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Whitby in the Time of Cook
Origins & Aspirations: Lecture with Sophie Forgan
Talks / Lecture
Origins & Aspirations: Lecture with Sophie Forgan
15 December 2018
In the mid-18th Century, Whitby was a booming industrial town, a centre of shipbuilding and a centre of professional maritime training, in particular in mathematics. It was entrepreneurial and aspirational - a place where there were opportunities to make careers, and in some cases considerable wealth.
James Cook is sometimes described as the son of a farm labourer who learnt to sail on collier barks between Whitby and London, and then learnt cartography while serving in the Royal Navy in Canada. Sophie Forgan, (Chairman of Trustees, Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby, UK) challenges this view and argues that Whitby was key to the formation of the young Cook’s skills and aptitudes.
Cook in Whitby with Sophie Forgan
*Speakers: Susannah Helman (S), Sophie Forgan (F)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: Saturday 15 December 2018
S: My name is Susannah Helman and I’m Co-Curator of Cook and the Pacific, our major exhibition that you can see upstairs.
As we begin I would like to acknowledge the first Australians on whose land we meet. I pay my respects to the elders of Ngunnawal and Nganbury people past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.
In 2018 we marked the 250th anniversary of the beginning of the voyage of The Endeavour. The Library is very, very privileged to have a rich collection of material relating to Cook’s three Pacific voyages and is in an ideal position to present an exhibition about his voyages. This is an exhibition that has required much thought. It is not an easy task to examine the legacy of those who have gone before us in a way that recognises their achievements but also gives due consideration to the consequences of those achievements. Cook and the Pacific aims to offer a different perspective on Captain James Cook and the rich, multifaceted Pacific cultures that he encountered. But this exhibition is also about Cook, the man, the navigator, scientist, ship’s captain and husband.
This afternoon we’re very privileged to hear from Dr Sophie Forgan, Chairman of Trustees at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, the United Kingdom. An historian by profession Sophie has been involved with the Museum for just over 20 years. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby has generously lent seven of its treasures to our exhibition, treasures that add immeasurably to the exhibition. So it’s an absolute delight to have Sophie here with us today. Please join me in welcoming Dr Sophie Forgan.
F: Good afternoon and thank you very much for inviting me, I feel very privileged to be talking here during the wonderful exhibition you have upstairs which I’m full of admiration for, I think it’s absolutely fascinating.
Now I’m going to talk about Whitby. I slightly provocatively in my notes about this started by asking did Whitby matter? It’s lucky I’m not in Whitby actually when I say this. What I want to ask is is the place where the young Cook spent nine years learning his trade really important? There’s such a huge distance both physically and mentally between the Whitby of the mid-18th century and the Whitby of today which is a charming seaside town and a favourite resort and people come just to eat the fish and chips.
So what do we really know about the local world in which Cook grew to maturity? What was the physical and social reality of that environment and how might it affect our interpretation of Cook’s career, that famous trajectory from farm boy to intrepid circumnavigator and finally to hero or anti-hero as he sometimes is? I cannot do better than start from John Gascoigne’s analysis of Cook as a voyager between worlds which I think hasn’t been bettered and re-examine some aspects of Cook’s world during those early years in Yorkshire.
So focusing on the world of Whitby rather than immediately on Cook himself I hope to paint a rather different picture to the one that many are familiar with and I shall emphasise three important characteristics of 18th century Whitby. First, that it was a booming industrial town, note industrial. Second, that it was a centre of outstanding professional education with an emphasis on mathematics. And third, that it was outward-looking and very well connected to the world by sea and generally speaking this was an aspirational environment. And to illustrate some of these points I shall refer fairly frequently to two men who were well-known in the town during the time that Cook was there, Lionel Charlton and I'm afraid we haven’t got a portrait of him, and Abel Chapman. One was a mathematics master, the other was a shipowner and general magnate.
So let’s start with my first theme, Whitby in the 18th century, a booming industrial town. For those of you who have visited the town, and I know some have, they’ve been delighted by its quaint old-fashioned charm, the houses clustered on either side of the river, steep cliffs and ruined abbey perched above. And I want you to transform that image with smoke, industry, the smell of tar, hemp and sawn timber, the endless rising and falling of the tides which left large areas of intertidal mud. In fact there are two halves, the east side here and the west side where there was slightly more flat ground.
