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04 July 2018

James Cook and Benjamin Franklin

James Cook departed on his last voyage eight days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776).  The official account of that voyage was published on 4 June 1784, less than a month after the final ratification of the Treaty of Paris (12 May 1784), which concluded the American War of Independence.

The coincidence of these two historic events converged in the public sphere on 10 March 1779 with the publication of Benjamin Franklin’s open letter ordering American sea captains, if they happened to encounter him, to treat Cook and his crew ‘with all civility and kindness … as common friends to mankind’.

  Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 - page 1 Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 - page 2Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140

The letter received considerable press coverage at the time.  Opinions about it were sharply divided. On 26 May 1779, after summarizing its contents, Lloyd’s Evening Post ends with a quotation from Swift: ‘See, Brothers, how we Apples swim’.  The line, spoken by a ball of ‘horse’s dung’, clearly implies that Franklin’s support for Cook’s voyage is nothing but a vain attempt to share in its glory.

The Whig-leaning Public Advertiser, in contrast, used the letter to voice anti-war sentiments.  On 7 June 1779 a whimsical article imagines Cook being captured by an American ship.  On discovering his identity, the Americans follow Franklin’s orders and present him with ‘Half a hundred Weight of right Virginia Tobacco, three Bags of Rice’, and other produce plundered from ‘a Portugueze Vessel’.  In referencing their highly profitable trading relations and their shared enemy, the ‘Portugueze’, the article stresses the economic and political importance of the relationship between Britain and America.

  Article from Public Advertiser 7 June 1779
Public Advertiser [London, England], 7 June 1779; Issue 13935 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A similar note is struck by the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser’s response to news of Cook’s death, communicated in a letter from Charles Clerke from Kamchatka, a place that in the 18th century was used as a metaphor for distance and coldness:

‘Had we been born in an island in the South-Seas, we should perhaps have called [Cook] an invader, a pirate. …The most striking circumstance surely is, that Captain Clerke should sit down in the Bay of St. Peter and Paul at Kamschatka, and write a letter to Mr. Stephens, at Charing-cross, which, in about half a year, reaches him as safely, as if it had been put into a penny-post-office… This is civilization; nor should we forget the friendly assistance of the Russians, any more than the French order, respecting Captain Cook’.

The greatest achievements of the voyage, the article suggests, were not so much Cook’s discoveries but the co-operation and free lines of communication between potentially warring powers that enabled these discoveries to happen and to be so promptly reported on.

As a counterpoint to the hostilities between Britain, France and America in the Atlantic, therefore, Cook’s voyages in the Pacific were seen, by some at least, as a way of promoting unity between so-called ‘Enlightened’ countries – les états bien policés (well-governed states) – whose destinies were presented as increasingly more entwined by commercial links and shared mœurs or ‘polite manners’.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779, State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140
Lloyd's Evening Post (London, England), 26 May- 28 May 1779; Issue 3421
Jonathan Swift, ‘On the words Brother-Protestants, and Fellow-Christians, so familiarly used by the advocates for the Repeal of the Test Act in Ireland,’ [1733] in The Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift, Vol. VII, London: T. Osborne et al., 1766, p. 206
Public Advertiser (London, England), 7 June 1779; Issue 13935
Sophie Forgan, ‘A note on the ‘Afterlife of Kamchatka,’ in Smoking Coasts and Ice-Bound Seas: Cook’s Voyage to the Arctic, Whitby: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, 2008, pp. 33-40
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), 17 January 1780; Issue 3327

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

Advert used for Cook exhibition - ship surrounded by small boats

02 July 2018

Open spaces for children – the Foundling Site Appeal

In 1926 the Foundling Hospital estate in Bloomsbury London was sold by the Governors to a business syndicate. The children were moved to the country and the old Hospital was demolished. Nine acres of ground were put on the market as building land.

View of the Foundling Hospital from outside its gatesThe Foundling Hospital from Old & New London by George Walter Thornbury and Edward Walford (1897) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dismayed at the prospect of this open space being covered by buildings, local residents formed the Foundling Estate Protection Association.  They asked the London County Council to purchase the land and preserve it as a Public Open Space, but the asking price of £700,000 was too high.  In 1929 the School Care Committees in the borough of Holborn petitioned the LCC to acquire the space as a playground and welfare centre for children growing up in neighbouring congested housing.  Again the cost proved too much.

The Association appealed to Viscount Rothermere who offered £525,000 for the Foundling Site.  His offer was rejected and the vendors prepared for a development with blocks of flats.

In January 1929 an influential group was formed – the Joint Committee of Voluntary Associations for the Welfare of Children and Young People (Foundling Site).  It had representatives from the Scouts, Guides, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, nursery schools and children’s play centres.   The Association and Committee agreed to work together.

Lord Rothermere purchased an option on the site for £525,000 in April 1929.  In August that year the Joint Committee opened the Site to nearly 3,000 local children.  Many had never run about on grass before. Toys and games were provided.  The LCC gave a grant of £500 and Queen Mary made the first of three visits.

Local schools used the Site for games throughout the year and for open-air classes in the summer.  The swimming bath was reconditioned and a nursery opened in the old sanitorium building.  The nursery children spent most of their time outdoors in fine weather and their health was seen to improve.

Cover of Notes on the Foundling Site Appeal 1929-1936 Notes on the Foundling Site Appeal 1929-1936 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

However in December 1930 Lord Rothermere informed the Joint Committee that he could not exercise his option to buy the estate.  So in February 1931, at a time of economic depression, a public appeal was launched to save the Site. Rothermere promised a gift of £50,000 if the appeal was successful.  By the end of April 1931, an average of £2,000 per week had been contributed from all over the world.  Local schoolchildren made penny collections.

A set of postcards entitled 'Save the Foundling Site' was issued by Raphael Tuck & Sons showing happy children playing in the open spaces.

Postcard of Football on the Foundling Site reverse

They included images of boys playing football…

Postcard of boys playing football on the Foundling Site

 Football on the Foundling Site - image courtesy of Tuck DB Postcards

...and the Infants’ Lawn.

Children sitting and playing on the Infants' Lawn, Foundling SiteThe Infants’ Lawn - image courtesy of Tuck DB Postcards

By June 1932 sufficient money had been raised to secure about 5½ acres of the Site.  In April 1933 Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley purchased the Foundling estate, including the still unsaved part of the open Site.  Sir Harry promised a donation of £36,250 towards the cost of the remaining part of the Site, leaving £150,000 to be raised through a ‘Final Appeal’ launched in February 1934.  The LCC made a grant and the Governors of the Foundling Hospital repurchased the northern portion for child welfare work.  In December 1935 the long struggle to save the whole of the old Foundling Hospital Site for the children of London was brought to a successful conclusion. The park re-opened in 1936 under the new name of Coram Fields.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Notes on the Foundling Site Appeal 1929-1936 issued by the Council of Management of Coram’s Fields

The Art of Children's Games 

 

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