Captain Cook’s cabin boy

When The Reverend Reginald Massey performed a funeral service and then burial at the Ipswich General Cemetery on the 24th of February 1938, a mystery was revealed that touches the very foundation of modern Australia and continues to this very day. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Reverend Massey was the rector of Ipswich’s St Paul’s Anglican Church. He laid to rest that day one of Ipswich’s most prominent charitable workers, her name was Miss Emma Louisa Ferrier.

Miss Emma Louisa Ferrier

She was in her eighty-sixth year and had been a leader in an amazing array of charities including the Ladies Benevolent Society, Red Cross Society, St Paul’s Women’s Guild, St Paul’s Girls Friendly Society, the Nightingale League which provided comforts for soldiers of the Boer War, and in the First World War was one of the first ladies to welcome the famous recruiting March of the Dungarees. She was a shorthand and sewing teacher at Ipswich Girls Grammar School, and for over fifty years lived in the same house at 5 South Street in Ipswich. It was called ‘Narmadahlo’ named after the second most sacred river in India.

Quite simply, Miss Ferrier was one of the most prominent charitable workers in the history of the city of Ipswich.

However, most incredible of all is that the day after Miss Ferrier was buried, an article appeared in both the Queensland Times and the Courier-Mail which reported a remarkable family history. It said that her grandfather Captain Frederick Meredith was an officer in charge of troops with Captain Arthur Phillip in the First Fleet in 1788. And before that, he was a boy on the Endeavour when Captain James Cook (top picture) made his voyage of discovery to Australia in 1770.

Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 25th February 1938

Frederick Meredith did indeed arrive with the First Fleet as a steward to Captain John Marshall of the Scarborough. That first year he carved his initials FM in sandstone at Garden Island in Sydney Harbour, and they are still visible there today which means that he’s the first European graffiti artist in Australian history. Frederick was an armed policeman at the Vinegar Hill uprising in 1804 and later a constable. He had nine children with four different convict women, the fourth one he married. But he was never a captain.

In any case, it’s his connection to Captain Cook that is incredible. If true, it would rewrite history by placing a previously unknown person on board Cook’s ship the Endeavour.

Fred was born in 1763, so he would have been young but close enough to the right age when the Endeavour set sail. Cabin boys were not always recorded in ships records, so that would explain his name being absent from the history until his granddaughter’s newspaper article. Also, nothing is known for certain about the early part of his life which could have placed him elsewhere.

Just imagine what Frederick as a young boy would have seen. He embarked on an epic adventure to the South Seas that included a secret search for the unknown Great Southern Continent. He would have seen floggings, storms, violent clashes, deaths, as well as the beauty of Tahiti and New Zealand, and was there for the crew’s first glimpses of the east coast of Australia. All this while circumnavigating the globe with Cook who was the greatest navigator in history.

There are hundreds of descendants of Frederick Meredith who are alive today, and there’s even an official Frederick Meredith Descendants Group and Facebook page.

Some members say that the idea that Frederick was involved with Cook is a myth. Others say that they can’t say it’s not correct.

I’m inclined to doubt it. He would have been only five when the Endeavour left England in 1768, and although boys as young as six were taken on board, five seems a little young. It is of course quite possible that he may have sailed as a lad on one of Cook’s two later Pacific voyages in the Resolution. He may even have been present at Cook’s murder in Hawaii in 1779.

This information has been passed onto the Captain Cook Society. The name of Miss Ferrier’s grandfather may well be found recorded among the Admiralty papers in England.

If it is, then history will have been rewritten, and Ipswich’s most prominent charitable worker would have played an enormous part in bringing that to light.


Photo credits:
Official portrait of Captain James Cook – National Maritime Museum UK1
Emma Louisa Ferrier – Frederick Meredith Descendants Group
Ipswich Link With Captain Cook – Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 25th February 1938, page 16


  1. Hi I would love everything U have about my Great Grandfather Fredrick Meredith as this is such an uplifting life moment for me
    As my Husband an I were only cleaning his grave site today


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