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Isaac Manley - servant on Endeavour to admiral


An edited version of a talk given to the CCS, Marton, October 2006

I came across Isaac Manley through the brief mentions in Beaglehole's book "Life of Cook". Then I found several references at the National Library of Australia (NLA), including the information from his obituary that, when he died in 1837 aged 81, he was an Admiral of the Red and the last survivor of the Endeavour voyage. Isaac is mentioned only briefly, if at all, in other references. Nick Young and Isaac Smith are the boys usually mentioned.


I write books principally for upper primary/lower secondary school readers (10-14 year olds), although some of my biographical novels have crossed into the adult market. I see Isaac an opportunity to re-tell the epic story of the Endeavour voyage for this generation through the eyes of one of themselves. It is primarily a great adventure, especially for boys. But it is also an opportunity to say something about the great changes Isaac saw during his long life. As a boy he learned to sail at the hand of the great navigator Cook. When he died the first steamships had crossed the Atlantic. As a lad he was among the first Europeans to step ashore in Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. When he died, Europeans were colonising these places. But disease, dispossession and death had seen the native tribes everywhere in retreat. Isaac lived through a time of four great revolutions: political, agricultural, industrial and of course socio-economic. None of which I have time to pursue here.


I write the stories as novels. The characters must live, talk, walk and breathe. These internals can only come from within the imagination of the author. But the externals are as accurate as I can make them. I include references on sources and notes on those areas where I have had to make reasonable assumptions. To write a book about Isaac has involved much research. It was partly why I joined the Captain Cook Society; and members have been generous with help and advice. I've spent many hours at the NLA reading microfilm of logs, rolls and newspapers. I had four hours at the NLA perusing the manuscript of Cook's journal. I sailed on Endeavour replica from Melbourne to Sydney in April 2006. I've travelled to Endeavour sites, such as Botany Bay and Cooktown in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and, of course, Britain. I've not only been to London but also stayed at Isaac's house near Oxford. I have been fortunate to be able to use the services of Ruth Boreham in Britain who has studied the Admiralty Archives to find Isaac's Record of Service and try to locate records of Isaac joining and leaving Cook (alas without success), and also his birth and other records of Isaac's early life.

Early Life

Isaac is usually said to be 12 when he joined Cook in June 1768, presumably because his obituary of October 1837 says he was 81. But Ruth has found the register at St Giles in the Fields, London showing he was baptised in early March 1755. So he would have been 13 and 3 months when he joined Cook, and 82 when he died. We don't know where Isaac went to school, but his handwriting shows he must have had a reasonable education. His family possibly lived in Hatton Garden, London.


Isaac's father was John Manley, a successful barrister and bencher of the Middle Temple in London. He was a man of property, some of it acquired through legal actions. Isaac had two brothers and two surviving sisters, Maria and Louisa. The elder brother was John, who went into the army and served with Cornwallis's regiment as a captain during the American War of Independence. The younger brother, Robert Kenrick, born in 1763, also entered the army, served with Cornwallis and perhaps the Papal Guard. He died at Cheltenham in 1842.

Confusing Names

Some research suggests that Isaac's elder brother was William, but this is not correct. The mistake is understandable: Oxford University records show that a William Manley, son of John, did matriculate in 1773 but it was another John. There were two unrelated John Manleys who were barristers at the Temple at the same time. This is not the only confusion caused by names. There were two Captain Manleys in the navy after Isaac became a post-captain in 1790! The other was Captain (strictly Cdr) John Manley who, in fact, commanded Apollo when it captured a French frigate in 1796. It was not our Isaac. His obituary, Marshall's "Naval Biography" of 1823 and understandably some later references including John Robson's "Captain Cook Encyclopaedia" are mistaken on this point. Isaac was retired on half pay by 1796. I cannot say how the mistake came about.

