TRAVEL NORTH - 10: Seafarers, Raiders and Smugglers on the 'Yorkshire Main'

Captain James Cook, RN - a name synonymous with exploration and charting the world's seaways

Captain James Cook, 1728-79, a farm labourer''s son become seafarer extraordinary (one of few men at the time raised from obscurity on merit alone).
Captain James Cook, 1728-79, a farm labourer''s son become seafarer extraordinary (one of few men at the time raised from obscurity on merit alone). | Source

Cook's Tour

Beginnings - Birthplace at Marton-in-Cleveland (as opposed to two others in the same area) of James Cook in October, 1728
Beginnings - Birthplace at Marton-in-Cleveland (as opposed to two others in the same area) of James Cook in October, 1728
The urn marks the site of the cottage, later part of the land bought by steel magnate Henry Bolckow, business partner of John Vaughan, and later mayor of Middlesbrough - two miles or so north of here
The urn marks the site of the cottage, later part of the land bought by steel magnate Henry Bolckow, business partner of John Vaughan, and later mayor of Middlesbrough - two miles or so north of here
Full size 'Endeavour' replica rests, moored off Cable Beach, Western Australia
Full size 'Endeavour' replica rests, moored off Cable Beach, Western Australia | Source
Statue of Captain Cook, West Cliff, Whitby overlooking the harbour he sailed out of as an employee of John Walker the Quaker shipmaster
Statue of Captain Cook, West Cliff, Whitby overlooking the harbour he sailed out of as an employee of John Walker the Quaker shipmaster | Source

The single most famous of all the mariners linked with the Cleveland coast of North Yorkshire has to be Captain James Cook.

Born October 27th, 1728 in the village of Marton - now a southern suburb of Middlesbrough astride the A172 link with the A19 - James Cook was the first son of local lass Grace and James Cook Snr, an agricultural labourer from the borders region of Scotland. About eight years later James Cook Snr was hired by Squire Scottowe of Great Ayton to run Airyholme Farm, south-east of Marton, and the growing family moved to their new home on the lower north-western slopes of Roseberry Topping. The squire saw promise in young James, in his command of mathematics mostly, and paid for his education at the small school near the River Leven in Great Ayton.

At the age of seventeen James was apprenticed to William Sanderson, a merchant of the coastal village of Staithes - between Whitby and Saltburn - to learn the trade.

However, it was here in Staithes that James met seafarers and fishermen who told him good things about life on the ocean waves and he took a liking to a career at sea. Sanderson released him from his apprenticeship and he began another one in the employ of the Quaker John Walker, master mariner and owner of several 'Whitby Cats', (shallow draught ships that were used in the movement of Alum shale as well as taking coals from Tyneside to Wapping, on the Thames east of the City of London). James did well, beginning his service on the 'Freelove' under the master John Jefferson. Finishing his apprenticeship in April 1750, James had been west to Ireland and across the North Sea, through the Skagerrak and Kattegat to the Baltic ports of Sweden, North Germany and Poland. He was to pass his examination and achieve his master's ticket, sailing as mate on the 'Friendship'. In 1755, at the age of twenty-seven John Walker offered him the master's job on the 'Friendship' but was disappointed when James turned him down for a career in the Royal Navy. His mother Grace was alarmed when he informed her that had taken the step of enlisting in the navy at Wapping.

He saw action against the French in the Seven Years' War during his lieutenancy, and charted the St Lawrence downriver of Quebec City prior to General Wolfe's taking of the city from the Heights of Abraham in 1759. Cook's reputation for accuracy and chart-making grew. In time the Admiralty came to learn of his prowess and he was chosen to take the 'Endeavour' to Tahiti with a party of scientists under Joseph Banks to chart the passage of Venus.

There is a very good book by Richard Hough on Cook titled 'Captain James Cook - a Biography', first published 1994 by Hodder & Stoughton, reprinted in paperback 1995 by Coronet Paperbacks (a division of Hodders), ISBN 0-340-61723-3. The book includes a timeline of his sea-going career, marriage to Elizabeth, homes in Shadwell, Whitechapel and Limehouse, and the children who never saw adulthood (some who never saw their father during his years at sea). His killing on the beach in Hawaii - during a desperate struggle, when they needed some of the tall, straight trees to replace a mast broken whilst searching for the Northwest Passage on the Pacific coast of Canada.- led to Lieutenant William Bligh ordering a bombardment of the beach and eventual burial at Kealakekua Bay and sad departure for England.

