The North Sea
of Marton-in-Cleveland, in the north-east corner of the North Riding of Yorkshire, where Cook was born, had not in the early part of the eighteenth century been touched by fame. No traveller, that we know of, committed to his journal any particular notice of the scatter of farm houses and cottages, on its gentle rise a quarter of a mile south of the road between Stockton and Guisborough; so far from prominence was it that it may indeed have shrunk since its earlier days, within its parish of five miles by two. It lay in an agricultural district, though moors and hills were not far away—a district well farmed, according to the standards of the time; the virtues of whose inhabitants were—so we learn from the worthy John Tuke,1
who published his observations in 1794—uncontaminated by the neighbourhood or vices of manufacture. Farmers were sober, industrious, orderly, thrifty; so, by force of example, were the lower and labouring classes, decent in their demeanour, deserving of every indulgence from their superiors that might render their situation comfortable and easy. We may perhaps see in Cleveland, then, sixty or seventy years earlier, if not outstanding genius or intellectual or social passions, at least a certain general respectability—the sort of English soil from which, now and again, the most astonishing and unpredictable phenomenon will shoot up to dominate the imagination, a soil otherwise for long years undisturbed. This district was not entirely secluded. A man of curiosity would find the sea not far distant. A few miles to the north the river Tees met larger waters, though the Marton horizon was not yet made sinister by the fires and smokes of Middlesbrough at its mouth; across country some fifteen miles, a little north of east, the small harbour of Staithes fronted the fury of the North Sea; and rather more than twenty miles away, a little south of east, stood the comparatively large town of Whitby, sheltered by high land where the Esk exchanged its wooded valley for tidal flats and flowed north through its gateway of cliffs
into the coastal waters. You passed from the Esk to the world. This reflection, one may guess, was not often entertained by the lower and labouring classes of Cleveland, that district so predominantly agricultural, nor within it by the parish of Marton, five miles by two.
Beyond the North Riding lay the county of Durham, and then Northumberland; Northumberland marched with the Border and on the other side of the Border was Roxburghshire. In the north-east corner of Roxburghshire was Ednam, the village where the poet Thomson was born; here also was born another person of more immediate interest to us.1
The parish register of Ednam records that on 24 December 1692 John Cook of that parish, at some time kirk elder, and Jean Duncan of the parish of Smaillhome, ‘gave up their names for proclamation’, and that before marriage Jean produced a certificate of her good behaviour. This couple were married on the following 19 January 1693 by Mr Thomas Thomson, minister, later to be, father of the poet. On 4 March 1694 Mr Thomson baptised their son called James. According to the tradition of one family claiming descent from this John, the father of James, he had connections with building, milling, and sheep-rearing, all on a modest scale, and certainly made no fortune at Ednam, where James was the only son born to him, so far as the parish records can tell us.2
He had other sons, born elsewhere (though where is unknown), and he himself and his wife Jean disappear from sight. Not so James. Whether obscurely impelled to travel, even if not far, or driven across the border by the hard times which followed the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, and seeking employment like other Scots in some rising alum works, he came south to Yorkshire—a man obviously without training in any trade, willing to do the humblest farm labour, sober, respectable, industrious, fitting without friction into the respectable and respectful lower classes at Cleveland; and, it seems, intelligent. ‘God give you grace’, his mother is alleged to have said to him when he departed from his home; and Grace is what he was given, in the person of a young woman of Stainton-in-Cleveland whose surname was Pace. They were married in the parish church of Stainton on 10 October 1725, when he was thirty-one and she twenty-three, and settled first in the village of Morton, in the parish of Ormesby, near Guisborough. It is in this parish, register that the baptism of their first child, a son John, is noted, 10 January 1726/7. This son lived into his early twenties, but otherwise
attracted no attention. James and Grace moved shortly to Marton, the village already briefly described, a mile to the westward; and here, in a two-roomed, clay-built thatched cottage, their second child and second son was born, on 27 October 1728, being baptised in the village church of St Cuthbert on 3 November as ‘James, ye
son of a day labourer’. It is evident that the Cook family was strongly conservative in their choice of names for elder sons. There were six other children born to the couple, of whom four died young: Mary, born 1732, who died in her fifth year; Jane, born 173, who also died in her fifth year; another Mary, born 1740, who died at ten months; and a son William, born 1745, who died at the age of three. There were two survivors besides James beyond the year 1750, his sisters Margaret and Christiana. James Cook
, born and baptised in that cold time of the year 1728, an infant strong, tough, and if the child is physically as well as mentally the father of the man, large-boned, with a clutch on survival, was the child whose career we have now to pursue. What combination of factors, in the mingled blood of a Lowland Scots labourer and a Yorkshire village woman, went to produce that remarkable career, we may ask without useful answer. Sobriety, orderliness, industry, all virtues to be respected, we might quite well be prepared for and deduce. Genius, of whatever sort, takes us unawares: is not, even in retrospect, de-ducible. We can ponder, if we choose, over the unlikely origins, in place and circumstance, of a maritime distinction so extraordinary.
