Can you believe so little is known about the first recorded person in Cook's Endeavour journal to shoot a kangaroo? The same person who took command of the Resolution after Cook was killed and Clerke had perished from illness? A donation of a Dollond telescope to the National Museum of Australia has provided an opportunity to tell the story of this fascinating maritime explorer in a museum environment.
Part of my previous curatorial responsibilities was to establish the provenance of the Gore telescope before accepting it into the National Museum's collection. I assumed a person connected to the Endeavour voyage would be relatively straight forward to research. I can't believe how wrong I was! The first thing that struck me was why had there been no publication specifically devoted to this individual? The secondary resources were also very thin even down to encyclopaedic and reference publications. Gore is even not mentioned in the Oxford Companion to Australian History. He does however have a brief entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (p981) from where I have drawn many of my starting points for further research. In fact the first article I actually read on this individual was Madge Darby's article1.
Captain John Gore was born in America, possibly Virginia, in 1729/30. No record of his birth or baptism has yet been recovered. Little is known about his early years until August 1755 when he joined the Windsor at Portsmouth, England, as a midshipman. We know he took his Lieutenant's examination on the 13 August 1760 and was appointed master's mate of the Dolphin in 1764 - this was his first voyage around the world. On his second service on the Dolphin in 1766, this time under the command of Captain Samuel Wallis, the expedition laid claim to the "discovery" of the island of Tahiti.
Captain Gore's service on the Dolphin meant he was an ideal crewmember for the Endeavour voyage in 1768. There are many references to Gore's role in the observation of Tahiti in Cook's journal. However, Gore was more than just a member of the Endeavour exploration, he also has the infamous title of being considered the first recorded person on the expedition to shoot and kill a person of Maori descent after an altercation over a piece of cloth on the 9 November 1769. Gore is also recorded as being the first person on the expedition to shoot a kangaroo for scientific research. Sir Joseph Banks records the event in his Endeavour journal on the 14 July 17702.
When the Endeavour returned to England, Gore accompanied Banks on a private scientific expedition to Iceland in 1772. It appears from documents in the Alexander Turnbull Library3 that Banks was more than just a colleague as he also acted as the executer of Gore's will and was possibly Gore's patron in his later life.
On the 10 February 1776, Gore embarked on his next maritime adventure. He joined the Resolution as Cook's First Lieutenant. The expedition's secret instructions were the northwards tracing of the west coast of the North American continent to assist in the search for the North-West passage. After the death of Cook, Captain Clerke was given command of the Resolution and Gore was given command of the sister ship Discovery. Clerke died on 22 August 1779 and Gore assumed command of Resolutionand consequently became responsible for the command of the entire expedition.
In recognition of Gore's service, the Resolution's official artist John Webber painted a portrait of Gore in 1780. The portrait is in the collection of the National Library of Australia4. Gore's achievement was also acknowledged by being made a Captain of Greenwich Hospital where he was given the rooms left vacant by Captain Cook. Captain John Gore died at Greenwich in 1790 survived by a son who would make a new life for himself in Australia 40 years later. Just as a side note, Gore's grandson, Graham Gore perished in 1847 as part of sir John Franklin's ill-fated mission in search of the North West Passage. The maritime history of this family is truly a fascinating story that will have to be explored in greater detail.
The Gore telescope was hand-held but could have been placed in a tripod, although there are no marks indicating it was secured in any way for a length of time. It came with two eyepieces - one for day and night and one for daytime use only. The wooden canister that held the eyepieces was encased in a leather tube that was in surprisingly excellent condition considering the amount of salt air it would have experienced!
Dollond is one of the most forged names on telescopes, so it is good to find the inscription is spelt Dollond and not Dolland, which is apparently one of the most common indicators of a copy.
Captain John Gore's celestial telescope is a commanding object that takes one back to a time of courageous adventurers and "trigger happy" individuals. So thanks to the generosity of the donor Jack Gallaway I am hopeful that Australians will start to embrace this fascinating character and in time we will know more about his earlier life in America. I would welcome any thoughts or further information on Captain Gore.
Johanna Parker - Curator, National Museum of Australia
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