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Royal Naval Biography/Smith, Isaac

[Superannuated Rear-Admiral.]

This officer entered the naval service about the year 1766, and served for some time on board the Grenville, a brig commanded by Cook, the celebrated circumnavigator, who was at that period employed as marine surveyor of Newfoundland; and whom he afterwards accompanied in the Endeavour, on a voyage to the South Sea, for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus over the sun’s disk[1].

His commission as Post-Captain bears date Dec. 1, 1787; and he subsequently commanded the Perseverance of 36 guns, in which ship he served for several years on the East India station, to which he had proceeded with Commodore Cornwallis in 1789.

At the promotion of Flag-Officers in 1807, Captain Smith, who was at that time severely afflicted with the hepatitis, obtained the superannuation of a Rear-Admiral. He resides, if we mistake not, with the widow of his lamented friend Captain Cook, at Merton Abbey, Surrey.

  1. The voyages of Captain Cook must be so familiar to the generality of our readers, that a very slight account of the one alluded to above may suffice; and indeed it would be inconsistent with the nature of this work to enter into a detail which must exceed all moderate limits. It having been calculated by astronomers that a transit of Venus over the sun’s disk would happen in 1769, and that the best place for observing it would be in some part of the South Sea, the Royal Society judging this a matter of great consequence in astronomy, addressed a memorial to the King on the subject, entreating that a vessel might be ordered at the expence of Government, for the conveyance of suitable persons to observe the transit. To this memorial a favourable answer was returned, and the Endeavour, a bark of 370 tons, was purchased into the service for the voyage. This vessel, commanded by Lieutenant James Cook, and having onboard Mr. Green of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, Mr. Banks (the late President of the Royal Society), and Dr. Solander, a Swedish gentleman, who had made much proficiency in every branch of natural history under the instructions of the celebrated Linnaeus, sailed from Plymouth Sound on the 26th Aug. 1768, and arrived in Matavia Bay, Otaheite, April 13, 1769. On the 3d of June, the expected transit was observed with great advantage. A particular account of this great astronomical event may be seen in the sixty-first volume of the Philosophical Transactions. Lieutenant Cook remained at Otaheite until the 13th July, and then went in search of several islands which he discovered. He afterwards proceeded to the inhospitable coasts of New Zealand, and on the 10th Oct. 1770, arrived at Batavia, with a vessel almost worn out, and a crew much fatigued and very sickly. The repairs of the ship obliged him to continue at this unhealthy place until the 27th Dec., in which time he lost many of his seamen, and more on the passage to the Cape of Good Hope, which place he reached on the 15th March, 1771. From the Cape our navigator sailed to St. Helena, where he arrived on the 1st May, and staid till the 4th to refresh. On the 12th June he anchored in the Downs, after an absence of nearly three years, in which time he had experienced every dander incident to a voyage of such length, displaying on all occasions a mind that was equal to every perilous enterprise, and to the boldest and most successful efforts of navigation and discovery.