Cooke, John (17631805), naval officer, entered the navy at the age of thirteen, on the Eagle, Lord Howe's flagship on the North American station; having remained in her through her whole commission, he was promoted lieutenant on 21 January 1779. He was then appointed to the Superb, with Sir Edward Hughes, in the East Indies; he was obliged to invalid from there, and was then appointed to the Duke with Captain Gardner, who went out to the West Indies and took a distinguished part in the action off Dominica on 12 April 1782. After the peace of Versailles (1783) Gardner was for some time commodore at Jamaica, Cooke remaining with him as first lieutenant of the Europa. In 1790 he served for some time as a lieutenant of the London, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, and in February 1793 was appointed first lieutenant of the Royal George, bearing Sir Alexander's flag. At Lord Howe's battle of 1 June 1794 in the north Atlantic he served as commander, having been promoted on 21 February that year, and a few weeks later, on 23 June, was made a captain. He then served for a year in Newfoundland as flag captain to Sir James Wallace, in the Monarch; on his return home he was appointed, in the spring of 1796, to command the Nymphe. On 9 March 1797 his ship, in company with the San Fiorenzo, captured the two French frigates Résistance and Constance. These were returning to France after landing a band of convicts in Fishguard Bay, in memory of which the Résistance, a fine vessel of forty-eight guns, received the name of Fisgard when recommissioned for the British navy. When the mutiny broke out in April and May the Nymphe was at Spithead, and her crew joined the mutineers. On Cooke's attempting to give assistance to Rear-Admiral John Colpoys, he was ordered by the mutineers to go on shore; nor was it thought expedient for him to rejoin the ship. Clearly he was not a popular officer. Two years later he was appointed to the Amethyst, which he commanded in the channel until the peace of Amiens. In October 1804 Cooke was invited by Sir William Young, the commander-in-chief at Plymouth, to come as his flag captain; but a few months later, having applied for active service, he was appointed to the Bellerophon, in which he joined the fleet off Cadiz in the beginning of October 1805. To be in a general engagement with Nelson would, he used to say, crown all his military ambition. In the battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) the Bellerophon was the fifth ship of the lee line, and was thus early in action; in the thick of the fight Cooke received two musket balls in the chest. He fell, and died within a few minutes, saying with his last breath, Tell Lieutenant Cumby never to strike. He was buried at sea. A monumental tablet to his memory was placed by his widow, of whom nothing is known, in the parish church of Donhead in Wiltshire.
J. K. Laughton, rev. Andrew Lambert
K. Breen and R. L. DiNardo, Commissioned sea-officers of the Royal Navy, Mariner's Mirror, 81 (1995), 485 · Biographical memoir of the late John Cooke, Naval Chronicle, 17 (1807), 35466
NMM, letters to his brother, written before the battle of Trafalgar when in command of HMS Bellerophon
L. F. Abbott, oils, NMM · oils, NMM