*[See also http://hubpages.com/politics/HERITAGE-29-DEATH-ON-THE-ROCKS-Captain-Cooks-Last-Hours-On-Hawaii]

Richard Hough (pron. 'Huff') 'charts' James Cook's life from humble beginnings as farm labourer James Cook Snr's eldest son at Marton in the North Riding of Yorkshire. The change came when James Snr was appointed by land owner Squire Skottowe to run Aireyholme Farm near Great Ayton. The squire paid for James' education locally in Ayton's school - across the road from the much larger Friends' School - having noticed how bright the lad was at mathematics...The rest, they say is history. Take this at times harrowing journey through Cook's life with Mr Hough..

Take a break for a bite and a cuppa with a sea view at the Sandside Cafe, East Row, Sandsend,

Enjoy a rest on your travels along the coast from Staithes. The Sandside Cafe is near where James Cook lived during his employment with John Walker. The building is a rustic, single-storey cabin at the back of the beach. The cafe offers a warm welcome whatever the weather.

Fancy a slab of coffee or walnut cake, or one of their doorstep sandwiches with Whitby crab filling? Or is your passion an old-fashioned Cornish Pasty, pork pie or Bakewell Tart, with tea or coffee? How about a bit of history with your meal/snack? Until 1958 the North Eastern Railway, later LNER and British Railways operated a train service between Teesside and Whitby/Scarborough. The station was located on the embankment you see, above the road to Lythe Bank. A tubular steel bridge carried the railway across the beck to the station from Whitby West Cliff in one direction and Kettleness in the other (north of Lythe village at the top of the steep Lythe Bank). The railway had been begun by Scottish civil engineer John Waddell of Edinburgh, but his formation was too close to the sea and was re-aligned by a North Eastern engineer. Through trains ran to Whitby along the coast from Loftus on the former Whitby, Redcar & Middlesbrough Railway via west Cliff Station (south-west, past where the golf course ranges are) to Scarborough on another line built by John Waddell. The trackbed of the Whitby & Scarborough Railway, closed to the public in January 1965 has been re-assigned as a foot and cycle path between Larpool Viaduct and Scalby Station. Some fine views of Robin Hood's Bay can be witnessed from Ravenscar (otherwise known as 'Peak') across the bay from left to right, i.e., from Fyling Hall out to sea.

You can always return to Sandsend to recover from your exertions for a 'cuppa and sarnie'. I have heard that Larpool viaduct has been restored for walkers and the only part you'd have to leave the trackbed from Scalby to Sandsend is between Prospect Hill and the golf course! The station is still there, albeit railway-less, but the tubular viaducts at Sandsend and East Row went long ago. The goods shed is still there, used by a local workshop, on the original track align-ment.

Sandside Cafe, East Row, Sandsend, Whitby, North Yorkshire, www.sandsidecafe.co.uk; 01947 893 916

Sandside Cafe, Sandsend near Whitby - close by around the corner where the road bends to an old stone bridge is the house where James Cook dwelt as employee of John Walker
Sandside Cafe, Sandsend near Whitby - close by around the corner where the road bends to an old stone bridge is the house where James Cook dwelt as employee of John Walker | Source

Having filled a corner with a nice warm drink and sarnie or cake/biscuits, back to the age of the master mariners on the Yorkshire Main...

William Scoresby Snr., 1760-1829, William Scoresby Jnr 1789-1857.

William Scoresby Snr was born May 3rd, 1760 near Cropton - Kirkbymoorside - on the southern rim of the North Yorkshire Moors. After a short education in the village school he took work as a farm lad at the age of nine.

At the age of nineteen, however, he was taken on as apprentice seaman, sailing the following year from Whitby on the 'Jane' for the voyage to the Baltic. In the course of three crossings Scoresby lived through storms, ice and pirate attacks. following trouble with fellow crew members he took work on the 'Speedwell' a government cutter taking stores from London to Gibraltar. Off Cape Trafalgar Spanish warships stopped 'Speedwell', took her cargo and imprisoned the crew on the mainland. Scoresby and a crew-mate escaped across country to the coast and stowed away on an English ship in course of an exchange of prisoners-of-war. Helping to navigate the ship through the Bay of Biscay meant they avoided having to pay for their passage.

He took some time away from seafaring at Cropton, marrying the local Mary Smith, but early in 1785 he went to sea again on the whaler 'Henrietta' to Greenland. The ship's captain retired after a further six voyages and Scoresby was given command over other officers. The appointment was met with resentment and opposition, but in the next six years - having partly overcome bitterness towards him by picking his own crews - from 1792 his ship broke all whaling records [not much to brag about these days, but this was in the 18th Century, remember] for the port of Whitby, landing a total of eighty.

