Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
I was brought up to believe that first impressions are really important as they happen only once. I am starting to think that today’s younger generation work to different standards. Take this book Legacies as an example. I will not blame the author for the cover, which features a poor example of a photo-montage. The maritime illustration shows the wooden hull of a 74-gun ship of the line, but she is sporting a mass of sail taken from an image of a 19th century windjammer!
The rear cover of the book is equally disturbing. It summarises the contents of the book as telling the tale of Nicholas Young, who sailed with Captain Cook and died at Batavia. The author imagines the fictitious life of “Young Nick” as it might have been, had he returned home aboard Endeavour.
But any reader with a smattering of knowledge about the Endeavour voyage will recall that “Young Nick” did not die at Batavia. He returned aboard the ship in 1771, and the following year was a servant to Joseph Banks on his voyage to Iceland.
Let us move inside the book, and examine the work of the author. Paul Henderson is a Canadian teacher who has a deep interest in history, naval stories and Captain Cook. The author may also have been an admirer of Mark Twain, who famously advocated, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!” The author seems to have followed Twain’s advice, as his book is littered with all manner of inaccurate “facts”.
A biographic note about the author tells us that “he loves to laugh”, so here are a just a couple of his howlers from Chapter 1.
- in the very first line of the book, we read that at the end of her voyage, Resolution sailed into Portsmouth Harbour in November 1780.
She actually ended her voyage at Deptford on 7 October, 1780.
- Young Nick compares the congested streets of London to life at sea where “a few dozen men inhabit a ship such as Resolution”.
She left Plymouth carrying 116 men, and assorted livestock.
- In 1780, Young Nick goes to the house of Joseph Banks, and addresses him as “Sir Joseph”.
However, Banks did not achieve that title until 15 years later.
I am pleased to say that the subsequent 72 chapters (yes 72, albeit very short chapters) contain fewer facts and are far easier to read. It is unfortunate that the author sets his story in the late 18th / early 19th centuries, as his characters speak with a 21st century vernacular. The author’s North American roots also show up in his nomenclature of the English merchant Arthur Glass II. The patriarchal terms “Senior” and “Junior” are more common in the UK, and help avoid the mistake which appears 8 chapters later, when the same merchant has become Arthur Glass III !
But back to the story. We follow Nicholas Young as he moves to Cape Town and establishes a business there. His shipping company is a success, as is his marriage, with his children carefully named as James (after Captain Cook), Eliza (after Mrs Cook) and Charles (after Lieutenant Charles Clerke).
As Nicholas Young’s children reach maturity they embark on their own careers; which for James means joining the Royal Navy, and for Eliza means working at Kew Gardens.
Meanwhile over in Canada, a son from Nicholas Young’s one-night stand in London is doing his best to eke a living from the ground for his family. Eventually their daughter, Brenda, leaves home and heads for London, whilst their son, Simon, heads south to seek his fortune in South Carolina.
As Nicholas Young’s children and grandchildren continue to make their way through life, most of them encounter by chance a figure from history. These figures include William Bligh (on his way to New South Wales to take up his role as Governor), Admiral Edward Pellew (about to attack Algiers), Captain John Gore Junior (son of John Gore, who sailed with Cook), and Captain John Franklin (leading an overland expedition to the Arctic). This may be the author’s way of humanising these historic characters, but this series of remarkable encounters only served to remind me of the 1989 film “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”.
By now the author is telling the lives of eight characters. As successive chapters are devoted to different individuals, I found it difficult keeping track of who was where and doing what.
As the book approaches its end, it is 1828, and fate brings the disparate lines of the Young family back to Cape Town. The book concludes with a series of emotional encounters as unknown half-brothers meet, and a prodigal son returns.
The author provides the reader with some useful appendices. These include a fictitious family tree for Nicholas Young and his descendants. There are biographical notes for all of the real historical personages who appear in the story. A timeline enables the reader to see how the fictitious biography is interwoven with real events from history.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 38, volume 42, number 2 (2019).