From the “Cinque Ports Herald” newspaper published in Dover, Kent, dated 22 July 1826:
Died on Saturday last, at Mareham Ie Fen, after a severe and lingering illness. Mr James Roberts, aged 74. In 1768 and the three following years, this gentleman accompanied Sir Joseph Banks in the first voyage of Captain Cook around the world; and in 1772 he again accompanied Sir Joseph in his voyage to Iceland. In 1795 he retired to Mareham House, where he spent the remainder of his days, in the society of his friends. Mr R was, we believe, the last survivor of those who accompanied Captain Cook in his first voyage.
Robert James James Roberts appears on the Endeavour musters as a servant of Joseph Banks. He was more than that, as Banks explained in a letter just before they set off, writing, “I take also beside ourselves two men to draw & four more to Collect in the different branches of Nat. Hist. & such a Collection of Bottles Boxes Baskets bags nets &c &c as almost frighten me who have prepard them”.1 Roberts was one of the “four more”. He wrote a journal, which is held by the State Library of New South Wales.2
Roberts sailed with Banks to Iceland and the Orkneys in St Lawrence,3 and “remained ever since then as a trusted member of his household staff”.4 In 1774, Omai arrived in London, and Roberts looked after him when he was convalescing after being inoculated against smallpox.5 He was steward of Banks’s estates at Revesby Abbey in 1792-1794, and then “his right hand man at Soho Square and Spring Grove combining the function of house steward with that of estate manager for all the country properties”.6
His name appears on the Australian memorial in St Botolph’s Church, Boston, Lincolnshire.7 His gravestone is at St. Helen’s church, Mareham Le Fen, Lincolnshire. I visited it in 2006 on my way to the CCS meeting at Marton, and took some photos. Roberts’s sandstone gravestone, near the north door, was brought into the church to avoid further erosion. Above its cambered head is a plaque to James Roberts.
Isaac Manley,8 who died in 1837, was the last survivor of Endeavour’s people.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 22, volume 36, number 1 (2013).
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