CHAPTER 3. 1757 TO 1759. H.M.S. PEMBROKE.
Cook joined H.M.S. Solebay on the 30th July 1757 at Leith, where she was then stationed, but the date of his warrant has not been ascertained, although the Public Records and Trinity House have both been searched for the purpose. His stay was not long, for after a cruise of a few days she returned to Leith, and on 17th September Cook was superseded by John Nichols; in fact, his time on board was so short that his signature is not appended to any of the rolls.
In April 1757 Mr. Bissett, who was Master of the Eagle when Cook was Master's mate, and who therefore would have a better chance than any one else to measure his subordinate's character and capabilities, was appointed Master of H.M.S. Pembroke, a new ship, and superintended her fitting for sea. On 26th October he found himself transferred to the Stirling Castle, and it is only reasonable to suppose that, having formed a high opinion of Cook's work, and knowing of his ambition to rise in the service, he would give information of the opportunity and, as far as he could, push forward his friend's interests. At any rate, the Muster Rolls show that in less than six weeks from leaving the Solebay, Cook was established on board the Pembroke as Master, under a warrant bearing date 18th October 1757, and entered upon his duties on 27th October, the twenty-ninth anniversary of his birth; and from that date to his discharge into the Northumberland he signed the usual documents. At the time of his joining, the ship was fitting and victualling for sea at Portsmouth, and on 8th November she sailed for the Bay of Biscay, under the command of Captain Simcoe, returning to Plymouth on 9th February 1758.
The British Government had decided on making a determined effort to wrest the Colony of New France from the hands of the French, and one of the few steps was to attempt the capture of the port of Louisburg, at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence; a place which the enemy were said to have rendered almost impregnable at an expenditure of some million and a quarter pounds. They looked upon it as second only to Quebec in its importance to the safe keeping of the colony. In order to carry out this design a fleet was prepared under Admiral Boscawen (known to his men as Old Dreadnought, and, from a peculiar carriage of the head, said to have been contracted from a youthful habit of imitating one of his father's old servants, Wry-necked-Dick), to convey a small army under Major-General Amherst to the scene of action. Boscawen sailed with his fleet, one member of which was the Pembroke, for Halifax, where they arrived, via Madeira and the Bermudas, on 8th May.
Having completed his arrangements, Boscawen left Halifax on 28th May with 17 sail of the Royal Navy and 127 transports, picking up 2 more men-of-war and 8 transports just outside, and a couple more of the latter a few hours later. He had to leave behind at Halifax, with orders to rejoin him as soon as they were fit, several ships, the Pembroke being one, as their crews were so weakened by scurvy during the voyage from England. The Pembroke had lost 29 men, but was sufficiently recovered to be able to sail with 3 transports, 2 schooners, and a cattle sloop on 7th June, and arrived off Louisburg on the 12th, four days too late to take part in the landing which had been successfully carried out in the face of great difficulties caused by the roughness of the weather, the rocky coast, and the opposition of the enemy. In fact, James Wolfe, who was a Brigadier throughout the siege, and on whose shoulders a very large portion of the work seems to have fallen, says: "Our landing was next to miraculous." There were 3 officers and 49 men killed; 5 officers and 59 men wounded of the army; 11 men killed, and 4 officers and 29 men wounded of the navy; and 19 men wounded of the transport service. The weather was so bad that no stores or artillery could be landed for several days, the first gun being got ashore on the 16th, so Cook was in plenty of time to take his share in the difficult task of landing supplies; a task so dangerous that the fleet lost one hundred boats in this duty alone. As well as forming the supply base for the army, the fleet also provided 583 men to act as gunners and engineers ashore; but none of these were from the Pembroke. The nature of the ground rendered the work of constructing the approaches and batteries extremely difficult, and it was not till 20th June that the first gun opened fire. Wolfe formed a battery on Lighthouse Point, one side of the entrance to the harbour whilst the town was on the other side, with a fortified island in between; and the harbour held a French fleet which, at the time of the arrival of the British, consisted of nine men-of-war. One escaped on the very day of the landing, and was shortly afterwards followed by two more. One L'Echo, was captured by Sir Charles Hardy, and was taken into the British Navy; whilst the other, though chased for some distance, made good its escape to L'Orient with the first news of the siege. Previously to the coming of the British, two ships had been sunk in the harbour's mouth to render entrance therein difficult; two more were added to these, and then a fifth. One ship was blown up by a British shell, and setting fire to two others that lay alongside her, they also were destroyed.
The fate of the other two is described in the Pembroke's log, kept by Cook, as follows:
"In the night 50 boats man'd and arm'd row'd into the harbour under the command of the Captains La Foure [Laforey] of the Hunter, and Balfour [of the Etna] in order to cut away the 2 men-of-warr and tow them into the North-East Harbour one of which they did viz.: the Ben Fison [Bienfaisant] of 64 guns, the Prudon [Prudent] 74 guns being aground was set on fire. At 11 A.M. the firing ceased on both sides."