Sunday, May 7, 2017

Will of John Blake late of his Majestys Ship Canada and now belonging to his Majestys Sloop Discovery - The National Archives PROB 11/1312, probated 6 Sep 1798

A very interesting will as John Blake was serving on the Discovery. Captain Vancouver retired on half pay in November 1795 and he died in 1797.

A short history of the voyage of the Discovery follows and it is taken from the biography of George Vancouver:

 W. Kaye Lamb, “VANCOUVER, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 7, 2017,

“The work of outfitting the Discovery was well advanced when details of the famous Nootka Sound affair reached London. The seizure of several British ships there in time of peace, by the Spanish commander Esteban José Martínez, was denounced as an insult to the nation’s honour, and Spain’s claim to have the right to exclude foreign traders from the area was hotly denied. A powerful naval squadron was mobilized and Britain prepared energetically for war. Spain was in no position to fight and was forced to agree to the Nootka Sound Convention, signed on 28 Oct. 1790 in Madrid. Under its terms Spain was to make restitution to British subjects whose property had been seized, and, more important, to abandon her claim to exclusive ownership and occupation of the coast.

Mobilization had halted the outfitting of the Discovery; in May her officers and crew had been assigned to fighting ships. Roberts had gone to the West Indies and Vancouver had joined the Courageux, commanded by Gardner. When news of the signing of the convention was received early in November, preparations for the expedition to the Pacific were resumed immediately. On the 17th Vancouver was recalled to London, and on 15 December, no doubt on Gardner’s recommendation, he was appointed to command the Discovery.

His instructions, dated 8 March 1791, dealt with two matters in addition to the survey of the coast. First, he was to receive from Spanish officers at Nootka “such lands or buildings as are to be restored to the British subjects”; secondly, he was to winter in the Sandwich Islands and while there complete a survey of them. As for the main purpose of the voyage, he was to examine the coast between 30° and 60°N and to acquire “accurate information with respect to the nature and extent of any water-communication” which might “in any considerable degree” serve as a northwest passage “for the purposes of commerce.” The Discovery, accompanied by the small armed tender Chatham (131 tons), sailed from Falmouth, their last port of call in England, on I April 1791. The voyage to the northwest coast was to last over a year and was made by way of Tenerife (Canary Islands), the Cape of Good Hope, New Holland, New Zealand, Tahiti, and the Sandwich Islands. Vancouver had expected to meet a supply ship, the Daedalus, in the Sandwich Islands, but she failed to appear. He sailed on to his main objective, the coast of North America, which was sighted on 17 April 1792. The landfall was in latitude 39°27’N, about 110 miles north of San Francisco.

Sailing north, he began the survey that he was to continue through all the complexities of the coastline to a point beyond 60°. Juan de Fuca Strait, to which he had been directed to give particular attention, was reached on 29 April. Vancouver has been much criticized for his failure to enter the Columbia River, the mouth of which he passed as he sailed northward; it is evident, however, that he suspected its existence but decided to leave it for later examination. Indeed, he paid little attention to rivers, since the mountains visible in the distance made it highly unlikely that they would be navigable for any considerable distance inland. Moreover, he had been directed, in order to save time, “not to pursue any inlet or river further than it shall appear to be navigable by vessels of such burthen as might safely navigate the pacific ocean.”

His plan for the survey was simple: he would trace every foot of the continental shore, so that no passage could escape him. The featureless coasts of what are now Oregon and Washington were easily surveyed, but the shore north of Juan de Fuca Strait was another matter. Vancouver first realized the difficulties of his task when he explored the maze of inlets branching off Puget Sound (Wash.). The Admiralty had sent the Chatham with the Discovery in the expectation that the smaller ship could survey narrow waters into which it would be imprudent for the Discovery to venture; but Vancouver quickly learned that tidal and wind conditions, and often sheer depth of water that placed the bottom beyond the reach of an anchor, created hazards even for the Chatham, and he was compelled after a month’s experience to fall back on the ships’ pinnaces, cutters, and launches, however laborious and dangerous service in open boats might be. Once the Discovery and Chatham had found a suitable anchorage the boats would set out to explore the adjacent coastline. Every inlet was traced to its head, lest it form part of the long sought northwest passage. The boats were usually provisioned for a week or ten days, but officers and men alike made every effort to extend the period if by so doing they could advance the survey. A great effort was made to treat the natives fairly and establish friendly relations with them. The boats, however, being no larger than many Indian canoes, were temptations because of their arms and provisions, and late in the survey a number of attacks had to be beaten off.

