Little is known about the early life of Peter Fannin, who sailed on Cook’s Second Voyage as master of HMS Adventure. Fannin is a common Irish name, so it is possible that he was born, and raised, in Ireland. Since Steel’s Navy List for 1782 records Fannin receiving his first warrant as a master in the Royal Navy in 1760, a possible birth date in the early 1730s is therefore likely. According to Admiralty records, he was appointed to HM Sloop Basilisk in 1760, and then to HMS Richmond in 1762.
HM Sloop Basilisk: assigned 'John Hall' and 'Peter Fannin, Master'; 10 April 1760 to 6 April 1761; England, S Coast.1
HMS Richmond: assigned 'Charles Napier', 'Stair Douglas' and 'Peter Fannin, Master'; 11 October 1762 to 24 June 1764; West Indies and Gulf of Mexico including South America, N Coast.2
In early 1768, Peter Fannin, then master of HMS Wolf, was dismissed by court-martial, though for what reason remains unknown.
Captain Andrew Barkley, Wolf Sloop, Catwater. Peter Fannin, Master of the Wolf, was dismissed by Court Martial and requests a replacement as we return to the Penzance station.3
Later that year, in November, Lieutenant William Lockhart of HMS Ferret applied to employ Peter Fannin, a pilot, as second master because of his knowledge of the waters around the Isle of Man.
Lieutenant William Lockhart, Ferret, Douglas, Isle of Man. Asks to employ a pilot as his 2nd Master, Mr. Fannin knows the channel better than the Irish coast.4
The request must have been granted, as Fannin resumed in the Royal Navy once again as master.
Lieutenant James Norman, Ferret Cutter, Dublin. Peter Fannin has been appointed Master of the Guarland and has been discharged from the Cutter.5
Philip Stephens. Peter Fannin, Master, was ordered by Captain MacBride at Dublin to take command of the Dampier tender and take her to Plymouth with newly raised men. When he arrived at the Isle of Man, he was ordered by Lieutenant Kelly, Commander of the Hornet cutter, to buy slops for the volunteers aboard and has drawn a bill and ask if it should be accepted.6
Peter Fannin, Plymouth Dock. Waited on Captain Coleby of the Kent who needs a Master. He told me he had sent for the Master of the Glory but was uncertain of his arrival. Asks for an order to act on the Kent as Master until Captain McBride is employed.7
His rehabilitation into the Royal Navy was complete when Fannin joined HMS Adventure on 9 December, 1771, from HMS Flora. There is a record for a marriage between Peter Fannin and Beatrix Brymer in London, February 1772, before the ships sailed. There are few mentions of Fannin in the course of the voyage, mainly because he was not on Cook’s ship, HMS Resolution. However, he obviously performed his duties well, made surveys, drew charts, and coastal views. A chart of a passage, later called Tory Channel, between Queen Charlotte Sound and Cook Strait in New Zealand, shows that Fannin surveyed it independently of, and before, Cook.
Adventure reached Britain in 1774, and Fannin retired in 1775 to Douglas, on the Isle of Man. Beatrix Fannin had died while Fannin was away. She was buried at St. Gabriel, Fenchurch, London, on 13 December, 1773. Fannin married again, this time to Elizabeth Booth, in Braddan, near Douglas, in March 1775. They had three daughters and a son: Mary (born 1779), Susanna (1780), George (1782) and Elizabeth (1784).
Fannin had opened a School of Navigation in Douglas, but he disappeared from the records in early 1794. He may have re-enlisted in the navy, as fighting between the British and French had recommenced.
Fannin died on 12 January, 1804, after which his widow, Elizabeth, applied for a pension. She remained on the island, where she died, and was buried at Braddan in 1808.8
Elizabeth Fannin, widow of Peter Fannin, Master Royal Navy who died 12 Jan 1804. Papers submitted to the Charity for the relief of Officers’ Widows.9
Two of the daughters are known to have been also buried at Braddan. Susanna Fannin died on 29 January, 1808. Elizabeth Fannin died on 8 March, 1814.
In January 1789, Fannin had published his Correct Plan of the Isle of Man, which was the basis of most maps of the island for the next fifty years. It gave an indication for the first time of the roads on the island, as well as the first town plan of Douglas. The Royal Naval Museum Library in Portsmouth has a small, most interesting portfolio of illustrations by Fannin, completed during Cook’s Second Voyage.
- The National Archives (TNA), Kew. Ref. ADM 346/4/18.
- TNA. ADM 346/23/24.
- TNA. ADM 106/1162/112 12 February 1768.
- TNA. ADM 106/1168/134 25 November 1768.
- TNA. ADM 106/1189/327 12 December 1770.
- TNA. ADM 354/184/238 30 January 1771.
- TNA. ADM 106/1197/223 05 February 1771.
- TNA. PROB 11/1488/138 19 November 1808.
- TNA. ADM 6/341/25 ff. 112-114.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 38, volume 39, number 1 (2016).