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April - June 1771

 

Civil Time, Ship’s Time and the Effects of Illness

 

When Joseph Banks recorded events in his journal, he used civil time, meaning that each day begins at midnight.  So 10 am comes before 2 pm on the same day.  However, in the eighteenth century, naval officers used nautical or ship’s time rather than civil time.  Ship’s time means that each day begins at noon.  So 2 pm comes before 10 am.  Hence, Captain Cook’s journal entries begin with the events of the afternoon, followed by midnight, followed by those of the morning, and end with noon.

 

In this article I shall use civil time, and assume that Cook’s entries were dated correctly. 

 

Banks was very ill at Batavia, and for many weeks afterwards, so it is likely that some of his entries were written up later with dates supplied rather vaguely from memory.  On 29 April, 1771, he apologised for “my irregular journal”.  Where neces­sary, I have adjusted the dates of Banks’s entries to match those of Cook’s.

 

Cape Town, Table Bay

 

On 2 April, 1771, James Cook, in Endeavour, wrote “Anchor’d here two Dutch Ships from Batavia, and a third at Anchor under Penguin Island in distress put on shore some [of her] sick people”.  Penguin Island is more commonly known as Robben Island.  It lies at the entrance to the anchorage at Table Bay. 

 

According to Joseph Banks, one of Endeavour’s men “Theodosio seaman died very suddenly; he had enjoyd an uninterrupted state of Good health during all our times of sickness”.  The seaman’s name appears in the muster as John Dozey (of Brazil).  It seems possible that “Dozey” was an abbreviation of the seaman’s full name. 

 

The next day John Lorrain, seaman, died.  Neither Cook nor Banks mention his death in their journals. 

 

Whilst at Cape Town, Cook had some of his men “a shore on liberty to refresh”.  The rest were “re­pairing Sails and overhauling the Rigging... painting the Ship and Paying her sides”.  Paying meant seal­ing the seams with pitch or tar to prevent leakage.

 

On 8 April, Cook noted the arrival of “the Europa an English East Indiaman from Bengall... she saluted us with 11 Guns which compliment we return’d”.  Europa had been launched in 1766.  Her captain was Henry Hinde Pelly. 

 

Joseph Banks was occupied with the news from “the four French vessels which we found in this Harbour”, when Endeavour arrived in Table Bay.  They spoke of “Mr De Bougainville [who] pleasd with the Bea[u]ty of the Ladies of Otahite gave that Island the Name of Cypre [Cythere].  In his return home he touchd at Isle de France where the Person who went out with him in the character of Natural Historian [Philibert Commerson] was left and still remains.  Otorroo [Ahutoru] the Indian whoom he brought from thence was known on board his ship by the name of Tootavee, a plain corruption of Bougainville, with whoom it may be suppos’d he meant to change names according to his Custom.  This man is now at L’Isle de France [having been taken there by Marion du Fresne], from whence a large ship is very soon to Sail and carry him back to his own countrey where she is to make a settlement, in doing which she must Necessarily follow the Tract of Abel Jansen Tasman and consequently if she does not discover Cooks Streights, which in all probability she will do, must make several discoveries on the Coast of New Zealand”.

 

On 11 April, Cook “Took on board 11 of our People from Sick quarters”, and the next day “Employ’d geting on board various Articles of Provisions from the Shore”.  Two days later, he noted the arrival of “a Dutch Ship from Holland; she saild about 3 Months ago in company with two more, the news brought by this Ship is that a War was Dayly expected between England and Spain”.

 

Also that day, Cook “Took leave of the Governor intending to Sail to morrow”. 

 

The governor of the Dutch Cape Colony was Ryk Tulbagh.  His first name is spelt Rijk in Dutch.  He had arrived at the Cape in 1716, becoming governor on 27 February, 1751, a post he held until his death on 11 August, 1771.  He wrote Latin and French, and enjoyed the company of several foreigners who visited the Cape during his governorship, including Mason and Dixon 1761.  Captain Samuel Wallis in Dolphin visited in early 1768 on his way home to England.  Captain Philip Carteret in Swallow was there in late 1768 on his way home.  Bougainville in Boudeuse and Etoile arrived on 9 January 1769, three days after Carteret had left. 

