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John Gore - The Quiet Mariner


Can you believe so little is known about the first recorded person in Cook's Endeavour journal to shoot a kangaroo? The same person who took command of the Resolution after Cook was killed and Clerke had perished from illness? A donation of a Dollond telescope to the National Museum of Australia has provided an opportunity to tell the story of this fascinating maritime explorer in a museum environment.

The complete telescope in parts. Photograph by courtesy of Dean McNicol and the National Museum of Australia.

Part of my previous curatorial responsibilities was to establish the provenance of the Gore telescope before accepting it into the National Museum's collection. I assumed a person connected to the Endeavour voyage would be relatively straight forward to research. I can't believe how wrong I was! The first thing that struck me was why had there been no publication specifically devoted to this individual? The secondary resources were also very thin even down to encyclopaedic and reference publications. Gore is even not mentioned in the Oxford Companion to Australian History. He does however have a brief entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (p981) from where I have drawn many of my starting points for further research. In fact the first article I actually read on this individual was Madge Darby's article1.

Captain John Gore was born in America, possibly Virginia, in 1729/30. No record of his birth or baptism has yet been recovered. Little is known about his early years until August 1755 when he joined the Windsor at Portsmouth, England, as a midshipman. We know he took his Lieutenant's examination on the 13 August 1760 and was appointed master's mate of the Dolphin in 1764 - this was his first voyage around the world. On his second service on the Dolphin in 1766, this time under the command of Captain Samuel Wallis, the expedition laid claim to the "discovery" of the island of Tahiti.

Captain Gore's service on the Dolphin meant he was an ideal crewmember for the Endeavour voyage in 1768. There are many references to Gore's role in the observation of Tahiti in Cook's journal. However, Gore was more than just a member of the Endeavour exploration, he also has the infamous title of being considered the first recorded person on the expedition to shoot and kill a person of Maori descent after an altercation over a piece of cloth on the 9 November 1769. Gore is also recorded as being the first person on the expedition to shoot a kangaroo for scientific research. Sir Joseph Banks records the event in his Endeavour journal on the 14 July 17702.

When the Endeavour returned to England, Gore accompanied Banks on a private scientific expedition to Iceland in 1772. It appears from documents in the Alexander Turnbull Library3 that Banks was more than just a colleague as he also acted as the executer of Gore's will and was possibly Gore's patron in his later life.

On the 10 February 1776, Gore embarked on his next maritime adventure. He joined the Resolution as Cook's First Lieutenant. The expedition's secret instructions were the northwards tracing of the west coast of the North American continent to assist in the search for the North-West passage. After the death of Cook, Captain Clerke was given command of the Resolution and Gore was given command of the sister ship Discovery. Clerke died on 22 August 1779 and Gore assumed command of Resolution and consequently became responsible for the command of the entire expedition.

In recognition of Gore's service, the Resolution's official artist John Webber painted a portrait of Gore in 1780. The portrait is in the collection of the National Library of Australia4. Gore's achievement was also acknowledged by being made a Captain of Greenwich Hospital where he was given the rooms left vacant by Captain Cook. Captain John Gore died at Greenwich in 1790 survived by a son who would make a new life for himself in Australia 40 years later. Just as a side note, Gore's grandson, Graham Gore perished in 1847 as part of sir John Franklin's ill-fated mission in search of the North West Passage. The maritime history of this family is truly a fascinating story that will have to be explored in greater detail.

The Gore telescope was hand-held but could have been placed in a tripod, although there are no marks indicating it was secured in any way for a length of time. It came with two eyepieces - one for day and night and one for daytime use only. The wooden canister that held the eyepieces was encased in a leather tube that was in surprisingly excellent condition considering the amount of salt air it would have experienced!

Close-up of Dollond. Photograph by courtesy of Dean McNicol and the National Museum of Australia.

Dollond is one of the most forged names on telescopes, so it is good to find the inscription is spelt Dollond and not Dolland, which is apparently one of the most common indicators of a copy.

Captain John Gore's celestial telescope is a commanding object that takes one back to a time of courageous adventurers and "trigger happy" individuals. So thanks to the generosity of the donor Jack Gallaway I am hopeful that Australians will start to embrace this fascinating character and in time we will know more about his earlier life in America. I would welcome any thoughts or further information on Captain Gore.

Johanna Parker     -     Curator, National Museum of Australia


  1. Cook's Log, page 1550, vol. 21, no. 4 (1998)
  2. Cook's Log, page 1190, vol. 18, no. 3 (1995)
  3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington New Zealand, Manuscript reference number qMS-0540, folio 163
  4. Cook's Log, page 48, vol. 27, no. 3 (2004)
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one of my my 9th or 10th generation grandfather my father's moms side I however that thing works but yes he is part of my ancestry I have documents and everything about him plus the Great migration 9f the same family
By twnkletoez@gmail.com on 6/20/2022 4:44:22 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Merri, yes, Joseph Banks was close to Gore having met him aboard the Endeavour on Captain Cook's first voyage. Gore's attachment was so close to Banks that he decided to sail with Banks on his voyage to Iceland in 1772, rather than join Cook on his second viyage of exploration. After sailing with Cook on his third voyage of exploration (1776-1780), Gore was made a Captain at Greenwich Hospital and served in that capacity until his death at Greenwich in 1790.
By Cliff Thornton on 10/25/2020 12:25:54 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Greetings and many resolute dolphin thanks for your article.
I am also highly interested in Mr. Gore as a possible relative. My ancestor Christopher Gore early governor of Massachusetts (fraternally) is certain. He was also dispatched to negotiate trade reparations with France-------avec shiny new guillotines-------during Washington's administration. There is a wonderfully spoken eulogy for Christopher Gore in the rare holdings of LOC (Library of Congress). Spoke of his "peculiar ways."

Sounds familiar-------n'est pas?-------in context of your lovely article and the mystique your words lend Mr. Gore's scantily clad bio-documentation. What joy it would be to collaborate on further exploration of these peculiarly mysterious Gores!
By on 10/25/2020 9:49:26 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Joseph Banks was very close to Gore and was the executor of his Will. After taking command of the expedition in which Cook and Clerk and returning to England he took up residence in the cottage which had been given to Cook before he was called up for duty again. Or so I have read.
By Merri on 10/25/2020 8:33:34 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Thank you all for your comments and forgive me for only knowing about them recently. The direct descendents of this Gore also live in Australa and are very proud of their ancestor. Yes Clerke too has been reduced in importance by history. John Gore Jnr being raised by others as his father was at sea is an area I would like to have explored more. I think the life of those left behind equall fascinating. Re Gore's biographical details, you can visit the National Museum of Australa and Greenwich, London.
By Johanna on 1/5/2019 12:39:03 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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The Gore"s assisted William 1 at Hastings in 1066. The were then awarded a small portion of land.
Records contained in Domesday Book. Many Gore's resided in the Canterbury area of Kent from about the 1850's and their decendents to the present day. I was the last male Gore to carry on the family name from that strain. I now have 2 sons and a grandson - we all reside in Western Austaralia. I think the original name was Gare and at some point Englishfied.
John Gore

By John Gore on 4/30/2015 5:19:18 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Robert Cope, I have just read your below mentioned blog. Thanks for sharing your research. However, someone is missing on you "most journeyed" list: Charles Clerke. He circumnavigated the globe once with Byron on the 'Dolphin', twice with Cook on 'Endeavour' and 'Resolution', set off on his fourth circumnavigation as captain of the 'Discovery' (later of the 'Resolution') on Cook's third voyage but died off Kamchatka on the way home. That should bring him very close to Gore's 130000 km. Maybe you could add him to your statistics.
Far too little is known and/or published about many of the great men of Cook's voyages.
By Anke on 4/19/2015 6:35:32 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Fascinating omission of history. Any information about the other common crew (4) of the 'Endeavour' and 'Dolphin'?
By ian hendry on 3/27/2014 12:16:31 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Professor Cope - many thanks for the link to your fascinating statistics.
Janet - Gore's early life is still lost in the mist of history. Maybe one day his details will be found. Do you know about John Gore Jnr. being brought up by Reverend Firebrass in Essex whilst his father sailed with Cook (1776-1780)?
John Gore
By Cliff Thornton on 5/13/2013 8:31:00 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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My grandfather x5 was Captain John Gore - my cousins and I would dearly love to know his origins, date of birth, date of marriage (if married at all) his life before he joined the british navy.
Any info would be wonderful, thank you.
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By Janet on 4/30/2013 1:34:37 AM Like:2 DisLike:0

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