Solomon Reading sailed as boatswain’s mate (#62) in Resolution during Cook’s Second Voyage. Reading was born in London. His muster details have his birth about 1746, while an appearance at the Old Bailey in 1792 gave his birth as 1737. The surname appears variously as Reading, Readon, Reardon, Rarden and Redden.
Reading is mentioned twice during the voyage. On 10 March, 1773, whilst far south of Tasmania, he saved Thomas Fenton, an AB. Second Lieutenant Charles Clerke wrote
Fenton one of the Armourers Assistants fell from the Fore Cat-Harpens into the weather Fore Chains and wou’d have been overboard, but was caught with great presence of mind by Solomon Rarden one of the Boatswains Mates who happen’d to be walking the Fore Castle and saw him falling. He luckily reciev’d no material Hurt.1
The next year, Reading was wounded by a spear during the abortive attempt to land at Erromanga, Vanuatu, on 4 August, 1774. According to Cook
We had one man wounded in the Cheek with a Dart the point of which was as thick as ones finger and yet it entered above two Inches which shews the force with which it must have been thrown.2
First Lieutenant Robert Cooper recorded the incident as, “Soln Reardon on the upper lip with a spear”.3
Reading supposedly kept a secret journal. Robert Anderson, the surgeon, who had been accused of being the author of the journal published anonymously in 1775, mentioned Reading “kept a Journal” in his report to Cook seeking to prove his own innocence.4
A person called Solomon Reading married Mary Catton, a widow, on 14 May, 1776, at St. Mary’s, Whitechapel, London.
Reading was charged with grand larceny, accused of stealing sixty pounds weight of iron, value 10s, the goods of John Milner and Mary Clarke, on 7 November, 1792. He appeared at the Old Bailey on 15 December, 1792, when a fault was found in the indictment. As a result the charge was dismissed, and he was found not guilty. What is most useful from this event is that we have a description of Reading. “born London 1737, age 55, Gender male, Height 5 feet 4 inches, Hair black, Complexion dark, Profession sailor”. That information is more than we have for anyone else, Cook included.
Beaglehole reports that a note in Joseph Banks’s Papers had Reading living at 11 Ratcliff Highway, which lies in East London.
Reading died at Plymouth, when he was with HMS Phaeton. His will, dated 7 December, 1797,5 left everything to John Bramham, victualler, at Plymouth Dock.
The State Library of New South Wales holds the correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks including begging letters sent to him. This correspondence contains three letters written by, or more probably on behalf of, Reading, and a hastily written testimonial by Banks about Reading (item 3). One letter from Reading states that he sailed as gunner’s mate in Endeavour during the First Voyage, and, as such, accompanied Banks (item 2). There is no evidence that Reading did sail in Endeavour, and there is no record of the ship carrying a gunner’s mate. Banks appears to have been taken in by this assertion, or did not bother to check the facts as, in 1791, he acknowledged Reading’s presence in Endeavour.
Transcriptions of the letters
Item 1 6
Joseph According to your Desire I have Taking The Liberty of Sending my Wife with those few Lines to Let you know that I at Present am On board His Majestys Ship Mirmydon at Woolwich and hope your honour will my being Promoted and am at a Great Loss for a Call.
Should be much oblidge to your honour if you wold be so kind as to Assist me in getting one and I will Repay it when I Return to you again I hope you will Excuse my Taking this Liberty but in Granting me this Favour Will with Every other will be Ever Gratefully
Accknowledged by Your Most Obd.t Ser.t
Dated on board His Majestys
Ship Mirmydon at Woolwich
Aprill 12th 1786
Item 2 7
Colossus Spithead 30 Octr 1787
Having the honor to go round the world in the Endeavour with you I humbly take leave to address you being in the humble station of a seaman at present and always while with you in the capacity of gunner’s mate most humbly beg you will be pleased if it lies in your power (which I flatter myself it does) to apply for me for a boatswain’s warrant in His Majesty’s Service as I am confident being fit for such a station being 43 years of age and 30 years in the service. Hope My long servitude will procure me the favor I ask Having a wife and family humbly beg you will Be pleased to do what you think fit, And am with the greatest respect
Your most Obedt Humbl Sert.
Be pleased to let me Solomon Reading
have an answer
Item 3 8
Soho Square Jan 10 1791
Here are to Certify to all whom it may concern that Solomon Redding the Bearer of this late of H.M. ship Alligator servd his Majesty as a seaman on board the H.M. Bark the Endeavour Brig Lieut James Cook Commander on a voyage round the world in the years 1768 1769 1770. 1771. & that he behavd himself during the [course] of that voyage with diligence & sobriety in testimony of which & in order to enable him to get employment as a seaman I have hereunto affixd my hand & seal this 10th. day of Jan 1791.
Item 4 9
June 24th [No year]
I hope you’ll pardon the liberty I take in making my situation known to you. I have been grievously afflicted with the gravel in my kidneys. But being now much better I am about shipping myself for the East Indies and I should be humbly thankful to your Honor you’d be so kind to lend me a trifle to fit me for the voyage, being at present quite unprepared. Your compliance with this request will be of essential service to your
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 50, volume 42, number 3 (2019).
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