London Gazette - 11th January 1780
Captain Clerke of His Majesty’s Sloop the Resolution, in a letter to Mr. Stephens, dated the 8th of June I779, in the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul, Kampschatka, which was received yesterday, gives the melancholy account of the celebrated Captain Cook, late commander of that Sloop, with four of his private marines having been killed on the 14th of February last at the Island of O’Why’he, one of a group of new discovered Islands in the 22nd Degree of North Latitude, in an affray with a numerous and tumultuous Body of the Natives.
Captain Clerke adds that he received every friendly supply from the Russian Government; and that as the Companies of the Resolution and her consort, the Discovery, were in perfect Health and the two sloops had twelve months stores and Provisions on board, he was preparing to make another attempt to explore a Northern Passage to Europe.
The letter from Captain Clerke had arrived at the Admiralty the day before. Lord Sandwich wrote to Joseph Banks, “what is uppermost in our mind allways must come out first, poor captain Cooke is no more, he was massacred with four of his people by the Natives of an Island where he had been treated if possible with more hospitality than at Otaheite”. The king is said to have shed tears. The news was quickly repeated in many newspapers throughout the country.
Mrs Elizabeth Cook was 38. Of her six children, James and Nathaniel were young midshipmen in the navy, and Hugh was at home. The other three children had already died: Elizabeth, Joseph and George.
Cook had made his will on 14th June 1776, requesting: “First, my Will is that all my just debts and Funeral Expences be fully paid and satisfied, and after payment thereof I do hereby give and bequeath to my dear Father Mr James Cook of Redcar in the County of York, for and during his natural Life one Annuity or clear yearly Sum of Ten Pounds ten Shillings”. Unfortunately, his father, James Cook, had died on 1 April 1779 at the age of 84. Cook also gave “to each of my Sisters Christiana Cocker and Margaret Fleck, the Sum or Legacy of ten Pounds”, and “to my good friends Thomas Dyall of Mile End Old Town aforesaid, Gentleman, and Richard Wise of Rumford in the County of Essex, Gentleman, ten Pounds a piece as a mark of the great Regard I have for them”, though little is known of them [see Cook’s Log, page 1248, vol. 19, no. 1 (1996) and 1750, vol. 23, no. 3 (2000)].
The rest of Cook’s estate was for “my dear and loving Elizabeth Cook… for the term of her natural Life, and after her decease I give the same to all my Children which are borne in my lifetime or in due time after my death, in equal shares and proportions.”
Finally, he appointed “my said Wife and the said Thomas Dyall and Richard Wise joint Executrix and Executors of this my Will”. The will was proved on 24th January before “the Worshipfull Andrew Coltee Ducarel, Doctor of Laws, Surrogate of the Right Worshipful Peter Calvert, Doctor of Laws, Master Keeper or Commissary of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury” in front of “Elizabeth Cook Widow, the Relict of the deceased and Thomas Dyall, two of the Executors named in the said Will to whom Administration of all and singular the Goods, Chattels and Credits of the said deceased was granted… power reserved of making the like Grant to Richard Wise the other Executor named in the said Will when he shall apply for the same.” Which he did on 20th March.
A pension for Elizabeth was considered. The Navy Board wrote to the king, and on 2nd February “His Majesty, taking the said memorial into his royal consideration, was pleased, with the advice of his Privy Council, to order, as it is hereby ordered, that a pension of two hundred pounds a year be settled on the widow, and twenty-five pounds a year upon each of the three sons of the said Captain James Cook, and that the same be placed on the ordinary estimates of his Majesty’s Navy, and the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty are to give the necessary directions herein accordingly.”
London Gazette - 8th February 1780
The Empress of Russia expressed a most deep concern at the loss of Captain Cook. She was the more sensibly affected from her very partial regard to his merits; and when she was informed of the Hospitality shewn by the Russian Government at Kamschatka to Captain Clerke she said no subjects in her Dominions could show too much Friendship for the survivors of Captain Cook.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 40, volume 28, number 1 (2005).