On 2 April 1772, William Bilby (or Beilby) joined HMS Resolution as an AB (Able Bodied seaman). He was listed as having been born in York about 1728. However, he did not sail on James Cook’s Second Voyage as he was discharged on 5 May at Longreach, in the River Thames.1
A month later, Cook informed the Navy Board from Sheerness that he was sending pay tickets for William Bilby.2 Sailors were often discharged from ships so why should this case be of interest?
According to the musters for the Whitby ship Three Brothers, a William Beilby, born in York in 1728, sailed in her for three years from 1748 to 1752 with James Cook. She was carrying coal from the River Tyne down the North Sea to London. Although no reason was given for Beilby’s discharge from Resolution in 1772, the possibilities include him having been ill, and the two men not being friends when they sailed together twenty years earlier. It was also possibly embarrassing for them to be together given how different their careers had developed since their days on John Walker’s ship.
Beilby and Cook had joined Three Brothers together on 14 June, 1748. They were both classed as servants (apprentices). John Jefferson was master of the vessel. They undertook four passages to and from London, before both were discharged at Whitby on 8 December, 1749. They resumed sailing in Three Brothers on 19 February, 1751, now under Robert Watson as master. Cook was now listed as a seaman, while Beilby was still a servant. Both were discharged again at Whitby on 8 January, 1752.
The musters for Beilby’s first Three Brothers sailing, and when he joined Resolution, list him as being born in 1728 in York. However, for his second Three Brothers voyage he was recorded as being born in 1732 in York.
I have found in the Parish Records a William Beilby baptised on 18 June, 1728, at Bilton-in-Ainsty, a village a few kilometres west of York. He was the son of Mark and Lucy (née Wrighton) Beilby. I have been unable to find anything about Beilby after his discharge from Resolution.
- Cook’s Log. 2011. Vol. 34, no. 4. Pages 20-21.
- Navy Board record, dated 5 June 1772. ADM 106/1208/172. Held at The National Archives. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14188625
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 43, volume 45, number 2 (2022).