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Chris Scott Wilson                   Writer                                             

surveyed, there were over 300 miles of waterway to negotiate. The first 200 miles were deep water, easily navigable, but the French had removed all the buoys and even some landmarks in the 50 miles or so below Quebec where the islands and shoals make the river extremely dangerous, especially when cluttered with British shipping as it would be. Some accounts report Hugh Palliser, by then commanding HMS Shrewsbury, put Cook’s name forward to chart the St Lawrence. More likely it was the Dutchman Samuel Holland who Cook had been assisting in correcting and updating charts of the Cape Breton area. Holland was respected by Wolfe for his work at Louisbourg, so was liable to gain his ear, but Palliser may well have added weight to the argument.

    When the time came, the charts would have to be produced quickly with the fleet pressing upstream behind, and taking soundings is a laborious process. A lead-weighted rope with a knot every six feet (i.e. a fathom) would be lowered into the water and the knots counted before it hit bottom. The lead weight usually had tallow in its hollow base which would collect a sample of the river or sea bed. (The famous writer Samuel Clemens adopted his pen name from his experiences as river boat pilot on the Mississippi listening to the deckhands taking soundings. If it was two fathoms, they would call “Mark Twain!”). Comprehensive soundings in harbours and rivers were usually  taken from small boats , so the task would take a cool head, as the French would be targeting anyone assisting the British army’s advance.

    On May 5th 1759 Pembroke was among a squadron of 13 ships which left Halifax to reconnoitre the approaches to the St Lawrence, but while Cook sailed the ship, her captain John Simcoe  was ill in his cabin and died within ten days of being on voyage. Cook entered his commander and friend’s death in the ship’s log and attended his burial at sea on 16th May before John Wheelock of HMS Squirrel was piped aboard to take possession of Pembroke. When the squadron reached Bic, rear-admiral Durell left a number of ships, but still prickly from Wolfe’s scathing comments about him not leaving Halifax harbour earlier, he continued upriver to where the Saguenay river joins the St Lawrence. From here to the actual city of Quebec the navigation was difficult and it was from here James Cook came into his own, leading the masters of various vessels in patient sounding and buoying the river in preparation  for  


...more Captain Cook, Man of the Sea

cook 62A french flute


A French navire de flute, light and fast, manned by a smaller crew  than similar sized merchant vessels, but capable of carrying more cargo and cheaper to build.

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