But generally speaking there was very little flat ground so houses crept up the hill towards the abbey and across on the west side. The medieval street pattern on the east side was retained but it became very, very crowded indeed as every scrap of land on the original plots was backfilled with houses. As you can see here they fill up every single scrap. And living in Whitby meant climbing up and down hills and endless flights of steps as well as the famous 199 steps that lead you up to the abbey and St Mary’s Church at the top.
However one advantage of the location was that water could flow through the rocks on which these houses were built and wells could be dug and there was also a convenient sewer in the shape of the river flowing through the centre and the harbour was scoured to some extent by the tides each day. So it was a town that didn’t generally have the unfavourable, unhealthy reputation of most towns. And it was crowded because it was booming, there was work to be had. There were alum workings along the coasts, some there. And alum was a very profitable business, providing an essential fixative for the textile industry.
Whitby itself was a service port working the business of transporting coal between Newcastle slightly to the north and London. And of course on the return journey the ships bought supplies of goods for the town’s industry and especially urine for the alum industry too. And it was a trading port. Sailing to the north, German, Baltic and Russian ports, very essential naval stores and supplies and it was a shipbuilding and repair town. And it was a place from which you could hire ships and the Admiralty Transport Service were constantly hiring Whitby ships especially as troop transports in periods of war to the great benefit of their owners’ pocket. And it’s been calculated for instance that no less than 50 Whitby ships were used as transports in the taking of Quebec in 1759 in the Seven Years’ War.
And the Admiralty in fact had – and this is often forgotten – had long been familiar with the qualities of Whitby-built ships as Lord Anson had taken a Whitby ship as a transport on his famous ‘round the world voyage. And while the rest of his fleet was getting scattered or shipwrecked or mutiny and so on the Whitby ship, the Anna Pink, went on turning up at the rendezvous in one place at the right time unharmed until finally the poor thing was cannibalised to repair some of the remaining ships.
Let me pause now for a moment on shipbuilding. It’s been reckoned that here’s a whole lot of shipbuilding tools and it’s been reckoned that Whitby was among the top half dozen shipbuilding centres outside London, rivalling places that we think of as far bigger such as Newcastle, Hull or Liverpool. That was in part because shipbuilders had developed a distinctive and highly successful product, the collier barque or cat as it’s often termed, famous Endeavour, Resolution and so on. And I’m sure you know how capacious and extremely durable these carriers of cheap bulk goods such as coal were. And such ships were a perfect response to London’s growing need for coal as well as for goods and naval stores to furnish its own shipyards.
We cannot be sure of the precise size of the Whitby fleet but it’s a fair calculation that by the 1750s some 200 ships were owned and operated by Whitby masters, far more than you could actually get and fit in the harbour. And throughout the 18th century the facilities for shipbuilding expanded until the river bank was a solid mass of shipyards, dry docks, raff yards, sale lofts and two rope works as well for creating the very long ropes needed for sailing ships. And there were ship repair facilities. If you look here they’re on dry docks and in fact there’s another one there and there are more dry docks around here, dry dock there. Detail from that map. I’ve seen one of these dry docks, it’s now sadly under a carpark but when it was briefly excavated when they were changing the water supply pipes and so on there it was brick-lined, beautifully shaped 18th century dock.
And ship repair was very good business and Whitby builders advertised their facilities widely. In November 1734 for instance John Watson announced in The Newcastle [Coralt] 11:55, the local paper there that two dry docks were now completed and fit for repairing ships of any berth. Well not quite true because you couldn’t get ships of more than 400 tons through the bridge linking the two sides of the town but you know it’s a reasonable boast.
It’s significant too that another Whitby shipbuilder, Thomas Fishburne, of the famous Fishburne and Langborne yard which later built Endeavour announced the opening of a new dry dock in 1758 in a London newspaper. So their reputation was not just local. And this expansion meant a huge number of skilled craftsmen at work and Lionel Charlton who wrote about Whitby in the later 1770s reckoned that some 24 or 25 new ships were being produced every year and that there were some 300 carpenters working in the shipyards. That’s a lot of ships and a lot of men.
