On 1st July, 1780 Captain John Gore in the Resolution and Captain James King in the Discovery were sailing north up the Atlantic Ocean along the west coast of Africa. John Rickman, first lieutenant on the Resolution, wrote, “we had the Discovery’s people on board to compare time”, i.e. on the chronometers and other time-pieces.
On 13th he noted “the ship’s birth day was celebrated on board, and double allowance given to the whole crew, who were at this time in perfect health.” The Resolution had left England four years earlier on 13th July 1776.
On 27th “the Discovery made the signal for seeing a sail. We instantly began to clear ship in case of an enemy, and hoisted English colours; and on our near approach the sail did the same. She was bound to the southward, and we pursued our course”.
On 1st August “at sun set we saw a sail at a great distance to the westward; but in the morning she was quite out of sight. We were then in lat. 43 deg. 56 min. N”, i.e. well to the west of Spain. “On the 7th we were in lat. 48 deg. long.” well off France.
On 9th George Gilbert, midshipman on the Discovery, wrote “we opened the Channel and I believe Capt Gore intended to go up it, had not the wind then shifted directly against us; upon which, we stood to the Northward for the western coast of Ireland with an intention to put into Galway; but the wind continueing steady from the Eastward, we were beating off the Coast for a week or ten days, without being able to make the Land, tho not above 30 Leagues from it. Therefore giving over all hopes of getting into Galway, we stood on to the Northward”.
On 21st Rickman “saw a sail standing to the southward, when we made the Discovery’s signal to chase; but the gale continuing, could not come near enough to hale her. In the evening the man at the mast head called out land distant about 3 leagues.”
According to Gilbert, it “was the first land we saw since we left the Cape of Good Hope, after a very tedious passage of three months two weeks and three days; being the longest time we were out of sight of Land during the voyage… The next day we got into Stromness Harbour in the Orkneys; but the reason of our putting in there when we had water enough onboard and a favourable wind to carry us round to the River [Thames], was known only to our Commander.”
They “were soon visited by the gentlemen in the neighbourhood” wrote Rickman. The next day “fresh beef and greens were served in plenty to both ships companies; and the same day our passengers went on shore, and set out for London. The Captains and Officers went likewise on shore, and the men had liberty to divert themselves by turns during our stay.”
James Trevenen, midshipman on the Discovery, wrote that day to his mother “When expecting to go into Falmouth a most ill-natured wind drove us to this last corner of the world (the Orkneys, north of Scotland)… at present we are safe lodged at Stromness, where I think myself as much out of the world as when freezing under the North Pole. In my letter from the Cape [of Good Hope] I wished we might have a safe passage through the French Spaniards and Americans. It was then very doubtful, for though our ships are of good size (at least one), our force was small and most privateers would have been an over-match for us, not being at all fitted for war. However, it was the appearance of our ships that preserved us, for we met with many who came to reconnoitre us, when by putting a good countenance on the matter we fairly bullied them and they sheered off. We have been on the whole about four weeks in our passage, perhaps one of the longest ever known, it being commonly done in ten or eleven [days]… If the war lasts I may yet hope for a lieutenancy, but if a peace is soon concluded, after that for many years there will be little chance of it”.
By the 29th “we had got wood and water enough on board to serve us to London”, wrote Rickman, “and at noon the signal was made to weigh; but the wind coming about, and blowing fresh from the S.E.” that it “entirely prevented our Sailing” added Gilbert.
On 31st Trevenen expressed his frustrations in another letter to his mother. “Our Commander is certainly the only person in the fleet that does not eagerly will to get home, but his being not so is sufficient to keep us perhaps another month longer from the Thames mouth, and indeed there is a report of us going into Leith, a town not far from Edinburgh. What reason can be given for it, no one knows but himself, nor perhaps himself neither. I may speak too freely of my commander, but his conduct justifies it. At common times we were always glad to visit as many places as possible for reasons obvious, being travellers, and Edinburgh is a place to gratify curiosity in a high degree. But now everything gives way to the more natural and stronger emotions of filial and fraternal love. The Commander (I speak of Mr. Gore of the Resolution) is a good man, but he certainly keeps us out without any occasion. However, it is possible (but only possible) that there might be a hidden cause; any opinion may be too rash, therefore must not be seen by any outside the family, as walls have ears; it might do me harm. At any rate I only speak the general view. The news we hear of the honours paid to Captain Cook’s memory, and the reported intentions of the Admiralty towards his followers, flatter us with hopes of promotion, which however we are afraid to indulge too far for fear of disappointment at last. It is perhaps not very Christianlike to wish a continuance of the war, but we shall all be very sorry for it to be over without our having a share in it. We wish to contribute to its glory as Warriors as well as Discoverers; the dangers we have gone through have been chiefly of another kind. Besides this, the sight of a large American privateer just brought in here by two of our frigates excites our avarice and prize money tinkles in our ears. We ourselves are, it seems, franked by the French and Spaniards in consequence of the publicity of our expedition, but this recollection only renders us uneasy that we did not take advantage of the circumstances to come up the English Channel, by which means we could have saved a month in the time of our arrival in the Thames.”
