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Presentations and Representations of Contact. James Cook and Joseph Banks at Tahiti. The Endeavour Voyage 1768-1771Sandhya Patel


L’étude des représentations européennes des contacts culturels dans le Pacifique au xviiie siècle a souvent été fondée sur un cadre théorique postcolonial mettant en exergue les notions du Soi et de l’Autre. Plus récemment, cette approche a été quelque peu délaissée. Frédéric Regard (2009) par exemple propose que le contact entre groupes s’opère selon les exigences de l’intersubjectivité. Dans cette étude, j’aborderai cette perspective intersubjective en proposant une approche conceptuelle qui pourrait rendre compte de la pratique du contact dans les mers du Sud et plus particulièrement à Tahiti. Dans une étude de cas, celui du contact entre James Cook, Joseph Banks et les Tahitiens lors du premier voyage autour du monde de 1768 à 1771, j’utiliserai des sources bien connues (les journaux de Cook et de Banks) mais aussi un document auquel l’on fait très peu référence, le livre de bord ou log de l’Endeavour.

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1In the second half of the xviiith century, the British (and the French) became earnestly involved in maritime exploration of the South Seas. As Glyndwr Williams underlines:

« By the time of Cook’s voyages, there were new men, new methods, almost a new methodology. The Admiralty had come to accept that oceanic exploration was a legitimate part of its operations, science was well represented on the discovery vessels […] and Cook and his associates were insistent on the virtues of precise records and prompt publications. None of these observations can be said to apply in any general way to the South Sea voyages of the earlier period. » (Williams, 1997: Preface)

2The focus on “precise records and prompt publications” was then a novel approach which may be understood within the scope of this paper as ushering in processes of transposition almost as formidable as those fictionalising practices of centuries past. The now innovative quest for Terra Australis, or the Southern land, led to the charting of the Pacific Ocean and the mapping of a myriad of islands and even of a continent. Navigators like Wallis, Bougainville, Cook, Bligh, Lapérouse explored vast tracts of sea, threaded their way through island chains, sailed along miles of continental coastline and established a multiplicity of relationships with the island peoples.

3European representations of these cultural contacts has been examined and conceptualised within postcolonial paradigms of Self and Other. A detailed panorama of these types of approaches and the issues they raise have been presented and assessed by Alex Calder who shows that European representations of peoples and places are charged with “uncertainties and possibilities” (Calder et al., 1999: 16). Interestingly, David Carey for example argues that postcolonial critique may also reveal “inconsistency of positions” at home where certain representations of encounter were stamped with an “anti-imperial strain.” (Carey, 2009: 18) Carey thus works towards reconstructing European “subalterns” whose voices have been little heard. A move away from postcolonial perspectives though is embodied in recent studies which address encounter from other than oppositional stances. Just one example is Frédéric Regard’s work which in British Narratives of Exploration examines the “shifting politics of intersubjectivity” in meetings between groups who “clash and grapple with each other” in amorphous “contact zones” (Regard, 2009: 3). Vanessa Smith’s study in Intimate Strangers consolidates this restructuring of theoretical positioning and investigates how encounters between peoples in the Pacific were formed within a framework of “crowdedness” (Smith, 2010: 25) and individual and collective friendships which were “overwhelming, jostling, confusing and uncontrollable.” (ibid.: 62). Any “simple denotation” (ibid.: 63) is to be discarded in assessments of cultural contact in the Pacific.

