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William Christopher – Links to James Cook and Francis Holman

 

Two members of the Society have recently attempted to find evidence that links Cook to his contemporaries but without much success in spite of lengthy and detailed research in many archives.

Geoff King1 examined in detail the question of whether Commodore William Christopher of the Hudson Bay Company and James Cook were friends, but although they both came from the north of England, had sailed in Canadian waters and lived close to each other in Stepney he failed to find a connection.

Derek Morris2 explored the possibility that Cook was well acquainted with John Binmer, a senior official in the Surveyor's Department of the Navy Board. Binmer, who lived a few houses east of Cook in Mile End Old Town, had been appointed in 1771 as Second Assistant in the Surveyor's Department in Seething Lane, near the Tower of London, but again no written evidence could be found to support this idea.

In this article we suggest that the link between Cook and Christopher was Francis Holman (1723-1784), a well-known marine painter who lived in Wapping and painted ships associated both with Cook and Christopher. He was also a link with Trinity House, William Hammond of Hull, and possibly with other members of Cook's crews and his acquaintances and friends. Holman justifies an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography and Ian Boreham3 has described Holman's painting in 1772 of the Resolution and Adventure.

We have recently discovered a great deal more information about Holman's friends and his connections to the major merchants and shipping managers in Wapping and elsewhere. Holman was a senior freemason in the Wapping-based Dundee Arms Lodge, whilst we have found that William Christopher was a member of a Masonic lodge in Stockton on Tees. This suggests that there were some social connections, or that recommendations about Holman's paintings circulated through the lodges.

Wapping

Wapping will be known to members of the CCS as the home of the Batts family and where Lieutenant William Bligh was living before he sailed on Bounty in December 1787.

In the 18th century Wapping was a major centre for the victualling and supplying of the thousands of ships that arrived in the Thames with their cargoes from all over the world. Although not a "port" in the sense of having a harbour, the mile long Wapping Wall, stretching east of the Tower of London along the north bank of the Thames, was the centre of activity for over fifty ship chandlers together with dozens of slop sellers, mast makers, and suppliers of anchors, sails, ropes, beer and biscuits and many other materials; and the taverns provided a focus for the recruitment of seamen.

Wapping was also the centre for many ship owners, the two most important groups being the Henley family and the network of Camden, Calvert and King4, an important merchant group patronised by Sir William Curtis, Lord Mayor of London in 1795-1796.

Between them the two groups owned, or were part owners, in over a hundred ships. They would thus have been in close and regular contact with ship builders and other ship owners, especially in Hull and Whitby. They would also have been well aware of the needs of the Navy Board.

At the centre of many social and business networks in Wapping was the Dundee Arms Freemasonry Lodge in Red Lyon Street in Wapping, sometimes called the Assembly Rooms. From 1763 until 1820 the lodge was meeting at number 20, and frequently held balls attended by the sailors from all over the world.

Unlike many small towns Wapping had no public buildings such as a Guildhall, where public meetings, dances and other social functions could be held. This emphasises the local importance of the rooms belonging to the Masonic lodge, as an alternative to the many hostelries such as the North Country Sailor in Gun Dock.

Francis Holman

In the parish of St George-in-the-East, close to the Tower of London and next to the parish of Wapping, and less than a mile from the homes of Cook and Christopher, lived Francis Holman, a maritime painter. This parish and the neighbouring one of Wapping were popular with mariners and ship owners, several of whom commissioned pictures of their ships from him. So in 1771 he would have been looking for new commissions, being fully aware of the opportunities that might arise from Cook's Second Voyage and also of Christopher's promotion by the Hudson's Bay Company "to the Command of One of the Company's ships".

Holman originally came from Ramsgate and, probably, about thirty of his marine paintings have survived.

So how was Holman introduced to Cook, Christopher and Hammond?

One possibility arises from the fact that Holman was a leading member of the Dundee Arms Freemasonry Lodge in Red Lyon Street in Wapping.

William Hammond and Trinity House

Holman's painting of Resolution and Adventure was in the possession of the Hammond family from 1772. Hammond was one of the leading ship owners in Hull, and in the Trinity House of Hull is his portrait painted by Lemuel Francis Abbott, in 1792. It is claimed on the portrait that "Hammond sponsored Cook's 1772 Expedition to New Zealand". That Hammond was close to Cook is well known, and he was probably the man who commissioned the ships' portrait from Francis Holman.

Hammond was clearly important in Hull, and by the 1780s he was Chairman of the Hull Dock Company. His will, proved in 1793, demonstrates his wealth and he was probably the equivalent of a millionaire in today's money.

Because of his shipping interests and wealth we would expect that Hammond was in contact with Wapping-based shipping interests, such as that of Camden, Calvert and King, who in turn had strong connections with the Dundee Arms Freemasonry Lodge and Holman.

Holman's Paintings and the Trinity House Corporation

What immediately caught our attention were Holman's commission connections to Trinity House members, especially considering that Timothy Curtis and John Mangles from Wapping were Elder Brethren, and thus amongst the small group of the leading members of the Corporation. Mangles also became an investor in the West India Dock Company in the 1790s.

Ian Boreham5 outlined the links between Trinity House, London, and Cook, who passed their examination as a Master in 1757.

We are now more than ever convinced that the one constant link between the merchants in Hull, Whitby, Mile End Old Town and Wapping, is the Trinity House connection!

They would have been using other social networks such as freemasonry, but the strongest link, which encompasses so much, is Trinity House. An example is William Hammond of Hull who was a Senior Warden of Hull Trinity House and as such would have had contact with Trinity House in London. This is quite apart from the fact that he knew many Yorkshire merchants who had moved to, or worked in, the south.

We also think it significant that Holman painted a number of pictures with Trinity House links. An example is his painting "Shipping off the Eddystone Lighthouse". The lighthouse was built by Smeaton the engineer of the Ramsgate Harbour (which Holman also painted), and the project was promoted by Sir William Curtis of Wapping via Trinity House.

Conclusions

Ship owners and captains in the 18th century wanted to have their ships commemorated by a marine painter such as Holman or Luny. Knowledge about suitable painters and their costs would have circulated through many social networks, but our work has shown the importance of the Trinity Houses in London and Hull, and the unexpectedly strong links through the Freemasonry Lodges in Wapping, Hull and Stockton on Tees.

Derek Morris and Ken Cozens

References

  1. King, Geoff. "Were William Christopher and James Cook Friends" in Cook's Log, page 6, vol. 31, no. 1 (2008)
  2. Morris, Derek. "Captain Cook in Mile End Old Town – Part 6", in Cook's Log, page 31, vol. 31, no. 1 (2007)
  3. Boreham, Ian. "The Resolution and Adventure in the Downs", Cook's Log, page 1385, vol. 20, no. 2 (1997)
  4. Cozens, K. J. Politics, patronage and profit: a case study of three 18th century London merchants, MA dissertation - University of Greenwich, 2005. Available at the Guildhall Library, London, EC2P 2EJ and Tower Hamlets Local History Archive, Bancroft Road, London, E1 4DQ
  5. Boreham Ian. "Trinity House, London", in Cook's Log, page 38, vol. 29, No. 4 (2006)

Further Reading
Alexander, C. The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, 2003


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 10, volume 31, number 3 (2008).

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