Guide to the Journal of David Samwell (as filmed by the AJCP)



National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Created: 2018

Collection Summary

Samwell, David
Journal of David Samwell (as filmed by the AJCP)
Date Range
1772 - 1779
Collection Number
1 item
Language of Materials
Australian Joint Copying Project
The Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) online portal was created with the assistance of the Australian Public Service Modernisation Fund, 2017-2020. The National Library of Australia gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the other foundation AJCP partners, the State Library of New South Wales and The National Archives of the UK, and all other organisations which supported the work of the AJCP, the world's most extensive collaborative copying project, operating from 1948 to 1997.


Scope and Contents

The journal of the surgeon David Samwell, kept on the second Pacific voyage of H.M.S. Resolution in 1776-1779.

Includes Volume I and II of Capt. C. Clerke's logbooks kept on board the H.M.S. Resolution.

Conditions Governing Access

Available for Access.

Conditions Governing Use

Readers wishing to publish or reproduce documents should seek permission, in the first instance, from the British Library. For more information visit: How I use the images I order?-The British Library [].

Preferred Citation

Acknowledgement of use of this material should refer to the location of the original material and to the Australian Joint Copying Project.

Items from this collection should include references to the location of the original material and to the AJCP nla.obj number, which serves as the online identifier for the digital copy.

Example: M Series. Journal of Capt. James Cook, 18 February-23 September 1770, British Library Add. MS 27885 (AJCP ref:

Archival History

Filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, 1982 (AJCP Reel:M1583). Original microfilm digitised as part of the NLA AJCP Online Delivery Project, 2017-2020.

Existence and Location of Originals

British Library, 96 Euston Road, London. Collection reference: Egerton MS 2591. For more information see David Samwell at the British Library (

Existence and Location of Copies

The original AJCP microfilm of the records filmed from this collection is available at the [] as well as other institutions holding AJCP microfilm. A digitised version of is available at the British Library (

The text was reproduced in J.C. Beaglehole. The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery, vol. 5 (Cambridge, Hakluyt Society, 1967), pp 989-1295.

Finding Aid Note

This finding aid is a revised online version of the original finding aid prepared by the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), published by the National Library of Australia in 2018. The original AJCP finding aids were unpublished typescripts or photocopies available from libraries that held copies of the original microfilm.

Dates used in this finding aid refer to the date range of the records selected for filming rather than to the date range of the Series or Files.


Adventure, HMS (ship); Cook, James, Capt.; Exploration: maritime; Resolution, HMS (ship); Royal Navy ships: surgeons; Royal Navy: exploration and surveys; Royal Navy: voyages; Samwell, David


Originally cited in Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook. Part 8: Miscellaneous (M) Series. Third Edition, published 1998. Entry 404, p. 156.

Biographical / Historical

David Samwell (1751-1798) was born in Nantglyn in north Wales, where his father was the vicar. He was educated at one of the local grammar schools, probably Ruthin. In 1775 he gained his certificate as a second mate from the Court of Examiners at the Royal College of Surgeons. He was apprenticed to John Crosier, who had been surgeon on HMS Dolphin on its Pacific voyage in 1764-1766. In 1776 Crosier secured Samwell's appointment as surgeon's mate on HMS Resolution, commanded by James Cook. Following the death of the Surgeon William Anderson in August 1778, Cook promoted Samwell to the position of surgeon on HMS Discovery, commanded by Charles Clerke. Both Cook and Clerke died in 1779 and Lieutenant James King commanded HMS Discovery on the return voyage to England in 1780.

Samwell served under King on HMS Crocodile in 1780-1781 and later on HMS Kite. He retired on half-pay in 1786 and established a medical practice in London. He had provided some assistance to King on the publication of the official account of Cook's third voyage. In 1786, encouraged by Andrew Kippis, he published A narrative of the death of Captain James Cook, much of which was incorporated in the major biography published by Kippis in 1788. Samwell returned to sea in 1793 on the outbreak of war with France and served on HMS Marlborough and HMS Unicorn. In 1798 he was appointed as one of the surgeons to attend British prisoners-of-war in Paris, but he died in the same year.