Joining Cook

Isaac joined Endeavour at Deptford in June 1768 as servant to the sailing Master, Robert Molineaux. He was, in fact, an apprentice - one of the "Young Gentlemen" starting in the way so many did, with his foot on the first rung of the ladder that would lead to a career as an officer in the navy. For Isaac it was a remarkably successful career, but not one without its puzzles. We've found no record telling us how Isaac, the son of a barrister, came to join Cook. But I have a theory. His grandfather, John, was a Commissioner of Customs. He and his family would have come into contact with naval men. The Customs House was just around the corner from the Navy Office. Isaac's father attested to the will of a Captain Cooke (different spelling), as Cliff Thornton kindly advised me. Most importantly, in a letter of 1790 to Sir Philip Stephens, Secretary to the Admiralty Isaac states, "My father desires his compliments..." Stephens had begun as a clerk at the Navy Office. He and John Manley clearly knew each other. I suggest it was through this acquaintance and patronage that young Isaac may have got his place on the Endeavour.

Endeavour Voyage

I won't spend time on the details of the voyage today, but in the book I shall be relating the voyage to Rio de Janeiro, the observation of the Transit of Venus in Tahiti, the circumnavigation of New Zealand and, most significantly for me (and my Australian readers), the charting of the east coast of New Holland. All through Isaac's eyes: the young servant getting used to shipboard life; learning to climb aloft, as Cook insisted all his young gentlemen did, and Midshipman Elliott attested from the second voyage; learning from Molineaux how the ship really worked; spending time with him in the boats sounding the depths and handling the aftermath of the damage on the Barrier Reef; beginning to learn how to use the sextant and calculate his position, again as Cook insisted the young gentlemen did.

Isaac certainly impressed his captain. He was appointed a midshipman in February 1771 after the deaths of Midshipmen Bootie and Monkhouse. (Molineaux died later in April). The Muster Rolls show Isaac being charged £3.13.2 for slops at this time, and £15.18.6 for dead men's clothes (presumably he was buying the dead middies' uniforms.). And his tobacco charge, which began at 19/- in September 1769, also increased to £1.8.6. The young man is smoking! And when Endeavour returned to England in 1771, we find Cook writing to Secretary Stephens: "Mr Isaac Smith and Mr Isaac Manly both too young for the preferment, yet their behaviour merits the best recommendation."

Leaving Cook

When Cook was starting to man Resolution in preparation for the second voyage, Isaac Manley was number 4 on the Muster Roll, joining as a midshipman on 30 November according to the Muster Roll. So, it might be thought that Isaac sailed in Resolution, but it was not so. The Muster Roll shows he was discharged from the ship on 8 April 1772 "per Admiralty Order." We cannot find the Admiralty order or the reason why Isaac left Resolution. We know from the Record of Service that he went from Resolution for 6 months as a midshipman on a guardship, HMS Terrible, at Spithead, and then served for 18 months on Thames doing Channel Service, before going to the West Indies for a number of years and being commissioned lieutenant in May 1777.

But why a 17 year old boy would pass up the opportunity for another round-the-world voyage with Cook in order to serve in fairly humble capacities in home waters is another puzzle to which I don't know the answer.

  • Perhaps he was ill following the Endeavour voyage and his parents wanted him to stay close to home, rather than be away for another three years?
  • Perhaps it was felt the mainstream Navy offered him more practical training or opportunities for quicker advancement?
  • Perhaps he had a falling out with Cook who wanted him off Resolution? If it was that serious why was he not discharged altogether from the navy?
  • Perhaps he was only a nominal member of Resolution's company, as Cook had been of Scorpion, until a more permanent appointment? Yet Isaac was appointed to her after Cook (Isaac was no. 4 on the Muster Roll; Isaac Smith, Cook's nephew was no. 24).

I don't know the answer to the mystery. All we know is that on 3 April Cook wrote to Stephens saying he is willing to take James Maxwell as a midshipman. But whether Maxwell was replacing Manley, we cannot say.

