Home > Ralph Jackson’s diary - Part 3: William Sanderson of Staithes

Ralph Jackson’s diary - Part 3: William Sanderson of Staithes


Part 3: William Sanderson of Staithes

Most biographies of James Cook portray Sanderson as a Staithes shopkeeper. Ralph Jackson's diary contains many and varied references to Sanderson and shows that he was far from being just a shopkeeper in a small fishing village on the Yorkshire coast. Entries in Ralph's journals suggest that Sanderson was a merchant who travelled widely on business. During his apprenticeship in Newcastle, Ralph met with Sanderson:-

5 May 1753 ...I got a letter from my Sister Dolly at Staithes per Mr Sanderson. I retired into the office and answered it by him, I carried it to one Place`s Groat Market where I found him, he asked me to sitt awhile but I stayed very little...

Sanderson was a respected member of the Staithes community and would have played a role as one of the pall bearers at the funeral of Eleanor Jefferson, from one of Staithes leading families. However, Ralph's diary records that Sanderson was abroad at the time of the funeral and someone had to substitute for him.

Sanderson's assets were not just tied up in his business, he was also a landowner in his own right. Although his holdings were reduced following the sale of some land as recorded in Ralph's diary:-

21 January 1759 Thos. White gave Mr. Preston the writings that concerns the Estate at Hinderwell which he now lives in as Tenant but will enter upon it as his own at May Day having bought it of Mr Wm. Sanderson of Staithes for £2,500 or £2,700.

Sanderson's reputation as a merchant was such that he was prepared to go to court to protect his reputation, as Ralph records:-

25 February 1762 Jno. Watson of Stockton, H.Presswick, Wm. Richardson of Ayton, Geo Ward a countryman and myself appointed 10 days ago to arbitrate between Mr Wm. Sanderson and Rich. Weatherell, the latter having uttered reports to the discredit of the former, e.g. that he was arrested by the late Rev.W.Marsden`s Executorsfor £2,000 and by Fran.Easterby for £500 or £600 - as Mr Sanderson is a Merchant at Staithes these reports likely to be detrimental and had prepared to have the Affair tried at this Lent Assizes at York but was prevailed on to accept our decision which was that R. Weatherell should pay Wm Sanderson 50 guineas and acknowledge in writing his reports without foundation. Wm Sanderson to pay legal charges of £30.

As a respectable merchant and a pillar of the Staithes community Wm. Sanderson found himself undertaking various duties:-

22 August 1770 ...went to Easington Church, met Messrs. Wardell and Sanderson (Trustees for rebuilding that Church).

It is not mentioned in Ralph's diary that Wm. Sanderson was also appointed as one of the Trustees in Thomas Skottowe's will with responsibility for administering funds to secure the education of his granddaughter Elizabeth Skottowe.

Several years later Ralph records another act of kindness from Mr Sanderson:-

22 August 1774 Brother George Jackson came from London by Sea in the Scorpion, sloop of war, Captn. Elphinston, landed at Staithes this morning and Mr Sanderson furnished him with horses and came with him to my house.

Whilst all of the above help to provide a more in depth appreciation of the position that Sander-son had in the community, they do not contribute to his connection with James Cook. However, there is one entry which fills that role:-

2 November 1765 ...returned to dinner where I found my Brother and Sister Wilson who returned soon after, also Mr. Geo. Deighton of London who staid all night, as did his Nephew Thos. Pearson late apprentice to Mr. Sanderson of Staithes but is now going up to London with his Uncle to look out for business.

To date this is the only source material which states that Sanderson took on an apprentice. Admittedly it is some 20 years after Cook is supposed to have acted in that same capacity.

George Jackson
George Jackson
Whilst Ralph's diary is replete with references to members of his family being associated with the East India Company, nowhere is there a mention of a link between Sanderson and the Company. And yet, the Sanderson family memorial standing in Hinderwell Churchyard, states that two of his children, Thomas and William, died in the East Indies.

Subsequent research has revealed that William Sanderson Junr. was a surgeon on board the Hon. East India Company's ship Royal George and died en route from Batavia to Bombay in February 1767. From this we can infer that Sanderson had arranged for his son to serve an apprenticeship with a surgeon before he would be appointed to the position on a vessel.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the captain of the vessel was Nicholas Skottowe, one of the sons of Thomas Skottowe of Great Ayton. Once a captain had received his command of a vessel he could determine who sailed under him as officers and crew and the presence of these two sons of Cleveland together may be more than just coincidence.

Cliff Thornton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1410, volume 20, number 3 (1997).


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I have a copy of a Will of William Sanderson son of William Sanderson of Staithes. William the younger died in 1769 and was Surgeon on board the Royal George of the East India Company. The Commander of the ship was Nicholas Skottowe who is the Executive to this Will. I don't think it is a coincidence that his father was the administrator for Thomas Skottowe.
By Ann Wilkinson on 1/20/2014 3:20:35 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Ken, Staithes is really just a harbour for the town's small fishing cobles. I wouldn`t be surprised if Sanderson carried some supplies in his shop for the fishing boats, but it would not have been on the scale of the ships chandlers in Whitby. The earliest biography of Cook (by Kippis) describes Sanderson as a haberdasher or shop keeper.
By Cliff Thornton on 9/10/2013 12:36:01 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Could it be said that William Sanderson was in part a Ships Chandeler. I ask this because some where I have read that James Cook started his carrier as an apprentice ships chandler in Staithes. I am particuralry interested in Cook's apprenticship's in both Staithes and Whitby Thanks for your help
By Ken Potter on 9/9/2013 12:54:50 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I am wondering whether William Sanderson is one of my ancesters, my family is from York.
William Sanderson is a possible relation
By Brian Sanderson on 4/3/2013 3:57:01 PM Like:0 DisLike:0

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