29 September 2014

William Peckover, one of Captain James Cook's men

William Peckover was a Royal Navy gunner. Peckover had a more interesting seagoing experience than most sailors. He sailed on all three of Captain James Cook's South Seas expeditions (1768-79) and was highly esteemed by Cook. He was fluent in Polynesian languages and after Cook's death was appointed to the crew of the Bounty. They reached Tahiti in October 1788, where Commander William Bligh put Peckover in charge of trading with the islanders. On April 28, 1789, during their return to England Peckover had been on watch from midnight to 4:00 am, and was asleep when Fletcher Christian took command of the ship. He was confined to his bunk during the mutiny, and not allowed on deck until Bligh and his supporters were being herded off the ship.

Artist Image of "Bounty" Mutuny

James Cook

He survived the 3500-mile journey to Timor and later testified in favour of Midshipman Peter Heywood at the 1792 Bounty court-martial. The last known naval reference to Peckover has him serving on the HMS Gelykheid in 1801. He served on ships during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. He is recorded as having served on the ships below, on each as a gunner.

30 Oct 1780 - HMS Dictator
15 Jul 1782 - HMS Resistance
11 Jun 1784 - HMS Recovery
16 Dec 1784 - HMS Warspite
27 Jan 1785 - HMS Amphitrite
24 Aug 1787 - HMS Bounty
01 Dec 1790 - HMS Antelope
06 Jun 1791 - HMS Sultan
23 Jan 1792 - HMS Antelope
06 Feb 1792 - HMS Ocean
23 May 1798 - HMS Bedford
30 Aug 1798 - HMS Irresistible
14 May 1801 - HMS Gelykheid

After 1801 there is no naval record of him.  However. I  recently discovered a family ancestral claim to him which has him born in the country (Aynho) in 1748 (this means he would have been 21 when he joined the navy) and dying at the age of 71 at Colchester. What tales this ancient mariner might have told!

Cook’s Man on the “Bounty”

Royal Navy gunner
old, powder-burned
you were the first
confined to your cabin
they didn’t dare ask you
to join their rebellion.

A mark of respect they said
after all, they venerated you,
three times with Cook
even their Captain was in awe
when he commanded you
who tongued the language
of the friendly islanders well,
to negotiate the breadfruit.

Floating halfway
across your Pacific
in the small boat
they often asked you,
William Peckover,
about your Man
their eyes flicking
towards the stern,

their Captain sitting there

writing to his beloved Betsy


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