John Rickman was baptised at Titchfield, Hampshire (just west of Portsmouth), on 30 October, 1737, a younger son of William and Rebecca (née Missing) Rickman.
William had married the daughter of a prosperous Portsmouth merchant and had taken over the running of the business. He became Mayor of Portsmouth in 1736, 1742, 1748 and 1755, and was Sheriff of Hampshire in 1746. However, the business collapsed and, by the time he died in 1764, he was a poor man.
William’s eldest son, Thomas, became a Church of England rector and his son, another John (born 1771), became a government statistician and responsible for the development of the British census. This John Rickman was also a friend and card playing companion of James Burney, who sailed with Cook as a lieutenant on two voyages.
Meanwhile, William Rickman’s youngest son, John Rickman, had already joined the Royal Navy. His first duties were in HMS Blandford in 1755. He had, however, already served in some merchant ships before then. Blandford was recommissioned in January, 1755, by Captain Richard Watkins. Later that year she sailed for the West Indies, but was captured by the French off Brest in August 1755 in one of the first actions of the Seven Year’s War. She was released in September.1
Rickman then joined the sloop Swan under Commander Samuel Wallis, in June, 1756, as part of the Western Squadron. Wallis was replaced by Commander John Wilson in April, 1757, as Swancontinued cruising. Later that year Rickman transferred to HMS Jason under Captain William Paston in readiness for the Rochefort expedition.2 It was followed by time on HMS Thames under Captain Stephen Colby from the middle of 1758. She captured L’Aréthuse and La Morech during this time.
Rickman sat and passed his lieutenant’s examination in 1760. However, it was another 16 years before he received his lieutenant’s commission.
Lieutenant’s passing Certificate for John Rickman
more than 6 years old **
more than 6 years service. Part whereof in service of the merchant service as appears by certificates of the masters of the ships he served in.
Mid & Ordy
Journals from Swan, Jason and Thames
Certificates from Captains Wallis, Colby, Watkins, Wilson and Paston
12 March 1760 GC DD North
Little is known of Rickman’s experience over the next 15 years. However, he joined Discovery for Cook’s Third Voyage from Carcass, a bomb ketch.3 Rickman finally became a lieutenant on 8 February, 1776, shortly before joining Discovery on 21 March.
Rickman began the voyage as second lieutenant. He transferred as second lieutenant to Resolutionafter Charles Clerke’s death in August, 1779. He kept a log,4 on which he based an account of the Third Voyage, which was published anonymously in 1781.5
After this voyage, Rickman transferred to Sally, a storeship that he commissioned in June 1781. He took the ship to North America, and then on to the Leeward Islands in November, 1782. He left the ship in 1783. Rickman was on board HMS Goliath, a 3rd rate of 74 guns in 1787. She had been commissioned by Captain Archibald Dickson in 1786, and served as a guardship at Portsmouth.
In December, 1797, John Rickman recommissioned HMS Victory, a first rate of 100 guns. The ship acted as a hospital ship at Chatham and Rickman remained in command of her until being paid off in October 1799. (This was the same Victory that was rebuilt in 1801 and used by Nelson as his flagship at Trafalgar in 1805).
Rickman’s last few years are something of a mystery. About 1815 he moved to live at the Greenwich Hospital. He had married Hannah Jennett Pullibank in July 1812 when aged 74 (newspaper reports said 78!) and together they had two sons, Edward John Thomas and Abraham James. Rickman died in April 1818 aged 80 and shortly after his second son was born. John Rickman was buried on 2 May 1818 in Greenwich.
His wife was considerably younger than Rickman (20 v 74!!). She was the daughter of Abraham and Hannah (née Brown) Pullibank and was born in 1792. Pullibank (the name appears variously as Pulliblank and Pullibank) had married Hannah Brown in New York when he was master of HMS Chatham in November 1781. She was from New York. Abraham Pullibank was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy when he died in December 1793 after his ship, the cutter Pygmy sank. A Hannah Pulliblank was buried in Southwark in October 1843 aged 79.
A James Abraham Rickman was buried in South London Burial Grounds, Walworth, in 1823 while a Hannah Rickman was listed as dying in 1837. The older son, Edward John Thomas Rickman, survived, married and had children. However, he was an elusive man. He appears to have changed his name often and even used that of his brother on occasion. The British actor Alan Rickman is from a branch of this family.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 12, volume 37, number 4 (2014).
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