And the impact on the town in one respect at least was that its physical fabric was being transformed. Previously timber-built houses had been built almost on top of each other with jettied entrances so the people could enter from different levels which was very convenient in a town with a transient population of seamen. But by the 1740s new houses were being built of brick, pantile, which are the roof tiles, increasingly replaced thatch and that’s a quote by Charlton which shall we say shows more than a little one upmanship architecturally speaking at work. But surviving those houses both in stone and brick provide plentiful evidence of growing prosperity. And to this I’d add continuing works on the harbour to lengthen the piers, replace the bridge, make it a bit more reliable and wider, improving the roads which were pretty bad as well as cleaning up the town and improving its governments. So when Cook was in Whitby he saw a town being physically transformed.
Let me go on now to my second theme, professional education. All those young men who were drawn to Whitby, what did they do? Well apprenticeship was obviously the main route and in 1747/48, the first full year that Cook was an apprentice there were – and it’s been counted – no less than 1,256 apprentices listed in the ship’s muster rolls. And we’re talking of a total population in the town of between 5 and 6,000 so the town must have been awash with men and - young men and boys. And boys came not only from the surrounding countryside but from places much further afield, Edinburgh and the Orkneys, for instance, have been listed. What an impact that must have meant on the town, this young population of boys and young men.
And there are several reasons why training in Whitby was highly regarded and the first is perhaps surprising. There was no public, endowed or grammar school in Whitby. In many places after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, and there is Whitby Abbey in the top corner, some of the proceeds went into endowing a grammar school. Not so in Whitby. The concept once was that there was no accepted model of a standard classical education for the sons of prosperous merchants. Boys didn’t have to learn Latin, pass their verses or study Roman models of behaviour. Cicero there of course was the chief model, often referred to.
By contrast there were commercially orientated schools and the teaching of maths was encouraged because of course of its practical use at sea. And there are records of a number of schools in Whitby throughout the 18th century including Lionel Charlton’s school from 1748, though of course Charlton was a university-educated man so of course he has to put in a Latin tag as well, a saying that he was teacher of the mathematics at Whitby.
Another reason why thorough training and practical professional education was valued was because of the dominant presence of the Society of Friends or Quakers in Whitby. Quakerism, with its belief in moderation in all things, in not bearing arms and abstaining from violence, was a powerful force among the ship-owning fraternity in Whitby. Quakers refused to pay tithes to the Church of England and had absolutely no interest in following a classical education. They were however great supporters of education including girls. Education for them should be practical, professional and follow the principles of ploughing money back into the business and that of course helped make the Quakers some of the most prosperous people in the mercantile community.
I’ve put on the left-hand side there a notebook by one of the ship masters for one of his apprentices, Peter Master, and he pays his mother, the boy’s mother for washing. He buys him new trousers, he buys him new shoes and apprentices were even bought handkerchiefs you know no wiping your snotty nose on your sleeve, you use a handkerchief as a proper person, especially if you were destined to become an officer, the ship’s officer. There’s a strong thread if you like of gentility running through the education. With this boy, there he is, shoes and stockings again, he’s buying shirts and even the Constable for taking him up when he run away so the boy was obviously homesick and ran back home but was brought back by the Constable.
Now maths education was especially relevant for those who were going to become responsible for navigating ships on the coastal but dangerous route to London. Let me say a little bit more about Lionel Charlton who styled himself teacher of the mathematics as I showed you earlier. He had a school here, not actually in that building because that building was built just after his death but his school was there and his career very neatly in life overlaps with that of Cook. He was born in Northumberland about 1720 and educated at Edinburgh University and he settled in Whitby in 1748 when Cook is into his second year of apprenticeship.
It’s only a few hundred yards, his school, from John Walker’s house in Great Plain where Cook was being apprenticed and Charlton was apparently strict, tough but known as a man of absolute integrity. He refused for instance to take an extra pupil if he hadn’t got room even though a higher fee was offered. He was also an accomplished surveyor and worked extensively for estates, large and small around the region. And some of his surveys survive including this one and he’d been seen around the town with his equipment. That particular survey is of some fields just outside the town in Ruswarp.
