There can be little, if any, doubt that the William Peckover who sailed on all three of Cook’s famous voyages, as well as with William Bligh in Bounty (and in the launch after the mutiny), was the son of Daniel Peckover and Mary (née Aires).1 William was baptised at St Michael’s church in the village of Aynho, Northamptonshire, on 18 June, 1748.2 Daniel had married Mary (1724–1755) at St Mary’s church in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on 19 November, 1747, less than seven months, as it happens, before William was born.3
Daniel was the son of Samuel Peckover and Jane (née Cleaver; 1693–1763), and was baptised at King’s Sutton a few miles north of Aynho on 18 February, 1721/22.4 He appears to have been their oldest son. A younger brother William (1723–1789) was baptised at King’s Sutton on 20 October, 1723.5 He married Katherine Side (1732–1801) of Newbottle, at Aynho on 25 July, 1762.6 Another brother Edmund was baptised at King’s Sutton on 20 December, 1725.7 He may well have died young for another Edmund, also son of Samuel and Jane, was baptised at Aynho on 10 April, 1732.8 He may also have died young. Mary, the daughter of Thomas Aires and his wife Mary (née Butler), was baptised at Thame in Oxfordshire on 26 April 1725.9
When William enrolled as an able seaman in Endeavour on 25 July, 1768, his birthplace was recorded as “Enoth, Noamptonsre”,10 which sounds close enough to “Aynho, Northamptonshire” to assuage any doubts.
In an article published in these pages in 2004, Barry Marriott provided a generalized account of the conditions of poverty and lack of opportunity into which Peckover was born and grew up.11 It is, therefore, striking that in a letter he wrote to Joseph Banks in late 1771 or early 1772, Peckover states that “Lord Greville was so obliging as to Promise my Uncle that He hould mantion this Scheme to you & did not doubt but that You hould honer it with your Approbetion & Assistance”.12 The “Scheme” in question was Peckover's desire to be “appointed Supernumery Midshipman in one of the Ships newly Commissiond for the South Seas”, that is, on Cook’s Second Voyage.
Given Peckover’s humble background, how was it that he had an uncle who could elicit a promise from George Greville (1746–1816), who was at the time the Member of Parliament for Warwick and the future second Earl of Warwick? According to Marriott, both William’s father Daniel and his uncle William (his father’s brother) “were referred to officially as ‘poor men’, and it is fairly conclusive that there was no inherited wealth”. It thus seems unlikely that the uncle with access to Lord Greville was related to William on his father’s side. So, perhaps the uncle was a brother of William’s mother? Or, perhaps he was an uncle by marriage, the husband of a sister of his father or of a sister of his mother? Or, perhaps he was a more distant relation, or even a family friend, referred to as “uncle” as a matter of courtesy?
There is perhaps a potential clue to the uncle’s identity in a postscript to Peckover’s letter to Banks. Peckover writes, “Plase to direct to me at Mr Sernders [Saunders?] in Warwick”. From this we can deduce that Peckover was residing in Warwick at the time (or was, at least, visiting the town), and we might be tempted to speculate that he was staying with the uncle who elicited the promise from Lord Greville. We might further want to speculate that Peckover’s uncle was in Greville’s service, or that he had some position in the town that gave him access to Greville. We might go even further, and speculate that Peckover may have been brought up, at least in part, by this uncle. Perhaps it had been noticed that he was an intelligent boy, and he had been sent to his uncle to receive some sort of education? If this were the case, it might well have happened after William’s mother had died “in childbed” on 15 September, 1755, when William was only seven years old.13
From Banks’s biographer Harold Carter we learn that it was in 1771–1772, around the time Peckover wrote the letter to Banks, that Banks’s friendship with Lord Greville’s younger brother Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809) was blossoming.14 This may be a complete coincidence, of course, but it may have been a fortunate one for Peckover if it somehow contributed to Banks taking a particular interest in his career. There is, after all, good evidence that both Banks and Daniel Solander thought well of him. From Peckover’s letter we learn that Banks “was so good to me During your Last Voyage & so generous sinc[e] your Return”, and that Banks had made an “Obliging Recommendation at Richmond”. Unfortunately, we do not know what the “Obliging Recommendation” was, though it seems likely that it had something to do with the royal gardens at Richmond and Kew. Whatever the case, we do know that although he was not appointed “Supernumery Midshipman” in Resolution, he was appointed “Gunner’s Mate” on Cook’s Second Voyage, and served again as Gunner on the Third Voyage. Moreover, we also now know that it is likely that Banks played a significant role in Peckover’s appointment as a “preferable tidewaiter” in His Majesty’s Customs after his discharge from the Navy in 1801.15
All of these pieces of speculation lead to another one. That is, that it is not inconceivable that Peckover may have been a source (either directly or through his uncle) of some of the Pacific objects in the collection at Warwick Castle (dispersed at a Sotheby’s sale in 1969).16 It has long been thought that Banks was the source,17 but perhaps Peckover should now be considered a potential source too—especially as the Warwick Castle collection contained objects from Hawai`i, and Peckover is known to have given some “curiosities” to the British Museum after Cook’s Third Voyage.18 It would not be a surprise to discover that Peckover had given other objects to those who had assisted him in his career—such as his uncle and Lord Greville.
I am usually loath to speculate about matters such as these in print, especially when such speculation touches on the potential history of the “curiosities” collected on Cook’s voyages.19 In this case, however, the facts of Peckover having an uncle with access to Lord Greville, and his writing from Warwick in late 1771 or early 1772, are so intriguing, and the related information so limited, that it seems worth putting these thoughts on paper in the hope that they may elicit another relevant piece of information or two from the readers of Cook’s Log.
I am grateful to Pieter van der Merwe, Stephen Walters and James Walters for their helpful comments.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 46, number 1 (2023).
your email address will not be published