Lieutenant Zachary Hicks (1737–1771) was Captain James Cook’s second-in-command for three years in Endeavour (1768–1771). Formally, Cook was First Lieutenant and Hicks was Second Lieutenant.
Hicks joined the ship on 27 May, 1768, as recorded in his Journal, “at 11 am hoisted the Pendant on C. Cooke taking the comm’d”.1 At Rio de Janeiro, Hicks acted as Cook’s diplomatic emissary, negotiating with the obdurate Viceroy and threatening to throw the Portuguese guard overboard. In Tahiti, Hicks led one of the groups that observed the transit of Venus, which was the primary object of the mission. On 31 October, 1769, Cook named Hicks Bay on the North Island of New Zealand “because Lieutt Hicks was the first who discover'd it”.2 And, on 19 April, 1770, Cook named Point Hicks, on the east coast of Australia, “because Leuitt Hicks was the first who discover'd this land”.3
Zachary signed his name as Hickes but the surname was generally spelled without the e. His name is legendary in my family. My grandmother was Duance Hicks (1889–1960), my mother inherited Zachary’s pocket watch, and my Australian cousin treasures his memory. Therefore, I resolved to investigate Hicks’s contribution to the success of one of the important voyages of maritime and scientific discovery. Interest in Hicks surfaced in 1893, when Historical Records of New South Wales printed selected extracts taken from his Journal for just the four months of the voyage along the east coast of Australia, April to August 1770.4
J.C. Beaglehole, in his edition of Cook’s Endeavour Journal,5 described both Hicks’s Journal and his Log,6 noting “the entries in the journal volumes are in the main no longer than the ‘remarks’ in this log”. The index to this edition shows Hicks’s Log is quoted 29 times, but his Journal is never quoted. The Log spans eighteen months (some weeks are missing) and focuses on the weather, the ship’s bearings and position. The Journal, on the other hand, covers thirty-four months and includes his “Remarks on Board his Majesty’s Bark Endeavour”, a personal and informative narrative of events. When I visited The National Archives, Kew, I found the Journal in a box that is catalogued as “Captains’ logs, including Explorations: Endeavour (6) J. Bootie (1768 May 27-1770 Sept 3)”. A subheading mentions the name Z. Hicks. Far from being “Captains’ logs”, this box contains the Logs and Journals of Midshipman John Bootie, much of which is repetitive, and possibly copied from Hicks’s. The box also holds “The Endeavour’s Journal commencing 27 May 1768 and ending 19 Nov 1769 by Lieut Zay Hickes”, with a sequel from 20 November, 1769, to 14 March, 1771. Hicks’s meticulous script in black ink fills two notebooks, each 9 by 14 inches, with a total of some 174 pages. The right-hand pages of “Remarks” provide details of the routine on board the Endeavour, and of Hicks’s responsibilities. He notes the reactions of the indigenous populations of Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia to his compatriots; he describes the settlement he organised at Fort Venus and Point Venus, Tahiti, with pride, and he writes with immediacy about the crisis when Endeavour struck the Great Barrier Reef.
Lieutenant Hicks’s duties were onerous and, when Cook was ashore, Hicks was in command of Endeavour. In November 1769 at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, when Cook and the shore party were threatened by warriors, Hicks came to their rescue, writing, “brought the broad side to bear on the shore and then fired”, whereupon the “Indians” fled. On routine matters, Hicks was a disciplinarian, ordering lashes of the cat-o’-nine-tails to punish deserters and disobedient seamen. He was irritated by pilfering and regularly ordered musket fire to be aimed at the natives of Tahiti to deter them from behaving “in a daring Theivish manner”. As the voyage progressed, his interests embraced astronomy, stimulated no doubt by his observation of the transit of Venus at Tahiti in June 1769; he marvelled at the comet he saw “between Aldebaren and Orion”, and later that year he witnessed the transit of Mercury. The curiosities of nature also intrigued him, such as “a seal asleep on the water”, albatrosses, “birds the size of a Pidgeon with white bellies”, and turtles weighing 300 pounds. Like Cook, he recognised the importance of diet on long sea voyages, writing in September 1769, “Began to make wort of the malt for the sick”. Wort, made from malt boiled with biscuit, ground wheat or dried fruit, was believed to ward off scurvy. “Portable soup” was served daily, with “salary” (celery) when available. On arrival at Batavia (Jakarta) the ship’s company was issued with tobacco for medicinal purposes.
Zachary Hicks’s service with Endeavour was the climax of his career. He had joined the navy as a teenager, serving with the East India Company’s ships, with HMS Essex, and on board the flagship HMS Royal George at the battle of Quiberon Bay, where the French fleet was defeated in 1759. He passed as a lieutenant in 1760, but was not immediately commissioned, as was common at the time. He joined HMS Launceston and then the sloop Hornet before being posted to Endeavour. He received his commission as Second Lieutenant on 26 May, one day after James Cook was commissioned as First Lieutenant. The sea was in Hicks’s blood. His great-grandfather, Captain Zachary Brown, fought in the Anglo-Dutch naval wars of the 1650s and 1660s. Brown’s son-in-law, Captain Jasper Hicks, distinguished himself at the capture of Gibraltar in 1704. Zachary Hicks’s father, Edward (1696–1747), described himself as a captain and mariner of Stepney. Edward’s eldest son was “begotten upon the body of Elizabeth Symonds, deceased”, whereas his other four children (Zachary, George, Thomasin and Mary) were “begotten upon the body of Thomasin Cope”, his housekeeper.7
The last entry in Hicks’s Journal is for 14 March, 1771, at Table Bay, South Africa. It indicates that he was still active, although Cook in his Journal hints that his health had been deteriorating for the previous five months. Zachary died of consumption (tuberculosis), and was buried at sea on 26 May, 1771. He was unmarried and childless. He had not made a will. His mother inherited his goods and chattels.
Hicks’s memory has been kept alive by the descendants of his half-brother, Edward, and his wife Elizabeth (née Watts). Edward and Elizabeth’s grandson, Johnson Hicks (1818–1891), emigrated from south London to Australia in 1856, establishing a dynasty in Victoria. Hicks Bay and Mount Hicks in New Zealand, Hicks Point in Victoria, Australia, and Zachary Hicks Crescent in the Melbourne suburb of Endeavour Hill, all commemorate a naval officer whose successful career was cut short when he died of a cruel disease at the age of thirty-three.
- Hicks’s Journal, 27 May, 1768, to 14 March, 1771. ADM 51/4546/147-148. Held at The National Archives (TNA), Kew.
- Beaglehole, J.C. (ed).The Journals of Captain James Cook. Vol. I: The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768 – 1771.Hakluyt Society.1955.
- Historical Records of New South Wales. Volume 1, Part 1. NSW Government Printer. 1893.
- Beaglehole, J.C.op cit.
- Hicks’s Log, 8 December, 1768, to 22 June, 1770. qMS-0954.Held at the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.
- Will of Edward Hickes, 1746. PROB11/756/48. TNA.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 5, volume 43, number 2 (2020).