News of his successes spread, and Scoresby was offered many ships and in 1798 he jined a London company to take the 'Dundee', becoming England's most celebrated whaling captain. In 1802 he came back to Whitby as partner in a company building a new Greenland whaler, the 'Resolution' with Scoresby in charge. From 1803-1810 whaling activity gave a profit of 25% on capital invested. He gave command of the ship to his son William Jnr and set up the 'Greenock Whale Fishing Company' (sic), sailing the 'John' on four lucrative expeditions before handing over to his son-in-law. Two years of 'retirement' were followed by command of the 'Mars' and the 'Fame', but the latter ship was burnt out in 1823 at Orkney. His whaling days over, Scoresby could look back on thirty voyages in six ships, landing not only whales but seals, walruses and bears. The whaling industry was failing at this time due to the drop in demand for whale oil. However Scoresby could not sit around and put forward schemes for harbour improvement at Whitby, bettering the approach roads into the town and reducing unemployment in the area through these schemes. A public pump can be seen in the Whitby Museum, inscribed in Latin, translated freely as 'Water for everyone. Draw and drink it, but don't gossip [around it]' He died in Whitby on April 28th, 1829.

William Scoresby the younger was born on October 5th, 1789 at Cropton to William and Mary. He took in whaling trips with his schooling and soon after a Greenland voyage with his father in 1806 began studies in chemistry and natural philosophy at Edinburgh University.

The following year, however, saw him surveying and charting the Balta Sound in the Shetland Isles. Late in 1807 he gained experience of the hardships of life on a man-of-war off the south coast of England. He began a lasting friendship with Sir Joseph Banks around this time, and his interest in the polar regions was boosted. In late 1809 he went back to Edinburgh University to resume his studies, taking his examinations. Two years later his father gave him the command of the 'Resolution', a successful trip was followed by marriage to a Whitby girl and another lucrative trip saw him transfer to a bigger ship, the 'Esk', used for an expedition in 1813 to prove - with the use of a device 'The Marine Diver' - that temperatures on the sea-bed of the Arctic Ocean were higher than at the surface.

Unlucky voyages during 1816-1817 saw young Scoresby resign command of the 'Esk' to take over 'Fame', and by then his knowledge of Arctic geography, meteorology and magnetism was broadly acknowledged. He contributed numerous papers on these matters to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 1819 was important for the Scoresbys in that the family moved to Liverpool in May, building the 'Baffin', made the first of three highly successful research trips to Greenland in the summer of 1820. His 'Account of the Arctic Regions and Northern Whale Fishery' was published and became the basis of scientific Arctic research.

His wife died in 1822, leading to a change of direction. After another voyage in 1823 he took up studies at Queen's College, Cambridge, writing scientific papers and being elected Fellow of the Royal Society in June, 1824. Over a year later, having passed examinations he became Curate of Bessingby near Bridlington (East Riding). May 1827 saw him being appointed Chaplain of the Mariner's Church in Liverpool; another marriage in 1828 was followed by awards of a B.D. degree in 1834 and D.D. in 1839, following which he spent five years ministering a large industrial district of Bradford.

Ill health followed a resignation in 1847 and during a second tour of America and Canada in the spring of 1848 he learned of the death of his second wife. He married a third time in the autumn of 1849 and spent most of the rest of his days near Torquay in Devon, writing scientific articles. In 1850 he published 'The Franklin Expedition', and in 1851 'My Father, being Records of the Adventurous Life of the Late W. Scoresby'. The matter of magnetism took up much of his time and energy, a trip to Australia in 1856 was made to make observations but at the time of writing the reports he took ill and died at Torquay on March 21st, 1857.

The information on the Scoresbys was taken from 'Cleveland's Hall of Fame (and Infamy)' by Robert Woodhouse, printed and published by E W Harrison & Son Ltd., Hartlepool, ISBN 0-9504095-2-9 (p'back), 0-9504095-1-0 (h'back)

Follow Gordon Home as he takes you along the coast and moors in this well-illustrated guide. Discover the fishing hamlets, towns and 'wykes' from Saltburn to Spurn Head, climb to vantage points to overlook moor and coast such as at Fylingthorpe, or Lingdale with its uninterrupted view of the sea now the slag heaps have gone (ironstone mining).

Yorkshire Coast

The memories...

