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The Death of Captain Cook and other writings by David Samwell Fitzpatrick, Martin , Thomas, Nicholas and Newell, Jennifer. 2007


Carr 1983The Death of Captain Cook and other writings by David Samwell
Edited by Martin Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Thomas and Jennifer Newell and published in 2007 by The University of Wales Press. ISBN 978-0-7083-1968-0 (hardback) and 978-0-7083-2072-0 (softback)..

David Samwell (named originally David Samuel, but changed by him to avoid the question "are you Jewish?") was born on 15 October 1751 to the wife of a vicar in north Wales. He had a grammar school education in Latin and English. University could not be afforded and he was apprenticed to John Crosier, a naval surgeon who had served on Dolphin under Byron, and had many seagoing contacts.

Samwell qualified as a Surgeon, and through Crosier's influence was appointed as Surgeon's Mate on Resolution for the Third Voyage. Following the death of William Anderson the Resolution's surgeon, John Law, the surgeon on Discovery, was appointed to Resolution. Cook then promoted Samwell in Law's place.

As well as his journal, Samwell was persuaded to write a pamphlet titled "Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook to Which Are Added Some Particulars Concerning His Life and Character and Observations Respecting the Introduction of the Venereal Disease Into the Sandwich Islands" that was extensively used by Andrew Kippis and others, including Beaglehole, in their biographies.

After his naval career ended in 1786, he retired on half pay. But in 1798, practising in medicine in London, he was appointed to serve the needs of British prisoners of war in France and naturally chose Versailles as his base. He returned to London later that year, and died on 23 November.

An ardent (in all senses of the word) Welshman he was made a Bard. Never married, he nonetheless fathered a child who died, with his mother, in childbirth. Although deeply grieved, this did not stop his unremitting pursuit of "The Nymphs" when opportunities arose.

I was disappointed with this book since it does not seem to add anything to our knowledge of Cook, although to have Samwell's account of the death, which heavily influenced Beaglehole, is marginally worthwhile. This 170-page amalgam of Samwell's writings includes his "A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook" (22 pages), Samwell's career (15 pages), his "hobby-horse", the history/legends/myths of Wales (16 pages), his correspondence, mostly to an old friend and only one prior to 1776 (38 pages) and his poetry (27 pages). At the price I find it hard to justify a purchase unless one is deeply interested in this polymath.

Reviewer: Neil Evenett

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 40, volume 30, number 3 (2007).

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