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William Lanyon (1745-1818)


William Lanyon was born in Tregony, Cornwall, in 1745.  The Lanyons were an established and reasonably influential Cornish family with several branches based around Camborne and Tregony.  The many branches and repetition of first names makes establishing William’s genealogy difficult.  His parents, John and Mary (née Trembath), were married on 10 December 1741 at St. Just in Penwith.


Lanyon joined the Royal Navy when he was about 18, with his first recorded service being 14 months as an AB in HMS Orford.  It was followed by two years in Mars, also as an AB.  Lanyon then served 19 months in HMS Jason as a midshipman.  He next served as an AB and midshipman in HMS Terrible before, in 1772, possibly through Cornish connections, he joined HMS Adventure, Cook’s companion vessel on the Second Voyage.  From September 1772 he served as a midshipman but, following the deaths at Grass Cove in December 1773, he became a master’s mate.


Lanyon gained his Lieutenant’s certificate in August 1774.  However, he was taken on again for the third voyage, somewhat surprisingly in the lower rank of master’s mate.  He began the voyage in Resolution but an opportunity arose when, following Clerke’s death in August 1779, he was promoted to second lieutenant in Discovery.1 Lanyon kept a log during the voyage.2  He is also supposed to have collected vocabularies of Pacific languages, which were assembled and published by a descendant.3  Their authenticity has, however, been questioned,4 and few, if any, linguistics scholars give any credence to the work. 


After serving with Cook, Lanyon’s subsequent record is sketchy.  He was in command of Spider, a cutter based at Plymouth from March 1790 until May 1796.  In 1799, he commanded Kent, another cutter, in the English Channel and, on 26 November 1799, he captured a French privateer, Four Brothers, out of Calais.  In January 1800, Lanyon took command of Matilda.  His last recorded command was of HMS Genereux, a prison ship at Plymouth from February 1805.  On 17 March 1814, he was listed as a superannuated commander.


William Lanyon married Jane Lanyon (most probably a cousin but the relationship is unclear) at Tregony on 2 July 1784.  They retired to St. Austell, Cornwall and Jane was buried there on 27 March 1817, aged 70.  William, already a sick man, died a year later.  He was buried on 26 March 1818, his tombstone recording Captain Navy paralytic.  His will,5 proven on 15 May 1818, does not mention any children.


John Robson


  1. See Cook’s Log, page 48, vol. 27, no. 3 (2004).
  2. TNA. Adm 51/4558/196-8.
  3. Lanyon-Orgill, Peter A.  Captain Cook’s South Sea Island Vocabularies.  Published by the author.  1979.  Amongst the subscribers listed in this work is one Ian Boreham. 
  4. Geraghty, Paul.  Review of book: “Captain Cook’s South Sea Island Vocabularies” in Journal of the Polynesian Society.  1983.  Vol. 92, no. 4, pages 554-559
  5. PROB 11/1604.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 34, number 3 (2011). 

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Gill, many thanks for your interesting message. It is good to have that missing piece of the Lanyon family tree, thank you so much for sharing it.
By Cliff Thornton on 6/15/2020 9:54:44 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I have been researching my family tree and I hope this clarifies the relationship between William & Jane Lanyon.
William was the son of John Lanyon (born C1709 Gwinear) & Mary Trembath and the grandson of Tobias Lanyon & Mary Penneck from Gwinear.
Jane was the daughter of Tobias Lanyon (born 1697 Gwinear) & Prudence Pawley and the granddaughter of Tobias Lanyon & Mary Penneck. John 1709 & Tobias 1697 were brothers.
By Gill Lanyon on 6/14/2020 1:32:28 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Valerie, delighted to hear that you may be related to William Lanyon. Please let the Captain Cook Society know if you find any information which can be added to the above potted biography.
By Cliff Thornton on 8/2/2015 10:09:23 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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It is mentioned in my family's heritage that a "Capt. Lanyon" of Cornwall. My husband and I saw Lanyon Quoit when visiting and found it fascinating. However, we are looking into the adventures of the man who seems to have made my grandmother's name well known.. Thank you.
By Valerie Smith on 7/30/2015 4:32:05 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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