A fitful light, as usual with the annals of the poor, plays on the boy's earliest years. A few months after his birth his parents went to another cottage—presumably, as they now had two sons, a larger one—and at some time thereafter his birthplace became the village ale-house, at the sign of the Bear. His father worked most regularly for a Mr Mewburn. When the baby became a small boy he went to learn his letters with Mrs Walker, whose husband farmed Marton Grange; the Walker family story was that this education of a promising youth was in return for his services round the place, running errands and watering stock.1
No doubt he engaged in the other
pursuits of small boys in a small village. About 1736 there was a further family removal to Ayton or Great Ayton (‘Yatton’ of the natives), a move which argues steadiness, sobriety and intelligence on the part of James Cook senior; for he had been made ‘hind’, or foreman, to Mr Thomas Skottowe, of Airyholme farm; virtually, it appears, he was the farm-manager. Ayton was four miles from Marton, a much larger village—even, we are told, with some good buildings; its situation was pleasant, on the edge of the sombre Cleveland hills, among which stood out the kingly shape of Rosebury or Roseberry Topping; it had its own small river, a branch of the Leven. It was not far from a market-town, Stokesley; and with its watermills and rural manufactories, weaving, tanyards, brewery, brick-kiln, and so forth,1
could entertain a growing boy with some variety, when he was let off from farm-work or school. Skottowe belonged to the gentry rather than to the class of yeomen-farmers—Cook was to come across one of his sons in official position at a later date—a benevolent as well as substantial man; and noticing that the boy had some brains, he paid the small fees asked for him at the Postgate School at Ayton, where Mr Pullen the master taught him writing, arithmetic and his catechism, and perhaps more reading than Mrs Walker could. The school, the charitable foundation in 1704 of Michael Postgate, a local yeoman-farmer, was rebuilt in 1785, part of an oblong block of schoolhouse and poorhouse combined, so that the present-day pilgrim will find nothing on which to exercise emotion but original stones. James was said to have been good at his sums: he certainly left no lasting impression of academic brilliance, or displayed visible ambition for a nobler scholarship. We may guess that he helped his father well enough with the horses and about the farmyard; a country-bred boy, in his after career he had a good eye for the land as well as the sea. There may be hindsight and a little of fancy in one of the small bits of reminiscence that have survived from the 1740's; but as this does not set him out as a paragon of leadership it may not improbably be true, high flown as is the historian of Cleveland.
During young Cook's continuance at this village seminary it appears that he was never much regarded by the other boys of the school, and was generally left behind in their juvenile excursions; a circumstance, which can only be attributed to his steady adherence to his own plans and schemes, never giving way to the contre-projets of his associates. This, instead of conciliating their regard, naturally rendered them averse from
his company. It has been asserted by those who knew him at this early period of his life, that he had such an obstinate and sturdy way of his own, as made him sometimes appear in an unpleasant light; notwithstanding which, there was a something in his manners and deportment, which attracted the reverence and respect of his companions.
