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19 July 2018

The Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook

A penny dreadful account of  James Cook’s boyhood titled The Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook, offers an unusual example of 19th-century literature concerning this figure.  Published in 20 parts from 1 November 1869, the author of the account remained anonymous, but its publisher was E. Harrison, known for his “sensational fiction” and creation of cheap weekly periodicals aimed at children and adults.  Each part opened with a striking illustration, often of the young figure of Cook embroiled in a physical struggle or in the process of escaping danger.

Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain CookThe Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook, Mariner. Showing how by Honesty, Truth, and Perseverance, a Poor, Friendless Orphan Boy became a Great Man.  Beautifully illustrated (London: E. Harrison, 1870) available online

This work is notable for the inaccuracies and embellishments in its description of Cook’s childhood.  Though it is not acknowledged as fictitious in the volume itself, this may have been presumed by the readership.

The story begins with James Cook at the age of ten, living in the village of Marton with his sick and widowed mother.  While this was the correct location of the real Cook’s birth, on 27 October 1728, at the age of eight his family had moved to Great Ayton.  His parents in the Adventures are named as James and Mary Cook, and his father had died while working for a Farmer Gripman.  In reality Cook’s mother was named Grace.  James Cook Senior worked for a Mr Mewburn in Marton and a Mr Thomas Skottowe on Ayton and he was still very much alive at this stage in the younger Cook’s life.

A key plot point of the early chapters of the volume is the death of Cook’s ailing widowed mother, leaving him behind as an orphan with no siblings.  The real Cook was the second of eight children, four of whom died young.  Through this constructed context the series introduced the 19th-century literary trope of the impoverished orphan.  By opening the fictional story of his life in this manner the events that followed could address Cook going out into the world alone and navigating its trials and tribulations.

The events that ensued are filled with action and adventure, childhood companions both kind like Ichabod ‘Ikey’ Mangles, and cruel like Octavius Challoner.  Mysterious strangers act as defenders and draw the hero into new environments.  Together they guide the fictional Cook to his ultimate purpose and allow him to display his moral worth.  His values of honesty and kindness are always rewarded.

While connections to the facts of Cook’s early life are few, these tales create an origin story for the idealised vision of the James Cook that had become well-known in juvenile literature of this period.  In the final scene, as the vessel enters Whitby harbour, where the real Cook learnt his trade and his ships like the Endeavour and Resolution were built, the writer states ‘that with honesty and integrity for a motto, the most unpromising commencement of life may have the brightest finish’.

Mary McMahon
AHRC CDP PhD Student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and the British Museum

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C. The Life of Captain James Cook (London: A. and C. Black, 1974).
The Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook, Mariner. Showing how by Honesty, Truth, and Perseverance, a Poor, Friendless Orphan Boy became a Great Man.  Beautifully illustrated (London: E. Harrison, 1870) - available online.

 

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

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17 July 2018

The mysterious death of Captain Archibald Anderson

Captain Archibald Anderson was in command of the East India Company ship Nottingham when he disappeared in May 1790.  Accident?  Suicide?  Or something more sinister?

Archibald Anderson (c. 1751-1790) started his career as an apprentice in the Scottish coastal trade in the mid-1760s.  He joined the East India Company’s service as a midshipman in 1770.  By 1786 he had risen through the ranks to be appointed Captain of the Nottingham and in 1790 was returning to England from his second season in command of the vessel.

East Indiaman from Betwixt the Forelands'East Indiaman' from William Clark Russel, Betwixt the Foreland (London,1889) BL flickr  Noc

On 23 May 1790 the Nottingham arrived back in England at the Downs having sailed from Portsmouth in February 1789 for Madras and China.  The following morning the Captain's servants discovered that Anderson was not in his quarters, his clothes for the day were still laid out on his sofa, and he was nowhere to be found on board ship.

The Chief Mate George Max states in his journal:
“The servants missing Captain Anderson, a search was made throughout the ship not finding him, supposed he had fell overboard out of the Stern Gallery, as his clothes laid all on the sopha”.

A second ship’s journal tells a very similar story:
“Am. the Servants missing Capt. Anderson a first search was made thro the ship not finding himself found he had fell overboard in the Night out of the stern gallery as his cloathes was left on the Sopha”.

