Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/King, James (1750-1784)

KING, JAMES (1750–1784), captain in the navy, second son of James King, curate of Clitheroe, Lancashire, and afterwards dean of Raphoe, was born at Clitheroe in 1750. Dr. Walker King, bishop of Rochester, was his younger brother. At the age of twelve he entered the navy under the patronage of his kinsman, Captain William Norton, brother of the first Lord Grantley, and at that time in command of the Africa guardship. He afterwards served under Captain Palliser on the Newfoundland station, where he must have had some acquaintance with Cook, who was then surveying that coast [see Cook, James]; and he was in the Alarm with Captain Jervis, in the Mediterranean. He was promoted to be lieutenant in January 1771. In 1774 he spent some time in Paris, devoting himself principally to scientific study, and on his return settled at Oxford to be with his brother Walker, then a fellow of Corpus Christi College. Here he made the acquaintance of Dr. Thomas Hornsby [q. v.], who in 1776 recommended him as a competent astronomer to accompany Cook's third voyage. He was accordingly appointed to the Resolution as second lieutenant. At the time of Cook's death, 14 Feb. 1779, King was on shore, apparently taking sights. He had with him only a few men, but was reinforced by some of a boat's crew who had been rowing off the mouth of the bay before the disturbance with the natives began. This brought the number of the party up to twenty-four, and fortifying themselves in a neighbouring burial-place, they succeeded in repelling the attack of the natives, till they were relieved, two hours afterwards, by the ships' boats (Gilbert's Journal, quoted in Besant, Captain Cook, pp. 162–3). On the death of Captain Charles Clerke [q. v.], 22 Aug. 1779, King succeeded to the command of the Discovery, and on arriving in England was advanced to post-rank, 3 Oct. 1780. He was then appointed to the Crocodile frigate, attached to the Channel fleet, and towards the end of 1781 was moved to the Resistance of 40 guns, in which he went out to the West Indies in charge of a convoy of five hundred merchant ships, which he succeeded in conducting safely to their destination; but the intense anxiety of the duty is said to have turned his hair grey. His constitution was never strong, and he came back to England in an advanced decline. It was under this disadvantage that he assisted in preparing Cook's journal of the third voyage for the press, and wrote the narrative of its conclusion, which formed the third volume. In 1783 the state of his health compelled him to go to Nice, and he died there in October 1784. He was buried at Nice, but there is a tablet to his memory in Clitheroe Church. King's ‘Astronomical Observations’ were published by order of the board of longitude in 1782 [see Bayly, William], and procured his election as F.R.S. The narrative of the voyage (3 vols. 4to, and atlas in fol.) was issued in 1784.

[Alice King's A Cluster of Lives, p. 137; Espinasse's Lancashire Worthies, 2nd ser. p. 195; Baines's History of Lancashire (edit. of 1836), iii. 218; Correspondence with Dr. John Douglas [q. v.] (afterwards bishop of Salisbury), 1780–4, in Egerton MS. 2180; and his own narrative already referred to.]

J. K. L.