David Samwell (Dafydd Ddu Feddyg, 1751-98)

David Samwell was a surgeon from Nantglyn, Denbighshire. He served as a surgeon on Captain Cook's voyage in search of the North-West Passage, 1776-78, and on the Captain's final voyage. Samwell achieved literary renown when he published A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook (1786), his description of Cook's murder by the natives of Hawaii. This volume also contains valuable anthropological observations on the effect which European visitors had on the health of the natives of the Sandwich Islands.

Samuel cut an energetic figure in the London-Welsh circles to which he belonged: he was a founder member of the Gwyneddigion Society in 1770 and served as its secretary (1788) and vice-president (1797).

He was also a member of the Caradogion Society, and his convivial poem The Padouca Hunt (1799) parodies the society's debates on one of the burning issues of the day, the history of Madog. Samwell also had a serious side and in 1796 he contributed an article to the Cambrian Register on the work of one of his favourite poets, Huw Morus. Since Samwell turned in Welsh patriotic circles, and English radical and literary circles, it is easy to understand why Iolo admired him and why in turn the bardic Jacobinism of the Gorsedd appealed to Samwell. He was a keen supporter of the Gorseddau that Iolo held in London and of the Eisteddfodau patronized by the Gwyneddigion from 1789 onwards. He would send laudanum to Iolo, and the latter considered him among his bardic disciples (NLW 4582). Although they were on several counts birds of a feather, Samwell was not blind to Iolo's failings, as the following remark on Iolo's opinion of Lewis Morris's 'Celtic Remains' demonstrates:

I really forget what I said on the subject, but I could say nothing but in general terms and those as second hand, for I know nothing about them except what I heard from Iorwerth ab Gwilym [Iolo Morganwg], who is on some occasions an outrageous Critic, and perhaps as much from whim as conviction.
(NLW 1808D, David Samwell to Walter Davies, 6 July 1793).