 

Tulbagh corresponded with several botanists, including Carl Linnaeus, to whom he sent over 200 specimens of local plants.  Although Banks does not record meeting Tulbagh, he might have done.  He did write in his journal “The Town is governd by a Governor and Council who are quite independent of Batavia.  The Present Governor is Ryck Tulback.  He is very old and has long enjoyd his present station with a most universal good Character, which is easily explaind in this manner: he is unmarried and has no connections which may make him wish to make more money than his Salary furnishes him with, consequently not entering into trade he interferes with no man, and not wishing to be bribd does always to the best of his abilities strict justice on all occasions”.

 

Also on 13 April, Cook “got all the sick on board many of whome was yet in a very bad state of hilth: three died here but this loss was made up by the oppertunity we had of compleating our full Compliment.  Six people had appeared on the muster on 14 March as able seamen (ABs).  Four men who had joined at Batavia as supernumeries became ABs in April before Endeavour sailed.  Banks wrote “Diseases brought here from Europe are said to be almost immediately cur’d but those of the Indies not so easily, which latter we ourselves experiencd, our sick recovering very little for the first fortnight and after that very slowly, so that after a months stay several of them were far from recruited”.

 

It is likely that Banks explored Cape Town, as he describes it, and the Dutch East India Company’s garden.  However, when he described the country­side he wrote that he was “obligd to depend intirely upon hearsay, not having had an opportunity of making even one excursion owing in great measure to Dr Solanders illness”.  

 

The published version of Sydney Parkinson’s journal includes a short description of Endeavour’s voyage after Parkinson’s death.  Whoever wrote it knew that “Mr. Banks spared neither time nor expence in collecting of plants, insects, skins of wild beasts, and other curious animals; and employed a number of people to assist him, some of whom he sent up a long way into the country for plants.  Lieutenant [John] Gore, with only one attendant... made an excursion, out of curiosity... to the top of the table-hill... and brought some curious plants, in flower, which he presented to Mr. Banks, to whom they were very acceptable”.

 

On 14 April, 1771, James Cook wrote “In the Morning unmoor’d and got ready for sailing... took the advantage of a breeze of wind from the WSW, wiegh’d and stood out of the Bay.  Saluted with 13 Guns which compliment was returnd both by the Castle and Dutch Commodore, the Europa saluted us as we pass’d her, which we returnd, this Ship was to have saild with or before us, but not likeing the oppertunity she lay fast.  At 5 in the Evening Anchor’d under Penguin or Robin Island”. 

 

Paying for Provisions

 

We get an idea of how it was possible for a captain in the British Admiralty to purchase provisions at a Dutch colony from a letter Cook wrote to the Victualling Board on 14 April.  “I have this day drawn upon you in favour of Mr Pieter Coningh at Amsterdam or order for the sum of 600 Rix dollars and likewise in favour of Messrs Alexr or Pieter Coel at Delfe or order for the sum of 321 Rix Dollars at 48 Stivers per Rix Dollar, together with the usual Exchange at 8 p[er] Cent, which sums I have received of Mr Adriaan Van Schoor and laid out in purchasing provisions for the use of His Majesty’s Endeavour under my command and which I hope will meet with your approbation”.  48 Stivers was equal to one Rix Dollar.  One and a half Rix Dollars was equal to one Ducatoon.  The provisions included 10000 lb of bread, 1310 lb of fresh beef, 600 lb of mutton, 5640 lb of best beef for salting, 24 bushels of salt, 35 bushels of wheat.  The total cost of 921 Rix Dollars also included salting and packing, and boat hire for “putting onboard the provisions & 30 Tons of Water”.

 

Robben Island

 

The next day Endeavour “could not sail... in the Morning for want of wind I sent a boat to the Island for a few trifling articles we had forgot to take in at the Cape, but the people ashore would not permit her to land so that she return’d as she went and I gave my self no farther trouble about it.  Mr Banks who was in the Boat was of opinion that it was owing to a mistake made respecting the rank of the officer commanding the boat; be this as it may it seems probable that the Dutch do not admit of strangers landing upon this Island least they should carry off some of those people which for certain crimes they banish here for life, as we were told was done by a Dainish Ship a few years ago; but they might have a better reason for refuseing our boat to land, for it is not improbable but what there might be some English Seamen upon this Island whome they had sent from the Cape while we lay there, well knowing that if they came in my way I should take them on board, and this I am told is frequently done when any of His Majestys Ships are in the Bay, for it is well known that the Dutch East India Ships are mostly man’d by foreigners”. 