As long as his health permitted, Vancouver often took part in the boat expeditions. On 22 June 1792, when returning to the ships after exploring Howe Sound, Jervis Inlet, and what is now Vancouver harbour, he found the Spanish survey ships Sútil and Mexicana, under the command of Dionisio Alcalâ-Galiano*, at anchor off Point Grey. From Alcalâ-Galiano he learned that Spanish explorers had preceded him in Juan de Fuca Strait and the Strait of Georgia, though not in Puget Sound. Relations were cordial and some cooperation was decided upon, but it was limited by Vancouver’s contention that his instructions prevented him from accepting any but his own survey of the continental shore.

By August Vancouver had worked his way up the full length of what is now Vancouver Island, establishing its insularity when his ships emerged in Queen Charlotte Sound on 9 August. He pushed on to Burke Channel, in 52°N, and then sailed south to Nootka Sound where he knew his supply ship and the Spanish commander, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, were awaiting him.

A warm friendship sprang up between Vancouver and Bodega, but they were unable to agree on the details of the property transfer provided for in the Nootka Convention. Vancouver had expected to receive an extensive area, perhaps the entire sound; inquiry had convinced Bodega that John Meares*, part owner of several of the ships seized in 1789, had occupied no more than a small plot on Friendly Cove. Both undertook to refer the matter to their respective governments and await instructions. The supply ship brought Vancouver some additional instructions dated 20 Aug. 1791, but he received no further communication from the Admiralty during the last three years of his voyage.

From Nootka Vancouver sailed south to San Francisco and Monterey, in Alta (present-day) California, and then to the Sandwich Islands where he wintered. In May 1793 he was back on the coast and by September had traced the continental shore as far north as 56°. Vancouver explored Dean Channel in June; a few weeks later he would have met Alexander Mackenzie*, who completed his overland journey to the Pacific there late in July.

At the end of the 1793 season Vancouver again visited Alta California en route to winter quarters in the Sandwich Islands. After calling at Monterey he went on to San Diego and then, fulfilling his instructions, sailed southward along the Mexican coast to extend his survey to the appointed limit of 30°. In two seasons he had thus traced the coast from 30°N to 56°N and had proved that Juan de Fuca Strait was not the entrance to a great inland sea, as Fuca* had alleged, and that the extensive waterways Bartholomew de Fonte* claimed to have entered in latitude 53° did not exist.

In the course of his third and last visit to the Sandwich Islands Vancouver completed their survey and also intervened actively in their internal affairs. With a view to ending civil strife he encouraged their political unification under King Kamehameha. He also persuaded Kamehameha to cede the island of Hawaii to Great Britain in the expectation that a small military force would be stationed there to provide protection for the islands, now that ships of many nations were frequenting them. The cession was signed on 25 Feb. 1794, but no confirming action was taken in London.

For the 1794 season Vancouver decided to sail directly to Cook Inlet (Alas.), the northern limit of his survey, and to work southward to the point reached the previous year. The last anchorage of the Discovery and Chatham was in a bay on the southeast coast of Baranof Island to which Vancouver gave the appropriate name Port Conclusion. The boats returned from the last exploring expedition on 19 August, and the completion of the survey was celebrated by “such an additional allowance of grog as was fully sufficient to answer every purpose of festivity on the occasion.” Later Vancouver was to write in his Voyage of discovery to the north Pacific ocean: “I trust the precision with which the survey . . . has been carried into effect, will remove every doubt, and set aside every opinion of a north-west passage, or any water communication navigable for shipping, existing between the north pacific, and the interior of the American continent, within the limits of our researches.”

The survey had been carried out with remarkable accuracy. Vancouver’s latitudes vary little from modern values; the more difficult calculations for longitude show an error that varies from about one-third to one degree. It was an accomplishment worthy of comparison with the surveys of Cook, and the frequent references to Cook in the published Voyage show that he was ever the ideal Vancouver had in mind. John Cawte Beaglehole, the authority on Cook, remarks that of all the men who trained under him Vancouver was “the only one whose work as a marine surveyor was to put him in the class of his commander.”

The long homeward voyage was made by Cape Horn, with calls at Monterey, Valparaiso (Chile), and St Helena. As Britain was at war, the Discovery travelled from St Helena in convoy and arrived in the estuary of the Shannon River, Ireland, on 13 Sept. 1795. Vancouver left her immediately and proceeded to London but rejoined her when she arrived in the Thames on 20 October. Thus ended the longest surveying expedition in history – over four and a half years. The distance sailed was approximately 65,000 miles, to which the boat excursions are estimated to have added 10,000 miles. The care Vancouver devoted to the health of his crews was noteworthy; only one man died of disease. Another died of poisoning and four were drowned.

