Passage towards the Cape of Good Hope and Search after Tristan da Cunha.
Arrival at False Bay.
Reports concerning the Grosvenor's People.
Departure from the Cape.
1788. April. Friday 25.
The westerly winds and stormy weather continuing gave me no reason to repent of my determination. On the 25th at noon we were in latitude 54° 16′ south and longitude 57° 4′ west. The nearest of the Falkland Islands by my reckoning then bore north 13° west; distance 23 leagues. Our stock of water being sufficient to serve us to the Cape of Good Hope I did not think it worth while to stop at these islands as the refreshment we might obtain there would scarce repay us for the expense of time: we therefore continued our course towards the north-east and east-north-east.
May. Friday 9.
On the 9th of May at eight o'clock in the evening we were near the situation of Tristan da Cunha, our latitude being 37° 7′ south and longitude 15° 26′ west. All the afternoon the weather had been clear enough for land of a moderate height to be seen at least seven leagues; I therefore concluded that we had not yet passed the meridian of the island; for the most western position given to it from any authority is 15° 0′ west.
As I wished to make this island we kept our wind on different tacks during the night, that we might be nearly in the same place at daylight in the morning as on the preceding evening: in the morning no land being in sight we continued to steer to the eastward. Map
We ran on all day having clear weather but without seeing anything to indicate our being near land. At noon our latitude observed was 37° 27′ south which, being more to the southward than we had reason to expect, I altered the course to the northward and steered north-east all the afternoon. At six o'clock in the evening we were in latitude 37° 0′ south and longitude 12° 42′ west, having a clear horizon but not the least sign of being in the neighbourhood of land. With the night came thick rainy weather and we were now to the eastward of the situation ascribed to Tristan da Cunha; I therefore determined to give over the search and to resume our course towards the Cape of Good Hope.
The island of Tristan da Cunha, by Robertson's Elements, is laid down in 37° 12′ south latitude and 13° 23′ west longitude. In Captain Cook's general map, prefixed to his last voyage, it is placed in the same latitude but in 15° west longitude. From our track and the clearness of the weather I am convinced, if the latitude ascribed to it as above is correct, that it is not to be found between the meridians of 16° 30′ west and 12° 30′ west. On the 13th I had a number of lunar observations for the longitude, the mean of which agreed exactly with the timekeeper.* Map
(*Footnote. In Mr. Dalrymple's Collection of Plans which I had not with me the northernmost of the Islands of Tristan d'Acunha is placed in latitude 37° 22′ south and longitude 13° 17′ west. I think it probable we missed them by being too much to the northward.
[The actual position of Tristan da Cunha island is 37°6′35″ South, and 12°17′8″ West. Were Bligh's positions correct, they passed within 5 miles north of the island; which is unlikely as they surely would have seen it at that distance.]
In this passage the weather was generally so cloudy that I had few opportunities to make observations of any kind except for the noon latitudes. I could not determine when we crossed the line of no variation. The two nearest observations to it were: the first in 39° 51′ south latitude and 26° 11′ west longitude, where the variation of the compass was found to be 3° 17′ east; and the other in latitude 35° 30′ south and longitude 5° 21′ west, where I observed the variation 11° 35′ west; between these we had no intermediate observation for the variation.
At two in the afternoon we saw the Table Mountain of the Cape of Good Hope. As it is reckoned unsafe riding in Table Bay at this time of year I steered for False Bay. The next evening we anchored in the outer part. Map
And on the forenoon of the 24th got the ship secured in Simon's Bay, which is in the inner part of False Bay. Map When moored, Noah's ark bore south 35° east three-quarters of a mile, and the hospital south 72 west. We found lying here one outward bound Dutch Indiaman, five other Dutch ships, and a French ship.
After saluting the fort, which was returned by an equal number of guns, I went on shore and dispatches were sent away to Cape Town to acquaint the governor of our arrival. A Dutch ship at this time lying in Table Bay bound for Europe, I sent letters by her to the Admiralty. It is very unusual for ships to be in Table Bay so late in the year, on account of the strong north-west winds. April is the time limited.
I gave the necessary directions for getting our wants supplied. The ship required to be caulked in every part for she was become so leaky that we had been obliged to pump every hour in our passage from Cape Horn. This we immediately set about, as well as repairing our sails and rigging. The severe weather we had met with and the leakiness of the ship made it necessary to examine into the state of all the stores and provisions. Of the latter a good deal was found damaged, particularly the bread. The timekeeper I took on shore to ascertain its rate, and other instruments to make the necessary astronomical observations. Fresh meat, with soft bread and plenty of vegetables, were issued daily to the ship's company the whole time we remained here. A few days after our arrival I went over to Cape Town and waited on his excellency M. Vander Graaf, the governor, who obligingly arranged matters so much to our advantage that we scarcely felt the inconvenience of being at a distance from the Cape Town, whence we received all our supplies.
