On discovering the will of Captain James Cook’s wife, Elizabeth (née Batts), I was inspired to transcribe it, and to research the legatees of her will. In this endeavour I have been helped by a book, and by genealogical information obtained from various sources. The book, Coal and Calico,1 contains the letters and papers of the Bennett and Leach Families of Merton and Wandsworth, archives that were passed down by John Leach Bennett (1798-1873) to his son Frederick Bennett (1822-1903), Canon of Salisbury, and eventually to Canon Bennett’s great-great nephew, who allowed the Merton Historical Society to publish the collection.
John Leach Bennett was executor and sole residuary legatee to Elizabeth Cook’s will. His wife Maria (née Cragg) was a descendant of Elizabeth Cook’s maternal uncle, Charles Smith. It is from Charles that all the legatees from Elizabeth’s side of the family are descended. The legatees of Elizabeth’s will are best described in three groups: James Cook’s family, Elizabeth Cook’s family, and Unrelated Legatees. As there were so many legatees in Elizabeth Cook’s family, I shall write about them in the second part of this article.
The last Will and Testament of Elizabeth Cook is a long and complex document of over 7,000 words.2 Originally dated 8 April, 1833, there are three codicils. In my articles this document will be referred to as the Will. It was considerably longer than her husband’s will of 1,000 words.3
Elizabeth Cook survived her husband by some 56 years, passing away on 13 May, 1835 at the age of 93. By that time, all of her six children were dead. The last one, James, had drowned at sea in 1794, aged 31. Elizabeth was no longer living at her husband’s home in Mile End, London, having moved in 1788 to High Street, Clapham.
In 1804, when Elizabeth’s cousin, Isaac Smith, was promoted to rear admiral and superannuated, he retired to Clapham, and lived with her. He had sailed with her husband on the first and second voyages around the world. Before joining Elizabeth, Isaac had lived with his brother Charles at the Gate House, Merton Abbey in London. Charles had been a bachelor until his marriage in 1824, and in 1827, when Charles Smith died, Isaac inherited his estate. Isaac and Elizabeth moved to the Gate House at Merton, and lived there until Isaac died in 1831, when Elizabeth returned to her home at Clapham.
Elizabeth Cook named about 50 legatees in her will, i.e. people to whom she left money or goods. Many of them were the Cooks’ nephews, nieces, grand nephews and grand nieces. It had been Captain Cook’s wish that his relatives did not suffer from want.
Legatees from James Cook’s Family
James Cook had seven siblings, five of whom died young. His remaining two sisters, Christiana and Margaret, received bequests of £10 in his will, written in 1776. By this time, they were married, Margaret (1742-1804) to James Fleck, and Christiana (1730-1795) to a Mr Cocker. All of these four people died before Elizabeth Cook. It is not certain whether Christiana had any children, but there were no bequests to any descendants in the Will.
Thus, the only beneficiaries of the Will on the Cook side of the family were all descendants of Margaret Fleck. Elizabeth Cook had kept in touch with her Yorkshire in-laws after her husband’s death, and made sure that Margaret Fleck’s children, or their eldest living descendants, benefited from the Will. Bequests totalled £6900 to this side of the family, of which £3700 was in trust.
Margaret Fleck had eight children, one of whom, William, died in infancy. The other seven survived to adulthood, and each is described below.
James Fleck (1765-1828) died before Elizabeth wrote the Will. He was survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Cook Fleck (1797-1858), who was a beneficiary in the Will. She had married John Davison, a farmer originally from Broughton in North Yorkshire. They had a grandson, James Fleck Burnicle, who became a solicitor and coroner.
When he died in 1930, he left to his niece Kathleen Mary Burnicle a brooch, fashioned from a buckle, that had once belonged to Captain Cook, desiring it should remain in the family.4 Kathleen was the daughter of James Burnicle’s brother John William Burnicle. In his will, Burnicle claimed it “was given to my grandmother, Ann Burnicle, by Mrs Cook, the Captain’s widow”.5
Margaret Fleck (1767-1800) married Palister Thompson, and had a son James Cook Thompson. All three died before Elizabeth wrote the Will.