Vancouver’s achievement received little recognition at the time, largely because of charges that he had been overly harsh as a commander. As early as January 1793 Thomas Manby, master’s mate of the Chatham, wrote privately that Vancouver had “grown Haughty Proud Mean and Insolent, which has kept himself and Officers in a continual state of wrangling during the whole of the Voyage.” His difficulties with Archibald Menzies*, botanist and surgeon, had serious consequences because Menzies was a protégé of Sir Joseph Banks*, the influential president of the Royal Society of London. More serious was the case of Thomas Pitt, heir of Lord Camelford, one of the midshipmen-in-training in the Discovery. He was a difficult and unbalanced young man whose conduct so infuriated Vancouver that he discharged him in Hawaii in 1794. Pitt was closely related to the prime minister and to the first lord of the Admiralty, John Pitt, and a brother of Lady Grenville, wife of the foreign secretary, and their combined displeasure weighed heavily on Vancouver. It is evident that illness (probably some hyperthyroid condition) had made Vancouver irritable and subject to outbursts of temper, but he was not a brutal commander. He ran a taut ship, as was essential in a vessel far removed from any supporting authority, and if his officers did not like him, they respected him and admired his capability.

Vancouver retired on half pay in November 1795. He settled at Petersham, near Richmond Park, and was soon busy revising his journal for publication. He died, at the early age of 40, when the narrative, half a million words in length, was within a hundred pages of completion. His brother John finished the revision and the Voyage was published in 1798 in a handsome edition consisting of three quarto volumes and a folio atlas.

Almost all of the several hundred place names bestowed by Vancouver on physical features have been retained. Most notable of them is Vancouver Island, originally named Quadra and Vancouver’s Island in honour of his friend the Spanish commander. Vancouver’s work and memory have received more attention in recent years, and his grave in St Peter’s churchyard in Petersham is the scene of an annual commemorative ceremony sponsored by the province of British Columbia.”

Credit given to W. Kaye Lamb for the biography of George Vancouver.

Transcriber: Elizabeth Kipp
Recorded: 29 Apr 2017
Source:  The National Archives, PROB 11/1312
Name of testator: John Blake
Place: late of his Majestys Ship Canada and now belonging to his Majesty’s Sloop Discovery
Type of Record: Will
Dated: 11 Mar 1791, probated 6 Sep 1798

[In margin]: Testament: John Blake

1    In the Name of God Amen
2    I John Blake Seaman late of his Majestys Ship
3    Canada and now belonging to his Majestys Sloop
4    Discovery Geo Vancouver Esquire Commander Number
5    on the Ships Books 44 being of sound and disposing
6    mind and memory do hereby make this my last
7    Will and Testament First and principally I
8    commend my Soul into the hands of Almighty
9    God hoping for remission of all my Sins through
10    the merits of Jesus Christ my Blessed Saviour and
11    Redeemer and my body to the Earth or Sea as it
12    shall please God and as for such Worldly Estate
13    and Effects which shall be possessed of or intitled
11    unto at the time of my decease I give and bequeath
15    the same as followeth (that is to say)
16    I give and bequeath unto my Mother Mary
17    Sunden now residing at No 12 Rosamond Row
18    Clerkenwell London All such wages Sum and Sums
19    of money as now is or here after shall be due to me
20    for my Service or otherwise on Board the said Ship
21    or any other Ship or Vessel and I do hereby nominate
22    and appoint the said Mary Sunden Executrix of this
23    my last Will and Testament and I do give and
24    bequeath unto my said Executrix All the rest and
25    residue of my Estate whatsoever both real and
26    personal hereby revoking and making void all other
27    and former Wills by me heretofore made and do
28    declare this to be my last Will and Testament In
29    Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand  and
30    seal this eleventh day of March in the year of our
31    Lord One thousand seven hundred and ninety one
32    and in the thirty first year of the Reign of our
33    Sovereign Lord George the third by the Grace of God
34    of Great Britain France and Ireland King defender of
35    the Faith John Blake Signed Sealed
36    published and declared by the said John Blake as
37    and for his last Will and Testament in the presence
38    of us who have hereunto subscribed and named as
39    witnesses in the presence of the said Testator Geo:
40    Vancouver Capt J Whidbey Master
41    This Will was proved at London the sixth
42    day of September in the year of our Lord One thousand
43    seven hundred and ninety eight before the worshipful
44    John Sewell doctor of Laws Surrogate of the Right
45    honorable Sir William Wynne Knight also doctor of
46    Laws Master keeper or Commissary of the Prerogative
47    Court of Canterbury lawfully constituted by the Oath
48    of Mary Sunden (wife of John Sunden) the Mother
49    of the deceased and Sole Executrix named in the
50    Will to whom administration was granted of all
51    and singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of the
52    said deceased having been first Sworn duly to administer

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