Richard Rollett sailed on Cook’s Second Voyage in Resolution, but nothing is known of his experience in the Royal Navy prior to the voyage.
Captain James Cook, the Resolution sloop. Recommends the bearer, Richard Rollett, to be appointed to be Sailmaker of the sloop.1
Rollett joined Resolution on 22 January, 1772, as sailmaker but, apparently, he was not a willing participant, writing to Joseph Banks on 9 June asking Banks to get him excused from the voyage. Instead, he wished to accompany Banks on his trip to Iceland. He asked for
the Honour of a birth in your Service, in the Capacity of Mastr Sail maker... I am very desirous to proceed on the Voyage, but in the ship with Which you & Dr Solander goes, I should have gone with the Adventure, if you had not been going in the Resolution when I first shipd myself... It is the Desire of my friends, I should go on this voyage, which If I Do not, the Disadvantage will be very great to me As it Lyes in there power to do very genteel for me at My Return, Which I must & will suffer Reather than go in this Ship, although I am so Desirous of Proceeding the Voyage... I hope youll please to let me know your pleasure Which I impatiently wait for & hope it will be a profound Secret to Captn Cook For if it Dont sute you, & he heres of it my time will be Very Miserible to me.2
Banks was either unable or unwilling to help Rollett. After the voyage, an unsanctioned narrative of the voyage appeared, and Robert Anderson (gunner in Resolution) was commanded to find out the author (and to clear his own name). He reported that “others told me Rollet Keept a Journal Interlin’d in his bible”.3 There is no record of Rollett having a naval career after the Resolution voyage.
Richard Rollett was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where he was baptised in St. Margaret’s Church on 10 June, 1750. He was the son of Robert and Mary Rollett, who had at least one other son and also a daughter. Robert Rollett was a cordwainer4 in King’s Lynn. He married Mary Glew on 9 December, 1744, at St. Margaret’s Church. Robert Rollett died in 1788.
William Rollett, brother of Richard, was also a sailmaker. He carried out his profession in King’s Lynn, where he died in 1833. Richard’s five living daughters were beneficiaries in William’s will, written immediately after Richard’s death in 1824.
After the voyage with Cook, Richard Rollett married Susanna Hart on 16 October, 1777, in Boston. They had several children, including two sons, both of whom appear to have died young. One son was born in Boston, and two children were born in Lincoln. The family moved to settle in Gainsborough in western Lincolnshire, where the remaining children were born. Records exist of Rollett’s residence in Gainsborough.
Insured: Richard Capes, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, gent. Other property or occupiers: Garall Dickin; Richard Rollett and John Wilkinson; Mrs Capes; John Hyde, Francis Watson, widow; John Beaumont and George Blythman.5
Richard Rollett died on 20 January, 1824, and was buried in All Saints Church, Gainsborough. His gravestone still exists.6 He features in a memorial to Lincolnshire men associated with Australia, situated in St Botolph’s Church, Boston.7 A portrait, said to be of a sailmaker to Captain Cook, and probably of Rollett, exists.8
- ADM 106/1208/26 dated 22 January, 1772. Held at The National Archives (TNA), Kew.
- qMS-0540. Held at the Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), Wellington.
- Part of a letter from Robert Anderson to James Cook, enclosed in James Cook to Admiralty Secretary, dated 18 September, 1775. ADM 1/1610. Held at TNA.
- Cordwainer is the Anglicised version of the French word cordonier, which means shoemaker.
- MS 11936/364/563990, dated 21 December, 1789. Held at TNA.
- Cook’s Log, page 3, vol. 31, no. 1 (2008).
- Cook’s Log, page 20, vol. 28, no. 3 (2005).
- Cook’s Log, page 31, vol. 36, no. 3 (2013).
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 40, number 1 (2017).