Charlton was also a lover of mathematical puzzles and problems and described himself as a philomath. It’s inscribed on his tombstone, a lover of maths. And this term, philomath, links him with a wider community of mathematical practitioners and people interested in rational knowledge. He submitted mathematical puzzles to journals such as these ones. He also submitted notices of eclipses of the sun and of a forthcoming transit of Mercury. We don’t know whether Cook had any contact with Charlton, alas no list of pupils unfortunately survive but Charlton was widely respected and set high standards for professional education, especially in maths. And among his pupils were boys who became surveyors, harbourmasters, ships’ captains as well as a variety of other occupations.
And Charlton’s mathematical school wasn’t an innovation but tapped into a well established tradition in the town. This is part of a wonderful apprentices’ workbook which survives from Francis [Salkeld’s] 22:21 earlier school. [Salkeld] in fact was another Quaker. It dates from 1711 to 1715 when the boy, Henry Simpson, who was only about 12 had to solve practical navigational problems using trigonometry and logarithms. And how was this taught? The method of teaching was generally a combination of the school master perhaps demonstrating – chalk and talk if you like – and then the pupil had to work through problems either set by the master or from one of the well-known textbooks on maths. And once he got it right he copied it into his workbook or his ciphering book as they were sometimes called which was a record of what the boy had learnt and of course then could be shown to his parents, was a visible demonstration of what he’d learnt.
And the problems are lovely, they’re strictly practical. For an example, an exercise in oblique sailing, this one there was couched in accessible language and concerned a problem of catching a pirate who’d robbed and dismasted a ship. There’s another book – from the book. The book also covered plain, parallel, Mercator and [Curant] 23:50 sailing and Simpson had a wonderful talent for decorating his text ingeniously, fish occasionally and there in fact are his initials with a set of compasses. And the last pages of the book are devoted to how to keep a proper ship’s log recording direction, distance sailed, calculation of position and weather conditions. And not surprisingly young Henry went on to become a master mariner. He was from a master mariner’s family, very successful though he died fairly young, just before the age of 40.
Let’s go back to Cook and his education. Captain King writes in his account of the third voyage that Cook said that it was in Canada that he first read Euclid and applied himself to the study of mathematics and astronomy. Okay but I think this is a bit of a simplification. Even someone like myself who is generally speaking fairly mathematically challenged, all mathematics at this time was based on Euclid and the trigonometry that Cook would have mastered in order to become a merchant marine, master’s mate and then a captain and then in the Royal Navy was typically Euclidian. It was plane geometry, yes, spherical geometry on the right there was only just being developed by Euler and had not yet entered the normal educational curriculum but the story of Cook studying with the extra candle ends provided by Walker’s housekeeper is very much in the ciphering book, Model of Learning with its large mixture of DIY study. And what can be said with certainty is that Cook acquired in Whitby a firm mathematical basis on which he could build. He couldn’t have been offered the captaincy of one of Walker’s ships otherwise. And he seems to have been adept, more than merely competent in this respect.
But he did take with him on his first Pacific voyage Robertson’s Elements of Navigation, a standard work on the subject. What was it for? For reference, bedtime reading or help training the midshipmen, we don’t know but mathematical training certainly remained at the forefront of professional marine education in Whitby long after Cook’s time. There’s this wonderful advertisement for Jonathan Hornby’s School Shows. There – all the various branches of the mathematics. And look at the instruments, the sextant, the telescope, the ciphering book, the eclipses and so on.
So leaving mathematics let me pass on now to my third theme. The characteristic I want to draw attention to particularly was that the town was outward-looking, entrepreneurial and aspirational and there were abundant role models in this respect and again Lionel Charlton sums it up beautifully and I love the phrase about men becoming rich and opulent by their own effort. I’m going to take Abel Chapman as an example of the very model of a self-made modern magnate.
