Clerke what they thought of their failure to take revenge for the murder of their shipmates, sending a message to their commanders at least as much as to anyone on shore. The beauty of such burlesque was that it could be excused as a practical joke (rather than mutinous comment), and that made it all the more funny.
If the shipboard trial was not weird behaviour, though, eating the dog certainly was, in European terms. As representatives of their mistresses and masters, cats and dogs in Europe were under a dietary taboo. The thought of eating their flesh was abhorrent, akin to cannibalism. How, then, could Neddy Rhio's messmates eat his pet dog?
Kuri were not exactly like European dogs; they also resembled foxes. They had long bodies, thick tails, short legs, and fox-like heads; and like foxes, they never barked, but cried. Like their masters, they appeared to be on a borderline between nature and culture, half tame and half savage. On shore, these dogs were docile, but when they were brought out to the British vessels, they frequently bit the sailors. Like their masters, they seemed to have a taste for European flesh. Still, foxes in Europe were not eaten either. This difference between Polynesian and European dogs cannot explain what happened on board the Discovery.
Rather, it may have been that Cook's sailors (or some of them) were no longer purely 'European'. Nor was this the first time that Cook's men had eaten dogs in Polynesia. During the Endeavour's first visit to Tahiti in 1769, they had learned to eat dog flesh as feast food, served by hospitable chiefs. As Cook noted at the time, 'Dogs ... we learned to eat from them and few were there of us but what allowe'd that a South Sea Dog was next to an English lamb.' They learned, too, that Polynesians kept dogs in their houses, fed them with vegetables, tied them with strings around the belly and even buried them in special burial grounds. Polynesian dogs had personal names (from the same series of names as people, unlike most European dogs), and provided clothing, festive food and sometimes sacrifices for chiefs and ancestor gods.
Excerpted from The Trial of the Cannibal Dog by ANNE SALMOND Copyright © 2003 by Anne Salmond. Excerpted by permission.
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|List of Illustrations|
|List of Maps|
|Preface: Imperial histories and the trap of Cyclops. Cross-cultural dynamics over Cook's three Pacific voyages|
|1||How Englishmen Came to Eat Dogs||1|
|3||The Wooden World of the Endeavour||22|
|4||High Priest of 'Oro||34|
|6||Cook's Tour of Tahiti||85|
|7||Travellers from Hawaiki||108|
|8||The Owner of These Bones||140|
|9||Penguins on Wimbledon Common||165|
|10||Cannibals and Kings||191|
|11||A Feast at Grass Cove||220|
|12||The Return of the Native||245|
|14||A Tahitian at the Opera||293|
|15||The Glorious Children of Te Tumu||318|
|16||Farewell to Elysium||351|
|Conclusion: Our Ancestor Captain Cook||417|
|App||Calendar of Punishments during Captain Cook's Three Pacific Voyages||433|