Later Career

Isaac was commissioned a lieutenant in May 1777. He was on half pay for a couple of years, rejoining the Channel fleet in 1780 and then, with the outbreak of the American War he joined the fleet in North America as his brothers joined Cornwallis's 33rd Regiment of Foot. There was some connection with Cornwallis and Viscount Townshend through their father's legal practise. He was serving as a second lieutenant in Prince George at Admiral Rodney's celebrated victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Saintes in the West Indies in 1782, indeed Prince George was in the leading squadron to attack the French ships. In December 1782, Isaac was promoted Master and Commander, serving in various ships in North America, until his appointment in 1786 to the sloop Fairy. She served in home waters doing fairly mundane work protecting the fishing fleet off Shetland and pursuing smugglers, as well as sailing with the fleet off the west coast of Africa and to the West Indies. There, Isaac became ill, presumably of fever, and returned to England, as a letter of July 1790 to Secretary Stephens relates. On 22 November of that year, Isaac was appointed post captain of Flora and on the same day he went on half pay, presumably because of his illness. And apart from a few months raising troops in Oxfordshire in 1796, that was the end of his active Naval service.

Fortune's Smile

It was an adequate career, though hardly a brilliant one despite Isaac's magnificent start with Cook. Yet fortune continued to smile on him.

He had the good fortune to live to 82, a great age for the time; and at a time when promotion was largely based on seniority, Isaac continued to rise, although so far as we know he didn't go to sea again: Rear-Admiral in 1809, Vice-Admiral of the Blue 1814, Admiral of the White 1830 and Admiral of the Red, January 1837, 9 months before he died. Only 14 officers in the Navy List were more senior to him.

He had the good fortune to marry well. In 1791 he wed Frances Pole of that noted family. They had sufficient resources to buy the estate of Braziers in Oxfordshire, and remodelled the house in the Strawberry Hill Gothic style, made famous by Horace Walpole. The house is still standing, it is now a college and I stayed there for several nights. The sub plot of my book, with Isaac as an old man, will take place in its rooms.

There were two children: a daughter Ann, named after Isaac's mother, and a son John Shaw, named after Isaac's father, who became a lawyer and built Manley Hall at Weeford in Staffordshire, from whom the present Michael Manley is descended. Isaac had the good fortune to receive recognition as a landed gentleman. In 1802 he became Sheriff of Oxfordshire and in 1810 received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from Oxford University.

He also had the great good fortune, of inheriting the bulk of his father's estate. His elder brother, Captain John Manley, died without issue in 1799. As the next son, Isaac inherited estates in Staffordshire and Cheshire, warehouses in Crutched Friars, London and a good deal of other property as his Will, makes clear.

To quote from the obituary published in the Gentleman's Magazine in December 1837: "As a country gentleman, Admiral Manley was highly esteemed, and is generally and deeply regretted by all classes of society."

Not bad for a boy who joined Endeavour as a servant in June 1768. In a way he reminds me of Admiral Croft in Jane Austen's novel "Persuasion" retiring from the sea to the life as a landed gentleman.

Yet it is for the first part of his life that we and posterity will remember Admiral Isaac George Manley, as both the obituary and his memorial in Checkendon Church remind us: "He was the last survivor of the crew who sailed with Captain Cook during his first voyage around the world."

The first thing mentioned! It was clearly the pivotal event of his long life.

Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill in full flow. Photo by Henk Timmers

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 9, volume 30, number 3 (2007).

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Hello Anthony. Thank you for your response. I’m sorry I hadn’t responded earlier but I have just been following up on Isaac Smith for my grandson. I knew of the connection to the Bennett’s as Maria Cragg married John Leach Bennett who was an executor of Elizabeth Cook’s estate. Frederick was their son. Merton Church where Isaac Smith is buried has a memorial to her family which included Isaac Cragg Smith & his wife & infant son. The sculpture was done by Richard Wyatt, the brother of Isaac Cragg Smith’s young wife, Caroline. I have visited there & it is a fascinating little church & area. Isaac Smith’s hatchment is also displayed in the church along with Lord Nelson’s. I look forward to Matthew Flinder’s story. Warm Regards. Ruth Slater
By Ruth Slater on 1/19/2020 4:28:32 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Many thanks for your comment, Ruth. I’m afraid I’ve done very little research into Isaac Smith’s family apart from an article about Cook’s coat-of-arms published in Cook’s Log vol 41, no. 4 in 1918. I mentioned that the Letters Patent for the coat-of-arms were among a number of items acquired by the New South Wales Government in 1887 from a Canon Frederick Bennett, whose maternal great-uncle apparently was Admiral Isaac Smith, who was Mrs Cook’s first cousin.

