Captain Cook’s Discipline.  Allan Arlidge.  2013

Captain Cook’s Discipline. Allan Arlidge. 2013

Arlidge, Allan. 
Captain Cook’s Discipline
Published by the author. 
ISBN 978-0-473-23794-3.

The purpose of this book is to examine the circumstances surrounding discipline administered during Captain Cook’s three voyages.  As primary sources the author draws upon the logs and journals of Cook and those of over two dozen of his officers, crew and supernumeraries.  The circum-stances surrounding each disciplinary act are identified in the historical context.

This well-organized, well-written book consists of sixteen chapters and four appendices.  The first chapter deals with governance of a ship under the Articles of War and the 1749 Navy Act and other sources used by commanders.  There then follows three chapters on the First Voyage, five chapters on the Second Voyage, and two chapters on the Third Voyage up to the death of Captain Cook in 1779.  The next five chapters consider Captain Cook as viewed by his contemporaries and historians.  The final chapter entitled “Epilogue” is a summary of the author’s research regarding discipline in the context of the eighteenth century Royal Navy.


The author cites J. C. Beaglehole’s assertion that the 18th century was “a flogging century.”  Discipline administered meant flogging by a specific number of lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails.  According to Arlidge’s tables, lashes were administered in multiples of six, with the most recorded as 24 per person (in 1779).  A total of 12 lashes per incident appears most common, with six as the least number.  The author draws upon Royal Navy historian N.A.M. Rodger’s studies of the navy for the rationale of discipline and the psychological impact of long voyages to explain contemporary conditions and circumstances of naval life.  A captain was responsible for good order on ship and good conduct on land excursions.  The author is careful to explain that discipline administered must be seen in the context of eighteenth century conditions and behaviour rather than by the standards of later eras.


What circumstances caused disciplinary actions to be administered?  A look at historian Arlidge’s findings during the Second Voyage will serve as examples, although simple categorization is made difficult by the variation of the wording of multiple offenses in the logs.  Using Arlidge’s tables, on the Second Voyage there were five cases of theft, and five cases of leaving the boat while on a ship-to-shore excursion for various reasons, including failure as a sentinel on shore.  Drunkenness (and related offenses) accounted for at least another four offenses; the same number as insolence, although insolence was also associated with other offenses such as disobedience and neglect of duty, or disobedience and rioting.  Other charges included mutiny and desertion, removal of water from the ship’s hold, disobedience and neglect of duty, or similarly worded charges.  There was one case of losing tools on a shore excursion and another for throwing an old chew of tobacco into “the victuals cooking” (12 lashes).


Appendix B includes tables of floggings administered, categorized by the author as “shipboard-based-floggings” and “land-based floggings.”  During the three voyages of nine years, nine months at sea, 1506 lashes were administered, 47% (708) were shipboard-based and 53% (798) were land-based, a difference of 6%.  Land-based floggings exceeded shipboard-based floggings by 5% during the First Voyage and 22% on the Third Voyage.  On the long Second Voyage, shipboard-based floggings exceeded land-based floggings by 12%.


The author chronologically identifies each seaman and the cause for discipline in the context of the voyage.  The log or journal entry for each instance is identified.  Examples of floggings during August 1771 serve as cases in point.  On 4 August, AB John Marra received his second punishment of twelve lashes for “behaving insolent to his Superior Officer.”  The logs of Lt. Richard Pickersgill, Master Joseph Gilbert, Midshipman Alexander Hood, and Master’s Mate Smith termed Marra’s actions as “mutiny.”  On 22 August, Marine Richard Waterfield received six lashes for “disobeying orders” (Lt. Charles Clerke).  Master Joseph Gilbert termed it as “disobedience to the boatswain and disobeying his orders”, while Pickersgill and Midshipman William Harvey termed the actions “mutiny”.


I cite these examples to illustrate the extent of the research the author conducted in identifying disciplinary issues.  It also shows his efforts to use multiple sources to corroborate incidences that lead to flogging.  These examples also point out the difficulty involved in the categorization of disci-plinary issues found in the ships' logs.


