Item #5000783 Autograph letter signed, to Charles Thomas Coggan, asking for the release of a press-ganged sailor. James COOK.
Autograph letter signed, to Charles Thomas Coggan, asking for the release of a press-ganged sailor.

Autograph letter signed.
Autograph letter signed, to Charles Thomas Coggan, asking for the release of a press-ganged sailor.

HMS Resolution at Deptford, 9 March 1772.

Autograph manuscript in ink on paper, on one side of a single sheet, small folio, amounting to about 12 lines, with a fine signature by Cook; docket-title on verso in a different hand.

An extraordinary Cook letter, entirely in his hand

Extremely rare: a full letter, written entirely by Cook and signed boldly by him. The letter was written aboard HMS Resolution while the ship was at Deptford, taking on final stores and provisions prior to sailing on Cook's arduous second voyage.

Extremely rare: a full letter, written entirely by Cook and signed boldly by him. The letter was written aboard HMS Resolution while the ship was at Deptford, taking on final stores and provisions prior to sailing on Cook's arduous second voyage.

In the letter, dated 9 March 1772 and addressed to an official of the English East India Company, Cook asks for the release of one of his men who has been press-ganged into the company's service. Such a letter, written without the assistance of one of Cook's indefatigable clerks, is particularly rare and attractive, especially as the main corpus of material regarding his preparations for the second voyage takes the form of official correspondence, frequently terse, dealing with more conventional subjects.

The letter reads, in full:

Sir

Having received a letter from James Keaton belonging to His Majesty's Sloop Resolution under my command, acquainting me with his being inticed on board the Devonshire belonging to the Hon. East India Company, and there detain'd to serve as a soldier, I beg you will order him to be discharged or delivered up to such persons as I shall send for that purpose. I am Sir

Your Most Humble Servant

James Cook

To Mr. Coggin

The activities of press-gangs at this period are well known and were a considerable hazard to a captain preparing to embark. This was especially true in 1772 for Cook, who was enduring lengthy enforced delays in his preparations for the second voyage. Indeed, a great many sailors were known to have "run" from the Resolution in the long months while the two vessels were going through their refit, with an incredible fifty-eight recorded as having thus absconded, and another thirty-nine discharged for various reasons (see John Robson's online database).

The depth of research that has been done regarding Cook's musters makes this manuscript document of especial interest, as James Keaton is not otherwise known to Cook historians (the similarly named "John Heaton" is recorded as running at the Nore on 14 May 1772, but Cook's hand is clear and the dates irreconcilable). It is also interesting that Keaton, in Cook's words, has been taken 'as a soldier', as his detachment of marines did not come aboard until 29 April 1772. Despite the bustle of Deptford, it would seem that Cook was well informed about the fate of Keaton, as the 499-ton East Indiaman Devonshire, captain Robert Morgan, was very likely in port; she later sailed from Portsmouth on 12 April 1772 (see Charles Hardy, A Register of Ships, Employed in the Service of the Honourable the United East India Company, p. 55).

The letter is addressed to "Mr Coggin", undoubtedly a homophone for "Coggan", and almost certainly Charles Thomas Coggan, one of the directors of the East India Company and Comptroller of Shipping. Coggan went on to a long and illustrious career in the company, and by 1811 was the company's paymaster.

The letter is not recorded in Beaglehole's calendar of documents for the second voyage, although he does note three other letters apparently of the same day, two to the Victualling Board and a third to Banks, at a time when the naturalist was still intending to sail. Moreover, while Beaglehole lists no fewer than ninety-two letters from Cook before he sailed on 13 July 1772, almost all of this material is quite boilerplate in form, mostly addressed to the Admiralty, or to official bodies such as the Victualling or the Navy boards. Other than the present, urgent example the only letters not taking on a formal cast are one to Cook's friend Captain William Hammond, two to Joseph Banks, and a few to Cook's fellow officers on the Resolution or Adventure. Unlike most of the letters from this period, and presumably because Cook wrote it himself in haste, the text of this letter was never copied into the ship's record (as would normally have been done by his clerk) and thus does not appear in the Canberra Letter Book (1771-1778).

This wonderful manuscript originally appeared for sale in the London dealer Francis Edwards' catalogue 904 (1967, item 96, priced £330: in the same catalogue a copy of Magra's surreptitious account of the first voyage was priced £95). The export licence attached to the letter shows that it was sold to R.C. Bedell of Columbia, Missouri.

Provenance: With Messrs Francis Edwards in 1967 (their catalogue 904, item 96); sold to R.C. Bedell (private collector of Columbia, Missouri); acquired by Robert Parks (private collector of Detroit, Michigan); with Hordern House (catalogue "Captain James Cook, the Greatest Discoverer. The Robert and Mary Anne Parks Collection", 2008, item 34); private collection (Australia).

Beaglehole, II, pp. 896-965 (Calendar of Documents), and passim.

Condition Report: Becoming worn along original folds, but in excellent original condition.

Price (AUD): $425,000.00

US$284,513.29   Other currencies

Ref: #5000783

Condition Report