 

Banks explained how the island got its name: “after the Seals that formerly usd to frequent it, Calld in Dutch Robben”.

 

That afternoon, Cook “At 3 Wieghd with a light breeze at SE and put to Sea.  At 4 Departed this Life Mr Robt Molineux Master, a young man of good parts but had unfortunately given himself up to extravecancy and intemperance which brought on disorders that put a pirod to his life”.  Richard Pickersgill, Master’s Mate, was appointed in his place.

 

The following day, Banks noted “In the Course of this day we took our final leave of the table land, having a pleasant breeze and fair”.

 

St Helena

 

Endeavour sailed for the island of St Helena, which at that time was administered by the East India Company. 

 

For the next fortnight, Endeavour sailed north-west, with mainly gentle breezes and clear weather.  From 23 to 26 April, her men were “Employ’d repairing Boats and Sails, and exerciseing the Great Guns and Small Arms”, following the warnings of possible war Cook received at Cape Town.  Banks did not write every day, but on 25 April, he noted “Crossd the tropick this day”, i.e., the Tropic of Capricorn.  They had last crossed this Tropic in the Atlantic on 8 December, 1768. 

 

Four days later, he wrote “we crossd our first meridian and Compleated the Circumnavigation of the Globe”, they had crossed the longitude of Green­wich and sailed over 360 degrees of longitude. 

 

On 1 May, “At 6 in the AM”, Cook “Saw the Island of St Helena...  At Noon Anchord in the Road before James Fort in 24 fathom water.  Found riding here His Majestys Ship Portland, Swallow Sloop and 12 sail of Indiamen.  At our first seeing this fleet in the Road we took it for granted that it was a war, but in this we were soon agreeably deceived.  The Europa Indiaman Anchor’d here a little before us, she [had] saild from the Cape two days after us”. 

 

Portland was built in Sheerness Dockyard (Master Shipbuilders William Gray and Edward Hunt), and launched on 11 April, 1770.  She was a Fourth Rate Ship, with 50 guns on two decks.  Her first captain was John Elliot, who had been promoted to Post-Captain on 5 April, 1757.  Portland had sailed on 9 January, 1771, to meet a fleet of incoming East India ships. 

 

Swallow was built in Deptford Dockyard (Master Shipbuilder Adam Hayes), and launched on 30 December, 1769.  She was a Sloop, with 14 guns.  Her first captain was James Shirley, who had been promoted to Commander on 25 May, 1768.  Swallow sailed for the East Indies on 1 February, 1771.  This vessel should not be confused with Philip Carteret’s Swallow, in which he sailed round the world, discovering Pitcairn Island.  On her first voyage she had left The Downs on 8 March, 1767, sailing for the East Indies.  On her way home she called in at St Helena on 14 April, 1768, arriving at Blackwall on 11 July.  On her second voyage, she left Torbay on 31 December, 1769, sailing for Bengal.  On her way home she called in at the Cape on 8 April, 1771, and St Helena on 1 May.  She arrived at The Downs on 9 July.

 

Banks explained why the ships were there.  Portland had been “sent out to convoy home the India men on account of the likeleyhood of a breach with Spain”, leading to war. 

 

The next day, Banks wrote, “As the fleet was to sail immediately and our ship to accompany it, it became necessary to make as much of a short time as possible, so this whole day was employd in riding about the Island, in the course of which we made very nearly the Compleat Circuit of it visiting all the most remarkable places that we had been told of”.  The following day he spent “in Botanizing on the Ridge where the Cabbage trees grow, visiting Cuckolds point and Dianas peak, the Highest land in the Island as settled by the Observations of Mr Maskelyne, who was sent out to this Island by the Royal Society for the Purpose of Observing the transit of Venus in the Year [1761]”.  Cuckold’s Peak and Diana’s Peak are the two highest points in the island. 

 

During his voyage to St Helena, Nevil Maskelyne had taken the opportunity to test a set of lunar tables calculated by the German Tobias Mayer.  Maskelyne was so impressed that, on his return, he published the British Mariner’s Guide, which included Mayer’s tables plus instructions and examples of how to use them.  He developed the Nautical Almanac, first published in 1766 with the data for 1767, and published yearly thereafter.  A copy was taken in Endeavour, and used for determining longitude. 

 

Since 1764, the Governor of St. Helena had been John Skottowe, the second son of Thomas Skottowe.  Thomas was the Lord of the Manor of Great Ayton, when Cook lived in the village, and employed Cook’s father at Aireyholme Farm.  Thomas also secured James Cook’s initial employment at Staithes in 1745.  We do not know whether James Cook knew John Skottowe when they both lived in Great Ayton.  We also do not know if they met whilst Endeavour was at St Helena.  There is no mention by Banks or Cook in their journals of such a meeting.  Cook does not even mention that he went ashore.  That information can be found in the ship’s log.  Upon arrival “the Fort Saluted us with 11 guns, We returned the like number, at 4 the Fort Saluted the Captain upon his landing with 11 Guns to which we returned the Like number”.

 

For the next two days Cook wrote very little, “recieved some few Officers stores from the Portland”, and “Employ’d repairing sails, over­hauling the Rigging &ca”.  Endeavour’s log tells us not much more.  “People employed in the Holds, Sailmakers repairing the Sails”. 

 

On 4 May, “At 6 In the AM the Portland made the Signal to unmoor”, wrote Cook, “and at Noon to wiegh at which time the Ships began to get under sail... At 1 PM weigh’d and Stood out of the Road in Company with the Portland and 12 Sail of Indiamen”. 

 

Cook omitted an incident recorded in Endeavour’s log.  “The Royal Captain English Indiaman in weighing her Anchor got foul of us and sprung the Ensign Staff”.  She had been launched in 1761. 

 

According to Banks they were “resolvd to steer homewards with all expedition in Order (if possible) to bring home the first news of our voyage, as we found that many Particulars of it has transpird and particularly that a copy of the Latitudes and Longitudes of most or all the principal places we had been at had been taken by the Captns Clerk from the Captns own Journals and Given or Sold to one of the India Captns”, meaning one of the captains of the East Indiamen ships.  “War we had no longer the least suspicion of: the India men being orderd to sail immediately without waiting for the few who were not yet arrivd was a sufficient proof that our freinds at home were not at all apprehensive of it”.

 

The next day Cook was able to record, “Sailing in Company with the fleet”.  However, a day later Banks was concerned.  “Pleasant breeze but our ship very far astern; she certainly sails worse than any one of the fleet yet as she keeps up with [them] at least in sight hope they will not get home much before us”.  A day later, he noted.  “Still kept company and today were abreast of the headmost ship.  Many flying fish were seen and some few Birds”. 

 

Once again, Cook “Exercized the people at Great Guns & Small Arms” in case they were needed.  He did the same again on 12 June. 

 

Ascension Island

 

On 10 May “At 6 in the AM”, Cook “saw the Island of Ascention bearing NNW distant 7 Leagues.  Made Signal to speak with the Portland and soon after Capt Elliot himself came on board to whome I dilivered a letter for the Admiralty and a box containing the Ships common Log books and some of the Officers Journals &ca.  I did this because it seem’d probable that the Portland would get home before [us] as we sail much heavier than any of the fleet”.  Remarkably, Portland got home only three days before Endeavour

 

Banks was a little annoyed.  “This day we saw the Island of Ascencion which is tolerably high Land; Our Captn however did not chuse to anchor unwilling to give the fleet so much start of him.  Those who have been ashore upon this Island say that it is little more than a heap of Cinders, the remains of a Volcano which burnt even since the discovery of the Indies.  Osbeck who was ashore upon it found only 5 species of plants but I am much inclind to beleive that there are others which escapd his notice, as he certainly was not on the side of the Island where the French land, in which place I have been informd is a pretty wide plain coverd with herbage among which grows Cactus Opuntia [prickly pear], a plant not seen by that gentleman”. 

 

Pehr Osbeck was a Swedish explorer, naturalist and apostle of Carl Linnaeus, who visited Ascension Island in 1752.  Daniel Solander possibly had with him a copy of Osbeck’s book Reise nach Ostindien und China published in 1765, which JR Forster translated into English and published in 1771. 