Grace Fleck (1770-1855) married John William Carter, a fisherman. The couple had 10 children. Grace was a beneficiary in the Will. According to the 1841 census, they were living at Redcar with their son James, also a fisherman, her unmarried daughter Christiana, their married daughter Mary Gurr, and granddaughter Mary Ann Gurr. A few years later their home was described in a book as “a fisherman’s cottage, of an humble description” inhabited by “a brawny sunburnt fisherman”, who “was busily engaged in arranging his nets and bait”.6
Also a woman of middle age (Christiana) was equally busy preparing food, and from a large arm chair near the fireplace sat Grace Carter, a venerable looking lady who was pleased to welcome the visitors, and pointed out an engraving of her uncle, James Cook, from “the original by Dance”. Grace’s daughter Christiana was asked to show the visitors some relics of her uncle. There was a large sheet taken from Cook’s journal showing a chart of the St Lawrence river, in his own handwriting; a quantity of fishing lines from the South Seas Islands, made from a vegetable substance; specimens of cloth from Otaheite, made from tree bark; a curious old brass box engraved with an almanac on the lid; six silver teaspoons engraved with the initials J.C.; two letters from Mrs Elizabeth Cook, his widow. The visitors asked Grace if she had any brothers or sisters still living, to which she replied, “Yes, three, Captain John Fleck of North Shields, Mrs Mary Duck of Sunderland, and Mrs Christiana Hustler in the Navy Almshouses at Deptford”. Grace added that only the latter of Cook’s descendants had received any pittance from the nation, and that of the most paltry and wretched description.
Her son William Carter (1797-1877), was also a legatee. As was her daughter Ann (1790-1865), who had married John Burnicle. He died in 1830. Their sons William and Robert Lawson Burnicle, were both shipwrights, and grandson Robert Burnicle was a boat builder.
Mary Fleck (1772-1857) married George Duck in 1794. She was a beneficiary in the Will. George died in 1838. According to the 1851 census, Mary was a widow living at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland, and is described as a “House Proprietor”. Living with her was her married daughter Indiana Pile, two grandchildren, and a house servant. Mary died here six years later at the age of 84. Mary’s son, Captain George Duck, married in London in 1835, his cousin Sarah Ann Fleck, the daughter of his uncle Thomas Henry Fleck of Boston, Lincolnshire. According to the 1861 census, George was a Mast and Block Maker at Wapping, London.
Thomas Henry Fleck (1775-1817) married Hannah Potts in 1799. His eldest daughter Indiana (1805-1871) inherited from the Will. Thomas and his family lived at Boston in Lincolnshire, and the year before he died, Thomas had written to Sir Joseph Banks, whose family seat was at nearby Revesby. Thomas wrote on 12 November, 1816, that he was a nephew of the late celebrated Captain Cook, and explained that he was a seafaring man with a wife and large family. Thomas was out of a situation, and was now taking the liberty of applying for a Coal Meter’s place, now vacant at Boston, or otherwise a situation in the Custom House Boat. Thomas added that he would be ever grateful. He signed the letter as Thomas Fleck, mariner, High Street, Boston, Lincolnshire.7 In 1827, Indiana married at St Martins in the Fields church, London, Henry Jenkins, a chemist in Islington. Indiana inherited the contents of the spare bedroom of Elizabeth Cook’s house at the time of her death, as well as some money.
The rest of Thomas Henry Fleck’s children were also beneficiaries in the Will: Sarah Ann Fleck (born 1808), who married George Duck, master mariner, and Hannah Fleck (born 1813), who married Thomas Baron, a chemist and druggist.
John Fleck (1779-1836) was born the year of James Cook’s death, and died the year after Elizabeth Cook’s death. John was a beneficiary in the Will. He married twice, having four children from his second marriage to Isabella Cropton. He was from Redcar, and became a master mariner. In 1826, John established the firm Fleck and Co, and commissioned the building of Captain Cook, a 158-ton schooner.8 On 17 December, 1827, as master of Captain Cook, he rescued the crew of Vine, a collier, which sank with its cargo after being struck by the vessel Brothers Orfordness, Suffolk. For “his humane and spirited conduct” he received £10 from the Committee of the Coal Trade Insurance of South Shields.9 When he died, he was living at North Shields. There is a portrait of him in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, bequeathed to it by his great grand-daughter.10
Christiana Fleck (1781-1847) married Thomas Hustler in 1808 at Stepney, and had one son. Christiana was a beneficiary in the Will. Thomas died in 1840, a pensioner in the Trinity ground, he had been a master mariner in the merchant’s service. Christiana died at the Navy Almshouses, Deptford.
