In 1745 at about the age of 17 James Cook left the Airy Holme farm at Great Ayton where his father had the position of bailiff, to take up an apprenticeship with a grocer and haberdasher, William Sanderson at Staithes. The shop where Cook first slept with the pound of the waves roaring in his ears was pulled down around 1812 and rebuilt in Church Street. The very sea which first attracted him so much has now claimed the area of the original site.
In July 1746 Sanderson helped Cook obtain a new apprenticeship with John and Henry Walker, Quaker shipowners of Whitby. A longlasting friendship was cultivated with the family and they encouraged his study of mathematics and navigation in his attic room in the dwelling at Grape Lane.
Cook's first taste of life at sea was aboard the Freelove, a collier trading between Newcastle and London, and he stayed with her for two years. His first voyage was from 26 February 1747 to 22 April 1747. There is a record of his name on the "Muster Rolls" kept at the Seamen's Hospital, Church Street, Whitby of two Freelove voyages: 29 September 1747 to 14 December 1747 and 26 February 1748 to 7 June 1748. Other periods have been hard to trace.
The Freelove was built as a collier at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk in 1746 and was acquired at an early date if not immediately by the Walkers. On Cook's first voyage she was a three masted vessel, square-rigged, of 341 tons, 106 feet in length with a beam of 27 feet (Beaglehole). She carried a complement of 19: master, mate, carpenter, cook, 5 seamen and 10 servants or ,apprentices.
Cook immediately came under notice if only for the fact that he was unusually tall for a seaman, being over 6 feet tall and also he was older than the usual apprentices.
Walker had a new and larger ship under construction. She was the Three Brothers, and Cook took part in her rigging and fitting out. He transferred to it in June 1748.
James Cook's apprenticeship was thus served in the North Sea, the nursery of seamen. The Freelovewas built for strength and had a shallow draft to withstand grounding in the shoals which abounded off the coast. His experience was to convince him on the type of vessel he would choose for his first epic-making voyage of discovery some 22 years later.
In an issue on 12 February 1979 Togo depicted the Freelove on a 60F stamp..
Books of reference:
Life of Captain James Cook by Beaglehole.
Seamen's Seaman by Allan Villiers.
Voyages of Captain James Cook by Rex and Thea Rienits.
Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific by Grenfell Price.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 305, volume 7, number 4 (1984).