On 4th September Samuel Gibson, sergeant of marines on the Resolution, married a Jannet Coupland. He wrote his will on 18th calling his wife “Jean Gibson of the Parish of Walls, in Orkney”.
On 9th Trevenen wrote to his mother with the latest news. “Captain Gore of the Resolution (our commander-in-chief) has taken it into his head, on account of the continued easterly winds, which afford no prospect of us getting away from this place, to send Captain King of the Discovery (which ship you already know I am in) to London with all the papers, etc., relating to the voyage. He goes in a Customs House cutter that sails remarkably well, and makes good her way against any foul wind, as far as Leith; the rest of the way by land. It is probable that he will get to London long before our ships, and in that case he has promised to me his interest as far as it will go, for the advantage of all his shipmates. I have reason to think, nay, I am sure, that I shall be at least one of the first he will consider, as he wishes to have me (and I, wishing the same, have promised to go with him) in his next ship as a lieutenant, if a commission can be obtained. If it were not my sincere desire, gratitude for his unnumbered favours would engage me to sail with him. He is a nephew of Sir Fletcher Norton, Speaker of the House of Commons. Had Sir Fletcher still been in the Ministry, Captain King would have been sure of getting everything he asked, and readily granted, but as the Speaker has lately gone over to the minority this will be more doubtful… I have just learned another instance of Captain King’s good will towards me. He wished me to go to London with him and mentioned it to the commander-in-chief, but that old conceited American who never conformed to any scheme of which he was not the proposer, who never took advice in his life, and consequently never took a right step in his life, refused-for what reason I am sure he knows not… Thank God the lieutenant (a Mr. Burney) appointed to act as captain in the absence of our own is not only a good man, but a good seaman, a good officer, and much of a gentleman. With him I flatter myself to be in favour. Our first lieutenant (Williamson) is a wretch, feared and hated by his inferiors, detested by his equals, and despised by his superiors; a very devil to whom none of our midshipmen spoke for above a year, with whom I would not wish to be in favour, nor would receive an obligation from, was he Lord High Admiral of Great Britain.”
James Burney was 1st lieutenant on the Resolution before his transfer to the Discovery. His commission was not dated until 2 October. William Bayly, astronomer on Discovery, joined King to deliver the timepieces K1 and K3 to the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich.
According to Gilbert they were “sent away in a small vessel to Aberdeen with the Charts, Journals, etc to carry up to the Admiralty... Altho we procured every kind of refreshments, and met with very great friendship and hospitality from the Inhabitants, yet our stay at this place seemed exceeding tedious, and disagreeable; for we could get no more intiligence concerning our friends than if we had been at Otaheite.”
On 20th Rickman wrote “during our stay the ships were visited by gentlemen from all the islands round; and by the Apollo Frigate and her consort; they bought in a prize valued at £10,000 and both Captains came to visit Capt. Gore on board the Resolution, who now was taken very ill, and so continued to the end of the voyage. The same afternoon, the wind came round in our favour, when the signal was made for unmooring, and both ships got under way.” Gilbert added, “we sailed from the Orkneys in company with several Merchant vessels.”
On 23rd, wrote Rickman, “Samuel [Gibson], serjeant of marines, died, and next morning his corpse was committed to the deep.” According to Trevenen, Gibson had been taken ill “in the Streights of Sunda but was recovering at our arrival at Stromness in the Orkneys, where he married, and died in our passage to the River”.
Gilbert wrote, “It was Capt Gore’s intention to have gone up the Leith, but the wind blowing very fresh and directly down the Firth, we stood on along the Coast.” Rickman added, “on the 28th we passed by Leith, off which we again spoke with his Majesty’s ship Apollo.” The next day “John Davis, quarter-master, died.” John Connelly, AB on the Resolution, was appointed quartermaster in his place.
On 30th “we came to an anchor off Yarmouth, in company with his Majesty’s sloops of war the Fly and Alderney. Our boats were immediately sent on shore for provisions”.
Gore in a letter to the Admiralty Secretary explained the reason for calling at Great Yarmouth. “I am under necessity to endeavour to get two new Cables one for each Sloop, our old ones not being sufficiently good to hold us in case of a gale of wind among the sands”.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 32, volume 28, number 3 (2005).
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