4In this paper, I would like to build on this growing focus on intersubjectivity and develop a broad notional framework which may provide pertinent standpoints and account in additional ways for the complex, contradictory practice, presentation and representation of contact in the South seas context. Intersubjectivity is an extremely wide-ranging field of study which has roots in a series of disciplines. It may be defined as a generic mode of exchange between Self and Other and between individual standpoints allowing the emergence of a world view arrived at by negotiations which take into account varying perspectives (see Crossley, 1996). Thus, by removing the capitals from Self and Other, the pre-defined categories of savage/savant or barbarian/European become to some extent inoperative in our context and the process of contact and later encounter may reflect to a degree generalised processes of interpersonal negotiation. Of course the specificity of cultural contact on mutual “discovery” of strangers cannot be denied; the explorers “awareness of themselves as historical beings” (Calder, 1999: 25) is unequivocal. My principal contention will be that contact, quite rightly acknowledged as objectifying the other, may also possibly be understood as allowing for an ethical dimension, similar to Carey’s anti-imperial strain which is symptomatic of intersubjective relations between individuals or groups, regardless of context. I will attempt to show that an ethical mode in representations of initial instances is characterised by an « […] openness to the Other without knowing the Other » (Crossley, 1996: 24). I will posit that these ethical tendencies are identifiable, fleetingly, in close readings of first renditions of contact and encounter in for example ships’ logs. These then may be labelled presentations, as opposed to representations. This momentary communication nevertheless rapidly gives way to a positioning which facilitates a “sense of otherness” or a second mode of this time egological relations where conflict comes to displace initial complicity. This distance becomes unbridgeable and is thereafter maintained thanks to observation of others and not to interaction with them and as Foucault’s work makes clear, this egologial mode of intersubjectivity inevitably engenders inequity in terms of power relations (Foucault, 1991: 170-171). The egological modes, where self takes precedence, seem rather more discernible in journals which are in sort secondary end products, representations (as opposed to earlier presentations). The advent of this type of relationship in South seas contact situations may very well be due to the exigencies of accurate reporting and credible publication as outlined above but personal “ambitions of empire and prospects of self aggrandizement” which Scott (2012: 4) refers to as underpinning exploration and representations of contact and encounter, are also determining factors. The move from one to the other mode, from presentation to representation, from inventory to invention (see Viviès, 1999) is engaged in practices of storytelling which we will attempt to identify in this paper.

5In order to address these processes I will refer to Nick Crossley’s excellent panorama study (1996) of the theories of intersubjectivity. An intersubjective approach entails considering to what extent the other (individual or collective) is recognised as a subject and not an object. Recognition processes may take the form of analogical apperception which is based on the interference of prior expectation (apperceiving) in the constitution of the other and is a means of recognising or more specifically not recognising the other. These so-called egological relations deny the other existence. Inversely, the ethical form of intersubjectivity implies acknowledgement of the other (Crossley, 1996: 3). Thus:

« […] we enter into ethical relations with others precisely to the extent that we recognise that they exist in their own right and have projects of their own, that they are not reducible to our thought or transcription of that thought, about them. » (ibid.)

6Crossley points out that intersubjective relations, whether egological or ethical, come about in the mind and in the body through linguistic exchange and spatial positioning of the interlocutors. Only written accounts of xviiith century contact are available to us though, we cannot study film footage or photographs and “watch” first contact as in the New Guinea Highlands in the 1930s as Chris Ballard describes in “Watching First Contact” (Ballard, 2010). Bachnik (1986) in her work on ethnographical distance argues that the nature of intersubjective relations is impossible to discern in texts:

« Dialogue rendered as text […] is no longer dialogue, but a text masquerading as a dialogue, a mere monologue about a dialogue since the informant's appearances in the dialogue are at best mediated through the ethnographer's/explorer’s dominant authorial role. » (Clifford, in Bachnik, 1986: 134)

7But by diversifying the textual “voices,” the only ones we have, and though they be from one side only, we may better elucidate the complex sometimes contradictory nature of intersubjective relations that were established, linguistically limited though they were.

8This paper will attempt then to identify the ethical and egological tenor of presentations and representations of contact at Tahiti during James Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771) without of course any suggestion that presentations are the truth and representations, lies though it may be considered that the very “first” impression (the log, not the journal) of the sea voyage is as far back as one can go towards the “truth,” as much divested of its personal, intrusive side as possible, though of course even this official document was written with an an authoritative audience, namely the Admiralty, in mind.

9James Cook set off on the first of his politically strategic three voyages around the world in 1768. These voyages were recognised as being of historic importance even at the time and the contacts that I will be looking at here take place in the South Pacific from the 4th April 1769 onwards when Cook meets the Pacific islanders for the first time, some months after his predecessors Wallis and Bougainville. The Tahitian encounters have given rise to much interest and debate over the years and their social and cultural impact in Europe is widely recognised since Bernard Smith’s groundbreaking work in the 1960s (Smith 1960). Nicholas Thomas in his more recent work (2003) evaluates at length Cook’s portrayal of contact situations in his journal comparing these accounts with those of others on the voyage including the writings of Joseph Banks, as I shall do. Thomas argues that Cook

« […] saw himself as making history by making geography. His account of his own importance was accepted. […] Out of this kind of story comes our sense of Cook as a lone director of a remarkable mission. […] But Cook’s voyages voyages and his life had passages quite unlike this heroic probing of the Antarctic. Elsewhere he was not author of the script and director of the action. He was in the midst of a crowd, playing roles he had not chosen. He was a witness and a reporter – sometimes of things that had gone wrong. » (Thomas, 2003: xx)