Chapman was born into a family of Quakers and was one of five brothers. His father, William, was perhaps more accurately the one who really appears to have set the family fortunes in motion and all the brothers were involved in industry in the time. Abel himself married three times and his second wife was the sister of the Captain John Walker to whom Cook was apprenticed. They had four children, Abel eventually counted 10 offspring but his wife, Elizabeth, died. Abel remarried and built a new house, now demolished, just ‘round the corner in Church Street, about 50 yards from Walker’s house in Great Plane. And relations between the Chapmans and the Walkers were evidently close and in 1763 for example Captain Walker gave his Chapman nephews each £100, a generous gift which would help – serve to help them set them up in their own business ventures.
And enough information about Chapman’s businesses, and this is all correspondence from Chapman’s business, survives to see how varied and effective it was. Certainly he owned ships which were engaged in the coal trade and also traded across to the Baltic and here I’ve plotted both – in the blue line, Abel Chapman’s voyages that we know about as well as the voyages that the young Cook took while in Whitby and of course the Navy transport service as well.
Chapman also owned property and invested in new facilities such as docks which he then leased out and in all his account books lists sums received as dock rents, composition payments in lieu of repairs, rents from other properties, the proceeds of investment in part shares in other ships as well as profits from individual voyages. Multiple income streams indeed, quite an entrepreneur. And by the 1750s one of his sons was more or less permanently in London taking care of the business at that end and Chapman wrote regularly to him with numerous instructions, send these lads here to join that ship, ask the Navy Board if they wish the ship to proceed to London to pick up more troops, no doubt. Enquire whether there’s anything worth carrying to Dublin, details about ships and their cargos sailing to Riga, Lubec and the Baltic etc. And he’s got a new chart of the north of Scotland and send it down on the next ship and so on and so on.
Indeed one survivor among Chapman’s papers is a rare Russian atlas of the Baltic published in 1755 and belonging to one of Chapman’s ships, The Brothers. This can’t have been cheap, it’s you know that big and it must have been obtained in St Petersburg or in one of the Baltic ports and it’s annotated by hand here for instance and some of the names are rendered in English script and language. It shows a concern to make sure that the best available charts were obtained in order that your ships voyaged as safely as possible and it also indicates that outward-looking attitude I spoke of and a willingness to access new information in whatever form it came. So an attitude if you like to having the best available charts and to having good charts was characteristic of ship captains in the town.
By the time of Chapman’s death in 1777 he’d built up a business which responded to the needs of trade both in wartime and in peacetime and he appears to have lived a more than comfortable life in even mildly elegant fashion. He managed to die a Quaker though he had been reproved and necessarily chucked out in 1750s for arming his ships which was against Quaker practice. And his portrait shows a man with quite an interesting face, probably quite tough but he’s not dressed in typical sober Quaker fashion but in a red coat and a ruffled shirt. Even to have your portrait painted was rather unQuaker-like because it might encourage vanity. His descendants certainly did well, one grandson becoming Whitby’s first member of parliament and another founding a bank.
And if we think about aspiration I think we can also use the Walkers as role models for a hardworking and ambitious young apprentice. Captain John Walker, Cook’s Master, was a prosperous and successful shipowner and master mariner but we can go beyond that and look at his house for a moment. The house itself was brick built in 1688, three floors, attic and cellar and acquired by the Walker family in 1729. It’s typical of the house, the sort of house that would have been owned by a well to do Whitby master mariner of the period, conveniently located on the harbour side. It was both a domestic and a working environment with a yard sloping down to the banks of the river bordered with stalls. Inside the rooms are modestly sized and indeed some feel a little reminiscent of ships. There’s some old ships’ timbers reused as beams and wood-panelled room partitions which could be moved as convenient if you needed to reorganise the spaces just as happened on board ship. It’s a house that was created with economy, skill and care with additions as and when need and funds allowed.
What can we surmise from all of this? The first obvious reflection is the degree of fine craftsmanship shown for example in the way that a door is curved there in order to create space and the ease of movement up the staircase the other side. And the way that a balustrade is turned or a staircase landing is marked by a simple pilaster in the wainscot panelling. And that is kept in Walker’s doorknob as it were.