Samwell was a leading figure in Welsh cultural activities in London. He was secretary and later vice-president of the Gwyneddigan Society, which had been founded in 1771 to read and discuss Welsh poetry and debate Welsh historical topics. He was also involved in the revival of eisteddfods. He published occasional poems in English and Welsh and became a friend of Anna Seward, the author of Elegy on Captain Cook (1780).

Reference: Martin Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Thomas and Jennifer Newell, eds. The death of Captain Cook and other writings by David Samwell (Cardiff, 2007).

Item Descriptions

Journal of David Samwell entitled 'Some account of a voyage to the South Seas', 1772 - 1779 (File Egerton MS 2591)

The journal of David Samwell is entitled 'Some account of a voyage to South Seas in 1776 – 1777 -1778'. This is slightly inaccurate as the last entry is dated 29 November 1779, when HMS Discovery was entering the Canton River on the journey back to England.

The journal describes the voyage of HMS Resolution, departing from Portsmouth (13 July 1776) and visiting Kerguelen Island (p. 5), Adventure Bay, Van Diemen's Land (p. 7), Charlotte Sound, New Zealand (p. 10), Nomuka (p. 29), Tongatapu and the Friendly Islands (p. 41), Tahiti (p. 67), the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii, p. 92), Nootka Sound (Canada, p. 100), Prince William Sound (Alaska) and the Aleutian coast. Following Samwell's transfer to HMS Discovery in August 1778, the journal describes the voyage to the Bering Sea, Unalaska Island, the Sandwich Islands (pp. 152-241), Kamtschatka (pp. 245-62), the coast of Japan (p. 288) and the Canton River (p. 296).

The first part of the volume is a summary account rather than a journal, with the voyage from England to Kerguelen covered in a single page. After about twenty or so pages it becomes a journal, with daily entries. There are, however, some gaps. For instance, there are no entries for 14-22 October 1777, 9-23 December 1777 or 1-17 January 1778. In general, when the ships are at sea the entries are extremely succinct, giving the course, wind, weather and position (eg. February – March 1778) or just the weather and position (eg. March – April 1779).

The bulk of the journal describes the lands and islands visited by the ships and the relations between the British seamen and the Indigenous peoples of those lands. There are detailed descriptions of topography, flora and fauna, villages, houses, canoes, crops, fishing, weapons, military exercises, artefacts, the social organisation of places visited, religions, customs, clothing, and the physical appearance of the people, including tattoos and other decorations. Samwell deals at length with trading for provisions, meetings with kings and chiefs, feasts, dances, music, marriage and burial ceremonies, and sexual relations between European seamen and Indigenous peoples. He also refers to conflict between seamen and Maoris (p. 14), Cook's skill in negotiating with local leaders, Omai's dealings with islanders, the parting with Omai at Tahiti (p. 84), and meetings with Russian officials, traders and priests at Kamtschatka. The second visit to the Sandwich Islands (November 1778 – March 1779) and the death of Cook (p. 201) are covered in great detail. There are also word lists for the Friendly Islands (pp. 62-63), Nootka Sound (p. 112), Unalaska (pp. 149-50), Hawaii (pp. 240-41) and Kamtschatka (pp. 259-60).

The volume also contains an engraved portrait of Samwell, a silhouette, possibly of Samwell, and a few prints of indigenous peoples, including a man and woman of Prince William Sound. At the end of the volume is a copy of Samwell's pamphlet, A narrative of the death of Captain James Cook to which are added some particulars concerning his life and character and observations respecting the introduction of the venereal diseases into the Sandwich Islands (London, 1781), and a printed poem Ode for the year 1790 as it was intended to have been rehearsed this day at St James's.

Includes Volume I and II of Capt. C. Clerke's logbooks kept on board the H.M.S. Resolution (1772-1774).