Following my recent post on Polly Mason, my friend John Grimshaw has pointed out that the Masons of St Helena entertained a very famous visitor, Captain Cook, long before Napoleon emerged on the world stage, let alone set foot in the Fishers Valley on St Helena.
In May 1775 Captain Cook landed on the island of St Helena for his second visit. Many locals had been upset by the description of the island given in the official account of his first voyage, compiled by John Hawksworth, which Cook had not seen, and which had drawn heavily on the journal of Joseph Banks.
All kinds of Labour is here performd by Man, indeed he is the only animal that works except a few Saddle Horses nor has he the least assistance of art to enable him to perform his task. Supposing the Roads to be too steep and narrow for Carts, an objection which lies against only one part of the Island, yet the simple contrivance of Wheelbarrows would Doub[t]less be far preferable to carrying burthens upon the head, and yet even that expedient was never tried. Their slaves indeed are very numerous: they have them from most parts of the World, but they appeard to me a miserable race worn out almost with the severity of the punishments of which they frequently complaind. I am sorry to say that it appeard to me that far more frequent and more wanton Cruelty were excercisd by my countrey men over these unfortunate people than even their neighbours the Dutch, fam'd for inhumanity, are guilty of. One rule however they strictly observe which is never to Punish when ships are there.
During his 1775 visit Captain Cook apparently visited the eastern part of the island where the Mason family had its property and where Napoleon was to spend his last years:
the two Mr Forsters and myself dined with a party at the Country house of one Mr Masons, at a remote part of the island, which gave me an oppertunity to see the greatest part of it, and I am well convinced that the island in many particulars has been misrepresented.
It is a pity that Captain Cook didn't give more information about Mr Mason and the location of the house in which he was entertained. Presumably the Mason referred to was Polly Mason's grandfather, Benjamin Mason, baptised in January 1725 who died in 1805. Polly Mason's father, Richard Mason, was only 22 in 1775. Richard and his wife Elizabeth then had only one daughter, Elizabeth. Interestingly "Polly", christened in 1780, was given the names Mary Elizabeth, which suggests that the first Elizabeth did not live long.