 

Sailing With the Fleet

 

Many of Cook’s journal entries were brief, as were those of Banks.  On 11 May, Cook wrote “Sailing in company with the fleet”, and Banks wrote “Saw Holothuria Physalis which our seamen call Portugese man of war for the first time since we left these seas in going out”, i.e. the Atlantic Ocean.

 

On 14 May, Cook “Observed meerly for the sake of Observing an Eclips of the Sun”.  Sadly, he could not share his findings with Charles Green, the astronomer, who had died in January.  The next day, Cook “brought another Fore Topsail to the Yard the Old one being quite wore out”. 

 

Banks “Caugh[t] a small Shark” on 16 May, and the next day, “Struck one bonito weighing near 20 pounds”.

 

By 18 May, they were still “Sailing in Company with the Fleet”.  The next day, Cook “Hoisted a boat out and sent on board the Houghton for the Surgeon Mr Carret in order to look at Mr Hicks who is so far gone in a Consumption that his Life is de[s]paired of”.  The East Indiaman Houghton had been launched in 1766, and had made several voyages.  Cook first saw her at Cape Town in March.  What Mr Carret thought about the state of the tuberculosis affecting Second Lieutenant Zachary Hickes was not recorded. 

 

On 21 May, Banks wrote “Squally with frequent calms, such weather as ships never fail to meet with in passing from one trade wind to the other: to make the most however of this disagreable weather we went on Board the Portland and spent the day with Captn Elliot”.

 

The next day, Cook had a very interesting time.  “In the Morning it was Calm and the Ships being near one a nother several of them had their boats out to tow”.  We observed the Portland carry out a long warp; I being desirous to see [the] Machine they made use of we hoisted out a boat and Mr Banks, Dr Solander and my self went on board her where we was shew’d it, it was made of Canvas in every respect like an Umbrello, its circumferance if extended to a circle was 24 feet; tho this was a small one of the sort yet Capt Elliot told me that it would hold as much as 150 Men could haul.  I was so well satisfied of the utillity of this Machine that I would not have delay’d a moment in having one made, had not our Forge been render’d useless by the Loss of some of its parts”.  Cook was so impressed by this device to pull along a ship that he applied to the Navy Board for two each for the Resolution and the Adventure on his Second Voyage. 

 

The following day, “About 9 oClock in the AM the Portland shortend Sail for the Sternmost Ships to come up as we emagined, this gave us an oppertunity to get a head of the fleet after which we made such Sail as was necessary to keep in company”.  Banks, the naturalist, wrote “Calms still continued.  Dind on board the Portland with Captn Elliot; while on board her saw a common house martin flying about the Ship”.

 

On 23 May, Banks noted, “During the day we were very much ahead of the Fleet, at night however they came up with us fast”.  Cook, the sailor, wrote much more.  “The fleet a Stern of us all this Day.  At Noon we shorten’d Sail for them to come up the headmost being about 2 Leagues off...  At 3 oClock in the PM find[ing] the fleet to come fast up with us we made all the Sail we could.  Soon after it became hazey and we lost sight of them untill near 6 when it cleared up a Little and we saw three Sail abreast of us, bearing East about 2 or 3 Miles distance, by this we saw that they not only kept a better wind but out saild us upon a wind. It became again hazey and we lost sight of them”.

 

Overnight, “notwithstanding we kept close upon a Wind alnight with as much sail out as we could bear there was not one sail in sight in the Morning”.  Banks also described the situation.  “In the night the wind settled at NE and in the morn to our great [surprize] we had no sight of the Fleet even from our mast heads so were obligd to jogg on by ourselves. A bird something like a gannet but darker was seen about the ship which settled upon the water and remaind there till out of sight”.

 

Last Death on the Voyage

 

On 25 May, Banks wrote nothing.  Cook noted, “About one oClock in the PM departed this life Lieutt Hicks and in the evening his body was commited to the Sea with the usual ceremonies; he died of a Consumption which he was not free from when we saild from England so that it may be truly said that he hath been dieing ever sence, tho he held out tollerable well untill we got to Batavia”.  Third Lieutenant John Gore automatically became Second Lieutenant.  Two days later, Cook promoted master’s mate Charles Clerke to Third Lieutenant, writing, “gave Mr Charles Clerk an order to Act as Lieutenant in the Room of Mr Hicks deceased, he being a young Man extremely well quallified for that station”. 

