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Ralph Jackson’s diary - Part 5: Richard Pickersgill


Part 5: Richard Pickersgill (1749-1779)

I am sure that one day a biography will be written about the adventurous life of this character who circumnavigated the world three times, serving on board the Dolphin, Endeavour and Resolution. The following notes are offered by way of facilitating such a work rather than pre-empting it.

Mr Pickersgill - as Ralph refers to him in his diary [The Journals of Ralph Jackson, Teesside Archives Ref. U/WJ.], arrived at Ralph's house in Normanby, North Yorkshire on 23 October 1771. Whilst Ralph's diary does not indicate that any prior arrangements had been made for his visitor, it is clear from the number of local dignitaries who came to dinner that night that this was a guest of some importance and one who had been expected. Pickersgill stayed for a month with Ralph Jackson which provided ample opportunity for Ralph to introduce his guest to his friends and neighbours. Ralph's diary records their busy social whirl as they visited the homes of various members of the local gentry.

The diary does not record how Pickersgill coped with these social chores, but one suspects that he welcomed those days when he went out hunting with Ralph-

Thursday 24 October 1771 Mr.Pickersgill (who lately sailed around the World with Captn. Jas. Cook, Messrs Banks Solander) & I went out with our Guns...

On another occasion Ralph records them taking his greyhounds out to hunt.

November was a quiet month in rural North Yorkshire so any event would have been an interesting diversion for Richard Pickersgill. But one wonders if he was aware of the historic role that Thomas Scottowe had played in the life of Capt. Cook when on 12 November Ralph recorded

  Mr Pickersgill came to me at Ayton and attended Mr Skottowes sale

Eventually Richard Pickersgill left for London, travelling in a manner as befits a man of the sea -

Wednesday 20 November 1771 Mr.Pickersgill went away (for London) on board of a Sloop in the River, he has stayed with me ever since Wed. the 23rd ultimo.

Ralph says nothing in his diary about any of the adventures which Pickersgill had experienced during his circumnavigations with Wallis and Cook. Nor does he indicate why Pickersgill came to stay with him or any connection between their respective families. However the latter is explained in an important entry, the following month -

Thursday 26 December 1771 ...spent all day at Ayton, this afternoon came Captn. Jas. Cook (& his wife) whose father lives in that Town, this Gentleman lately Commanded the Kings Bark Endeavour on her voyages round the World & made many discoveries in the South Seas & high Southern Latitudes, Mr Pickersgill (John Lee's Nephew) went in the same vessel as Master's Mate,..

This link between Richard Pickersgill and John Lee is confirmed in the will [The Will of Richard Pickersgill, Public Record Office.] of the former. Pickersgill made out his will on 15 July 1766, prior to embarking on board the Dolphin under Capt. Samuel Wallis. In his will he appointed John Lee as his executor and bequeathed all of his property to "...my beloved Uncle John Lee of the parish of St.Olave, Hart Street, London". (Many thanks to Adrienne Reynolds for finding and transcribing the will).

The Pickersgill - Lee relationship can be traced back to the church register of the North Yorkshire parish of Wath Juxta Ripon, which records the marriage of Ann Lee to Richard Pickersgill on 9 June 1748. The following year the christening of their first son is recorded in the nearby parish of West Tanfield

18 April 1749 Richard Pickersgill, son of Richard and Ann Pickersgill

Presumably Ann Lee had a brother, John, who was uncle to this child.

But who was John Lee? Once again Ralph's diary provides the answer. John Lee was the personal servant of Ralph's brother, George Jackson, who was employed by the Admiralty. He had entered the navy office about 1743 and rose to become second secretary to the Admiralty, a post which he occupied from 1766-1782. Examples have previously been given indicating how George Jackson used his position within the navy office to provide favours for others. One is led to the conclusion that George Jackson provided just such a favour to his servant, John Lee, by placing his nephew, Richard Pickersgill as a 17 year old midshipman on the Dolphin.

In subsequent years Pickersgill sailed with Cook on the Endeavour and so impressed the Captain that on his return he had no hesitation in recommending him for promotion to a Lieutenant. He again proved his ability on Cook's second voyage and would have no doubt accompanied him on his third voyage had not the Navy decided that he should assist Cook in a different way.

Whilst Cook sailed up the Pacific in search of a western access to the North West Passage, Pickersgill was commanding the Lyon across the Atlantic with instructions to sail past Greenland and into Baffin Bay with a view to offering assistance to Cook should the Resolution have successfully navigated the Passage. Pickersgill would then be able to lead Cook back into the Atlantic.

Pickersgill left Deptford in May 1776 with his own command and at the peak of his career. Unfortunately his career went downhill after that. Both the Lyon and her crew, proved ill-equipped for the extreme conditions and Pickersgill was back in Deptford in late October, less than 6 months after leaving. Several months later he was court-martialled for drunkenness and dismissed from the navy. But worse was in store, and two years later, his drunken condition resulted in him falling into the Thames and drowning whilst going on board a privateer which he was commanding.

Pickersgill's achievements in his early life eclipse his sad demise. He left his mark around the world, thanks to Cook who named various features and landmarks after his Yorkshire Lieutenant.


Cliff Thornton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1708, volume 23, number 1 (2000).

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Very interesting, don't know if I'm connected?
By Barrey Pickersgill (Albury New South Wales Australia) on 9/6/2020 12:26:52 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Probably a distant cousin
By Kenneth Pickersgill on 10/1/2015 10:27:40 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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