Except for the published works which have been discovered, not much is known about John Cooke´s life. We do know that John Cooke was the son of Ann and John Cooke of Fetter Lane, a shagreen-case-maker[i]. He was baptised 1st August 1765 at St Andrew in Holborn, London, three years before a brother, Stephen William, who also became engraver. He was apprenticed to the bookbinder Mary Cooke, also of Fetter Lane on 7th September 1779 at the age of fourteen (normal practice in those days). However, he was turned over to William Wells, an engraver, of Fleet Street on 6th November 1787 “and to John Russell, by whom he was freed the same day” which points to some kind of special arrangement. Russell himself was a well-known engraver and it may be that his influence led Cooke in that direction. Between 1787 and 1812 John Cooke worked as an engraver from a number of different London addresses. Considering that he had a number of apprentices himself during this period, including his brother Stephen (1787, at Tooks Court, Cursitor Street), his output of signed work seems to have been fairly limited.
We know that Cooke worked for a variety of publishers including D Steel, Bowyer, Boydell, W Walker, Hills and Mawman and also the very successful and well-respected William Faden; but he also found time to publish some of his own work and produced an atlas and a guide to drawing maps. Cooke must have moved in late 1789 or early 1790 to a new address - Clare Court, Drury Lane - as this is the address given on his earliest known work. The first recorded work signed by Cooke is a set of charts of Ireland, A New Mercator´s Chart of the Coast of Ireland, published in London with dates from January 1790 and executed for D Steel for whom he also later produced a set of engraved plates for The Elements And Practice Of Rigging And Seamanship. This manual, published by D Steel in 1796, has three plates depicting knots signed by J Cooke sct Mill Hill, Middx.[ii]
In 1792, shortly after moving to Mill Hill, Cooke produced a map of the road from London to Mill Hill and Barnet. This map has a slightly strange appearance as it follows the road something like a strip map, which taking a slight dog leg to the right, means that the map area is a rectangle “broken” just over half-way up and bent at some 45°. The bare area between the map and the border is taken up with an attractive compass which is dated 1792, (to the left, see illustration) and a dedication (right). This dedication is on the one hand a gesture of his sincere thanks to his friends and the public for their favours, but is also a method to let them know he has removed from London to Mill Hill and gives the coach times for potential customers. Cooke lived for three years at Mill Hill before moving to Hendon 1795-96.
In the same year as the above map was produced there were considerable disorders in Toulon and the French royalists took control of the port and opened it to the British fleet, by whom it was occupied until 1793 when Napoleon, as an artillery colonel, made it untenable by capturing the forts which dominated the harbour. The Chart of the roads and harbours of Toulon with their environs was published April 12th 1795 in London by William Faden, then Geographer to His Majesty and to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales with the signature of J. Cooke now living in Hendon, Middlesex.
The map shows soundings, drying and submerged banks, anchorages, transits and coastal relief, vegetation, settlements etc. for about 1 mile inland and text panels relate to shipping in the harbours of Toulon (identifying old, repairable and serviceable vessels and ships burned on 18 December 1793) and buildings in the arsenal of Toulon.[iii]
Over the period 1790-1800 he worked on a number of quite impressive projects completing two maps of the River Thames; one for Boydell´s Rivers (on two sheets) which was a copiously illustrated work; and another for Colquhoun´s work on the commerce and police of that river. He completed two maps of Egypt for Home´s Select Views in Mysore as well as a plan of St Petersburg for a popular guide to the city by the German, Heinrich Storch, translated into English as the Picture of St Petersburg. During his time in Hendon he also completed a map of the area for William Faden.
Fig. 1. Excerpt from London Gazette of August 1797
While living in Mill Hill Cooke may have overstretched his resources. So far we have seen the typical work of a journey-man engraver working for others and no great personal projects. We know that he would produce an atlas (1802, see below) and a work on geography (his Synopsis, 1812) but that would be in the next few years. Perhaps he was already preparing plates for the atlas, be that as it may, but we learn from the London Gazette of August 8th 1797 that John Cooke, late of Mill-hill and Hendon, Engraver is in Feet Prison for bankruptcy and serving the Third Notice of debt.
Non-map material by Cooke is scarce, but the British Museum has a view of St Saviour's Church in Southwark. The illustration of the church itself is signed J Morton del. / W Hawkins Sc. However, under the picture is a ground plan of the church and this is signed J Cooke Sc. Mill Hill. The two drawings were executed after St Saviour's had undergone refurbishment: after being repaired and beautified and the opening is dated 11th day of May, 1800 (https://www.britishmuseum.org see /collection/object/P_1880-1113-5273).
Although he seems to have worked mainly for others (see list appended) he was obviously more than a jobbing-engraver. The Universal Atlas was published in 1802 and has nearly 30 attractive, circular maps, all executed by John Cooke (half are signed by him with his address now at 50, Howland Street), and with imprints dated from August 1800 to January 1802 and a title page dated April that year. The imprints strongly suggest that Cooke was a co-publisher together with others. The earliest dated sheets have the name of V Goddard; the imprint seems to have been replaced, suggesting revisions before the atlas publication or, more likely, imprints were changed for a second issue with original title page.
The other imprints on the maps are usually Published by John Harris and John Cooke; or Published for John Cooke by T Boone. Presumably Goddard was an early partner who left and Harris, Boone and Cooke were the main shareholders in the work. The atlas has a dedication to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, Princess Royal of Prussia signed Faithful humble servant, John Cooke.
