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Pickersgill Interview Broadcast on Radio


When the BBC Radio 4 programme "Making History" received an enquiry about Pickersgill Island, the producer Ivan Howlett turned to Ian Boreham for information.
The resulting interview by the presenter, Sue Cook, was broadcast on Tuesday, 17 June 2003.
Listen to the broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 web site        Click here for help with listening to the audio
Read the BBC's factsheet about the programme.

Compare the broadcast programme to the draft questions and answers:

Mary Gad tells us that having long been fascinated by the polar regions she found the name of an island called Pickersgill Island. This intrigued Mary as her own maiden name was Pickersgill. She says "I knew that Captain Cook found South Georgia and therefore presumed that he had named this small island. There was a Lieutenant Richard Pickersgill in his crew but I can find no more. I would dearly like to know if the island was named after him and more about his life.

Lieutenant Pickersgill - what can you tell us about him?
Richard Pickersgill did indeed go with Cook to South Georgia, and was one of that happy group of sailors who rose in rank and knowledge through the tutelage of James Cook. Like Cook he was a Yorkshireman, having been born in West Tansfield, not far from Ripon, in 1749. He was described by one of Cook's crew as "a good officer and astronomer, but liking ye Grog".

How did Cook come across him - was he careful about selecting his crew?
Cook did not select his crew for his first voyage round the world. The Admiralty did that for him. Pickersgill was one of six sailors who volunteered to go to the South Seas after returning from a world voyage only 3 months before Cook set out to the Pacific. Pickersgill was 19 years old when he joined the ship Endeavour, and had been promoted from Able Seaman to master's mate during the voyage on the ship Dolphin. And it was as master's mate that he joined Cook.

Was he with Cook on many of his voyages - - did he had special skills and did Cook value him?
He was on two of Cook's voyages around the world: the First Voyage on the Endeavour when they charted New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, and the Second Voyage on the Resolution, when they searched for the mythical Great Southern Land thought to exist at the bottom of the globe to balance the large land masses of Europe and Asia at the top. Cook had a high opinion of his skills as a surveyor, his handling of the native peoples they came across and his judgement. In fact, Cook often sent him exploring the coastal areas in one of the small boats, or used him as an ambassador when arriving at ports of European colonies, getting Pickersgill to visit the dignitaries. Cook promoted Pickersgill to Master during the First Voyage and lieutenant on the Second Voyage.

It will have been on the 1775 voyage that Cook went by South Georgia. What were the circumstances of his naming of Pickersgill island?
The island of South Georgia was discovered by Cook in January 1775 towards the end of the Second Voyage, when he was having a final push to find the Great Southern Land. The ship had sailed east from the tip of South America, rather than the usual course of following the coast, or heading towards the Falkland Islands. As they sailed along the northern coast of the island Cook named the places he saw after his patrons and eminent people back home, and also after some of his crew, such as Coopers Island (after the First Lieutenant), Clerke's Rocks (after the Second Lieutenant) and Pickersgill Island (after the Third Lieutenant).

Pickersgill island is a pretty bleak place I should imagine.
Pickersgill Island is to the south of South Georgia and was seen only in the distance. Cook was amazed that an island so far south should, as he exclaimed in his journal "in the very height of Summer be in a manner wholly covered many fathoms deep with frozen snow, but more especially the SW Coast, the very sides and craggy summits of the lofty Mountain were cased with snow and ice".

Did Cook often name places after his officers? Are there other places bearing Pickergill's name?
There were two other places named by Cook after young Richard earlier in the same voyage.
Pickersgill Harbour is on the coast of New Zealand, on the opposite side of the South Island to Christchurch and the main inhabited areas. Cook moored there for six weeks to recoup after the long voyage from England. Pickersgill had found the harbour and recommended it to Cook for their anchorage.
The other place is Pickersgill Cove on the southern tip of South America. Again discovered by Pickersgill as he explored the area. Cook remarked in his journal "Early in the morning sent Lieutenant Pickersgill, who I frequently employed on these occasions, to Examine and draw a sketch of the Channel".

Do we know what happened to Richard Pickersgill afterwards?
He didn't accompany Cook on his Third Voyage round the world, but was promoted to be the captain of a ship that would, hopefully, meet Captain Cook as Cook appeared round the top of Canada. Pickersgill was sent to Baffin Bay on the east coast of Canada, whilst Cook was sent to the west coast to find a sea passage back to Britain. Nobody had found the passage from the Atlantic so it was hoped they would find it from the Pacific. Unfortunately, Pickersgill's ship, the Lyon, was sent late in the season and Pickersgill leadership was wanting. He returned in disgrace and was court-martialled, tough some of the blame lay with the Admiralty. It is not clear what happened to him after that, but Johann Forster, the German scientist on Cook's Second Voyage, later wrote that he had become a privateer. He died in 1779, the same year as Cook, from falling over while boarding a ship and drowning in The Thames. He was 30 years old.

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