John Henry Martin, who sailed on Cook’s Third Voyage, was born about 1753, most probably in Pembrokeshire in west Wales and possibly in Manorbier. Martin went to sea and had nearly five and a half years’ service on Royal Navy vessels before joining Cook. He began in Peggy, an 8-gun sloop, serving for a year as a midshipman. This year probably began in 1765 under Commander James O’Hara. It was followed by three months in Yarmouth, a 3rd rate, which at the beginning of 1767 was acting as a guardship at Sheerness. The captain was James Gambier.
HMS Romney was re-commissioned in March 1767 by Captain John Corner. Martin joined her as a midshipman and together they sailed to North America in May 1767. Romney flew the pennant of Samuel Hood. Martin served for two and a half years in Romney in American waters. Captain Hyde Parker was briefly in command. Martin then spent a year and a half in Bonetta, a 10 gun sloop under Commander James Wallace, again as a midshipman.
Martin re-joined James O’Hara (now a captain) on HMS Alderney for three months as an AB in about 1772. He appears to then have had a break of several years from active service before he joined Cook’s expedition on 6 March 1776 as an AB in Discovery. Shortly after the ship sailed, Clerke had him rated as a midshipman. He remained in Discovery as such until late October 1777. On the 30th at Huahine, a local who had been in custody escaped, and William Harvey who had been on watch was disrated to midshipman. As a result, Martin was promoted in his place and transferred to Resolution.1
Martin was involved on 1 March 1779 at Kauai when James King and two other men were scrambling to reach a pinnace and reach ships. Martin was in charge of the pinnace and fired muskets, killing one Hawaiian.
During the voyage, Martin kept a journal.2 Beaglehole described it thus: “Martin’s entries are not long, even at their longest; but he seems to have looked at life for himself.”
After the voyage, Martin sat his lieutenant’s examination on 19 October 1780 and received his commission on 11 December. He was immediately posted to HMS Union, a 2nd rate captained by John Dalrymple operating as part of the western squadron.
Other details of his naval career are sketchy. He probably served in 1795 in HMS Syren and in 1797 in HMS Melampus, both times under Captain Graham Moore. Martin was made a commander on 17 February 1800.
He was given command of HMS Xenophon for operations in the North Sea in 1800. However, he was relieved of this position when that ship was selected for use as Matthew Flinders’ expedition to Australia. Flinders wrote, “On the 19th of January 1801, a commission was signed by the Admiralty appointing me lieutenant of his Majesty’s sloop Investigator, to which the name of the ship, heretofore known as Xenophon, was changed by this commission; and captain John Henry Martin having received orders to consider himself superseded, I took command at Sheerness on the 25th.”
Instead Martin was given command of HMS Explosion, a bomb ship, in Admiral Nelson’s squadron. He took part in the Battle of Copen-hagen in April 1801 and also in the unsuccessful attack on Boulogne in August 1801.
Martin married, and he and his wife had a son, Henry Owen Martin, born about 1805. However, this wife must have died as Martin was married to a much younger woman called Margaret when he died. The 1851 census for Templeton, near Narberth in Pembrokeshire, records Margaret Martin as aged 61 and “widow of a commander”. That age means she was born about 1790 and so was appreciably younger than her husband (by about 37 years). Henry Owen Martin was recorded as son-in-law, or stepson, to Margaret in the 1851 census. Margaret was born in Cilymaenllwyd in Carmarthen, about 10 kilometres north of Narberth, and died in early 1862. John Henry and Margaret Martin had a son, John, baptised in December 1817, but the child probably died in infancy as there are no further records for him.
Henry Owen Martin, who never married, became a solicitor and lived with his stepmother in Templeton. He died in 1883.
John Henry Martin died on 10 May 1823 and was buried at St. Elidyr’s Church, in Ludchurch, Pembrokeshire. A memorial in the churchyard reads, in part, “at the time of his death he was supposed to be the last surviving officer who accompanied Captain Cook on his third voyage round the world.” Martin left a will proven on 11 October 1823.3
- See Cook’s Log, page 2013, vol. 25, no. 4 (2002).
- TNA. Adm 51/4531/47. It runs from 1 December 1776 to 28 November 1779.
- PROB 11/1676.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 18, volume 36, number 1 (2013).