While researching last Tuesday’s post, I came across a reference to a memorial medal minted in honor of Captain James Cook. Begun almost immediately after his expedition returned to England with the news of his death, the rare medallion also has a curious – if tenuous – Aubrey/Maturin connection.
Cook’s three major voyages contributed vastly to European knowledge of global flora and fauna. The Captain himself spoke before the Royal Society about his findings, an honor bestowed on only the most capable of scientific and mathematic researchers. It should come as no surprise, then, that is was the Royal Society – and not the Admiralty as in the case of Horatio Nelson – that honored Cook with the minting of 20 gold medals.
The artist responsible was Lewis Pingo, chief engraver of the Royal Mint, and the medals were completed in 1784.
The medals show a profile of Cook on one side with the Latin honorific “The most intrepid explorer of the seas” surrounding it. On the reverse, an image of Fortune holding a rudder is decorated with the motto “Our men have left nothing unattempted.” High praise indeed.
As to the connection with O’Brian’s timeless novels, at least two of the medals were originally given to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society. Lovers of the Aubrey/Maturin series will remember Banks as a close confident of Stephen Maturin. The medal pictured above was bestowed upon the British Museum by Sir Joseph’s sister, Sophia.
It seems that the location of only a handful of these now quite valuable medallions is currently known; some are in the British Museum and others are in private and public collections. It is certainly something for the coin and medal collectors among the Brethren to keep in mind. What a splendid find one of these memorial’s to a great seaman would be.
Header: Memorial Medal of Captain James Cook via The British Museum