Since my first article about my researches into William Hollamby [see Cook's Log, page 19, vol. 29, no. 1 (2006)] I have continued looking for information about him, in national and local archives and on the internet. Recently, I have managed to contact some of his descendants.
To recap: my obsession started as part of some village history, the village of Shalford near Guildford in Surrey. I was intrigued to find a Captain William Hollamby as the tenant one of the largest houses in the village for a few years in the 1780s and 1790s. On investigating his part in Cook's Third Voyage, I was struck by John Williamson's description of his "great humanity, strength of constitution and perseverance." The occasion for the remark was Hollamby's search for the lost seamen on Christmas Island, December 1777. (I know that John Williamson's good opinion may not be the best recommendation. But despite his faults he did show appreciation of the virtues of others.) Compassionate, loyal, strong and determined - Hollamby sounded like the Perfect Man and I decided, a bit tongue-in-cheek, to adopt him as a hero and to find out as much as I could about him.
William Hollamby came from a middle class tradesman's background. His father kept the King's Arms in Crutched Friars in the City of London. William went to sea in 1758 aboard Dorsetshire, where he was captain's servant with John Williamson - hence the "long acquaintance" with Hollamby to which Williamson refers in his journal of the Third Voyage. Hollamby left Dorsetshire and the navy early in 1760. He married very young and had a family; this seems to have made him settle down for a few years. He became a Freeman of the Innholders Company in the City of London and operated as a dealer in brandy, rum and wine. I do wonder if his maritime experience might have involved the wine trade. He must have had considerable expertise to be accepted as able seaman aboard Discovery in 1776 and to be rated quartermaster before the ship sailed.
After the four-year voyage he was passed for lieutenant and in May 1781 sailed aboard Sultan bound for India, where a British squadron under Sir Edward Hughes was campaigning against the French. Hollamby survived four fierce, but inconclusive, battles. In December 1783, as the squadron was preparing to return home, Hughes promoted him to master and commander and gave him command of the fireship Combustion. The six-month voyage to England was his first and only command. Ten years on half-pay followed.
Hollamby and his family moved to Shalford in 1786 and this is more or less where my earlier piece ended. I knew that he became an agent afloat to transports in 1794, when the French Revolutionary War was in progress, and that he died sometime in 1795. I didn't know when or where he died, but hoped it wasn't of yellow fever in the West Indies or in some dreadful French gaol. My fears proved justified. He sailed on 13 September 1794 in charge of a large convoy of troop transports bound for the West Indies. Huge numbers of soldiers went out to the Caribbean between 1793 and 1798, only to be annihilated as soon as they arrived, not by the French but by virulent yellow fever, backed up by cholera and dysentery. William Hollamby died at Fort Royal, Martinique on 16 March 1795, almost certainly of yellow fever. On arriving at Fort Royal (now Fort-de-France) many of the transports were converted for the accommodation of French prisoners of war. The heat and overcrowding provided ideal conditions for the spread of disease, and it may have been that his task of supervising these prison ships led directly to Hollamby's death.
John Robson has included fuller details of my William Hollamby research on his website, The Men who sailed with Captain Cook, found at http://pages.quicksilver.net.nz/jcr/~cookmen5.html
With still so many gaps to fill in I was painfully conscious of having mainly official and little personal information. I didn't even know what William Hollamby looked like. In the hope of finding some personal material about him, and maybe even a portrait, I set about tracing his descendants.
William Hollamby and his wife Hannah had five children. Their two sons, William James and Benjamin George, seem to have died without issue. Of the three daughters, Henrietta the eldest and Eliza the youngest both married French émigrés. Eliza's husband, the marquis Armand de Froger de l'Eguille, was connected to the ultra-royalist party of French aristocrats in London. After Napoleon was defeated Eliza accompanied her husband on his return to France. The couple had fourteen children; ironically, in view of the years William Hollamby spent fighting the French, most of his descendants must be French.
I haven't yet tackled the tricky problem of tracing the French descendants. But with a bit of genealogical sleuthing in reverse I managed to find descendants from Hollamby's middle daughter Emily Augusta, who married Edward Biley at Great Badminton in Gloucestershire in 1803. There's some indication that Emily was in the household of the Duke of Beaufort; another hint that Hollamby's daughters had made some important connections. I was delighted to receive a phone call from Hollamby's 4x great-granddaughter Scilla Edwards. And, almost too good to be true, she does have a portrait. "But," perhaps fearing that she's about to shatter some romantic illusions, "I'm afraid he isn't very handsome."
So here he is at last. Seen outside his family for the first time. I'm sure I don't care whether or not he's handsome. The portrait is reproduced here by kind permission of Scilla Edwards. It perhaps dates from the early 1790s when Hollamby was in his late forties.
This isn't the younger man who sailed on Discovery and walked across Christmas Island under the broiling sun to rescue the half-dead Thomas Tretcher. Here we have the solid, middle-aged commander: strong, dependable, good-natured, but someone you wouldn't mess with. Someone used to having his orders obeyed. The snowy cravat and immaculate gold-laced uniform are a mark of social standing. But down-to-earth as well; he doesn't bother with a wig. His once-dark hair, now grey, is long at the back. The brown eyes are very watchful - they follow you about the room.
It's a good quality painting - the sort that every gentleman would want to display. William Hollamby's participation in Cook's Third Voyage had ultimately brought him promotion and respectability, given him a place in society and opened up prospects for his children.
But there's still a lot I don't know about him. So the search for William goes on.
SOURCES relating to William Hollamby's employment as agent afloat to transports August 1794 to March 1795:
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 36, volume 31, number 1 (2008).
your email address will not be published