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Charles Green - Research undertaken after Kippis


Andrew Kippis, DD was one among many authors after the Cook voyages who wrote of Cook's achievements. When his book The Life of Captain James Cook was published in 1788 it contained not only details of Cook's voyages but also his early life.1

One large footnote in Kippis's work documents the life of Charles Green. It ends: "Information given by William Wales FRS, his brother-in-law". It has remained the "standard" biography of Charles Green's life prior to the Endeavour voyage, providing the entry in the Dictionary of National Biography's volume of Missing Persons2 and the latest edition of DNB.

I have found more information, but this standard is worth quoting in full:3

Mr Charles Green (the youngest son of Mr Joshua Green of Swinton, near Rotherham, in Yorkshire, a considerable farmer, and a freeholder of the county) was born in the year 1735. The principal part of his education he derived from his eldest brother, the Rev. John Green, late of Denmark Street, Soho. Mr John Green was master of a school in that place, and, after some time, took in his brother Charles, as an assistant teacher. In this situation, he made such a progress in astronomical knowledge, that, in the latter end of the year 1760, he became assistant to Dr Bradley, at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. This was upon the occasion of Mr Charles Mason's having quitted that office, to go to the Cape of Good Hope, for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus, in 1761. With Dr Bradley Mr Green remained at the observatory, till the Doctor's death, which happened in 1762. Upon Mr Bliss's appointment to the place of Astronomer Royal, Mr Green continued to be assistant to that gentleman. As Mr Bliss's health was very precarious, and his residence chiefly at Oxford, the principal care of the observations devolved on Mr Green. Indeed, he was so useful to Mr Bliss, that when, in 1763, in conjunction with Dr Maskelyne, he was appointed by the Commissioners of the Board of Longitude to go to Barbadoes, to make observations for the trial of Mr Harrison's time-keeper, it was agreed that a temporary assistant only should be provided at Greenwich, till his return. Accordingly, he remained at the observatory till the death of Mr Bliss, in September, 1764, and the appointment of Dr Maskelyne, in the spring following. After this, he was employed by a number of gentlemen, who had formed a scheme of bringing water from some part of the river Coln, below Uxbridge, to Marybone. But Mr Green having proved, by this survey, that there would be a deficiency of fall, if the water should be taken from the tail of the lowest mill in that stream, and objections being raised, by the proprietors of those mills, to the water's (sic) being taken above them, the design dropped. Mr Green's appointment, by the Royal Society, to observe, together with Lieutenant Cook, the transit of Venus in 1769, having already been related in the course of this work, it is sufficient to add, that he fell martyr to the unwholesome air of Batavia; for though he lived to quit that place, he died twelve days afterwards, of a dysentery, on the 29th of January, 1771.

Mr Green was tolerably well versed in most branches of the mathematics, and had a tincture of various other sciences. Metaphysical enquiries were his favourite pursuits; and he was more fond of displaying his knowledge in this respect than was conductive to his advantage. Though he loved his friend much, he sometimes showed that he loved his jest better, by which he made himself enemies. He was a most excellent observer. Of this Dr Maskelyne was so well convinced, that, though they had disagreed at Barbadoes, and were not afterwards on terms of friendship, the Doctor not only proposed him to the Royal Society, as the most proper person to observe the transit of Venus, but supported his interest with great earnestness, against some others of the Society, who wished to send out a different person. The observations of Mr Green which particularly related to the transit of Venus, were printed in conjunction with those of Lieutenant Cook. His remaining ones, which are pretty numerous, are now preparing for publication, under the direction of the Commissioners of Longitude.

Mr Green was engaged for a time, in concert with Doctor Scott the present Rector of Simonburn, Mr Falconer, the author of the Shipwreck, and some other persons, in writing a dictionary of arts and sciences; but he did not continue his assistance through more than half the work. Mr Green, as a reward for his going to Barbadoes, had been appointed purser of the Aurora frigate, which was afterwards made choice of to carry Mr Vansittart, and the other Supervisors, out to India. As Mr Green was then absent with Lieutenant Cook, his old colleague, Mr Falconer, applied to the Commissioners of the Navy, for leave to exchange the Bristol, to which he belonged, for the Aurora. In consequence of this he was lost with her; and, probably, at no great distance, either of time or space, from where the body of her quondam purser, Mr Green, was committed to the deep. [From the information of Mr Wales.]"

I began my quest to discover more about Charles Green and his family by checking the parish registers. They show he was baptized on 26th December 1734 at Wentworth church, Yorkshire.

Charles was one of seven children of Joshua and Ann Green, the others being:

  • John baptized circa 1718 at Sheffield,
  • Ann,
  • Joshua baptized 1720 at Wath on Dearne,
  • William baptized 1727 at Wentworth,
  • Elizabeth baptized 1737 at Wentworth and
  • Mary baptized 1740 at Wentworth.