Whitby’s skilled carpenters were equally utilised in the domestic sphere and in all its modest elegance and practicality demonstrates a solid unpretentious comfort where profits were ploughed back into the business. And this was just the sort of house that a property-less young man might aspire to if he worked hard and served staunchly in that tough school of seamen trained on the coasts of the North Sea. It speaks of hard work and integrity, of self-improvement, of an environment which valued and encouraged education and the fine honing of skills. And the hours spent in the company of Walker and his family, meals sometimes taken together, the standards and skills encouraged ashore and on board ship. And even the story of the housekeeper saving candle ends for the young man to study in the evening all attest to the importance of this environment at a formative period in Cook’s life.
And at the same time it plays neatly into that influential cultural archetype, the industrious apprentice. And Hogarth published his wonderful series, Industry and Idleness, in 1746 contrasting the lives of two apprentices precisely during the years that Cook was serving his own apprenticeship. And Hogarth’s industrious apprentice there ended as the Lord Mayor of London and the young Cook ended as an explorer and cartographer of world renown. Unfortunately the – I can’t carry the analogy right the way through Hogarth’s series as it was the idle apprentice who went to sea in the hope of easy pickings and prize money but he didn’t last long and was soon back on shore. But the point I wish to make is that Walker provided that sort of aspirational environment, encouraged education, skills and professionalism and it wasn’t for nothing that Cook maintained contact with Walker for the rest of his life.
So in conclusion I hope I’ve painted a picture of a dynamic and entrepreneurial environment, a fast expanding town, a hive of industrial activity, shipbuilding, ship repair, provisioning, trading and transporting, whether coals or troops. And Whitby ships did much more than just the Newcastle to London coal run, they were already sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, ‘round the British Isles, across to the Baltic. And in such an environment it’s not so very surprising to find that the young Cook decided to spread his wings further and join the Royal Navy. Whitby was a place that valued professional expertise and training as the Admiralty itself was only too well aware and laid the groundwork for continuing professional advancement. And nor was it devoid of wider culture, though Cook may have missed the opening of the first theatre in Whitby which was in 1763, some seven years after he had left the town.
When Lionel Charlton came to write his history of Whitby which was published in 1779 the list of subscribers to the volume which is published in the front numbered 512 which was a very respectable number for those days. Those subscribers included well-known figures such as the Archbishop of York, Dr Samuel Johnson of dictionary fame, the artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Thomas Pennant, well-known naturalist and author, and many others. This indicates Charlton’s access to a wider circle but revealingly the list also contains the names of 52 sea captains, most from Whitby on the northeast. Captains from this coast might be tough and doughty mariners but were far from uncultured.
I’ve also emphasised that mathematics played an important role in the education of boys and young men. When Cook had that fortunate encounter with Samuel Holland on a beach in Nova Scotia at the siege of Lewisburg he already had the language and skills to master new techniques and apply them innovatively. And mathematics also underlay Cook’s passion for precision and accuracy which coupled with his dogged thoroughness made him such a superb cartographer.
And finally in this place here where Cook’s role in history and the history of this country is both commemorated and re-examined we’re reminded of course to look at the view from the beach from the other side and there are many beaches. And I would end with another beach in faraway Yorkshire beneath the cliffs of Whitby and the occasion of that famous transit of Venus on the 3rd of June 1769. On that day in Whitby 25 yards away from the sea a man observed the transit using a short telescope to do so, a superior astronomical instrument. He didn’t give his name but submitted an anonymous account to the Oxford Journal a week later. Was it Charlton? Very probably. He often wrote to journals and was someone likely to own a superior instrument.
So while Cook was observing the transit in Matavai Bay it’s intriguing to reflect that on the other side of the world, give or take a few hours, the transit was also being observed in Whitby, the town in which Cook first learnt his maritime skills. Thank you.
S: Please join me in thanking Dr Forgan.
S: We do have time for a few questions from the audience. Please raise your hand and a microphone will be brought to you. I ask that you wait for the microphone before asking your question for the benefit of all of our guests.
A: This was very interesting but a lot of unanswered questions. One for me is why did all this start in Whitby in the first place? There were better - there were towns along that coast which were a better location, Newcastle upon Tyne which had plenty of money and coal, Kingston upon Hull which was a larger port and so on all the way down to the wash and so on. Why did a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire moors start a shipbuilding industry and have all this activity?
