Sailor Doyle and the voyages of James Cook

Faithlegg Graveyard always raises mixed emotions in me.  I still find it hard to read my brothers headstone for example, without being carried back in time to the afternoon he drowned. Then I look at “Big Patsy” Doherty’s headstone, with its carving of the “Portlairge” the treasured dredger of Waterford, and can’t help smiling with the memory of fishing yarns and tall tales.  But then there are others such as the one I will write about today, that are intriguing, historic, but rarely visited, much less prayed over but meriting a pause nonetheless.

Beside the old church is a family grave, part of which is to mark a seaman named Doyle.  What makes it intriguing is that it records that he sailed around the world with none other than Captain James Cook and was present at his death at Hawaii.

The actual stone (pictured above) records that; This stone was erected by | MARY DINN of Passage | as a mark of her burial ground and in memory | of her father NICHOLAS, her mother HONORA, her | brother MARTIN, her sisters and | particularly of her brother WILLIAM DINN | alias DOYLE, who sailed round the Globe | with Captr COOK, and was present at the death | of that great circumnavigator at Owhyhee. | and who died respected and regretted at Stoke | near Devonport in England, in June 1840 |having spent a long life as a Warrant Officer | in the Services of his Country. | “May they Rest in Peace. Amen”.

James Cook was born in 1728 to a farm hand and apprenticed himself to a coal merchant in Whitby to learn his trade as a mariner.  In 1755, after nine years at Whitby, he left and joined the Royal Navy and within two years was appointed Ships Master, in charge of navigation.  He excelled at this and also developed a particular skill in map making, something of immense value to the navy and the empire builders at the time.

Captain Cook

In 1769 he departed for his first and probably his most successful voyage on HMS Endevour to chart the southern seas and it was a voyage that would see him “discover” New Zealand and Australia and claim them for Great Britain.  Discover is of course a disputed term now, after all Polynesian explores had previously settled New Zealand, and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia had lived happily for thousands of years before.

He returned home in 1771 and received a heroes welcome.  At that stage he had remapped almost 1/3 of the known world.  (Worth remembering however he had the assistance of a Tahitian priest and navigator) He was also renowned as he had not lost a single man to the affliction of scurvy – caused from poor diet and lack of vitamin C – which was more common a reason for sailors to die on long voyages than accidents, drownings or other misadventures which probably include keelhauling!

Such was his success, and enthusiasm, he was dispatched in 1772 to the south seas again, this time to try discover the great southern continent – which to the seekers of new lands and opportunities for expansion turned out to be a great disappointment – Antarctica.

Sketch of the three voyage routes

His final voyage departed in 1776 with two ships; HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.  One of the other officers on the trip was a chap named William Bligh – who would later become infamous in his own right, if for very different reasons.  This voyage was to discover the North West Passage, a fabled route to the China tea plantations over North America and Canada.  The trip seems to have been a disaster from he outset, with Cook becoming more erratic and less tolerant which probably led to his death.

Arriving in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1779 they were initially treated as guests.  Once provisioned they departed but returned a few days later to repair a broken mast.  This time the islanders were lees hospitable.  Apparently the cause of his death is subject to intense academic debate, but he was essentially hacked to death after he and a party of ships marines went ashore with guns to take a king of the tribe hostage.

Of Doyle, I could find little enough except for his his epitaph, in Faithlegg.  I could not find him on any crew lists for the trips.  But then again these recorded the officers, and gentlemen who traveled, not the ordinary seamen.  Each ship would have had a compliment of at least 100.  If you want to look for yourself here’s the link.

Michael O Sullivan of the Waterford History Group has previously sent me on information about Faithlegg Graveyard amongst which is a mention of Doyle.  “Resolution muster on Cook’s Third Voyage”, a WILLIAM DOYLE (138) can be found listed. He joined 16 May 1776, served as AB Boatswain’s Mate from 28 May 1776, born Waterford 1756.”

From reading his epitaph it could be speculated that he had been on more than one journey.  Indeed many sailors did sign up time and again to serve under Cook, such was the respect he appears to have been held in.   Doyle was 20 when he joined the last voyage based on the info above.  He would certainly have been old enough to have made the second voyage also.

Why is he mentioned in Faithlegg Graveyard.  Again, just speculation but Mary Dinn lived in Passage.  Were she a Passage woman I would assume she would be buried there.  More likely a Cheekpoint or Faithlegg woman in the past who returned to a family grave to be buried.  The record suggests that William Doyle was born in Waterford.  But as I have often found and recorded here, in the past the word Waterford was used to record all manner of event in relation to the harbour area. Just as likely then that William was also born in the area.

The third great voyage of Cook may have ended in death and failure for the man, but both ships returned to Britain in 1780 and no doubt warrant officer Doyle continued to have many more adventures before the mast.  Spare a thought for the man, and maybe even a visit, for the sailor lying in the graveyard who in his own small way contributed to a greater understanding of the world.

Many thanks to Michael O Sullivan of the Waterford History Group for assistance with this piece.


18 Replies to “Sailor Doyle and the voyages of James Cook”

    1. Thanks Brian, certainly was an interesting career choice for the man. Always wondered had he been press ganged into service

  1. Your a mind of information Andrew, I’ve never been to the graveyard but must some day for a stroll around it, thanks again for that nice snippet.

  2. As always Andrew, interesting details which are so important to the maritime history of the area. It’s great for me to pick up things that I would not be bothered with as a young lad. I always watch out for your blogs. I’m like a sieve for all I’m learning from you. Thanks Andrew.

  3. Great piece of History Andrew, very interesting and to know that you have such knowledge thank you for sharing…

  4. Great story and well researched. Sadly it’s usually the men before the mast that are forgotten. But not in this case Well done.

    1. Thanks Jack, I have tried without success to get anything further on him I’m afraid…but shur there’s time yet

  5. You never know how a snippet of information will turn out. A hint no matter how small can become a treasure and lead to a fountain of information. Doyle would have had his birth registered in the City and so would have said he was from Waterford, many people who live in the county say they are from Waterford. The villages of Checkpoint, Passage and Dunmore have a long tradition in international seafaring so such a story of Doyle is not surprising but it is interesting. He made a good choice in his ship and captain, Cook, was fortunate not to have sailed with Bligh. From what I have read Bligh was maligned by the film industry, poetic licence was taken for the sake of a good stort. Noel Purcell, a carpenter by trade, got the part as ships carpenter in the film, Mutiny on the Bounty. On his visits to Waterford, he was a regular visitor to my father and mother’s pub in Arundel Square. He would put his arms around Mum and say ” Come here me auld sagusha”. He revealed in the well deserved fame of that role in the film, as did my parents at having a filmstrip in the bar.

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