Three of these children were later to be linked to the Cook voyages:

  • Charles was astronomer on the First Voyage.
  • William had a daughter, Lydia, who married George Gilpin, assistant to William Wales on the Second Voyage.
  • Mary married William Wales, astronomer on the Second Voyage.

Wentworth is a village lying next to Wath, and was the seat of the Earls of Rockingham. In the Poll Book of 1734 Joshua Green senior is listed as being "of Wentworth, Freeholder". He was the son of John and Ann Green of Swinton, Yorkshire (who are buried at nearby Mexborough), who had another son John and five daughters.

Joshua Green senior died in 1749. According to his will of 1735 he was living at Barrow, a hamlet in the township of Wentworth and the parish of Wath upon Dearne, near Swinton, and he was a butcher by trade. He bequeathed twenty pounds to each of his eldest five children on them attaining the age of twenty-one. The two youngest girls Elizabeth and Mary didn't inherit as they were born after the will was written. Joshua left the bulk of his estate of goods, chattels, cattle, housing, buildings, land bills and bonds to his wife Ann.

John Green the eldest son would have been about thirty when his father died. He had married Sarah Slack in Sheffield in 1740 and started teaching about this time, although his own place of education remains a mystery.

In the Archbishop of York's Visitations of 1743 John's name appears as a churchwarden at Thurnscoe, a village north of Wath, and a Joshua is listed as a churchwarden at Swinton. John was licenced a curate of Thurnscoe in 1745, and began having religious works published the following year. In 1759 appeared A Short Grammar, or Rudiments of the Latin Tongue by a Clergyman who hath taught Grammer for twenty years past, by John Green, master of the Academy in Denmark Street London. The copy in the British Library has an engraved prospectus inserted, saying:

In Denmark Street, near Soho-Square London
Young Gentlemen are Boarded and Educated in
English, Latin, French, Greek, Writing, Accompts, Mathematics, Mnemonics and Short Hand
By the Revd. J Green, L.M.
and proper Assistants

Written inside is "C Burney", so this book appears to have been from Charles Burney's considerable library. which was ultimately purchased by the British Museum. Charles was also a schoolteacher. His brother James was on Cook's Second and Third Voyages. Charles Green would have been one of the "proper Assistants" of his brother John at the Academy when this book was published.

The Academy was in Hog Lane near Denmark Street, and had originally been a chapel belonging to French Protestant refugees.6 From them it passed to the Methodists connected with George Whitfield. It was here that Rev John Green set up his school. William Hogarth sketched the chapel in 1738 in his work "Noon", which he described as illustrating the faithful coming out of the French Chapel in Hog Lane. Beatrix Potter later copied this work for the frontispiece of her book The Tailor of Gloucester.

Hog Lane was an ancient medieval thoroughfare. It was later renamed Crown Street and then West Street before being incorporated into Charing Cross Road. The Chapel is marked on John Rocque's London map of 1746 as "French Chu" in Hog Lane opposite Phoenix Street. The site today is on the west side of Charing Cross Road and is still marked on some maps as "School", being one of the colleges of the University of Arts, London.

John Green was still described as "curate of Thurnscoe" when he published Salvation of Grace in 1761. He officiated at the marriage of his sister Mary to William Wales at St Alphege's church at Greenwich in 1765.

John was also a preacher at George Whitfield's Chapel in Tottenham Court Road, now the American Church in London. Whitfield was a contemporary of the Wesleys and John Wesley preached here on Whitfield's death at Massachusetts in 1770. Four years later when Rev John Green died a monument was placed on the walls of the chapel with the words "John Green, Minister of the chapel, 1774". He had no children, and in his will he bequeathed his estate to his wife Sarah and, on her death if anything remained, to his niece Rhoda Green.

Ann Green was named next after John in her father's will. She was presumably named after her mother.

Joshua Green was born in 1720. He had a totally different life to his brother John. At the age of 15 he began a seven-year apprenticeship three miles north-east of Wath at Barnbrough, Yorkshire to learn the trade of a Skinner and Breeches maker.7 His indenture fee of £4 was paid by the Rt Hon Thomas Earl of Malton of Wentworth House. How long he followed this training is a mystery. He next appears in the area south of Leeds working for Charles Brandling, owner of the colliery at Middleton. In 1758 he appeared at the House of Commons as Brandling's agent and procured an Act of Parliament for Brandling to supply Leeds with coal by means of a wagon way from Middleton to Brandling's Staith at Leeds. This line eventually became the Middleton Railway and now claims to be the world's oldest working railway. At this staith the agent had been Joshua Gilpin, father of George who sailed on Cook's Second Voyage as assistant to William Wales.

In 1770 Joshua entered into partnership with Richard Humble, another Brandling's agent, and others, and founded the famous Leeds Pottery at the Leeds end of the Middleton Railway. It survives today as the Hartley Green & Co.