F: Sometimes it’s just luck, the luck of location. Hull wasn’t that big at that time, it had other industries too and the shipbuilding was not as big as Whitby’s shipbuilding, the industry in the mid-18th century. By the end of the century yes, it had overtaken. Newcastle, well they had a very comfortable life if you like with the coal trade and of course there’s a great deal more variety and there wasn’t that shall we say both absence of other opportunities and facilities that shall we say directed everyone’s focus to this particular extremely successful. I think it’s a difficult question to answer because it’s part culture, it’s part economics, it’s part location, it’s part where you get your supplies and sources from and certainly until the last quarter of the 18th century most of the timber for Whitby-built ships was coming from the region, it was not Baltic timber. Baltic timber was used for decking and sometimes masts and so on but not for the hulls, the key part. So I think it will remain an open question.
A: At what age did Cook commence his stay and what age did he depart from Whitby?
F: He commenced his apprenticeship at the age of 17 which was quite old, boys were apprenticed from the age of 11 or 12 normally and he stayed in Whitby nine years and he was 26 when he left. Okay?
A: Dr Forgan, thank you very much for that interesting talk. Two questions leap into my mind, the Quaker connection is very interesting. Would you like to comment at all on Cook’s death which was a very violent death and perhaps an aggressive altercation with the indigenous people in Hawaii? Any comment at all that you’d like to make about Cook’s violent death. And then the second question is France was England’s great rival in the navy and in the sea and the French were aware of Cook’s voyage and sent out their own ship from their colony in India to – and actually sailed down the east coast of Australia before Cook sailed up it but they had a disastrous voyage. Not content with that defeat again they traced the first fleet in 1788 and – but again had a very disastrous voyage and were defeated if you like or the British succeeded and the French failed otherwise we might all be speaking French.
Do you think the British culture and that Quaker influence, but not just the Quaker influence, and the discipline that that provided as well as the skills and intelligence in captaining those ships and the culture amongst the crew gave the British some sort of superior edge over the French and that’s why – partly why they succeeded and partly why the French failed? I apologise for these long questions.
F: Yes, large questions. Cook’s death, yes, a violent and aggressive one and the result of miscalculations, misunderstandings and a lapse of judgement on Cook’s part. I think it has little to do with you know any influence of Quakerism at that time and it has been pointed out that there were several other occasions on which Cook might have met his end during the earlier parts of the third voyage or even the second or the first voyage. He was lucky up to that point.
I think the influence of Quakers is quite a tricky one because while I think he was much influenced by their style of life and their – not quite the quietism but the nonaggressive nature and also the fact that you regarded each person whoever they were as an individual who was touched by God and therefore worthy of respect which underlay his dealings with indigenous peoples at most times.
He was – he certainly never became a Quaker and I don’t think he was shall we say much of a God man. He doesn’t seem to have – he had no problem with joining the navy and being tested in battle for instance, he was clearly you know a loyal subject of His Majesty.
I think if we come on to France and the voyages, yes, there are cultural differences and yes, there are differences in discipline and the French were always extremely impressed by the fact that discipline on board certainly Royal Navy ships was infinitely better than on French Navy ships, particularly during and after battles. I think that does play a part but also I think the efficiency of the navy, of the navy office, of the supplies and provisionings and planning was also a part as well. And because the navy was extremely influential as far as politics and so on was concerned it didn’t have to shall we say as in France fight against the superior influence of the army. So I think – and that comes out very much in the Napoleonic wars. It was the backing that lay behind the navy voyages, the battles, the encounters and so on that was extremely important in the success.
And I think it’s fascinating that Laperouse for instance felt that Cook was the very model of a mariner and an explorer that he should follow. And Cook’s voyages were extremely widely read and published on the continent and translated into numerous languages. I’m not sure that fully answers your question but –
S: Any more questions?
A: Not being a formal student of history I’ve greatly appreciated your talk today but I just wonder whether you could expand a little bit on the role diet played because scurvy was the terrible curse of the seafarers’ lives and Cook obviously had a very open mind you know when he was able to recognise you know that – the role of diet you know could combat that terrible threat.