The Cape Town is considerably increased within the last eight years. Its respectability with regard to strength has kept pace with its other enlargements and rendered it very secure against any attempt which is not made with considerable force. Great attention is paid to military order and discipline; and monthly signals are established to communicate with their shipping as they arrive near the coast that they may not run unawares into the hands of an enemy. I found everything much dearer than when I was here in 1780. Sheep cost four Spanish dollars each and were so small that it answered better to purchase the mutton for the ship's daily use at fourpence per pound.
During our stay here I took care to procure seeds and plants that would be valuable at Otaheite and the different places we might touch at in our way thither. In this I was greatly assisted by colonel Gordon, the commander of the troops. In company with this gentleman the loss of the Grosvenor East Indiaman was mentioned: on this subject colonel Gordon expressed great concern that from anything he had said hopes were still entertained to flatter the affectionate wishes of the surviving friends of those unfortunate people. He said that in his travels into the Caffre country he had met with a native who described to him that there was a white woman among his countrymen who had a child, and that she frequently embraced the child and cried most violently. This was all he (the colonel) could understand and, being then on his return home with his health much impaired by fatigue, the only thing that he could do was to make a friend of the native by presents and promises of reward on condition that he would take a letter to this woman and bring him back an answer. Accordingly he wrote letters in English, French, and Dutch desiring that some sign or mark might be returned, either by writing with a burnt stick or by any means she should be able to devise, to satisfy him that she was there; and that on receiving such token from her every effort should be made to ensure her safety and escape. But the Caffre, although apparently delighted with the commission which he had undertaken, never returned, nor has the colonel ever heard anything more of him, though he had been instructed in methods of conveying information through the Hottentot country.
To this account, that I may not again have occasion to introduce so melancholy a subject, I shall add the little information I received respecting it when I revisited the Cape in my return towards Europe. A reputable farmer of the name of Holhousen, who lives at Swellendam, eight days journey from the Cape, had information from some Caffre Hottentots that at a kraal or village in their country there were white men and women. On this intelligence Mr. Holhousen asked permission of the governor to make an expedition with some of the farmers into the country, requiring a thousand rix-dollars to bear his expenses. The governor referred him to Mr. Wocke, the Landros of Graaf Rienet, a new colony in his way. But from the place where Mr. Holhousen lives to the Landros, Mr. Wocke's residence, is a month's journey, which he did not choose to undertake at an uncertainty, as Mr. Wocke might have disapproved of the enterprise. It was in October last that Mr. Holhousen offered to go on this service. He was one of the party who went along the sea-coast in search of these unfortunate people when a few of them first made their appearance at the Cape. I am however informed that the Dutch farmers are fond of making expeditions into the country, that they may have opportunities of taking away cattle; and this I apprehend to be one of the chief reasons why undertakings of this kind are not encouraged.
The result of my lunar observations gave for the longitude of Simon's Bay 18° 48′ 34″ east; the latitude 34° 11′ 34″ south. The timekeeper likewise made the longitude 18° 47′ east. The longitude as established by former observations is 18° 33′ east. The variation of the compass on shore was 24° 4′ west; but on board of the ship it was only 22° 28′ west. The time of high-water was three-quarters past two on the full and change and it then flowed six feet.
With respect to the Cape Promontory it lies about three miles east of the meridian of Simon's Town. All the tables of latitude and longitude place the Cape in 34° 29′ south latitude; but from many observations off it with good instruments I make it to lie in 34° 23′ south, which agrees with its situation as laid down in major Rennel's map. The part which I call the Cape is the southernmost point of the land between Table Bay and False Bay; but the Dutch consider the westernmost part of the coast to be the Cape.
On the 29th, being ready for sea, I took the timekeeper and instruments on board. The error of the timekeeper was 3 33 seconds, 2 too slow for the mean time at Greenwich, and its rate of going 3 seconds per day, losing. The thermometer during our stay here was from 51 to 66°.
We had been thirty-eight days at this place, and my people had received all the advantage that could be derived from the refreshments of every kind that are here to be met with. We sailed at four o'clock this afternoon, and saluted the platform with thirteen guns as we ran out of the bay, which were returned.