Almost two hundred and fifty years ago the famous explorer Captain James Cook arrived on his third and ultimately fateful voyage to the Pacific. He arrived in two ships – the Discovery and the Resolution. On this trip he would discover Hawaii for the first time, and visit many other places including Australia and New Zealand. Ultimately he would lose his life to Hawaiian natives, in a violent spat escalating over a stolen rowing boat.
I became interested in this story having recently visited the place where Captain Cook died. Yesterday I found a scan of the original manuscript, written by an American writer (John Ledyard), who happened to be travelling onboard the British ships at the time. As an interesting aside, this same manuscript was the very first work to be protected by US copyright.
Within the manuscript, John Ledyard gives an astonishing account of a true love story between a young native New Zealand girl and a young British sailor. It is utterly mesmerizing and shows how aside from the popularity of cannibalism, very little has changed in 230 years.
I strongly recommend taking 5 minutes of your life to read this.
These are the exact words as written by Ledyard in 1783. (You might prefer the original pages – PDF extract – trickier read)
“Belonging to the Discovery there was a youth, with whom a young Zealander girl, about fourteen years of age, fell desperately in love, nor was he wholly indifferent to this engaging Brunett; what time he could spare he generally retired with her, and they spent the day, but oftener the night in a kind of silent conversation, in which, though words were wanting, their meaning was perfectly understood; the language of love among all the languages in this sublunary world is the soonest comprehended. But though our sailor appeared amiable in her eyes in the habit of a stranger he was conscious that to ornament his person in the fashion of New-Zealand would still recommend him more to his mistress and the country he was in; he therefore submitted himself to be tatowed from head to foot; nor was she less solicitous on her part to set herself off to the best advantage. She had fine hair, and her chief pride was in the dressing of her head. The pains she took, and the decorations she used would perhaps have done honor to an European beauty, had not one thing been wanting to render it still more pleasing.
Gowannahee, (that was her name) though young, was not so delicate but that the traits of her country might be traced in her locks, to remedy this misfortune she was furnished with combs and taught by her lover how to use them. After being properly prepared he would by the hour amuse himself with forming her hair into ringlets, rendering them fit for the residence of the little loves. The distaste arising from colour gradually wore off; their sentiments improved, and from imparting their passions, they became at last capable and desirous of communicating the history of their lives to each other. Love and jealousy directed her inquiries concerning the women in the country from whence he came, wishing at the same time that he would stay with her and be a Chief. He made her to understand that the women in her country were man-eaters, and if he should stay with her he might also be eat by them; she answered no, and said she would love him. He said the men would kill him when left behind and alone. She said no if he did not shoot them. He acquainted her that nine or ten of his countrymen had been killed and eaten by them though they did not shoot the men of her country. Her answer was, that was a great while ago, and the people who did it, came from the hills a great way off. This excited his curiosity to know if any of her relations were among the murderers; she sighed and appeared much affected when he asked her that question. He asked if she was at the feast when they broiled and eat the men? She wept, hung down her head and said nothing. He became still more pressing as she grew reserved; he tried every wining way that love and curiosity suggested, to learn from her what he found she knew and seemed inclined to conceal, but she artfully avoided his enquiries. He asked her why she was so secret? She pretended not to understand him. Finding all his persuasions ineffectual he turned from her, seemingly in great anger, and threatened to leave her; this had its intended effect, she caught him round the neck; – he asked her what she meant? She said her countrymen would kill her if she should divulge any thing; he said they should not know it; but won’t you hate me said she? He said no, but love her more, and pressed her to his breast; she grew composed, and finally informed him what she knew about the matter.
She gave him to understand that one Gooboa, a very bad man, who had often been at the ship and had stolen many things, when he came to understand she was about to sail went up into the hill country and invited the warriors to come down and kill the strangers. They at first refused, saying the strangers were stronger than they, particularly insinuating the force of the fire arms, he told them they need not fear, for he knew where they must come before they departed, in order to procure grass for their cattle, and on such occasions they left their fire-arms behind them in the ship or carelessly about the ground, while they were at work. They said they were no enemies but friends, and that they must not kill men with whom they were in friendship. Gooboa said they were vile enemies, and complained of their chaining him and beating him, and shewed them the marks and bruizes he had received at the ship: And told them besides how they might destroy their fire-arms by throwing water over them. Goaboa undertook to conduct them in safety to the place where the strangers were to come, and shewed them where they might conceal themselves until he should come and give them notice, which he did. And when the men were busy about geting grass and not thinking any harm, the warriors rushed out upon them and killed them with their Patapatows, and then divided their bodies among them. She added that there were women as well as men concerned, and that the women made the fires while the warriors cut the men in pieces; that they did not eat them all at once, but only their entrails; that the warriors had the heads which were esteemed the best, and the rest of the flesh was distributed among the croud. Having by various questions in the course of several days obtained this relation of which he said he had no reason to doubt the truth, he forbore to ask her what part her relations and herself bore in this tragedy as there was no reason to believe they were all equally concerned. He was however very solicitous to learn if any such plot was now in agitation against the people that might be sent upon the same service to Grass-Cove or elswhere. Her answer was, no; the warriors were afraid at first that the ships were come to revenge the death of their friends, and that was the reason she was forbidden to speak of killing the strangers, or to confess any knowledge of it were she asked the question. She said she was but a child about ten years old, but she remembered the talk of it as a great achievement; and that they made songs in praise of it.
On the 25th of February the ships being ready for sea, the precaution of mustering the ships-company was taken, when it was found that one was missing: This was our adventurer who with his faithful Gowannahee had completely made their escape. A messenger was immediately dispatched on board the Resolution to know how to proceed: And when the message was delivered, the captains and officers were joyous over their bottle. At first it only furnished a subject of pleasantry; but it came at last to be seriously debated whether the man should be sent for back, or not. Most were for leaving him to follow his own humor: But Capt. Cook thinking it would be a bad precedent, and an encouragement to other enamoratoes, when they came to the happier climates to follow the example, was for sending an armed force and bringing the man back at all hazards. Of this opinion was his own Captain with whom he was a favorite, who gave orders for the cutter to be properly manned, a serjeant’s guard of marines to be put on board, and his mess-mate to be a guide to direct them, for it was supposed he knew where he was. This was instantly done. It was midnight before the cutter reached the intended rendezvous, and two in the morning before the guard found the spot where the lovers were. They surprized them in a profound sleep locked in each others arms, dreaming no doubt of love, of kingdoms, and of diadems; of being the progenitors of a numerous family of princes to govern the kingdoms of Ea-kei-nommauwee and T’Avi-Poenammoo. Love like this is not to be found in those countries where the beasted refinements of sentiment too often circumscribe the purity of affection and narrow it away to mere conjugal fidelity. God of love and romance! this pair ought to have been better heeded by thee, and at least secluded from the pursuit of those who never did, and perhaps never will be able to offer to thy deityship one single sacrifice of pure, sublimated romantic sentiment. Turn thine eyes now and behold the predicament in which thy cruelty, thy caprice and thy ingratitude, thou hypocrite hath left the forlorn Gowannahee and her hapless Mate! Even the rugged guard when they came to bind their prisoner could not but with they had never seen their unfortunate shipmate, who was not only rendered unhappy in his affections, but had still to abide the rigid sentence of a court very unlikely to love. But the situation of the guard was critical least the cries and lamentations of Gowannahee should rouse the savages to slaughter under the advantages of a dark night and a thick wood, they therefore hastened to the cutter leaving this unfortunate girl the picture of most distressing anguish. It was noon the next day before they arrived at the ships, and the captains began to be anxious for the safety of the people. When they arrived the prisoner was carried on board the commodore, where he underwent a long examination, and made a full confession of all his views and the pains he had taken to bring them to perfection. That he had considered the hazard and reward, and that the ardent love for his Gowannahee had determined him, and would, had the dangers that might have ensued been greater. Capt. Cook astonished at the young man’s extravagant notions, pleased at his frankness instantly forgave him and ordered him to his duty, telling him he was convinced that even his present situation and feelings must be a sufficient punishment for a much greater crime.