Home > 225 Years Ago: October - December 1775

225 Years Ago: October - December 1775


At the beginning of October, 1775 Captain James Cook, shortly returned from his Second Voyage, was working on his journals, deleting, adding and re-writing.

Johann Forster was writing an account for publication, and submitted to Lord Sandwich some specimen drafts based on the Dusky Bay section of Cook's journal. Sandwich was not impressed with his efforts. Daines Barrington acted as an intermediary between the two of them.

On 26th Sandwich wrote to Forster, "I think the Public, who have contributed largely to your expenses during your voyage, have a property in such observations as you have made during the time of your being in their service; & whether your narrative is written in French or in English, I think it does not make a minutest degree of difference."

Two days later Sandwich wrote to Barrington, "By the letter I have received from you, together with one from Mr Forster I begin to fear that there is no possibility of doing any thing with Mr Forster; and I am, almost convinced that he is, what he has been represented to me to be, an utterly impracticable man... I am willing that his share of the emolument of that publication shou'd be considerable, & unless his vanity leads him to think he is entitled to more than his proportion, he will have no reason to complain". He added that he had been urged by "several of the principal literary people in England" not to employ "the translator of Bougainville's journal in writing Captain Cook's voyage".

On the same day he wrote to Forster, "You mention a satisfaction that you have in being eased from the trouble of methodizing & clearing Captain Cook's journal from its inaccuracies & vulgar expressions. I do not pretend to be a Critic; but I must say that I have met with very few vulgarisms or inaccuracies in that journal; but I have seen his journal misquoted, & vulgarisms introduced that were not in the Original."

Georg Lichtenberg, a professor from Göttingen, visited England in October, and paid several visits to Johann Forster. He wrote that "he is a man in his prime, full of ardour and courage... his memory is prodigious and so, they say, is his knowledge of natural history. To his friends he is obliging and unassuming, but he is implacable when insulted, and treats his enemies with a style of witticism peculiar to himself which is highly successful, that is to say, he boxes their ears."

Wales, Banks and Patten

Also on 28 October, the Board of Longitude wrote to the Navy Board, ordering that William Wales, astronomer on the Resolution, be paid extra money for the extra time the voyage took, less money advanced to his wife during his absence.

Two days later Joseph Banks and John Fothergill discussed the impending second edition of Sydney Parkinson's journal of the Endeavour voyage, the first edition of which had contained many accusations within the Preface written by Parkinson's brother Stanfield.

Banks was inclined to let the case lie, especially as Stanfield had died, but agreed to Fothergill's outline for "Explanatory Remarks" to be appended to the new edition. It was finally published in 1784.

On 7th November, the Sick and Hurt Board wrote to the Admiralty Secretary about a request from James Patten, surgeon on the Resolution, for expenses to cover his attendance of men at the Cape of Good Hope.

An honorary degree for Forster

During the second week of November Forster went up to Oxford with George and Friedrich Adolf Vollpracht, a young theologian, who was temporarily residing with them in Percy Street.

On 22 November Johann Reinhold received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws (DCL) from Oxford University. He apparently misunderstood what he had received, for he invariably put LL.D. among his academic honours when listing them on his publications. Oxford at this time conferred no such degree.

The DCL was conferred, according to Gilbert White the naturalist, "on account of his literary fame; and because he had hazarded his life in a circumnavigation in the pursuit of Natural knowledge". He spent some days at the University enjoying the company of scholars and studying the progress of oriental scholarship.

A Nomination for Cook

On 23rd the nomination to elect Cook a Fellow of the Royal Society had its first reading and came up again weekly as the rules stated. The nomination read "Captain James Cook, of Mile-end a gentleman skilful in astronomy, & the successful conductor of two important voyages for the discovery of unknown countries, by which geography and natural history have been greatly advantaged & improved, being desirous of the honour of becoming a member of this Society, we whose names are underwritten, do, from our personal knowledge testify, that we believe him deserving of such honour, and that he will become a worthy & useful member."

It was signed by 25 people, more than the usual 3-6 for such nominations, beginning with Banks, Solander and Mulgrave (Constantine Phipps having come into his peerage). Others included Hunter the anatomist, Morton the secretary, Stephens the Admiralty secretary, John Campbell, who had first introduced Cook to the Society, Maskelyne the astronomer, and John[ann Reinhold] Forster.

On 13 December, the Admiralty wrote to the Navy Board for the purchase of a vessel of about 250 tons for service in remote parts. Cook was also involved in looking out for a suitable ship to accompany the Resolution on her next voyage.

Omai and Frazer

The next day Fanny Burney, sister of James, wrote in her diary that Omai had called unexpectedly at Newton House. He now walked everywhere quite alone and lived by himself in lodgings at Warwick Street, supported by a pension from the King.

Some time in December John Frazer petitioned Lord Sandwich, saying he had gone in the Resolution, "as the properest Person to dive; having acted in that Capacity, with good Success, in taking up His Majesty's Naval Stores. - That your Petitioner has been informed, by Dr Solander, that Captain Cook, upon his Arrival, recommended your Petitioner to the Board of Admiralty, as a Person that had been singularly useful in the Voyage. - And that your Petitioner has, by a studious Application and long Experience, invented an Instrument for taking up Things out of the Sea." He therefore solicits a boatswain's warrant, on board a ship in ordinary, "not being able to go again to Sea, on Account of the Pains in his Body, caused by frequent diving, from the Pressure and Coldness of the Water... would then be ready at Hand, to seek after any Thing very particular of His Majesty's that may be lost".

On 26th Cook wrote to the Admiralty Secretary, "In Answer to your letter of the 20th Inst. respecting the Petition of Jno Frazer, I am to acquaint you, that I do not think him Qualified for the Preferment he prays for, or any other in which Seamanship is necessary. He has lately applyed to me to Solicit their Lordships to appoint him Master at Arm; as he is a Steady Sober Man and served several years as a Soldier in the East India Companies Service I believe he may be well enough qualified for that station."

Forster Publishes

Forster's first full-length scientific work, Characteres generum plantarum..., was published in a folio first edition of six copies late in 1775. It bore the names of both father and son as authors and contains the first scientific descriptions of genera of plants from Tahiti, the Marquesas, Tonga, New Zealand, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, South Africa and other landfalls. In all it had 75 new genera and 94 new species of plants collected on the voyage.

Forster later referred to it as "a latin & merely scientific Book, with no other reference to the Voyage, than that the plants therein mentioned, were collected during the Voyage, & that as it had been quite ready for the press before I reached England, it did not engross my time or attention, especially as I had a Son, who had nothing better to do, than to superintend the Execution of the plates & this press."

Charles Clerke

Charles Clerke, lieutenant on the Resolution and recently promoted to Commander, ended 1775 in prison. He had stood guarantor for the debts of his eldest brother and fellow sailor, Sir John Clerke, who had gone off to the East Indies in 1772 owing the huge sum of £4,000. Clerke was not in a position to settle John's liabilities so he was arrested and held in his place. The money John had borrowed was owed to at least four persons.

The King's Bench was a branch of the High Court and dealt mainly with civil cases, although it had a criminal element to its work. Its prison was one of six gaols in the borough of Southwalk. As eighteenth century gaols went, the King's Bench Prison was one of the better ones. The building was relatively new, having been completed in 1758 on a two acre site in St. George's Fields, an open area of marshy land off Borough High Street near London Bridge. It had cost £7,800 to build. Debtors had to provide their own bedding, food and drink.

Marra Publishes

Sometime in December John Marra, gunner's mate on the Resolution, published his account of the Second Voyage. It was called "Journal of the Resolution's Voyage... by which the Non-Existence of an undiscovered Continent, between the Equator and the 50th Degree of Southern Latitude, is demonstratively proved. Also a Journal of the Adventure's Voyage.... interspersed with Historical and Geographical Descriptions of the Islands and Countries discovered in the Course of their respective Voyages." It was published in spite of Admiralty precautions against publication of any surreptitious account of the voyage. The book is not a large one.

A long abstract of the work appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine from December, 225 years ago.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1788, volume 23, number 4 (2000).

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