Clerke, Charles (DNB00)

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CLERKE, CHARLES (1741–1779), captain in the royal navy, circumnavigator, entered the navy about 1755, served continuously during the seven years' war, and was on board the Bellona when she captured the Courageux on 13 Aug. 1761. During the action Clerke was stationed in the mizen-top, and when the mizen-mast was shot away fell with it into the sea, happily, however, without any serious hurt. After the peace he was appointed midshipman of the Dolphin, and sailed with Commodore the Hon. John Byron [q. v.] in his voyage round the world (1764-6). On his return he communicated to the secretary of the Royal Society an account of the great height of the Patagonians, among whom he says they saw 'hardly a man less than eight feet; most of them were considerably more.' The paper was read before the society on 12 Feb. 1767, and published in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' lvii. 75. In 1768 he was appointed as master's mate to the Endeavour, with Captain Cook [see Cook, James (1728-1779)], and again sailed round the world in that expedition, 1768-71. He had been promoted during the voyage to the rank of lieutenant, and sailed as second lieutenant of the Resolution in Cook's second voyage round the world, 1772-5. On his return to England he was advanced to the rank of commander, and when Cook's third expedition was fitting out in 1776, Clerke was appointed to command the Discovery. On the death of Captain Cook on 14 Feb. 1779, Clerke succeeded to the vacant rank and the command of the expedition, which, however, he did not long enjoy, dying of a lingering consumption within little more than six months. During this short time he had given proofs not only of his zeal for the service in which he was engaged, but of his ability, energy, and devotion. He had taken the ship into high latitudes. The climate proved extremely trying to his fatal disease; but as his orders were to look for a north-west passage, he persisted until 'it was the opinion of every officer in both ships that it was impracticable, and that any farther attempts would not only be fruitless, but dangerous.' But it was then too late. He died in Avatcha Bay on 22 Aug. 1779.

[A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean during the years 1776-80, vol. iii. by Captain James King, p. 280 et seq.]

J. K. L.