Chapters 11-15 represent a very useful effort to examine how Cook’s contemporaries and later historians viewed Cook as a captain and a leader of men, with reference to discipline.  Arlidge examines accounts by seamen below decks as well as those by officers and other naval officials.  He includes evaluation by J. R. Forster and George Forster during the Second Voyage.  There then follows approximately two dozen late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century historian assessments.  J. C. Beaglehole is considered in a single chapter and the final chapter is devoted to later twentieth century historians, including Glyn Williams’s The Death of Captain Cook: A Hero Made and Unmade (2008), the most recent assessment cited.


I found these chapters to be useful summaries of accounts and assessments of Cook as a commander.  It is interesting to note similarities among a variety of authors over time.  Not all sources viewed all of Cook’s leadership as consistently positive.  One of the difficulties in assessing Cook is his taciturn nature, which is reflected in his writings.  He appears as a matter-of-fact ship’s captain, nearly always in control, nearly always fair-minded and respected, but also not tolerant of misbehaviour.  He did his duty and expected others to do the same, and to follow commands to maintain good order at all times.


Even sometime critics such as J. R. Forster praised Cook’s imagination that “clearly grasped the conditions of things; an ability to judge which understood correctly and decided impartially; an irritability of feelings, the excess  of which at times led to violent outbursts, but which more frequently governed by reason, included towards justice, kindness and humaneness, traits of character which bear witness to the nobility of his soul were one day to bear fruit for great purposes in Cook, the son of a tenant farmer.”  Forster had reason to be angry with Cook after the Second Voyage due to a dispute over the publication of the official account.  Ultimately J. R. Forster, as with most other commentators, found Cook to be fair, reasonable, and just.


Professor Glyn Williams’s evaluation of Cook is briefly covered, which notes that during the Third Voyage the quantity of punishments grew, leading to the conclusion by Williams and others that Cook’s behaviour and the volume of floggings during the last voyage might well be related to loss of perspective due to ill health.  Both natives and ships’ company observed Cook’s wrath and the severity of punishment that sometimes followed.


Appendix D is a very interesting account of Seaman John Marra, one of the most frequently punished sailors on the Second Voyage.  Gunner’s Mate Marra appears as a sailor with considerable skills, recognized by officers, as well as with occasional behaviour to be charged with mutiny, desertion, going off ship without leave, pursuing multiple “painted” native Maori women or girls, insolence to officers, and neglect of duty.  These offenses occurred more on land than on the sea.  At times Marra was lightly punished for some of these offenses, and Cook described him as “a good seaman.”  Marra received a total of 42 lashes during the Second Voyage, second only to AB John Innell’s 54 lashes.  The journal attributed to Marra includes praise for Cook tempering severity with humane treatment and willing to lessen punishment.


The book contains a series of colour and black and white photographs, a list of the length of voyages, as well as a bibliography and an index.


Allan Arlidge has written a useful, comprehensive study of disciplinary measures during Captain Cook’s three voyages.  The book is recommended to anyone interested in Captain James Cook or discipline in the context of the eighteenth century navy.


James C. Hamilton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 44, volume 36, number 3 (2013).

Leave a comment

your email address will not be published

Thank you for your response. It will be evaluated by a moderator and published.
Previous Comments:
Ian Boreham (webmaster)
Gary, The author Allan Arlidge died in 2016, and his book is no longer available. Secondhand copies are sometime advertised online.
The email address to contact the author is no longer working. I presume the book is now no longer available. It's certainly not on Amazon
John. Glazebrook
Captain Cook’s use of cruel disciplinary measures flies in the face of the varnished image he is given by most historians. Hawaiian historians have referred to James Cook and his disciplinary actions as nothing short of terrorism ! He was willing to hold natives hostage to get his own way. He personally would deliver the cat and nine tail to crew and he had ordered the cutting off of the ears of natives for thieft. James Cook may have been a talented navigator , but he was also a very cruel disciplinarian !