10Thomas similarly outlines the series of “ambiguities and confusions” (Thomas, 2003: xxxiv) of encounters and the small “revisions, omissions, misunderstandings and small cover ups” (ibid.) which characterise the contact texts. He examines (ibid.: 62-83) the first Tahitian contacts and encounters from the 4th April 1769 (when land is sighted) to 13th July 1769 and touches briefly on the discrepancies between the Cook and Banks journals (ibid.: 64,73,78). We will here attempt to unravel approaches to these situations in the intersubjective and storytelling terms by referring in much more detail to contradictions between the Endeavour log (a compilation of entries validated by Cook at the end of each watch – Log book of the Endeavour), which Thomas does not refer to, the Cook (James Cook's Journal…) and Banks journals (2004), identifying thus the mechanics behind these “rencounters” as Joseph Banks calls them (Banks, 31/10/1769).

11The log makes what we might call plain statements and the journal more detailed studies. Falconer in his Dictionary of the Marine (1780) defines the journal as

« A sort of diary, or daily register of the ship’s course, winds, and weather; together with a general account of whatever is material to be remarked in the period of a sea voyage. The daily compact usually contains the state of the weather, the variation, increase, or diminution of the wind and the suitable shifting, reducing, or enlarging the quantity of sail extended; as also the most material incidents of the voyage, and the condition of the ship and her crew; together with the discovery of other ships or fleets, land, shoals, breakers, soundings, &c. »

12The log is described in much the same way as a book into which

« […] the contents of the log-board is daily copied at noon, together with every circumstance deserving notice, that may happen to the ship, or within her cognizance, either at sea or in a harbour, &c. »

  • 1 Anne Salmond (2003) for example in Trial of the Cannibal Dog. Captain Cook in the South Seas (Allen (...)

13The log is not considered as a particularly productive source1 and even authors and editors like Dampier and Hawkesworth, when introducing their narratives, attempt to reassure the reading public by underlining the fact that nautical detail (often to be found in the logs) is omitted for the greater pleasure of the readers. It was only in the 1970s that the log was recognised as a veritable treasure trove of information but only in the circumscribed field of climatology and maritime vocabulary history (Wheeler, 2004: 21-36). I suggest that logs may also provide interesting viewpoints on contact and should not be neglected in textual approaches (Patel, 2009, 2010).

  • 2 « Several canoes came off and threatned us at a distance which gave us much uneasiness, as we hop'd (...)

14We may assume that Cook’s journal derives, in part, from the log because the entries are more detailed and complete the technical details and first impressions noted down in the log. The format of both documents shows this clearly. The log is an hour to hour account of the 24 hour day from 12 noon to 12 noon. The page is ruled into sections corresponding to each hour whereas the journal is a notebook with more leeway in terms of length of entries. Both documents though have Remarks and Remarkable Occurrences sections and may be considered as valid accounts of events, though one is brief and the other less so. This brevity of the log becomes very apparent as the sojourn at Tahiti becomes more and more protracted. The journal becomes the main source of information By comparing these two texts to Joseph Banks’ extremely detailed narrative where every single day has an entry, differences in approach attest to the multiple form of contact narratives in terms of self and other, where one (Cook’s) account seems to be crafted, more often than not, according to personal, political or publishing imperatives and the other, written by an independent man of means and some education, botanist and associated with the Royal Society, paying his own way, is rather more flexible in terms of assigning identity and intention, combining presentation and representation. Banks’ « openness to the other without knowing the other » (Crossley, 1996: 24) may be symbolised by his chance use of an interesting term, namely “rencounter”2 which meshes the French rencontre and the English encounter and recount, to relate in detail according to Johnson’s 1785 dictionary.

15I will thus attempt to conceptualise presentations and representations of contact and encounter in these texts and cite brief examples attesting to the type of intersubjective relations depicted during the “rencounter” processes which I have attempted to divide into three stages. Firstly pre-encounter is the preliminary reconnoitring from afar, contact as it were. The second stage of the process is encounter proper when both groups are face-to-face and where the negotiation of a common world view seems viable. Thirdly, during the post-encounter stage, both ethical and egological relations, having co-existed, now shift as the latter seems to take precedence and recognition of the other diminishes and practically disappears.

