Captain Cook’s early life – Boscawen’s Frolick

Boscawen's Frolick Upload Listen to Boscawen’s Frolic as a midi or mp3 Arranged by Roland Clarke 2014

Country dance: triple minor longways.*

A1 1-8 1st couple cast off down the outside and back.
A2 1-4 1st couple lead down below 3rd couple (2nd couple moving up), cast up to 2nd place.
5-8 1st couple lead up and cast into 2nd place, to face first corners.
B1 1-4 Frolick (set or foot) to 1st corners.
B1 5-8 Frolick (set or foot) to 2nd corners.
B2 1-8 Lead out men’s side, separate and cast back into centre. Lead out ladies’ side, separate and cast back into centre, turn two hands.

Dividing line

 Cook's Cottage, Melbourne. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This cottage was the home of of Captain Cook’s parents, James and Grace Cook in the English village of Great Ayton, North Yorkshire.  Although their famous son never lived in the cottage, it became famous through association.  In 1933, it was purchased and relocated to Melbourne as a centenary gift to the people of Victoria by Mr Russell Grimwade. After careful preservation it was opened in the Fitzroy Gardens and immediately became a popular tourist attraction.1

James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 at Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, the son of a Scottish farm labourer, also named James,  and his wife, Grace (nee Pace) who hailed from the nearby village of Thornaby.

After learning to read at the village school, James’ education continued at the day-school in Ayton, where the Lord of the Manor, Mr. Skottow,  recognised his ability and paid for him to be instructed in writing and basic arithmetic.  Skottow then assisted James in obtaining employment with William Sanderson, a  grocer in the fishing village of Staithes.  This employment, however, was very unsuitable to young Cook’s disposition.2  The lure of the sea attracted him and after only eight months he moved to nearby Whitby to work on colliers plying the east coast of England.  Later he was employed on larger vessels shipping timber from the Baltic, and troops to Ireland.

With this experience he joined the Royal Navy in June 1755 as an able seaman at the relatively advanced age of twenty-six.  His talent and expertise were quickly recognised and he was promoted to master’s mate, then master.  In 1758, Cook joined Admiral Boscawen’s Fleet as master of the Pembroke 3 in the campaign against the French for the conquest of Canada.  He was involved in a major assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg,  in charting the St Lawrence river prior to the siege of Quebec City, and the subsequent Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.  It is notable that another man who was to become an eminent explorer in the Pacific, Louis de Bougainville, was also present in Quebec, serving with the French forces.

Dancing in the Royal Navy

Dancing was a regular activity on board the ships of the Royal Navy.  The historian, N. A. M. Rodger wrote of the importance of music and dance as a source of entertainment and exercise for the seamen, and as a way of maintaining a connection with home.  Dance was a part of Georgian Naval life both above and below deck. Reports tell of the dancing of jigs and reels all night to celebrate the completion of a successful voyage 4,  of a sailor dancing on a hatch cover on a sunny summer’s day 5, and of Sir Edward Pellew kidnapping a negro violinist “to furnish music for the sailors’ dancing in their evening leisure, a recreation highly favourable to the preservation of their good spirits and contentment.”6  As it was a common everyday activity it often escaped comment, however, Admiral Boscawen noted it with a pleasant recollection:

In Boscawen’s flagship as they sailed westward across the Atlantic in the mild spring of 1755 the men danced nightly to fiddle, fife and drum.  It reminded the admiral as he wrote home to his wife, of country dances with her in former years.7

Hon. Edward Boscawen

The Hon. Edward Boscawen (1711-1761). 11
Famed for the statement, “Never fire, my lads, till you see the whites of the Frenchmen’s eyes.” 12
Courtesy Darlington Digital Library


Boscawen was known as a man of action and a courageous leader with “a rare concern for the welfare of common seamen”.8  He had two nicknames: wry-necked dick for his habit of carrying his head on one side due to a neck injury sustained in battle; and Old Dreadnought after one of his first ships.  Evidently, the latter  “was the nickname his sailors dearly loved to call him”.9  One story relates an incident when, under the necessity of going into a boat to shift his flag from his own ship to another …a shot went through the boat’s side, whereupon the admiral, taking off his wig, stopped the leak with it, and by this means saved the boat from sinking.10

Admiral Edward Boscawen died in 1761 at the age of 50 after contracting typhoid fever.  His wife, Frances, was a highly educated lady who valued and preserved his letters and these now provide an insight into life on board an 18th century ship.13

The dance Boscawen’s Frolick was published in Thompson’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1761 and again in Thompson’s Compleat Collection of 200 Fashionable Country Dances, 1765. 14

Country dances were commonly devised to celebrate important events – including naval battles.  Boscawen’s Frolick may have been written to celebrate his last victory, the Battle of Lagos in 1759.

