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William Brougham Munkhouse and Jonathan Munkhouse


William Brougham Munkhouse and Jonathan Munkhouse were brothers who sailed with Cook in Endeavour


The Munkhouse family lived in Cumberland; their surname occasionally appears as Monkhouse.  Several members of the family had the same first name.  Cook’s two Munkhouse brothers were the sons of George Munkhouse (17xx-1771).  He was one of at least six children of William Munkhouse (1685-1749), who lived at Brampton.


One of George’s brothers was Jonathan (17xx-1762), who became an apothecary at Carlisle.  George moved to Penrith, where he was a wine merchant, and ran “The George”, a public house.  George married Grace Brougham in 1730, and together they produced twelve children.  One of these children was William Brougham Munkhouse, baptised on 29 October, 1732, and another was Jonathan, seventeen years younger, and baptised on 19 February, 1750.  


Cook’s William was apprenticed to his uncle, Jonathan, the apothecary in Carlisle, in 1749. William later moved to London, where he married Jane Murray on 17 November, 1756, at St. Luke’s Church, Old Street.  He qualified as a naval surgeon on 2 February, 1758.  In 1765 his wife, Jane Munkhouse, was arrested for stealing a cloak, and tried at the Old Bailey.  She was found guilty on 22 May, and sentenced to be transported to North America.1  William, perhaps already separ-ated from his wife, was absent overseas at the time in Newfoundland waters, having sailed as surgeon in Niger


He remained on the Newfoundland station from 1763 to 1767.  In 1767, Joseph Banks visited the island, and was taken to Labrador and the northern parts in Niger.  William is credited with saving the botanist’s life when Banks fell seriously ill at Croque.  Banks was reportedly “very ill with ague and fever and at one time not expected to recover”.


In May 1768, William Munkhouse wrote letters using the pseudonym “Cumbriensis” to William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland.  They concerned election irregularities that Munkhouse, and others, believed had taken place in Cumberland electorates, whereby Sir James Lowther’s candidates had been successful.  Lowther and the Duke were major landowners in the county, and were political foes.


Before the letters had any effect, Munkhouse was appointed surgeon of Endeavour, by warrant, on 27 May, 1768, and joined the ship on 17 June.  He kept a journal, of which only a small part survives.2 


When the British landed at New Zealand for the first time on 9 October, 1769, Munkhouse was a member of the shore party.  It was he who shot a man named Te Rakau during the meeting with Māori on the banks of the Turanganui River.  Later, William Munkhouse was the first to die as a result of the unhealthy conditions they encountered at Batavia (Jakarta), dying of dysentery on 5 Novem-ber, 1770.3  He left a will in which his father was the main beneficiary.4 


Jonathan Munkhouse survived his older brother by only a few weeks, dying as the ship crossed the Indian Ocean on 6 February, 1771.5  He had joined Endeavour as a midshipman on 22 June, 1768.  He wrote a log from May to November, 1768.6 


A similar, but shorter, version also exists which Beaglehole included in the Hakluyt edition of the Endeavour voyage.  The writer refers to a Cleator, and the Munkhouses had a brother-in-law called William Cleator.7 


Jonathan played a pivotal role in saving Endeavour when she ran onto the reef near Cooktown.  He organised the fothering procedure to seal the hole in the hull.  He had seen it used on a merchant voyage from Virginia to Britain, so Cook put him in charge of saving Endeavour.  Cook wrote,

He took a lower studding sail, and having mixed together a large quantity of oakham and wool, chopped pretty small, he stitched it down in handfuls upon the sail, as lightly as possible, and over this he spread the dung of our sheep and other filth...  When the sail was thus prepared, it was hauled under the ship's bottom by ropes, which kept it extended, and when it came under the leak, the suction which carried in the water, carried in with it the oakham and wool from the surface of the sail, which in other parts the water was not sufficiently agitated to wash off.8


Jonathan was successful in reducing the leak, so allowing Cook to nurse Endeavour towards the shore, into the mouth of the Endeavour River, the site of present-day Cooktown.


After his return to London, Cook wrote to George Munkhouse on 31 July, 1771, concerning the financial affairs of the late Munkhouse brothers, William and Jonathan, and to assist in having William’s will proven,

Mile End London. 

My Papers being on board the Ship I could not Answer your letter sooner.  Your two Sons Effects jointly Sold on board amounts to £229..17..6½ exclusive of Medicines and some Surgeons Instruments, the Value of which must be refer’d to proper judges in London.  The Sooner you appoint a person to pass the Drs Accots  the better, if you are pleased to appoint me, I can only assure you that I will do my best to dispatch them, and if I cannot my self get them through the offices, the same person that assi[s]ts me in passing my accots can assist in passing your sons; but whoever does it they must have from you a power of Attorney and whatever else is necessary to shew that you are the Lawfull Heir or Administrator.  I have this Moment enquired and am told that the original will must be sent up here to be proved at Drs Commons.

My respects to all Your family
and remain Dr Sir Your Most Obliged Hble Srvt
Jams Cook.

P.S It will be no hard matter for me to get the will proved as I know ye Drs hand & know that he made no other will.  As soon as I can get a Frank will send the particulars of your sons Accompts.9 


The news of the deaths of his two sons must have affected George Munkhouse considerably.  He made a new will on 15 August, 1771, and was dead within a few weeks, as his will was proven on 19 December.  His wife, Grace, died in 1778.  The wine merchant business was continued by another son, George Munkhouse (1748-1786), who moved to the Strand in London to run the operation.


The National Library of Australia (NLA) owns a pastel portrait of William Munkhouse, though the artist and the date painted are unknown.


John Robson



  1. Internet Web Site, Proceedings of the Old Bailey, www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?path=sessionsPapers%2F17650522.xml/
  2. BL Add. Ms 27889, folios 83-96; 6 to 21 October 1769 is held by the British Library, London.  The journal appears in Beaglehole, J.C.  The Journals Of Captain James Cook.  Vol. I: The Voyage Of The Endeavour, 1768-1771.  Hakluyt Society.  1955.   
  3. Cook’s Log, page 1219, vol. 18, no. 4 (1995).
  4. PROB 11/970.  The National Archives. 
  5. Cook’s Log, page 1250, vol. 19, no. 1, (1996).
  6. Jonathan Munkhouse’s log covers the period from 27 May, 1768, to 19 November, 1769.  It is kept in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.  The shorter version, from May to August, 1768, is held at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. 
  7. Beaglehole  op cit.  Page. 549. 
  8. ibid.  Page 347. 
  9. ibid.  Page 634.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 8, volume 39, number 1 (2016).

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I think that, in delegating the supervision of fothering the hole in the Endeavour's hole in the bow to the midshipman Jonathan Munkouse, Cook shows one of his qualities necessary for a good leader. Cook was undoubtly an excellent seaman but he had no experience of that particular, quite complex, task (the devil is all in the detail) and so readily agreed to Munkhouse's sugestion and trusted him with the job. This shows that he:
(1) had made it his job to know the capabilities and limitations of his crew
(2) remained calm, rational and approachable in a dire situation.
(3) was prepared to defer to a crew member who had direct experience of a situation that Cook himself had not , no matter how junior that man might be.
By Ian Clark, Master Mariner (retired) on 7/7/2020 12:57:20 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I have been invited to present a paper on William Munkhouse in 2020 when we will celebrate 250 years since Cook's landings along the east coast. Your information is most helpful and I will chase up the primary source material.
By Prof Robert Pearce on 5/15/2018 11:06:52 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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