Joshua died in 1799 leaving an estate of just under £5000. He had married twice. His first wife Ann died in 1756. His second wife Judith Barwick he married in 1758. She was a sister of John Barwick, another founding partner in the pottery.

William Green married Ann Rhodes at Wath in 1751. They had two sons, William and Ebenezer, and two daughters, Rhoda and Lydia.

Rhoda married her cousin Savile Green. He was the son of John Green, brother of Joshua Green senior, and husband of Catherine Savile of Mexborough. Catherine came from a large Yorkshire family that became the Earls of Mexborough. Savile was another director of the Leeds Pottery, as was Rhoda's brother Ebenezer. The other two siblings appear to have gone to London. Lydia married George Gilpin, who was assistant to the Astronomer Royal and who then assisted William Wales on Cook's Second Voyage. In 1785 he was appointed Clerk to the Royal Society, living at Somerset House, and in 1801 was Secretary to the Board of Longitude.

It is thought William became a farrier at Greenwich. In 2002 a lady from New Zealand contacted the then Captain Cook Study Unit and told of her great grandfather Green coming to NZ in the 1870s. He became a well known publican in the Lyttelton and Christchurch area, had a museum in Lyttelton and amongst his possessions was a pocket glass and walking stick belonging to Cook. They had been given to Charles Green, the lady's great grandfather's great great uncle. There was also a sextant, flag and tablecloth, which have disappeared amongst the family. Her auntie once told her she had seen in a New Zealand paper that the sextant belonging to Charles Green had ended up in London and was sold at Sothebys sometime in the 1970s. When her great grandfather went out to NZ he had a brother who also went out there. She told of Charles having a brother William who was a blacksmith at Greenwich, where he evidently worked on the royal horses, explaining how there was a Crown Derby dinner service that seemingly belonged to a Queen Charlotte amongst items at her great grandfather's museum.

Charles Green, after being educated by his brother John and assisting him at the academy, became assistant to the Astronomer Royal, James Bradley, in 1760 and then Nathaniel Bliss, who died in September 1764. Charles was left in charge of the Observatory on Bliss's death, and worked on several projects. There are numerous accounts of Green becoming assistant to the next Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne. However on his arrival at the Observatory in March 1765 Charles promptly left. He joined the navy as purser on Aurora, and in March 1768 married Elizabeth Long at St Botolph's Without Aldersgate Church in London. In May he was appointed astronomer on Cook's First Voyage, setting sail later in the year. Elizabeth never saw him again as he died at the end of January 1771 at sea between Batavia and the Cape of Good Hope.

On 21st April 1769 Mary Elizabeth Green was baptized at St Botolph's Without Aldersgate Church. She was the daughter of a Charles Green and Elizabeth and died on 11th May 1774. It is possible she was the daughter of our Charles and Elizabeth however the same church registers also contain a Charles Green baptised on 13th April 1766 and an Elizabeth Catherine Green baptised on 18th July 1775, both children of Charles and Elizabeth. There were a many other Green families using this church at the time.

Elizabeth Green married Jonas Taylor in 1758 at Calverley, Leeds, and then Charles Hartley in 1793. Their son was involved with the Leeds Pottery.

Mary Green followed two of her brothers to London. She married William Wales at Greenwich on 5th September 1765 by licence. They had seven children, four boys and three girls. Mary lived to the ripe old age of 88 and was survived by her three daughters who also died in old age.

Margaret Morris's article on Charles Green called him "the man without a face" 4 as there is no known portrait of him. However, John Russell RA drew two pastel portraits of Green family members, his sister Mary and cousin Savile Green. Mary's portrait now hangs in the Court Room at Christs Hospital school, Horsham5 alongside that of her husband William Wales. Savile's portrait is now in the possession of one of his descendants. It appears in Griffin's book on Leeds Pottery6.

Wendy Wales


  1. Kippis, A. 1788. The Life and Voyages of Captain James Cook. Westminster. George Newnes, London. p 176-8.
  2. Howse, D. "Charles Green (1734-1771)". In The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons. Oxford University Press. 1993. p 269.
  3. Wales, Wendy. "Biography of Charles Green" in Cook's Log, page 1775, vol. 23, no 4 (2000).
  4. Morris, Margaret. "Man Without a Face". in Cook's Log, page 92, vol. 3, no. 4 (1980)
  5. Wales, Wendy. "William Wales First Voyage" in Cook's Log. page 28, vol. 27, No 1, (2004)
  6. Wilson, Walter. The History & Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses in London, Westminster and Southwark; Including the Lives of Their Ministers. The Baptist Standard Bearer Inc. 2001 (Reprint of 1808 edition). Vol. 4
  7. Griffin, John D. The Leeds Pottery 1770-1881. The Leeds Art Collections Fund. 2005.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 32, volume 31, number 1 (2008).

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