During my researches into the Cook Monument at Manby Hall,1 I came across a letter in the Nottingham Evening Post in May 1909,2 that set me off on a different line of research.
The letter was from Arthur Kitson of Groombridge in Sussex. Mr Kitson was the author of the book The Life of Captain James Cook: the Circumnavigator,3 and his reaction to the report on the monument at Manby was that he wished the “miserable wretches” who had caused the damage to be dealt with appropriately. He continued that he was interested to learn more detail of the time that Captain Cook had reportedly stayed at Manby Hall, as, according to his research, Cook had not applied for leave as a captain of Greenwich Hospital at this time, nor would he have had time to visit Lincolnshire between his second and third voyages.
Curiosity led me to research Arthur Kitson, and I discovered a piece on the internet about him. I will refer to it as the “fretwell website”.4 Headed Arthur Octavius Kitson, the author of the piece explains that he had struggled to find details of Kitson’s life. Nevertheless, when I printed the information on the website it covered five pages. Although there is no mention on the fretwell website of Arthur Octavius Kitson writing the biography of Cook, I felt he was the same person. Born about 1848 at Leeds in Yorkshire, his quite wealthy family had been industrialists. His father was once the Lord Mayor of Leeds, eventually becoming the first Baron Airedale. Arthur Kitson was apparently considered the “black sheep” of the family, and had been shipped off to Australia to seek his fortune. He died in 1915, aged 67. The death certificate said he died at Groombridge.
Searching the internet for information about Arthur Kitson, the biographer of Cook, told me he was born on 6 April, 1859,5 and died on 30 September, 1937;6 that he was an economist and inventor of the vaporised oil burner,7 at Stamford in Lincolnshire; he spent the 20 years to 1900 in America, but then in 1925 was declared bankrupt.8 Surely this Arthur Kitson is not the biographer of Captain James Cook? And yet he is described as the author of this work on many internet sites.
Apparently even JC Beaglehole confused the two Arthur Kitsons. In 1969 he spoke of Cook’s biographer Kitson being a businessman who wrote at length on currency reform.9
The dedication in the Kitson book on Cook is to his wife Linda. According to the fretwell website, Arthur Octavius Kitson married Linda Elizabeth Douglas Leroy at Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia, in 1881. Linda had been born in Islington, Middlesex, England, the daughter of James Douglas Leroy, a Captain in the Honourable East India Company.
The fretwell website tells of Arthur Octavius Kitson moving to Port Darwin before taking trips into the Pacific, including a visit to Hawai`i. Linda returned to England in 1892, where she soon became involved in a complicated legal trial—her husband’s brother-in-law, Dr W S Playfair, accused her of being unfaithful to her husband after she showed signs of having a miscarriage or abortion. Linda eventually contacted her husband in Australia for help regarding the trial, and he returned to England in September 1894. Linda sued Playfair for libel and slander in 1896, won her case, and received damages of £12,000.
After the trial it seems that Linda and Arthur Kitson parted. In the 1901 census Arthur is lodging in Bloomsbury, aged 52, and is described as a “Retired C. Eng”. He wrote the Life of Captain James Cook in 1907. In the 1911 census he is described as “Author”, and lives at Groombridge, where he died two years later.
- Cook’s Log, page 3, vol. 40. No.1 (2017).
- Nottingham Evening Post. 19 May, 1909. Page 5.
- Kitson, Arthur. The Life of Captain James Cook: The Circumnavigator. John Murray. 1907. Second Edition in 1911.
- Gloucestershire Echo. 1 October, 1937. Page 1.
- Beaglehole, JC. “Some problems of Cook’s bio-grapher - The Eva G.R. Taylor Memorial Lec-ture” in Mariner’s Mirror. 1969. Vol. 55, no. 4.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 40, number 2 (2017).