 

On 28 May, Banks wrote that there was a “Fresh trade [wind] which quickly releivd every body from the depression of spirits &c. which is the constant companions of the Damp Calms we have now passd through”.  However, the next day, “Trade very fresh indeed with a heavy sea, so that the Ship pitchd and tumbled very disagreably to us whoom a continu­ance of fine weather has made almost unfit for a Gale”.  The next day, Cook dealt with the damage caused.  “Fix’d a New Main Topmast Back Stay the old having broke Several times”. 

 

On 2 June Banks saw “some Gulph-weed [Sargas­sum seaweed] for the first time”.  The next day, he “saw more Gulph weed”.  In addition, he noted “This day passd under the Sun and were for the last time Ascii”.  The Latin word ascii or ascius means near the equator, so Banks means Endeavour had passed the Tropic of Cancer.

 

 Although the next day, the amount of “Gulph-Weed rather increasd”, the following day there was “Less Gulph weed”.  Fearing he might not come across any more, “we began to catch it by means of a pole with 6 large hooks fastned to its end.  Out of it we took Scyllaea pelagica, Medusa Porpita, Syngnathus pelagicus and Lophius pelagicus and Cancer minutus”.

 

By 7 June the seaweed was “in general laying in long lines upon the water of a very small breadth but extending in lengh as far as the eye could reach”.  Birds were also seen.  “Tropick birds... and one black shearwater”.  Five days later, “more weed than lately.  Quite calm so that I went out in the boat and took up many individuals of all the species mentiond before but nothing new”.  The next day, “Some Porpoises and Skipjacks were seen but very little weed”, and two days later “two turtle were seen”.  Most of Cook’s entries in his journal for this period described the weather. 

 

Ships in Sight

 

On 16 June, “At Day light in the Morning”, Cook “saw a Sail ahead which we came up and spoke with a little after 10 o Clock.  She proved [to be] a Portuguese Ship from Rio de Janeiro bound to Lisbon”.  The next day, Banks spotted “two Ships very far off”. 

 

On 18 June, “At 10 oClock in the AM”, Cook “Saw a Sail ahead which we soon came up with and sent a boat on board, she was a Schooner from Road Island [Rhode Island, America] out upon the Whale fishery—from her we learnt that all was peace in Europe and that the America disputes were made up, to Confirm this the Master said that the Coat on his back was made in Old England.  Soon after leaving this Vessel we spoke anothir from Boston and saw a third all out on the same account”.  Banks gave more detail.  “The vessel had by their own account been out 5 weeks and caught nothing; they had chasd a whale 60 Leagues into Fyall harbour into which they could not follow it as the Portugese suffer no Whaler to go into any of their Ports in the Western Islands [i.e., Fayal in the Azores].  They had they said no meat on board but livd upon what they could catch; they sold us readily 4 large Albacores saying that they could catch more.  As for American news King George they said had behavd very ill for some time but they had brought him to terms at last”.

 

On 20 June, Banks “Saw a large ship ahead which on our lowering our foretopsail hoisted a flag at her maintopmast head; she soon however made sail and left us”.  The next day, Cook “at 11 oClock AM Saw from the Mast head 13 Sail of Stout Ships which we took to be the East India fleet...  In the Evening had 14 Sail in sight, 13 upon our lee quarter and a Snow upon our lee bow.  In the night Split both Topgt Sails so much that they were obliged to be unbent to repair”.  The following morning “the Carpenter reported the Main Top mt [mast] to be sprung in the Cap which we supposed happen’d in the [previous] PM when both the weather backstays broke, our Rigging and Sails are now so bad that some thing or another is giving way every day.  At Noon had 13 Sail in Sight which are well assured are the India fleet and are all now upon our weather quarter...  In the Evening all the fleet were to wind ward of us”.  Unfortunately, the next “Morn not one [of the fleet] was to be seen”. 

 

For the rest of June, Cook filled his journal entries with comments about the weather, such as “moderate breezes... squally... fresh breeze... little wind... Moderate breezes & Clowdy weather... Fresh breezes with Showers of Rain... fresh gales & Squally with Showers of Rain... Gentle breezes & fair weather”.  Banks wrote nothing except on the last day of June, when he wrote “Both yesterday and today a few Shearwaters were seen; in the night many were about the ship crying very much”. 

 

Ian Boreham


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 9, volume 44, number 2 (2021).

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