Pre- Encounter

16How then is pre-encounter related? This question arises because the anticipatory contact moments may very well determine the nature of the imminent, face-to-face encounter proper. Pre-encounter involves observation and relation from afar, from the ship through the long view. The fact that Cook had read Wallis’ log of the Dolphin voyage (his journal is dotted with references to Wallis’ remarks) means that apperception – that is the influence of preconceptions – cannot be materially denied during this phase. The log entries though do not seem to allot them influence (most probably because those making the entries had not read the Wallis documents) during these preliminaries as the following example shows. On the 4th of April, while still at sea, the Endeavour log records “see several people ashore.” This is how the event is presented in the log and the entry is written in without any additions or emendations. In Cook’s journal, this visual contact is described thus:

  • 3 The spelling in this and all the following quotations has not been adapted to modern-day norms and (...)

« […] we saw several of the Inhabitants, the Most of them Men and these March'd along the shore abreast of the Ship with long clubs in their hands as tho they meant to oppose our landing, they were all naked except their privy parts, and were of a dark Coper colour with long black hair, but upon our leaving the Island some of them were seen to put on a covering- and one or two we saw in the skirts of the Wood was Cloathd in white, these we supposed to be Women. »3

17This entry has been reworked during or after the initial recordation and the additions, in the form of insertions, provide extra detail and qualify the appearance and behaviour of the islanders or ensure proper grammatical use. This rewriting may be considered as specific to what a journal should do in terms of storytelling. The “dark copper” colour of the natives is the term used by Banks in his journal so discussion of the sighting has taken place as Cook uses exactly the same expression and inserts it in the body of his text. But what is particularly interesting are the apperceptive processes at work in this entry. In effect, Wallis a year earlier in these same waters describes the islanders as having:

« […] long poles in their hands or as coming down to the Waterside with fine & long Pikes or even as coming down close to the waterside with big Pickes in their Hands, & some with Firebrands making a great noise and dancing in strange manner. »

18Wallis also mentions the women in white in the bushes. Cook in the journal seems to be interpreting the islanders’ behaviour with this in mind as he describes the men as “marching” along the shore as though they meant to oppose landing. Having read Wallis’ log, Cook knows that at Tahiti Wallis was attacked and thus his first impression of the islanders may be understood as being based on this prior knowledge. The descriptive elements further institute this distancing process as observation in lieu of interaction (patently impossible in this case) determines the mechanics of first contact. The constitution of the other, without any actual material contact, is thus underway and the notion of “people on the shore” in the log, with whom a sense of oneness and openness with and to the other may be possible is undermined by the use of the word march and the associated assumption of aggression in the journal. Here Cook is indeed the representative of the political if not colonial process which must be based on cession if the lands to be appropriated are inhabited. Cession implies struggle and the defeat of one or the other party. In intersubjective terms of analysis, the entry in the log and the entry in the journal may be understood as the I and me respectively, where the I is “policed” by the me in what Crossley (1996: 55) calls “terms derived from the wider community”.

19Banks, not under any Admiralty orders to record and report, writes a descriptive account of the voyage and his decryption of this first pre-encounter does not involve the sense of threat which Cook evokes. Thus

« […] they appeard to us through our glasses to be tall and to have very large heads or possibly much hair upon them, 11 of them walkd along the beach abreast of the ship with each a pole or pike as long again as himself in his hand […]. »

  • 4 Attributing authorship of specific expressions, formulations and even descriptions as far as shipbo (...)

20Though a few days later Banks uses almost the same expression as Cook to indicate possible danger4. On the 6th April he writes:

« The people on the shore made many signals but whether they meant to frighten us away or invite us ashore is dificult to tell: they wavd with their hands and seemd to beckon us to them but they were assembld together with clubs and staves as they would have done had they meant to oppose us. »

Encounter Proper

21This pattern of reporting pre-encounter is repeated on the 7th April until encounter proper takes place on the 11th April, just before the Endeavour arrives at Tahiti: Here Cook notes in his log:

Doc1. – Log of the Endeavour, 11th April 1769

ImageThe symbol of peace, the palm frond, is here instrumental in attenuating the sense of threat that is constituted in the journal during the pre-encounters. The first face-to-face interaction as presented in the log is once again one of openness – the Tahitians come without hesitation and “trucking” takes place on this basis. This mode of relations and the manner in which it is presented in the log may be construed as an instance of ethical intersubjectivity because equal footing as denoted by subsequent trading (exchange) allows for interaction, non verbal though it may be. In the journal though Cook recounts this event thus:

22« Variable light airs all these 24 hours and hot sultry weather– At 5 PM King Georges Island extending from NWBW to SW Distant 6 or 7 Leagues– and at 6 AM it bore from SSW to WBN being little wind and calm several of the Natives came off to us in their Canoes, but more to look at us than any thing else we could not prevail with any of them to come on board – and some would not come near the ship. »

