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Charles Clerke (1st will)


"In the name of God Amen, I Charles Clerke, Captain of his Majesties Sloop Discovery, do make this my last will and testament. I give to my honoured father Joseph Clerke of Weathersfield in Essex, Esquire, ten Guineas and my Gold Watch, to my dear Brother Sir John Clerke, Captain in his Majesties Navy ten Guineas, to my Brother Joseph Clerke of Ipswich, Attorney at Law, one Guinea, and to my good friend Sir Robert Ainslie, at present his Majesties Ambassador at Constantinople, one hundred pounds, to my good friend Doctor Maty of the British Museum fifty pounds, to my good friend Gawler Rickman Attorney at Law in Tooks Court, Castle Yard, Holborn, twenty pounds, and the rest and residue of my Effects whatsoever or wheresoever, whether real or personal that at this time or at any time heresoafter shall belong to me I do hereby give and bequeath the same to my loving Sister Sarah Clerke of Weathersfield aforesaid, and I do hereby appoint Edward Thompson of Kew, Captain in his Majesty's Navy and James Sykes of Crutched Friars, London, Merchant, my Executors, to each of whom I bequeath a Legacy of thirty pounds.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 29 day of July 1776, Charles Clerke. Sealed and Delivered by the Testator Captn. Charles Clerke as his Art and Deed and published as his last Will and Testament in the presence of us John Cantiloe - Robt. Berney.

This Will was proved at London before the Worshipful Andrew Colter Durant, Doctor of Laws, Surrogate of the High and Worshipful Peter Calvert, also Doctor of Laws, Master Keeper or Commissary of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, lawfully constituted on the twenty sixth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty by the oath of James Sykes one of the executors named in the said will to whom Administration was granted of all and singular the Goods, Chattels and Credits of the Deceased having been first sworn duly to administer power reserved of making the life grant to Edward Thompson Esquire, the other Executor named in the said will, when he shall apply for the same."


(Transcribed from the copy at the Family Records Centre, London. Microfilm Reference Prob 11-1067-352.)

Cliff Thornton



  1. The will was made on 29 July 1776, on the day that Clerke managed to extricate himself from the debtors prison in London into which he had been taken as guarantor for his brother's debt (Sir John Clerke). By this date Cook was at sea and approaching the Bay of Biscay whilst the Discovery lay at Plymouth awaiting its Captain.
  2. The will reads as a very hasty and basic document lacking many of the usual legal niceties, e.g. it lacks the usual direction on what to do with the testator's body at the time of his death, and lacks any instructions to pay off any outstanding debts before his estate is apportioned out.
  3. One wonders what strife existed between the brothers of the Clerke family? He left ten Guineas to his "dear Brother" John, despite him being the cause of Charles' incarceration. In contrast, his other brother Joseph, a lawyer who may have been expected to assist Charles during his imprisonment, received a nominal one Guinea.
  4. At first sight, the legacies left to members of his family appear meagre when compared with the amounts left to his "good friends". However, in Clerke's final will, the amounts which he left to Sir Robert Ainslie and Dr Maty were supplemented with interest, suggesting that these legacies were actually repayments of loans which Clerke had received from the two gentlemen.
  5. It is easy to explain Clerke's links with Dr Maty as the latter was principal librarian at the British Museum and Secretary of the Royal Society. He was partly responsible for publishing in 1774 the translation of an important map detailing recent Russian discoveries in the Seas of Kamtschatka and Anadir. Clerke also had a family link with Dr Maty, as Clerke's sister Hannah had married the doctor's son, Paul Maty, in September 1775. Paul Maty was also employed by the British Museum, as a librarian.
  6. It is more difficult to explain Clerke's connection with Sir Robert Ainslie, although is it mere coincidence that this is the same ambassador at Constantinople that knew James Magra (Matra) and employed him as his secretary from 1778 to 1780 ?
  7. Clerke also left twenty pounds to his good friend Gawler Rickman. One wonders if this legatee was related to John Rickman who served under Clerke on the Discovery as second lieutenant.
  8. Whilst this will was proved in July 1780, it was revoked 4 months later in November in favour of a final will which Charles Clerke had made on 17 August 1779, five days before his death.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 13, volume 26, number 1 (2003).

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