F: Yes. Diet I think is important and I’m afraid I’m going to bring in Whitby again here because Cook I think learnt the principles of good diet on Whitby ships which were extremely well provisioned and always had carrots and cabbages on board and that sort of thing and bought fresh fish from passing fishing boats. And as a country boy too Cook would have grown up in the country and known the uses of wild berries and so on and in fact still scurvy grass grows in some places around Whitby and you can find sea cabbage on the cliffs of Whitby so he would have had a certain amount of countryman’s knowledge if you like of the use of plants. And the provisioning of Whitby ships in which he would have been deeply involved as first an apprentice and being trained to be a [mig] 54:33 for getting supplies and making sure that the crews were well fed because after all a lot of work was demanded of them.
On a merchant marine ship like Endeavour you had a crew of around 20, possibly up to 25 and half of those were boys. When Endeavour sailed to the south seas it had a crew of 80 so if you were in the merchant marine you had to haul an enormous amount of weight because there just were that many of you. If you were in the navy there were lots of you to haul the weights and raise the sails and so on. And I think there was a grounding there in good diet. Cook certainly didn’t understand anything about vitamins which were after all not discovered or not identified properly until the 20th century but he did understand that fresh food and certain things like sauerkraut and so on might be good for you.
And his approach was slightly if you like blunderbuss approach, he tried absolutely everything and made quite – so something would work among all the various nostrums he applied. He was quite wrong about thinking that sauerkraut was good for preventing scurvy but it was in line with the latest medical thinking at the time which felt – thought that scurvy was produced by putrefaction in the internal organs and from the stomach and so on and sauerkraut with its acidic component would combat that putrefaction. And this of course is complete nonsense medically speaking but he certainly spent a great deal of time ensuring that the crew if possible had fresh food, had fresh water and sometimes even change course in order that they could land at an island, get turtle and so on and fresh food because he was well aware that fresh food, whatever it was, was the thing that combated scurvy. And of course oddly speaking this is something that French ships were far behind with and the rates of scurvy on French ships were absolutely appalling. Anything else?
S: One last one here on the –
A: Can you tell us anything about Cook’s family? Particularly about his mother or his – we know a little bit about his father but very little about his mother.
F: We know very little about his mother, that’s quite true except that she was a local girl from what is now Thornton on Tees in North Riding – then the North Riding of Yorkshire. I think it’s worth remembering that his father was a Scot, not a highland Scot just over the border but came from a Scottish tradition where education was provided in every village and his father would certainly have been literate and valued education so it’s no surprise to find that you might say he encouraged his son to –
A: Brothers and sisters?
F: He had brothers and sisters, he had an elder brother who died at the age of 21 after Cook had become an apprentice in Walker so – Walker’s service so Cook had already as it were left to make his way in the world as a second son should and there was no inheritance to look forward to. He had sisters and so on. Two of the sisters survived and married, one called Christina had children but the line died out in the third generation. The other, Margaret, married a fisherman from Redcar and had many children and there are indeed many descendants from that branch of the family. Cook himself of course had no surviving descendants at all.
S: Thank you so much to both Sophie and to you for your very thoughtful questions. I’ll just end with some comments. Cook and the Pacific would not be possible without the support of individuals, communities, cultural institutions, corporate partners, foundations and the Australian Government. The National Library of Australia acknowledges the generous contributions of first nations peoples who have allowed their culture, experiences and voices to be heard throughout the exhibition. I’d like to acknowledge the support of Australian and international lenders especially those institutions like the Whitby Museum who’ve permitted their extraordinary collections to travel across oceans. I thank the Australian Government for providing significant funding including through the National Collecting Institution’s Touring Outreach Program and the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance Program and I'm grateful for the financial and in-kind support provided by our generous exhibition partners, ActewAGL, Pratt Foundation, Kenyon Foundation and Foxtel’s History Channel.
Unfortunately we’ve run out of time but I hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves and I invite you to take another look at Cook and the Pacific in our exhibition gallery or visit Beauty Rich and Rare and the Treasures Gallery. Please join me in thanking Dr Forgan again for this afternoon’s presentation.
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