Some weeks later, Endeavour was in trouble on the Reef again and on 16 August 1770, we find Green calmly completing an observation assisted by Clerke and Forwood while the ship was in danger of foundering. Was he brave, dedicated or foolhardy?
Following the temporary repair of fothering the hull, Endeavour was in no condition for the long homeward voyage without further repairs and Cook made for Batavia (present-day Djakarta). Batavia was at that time a rather picturesque city showing evidence in its architecture of the Dutch colonists. However, it was built on swampy ground. The climate was most unappealing - high temperatures and high humidity proved debilitating. There were frequent thunderstorms. Additionally, in 1699 Batavia had suffered a severe earthquake. The rivers about it were choked with mud and flooded the surrounding country. Batavia became notorious for being unhealthy and was in danger of being abandoned. In the 22 years from 1730 to 1752, 1,100,000 deaths are said to have been recorded. Endeavour had been a healthy ship but at Batavia the ship's company were exposed to dysentry, malaria and a variety of other tropical diseases. Green's servant, Reynolds, died of dysentry here on 18 December 1770, and Green himself fell victim to the disease.
Green had been very well received at Batavia. There was a thriving Dutch Indies Astronomical Society with an observatory in the modern part of the town, and the Rev. Johan Maurits Mohr had a private observatory of some renown. People so interested in astronomy would be delighted to meet a visiting astronomer from Greenwich. In the London Evening Post was printed "The copy of a letter from a gentleman on board the Endeavour" - "... great respect was paid here to Mr. Green by the principal people of Batavia, but no particular notice was taken of the rest of us by the Dutch".
After leaving Batavia, Green was very ill and in the Journal for Tuesday 29 January 1771 we read "In the night Died Mr Charls Green who was sent out by the Royal Society to Observe the Transit of Venus; he had long been in a bad state of hilth, which he took no care to repair but on the contrary lived in such a manner as greatly promoted the disorders he had had long upon him, this brought on the Flux which put a period to his life". He was buried at sea, 13 days out of Java in the Indian Ocean. Noon position that day was 11° 57' S, 101° 45' E.
A rather lurid account of the circumstances of Green's death was printed in the General Evening Post. "Mr. Greene, the astronomer, who went out with Mr. Bankes, died soon after the ship left Batavia. He had been ill some time, and was directed by the surgeon to keep himself warm, but in a fit of phrensy he got up in the night and put his legs out of the portholes, which was the occasion of his death. All his papers relative to the transit of Venus, of which he had made the most accurate observation, were happily completed and preserved."
The papers referred to were the cause of some controversy after the voyage was over. Maskelyne was openly critical of the state of Green's paperwork, but Green was most loyally defended by Cook. It is quite possible that Green had simply been too busy on the outward part of the voyage to get down to reducing his observations, and had been hoping to use the homeward run to complete this task. When he took ill, all hope of completing the work vanished.
The facts on Green's life are sparse and there does not seem to be any portrait of him. In "Notes on the Cook Bicentenary Stamps" in the Australian P.O. Philatelic Bulletin for April 1970 (pp. 35-38) the designer Robert Ingpen states (after describing Parkinson and Banks), "The third figure, Charles Green, is some-thing of a mystery. Apart from knowing that he was a competent astronomer... little is known about him and no portrait can be found of him despite extensive enquiries. He is depicted in a green jacket". (How obvious can you get!). Ingpen carefully turned Green's head away so that he is symbolically shown looking at the sky, and a full-face portrait is not attempted. See figure 12
A rather amusing way of treating the "faceless" Green was adopted by the Illustrated London News in the issue dated April 25, 1970. The centre spread on pages 24 and 25 consisted of a drawing by Dennis Adams. Titled "The Ship that Changed the World", this was a cutaway drawing of Endeavour with each compartment and cabin numbered. No. 21 is titled "Mr Green's Cabin" and the wording is: "He was the official astronomer sent to observe the transit of Venus from the Pacific. He had seven square feet of precious space and a maximum of 5 ft 4 in head room." Most of the other personalities on board are shown by the artist with heads but in the case of Green, we see him not actually inside his cabin but in the act of entering it, so that his head and shoulders are cut off by a portion of the deck above. Was this a clever way of getting round the fact that no known portrait exists?
Incidentally, when sending away for an example of the new pictorial cancellation of Green Island, I took the opportunity of asking the Postmaster if there was any portrait of Green on the island and received a kind reply informing me that there was not. On the 40c value of the set issued by Tuvalu on 14 February 1979 the man kneeling at the telescope has greenish trousers. Is this our mysterious friend again?
Finally, a few hints as to the sort of person he was. His journal was written in a small neat hand and revealed him to be something of a wit. He was a competent and dedicated astronomer and most anxious to pass on his knowledge and skill. Thanks to him, a number of the petty officers were trained in making observations - in particular Charles Clerke (who was appointed Lieutenant by Cook in place of Hicks and who was later to command "Discovery"). He also took a great deal of trouble teaching English to the Tahitians, Tupaia and Taiata. Altogether a most useful person.
Certain excesses are hinted at but it is not made clear just what these were. Is there any clue in a letter from Cook to the Royal Society dated 17 September 1768 from Madeira, in which he states that he has drawn certain sums of money "being for the Purchase of Wines and other necessaries for the use of Mr Green and myself"?
He was married, and in the Transactions of the Royal Society Council 19 May 1768 is the entry "Orderd that Mr Burrow do pay Mr Green £50 on account & that 50£ Per Ann. be paid by quarterly payments to his Wife during his absence." I have recently learned that Green was a brother-in-law of William Wales, so this may be a future possible line of inquiry to obtain further details of his life.
Beaglehole, J. C., (Ed.) The Journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of Discovery. Part I - The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771 (1955).
Forbes, E. G., Greenwich Observatory: Vol. 1 - Origins and Early History (1975), and references therein.
Hollis, H. P. The Greenwich Assistants during 250 years. The Observatory, 48, (1925), 388-398.
Howse, D., & Hutchinson, B. The Clocks and Watches of Capt. James Cook, 1769-1969. Reprinted from Antiquarian Horology (1969).
Taylor, E. G. R., Navigation in the Days of Captain Cook. J. Inst. Nav. 21, (1968) 256-276.
"Astrofax" - magazine of the Astronomy Study Unit of ATA.
"Man is not lost" HMSO (1968).
The Libraries of Glasgow University and the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies.
Helpful discussion with Mrs Jean Clark, Paisley.
Personal correspondence with Commander Howse, Keeper, Dept. of Navigation and Astronomy, National Maritime Museum.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 92, volume 3, number 4 (1980) and page 102, volume 4, number 1 (1981).