THERE’S a brass plaque at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School dedicated to the life of former pupil Captain James King which acquires special poignancy with each year that passes for Ribble Valley author and historian Steve Ragnall.
He has just penned a fascinating book about Clitheronian King, who was aboard HMS Resolution as a lieutenant with England’s most celebrated navigator, Captain Cook, on his fatal Pacific voyage in 1779.
“I was always fascinated by James King, how he had travelled from this little market town in the Ribble Valley to the ends of the earth,” said Steve, who himself attended Clitheroe Grammar School.
“He is arguably one of Clitheroe’s most famous sons, a true pioneer, yet very few people in the town seem to know much about him. I hope my book can change that perception because he was a remarkable man.”
Born in Clitheroe in 1750, the second son of the local vicar, King joined the Royal Navy as a 12-year-old midshipman.
“James was born at a house on King Street in Clitheroe, on the site of what is now the Yorkshire Bank. The street was subsequently named after the King family, but James never returned to the town.
“Funnily enough, I worked at the bank and over the years I’ve followed in King’s footsteps across the world, going to South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and to Nice in France where he is buried.
“It has become my life’s mission, finding out as much as I can about King, who is probably Clitheroe’s most famous son.”
King set sail with Cook in 1776 and after suffering the perils of the Southern Ocean, encounters with cannibals and near kidnap, they finally reached the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii.
Then, after an unbelievable welcome from thousands of natives who hailed Cook as a god and believed James King to be his son, the visit ended in the tragedy of Cook’s death on the shores of the South Pacific island.
“James King was on the deck of HMS Resolution when two Hawaiian priests rowed out to the ship, called out for him, and gave him a parcel wrapped in bark cloth,” said Raglan.
“James unwrapped it to reveal a gruesome sight, the thigh of Captain Cook, who had been killed in a fight.”
A brilliant mathematician and astronomer, when he returned to England four years later King was captain of the famous ship Discovery.
“James King fought alongside Horatio Nelson in the Caribbean and won the admiration of his crew, and at home he regularly had audiences with King George, so he was a very well known society figure.
“Sadly, he was only 34 when he died of consumption, but he will be remembered as Clitheroe’s naval hero.”
Raglan’s book, “Better Conceiv’d than Described: The Life and Times of Captain James King”, will be launched at The Grand in Clitheroe on December 5th at 7-30 p.m. with a free illustrated presentation by the author.