23No mention is made of the symbol of peace in neither the 11th nor 12th April entries. This essential element in encounter is conducive to what Crossley calls conversation (Crossley, 1996: 31), but it is omitted and presentation slides into representation. Once again the Tahitians are suspected of harbouring ulterior motives – that is to look at them. They are presented as being wary – perhaps an intersubjective instance of empathetic intentionality where Cook’s own cautious approach is ascribed to the Tahitians. Thus the gap between groups widens in the journal and the reciprocity glimpsed in the log entry regresses. The trade which also epitomises a dimension of this reciprocity is not mentioned in Cook’s journal entry either whereas the log (see above) and Banks’ journal both attest to the fact that trade did indeed take place:

« About 7 a small breze sprung up and we saw some Canoes coming off to us, by ten or eleven they were up with us. I forbear to say any thing about either people or canoes as I shall have so many better opportunities of observing them: we however bought their cargoes consisting of fruits and cocoa nuts which were very acceptable to us after our long passage. »

24On the 12th, the Endeavour sails into Port Royal Bay at Tahiti and the log entries are considerably reduced; the journal becomes the major source of information as to the nature of the relationships established between the Tahitians and the navigators. A significant episode at this point is that once again on the 13th after having received Owhaa, a man of some importance, onboard ship, Cook lands and notes:

« […] no one of the Natives made the least opposission at our landing but came to us with all imaginable marks of friendship and submission. »

25Banks’ description on the other hand is centred on ritual of encounter and focuses on the establishment of peace thanks to both parties interacting and taking up Tahitian practices on Tahitian territory:

« The first who aproachd us came creeping almost on his hands and knees and gave us a green bough the token of peace, this we receivd and immediately each gatherd a green bough and carried in our hands. They march'd with us about a mile then made a general stop and scraping the ground clean from the plants that grew upon it every one of the principals threw his bough down upon the bare place and made signs that we should do the same: the marines were drawn up and marching in order dropd each a bough upon those that the Indians had laid down, we all folowd their example and thus peace was concluded. »

26Though of course the imperial project inevitably comes to the fore a few lines later:

« […] in short the scene we saw was the truest picture of an arcadia of which we were going to be kings that the imagination can form. »

27The next day (14th April), Cook invites some of the Tahitian nobility onboard ship after having been ashore himself the day before. Thus Cook is received and then receives in turn. In the log, the reciprocity inherent in this exchange of courtesies delineates a certain degree of equilibrium between self and other. The “utmost civility” (and not as Cook underlines with submission) is consolidated with the chiefs coming on board with gifts:

ImageDoc. 2. – Log of the Endeavour, 14th April 1769

28In the journal, Cook describes the meeting in terms which downplay a sense of oneness or mutual, participatory efforts.

« Friday Apl 14th This morning we had a great many canoes about the Ship, the Most of them came from the westward but brought nothing with them but a few Cocoa-nuts &Ca Two that appear'd to be Chiefs we had on board together with several others for it was a hard matter to keep them out of the Ship. As they clime like Munkeys, but it was still harder to keep them from Stealing but every thing that came within their reach, in this they are prodiges expert – I made each of the two Chiefs a present of a Hatchet things that they seem'd mostly to Value. As soon as we had partly got clear of these People, I took two Boats and went to the Westward all the Gentlemen being along with me, my design was to see if there was not a more comm[o]dious Harbour, and to try the disposission of the Natives having along with us the two Chiefs above mentioned […]. »

29The details in Banks journal point to the interaction which takes place with the exchange of gifts, clothes and the all-important Taio friendship and invitation rituals (see Smith, 2011).

« This morn several Canoas came on board among which were two in which were people who by their dress and appearance seemd to be of a rank superior to those who we had seen yesterday. These we invited to come on board and on coming into the Cabbin each singled out his freind, one took the Captn and the other me, they took off a large part of their cloaths and each dress'd his freind with them he took off: in return for this we presented them with each a hatchet and some beads. They made many signs to us desiring us to go to the places where they livd to the SW of where we lay; the boats were hoisted out and we took them with us and immediately proceeded according to their directions. »

  • 5 Secret Instructions to Captain Cook – 30th June 1768.

