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False Trails and Fallacies 2 - Bernard Wilder's story


In 1970 the Essex Countryside magazine printed a letter that raised hopes of revealing hitherto unpublished material about Cook's private life.

In his letter (E.C. 12/1970 p.73.) Bernard C. Wilder of Seattle asked for information about a house in Epping Forest called "Skypeals" the home of a family called Watson who "..were strong Quakers, and friends of Captain Cook who stopped with them at Skypeels." I contacted Mr Wilder and we began a correspondence which yielded a much fuller story. It was claimed that Cook had known a young midshipman called Watson who was killed in the Quebec campaign. Cook visited the youth's parents at "Skypeals" and that after Cook's death , Mrs Cook continued to do so. Mr Wilder said his ancestors - Quakers as were the Watsons- were connected by marriage to the "Skypeals" family. He said he possessed Captain Cook's favourite chair gained by inheritance from the Watsons who had it from Mrs Cook herself. I was given much detail about the chair. It was made at Whitby for Mr Scotowe at a cost of four guineas. It was presented to Cook when he took up his Greenwich Hospital appointment and he took it to sea with him on his subsequent voyages.

Research by Mr Malcolm Thomas at the Library of the Society of Friends failed to find any Quaker Watsons living at or near "Skypeals" at a time when they might have known Cook, nor could Bernard Wilder's Quaker ancestry be traced back beyond the 1870's and certainly nowhere near the last days of Mrs Elizabeth Cook who died in 1835. The final blow came when the Waltham Forest Borough Librarian informed me that Skypeals House was not built until 1844 nor did there appear to have been any earlier building on the site, the original "Skypeals" having been a field name. Another apparently promising scent gone cold!

Alan W. Smith

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1422, volume 20, number 3 (1997).

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