John Law, who sailed Cook’s Third Voyage, was born either in or near Stamford in Lincolnshire about 1750. His family had strong connections with Kings Cliffe, a few kilometres to the southwest in Northamptonshire. Law’s great uncle was William Law (1686–1761), the religious writer and thinker, who lived in Kings Cliffe and set up a charitable school in the village.
Law passed his examination for surgeon first rate on 21 February 1771.1 He joined Discovery on 4 May 1776 as surgeon, and remained in that position until 4 August 1778 when William Anderson, the surgeon in Resolution died, and Law was appointed to take his place.2 During the voyage, Law kept a journal, a part of which is held by the British Library.3 Law did not hand in this document and it remained in his family until a descendant of one of his brothers presented it to the British Museum in 1907. Beaglehole describes the journal as “a vile scrawl… hardly more than rough notes”, though acknowledges its content by quoting several passages.
After the voyage, Law remained in touch with James King, lieutenant on the Third Voyage and attended him when King went to Nice in the south of France to recuperate in 1784. Law was attached to HMS Trusty at the time, based in Civita Vecchia in Italy. Trusty had been recommissioned by Captain John Faithful Fortescue in early 1783, and had sailed to the Mediterranean as the flagship of Commodore Sir John Lindsey. James Trevenen records Law’s attendance on King and states that Law himself was a sick man.
Law appears to have left the navy and returned to his home in Stamford where he died in 1786 leaving a will proven on 28 November 1786.4 He expressed a wish to be buried at Cliffe.
John Law was most probably the son of Benjamin Law of Stamford. A younger brother, Thomas Law, married Jane Lowe in 1781 and they had a son, Farmery Law, in 1784. Through his descendants John Law’s journal descended to Charles Green Lawrence Law.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 34, number 4 (2011).
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