HM Bark Endeavour, April 27, 1770:
I am trying to reconstruct in my mind the intervening time between the call of ‘Land’ and the moment I came to myself with the concerned face of our surgeon Mr Monkhouse looming over me.
‘Lieutenant Cook, sir. We are much pleased to welcome you back to the land of the living.’
‘Land,’ I said grabbing on to that one word like an anchor catching on to the seabed.
‘It’s true, sir,’ the Boatswain said excitedly. ‘And there be smokes. We be wondering what manner of creature we are to encounter.’
‘Human to be sure,’ Banks intervened with his wonted smugness.
The gentle Boatswain’s face was a picture of dubiety.
‘Fret not, man,’ said Banks. ‘We have Tupia as a guide. It has been my observation that the native is best placed to ken the native mind.’
‘If you say, sir,’ said Molyneux unconvinced.
Lying there like a corpse awaiting the knife to demonstrate to an assembled audience the singular cooperation of the body’s component parts, I thought how my mind like a drop of oil on the surface of the ocean (as any sailor will have observed) had spread to its ultimate thinness. It was in this state of mind – I might even say this state of being – that I began to seek for diagnosis of the illness that beset me.
‘It is not Calenture?’ I inquired of Monkhouse.
‘If there had been the least suspicion, man,’ quoth the estimable surgeon, ‘We would have strapped ye to the bunk.’
‘Like Odysseus?’ I ventured.
‘Aye, sirens come in all manner of shapes and forms.’
Looking into my face with some significance I knew Monkhouse had to be contemplating the fate of Greenslade some days out of Otaheite who one morning took it upon himself to step off the ship onto the surface of the ocean as if he were alighting from a carriage and four. It is said that a man is inclined to mistake the green of the Great Ocean for a Field when afflicted by Calenture. I have often wondered whether this be a product of the scurvy. It was with not a little horror that one read Anson’s account of his passage through the Southern Latitudes and the way scurvy can turn a man into a Beast. In the Great Cabin we make a shew of consuming our ration of Sourkroutt for the moment the men see their superiors set a value upon a thing, it becomes the finest stuff in the world and the inventor an honest fellow. In this manner we hope to avoid being transformed into one of those ghost Barks adrift on the ocean that leave one to wonder at the fate of its crew. The sea is a lens under which a man may squirm with the scrutiny.
‘Calm your mind, Lieutenant, it is not the sickness,’ said Monkhouse finally.
‘If by sickness,’ Banks interjected, ‘you refer to things corporeal then I concur in the diagnosis.’
‘I am obliged,’ Monkhouse quoth not without irony.
‘There are afflictions of the mind, albeit,’ Banks continued unimpeded.
‘I don’t believe our captain is a candidate for Bedlam,’ Monkhouse protested, the sterling fellow.
Banks contented himself with a contortion of the lips, what I believe the French call a moue.
But the blasted creature had hooked his gudgeon as my mind turned to our late adventures in the South Seas. Did these southern climes dispose the inhabitants to a state of mind altogether alien to our northern Sensibilities? I must confess to being disturbed as I recalled our first encounters with the Antipodean races for vividly did I recall viewing through the spyglass off Terra del Fuego men and women of a singular hue and largely naked. They are perhaps as Miserable a sett of People as are this day upon Earth. The seals and penguins and whales we spied from the deck seemed more of this World than the benighted specimens dancing around their Fires.
The strangeness of the peoples of Otaheite was of an altogether different order. As the islands of that region took form several of the Natives came off to us in their Canoes, but more to look at us than anything else. They offered us coconuts but could not be persuaded to provide fish on which they place the greatest value. Then as we entered a bay more of them swarmed us without the least inhibition. They climbed on to the deck and the rigging, it was all we could do to discourage them. It was still harder to keep them from stealing but everything that came within their reach. In this they are Prodigious Expert. Mr Parkinson we have discovered to be a devotee of the Swiss Rousseau and believed he saw in those physically resplendent folk that society free of the weighty garments of civilisation of which the philosopher speaks.
‘These Indians be happier than Europeans generally are, whose desires are unbounded,’ he spake.
An Eden? The thought was tempting but like all temptation needed to be resisted.
The Natives of Otaheite were particularly partial to metal objects and constant vigilance was required lest we be deprived of axes and boring tools and the like. Already Mr Sporing was forced to improvise after the theft of the astronomical quadrant from Point Venus. The thievery was not confined to material things with Mr Monkhouse alerting me to a sickness among the men which I can only call Metaphysical. Four of the ship’s company are veterans of the Dolphin’s visit several years back and yet each of them – Mr Gore, Mr Clerke, Mr Pickersgill and Mr Molineux – were now devoid of all memory of the former voyage.
‘The memory has been removed as completely as a surgeon’s excision of a carbuncle,’ Mr Monkhouse expressed it thus.
It also came to my ears that John Ravenhill the sailmaker languished below decks. A man inordinately proud of his member (or so I am told) he found himself suddenly reduced. Others of a courageous nature were now models of timidity. Then there was Dr Solander. Entranced by the women and their happy aversion to clothing, the gentleman had taken to decking himself in laurels and reed skirts more befitting the lesser sex. In the confines of my cabin I was forced to take stock of my own being. Was I missing some vital element? Had a part of my very soul been filched by these Indians? Mr Parkinson alone appears to have gained from the contact having acquired a tattoo.