The seeds of that undaunted resolution and perseverence which afterwards accelerated his progress to immortality, were conspicuous, even in his boyish days. Frequently, on an evening, when assembled together in the village, to set out in search of birds' nests, Cook might be seen in the midst of his comrades, strenuously contending that they should proceed to some particular, spot: This he would sometimes do, with such inflexible earnestness, as to be deserted by the greater part of his companions.1
How long Cook remained a village seminarist, with the leisure occupations of birds' nesting and argument, before he emerged on the world as a master of reading, writing, and arithmetic and (a little less so) of spelling; whether he spent the succeeding period exclusively in the employ of his father or Mr Skottowe and how wide was his farm practice, how far he rambled from Ayton, who made the next suggestion for the career of a likely lad—of all these things we are ignorant. But it seems as if something—proficiency in arithmetic?—marked him out as perhaps equal to the demands of commerce; for we next find him, in 1745, at the age of seventeen, a shop-boy with Mr William Sanderson, grocer and haberdasher, of Staithes. This was not regular apprenticeship, there were no indentures, it was trial on both sides; Sanderson was a wise and amiable man. The building which contained his house and shop was close to the sea, and as early as 1812 was pulled down lest it should be washed away, to be rebuilt in its present position in Church Street by his successors in business;2
the counter on which the youth measured out raisins and ribbon was removed in 1835 to Middlesbrough, ‘Captain Cook's Shop'is But dubiously his. Over the original site the waves flow deep. The importance of this shop-keeping interlude is not commercial. What Cook learnt from it, obviously, was that he did not want to be a shop-keeper. We need give only the most fleeting attention to the famous story of his exchange of a shilling of his own for a bright new shilling in the till, one of those issued by the South Sea Company, which excited his curiosity, and Sanderson's displeasure at fancied dishonesty—a trivial affair blown up to dramatic proportions by more than one romancer. Sanderson and his family had and kept James in high regard. The important thing was Staithes itself. Cook might have become a sailor
without Staithes, but there it was, the little fishing port—the most considerable fishing port, indeed, on that part of the coast—at the foot of a gash in the cliffs, alive, active. Strong Yorkshire figures took out their boats or brought them in, heaved up their baskets of fish, bent working over their pointed flat-bottomed cobles; strong Yorkshire voices sounded over the wash of the waves; ropes were coiled, nets dried in the wind; the smell of the beach, of seaweed and tar was different from that of the farmyard, it blew into the shop; the children playing on the beach, in and out of the boats, the youths of seventeen, seemed a different race from those land-bound beings a few miles westward; how could another youth of seventeen, glimpsing all this at door or window, or gazing out towards the procession of sails north and south on the horizon, half the traffic of the North Sea, and then turning back to the groceries and ribbons, not be stirred to restlessness? Nothing can be more reasonably certain than that Cook had his first taste, as well as sight, of the sea at Staithes, and that the experience was convincing. Nevertheless, he did not run away, he finished his shop-life by no act of romantic daring; he stood it for eighteen months in all sobriety, we are led to believe, and then the good Sanderson himself, having made requisite enquiries, went over to Whitby with him and arranged his formal apprenticeship, as ‘a three-years servant’, to Mr John Walker
The word respectable recurs. John Walker was greatly to be respected, a Quaker ship-master, ship-owner, and coal-shipper, who made a firm with his brother Henry, though it was to John exclusively that the young Cook was bound apprentice. The Quaker connection was powerful in the town—its first meeting house was built in 1676—and a Quaker dignity and restraint marked many of the stone and brick dwellings of the old town, among them John Walker's own house in Haggersgate, on the west side of the river, where Cook lodged with his master, and that of John Walker's mother, the late seventeenth-century building in Grape Lane on the east side, to which Walker removed in 1752.1
The youth, coming to his first metropolis (Whitby's inhabitants numbered upwards of ten thousand) as well as his first port, may have noticed solidity as well as bustle; and Whitby's long and honourable history, even where it was built on sand-banks, ran back far beyond the reigns of the Georges, far beyond the ruined abbey on its east cliff through the centuries of the building and re-building of its parish church of St
