John Watts, who sailed on Cook’s Third Voyage in Resolution, was baptised on 3 July, 1755, at All Hallows the Great, London.
He was the son of William and Jane Watts. His oldest surviving sister, Ann Watts married Golding Constable in 1767, and their son was John Constable, the artist.1
Watts joined Resolution from HMS Barfleur on 22 April, 1776. He began the voyage as a midshipman. On 1 November, 1777, he became an AB, but on 2 November, 1779, he reverted to being a midshipman.
Watts wrote proceedings during the voyage.2 After the voyage, he was promoted to lieutenant on 14 December, 1781.
In 1787, Lieutenant Watts sailed to Australia in Lady Penrhyn, which carried 100 female convicts as part of the First Fleet. He is listed as a passenger on the voyage. Lady Penrhyn left Sydney in early 1788, and sailed to Tahiti, becoming the first European ship to visit since Cook in 1778. Watts has provided a short description of life on the island, including various people remembered from Cook’s time. From Tahiti, Lady Penrhyn sailed to Macao, passing on the way an island that was named Penrhyn Island after the ship. That island, Tongareva, is now one of the Cook Islands.
Watts was further promoted to commander on 22 December, 1796. A marriage allegation dated 18 December, 1797, records that John Watts (of All Hallows the Great) married Mary Allen at St. George, Hanover Square, London.
Commander Watts took command of Osprey, 18 guns, in 1799, and patrolled in the North Sea. He died on 4 March 1801 whilst still in command. In his will he left everything to his “dearly beloved Wife Mary Watts …my true, whole and sole Executrix”.3 They do not appear to have had any children.
The Naval Chronicle of 1801 stated that Watts was, “ tattoo’d all over his body by some Natives of the Islands he visited in the course of the Voyage.”
Watts had his portrait painted by Spoilum, a Chinese artist, during a stopover in Guangzhou (Canton). Another portrait by S. Shelley is in Australia.
Watts described a species of shark at Sydney, which was, for a short time, named Watts shark but is now known as a Wobbegong shark.
Lieutenant’s certificate for John Watts
22 August 1775
24 October 1775
22 April 1776
1 November 1777
3 December 1779
25 October 1780
4 February 1781
5 April 1781
In pursuance, etc of the 29 August 1781, we have examined Mr. John Watts who by certificate appears to be more than 20 years of age, & find he has gone to sea more than six years in the Ships and qualities undermentioned (viz)
Journals dispensed with from the Resolution by order of 16 October 1780. He produceth Certificates from Captains Milbanke, Gore, Cook and Salter of his diligence, etc. He can splice, knot, reef a sail, etc and is qualified to do the duty of an Able Seaman and Midshipman.
Dated the 5 September 1781. Charles Middleton,
Edward LeBras, Abraham North.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 37, number 4 (2014).
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