A view of the whalebone arch at Whitby West Cliff with Captain Cook's statue behind, overlooking the harbour these doughty seamen set out from
A view of the whalebone arch at Whitby West Cliff with Captain Cook's statue behind, overlooking the harbour these doughty seamen set out from | Source
Blue plaque at Scoresby House, Whitby, home of William Senior
Blue plaque at Scoresby House, Whitby, home of William Senior | Source
The Baffin of Liverpool, home-from-home for seamen on the broad, heaving ocean
The Baffin of Liverpool, home-from-home for seamen on the broad, heaving ocean | Source

Smugglers and raiders on the 'Yorkshire Main'

Returning from Whitby to visit his parents at Ayron, James Cook would have followed the high road, 'the street', as far as Staithes and cut across to the Ridge Lane used by the smugglers in these parts. A track led to the old White Cross at Commondale on the route of the Cleveland Way.

The 'way' left from there by Black Howes to Highcliff. These byways were the high roads for smugglers who, after bringing in the luxury goods from France and the Low Countries - brandy, lace, wine etc - that was heavily taxed. Anyone who came across them with their packhorses, panniers stuffed with contraband, would have to cross their fingers they would not be seen or heard! Even the local clergy and gentry were 'in on the game', benefiting from a service almost like today's milk delivery! Even with the penalties imposed by the courts, the attraction of acquiring such goods at greatly reduced prices. A great many of the smuggling leaders were local dignitaries, like the Lowland Scotsman JP John Andrews who 'operated' from the Old Ship Inn at Saltburn. Others ran rackets in the small natural havens such as Hinderwell, Runswick Bay Kettleness and Boulby. The Revenue Men and the soldiers were as disliked as they were in the American colonies, but their spies fared much worse. Corpses might be stuffed into barrels and buried in clefts in the high cliffs, or the smuggling gangs might just leave them for the seabirds to finish off. Dark, moonless nights were busy on the coastal tracks, where those unwary troopers who tried to follow them became lost on the boggy high moors - who needs 'Jamaica Inn'? We had the 'Jolly Sailors' up on the road that ran between Guisborough over the high moors to Whitby. One of the fine Georgian houses that stood back away from the cliffs of Boulby near Staithes was requisitioned for mine manager's accommodation. The nearby Boulfby ironstone mine was thriving and their manager had to have a house that reflected success. The house on Boulby Bank that stands near the Loftus to Whitby coast road was chosen, but before long the occupants had found a long tunnel that led from the kitchen to the cliffs between Staithes and the newer Port Mulgrave (where the Grinkle Mine ironstone was taken for shipment to Tyneside). At Saltburn there was until recently a small museum at the Old Ship Inn, next door to the Ship Inn, that featured 'conversations' between lookouts at a table by the heavily curtained window, the landlady and one of the gang sitting by the small fire. John Andrews was their boss, and the story line tells us he was finally arrested and taken to York Assizes for trial. Robin Hood's Bay was a veritable 'hive of industry' for the smugglers, so close to Whitby yet it might be on the moon for all the trackways allowed little progress for conventional transport. Nearby was Fylingthorpe Hall, where at one time King George III was a guest during one of his 'bouts' (talking to trees and that sort of thing. He was the clown who lost us the American colonies, remember?) and his Lordship would have entertained the king with smuggled wine and brandy. The extortionate taxes that led to the successful smuggling 'trade' were basically to fund King George's army camapigns in the New World, Bunker Hill and that sort of thing...

Speaking of the Americas, John Paul Jones passed this way with his fleet, exchanging shots with the Royal Navy, bombarding Whitby and Scarborough. A fleet was sent to despatch Jones, but they sailed around the coast of Britain to Whitehaven in Cumbria, where they 'took' the town for a short time, then sailed away west again.

A less well known sailor was Captain Constantine Phipps, who sailed to the Arctic in 1773 on the ketch 'Racehorse', with a bevy of scientists like Cook and the Scoresbys. Phipps - later Earl of Mulgrave - also fought with distinction in the American War of Independence, notably at Ushant in 1778.

American Revolution brought to the Yorkshire coast

The Battle of Flamborough Head, painting by William Elliott of the engagement between John Paul Jones' ships and the Royal Navy, September 23rd, 1779
The Battle of Flamborough Head, painting by William Elliott of the engagement between John Paul Jones' ships and the Royal Navy, September 23rd, 1779 | Source
Model of John Paul Jones' ship Bonhomme Richard
Model of John Paul Jones' ship Bonhomme Richard | Source
Map of the engagement off Flamborough Head, September 23rd, 1779
Map of the engagement off Flamborough Head, September 23rd, 1779 | Source

Want to know how an American took on the Royal Navy in the North Sea? His ship was French, the 'Bonhomme Richard', (the French and Spanish sympathised with the fledgling American state, if only to get back at Britain), his target was a small convoy sailing along the East Coast at the time of the Revolution. Take a look at how he fared...