Mary near by, the very image of a seafaring people's church. Its streets were none of them far from the river, and though these might smell less of fish than did the narrow beach of Staithes, Whitby had its fishermen, and there were other smells connected with the sea—of mud-flats at ebb of tide, of shipyards, of sail-makers' lofts, of rope-walks. The whale-fishery had not yet begun; but Whitby men at the middle of the century owned over two hundred ships, trading on the English coast, to the Baltic, the Mediterranean, America; even, when chartered by the Honourable Company, to India and China. Ship-building and boat-building had gone on from time immemorial; towards the end of the seventeenth century really big ships, on the reckoning of the time, began to come from the yards. A revolution in transport was to destroy the old industry; in the next century railway companies bought and filled in the docks, turned shipyards into station-yards, obliterated all that sober glory. Whitby in its ship-building prime had five principal yards, as well as the innumerable builders of small craft and cobles. When Cook entered the service of Walker, in 1746, the firms so closely identified with his voyages, Thomas Fishburn and the Langborns, had not yet established themselves, but the west bank of the river was busy, and John Walker the ship-owner had not far to go from his house in Haggers-gate to the yard where his ships were built. The picture is one of industry, enterprise, propriety, and the few later letters we have of Walker to Cook reflect in him, at least, a sober and benevolent soul. A seaport, on the other hand, is not all sobriety and benevolence; Whitby had its numerous taverns; its quarrels and riots, over pressgang or smuggling; its crimes and punishments and unhealthinesses and uproars of the eighteenth century in general. As an introduction to life, whether urban or maritime, it was for a country boy adequate. Has his life so far seemed obscure and dull? It will not in the future seem dull to him.
The coal trade, too, in which the Walkers were concerned, was one of the great trades of Britain, and opened vistas of the real metropolis. Coal was the ‘grand commodity of the northern counties’;1
a thousand ships or more carried coal, four hundred of them to London, in the annual trade from the Tyne—at this time a million tons of it, and the quantity increased every year. In the year a ship might make as many as ten voyages, granted the most favourable conditions, though they were generally fewer. It was no wonder that this trade was regarded as—to use the ancient, the hallowed phrase
— ‘a nursery of seamen’: not a writer who mentions it but mentions it thus. Nurseries of seamen, however, carried with them a paradox: so far from being the abodes of a gentle tenderness, they were the hardest nurseries that ever existed. The east coast of England was a treacherous coast, unlighted, unbuoyed, its charts rudimentary, its harbours bar-harbours, its tides to be watched; the North Sea was a treacherous sea. The dangers were not merely the offshore dangers of sunken rocks and rocky shelves, breakers and sand-spits and sandbanks, tidal streams, storms and thick weather, but the banks far out from land, the storms and thick weather from England to the Baltic. Gales might be propitious, weather clear, all well, two or three hundred ships might sail out of Newcastle harbour on one tide, after long-continued easterly winds, and reach London in safety; losses might not be considered, from one year's end to the other, outrageous; yet men in Cook's day remembered, and long after his day remembered, the things that they had known—innumerable groundings, single wrecks that they had survived, the ship that sank with all hands before their eyes; the sixteen ships that crossed the bar of Shields together, the six that were left after the northerly tempest that all at once fell on them, the twenty-three lost on the Norfolk coast in one dreadful night of storm.1
But apart from such shattering misfortune, the good master, in a well found vessel, who knew his coast and kept an offing, came through; prided himself on his reputation as a seaman, resented any slight cast upon it; might even legitimately hope, as an able and prudent man, to retire owner or part-owner of his ship and live in decent comfort. The competent seaman could hope to be a master. There was in that trade a great deal of competence. It was concerned not merely with the management of ships in general, but with the management of a particular sort of ship under particular conditions.