The two shared the same residences in their later years in London and at the Admiral’s country house, Merton Abbey, in Surrey. When he died in 1831, Mrs Cook financed his memorial in Merton Church; and as the Cooks left no known leaving descendants, much of their estate was left to Admiral Smith’s extended family.

I don’t know if this will help you with your own research, but it may provide a few more leads. Many thanks for the offer to view your material, but I am at present fully engaged with a project about Captain Matthew Flinders and the voyage of HMS Investigator, and that will keep me busy for the next few years.

Kind regards

By Anthony Hill on 12/11/2019 6:24:44 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I’ve just read your article on Isaac Manley, having ordered your book Cook’s Apprentice for our grandson. My interest has been with Isaac Smith & the Smith Family as he has a connection to my Cragg Family of Horsham, Sussex. Have you been contacted by anyone with the Isaac Smith connection. I did quite a bit of research on this Family so if you are interested I’d be happy to pass on their story. Kind Regards Ruth Slater
By Ruth Slater on 12/10/2019 8:26:14 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I am only midway through your book and loving it.I have a nephew named Isaac Manley and my father John Earnest Manley served in Aust.navy.His father served also as servant on square riggers from England.Marmaduke and his history goes back to Georgio de Manley adjutant Generale to Papal army and he escorted Napoleon to his exile to Elba. Our coat of arms is the Black Hand and features in the Landed Gentry, my grandfather Marmaduke was also exiled after his first wife Edith Middleton died and he re married but alas my Grandmother was a ‘commoner’ being their Nanny,he had to leave their mansion called Spoffarth Hall in Yorkshire and with five kids from first marriage and one ( my Dad) from new wife, Margaret ( née Smyth) from Bath,came to Australia. Looking forward to any follow up books on this subject as my cousin from Tasmania has just spent three months in Britain chasing history up re the Manley history.
By Terry Manley on 11/9/2018 2:23:10 AM Like:2 DisLike:0
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I hope you enjoy the story, Peter. It is a novel, but the externals were written closely to cook’s And Banks’s journals. The scientific, cultural, political and social consequences of the Endeavour voyage endure to this day; but it was also a great adventure to those on board,and it is this that I principally wanted to portray.
By Anthony Hill on 7/14/2018 3:07:49 PM Like:1 DisLike:0
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Have been an admirer of James Cook for many years having been a Marine Pilot for Great Barrier Reef Waters. I found reference to 'Captain Cooks Apprentice' and have purchased it to read on a forthcoming trip. I find the seafarers of the era of, Cook, Bligh, Flinders, Fitzroy etc very interesting, a period of which I think are an exceptional group which could also include Vancouver and others.
By Capt Peter Small on 7/14/2018 5:26:00 AM Like:1 DisLike:0
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Many thanks Karen, I'd like to see the material very much. I suspect though that the John Manley mentioned may be a different person - Captain John Manley a naval officer - whose name confused me greatly during my research.
By Anthony Hill on 6/23/2014 11:25:20 PM Like:1 DisLike:0
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Thank you for this! I have a book with a manuscript description of the Battle of Ushant on the endpapers by John Manley Esq, Isaac George's father, which rather suggests that his son may also have been present at that inconclusive battle. If you can let me have an email address for you I'll send you my illustrated description of it. I'd like to know what you think.
By Karen Thomson on 6/23/2014 10:03:51 AM Like:1 DisLike:0

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