Once Cook had his own command, he also encouraged his crew to dance, contributing significantly to their health and good cheer whilst circumnavigating the globe.  He recorded that they danced country dances and hornpipes, both for their own enjoyment and to entertain the native people they met on their travels throughout the Pacific.15

Boscawen's Frolick 1761 146 KB

Boscawen’s Frolick from Thompson’s Compleat Collection of 200 Fashionable Country Dances, 1765. 16


*Notes on the dance.

  • The first four sections of the dance have been modified to correspond to 16 bars of music (AA).
  • While this is a triple minor dance, for modern taste it is recommended that it be danced in a four couple set.
  • Footing is danced as a backstep: a backwards skip danced on the spot.
  • Thank you to Anne Daye for dicussions on the interpretation of the dance.



1 Cook’s Cottage.  It is a point of conjecture among historians whether James Cook, the famous navigator, ever lived in the house, but almost certainly he visited his parents at the house.
Photograph of cottage from

2 Kippis, Andrew. (1725-1795) A narrative of the voyages round the world performed by Captain James Cook : with an account of his life during the previous and intervening periods.

3 Robson, John. Captain Cook’s World. Maps of the Life and Voyages of James Cook R.N. Random House, Australia. 2000.  p.17.

4 Gardner, J.A.  Above and Under Hatches, C.C. Lloyd (London, 1955) p. 24 .” When the Panther paid off in 1782 the ship’s company gave a grand supper, with the lower deck illuminated and jigs and reels all night.”  As quoted in The Wooden World.

5 Public Record Office, Admiralty Correspondence: ADM 1/920, enc. To E. Hawke, 3 Jun 1755.  “Even in the rather unlikely situation of a press tender we hear of a mixed set of pressed men, volunteers, press gang and tender’s crew dancing on the hatch cover on a sunny summer’s day.” As quoted in The Wooden World. .ibid.

6 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 27 Aug 1855: 8. Web. 7 May 2014 <>.

7 Rodger, N.A.M.  The Wooden World. An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy.  Collins, London. 1986.

8 Dictionary of Canadian Biography; (University of Toronto Press). Vol. III (1741-1770), 1974

9 Drake and the Dons. (1916, July 27). The Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate (NSW : 1898 – 1928), p. 3. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from

10  ADMIRAL BOSCAWEN’S WIG. (1886, May 22). The Herald (Fremantle, WA : 1867 – 1886), p. 8 Supplement: SUPPLEMENT TO THE HERALD.. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from

11 Edward Boscawen (1711-1761). Engraving.  One of the Lords comissioners of the Admiralty and rear admiral of the White Squadron of his Majestey’s fleet. Printed London for John Ryall at Hogarths Head in Fleet Street.    Courtesy Darlington Digital Library, Special Collections, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh via National Library of Australia.

12  Viator (pseudn.), “Cornish Topography. To the Editors of the European Magazine.” The European Magazine, and London Review. March 1819 (Volume 75), p. 226

13 Eger, Elizabeth.  Boscawen , Frances Evelyn (1719–1805). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

14 Robert M. Keller, compiler. Dance Figures Index: English Country Dances, 1650-1833

15  Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere, Vol. I, Streight of Magellan into the South Seas, page 117.

16 Thompson’s Compleat collection of 200 favourite country dances: perform’d at Court Bath, Tunbridge & all publick assemblies with proper figures or directions, to each tune: set for the violin German flute & hautboy. Price 3/6, Vol. 2.  [1765].
Eighteenth century collections online [electronic resource] via State Library of New South Wales.




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One Response to Captain Cook’s early life – Boscawen’s Frolick

  1. Alex Harvey says:

    I’d love to visit Cook’s cottage! A true Yorkshire Icon!

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