Most biographies of James Cook portray Sanderson as a Staithes shopkeeper. Ralph Jackson's diary contains many and varied references to Sanderson and shows that he was far from being just a shopkeeper in a small fishing village on the Yorkshire coast. Entries in Ralph's journals suggest that Sanderson was a merchant who travelled widely on business. During his apprenticeship in Newcastle, Ralph met with Sanderson:-
Sanderson was a respected member of the Staithes community and would have played a role as one of the pall bearers at the funeral of Eleanor Jefferson, from one of Staithes leading families. However, Ralph's diary records that Sanderson was abroad at the time of the funeral and someone had to substitute for him.
Sanderson's assets were not just tied up in his business, he was also a landowner in his own right. Although his holdings were reduced following the sale of some land as recorded in Ralph's diary:-
Sanderson's reputation as a merchant was such that he was prepared to go to court to protect his reputation, as Ralph records:-
As a respectable merchant and a pillar of the Staithes community Wm. Sanderson found himself undertaking various duties:-
It is not mentioned in Ralph's diary that Wm. Sanderson was also appointed as one of the Trustees in Thomas Skottowe's will with responsibility for administering funds to secure the education of his granddaughter Elizabeth Skottowe.
Several years later Ralph records another act of kindness from Mr Sanderson:-
Whilst all of the above help to provide a more in depth appreciation of the position that Sander-son had in the community, they do not contribute to his connection with James Cook. However, there is one entry which fills that role:-
To date this is the only source material which states that Sanderson took on an apprentice. Admittedly it is some 20 years after Cook is supposed to have acted in that same capacity.
Whilst Ralph's diary is replete with references to members of his family being associated with the East India Company, nowhere is there a mention of a link between Sanderson and the Company. And yet, the Sanderson family memorial standing in Hinderwell Churchyard, states that two of his children, Thomas and William, died in the East Indies.
Subsequent research has revealed that William Sanderson Junr. was a surgeon on board the Hon. East India Company's ship Royal George and died en route from Batavia to Bombay in February 1767. From this we can infer that Sanderson had arranged for his son to serve an apprenticeship with a surgeon before he would be appointed to the position on a vessel.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the captain of the vessel was Nicholas Skottowe, one of the sons of Thomas Skottowe of Great Ayton. Once a captain had received his command of a vessel he could determine who sailed under him as officers and crew and the presence of these two sons of Cleveland together may be more than just coincidence.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1410, volume 20, number 3 (1997).
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