30Here the tone of Banks’ entry differs significantly from Cook’s. The solemnity and reciprocity of the formal procedures of encounter are indicative of recognition of the other, while Cook makes little of the ceremony and intersperses his description with disparaging comments on the behaviour of the entourage and the paucity of the “presents”. This undermines the ethical dimension in the log and the Banks texts, and introduces the egological approaches as the “me” takes precedence. This is also apparent in the fact that storytelling modes also make their appearance for example in the way in which the ensuing expedition to the Westward is related by Cook and by Banks. Cook presents the expedition as being his own enterprise, to see if there “was not a more comm[o]dious Harbour, and to try the disposission of the Natives” and “having along with us the two Chiefs above mentioned”. Banks recounts that the tour is undertaken at the invitation of the chiefs and the boats “immediately proceeded according to their directions”. These differences may be considered as slight but they institute a vying of interests as Cook refuses to represent Tahitian empowerment in the form of invitation and initiative and downplays the necessity of the navigators being accompanied by the chiefs to ensure their own safety. Thus he “makes a story” in which he represents his own glorification as decider as well as the autonomy of the Nation. This comparison of the journals and log shows then that omission or emendation in the interests of the honour redounding greatly to the Honour of the Nation as a Maritime Power5 may generate representations which disallow officialised acknowledgment of ethical intersubjective relations, though they obviously existed as the log and the Banks texts present.


31The dealings between the Tahitians and the Endeavour crew deteriorate rapidly and generate a corresponding decline in ethical relations (in both senses of the term). This regression may be understood as characterising post-encounter contact. On the 16th April after the theft of a musquet, shots are fired and some Tahitians killed or wounded. The representations of this first of a series of post-encounter incidents attest to intersubjective and story-telling processes in marked ways. Once again the log and the Banks texts are complementary. Both present (as the log distinguishes between one shot and others wounded) the death of one Tahitian and an uncertain number of injured.

ImageDoc 3. –Log of the Endeavour, 16th April 1769

32Banks describes the situation thus:

“On our return we found that an Indian had snatchd a sentrys musquet from him unawares and run off; the midshipman (may be) imprudently orderd the marines to fire. they did fire into the thickest of the flying croud some hundreds in number several shot, and pursueing the man who stole the musquet killd him dead but whether any others were killd or hurt no one could tell.”

33He is even rather critical of Cook’s reactions:

“No Indian was now to be seen about the tent but our old man, who with us took all pains to reconcile them again; before night by his means we got together a few of them and explaining to them that the man who sufferd was guilty of a crime deserving of death (for so we were forcd to make it) we retird to the ship not well pleasd with the days expedition, guilty no doubt in some measure of the death of a man who the most severe laws of equity would not have condemnd to so severe a punishment …”

34In Cook’s journal, the tone is guarded, the death is recorded but those injured are not mentioned. The actions and reactions of the sentry go unquestioned, unlike in Banks texts. The log is devoid of any evaluative comment which may contribute to the ethical dimension of interaction and presentation whereas the omissions (number of people injured, firing into a crowd) in Cook’s entry below contribute to the story-telling effects of representation:

“…we had not been gone long from the Tent before the natives again began to gather about ^ it and one of them more daring than the rest push'd one of the Centinals down, snatched the Musquet out of his hand and made a push at him and then made off and with him all the rest, emmidiatly upon this the officer order'd the party to fire and the Man who took the Musquet was shott dead before he had got far from the Tent but the Musquet was carried quite off …”

35Cook in this entry without further comment on the death of the islander, undertakes to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident and engages in rather a reprehensible (in Banks’view) attempt at convincing the Tahitians of the equity of the fatal shooting, namely reprisal for the theft and that they would continue, in spite of this, to trade with them!

“… as I have said before was the only one of the Natives that stay'd by us, and by his means we prevail'd on about 20 of them to come to the Tent and their sit down with us and endeavour'd by every means in our power to convence them that the man was kill'd for taking away the Musquet and that we still would be friends with them at sunset they left us seemingly satisfied and we struck our Tent and went on board—”

36Cook ends with his evaluation of the outcome: that the Tahitians were “seemingly satisfied.” Thus the story ends in success in the journal which attenuates the gravity and possible future consequences of the conflict. There is here a marked lack of commentary on the death of the Tahitian which, if present, would undermine the credibility of the seemingly rather happy ending, which in the event proves to be entirely illusory.