Apprentices worked hard, a man who had been one not many years after Cook tells us.2
They learnt the ropes and learnt their ship. Seamen as well as mates and masters were responsible, competent, and strict instructors, and the senior apprentice exercised a sort of delegated authority. The boy normally got one half-day's shore leave in a week. He was given care of some particular part of the
ship's stores, which he had to have ready immediately it was called for. The lazy unhandy boy was set to tasks a smart apprentice considered degrading, like sweeping the decks or cleaning out the boats; the smart boy, as he felt at home, had paths to distinction, the race to be first up the rigging or at the windlass pawls. ‘To haul out the weather earing when the topsails were to reef, to ship the first handspike, and to cat the anchor, were objects contended for by men and boys, as point of honor.’1
To be one of a score who managed a ship of three or four hundred tons, aloft and below, only a quarter of whom, in addition to master and mate, were out of indentures, was no small thing. To handle her, not merely in a gale at sea, but in the narrow entrance of a small river harbour, or over the shifting sandbanks of the Thames, with other shipping about, to keep her off the bottom or know when she could safely rest upon it, to bring her to anchor or get her under weigh in a crowd, these might be feats of learning or technique indeed. And the ship, the instrument of this art, was a specialised thing—in appearance the clumsiest thing, it might be thought, that could be created. The broad-bottomed blunt-bowed Whitby collier was no sprite of the sea: she was a ‘cat-built’ vessel, or simply a ‘cat’ The cat was defined by the Dictionary of the Marine2
as ‘a ship employed in the coal trade, formed from the Norwegian model. It is distinguished by a narrow stern, projecting quarters, a deep waist, and by having no ornamental figure on the prow … generally built remarkably strong’, and carrying from four to six hundred tons; a vessel, that is, of severe lack of beauty, which a figure-head could hardly have conferred; a vessel also that could be converted from carrying coals to carrying any large amount of cargo for its size; a vessel for its purpose, under the right conduct, thoroughly handy. Go even now to Whitby, from which the colliers and the ship-yards have vanished, with its bar harbour, its outside kelp-covered rocks, the drying mud and shingle of the flats at low tide, when the Esk gives up the struggle to cover that not so wide estuary: one look makes plain a whole period of ship design and building. The collier was built to ‘take the ground’ as well as to float upon the waters.
Into this life plunged the young Cook, fugitive from retail trade—young, but at eighteen or nearly eighteen rather old for a beginning apprentice—and joined the men and boys so thickly recruited from the Yorkshire coastal villages. While seamen are in the nursery they do not have individual prominence; and, as might be expected,
we get few personal details of the youth during these years. The muster-rolls of a number of Walker's ships still exist, however, through which, with other indications, we can follow his life in general terms. Between voyages he lived in the stable environment of his master's house, where, it is said, Walker encouraged him to study the theory of navigation—whatever that means: one supposes he learnt something about the compass and its variation, and latitude, and studied sail-plans, and what charts he could get hold of, and plans of ships, and improved on the arithmetic he had brought away from the Postgate School. He had another friend in Walker's house besides Walker, the housekeeper Mary Prowd, who coddled his studies in a quiet corner with a private table and candle. The industrious apprentice got full sympathy. But his real learning had to be, in the first place, seamanship; in the second place, as a coastal seaman, actual memorisation of his coast and the dangers that lay off it, the peculiarities of harbours and the winds that blew in them —the sort of knowledge and its application, including a good deal of rule of thumb, that would become second nature to him. So the men from whom the ‘servant’ Cook chiefly learnt, apart from those by whose side he bent sails or heaved at the windlass, were probably John Jefferson, master of the Freelove
and the Three Brothers
, and his mate Robert Watson; for we have record of Walker himself sailing as master only for two passages of the Freelove
from London in 1747, and for a month on the maiden passage of the Three Brothers
to London, with Jefferson, a man of 32, as his co-master then. Watson was five years younger. Good men could rise young in that service. Walker's function from then, it is clear, was that of owner.
