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The Origins of Elizabeth Cook


In 1762, James Cook married Elizabeth Batts at Barking, just to the east of London. Traditionally, information about Elizabeth's origins has been limited and sketchy. She was known to be the daughter of Mary and Samuel (many works continue to call him John or even James) Batts who ran the Bell Alehouse at Execution Dock in Wapping. Mary, herself, was the daughter of Charles Smith, a Bermondsey currier. Samuel Batts died in 1742 and three years later Mary married a man called John Blackburn. Apart from these facts, little else was known.

In recent years the internet has made research relatively easy as individuals and agencies have transcribed records of all sorts, and these can now be searched online. The freely available Family Search database http://www.familysearch.org/ run by the Church of Latter Day Saints is a tremendous starting point (though you do need to treat many of the entries with an element of care and suspicion). Other sources include the Boyd's Marriage Index, available through the Origins Network http://www.originsnetwork.com/ and the Pallot's Marriage Index available through Ancestry.co.uk http://www.ancestry.co.uk/

By trawling through these and other online databases I have been able to assemble the following information. Not all of it has been verified and there may be glaring mistakes as the result of assumptions on my part. However, I offer it in the hope that someone can endorse what appears or can point out which are the mistakes.

On the Batts side of the family, the story begins with Richard Batts, a mariner of Lambeth, London, who married a woman called Sarah. Together, they had a son called Samuel, who was baptised on 4 November 1686 at St Botolph without Aldgate, London. The church of St. Botolph was located just outside the Aldgate, one of the gates of the old London Wall. It was on the corner of Houndsditch and Whitechapel. A church is still on the site but surrounded by new road configurations. It is a church that features greatly in the story of the Batts and the Smiths.

London apprentice records show that on 15 October 1702, Samuel was apprenticed to Edward Hutchinson of the Poulters' Company. In December 1715, Samuel Batts married for the first time and his bride was probably called Sarah Thompson. A year later, Samuel and Sarah Batts had a daughter called Sarah, who, born on 6 September 1716 was then baptised on 12 September 1716 at Saint Olave's, Bermondsey in Surrey. In Samuel Batts's will, written in 1736, he made reference to a daughter called Sarah from his first marriage, who had married a man called Peter Ford. At some time in the next few years Sarah Batts, the mother, died and Samuel was able to remarry in 1726.

Batts's second wife was called Mary Smith. Mary Smith has been assumed to have been much younger than Samuel Batts but, in their marriage licence allegation of 21 December 1726, Samuel, a widower, is listed as "upwards of 34 years" and Mary Smith is listed as being of "upwards of 30 years". They were both of the parish of St. John, Wapping but intended to marry at St. Andrew's, Holborn. Ages, though should always be treated with some suspicion, as dates supplied to registrars were not always accurate and people, unsure of their real age, often guessed the answer.

Mary Smith was a daughter of Charles Smith, who in turn was probably the son of Guy Smith. Guy Smith was a butcher and a citizen of London, who, together with his wife Margrett, had two sons, both baptised at St Botolph without Aldgate, the same church where Samuel Batts was baptised. Charles Smith was baptised on 29 December 1672 and his younger brother, William, in September 1677.

Charles Smith was apprenticed to Charles Price of the Curriers' Company on 5 May 1687. A currier was a person who treated and coloured leather and the leather trade was centred on Bermondsey, south of the River Thames. This ties in with traditional information that Elizabeth Cook's grandfather was a Bermondsey currier. Sarah Batts, Samuel's daughter, was baptised at St. Olave's Church in Bermondsey providing further possibilities that the Batts and Smiths may have been known to each other.

Charles Smith married Elizabeth Roper at Southwark (St George), Surrey in 1693. Southwark was the adjacent parish to the west of Bermondsey. Charles and Elizabeth Smith had several children including Mary and it was she, born about 1695, who would marry Samuel Batts in 1726.

One of Mary's brothers was another Charles and, about 1720, he married Charity Coleman. They had several children and one of their sons, born in 1724, was another Charles Smith and he married Hannah Savage about 1751. Among the large family of Charles and Hannah was Isaac Smith, who sailed to Newfoundland and the Pacific with James Cook and who would be Elizabeth Cook's close companion for many years. Isaac had a brother, Charles (yet another Charles Smith), and this Charles became a watchmaker. About 1802, this Charles bought property at Merton south of London, and this would become the focal point for the Smith family. Elizabeth Smith often stayed with her cousins at Merton.

Currier Charles Smith had other children including a son called John, who was apprenticed to Henry Harper of the Curriers' Company on 30 November 1724, a son called Guy and another daughter called Elizabeth.

Samuel Batts ran the Bell Alehouse at Execution Dock in Wapping from at least 1722 and, while living there, he and Mary had a daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was born in 1742 and baptised in St. John's Church, Wapping on 31 January. However, Samuel Batts died shortly after in 1742 leaving Mary to run the Bell alehouse in Wapping and raise their daughter alone. This time it was Mary Batts who remarried and she did so to John Blackburn at Shadwell in July 1745. What happened to Mary and John Blackburn remains a mystery but Elizabeth Batts married James Cook in Barking in 1762.

During the eighteenth century the Smiths multiplied and an extensive family network developed. A biography of Elizabeth Cook is planned that, as well as telling Elizabeth's story, will detail her relationship with this extended family, especially the relations who lived south of the River Thames in the vicinity of Merton, Mitcham and Lambeth.

John Robson

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 30, number 4 (2007).

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Alan, thank you for your enquiry. Samuel Batt's will can be downloaded from the website of The National Archives at Kew, London (Reference PROB 11 / 719 of 1742). Yes, his will details a total of 9 properties in local parishes, which he left to his wife Mary. Elizabeth was baptised at St. John's, Wapping, in January 1741, a date that is now classed as 1742. So the answer to your question is "Yes" the statement is pretty accurate.
By Cliff Thornton on 7/26/2021 3:41:45 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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In an article published in the Sydney paper 'The daily Telegraph' dated October 27, 2018, Troy lennon (history editor) writes that "Born in 1742, Elizabeth was the daughter of Mary and Samuel Batts. Samuel had died in the year of Elizabeth’s birth, leaving Mary a fortune including nine properties across London." Is this an accurate statement?
By Alan Eavis on 7/26/2021 12:14:13 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Avril, thank you for your interesting enquiry. I know of no connection between Elizabeth Batt's family and Newfoundland, let alone the remote Fogo Island. Whilst James Cook surveyed the coast of Newfoundland, his survey did not cover the "French Shore" as the north facing coast was named. So I doubt that he even visited Fogo Island. As for members of Cook's crew remaining in Newfoundland, I have checked the records and only 2 of Cook's crew deserted during the coastal survey. John Williams and Michael Brown deserted on 31 October 1766 at St Johns. I do not know whether they stayed on Newfoundland or worked their passage back to England on the cod ships.
Good luck in finding who Joe Batt's was.
By Cliff Thornton on 7/5/2021 8:58:10 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Wondering if Capt. James Cook's wife Elizabeth Batts had any related family that may have ended up in Canada. My maternal grandmother was Elizabeth Batts, from the area around Joe Batts Arm in Newfoundland Canada. She married William Cuff in 1904 or 1905. I read there was a crewman from one of the Captain's voyages who decided to stay on the east coast of the Newfoundland colony. Could this be a co-incidence, or were there more distant family members related to Elizabeth Batts - Cook?
By Avril Lammle on 7/5/2021 8:18:47 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Andrew, pleased to see that you have been reading so many articles etc. As I was born and bred in North-East England, I am more interested in James Cook's relatives up in that neck of the woods. John Robson, who wrote the above article, has done a lot of research into the Smith family. Please direct some specific questions to him, I will send you his details separately.
By Cliff Thornton on 1/22/2021 2:15:59 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Thanks Cliff, I have read those articles by Wendy with fascination. They were very informative. I was struck by the difficulty in keeping up with the births, deaths and marriages across such a large network with only the traditional postal service to send information. I guess reading between the lines there were regular visits between key family members which probably helped a lot with information flow. Has your society published any other information about the Smiths at Mile End?
By Andrew on 1/22/2021 3:02:26 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Andrew, there have been two articles published recently about Mrs Cook's will. Wendy Wales wrote the articles entitled "Elizabeth Cook her Will and Legatees". Part 1 appeared in the July issue, and Part 2 in the October issue. The latter can be read on line at
I do not know whether she needed assistance to manage her estate. But the large size of her estate is probably due to the Admiralty awarding her a substantial part of the proceeds from the sale of the account of Captain Cook's third voyage, as her husband had intended writing the account. She had also been awarded a comfortable pension by King George III. From what we know of her social life Mrs Cook was a quiet and very religious person who seemed to have far less personal expenditure than her annual income, and so her finances mounted up.
By Cliff Thornton on 11/29/2020 1:30:38 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Thanks Cliff, I took your advice and have got a copy of Elizabeth's will. I was a bit surprised not to find it more widely available. I am part way through transcribing it and have already found very helpful references to her wider family. I see that you have published some "extracts" from her will. She had a seemly extremely wide ranging interests in her family as well as women in general. I understand that women could not own bank accounts etc Do you know how she managed her extensive affairs and was able to leave such a large estate?
By Andrew on 11/29/2020 1:41:30 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Andrew, the above article was written in 2007, and no biography has been published since that date, although the author has written several articles about the inter-relationships of the Smiths, Craggs and other branches of Mrs Cook's relations. These articles were published in Cook's Log, the quarterly journal of the Captain Cook Society. The only published biography that I can recall is that by the Australian author Marele Day, her "Mrs Cook" was published in 2002. It tells the story of Mrs Cook's life, but it does not delve into her relationships with her wider family. Have you looked into Mrs Cook's will? It provides an interesting insight into her relatives and indicates their "pecking order" judging by the size of the bequests that she left for them.
By Cliff Thornton on 5/25/2020 12:22:20 PM Like:1 DisLike:0
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Thank you for the informative article above. I was wondering if the proposed biography of Elizabeth Cook has been published yet. I am interested in the interactions with her wider family.
By Andrew on 5/25/2020 4:10:59 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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