When the Revenue Men patrolled the high moors and deep clefts along the secretive Yorkshire coast

"Saltburn was then but a fishing hamlet and colony of smugglers on the seashore..."  Handbill offers reward of £500 for information leading to arrest. However, informants had a tendency to disappear mysteriousy..
"Saltburn was then but a fishing hamlet and colony of smugglers on the seashore..." Handbill offers reward of £500 for information leading to arrest. However, informants had a tendency to disappear mysteriousy.. | Source
'Old Saltburn', as the title tells on this period postcard. Nestling in the lee of Huntcliff,. Scotsman John Andrew settled here as local squire and JP... and boss of local smugglers.
'Old Saltburn', as the title tells on this period postcard. Nestling in the lee of Huntcliff,. Scotsman John Andrew settled here as local squire and JP... and boss of local smugglers. | Source

Look out to sea as you stand in one of the doorways of the Ship Inn further north at Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Look to the southeast, toward Hunt Cliff. There might be a solitary fishing boat making its way back here or further north, to Marske or Redcar. Think back in time and imagine the light on the mast to be that of a Revenue Cutter, its officer hoping to catch smugglers bringing contraband into the old, isolated village of Saltburn.

Borders Scotsman John Andrew came to live here after visiting. Local squire and Justice of the Peace (JP), he took up with the landlady of the inn - and with the local smugglers, organising them and their connections with inland 'clients', who might be inn landlords or even parish priests. .

There might be a lugger out there, crew manhandling brandy barrels from France, packages of Flemish lace, liqueurs, coffee and tea from the Netherlands, silks from France. Taxes were steep in the days of George III, his sons profligate. He wanted the money to pay for the defence of Hanover, and to keep his sea and land forces across the Atlantic. (His predecessors and successors each saw high taxes on luxury goods as an answer to their financial woes).

The price of luxuries was steep if you bought them through legal channels. Smuggling pervaded overseas trade, and would do so until the early 19th Century. Smuggling was at its height in the south and west between 1700-1850. However the Yorkshire coast harboured its own share of the secret or 'free trade' between Coatham to the north of Redcar and Robin Hood's Bay - excepting Whitby of course. Roads were poor, the hills steep, ideal for those with mules or horses to stay out of sight of the Revenue Men or the Redcoats. Dark deeds were enacted, prying eyes avoided. The curious vanished mysteriously, dumped as corpses in thickets on the moors. It was a cutthroat business.

There were caves all along the coast that could be used to store goods, the customers often the vicar, his wife, the local squire, a justice of the peace, innkeeper and so on. Often the gang leaders were pillars of the community, as at Saltburn where Scotsman John Andrew turned up in the late 1770s. He wedded local lass Anne Harrison at nearby Skelton Church. They did well together as landlord and landlady of the Ship Inn at the time England was at war with Napoleonic France.

One cave led into a large house at Boulby to the north, just inland above Staithes, discovered only when a mine manager was appointed for nearby Grinkle Mine in the late 19th Century. He opened a trap door in the floor, followed a tunnel down into the nearby cliffs and came out on a beach near Staithes at low tide. Very handy!

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Comments 6 comments

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 4 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Interesting Alan. Thanks for additional info not known


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Any time, Ethel (by the way Ethel comes from Aethel, meaning 'noble', as in Aethelstan). I'll dig around in my 'almanac' to see what else I can churn up in the mud of local knowledge.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Were you in the Navy Alan??

I almost joined out of high school. I honestly wish that I had. I also think boat maintenance would be right up my ally. Oh the things I wish my life was...


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

No, we just have a strong connection with the sea in Yorkshire - it's all that Norse blood swirling around in my veins!

My uncle kept trying to persuade me to go for a merchant navy apprenticeship but my maths wasn't up to it. He'd been in the Royal Navy in WWII. I wanted to join the RAF Young Entrants on the catering side but my Mum didn't want me in uniform (I'm surprised she even let me join the Scouts on that score)! She was frightened I might get drawn into a shooting war.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

My Mom talked me out of the Navy too!!!!!!!

I've got an uncle who was an army cook - but he became an electrician.

I really enjoy cooking - but my brother is a very sought after pro in Texas kitchens.

http://www.stanleyspitbbq.com/ - is his current place.

I've a wealthy uncle who is an avid sail boater...wish I could get in on that!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

I don't suppose your uncle would mind if you elbowed your way in, would he, if you showed enough interest? I shall pry into your brother's kitchen - hopefully he's not too much like Gordon Ramsay with his chopper!

*I've just paid a visit. bit of a celebrity, your Stanley (that was my Grandad's and Dad's middle name) is a bit of a celebrity, eh? [Like the picture of Nicole Scherzinger under the Google spot!]

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