John Rickman

Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean

Source: [John Rickman], Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, on Discovery; performed in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779 (London, E. Newbery, 1781), pp. 142-143

Text: As soon as dinner was over, which admits of no ceremony, we were conducted to the theatre, where a company of players were in readiness to perform a dramatical entertainment. The drama was regularly divided into three acts: the first consisted of dancing and dumb shew; the second of comedy; which to those who understood the language was very laughable, as Omai and the natives appeared highly diverted he whole time; the last was a musical piece, in which the young princesses were the sole performers. There were between the acts some feats of arms exhibited. The combatants were armed with lances and clubs. One made the attack, the other stood upon the defensive. He who made the attack brandished his lance, and either threw, pushed or used it in aid of his club. He who was upon the defensive, stuck the point of his lance in the ground, in an oblique direction, so that the upper part rose above his head, and by observing the eye of his enemy, parried his blows or his strokes by the motion of his lance. By his dexterity at this manoeuvre he turned aside the lance, and it was rare that he was hurt by the club. If his antagonist struck at his legs, he shewed his agility by jumping over the club; and if at his head, he was no less nimble in crouching under it. Their dexterity consisted chiefly in the defence, otherwise the combat might have been fatal, which always ended in good humour.

These entertainments, which generally last about four hours, are really diverting; their dancing has been much improved by copying the European manner. In the hornpipe they really excel their masters: they add contortions of the face and muscles to the nimbleness of the foot, that are inimitable, and must, in spite of our gravity, provoke laughter; their country dances too are well regulated; and they have dances of their own, that are equal to those at our best theatres; their comedy seems to consist of some simple story, made laughable by the manner of delivery, something in the style of the merry andrews formerly at Bartholomew fair; and their singing is very simple, and might be much improved. Had Omai been of a theatrical cast, he doubtless might have very much improved their stage; for their performers appear inferior to none in the powers of imitation.

The play being over, and night approaching, our commanders took their leave, after inviting the king and his attendants to dine on board the ships. We were conducted to the water-side in the same manner as we approached the palace, and were attended by the king and royal family.

Comments: John Rickman (1737-1818) was Second Lieutenant on the explorer Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage, 1776-1780, to New Zealand, the Hawaiian islands and the Bering Strait, in covert search of a North West Passage. Cook was killed on their return to the Hawaiian islands. Rickman kept a log of the journey which was published anonymously in 1781. This passage comes from the visit paid by Cook’s two ships, Resolution and Discovery, to Tahiti in August 1777 (the official purpose of the voyage was to return the Pacific islander Omai, who had been to England, to his home). Cook had first visited Tahiti in 1769, and again in 1773-74.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust