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Thomas Edgar (1746-1801)


Thomas Edgar was master in Discovery during Cook’s Third Voyage, and ended his days as keeper of Dungeness Signal Tower in Kent.  


Thomas Edgar was baptised on 10 August, 1746, at St. Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, the oldest child of Thomas and Anne.  It was her second marriage.  Born Anne Pallister, she had married George Neeler in February 1742, at Greenwich.  He later died so she was a widow when she married Thomas Edgar senior on 6 September, 1745, at St. Katherine’s by the Tower.  Thomas Edgar senior was a gunner in the Royal Navy.  He died in 1763 while serving in Montague.  His will was proven on 28 January, 1763, by Ann Edgar, who was living in Portsmouth at the time.


According to an inscription on his gravestone at Lydd in Kent, Thomas Edgar junior joined the navy when he was ten, and was present in one of the ships with Edward Hawke in “that memorable Engagement”, presumably the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759.2  Edgar then moved to be captain’s servant to Hugh Palliser in Shrewsbury, following him to Guernsey as an AB when Palliser was appointed Governor of Newfoundland.  Palliser’s patronage would continue through Edgar’s career.


Edgar then served in Greyhound, Beaver and Pearl before passing for lieutenant on 14 February, 1769.  He was not commissioned, however, and joined Alarm in early 1769 as an AB (later a master’s mate) under Captain John Jervis.  He spent two years with Jervis in the Mediterranean before joining Amelia in March 1771.  Edgar passed his master’s examination and received his Master’s certificate on 13 January, 1776.


Thomas Edgar was appointed master in Discovery under Charles Clerke for Cook’s Third Voyage, and joined the ship on 22 February, 1776.  His appointment was possibly helped by Palliser’s influence.  During the voyage, he kept a log and a journal.3  Beaglehole describes them as “useful and detailed but with strange punctuation”.  He was meticulous in recording what a master should record and left to others the task of writing about natural history.  He also made surveys and drew several fine charts.


Edgar’s pursuit at Kealakekua Bay of a Hawaiian, who had removed the armourer’s tongs from Discovery, was one of the events leading to Cook’s death.4  When Edgar and George Vancouver attempted to take the canoe in which the Hawaiian had escaped, Edgar was himself seized briefly and beaten.


After the voyage Edgar was promoted to lieutenant on 30 July, 1781.  In 1783, he was in the West Indies and, on 16 May, was placed in command of Oroonoko sloop in the Leeward Islands.  He then saw service in storeship Providence until 18 February, 1784.


In September 1785, Edgar applied successfully for leave to join a merchant ship about to sail to the South Atlantic to catch whales.  He was appointed master of Hope, which left Britain on 4 November, 1785.  Edgar visited the Falkland Islands in 1786 and 1787.  He surveyed West Island and his chart of the island was published by Arrowsmith in 1797.  Edgar is commemorated by Port Edgar and Edgar Ridge on West Falkland, while Hope Reef, Hope Point and Hope Harbour honour the ship.  Hope returned to Britain in November 1787.


Thomas Edgar married Sarah Bean (née Goodson) in early 1789, at Christchurch, Newgate, London.  Sarah was a widow, her former husband, James Bean, having died in 1788.  She had had three daughters.  Two of them, Ann Foley and Lydia Bean, were the beneficiaries of Edgar’s will when he died.


Edgar was master and government agent aboard Lady Juliana, which transported 226 female convicts to Australia.  It was the first ship to arrive there after the First Fleet.  It arrived in June 1790, having left Plymouth on 29 July 1789.  Edgar was nicknamed “Little Bassey” on the ship as he was short and had a speech impediment, often exclaiming “blast me!” but heard as “bass me!”.  He was described as “a decent, kind, humane man” towards the women, treating them with compassion.  Lady Juliana reached Sydney in June, 1790, and left again on 28 March, 1791.  She reached Britain on 23 August, 1792.


On a later voyage in Gorgon in 1794, Edgar was reported as having a drink problem.  James Anthony Gardner described him on that occasion as, “A good sailor and navigator, or rather had been, for he drank very hard so as to entirely ruin his constitution.” 


Presumably, it was due to his drinking problem that Edgar retired from active service, and became, in 1795, the keeper of Dungeness Signal Tower in Kent.  He remained in the post until his death in Lydd, Kent, on 17 October, 1801.  He was buried in All Saints Church, Lydd.  He left a will, proven on 12 November 1801.5  Sarah Edgar had presumably already died, as she is not mentioned in the will.  They did not have any children though Ann and Jesse Foley had several children and their oldest was called Thomas Edgar Foley.


The inscription on Edgar’s grave reads:

who departed this life Octr 17 1801
He came into the Navy at 10 years of age
was in that memorable Engagement
with AdMl Hawk and sail’d around the World
in company with the unfortunate
CAPTAIN COOK of the Resolution
in his last Voyage when he was kill’d
by the Indians at the Island of O whie
in the South Seas the 14th Febry 1778.


Tom Edgar at last has sail’d out of this World
His shroud is put on & his topsails are furl’d;
He lies snug in death’s boat without any Concern
And is moor’d for a full due ahead & a Stern.
Or’r the Compass of Life he has merrily run,
His Voyage is Completed his reckoning is done.


John Robson



  1. The National Archives (TNA).  PROB 11/883.
  2. Cook’s Log, page 28, vol. 30, no. 1 (2007).
  3. Adm 55/21.  Log.  Part 1, 10 February 1776 to 4 August 1778.  Part 2, 17 June 1779 to 29 November 1779.  Part 3, 30 November 1779 to 19 July 1780.
    Adm 55/24.  Log.  5 August 1778 to 16 June 1779.
    B.M. Add. MS 37528 Journal.  10 February 1776 to 6 June 1778)
  4. Cook’s Log, page 46, vol. 27, no. 1 (2004). 
  5. TNA.  PROB 11/1365.


Useful reading

Gardner, James Anthony.  Above and under hatches.  Edited by Christopher Lloyd.  Navy Records Society.  1955.

Nicol, John.  The Life and adventures of John Nicol, Mariner.  Edited by John Howell.  Edinburgh.  1822.

Rees, Sian.  The Floating Brothel.  Hodder.  2001.


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 30, volume 38, number 1 (2015).

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