Cook's first voyage was in the Freelove
, a ship—that is a three-masted vessel, square-rigged—of 341 tons, 106 feet in length with a beam of 27 feet—somewhat the equivalent, indeed, of the vessel in which, twenty-two years later, he was first to go exploring, and built as a collier at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, in 1746. Walker must have acquired her immediately, or almost immediately, she was built. She carried a complement of nineteen—master, mate, carpenter, cook, five seamen, and ten ‘servants’ or apprentices. The birthplace and domicile of all these last is given in the muster-roll as Whitby, and they ranged in age from nineteen down to fifteen.1
Cook was one of the oldest, but he was not nineteen in 1747 until 27 October; the date when he entered is given as 26 February and the date of his discharge as 22 April, his period aboard for this voyage being one month and 25 days, like four other of the apprentices. Unfortunately
the places of entry and discharge are not given, so we are at a loss to know where he went. The master and some of the seamen were entered on 20 February and discharged on 7 June; one apprentice served for only twenty-three days; the reckonings do not always match when they should. The next record is of an autumn and winter passage from London, where the same apprentices (some with different ages, Cook now with birthplace Marton and domicile Great Ayton) were entered on 29 September 1747. Two seamen were discharged at Shields, which indicates a cargo of Tyne coal to Whitby, where the generality of the company left the ship on 17 December, Cook's stay on board being this time two months and nineteen days; and other indications are that for the last month the ship was manned almost entirely by the ‘servants’. It is evident that these youths were beginning to know the east coast from the Thames at least as far north as Tynemouth, and that much was expected of them. Whether, when their coal was unloaded at a Thames-side wharf, they got leave from their ship long enough to go up to the city and fill their eyes with its sights, whether James was smitten with the metropolis, whether Walker recommended him to the London Quaker connection, we have no means of useful conjecture.
Walker had a new ship under construction, and it is said that Cook took part in her rigging and fitting out, invaluable experience again. She was the Three Brothers
, apparently a quite large vessel.1
Jefferson became her master, and took into her with him a number of the Freelove
men, including six of the apprentices. Cook was one of these, and was in the ship continuously from 14 June 1748 to 8 December 1749. For the early part of this time she was in the coal trade; then, with stalls for forty horses, was chartered by government for some months as a transport, carrying troops that had been engaged in Flanders from Middleburg to Dublin and Liverpool.2
After the completion of this service Cook signed on for the first time as a seaman, 20 April 1750, his apprenticeship over and perhaps with a little pride
at his heart. His ship for the rest of the year was in the trade to Norway. His acquaintance with the sea, with coasts and with ports, was extending. He may have fancied this North Sea trade; for we next find him, all his old shipmates left behind, in the Mary
of Whitby, owned by John Wilkinson and commanded by William Gaskin—some relative of Walker—for eight months to and from the Baltic, February to 5 October 1750, when he was discharged at London, He was next in a Sunderland ship, unspecified, till he returned to the Three Brothers
for 1751 and 1752, her master being Robert Watson, the mate of his first voyage. In December of this latter year Watson moved as master to the Friendship
, another new Walker ship, and with him went James Cook
, mate. The mate remained in the Friendship
for two and a half years, with successive masters, after Watson, in John Swainston and Richard Ellerton: with the last-named of these men he seems to have formed a positive friendship. There is no doubt that he had learnt a great deal. The practice of seamanship, as well as its theory, has been adverted to, the rule of thumb, the line of coast alive in the mind. He had not been confined to one shore: he knew the North Sea and its further side, at least in ports from the Netherlands to Norway; he had been through the Channel and into the Irish Sea; but it was the east coast of England that had given him his most intimate experience, the experience of the inshore sailor. We shall see the deposit of that experience active in his mind on coasts far distant, as dangerous, still unknown.