The Trustees of the British Museum were bequeathed two medals for the Museum. One was the Copley gold medal struck by the Royal Society in 1776, after Captain Cook had sailed on his Third Voyage. The other was the Pingo gold medal struck by the Royal Society in 1780 in honour of Captain Cook. The latter is described in the Will as being “one of five only which were struck by command of his late Majesty of blessed memory King George the Third in honor and commemoration of my dear deceased husband Captain Cook”.
The School for the Indigent Blind, the Royal Maternity Charity, and the poor widows of Clapham benefited from the Will, as did the Minister and Churchwardens of St Andrew’s Church, Cambridge, who were left £1000 for the maintenance of the family memorials in the church.
Elizabeth Cook’s doctor John Elliotson was left £300 for a ring, “as a remembrance of his kind professional attendance on me”. His wife was also left money for a mourning ring. Several years earlier, in 1821, Elizabeth Cook gave Dr Elliotson the four-volume set of Cook’s Third Voyage account (second edition).11 When he signed his will in 1832, the witnesses were Elizabeth Cook, and two of her relatives, Ann Mackrell (a niece of Isaac Smith) and John Leach Bennett (husband of another niece).12 Dr Elliotson died on 30 May, 1836, aged 76, just over a year after Elizabeth Cook’s death.
Elizabeth Cook left £1000 to her friend John Day Blake of Palgrave Place, London, attorney. He was joint Executor of the Will along with John Leach Bennett. Mrs Blake, Charlotte, was left money for a mourning ring.
Friends and neighbours of Elizabeth Cook were also left money for mourning rings: Miss Waldo and Miss Bower, Mrs Bennett of Merton, George Stark of Croydon, also John Ravenhill, and his wife Jane, of Clapham. In 1830 John Ravenhill of Clapham was a Magistrate at Clapham.13
Elizabeth Cook’s servants were beneficiaries from the Will. They were left all of the contents of their respective bedrooms in her house. Elizabeth Gates, her old servant was left an annuity. Mary Wellings, servant, was left the kitchen crockery, cutlery and furniture. Sarah Westlake and Charles Doswell, her other two servants were left amounts of cash. They went on to marry on 22 October 1835, only five months after Elizabeth’s death. Unfortunately, Charles died on the last day of that year, aged 35. In his will he left his brooch in memory of Mrs Cook to Mary Wellings.14
- Goodman, Judith. Coal and Calico: Letters and papers of the Bennett and Leach families of Merton and Wandsworth. Merton Historical Society. 2008.
- PROB 11/1847/409. Held at The National Archives (TNA), Kew.
- Cook’s Log. 2005. Vol. 28, no. 3. Pages 29-30.
- Sheffield Daily Telegraph. 12 December, 1930. Page 4.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 12 December, 1930. Page 3.
- Ord, John Walker. History and Antiquities of Cleveland, comprising the wapentake of East and West Langburgh North Riding, County York. Simpkin and Marshall. 1846.
- Letter received by Joseph Banks from Thomas Fleck, 12 November, 1816. Held at the State Library, New South Wales, Australia. Online at https://transcripts.sl.nsw.gov.au/page/letter-received-banks-thomas-fleck-12-november-1816-series-72032-no-0001
- Cook’s Log. 2012. Vol. 35, no. 2. Page 3.
- Tyne Mercury, Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette. 11 November, 1828. Page 3.
- Cook’s Log. 2012. op. cit. Available online at https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13796.html
- Letter from Isaac Smith to Dr Elliotson dated 5 May, 1821. Quoted in Forbes, David W. (ed). Hawaiian National Bibliography, 1780-1900. University of Hawai`i Press. 1999. Vol. 1: 1780-1830. Page 77.
- PROB 11/1864/186. Held at TNA.
- Hull Packet. 12 October, 1830. Page 4.
- PROB 11/1856/157. Held at TNA.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 38, volume 43, number 3 (2020).