The general consensus from the ship’s officers and crew was that he must have fallen out of the stern gallery during the night and that they therefore considered his death to be accidental.  Newspaper reports of the incident published on 4 June 1790 however shed two very different lights on what they believed had occurred.

The Hereford Chronicle reported that there had been confrontations throughout the voyage between the Captain and his officers and that he had intended reporting their conduct on his return.  Although not explicitly stated, the tone of the article implies that he may have been pushed to prevent the poor conduct charges from being pressed.

Hereford Journal 4 June 1790Hereford Chronicle 4 June 1790 British Newspaper Archive

The Chelmsford Chronicle however claims his death as a suicide.  It also references the poor conduct and relations between Captain and Officers, but claims that the Captain had in the days leading up to his death apologised for his conduct and stated his intention not to pursue any conduct charges and to leave it be.  He allegedly even dined with the officers two successive evenings, including the evening prior to his death.  The newspaper also alleges he had written a report to the Board of Directors of the East India Company, dismissed his purser and then written and sealed a letter to a friend before throwing himself out of the window.

Chelmsford Chronicle 4 June 1790Chelmsford Chronicle 4 June 1790 British Newspaper Archive

If Captain Anderson did write a report to the Board of Directors and sent it to them prior to his death, it sadly appears that it no longer survives, and his death therefore will forever be shrouded in mystery. 

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/287H, Journal of George Max, Chief Mate, 27 Nov 1788-12 Jul 1790
IOR/L/MAR/B/287-H, Ship’s Journal 27 Nov 1788-12 Jul 1790 (unknown author)
Hereford Chronicle 4 June 1790,  and Chelmsford Chronicle 4 June 1790 accessed via the British Newspaper Archive

 

13 July 2018

Tyau mate oee – My friends, I am dying

On 9 November 1770, a Tahitian boy about twelve years of age died, probably of tuberculosis, in Batavia, now Jakarta.  In the 18th century Batavia was a Dutch East India Company base, and so plagued by disease that it acquired a reputation as a ‘cemetery’. 

Taiato ‘The Lad Taiyota, native of Otaheite, in the dress of his country.’ from A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's Ship the Endeavour (London, 1784). 10497.ff.6, plate IX Images Online

Taiato is among those in the shadows on our historical stage; sadly not unusual for indigenous people.  He made nine appearances in the records, between 13  July, when he joined Captain Cook’s Endeavour with the Tahitian navigator and priest Tupaia, and 26 December 1770, when Cook noted his death alongside others.  He burst into the limelight in one of these appearances which took place off the coast of New Zealand on 15 October 1769.  The Endeavour had only sighted land a few days before, but already a great deal had happened. Banks described  9 October as ‘the most disagreable day My life has yet seen’.  An estimated nine Māori had already been shot dead, and the Endeavour had acquired virtually no fresh supplies of food and water in the nearly two months since they left the Society Islands.

As the crew started to trade for fish with Māori in canoes alongside the ship, a many-layered event unfolded.  Cook tried to trade some red cloth for a Māori cloak, but no sooner was the cloth in the trader’s hand, than he sat down in the canoe, which calmly withdrew.  After a brief discussion amongst themselves, the Māori approached again.  This time however they had other ambitions.  As the ship’s surgeon Monkhouse recorded: ‘we were attending to the coming up of the great war Canoe when all on a sudden an Alarm was given that one of the fishermen had pulled Tupaia’s boy into the boat – they instantly put off, and the great Canoe, as if the scheme had been preconcerted, immediately put themselves in a fighting posture ready to defend the other boat and stood ready to receive the boy from them.  Our astonishment at so unexpected a trick is not to be described’.  The Endeavour’s crew, and particularly Tupaia, were outraged and shots were immediately fired at the Māori, fatally wounding several, and securing Taiato’s escape.

This brief moment in the limelight hints at significant relationships, clearly between Tupaia and Taiato, but also between Taiato and others on the Endeavour.  This invites speculation as to what happened off-stage in the shadows.  According to Druett among others, Taiato was popular with many of the crew. His last, painful, dying words were addressed to his friends, and we have some reason to believe that they were genuine friendships.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Maps

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C., 1955-1969. The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press. (For Monkhouse's account.)
Druett, J., 2011. Tupaia: Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator. Oxford: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
South Seas Voyaging Accounts   

 

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

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