Captain George Vancouver: From UK to Vancouver

Today marks the 260th birthday of Captain George Vancouver, the namesake of Vancouver and Vancouver Island, BC (as well as Vancouver, WA and others).

I had long been curious about Captain George Vancouver, one of Britain’s greatest explorers, and decided that when I moved to the UK, I must visit his birth and burial place. So this Vancouver-born found her way to the home country of her city’s namesake.

King’s Lynn

George Vancouver (here-forth referred to as George) was born on 22 June 1757 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, the last of six children of John Jasper Vancouver and Bridget Berners. He was baptised in St Margaret’s Church / King’s Lynn Minster.

They lived on Fincham St (now called New Conduit St, part of Vancouver Quarter). His father worked as the Deputy Collector and another brother named John also worked at Customs House. King’s Lynn was a busy port with ships that sailed around the world. George began his Royal naval career in 1771 as midshipman aboard HMS Resolution (and later Discovery) with none other than Captain James Cook!

Capt George Vancouver outside Customs House. Sculpted by Penelope Reeve and erected in 2000. The stone is from the Pacific West Coast of Canada,

Customs House

Petersham

After his return from exploring in 1795, George settled in Petersham, London (this is near Ham House) because he enjoyed the view from Richmond Hill. He resided in Navigator’s House (formerly Cottage) which has been split into two homes. Here he wrote his memoirs but also spent the next 3 years facing serious backlash from various people, including Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

Captain Vancouver died at age 40 on 10 May 1798 in Petersham from either kidney failure or hyperthyroid condition. He was buried in St Peter’s Church, not far from his home. St Peter’s Church, by the way, happens to be the church where The Queen’s maternal grandparents were married in!

 

The church had been damaged during WWII but – please don’t quote me on this – it then received a lot of donation from Canadians (either Canada or BC or Vancouver) to restore the church. In return, St Peter’s Church would have an annual memorial service to Captain George Vancouver on the Sunday closest to the date of George’s death (this year it was on 14 May). This year, it was attended by some from the Canadian and local communities in London, as well as the descendants of one of his brothers (these descendants hail from the Netherlands). I did not wake up in time for the service this year but spoke with the volunteers in the church in the afternoon and one of them told me about the service and pointed out where the grave was.

His grave was restored in the 1960’s by the Native Sons of British Columbia and a Pacific Dogwood (cornus nuttallii) tree, the provincial flower of British Columbia, was planted to provide shade for the resting explorer. Unfortunately, due to different climate, the Pacific Dogwood does not flourish in England so no pretty white flowers.

As the grave mentions, it is maintained by the City of Vancouver (though how often, I know not, but I assume someone from the church tends to it).

Vancouver, BC, Canada

A statue of Capt George Vancouver stand in front of the City Hall in the model inside Customs House. I’m afraid I never took a photo of the actual statue outside City Hall!

A reproduction of the painting of Custom House in King’s Lynn that hangs in Vancouver City Hall. The original was commissioned in 1936 as a gift to the city of Vancouver for their Golden Jubilee (founded in 1886) and was delivered by the Lord Mayor of London to Vancouver. This reproduction painting was donated by the City Council (Vancouver?) to King’s Lynn Town Hall.

Victoria, BC, Canada

A life-size statue of Captain George Vancouver atop the dome of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria, Canada.

What I liked most about Captain George Vancouver from my visit to these two locations in England was his character. Here was a man who respected the Indigenous and cared for his crew members.

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave