Publication in September 2008 of my novel Captain Cook’s Apprentice – a mess-deck view of the Endeavour voyage - completes the most exciting research journey I’ve undertaken for any book. It’s been an exhilarating voyage of discovery: and through-out, members of the CCS have been there to pilot my way.
I first got the idea from a passing reference in J.C. Beaglehole’s Life of Captain Cook to a boy named Isaac George Manley. He joined Endeavouraged 13 as a servant to the master Robert Molineux, was appointed a midshipman on the return voyage, rose to become an admiral, and when he died at 82 Isaac was the last survivor of Endeavour’s company.
What a story! What a way to tell the great adventure for today’s young teenage readers, through the eyes of one of their own!
Very little had been written about Isaac. Even his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine turned out to be wrong, confusing part of his later naval career that of another Captain Manley. But I quickly found Isaac’s will on the CCS website, joined the Society, and became the grateful recipient of many snippets of information found and emailed to me in Australia by Cliff Thornton, Alwyn Peel and several other members.
Anne Batchelor of Leeds generously shared her Manley research. Ruth Boreham, an invaluable assistant, discovered Isaac’s hand-written Record of Service, his captain’s logs and letters in the National Archives, and his baptism in the register of St Giles-in-the-Fields. Not only did the real man begin to emerge – so did these CCS friends when I met them in person at Marton [see Cook’s Log, page 11, vol. 30, no. 3, (2007)].
In the preface to his wonderful Master and Commander novels, Patrick O’Brian writes of his belief that "authenticity is a jewel". As I try to make the external facts of my books as accurate as possible, however much the novelist must imagine the internals of character, thought and speech, I was lucky to find many such authentic gems in my research expeditions.
The first treasure was at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, where I live. The manuscript librarian allowed me to sit for four hours with Cook’s Endeavour journal. By reading the Captain’s clear, sepia-stained words, I was in immediate contact with the voyage as day by day it unfolded with all of Cook’s idiosyncratic spelling on the "high rowling sea". I could even feel Isaac’s unseen presence slipping between the inky lines.
Reading is not enough, however. A novel must also be a lived experience. Thus I had a magical eight-day sail on the Endeavour replica from Melbourne to Sydney. I went as a full fare-paying supernumerary, unsure how much a 64-year-old landlubber would manage as part of the crew.
In fact I did most of what I wanted. I climbed 30 feet up the foremast to the futtock shrouds, stood my trick at the wheel, swabbed the deck, served my watch, slept one night in a hammock (which was quite enough), and was violently seasick for a day. That too, is part of it; and I had my reward when going on deck one dawn, Captain Mattson pointed to a grey smudge on the horizon.
"That’s Point Hicks", he said, and I had one of those brief moments of epiphany. For me and my family, I thought, this is where it all began, with Endeavour’s first landfall in New Holland.
With Australian CCS friends we spent time exploring the landing place at Botany Bay, and had an illuminating day on Port Hacking looking at remnants of Aboriginal Australia still to be found in metropolitan Sydney by those who know how to look. At Cooktown, where Endeavour men had a dispute over turtles with the Aborigines, the Guugu Yimithirr people explained the "sharing code" – as potent now as it was then.
I went to the important New Zealand landing places: Poverty Bay, and Queen Charlotte Sound – called "Cannibal Bay" by Endeavour men and appearing as such on the map in Sydney Parkinson’s Journal. There were five sensuous days in Tahiti, feeling the black sand of Matavai Bay between my toes, for the colours, smells, sounds and sensations of place influence every word a novelist writes.
So with England, breathing the atmosphere that still remains from Georgian London and Deptford; meeting one of Isaac’s descendants, Michael Manley; and staying at Braziers, the lovely house Isaac remodelled in the gothic style in Oxfordshire. For he prospered, and by living for a few days in the rooms Isaac inhabited the man’s presence became far more tangible. I could see how he ordered his life.
Even after I began writing and editing, more of Patrick O’Brian’s "jewels" of authenticity were discovered. Quite by chance I found a little-known portrait of Robert Molineux at Otago University, New Zealand, and had to reinvent his character. This was not the rather rough "tarpaulin" I’d imagined, but an intelligent young gentleman. "Thee" and "tha" became "you" and "your".
Cook’s Log arrived in April 2008 with another treasure - a letter from Isaac’s father to Mrs Cook in 1777, saying that his son "spoke with much acknowledgement of both yours & Cap. Cook’s kindness to him & desir’d to be remember’d to you both." It resolved a problem I’d discussed at the 2006 Marton meeting.
Isaac joined Resolution as a midshipman, but he was discharged on 8 April 1772 before it sailed and went to another ship. Had he parted with Cook on bad terms? CCS members thought not. Isaac would hardly have found another berth in peacetime had he fallen out with his Captain – and here was confirmation of his goodwill, in time to find a place.
Finally, one more gem for Isaac’s book. The National Library of Australia has a copy of Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine from 1769, which was used on Discovery during Cook’s Third Voyage. It has twelve engraved plates of ships and their component parts. I found them on the Internet and was keen to use some of them. I have always loved books with pictures that take me back to another age, and the words that help guide me through.
It was a struggle to find the space. But in the end Captain Cook’s Apprentice has Falconer’s engravings to enrich the ideas it contains. And at the head of every chapter showing the way is the very compass rose from a book that the great navigator himself knew.
Jewels of authenticity, indeed.
Anthony Hill, Author
Captain Cook’s Apprentice was published in September 2008 by Penguin Books Australia.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 31, number 4 (2008).
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