Several months ago I received a fascinating enquiry from a gentleman who had come across an old book that he thought might be of some interest.
He had found it whilst sorting through a box of old books in his attic. The book in question was nothing to get excited about. Its title was The Odes, Satyrs and Epistles of Horace. It had been translated by a Mr Creech, and this copy was from the sixth edition, published in 1737. Horace was a Roman poet from the first century BC, so the book had nothing at all to do with Cook.
However, on opening the book I found some handwritten inscriptions that were clearly to do with Cook and the voyage of Endeavour. The title page of the book carries the name of a previous owner of the book. Across the top of the title page, written in Latin is “E libris Guli. Perry”, which translates as “From the library of William Perry”.
This inscription rang a bell, as I recalled that in 2005, Melbourne University acquired a book1 that was claimed to have belonged to William Perry, the surgeon’s mate in Endeavour. The title page of the University’s book, a medical textbook, had also been inscribed by the owner, William Perry.
A comparison of the two title pages (illustrated above) showed that the signatures are identical!
The University of Melbourne had acquired their book because of another inscription that it contained. Inside the front cover of the book is a handwritten note that reads
This Book went round the World in
the Endeavour in 1768 / 69 / 70 & 71.
It is assumed that it was William Perry himself who wrote this note inside his book, but it could have been someone else.
Was there a similar inscription in the “new” book which had been brought to my attention? The sad news is that there is no similar inscription. However, the good news is that there are far more extensive and interesting inscriptions.
On one page these annotations record the names of the ship’s officers, etc. On the adjacent page is recorded the date of 6th September 1769, which is thought to be when the inscription was written. This date and location “off Cape Finisterre” are consistent with the date and location of Endeavour according to Captain Cook’s journal.
The gentleman who had written to me had enquired if his book was worth anything!
How do you put a value on something as rare as that? I racked my brain trying to think of another artefact that had been on Endeavour’s circumnavigation, and was still extant. There are the ship’s cannon of course, but they made it only half way around the world. I could not think of anything else. I told the owner that his book would command a high price at auction, and he should make enquiries at London’s main auction houses, and not put the item in the hands of a minor auctioneer.
By the time you read this article, the book will have been sold at auction, and will have a new owner, as the book is being auctioned at Bonhams, London on 26 June, 2019. See page 5.
William Perry ended his medical career practising in the town of Hillingdon, to the west of London. He died in 1807. In his will he left “the residue of his personal estate” to his wife Anne.
When Anne died in 1835, her will directed her three executors to dispose of all household furniture, books and china, at their discretion. None of her executors were members of her family; they were all medical men, possibly colleagues of her husband.
If only we knew what these medical men decided to do with the books in Mrs Parry’s library. Did they simply send all of the material to a local auction, or might they have allowed some of Parry’s children to retain some of the books that had once belonged to their father?
The Perry book The Odes, Satyrs and Epistles of Horace does not contain the names of its previous owners. The current owner believes that it had been in the family for several generations. His family originally came from the Feltham area, west of London.
In contrast, the book at Melbourne University is inscribed with the name and address of a Henry William Reed.
I found him in the census records of the mid-1800s, making his living from the brick-fields that lay alongside the Grand Junction Canal to the west of London. In 1841 he was living in Yiewsley, a village that lays less than a mile from the town of Hillingdon, where the Perrys lived.
I have found no genealogical link between the Perry and Reed families, only this interesting geographical proximity hinting that Dr Perry’s book collection may have been disposed of in the Hillingdon area. This Melbourne University book was subsequently acquired by the American collector David Parsons.2
Hence, both Perry books have strong links with the West side of London. As the books came from different owners, it makes you wonder if there might be any more of Wm. Perry’s library on the bookshelves of antiquarian booksellers operating in that area?
My grateful thanks to the University of Melbourne and the former owner of the “new” Perry book for granting permission to reproduce their photographs in this article.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 56, volume 42, number 3 (2019).
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