convergences Screen 22 | Diplomacy

We had the company of the natives all day
                 who now laid aside
        all manner of restraint,
                  if they ever had any,
             and came on board the ships
and mixed with our people
             with the greatest freedom.
        And we soon found that they
were as light fingered as any people
                  we had before met with,
        and were far more dangerous,
for with their knives
    and other cutting instruments of iron
they would cut a hook from a tackle
             or any other piece of iron
                     from a rope
     the instant our backs were turned.
We lost a large hook
             between 20 and 30 lb weight,
                  and as for our boats
        they stripped them
             of every article of iron
                  worth carrying away,
though we had always
             men in them to guard them
        at one end of the boat
             while another was stealthily
    pulling her to pieces at the other.
William BAYLY:
              About noon an Indian
stole a small piece of iron
        and went into his canoe with it
and refused to give it up for some time,
            which exasperated Captain Cook
and he fired a musket full of small shot
     into the canoe,
              which wounded 3 or 4 men
in their backs and backsides,
     which made the whole party leave us
rather apparently in an ill humour.
Mask.Nootka Sound. Cook Collection

Mask.Nootka Sound. Cook Collection.

John Webber: Longboat & Natives. Click.

Meaning is value, the meaning of the act rather than the act itself. Cook, exasperated beyond control on this occasion, orders Molesworth Phillips to fire off a round of shot into the canoe of one particularly obnoxious member of the host community. What does it mean? Anger and resentment? Future respect? Fear? Regret? Revenge biding its time? Another day Cook will be more kindly. What did it mean to Cook at that moment? What did it mean to William Bayly, astronomer, who witnessed the event and recorded it in his journal? What do the star's positions have to do with the rock-salt and rusty nails festering under the skin of three persons? For Bayly the question is too obvious even for comment. What does it mean? In every case there is an important and separate answer. What does it mean to me who reads of the event in Bayly's journal and later treats it in a poem? What does it mean to you, who read my words and Bayly's quoted journal notes, at a time and place known only to yourself?


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