If you were asked to name a contemporary of Cook's who had met the famous Captain and his wife, Joseph Banks and Omai, and Alexander Dalrymple, you would probably hazard a guess at someone in the upper eschelons of the Royal Navy or in London`s high society. It may come as a surprise to find that someone else who met with all of the above was Ralph Jackson, a country squire living in Cleveland, that part of North Yorkshire where Cook had been born and bred.
During his life Ralph Jackson never achieved anything spectacular, certainly nothing to compare with Cook's discoveries, however, in the past decade, Ralph has come more and more into prominence in modern Cleveland thanks to the meticulous diary which he kept throughout his life. His hand-made journals, written in his neat copperplate style, provide a unique insight into life in Cleveland in the eighteenth century.
The diary describes his personal interests, his business dealings, and his social contacts with people throughout the region. It is these latter entries which reveal many details relevant to James Cook and his associates. Future issues of Cook`s Log will examine Ralph's diary and look at some of his entries in more detail. But first, an introduction to Ralph and his family.
Ralph was one of 9 children born to George and Hannah Jackson of Richmond, North Yorkshire. His mother was the daughter of Ralph Ward of Guisborough, once described as the richest commoner in North Yorkshire. The Jackson family tree shows an unexpected abundance of naval connections for a family living in such an inland town. Most of these connections come via the merchant navy of the Hon. East India Company, however there is one notable exception, his brother George Jackson, who rose to become Secretary to the Commissioners of the Royal Navy, and of whom more anon.
In 1749, aged 13 years, Ralph was sent north to start a seven year apprenticeship with a merchant in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1756, having successfully completed his apprenticeship, he returned to North Yorkshire where he subsequently inherited his uncle's (Ralph Ward) property and business interests. In the following years Ralph matured to become an integral part of Cleveland's community fulfilling various roles incumbent upon a member of the landed gentry.
In 1776 he married Mary Lewin, and reinforced the family's naval connections as she was the daughter of a captain of the Hon. East India Company. In the following five years before his wife's untimely death in 1781 aged 25 years, she bore him three children. Two of the children died young, leaving only William Ward Jackson to succede Ralph when he passed away in February 1790.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1357, volume 20, number 1 (1997).
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