From Huntingdon to Hawaii...or should that be Sandwich?

DESPITE being a small inland county, Huntingdonshire has played a big part in naval history.

I’ve written before about our connection with Anson’s voyage round the world. And Monday, as well as being St Valentine’s Day, was the anniversary of the death of another great navigator.

Captain Cook was killed in a fight with islanders in Hawaii on February 14, 1779. What’s his connection with Huntingdonshire? The clue is that when he discovered the islands we now call Hawaii, he named them the Sandwich Islands.

The 4th Earl of Sandwich, owner of Hinchingbrooke House, in Huntingdon, had other things named after him besides the snack he invented.

He was First Lord of the Admiralty three times between 1748 and 1782 and used his time there to introduce major reforms, especially in the Royal Navy’s dockyards.

One of his great achievements was having the wooden hulls of the Navy’s ships fitted with copper plates to protect them against wood-boring worms, and to stop the growth of great curtains of seaweed which slowed them down.

In just three years between 1778 and 1781 the entire fleet was copper-plated.

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And Sandwich was a great supporter of Captain Cook. He was out of office when Cook sailed on his first voyage but he invited the captain to Hinchingbrooke when he returned to England.

He took a close interest in his second voyage, visiting Cook’s ships while he was preparing his expedition, and again for a celebration dinner when Cook came home.

The return was worth celebrating.

In three years at sea, Cook lost just four men (and none to scurvy). Thirty years earlier, Anson had lost more than 1,000.

Sandwich sent Cook out on his third and last voyage in 1776.

He discovered the Hawaiian group of islands in January 1778 and showed his appreciation of his patron by naming them the Sandwich Islands.

After a year in the north Pacific he returned there early in 1779, to the violent quarrel that cost him his life.

The name of the Sandwich Islands lasted only until 1819 when King Kamehameha I united the islands under his rule and named them the Kingdom of Hawaii.

What a stroke of luck for all of us that King Kamehameha did that, instead of having the idea of putting something between two slices of bread and having the snack named after him ...