While researching the history of navigation for the museum’s new displays in our maritime room, we came across a interesting connection between the second voyage of Captain James Cook to the Pacific (1772-75) and a burial in St Marys Churchyard.
We were interested in Captain Cook’s use of navigation aids. In particular, in his scientific testing of Harrison’s chronometer (ship’s clock) and in how this invention revolutionised the ability of ships to safely navigate by pinpointing their longitude.
Cook’s voyage was illustrated by the artist William Hodges. His work was intended to record and document the discovery of new lands and cultures and to commemorate the voyage. Hodges also used his sketches, made on the voyage, to create imaginative artistic works, leaving us with a legacy of work which brings Cook’s second voyage vividly to life.
William continued to have a successful career up until 1794, when his exhibition in London was deemed to be to “radical” and was closed down after a visit by the Duke of York. The exhibition contained two large allegorical paintings, entitled “The Effects of Peace” and “The Consequences of War” and was seemingly a comment on the war with France.
William gave up painting and retired to Devon. Different sources report him as living in either Dartmouth or Brixham. What is certain is that upon his death in 1797 he was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in Brixham.
Rumours of suicide surrounded William’s death, mainly prompted by his apparent near bankruptcy due to the collapse of his banking investments, but these suspicious have never been substantiated.