We must beware of too much eloquence. James Cook
, at this point of his career, in his twenty-seventh year, knew his business pretty well. It was the business, however, of a good seaman, rather than of a highly educated one. He certainly disposed of no refined technique of navigation, and it would be hard to think of anyone who at that time did, though there were a number of treatises and text-books on the current practice of the art, as well as a variety of suggestions for its improvement. We may conjecture that at home with Walker, or later, in the course of self-education, he studied something of the earlier sort. He could hardly have read the famous Elements of Navigation
of John Robertson
, mathematical teacher and librarian to the Royal Society
, over which eighteenth-century sailors pored, unless he were a very up-to-date student indeed, because its first edition appeared only in 1754. We may conjecture a little further, and guess, if he read a book, it was another extremely well known in its day, the Practical Navigation
of John Seller, which, though first published in 1669, went through edition after edition for seventy years. Seller, a compass-maker and chart publisher of Wapping, gave rules,
described instruments—the ring-dial, the cross-staff, the backstaff, the azimuth compass, the nocturnal dipping-needle—provided tables: ‘the whole being delivered in a manner so well adapted to the general humour of mariners’, as one critic observed, that it could not help having a long run.1
But if Walker fancied a different work, there were half a dozen or more he could choose from—some Art
or Complete Tutor
—to place before his servant. One way or another, the young man would have learnt a little elementary astronomy and geometry, and how to use the more popular instruments; how to find a latitude and work out his position with the traverse board, how to allow for leeway and the other incidents of a ship's behaviour at sea. It is very possible that he had his own backstaff, or Davis's quadrant as it was now called, that old friend of mariners; probably he knew all about Hadley's quadrant, since Hadley invented it in 1731, though it may be doubtful whether he could afford to own one. He would probably on his experience not have seen much reason to differ from Halley—‘the celebrated Doctor Halley’—that the system of navigation in his time depended on the three L's of Lead, Latitude and Look-out,2
or to think that times had changed much. Look-out and Lead did not need to be taught theoretically. Henry Taylor, whose memoirs are so instructive about the conditions of the coal trade in which both he and Cook served, nevertheless found it worth while to point out that ‘Another necessary duty, especially on this coast, is that of frequently casting the lead… . Even in crossing the North Sea it is necessary to have recourse to the lead’;3
and he adds a cautionary tale about a master who scorned it. In thick or hazy weather one practically navigates
by the lead, knowing where to expect such and such a depth of water and what sort of bottom. This means a highly admirable skill, certainly; it does not mean scientific navigation.
Cook's experience, to recur to that, was still a narrow experience: although not confined to the Narrow Seas, its widest sea was the North Sea. If the argument should be advanced by some battered captain that the North Sea should be experience enough for anyone, the answer would be No, for the complete sailor its coastwise and short voyage sailing was not enough. The coal trade, the Baltic trade were not the only nurseries of seamen. The Newfoundland trade was another highly-esteemed nursery, though not one into which York-shire boys normally entered. There were various Atlantic trades, and there were the long passages, out to India and China and back, which bred men ‘the most perfect in the open seas’.1 Cook had never yet been on a long voyage. To the immediate view, there were hundreds of mates like him, with the same training and the same experience—some of them with much more of it. Any Whitby owner of average judgment could easily pick up a good mate. It might not be quite so easy to pick up a first-rate master, particularly among men in their twenties; but there were hundreds of experienced and competent masters. However that may be, the young Cook had certainly gained the complete confidence of that sober person John Walker; for Walker now offered him the command of the Friendship, as next in the succession of her captains. To become master of a ship eleven years after becoming an apprentice could hardly be other than satisfactory to any man; and Cook must have been tempted. Instead, he volunteered into the royal navy as an able seaman.