37As a consequence of this tension, Cook warps the ship so as to moor herin such a Manner as to command all the Shore of the NE part of the Bay, but more particularly the place where we intended to Erect a Fort.” Thus observation becomes a priority and corresponds to a means of bringing power relations to fruition thanks to accrued surveillance (Foucault, 1975: 127). Further, as Bachnik (1986: 76) develops in her study of authority in ethnographic texts, first-person narratives address the issue of objectification only from the observer’s perspective. Social life itself is depicted as an object rather than a process; She cites Bourdieu:

« […] in taking up a point of view on the action, withdrawing from it in order to observe it from above and from a distance, the anthropologist […] constitutes practical activity as an object of observation and analysis, a representation. » (1977: 2)

38Thus, literally, commanding a better view of the shore is in effect instituting a post of observation. Figuratively, this location facilitates the construction of egological representations and relations where the other is no longer a partner in interaction but an object of surveillance and scrutiny. This constitutes what we may consider as just one example (there are others) of post-encounter patterns – that is a reluctance to relay the tensions inherent in the post-encounter relationships. This unwillingness in intersubjective terms corresponds to a focus on self which is indicative of egological modes of relations and from this perspective, in the journal, Cook turns back on himself, writes for the community (Crossley, 1996: 55-56). The writing entails constructing an account which when read portrays the Captain and the country (of which Cook is the representative) as behaving in an acceptable, rational and moral manner. Self must be shown to have:

« moral integrity which it makes apparent through stage management of interactions and where there are discrepancies between public and private representations of Self. » (Crossley, 1996: 63)

39Thus Cook attempts to represent ensuing Tahitian reactions as generally friendly in spite of the fact that trade grinds to a halt, that the islanders abandon their homes and move into the interior, that some are taken hostage and that their private property is sequestered. The journal attests to the difficulties of story-telling which attempts to obey the dictates of egological public stances. For example on May 2nd, the quadrant is stolen and Cook considers two possible reactions, sequestering the canoes or taking the chief hostage. The latter is rejected but Tuteha is nevertheless detained by one of Cook’s lieutenants while Cook is away. Trade is suspended and in relating this incident Cook (unlike above) expresses his doubts about his officer’s conduct after the released hostage makes Cook a gift: “it is very certain that the treatment he had met with from us did not merit such a reward.” Cook and Banks both describe in detail the reconciliation ceremonies which take place which is indicative of a more balanced representation of events than previously and which in ethical intersubjective terms denotes the undeniable and necessary reciprocity of encounter. Nevertheless, the egology of other moments comes to the fore when Cook decides on the 14th of June to sequester 22 canoes after the theft of a metal rake. The representation of this and ensuing incidents (for which Cook is directly responsible) seems subject to the effects outlined above. Cooks makes mention of his decision on the 14th:

« I resolved to recover it [the rake] by some means or other and accordingly went and took posession of all the Canoes of any Value I could meet with and brought them into the River behind the Fort to the number of 22, and told the Natives then present / most of them being the owners of the Canoes / that unless the Principal things they had stolen from us were restored, I would burn them every one, not that I ever intended to put this in execution […]. »

40He goes on to explain why shooting at the Tahitians is potentially dangerous as it would encourage them to retaliate. The rake is returned the same day but Cook persists:

« About Noon the rake was restore'd us, when they wanted to have their Canoes again: but now as I had them in my posession I was resolved to try if they would not redeem them by restoring what they had stolen from us […]. »

41As a result of this decision, trade suffers but Cook does not make any mention of the consequences until the 20th when he very briefly admits defeat: “I now gave over all thought of recovering any of the things the natives had stolen from us and therefore intend to give them up their Canoes when ever they apply for them.” On the 22nd four of the 22 canoes are returned. Banks notes;

« Captn Cooke is now tird of keeping them as he finds that not the least motion is made towards returning any of the stol'n goods; four of them are therefore set at liberty. »

42Cook is silent on the subject. On the 24th, Banks notes that the stocks onboard have been maintained thanks to gifts and not to trade which is at a standstill. Still Cook makes no mention of this critical situation, and Banks on the 2nd July reiterates that:

« The Canoes were still in the river: Captn Cooke finding that there was no likelihood now of any of the stolen goods being restord resolvd to let them go as soon as he could. »

43Cook’s journal then elides through concerted silence, the effects of inappropriate decision-making and maintains thus the portrayal of lucid and fitting action and reaction (which the sequestration was obviously not) in order that the story remains coherent. In comparison, Banks’ journal during post-encounter tells a story which involves more critical appraisal and also to a much greater extent than Cook’s, depicts engagements with the people (eating, sleeping, walking together) which couple interaction with observation, thus a wider mixture of relational modes. Cook rarely switches roles or becomes involved in veritable exchanges, whereas Banks for example, on the 3rd of June, wears a tapa turban and participates with the King of Imao (present-day Moorea) in initiating the Tahitian ritual of gift and counter-gift. On the 9th of June during a funeral ceremony Banks’ curiosity is kindled:

« […] by his most singular dress. I was desirous of knowing what he did during his walk; I askd Tubourai, at the same time desird leave to atend him tomorrow which upon my consenting to perform a character was readily granted. Tomorrow therefore I am to be smutted from head to foot and to do whatever they desire me to do. »

44These mixes of ethical and egological presentations and representations of contact and encounter must be understood in context. Maritime explorers in the mid xviiith century, aware that their voyages were historically significant perhaps attempted to ensure that their writings would make up part of that ongoing history. Navigators’ accounts had been transcribed, rewritten, translated and compiled, for centuries before the “groundwork” (Beaglehole, 1934: 165) in the Pacific from the mid xviiith century onwards. The compilations for example all worked towards creating an epic with as its theme. W. Nelson Francis in 1955 (447), with reference to the first of these compilations in English (namely Richard Hakluyt’s 1589 The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, made by Sea or over-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the Earth, at any time within the compasse of these I500 yeeres), suggests that such publications were illustrative of:

« […] the turning outward of England from insularity to empire, and the growing resolve of Englishmen to make up by courageous and often unscrupulous action for their tardiness in accepting the challenge of the new-found lands across the sea. »

45Beaglehole (1934: 184) comments in the same vein on the concerted efforts especially in the xviiith century of the compilers of Voyages like John Harris, John Campbell, Charles de Brosses, Dalrymple, Callander and of course Hawkesworth. All accounts whether individual or compiled, attempted to establish authority and defend “nationalist” interest in order to “benefit the nation” (Day, 2007: 283). When after a lull, British exploration of the Pacific regained momentum in the middle of the xviiith century, this textual trend was the backdrop to the explorers’ potential production and navigators then were aware of the importance their reports might one day have, first as documents of strategic importance and secondly as texts which might rapidly be reproduced in prestigious compilations.

46In conclusion, comparison of the presentations and representations in the Endeavour log and journals, during the three stages of encounter, pre, proper and post, seems to show growing vacillation between the ethical and the egological as relationships develop and progress through time. The texts make clear that mid-xviiith century British explorers, Banks more than Cook, the log more than the journal, both imperfect products of their imperfect enlightened times, inevitably experienced, related and told stories about instances of coevalness with others, as in any intersubjective context, however fleeting they may have been.

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1 Anne Salmond (2003) for example in Trial of the Cannibal Dog. Captain Cook in the South Seas (Allen Lane) does not cite the Wallis’ Dolphin logs (signed) with reference to the Dolphin voyage (1766-68). Nicholas Thomas does not refer to the Endeavour log in his The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain Cook (op. cit.)

2 « Several canoes came off and threatned us at a distance which gave us much uneasiness, as we hop'd that an account of us and what we could and had done had spread farther than this; we had now our work to begin over again and heartily joind in wishing that it might be attended with less bloodshed than our late unfortunate Rencounters. » (30th October 1769).

3 The spelling in this and all the following quotations has not been adapted to modern-day norms and appears in its original form as transcribed from the logs.

4 Attributing authorship of specific expressions, formulations and even descriptions as far as shipboard writing in general is concerned involves recourse to what I would call veritable investigative textual “archaeology.” Cross referencing all the journals from one particular voyage is required if the degree of collation in one particular journal is to be adequately assessed. Ascertaining for example which published sources were onboard is also necessary and D. J. Carr (1983) provides an excellent survey of the books carried on board ship. For example, amongst the books which Cook is presumed to have taken with him (there is no official inventory), there was De Brosse’s Histoire des Navigations in French (as Cook could most probably read French (Carr, 1983: 200), Anson’s Voyage, the Dolphin’s 1764-1766 voyage captained by Byron and Wallis’s manuscript journal. Carr also attempts to compile a list of Banks’ books and suggests that the two men shared their sources though he does acknowledge Beaglehole’s position that Cook was « more of a practical navigator than a learned one inclined more to ‘the three Ls of Lead, Latitude and Look-out’ than to the use of books and tables in navigation or the consultation of texts. » (ibid.: 196). This brief reference provides insight into how fruitful a research area textual archaeology may prove to be.

5 Secret Instructions to Captain Cook – 30th June 1768.

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« Presentations and Representations of Contact. James Cook and Joseph Banks at Tahiti. The Endeavour Voyage 1768-1771Sandhya Patel »Journal de la Société des Océanistes [En ligne], 136-137 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2013, consulté le 03 décembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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