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John Davall Burr (~1746-1783)


A Daniel Burr married an Elizabeth Davall in 1744, and together they had at least two sons and four daughters.  The older son was John Davall Burr, born in London about 1746.  


The Burr and Davall families had been close for about 80 years.  They had connections with Dutch people who had come to Britain at the time of William and Mary’s accession to the British throne.  A private act of Parliament in 1713 naturalised John’s grandfather, Daniel Burr, as a British citizen.  Both families owned land and property in London and Essex (Wrabness and Ramsey near Harwich, and Shaws near Colchester).  Two Sir Thomas Davalls were Members of Parliament (MP) for Harwich in Essex. 


John Davall Burr joined the Royal Navy about 1759 as captain’s servant in HMS Princess Louisa under Robert Harland.  He then moved to HMS Scorpion as an ordinary and then able seaman for one and a half years from 1760, probably under Commander Thomas Hallum.  From there Burr transferred to HMS Belle Isle as an AB and then a midshipman for one and a half years from 1762 under Captain Joseph Knight.  They sailed to the West Indies in March 1762.  He spent a month in the Spy cutter in the North Sea as an AB before he returned to the West Indies in HMS Alarm as a midshipman for two and a half years from 1764 under Captains George Watson and Rowland Cotton.  On his return to Britain, Burr sat his lieutenant’s examination in June 1766, but did not receive his commission until August 1775 after sailing with Cook. 


His great uncle, another Thomas Davall, wrote his will in December 1771 days before Burr joined Resolution and Cook’s Second Voyage to the Pacific.  In this will, he left bequests to his great nephew but included conditions as the younger man was about to depart on a long voyage:  “unto my nephew John Davall Burr (eldest son of my said niece Elizabeth Burr)… and whereas the said John Davall Burr intends shortly to leave this Kingdom on a very long voyage now therefore in case the said John Davall Burr shall happen to be absent from England at the time of my death...”


John Davall Burr sailed on the Second Voyage in Resolution as a master’s mate. He kept a log.1  Burr had an uneventful voyage as he is never mentioned in Cook’s journal, though he is mentioned a few times by Johann Reinhold Forster.2  John Elliott, who also sailed in Resolution wrote a Memoir in 1813 in which he described Burr as a “steady good officer”.  Interestingly, Elliott gave his name as Daniel Burr.  Elliott also reported an incident during the voyage with JR Forster: “Olde Mr Forster (tho clever) was very hot and petulant in argument and once got knocked down by Mr Burr, for giving him a lie.  They were to have fought, but Mr F. fell soft in the end and apologised.”


After the voyage, Burr received his commission in August 1775, and followed Robert Palliser Cooper (1st lieutenant in Resolution) to his new command in the sloop HMS Hawke in 1776.  In January 1778 Cooper was promoted to post-captain of HMS Stag, a 5th rate.  Burr followed as his first lieutenant in February.  Burr served briefly in HMS Victory in 1780 before joining HMS Barfleur in 1781.  After the battle of St. Eustatius on 30 April, Admiral Samuel Hood transferred Edward Tyrell Smith to command HMS Centaur. This left the command of the Pacahunta sloop vacant and Hood promoted Burr to commander and placed him in the sloop.  However, Admiral George Rodney, who was in overall command of the fleet, refused to ratify the decisions relating to Burr.


Perhaps as a consolation prize, Burr was placed in command of the Jane sloop (a recently captured American privateer, previously called General Nash).  She was captured by another American privateer, Tartar, on 6 February 1782 and Burr was court-martialled on 20 June.


John Davall Burr died, I believe, in 1783 though I have not found a record substantiating it.  His mother, Elizabeth Burr, wrote a new will on 13 December 1783, and John Davall is not mentioned.  She died a few days later, and her death may have been brought on by news of her son’s death.  He would have been only 36.  There is no record that he ever married.  His brother, Daniel, became a General in the army serving in India.


John Robson



  1. TNA.  Adm 55/106.  It runs from 24 December 1771 to 15 March 1775. 
  2. Cook’s Log, page 1537, vol. 21, no. 3 (1998); page 1629, vol. 22, no. 2 (1999) and page 1765, vol. 23, no. 3 (2000)


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 36, number 2 (2013).

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Dear John Robson,
Greetings. I am a Chilean sociologist interested on Easter Island. Could you please explain to me the first reference (TNA. Adm 55/106. It runs from 24 December 1771 to 15 March 1775)? Where can I find this?
Thank you very much.
Best regards,
By Rosario Fernandez on 7/2/2014 8:40:04 PM Like:0 DisLike:0

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