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John Wilby (1754-1804)


John Wilby, who sailed on Cook’s Second Voyage, was baptised on 10 May 1754 in Boston, Lincolnshire.  He was the youngest son of Robert Wilby and Susannah (née Bell), who had married in 1733.  There were at least eight other children.  Robert Wilby was mayor of Boston in 1757 and 1768.


Prior to sailing in Adventure, John Wilby joined the Royal Navy in April 1766 in HMS Jersey as servant to lieutenant Henry Hare Hart.  Hart, who would later be Sherriff of Lincolnshire, had married Susanna Wilby, one of John’s older sisters in 1765.  


Wilby remained in Jersey for three and a half years as AB and midshipman.  He followed with nine months on HMS Gibraltar as a quarter-gunner and ten months in Squirrel as a midshipman. 


Wilby joined Adventure on 14 March 1772 as an AB.  After the massacre at Grass Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand, Captain Furneaux had to promote some people to fill the gaps.  Wilby became a midshipman on 1 February 1774.  He kept a journal.1  Beaglehole is complimentary of Wilby’s journal, saying, “it is the best of the midshipman’s journals, showing some direct observation and certainly more originality and personal feelings in the language than the rest”.2


As he was in Adventure, Wilby is not mentioned in Cook’s narrative.  


After the voyage, Wilby passed his lieutenant’s examination in December 1774.  He served briefly in HMS Dolphin before receiving his commission on 26 November 1776 and joining HMS St Albans under Captain Richard Onslow.  He next served in HMS Seaford and HMS Centurion.  From April 1786 to April 1789, Wilby was in command of the Expedition cutter.  In 1793 he joined HMS Ruby.


In 1800, Wilby was living at Broxborne in Hertfordshire.  In 1802 he became a naval Knight of Windsor for two years.3  He died at his lodgings in Fleet Street, London, on 1 November 1804.

John Robson


  1. Wilby headed his journal, “Journal of the Proceedings... on an Eastern expedition round the Globe”.  It covers 14 July 1772 to 13 July 1774.  TNA.  Adm 51/4522/14. 
  2. For extracts from his journal see Cook’s Log, page 1488, vol. 21, no. 1 (1998) and page 1567, vol. 21, no. 4 (1998).
  3. This body was created by King Edward III in about 1350 for soldiers, who had fought bravely for their country but through injury or poverty were unable to look after themselves.  Those selected received a pension and accommodation at Windsor Castle.  In 1728, a Samuel Travers, left money in his will for “an annuity, or yearly sum of £60 to be paid to each and every one of Seven Gentlemen, to be added to the present Eighteen Poor Knights of Windsor… the said Seven Gentlemen may be incorporated by charter, with a clause to enable them to purchase and hold lands in mortmain, and that a building, the charge thereof to be defrayed out of my personal estate, may be erected or purchased in or near the Castle of Windsor, for a habitation for the said Seven Gentlemen, who are to be superannuated or disabled Lieutenants of English Men of War… [they should] be single men, without children, inclined to live a virtuous, studious, and devout life”.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 24, volume 35, number 1 (2012).



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