KING, James




Author Tags: 1700-1800

After Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii, Captain James King assumed command of the Discovery. While anchored at Macao on their journey back to England, King and a party of his men went to Canton to obtain supplies and discovered their sea otter furs could be sold for vast sums. "The rage with which our men were possessed,” wrote King, “to return to Cook’s River, and, by another cargo of skins, to make their fortunes, at one time was not far short of mutiny. And, I must own, I could not help indulging myself with the thought of the project."

When a merchant offered $300 Spanish for 20 sea otter furs, plus some silks, King reportedly demanded $1,000 Spanish and settled for $800 Spanish. Back in Macao he discovered one crewman had sold a single prime skin for $120 Spanish and Midshipman James Trevenen had gained $300 Spanish for a single fur which he had obtained at Nootka Sound in exchange for a broken belt buckle. William Bligh received £15 for six skins he had obtained at Prince William Sound in exchange for 12 beads. From these revelations arose the fur trade on the coast of British Columbia.

At Nootka Sound, King noted the importance of music within the culture of Maquinna’s people. Describing their arrival at Nootka Sound, he observed, “The greatest number of the Canoes remained in a cluster around us til ten O’clock, & as they had no arms, & appeared very friendly, we did not care how long they staid to entertain themselves, & perhaps us: a man repeated a few words in tune, & regulated the meaning by beating against the Canoe sides, after which they all joined in a song, that was by no means unpleasant to the Ear.

“A young man with a remarkable soft effeminate voice after-ward sung by himself, but he ended so suddenly & unexpectedly, which being accompanied by a peculiar gesture, made us all laugh, & he finding that we were not ill pleased repeated his song several times.

“As they were now very attentive & quiet in list’ning to their diversions, we judg’d they might like our musick, & we ordered the Fife & drum to play a tune; these were the only people we had seen that ever paid the smallest attention to those or any of our musical Instruments, if we except the drum, & that only I suppose from its noise & resemblance to their own drums; they observed the profoundest silence, & we were sorry that the dark hindered our seeing the effect of this musick on their countenances.

“Not to be outdone in politeness they gave us another song, & we then entertained them with French horns, to which they were equally attentive, but gave us no more songs in return, & soon after went away, excepting a few boats that kept paddling around us all that night which was a very cold one.”
James King was born in 1750 and died in 1784.

[BCBW 2014] "1700-1800" "British"