About this time we find two
maps which deserve more attention. A plan Improvements proposed by the Hon. Corporation
John Cooke did indeed work as a plan engraver for the Admiralty[iv]. Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808) was appointed as the first Hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1795 and the first admiralty charts appeared in 1800 after a rolling press was purchased. John Cooke and Isaac Palmer were both engaged as (part-time) plan engravers. Apparently there was some sort of dispute and Cooke was sacked in 1804 but he petitioned the Admiralty about “unfair dismissal” with the matter dragging on until 1807 or 1808. Dalrymple died in 1808 and was replaced by Captain Thomas Hurd. Given Cooke´s publication of both an atlas and of a guide to producing maps (his Synopsis) he may have been disgruntled that he did not receive better recognition.
One of the leading figures at the Admiralty at this time was the future king: William IV was christened William Henry (born 21 August 1765) and became King of the United Kingdom and of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death on 20 June 1837. He had two elder brothers and was not expected to inherit the Crown. For this reason he was able, at the age of thirteen, to join the Royal Navy as a midshipman and at age 15 was present at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent and landed in Plymouth in 1780, with his elder brother Prince George, The Prince of Wales, with the news of Rodney's victory, and the relief of Gibraltar. He even served in New York during the American War of Independence.[v]
William became a Lieutenant in 1785, was in Plymouth[vi] in 1786, when he was appointed Captain of the Frigate, Pegasus, just before his 21st birthday, and in the same year he was stationed in the West Indies as Captain and came to the attention of Horatio Nelson, who had a high regard for his naval talents. Having earned the disfavour of his father, he was compelled to spend another period in Plymouth and the story has it that during this time William threatened to run for the House of Commons as MP for Totnes, Devon, before George III created him Duke of Clarence in 1789. The newly created Duke then ceased his active service in the Royal Navy and was promoted to Rear-Admiral. In 1811 he was appointed Admiral of the Fleet. William was succeeded by his niece, Queen Victoria. Although there is no evidence they met, and no reason why they should, the fact that the Duke of Clarence was at the admiralty and visited Plymouth is interesting.
Sometime after his admiralty work Cooke provided three maps for Abraham Rees´ Cyclopedia, or Universal Dictionary published by Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme. The map-making was supervised by Aaron Arrowsmith, a leading London map publisher but the connection to Longman would crop up again later. Cooke only produced three more maps before disappearing, although he did publish a manual of geography.
Of the 20 cartographic works[vii] identified as engraved by a John Cooke of either London or with no address, all of these can be assigned to a period up to 1812. These range from the set of 6 charts, Mercator´s Chart of the Coast of Ireland, to A General Synopsis Of Geography, With The Projection Of Maps And Charts by John Cooke Late Geographer to the Admiralty.
The Synopsis of Geography, published in 1812, was printed for James Cooke at his Bloomsbury address. It is a complete manual and guide to the drawing of maps, with historical introduction, illustrated with 20 copper plates most dated 1811 and signed by Cooke and which also contains a beautiful frontispiece of the moon[viii] engraved by a Miss Mary Cooke from a drawing made from actual observations ...under direction of William Kitchiner. Imprints on all other engravings are Published by J Cooke or John Cooke; the title page has Printed for James Cooke. James Cooke was apprenticed to William Cooke, bookbinder, from 1745-1753; William´s business being carried on by his widow, Mary, after his death in 1775. James´ or Miss Mary Cooke´s precise relationship to John has not yet been established. However, given the fact that John was initially apprenticed to William´s widow, the assumption is that they were in fact related. Nevertheless, this manual of cartography again makes it clear that John was more than just a jobbing engraver.
Besides the Synopsis set of maps, only six more maps signed by Cooke have been found which were produced after his dismissal from the admiralty in 1805 but before 1817. These include the four maps for the Cyclopedia written and produced by Abraham Rees, a map of the British Empire in the East and a map of Stoke Damerell.
The first map to link John Cooke with Devon, and more especially Plymouth was A Plan of the Town of Plymouth Dock. This map was Surveyed, Drawn, and Published by T. RICHARDS, Totnes, Devon and published on October 25th 1810, and was clearly Engraved by John Cooke, London, late Engr. to the Admiralty. This very detailed map had belonged among the St Aubyn family papers: a family associated with Devon and Cornwall and who still lease parts of St Michael’s Mount, previously part of their property from 1660. The imprint and signature clearly indicate that John Cooke had previously done work for the Admiralty. The John Cooke referred to here was certainly not local, he might not have visited Plymouth, but he executed the plan on behalf of an influential Cornish client with land in Devon and seems to have come into contact with a local publisher, not well-known for cartographical output.
[i] I am indebted to Laurence Worms who provided the details here about John Cooke´s birth and apprenticeship and for providing me with a list of Cooke maps he had compiled: these included new items 4a/4b, 9 and 23 in the appended list of maps; and for drawing Steel´s volume on Seamanship to my notice. John Cooke is entry 2001 in D F McKenzie, Stationers´ Company Apprentices: 1701-1800, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1978. Cooke´s apprentices are listed under 1994-2000, his brother Stephen being entry 1995 (see also page 23).
[ii] British Library 1609/4613 and 1651/802. There was a second edition in 1806 published by P Mason of London (British Library 8805.ee.28.).
[iii] This map actually became an Admiralty map post-1823 after the Admiralty bought up plates from Faden.
[iv] I am indebted to Dr Andrew Cook for providing information about Cooke´s time at the Admiralty.
[v] While there the Americans planned to kidnap the Prince, a plan George Washington personally approved.
[vii] Not including multiple maps in one work.
[viii] This engraving won Miss Cooke the Silver Pallet from the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Sciences on 30th May 1809 when she was just 17. It was Drawn by John Cooke and published by him on September 1st, 1808.
 I am grateful to Dr Shirley Atkinson who brought this to my attention and provided the edition of the London Gazette.