JOSEPH GILBERT (1732-1821)


HMS Resolution

Joseph Gilbert (1732-1821)

In 1996 R T Gilbert of Cheltenham wrote to The Revd Brian Grellier with details regarding his family, this followed a visit to St James Church.  His great-great-great-great-grandfather John was once a churchwarden and was buried at Freiston in 1782.

John Gilbert’s son, Joseph, who, although not born in Freiston, had his home there for most of the first half of his long life; and was quite a distinguished seaman and maritime surveyor.

  • Joseph was born in Kirton, and was baptised in St Peter & St Paul’s Church on the 1st June 1732.  He was the youngest of the eight children of John & Elizabeth (nee Armstrong) Gilbert. He later moved to Freiston, where he was married to Frances Plant on the 16th November 1758, and they had four children, all baptised in St James’ Church, but he made the Royal Navy his career.

It is not known at what age he went to sea, but from 1764 to 1769 he was the master on HMS Guernsey (32 guns) surveying the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador (both provinces of Canada).  Gilbert Inlet and Gilbert River could be named after him!!

Joseph subsequently became master of the HMS Pearl (32 guns), which surveyed Plymouth Sound, and of the HMS Asia (64 guns), until he was selected by Captain James Cook to serve as master of the HMS Resolution on his second great Pacific voyage (1172 – 1775).

Cook thought highly of him both as a seaman and as a surveyor and draughtsman, paying tribute particularly to his judgement.  During the voyage Joseph produced numerous finely executed charts; many of them embellished with charming water-colour drawings and perspective views.  He was slightly wounded during the skirmish at Eromanga on 4th August 1774.

On 17 January 1773, HMS Resolution was the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle and crossed twice more on the voyage. The third crossing, on 3 February 1774, was the most southerly penetration, reaching latitude 71°10' South at longitude 106°54' West.   She returned to Britain in 1775 and was then paid off.

On his return to England, he was rewarded with the gift of Cook’s watch.
When his sea going days were over, Joseph took on the position of Master Attendant at Sheerness Dockyard, moved to Woolwich and then to Portsmouth where he served with the rank of Lieutenant from 1776 to 1791  From 1791 until 1802 his last post was as Master Attendant at Deptford.

Joseph retired in 1802 and lived in Hampshire with his unmarried daughter Frances (b 1764).  His eldest child George (1759 -1786) sailed with Cook on his third voyage and produced a journal, and Richard the second son (1767 – 1845) also entered the Navy.

Joseph is mentioned on a tablet to the local people with connections to Australia and the South Seas in St Botolph’s Church, Boston (the Stump).  The plaque is mounted on the north wall of the tower.