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Cook's Tour: Exploring "Captain Cook" Country

by Keith Kellett

James CookTo commemorate the achievements of James Cook, the local authorities in the area in which he spent his early years devised a motoring trail that links many places associated with him. If you can't, or don't wish to drive the whole trail, a visit to only one or two of the stops will still give an excellent insight into his life and times.

Airy Holme Farm, near Great Ayton, lies about six miles to the south of Middlesborough, in the north-east of England. It's not open to visitors, but a public foot-path runs right through it. Here, in 1735, Thomas Scottowe, the owner, noted the lively and inquisitive mind of the 7-year-old son of his new bailiff, and paid to send him to the village school.

The school building is still there. The lower floor is now the Tourist Information Centre, and the upper the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. On the village green stands a sculpture of Cook as a lad, seemingly contemplating the adventures ahead.

If you feel like an easy hike, an ascent of a nearby hill called Roseberry Topping may be of interest. Airy Holme Farm lies on its slopes, and, on nearby Easby Moor, there's an obelisk in memory of Cook, overlooking his boyhood haunts. Although the hill isn't very high, it's claimed to be possible, in the right conditions, to see in the far distance the fishing port of Staithes, where young Cook's travels next took him.

The Cook family lived in a cottage in Bridge Street, Great Ayton. In 1934, it, and other nearby houses, was demolished. The Cook house was removed piecemeal, and re-erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, Australia. But local legend sometimes says the Australians took the wrong one!

Endeavour ReplicaThe story really began half a dozen miles away, in Marton. Today, it's a suburb of the industrial town of Middlesborough. But when James Cook was born on 27th October, 1728, it was just a small farming village.

The cottage where Cook was born is gone. Its site is marked by an iron fountain in what's now a public park. Close by stands the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. It opened in 1978, and displays genuine and reproduction artifacts, in conjunction with video and special effects, to tell the story of Cook's early life as well as of his travels.

William Sanderson's General Store, where Cook first went to work after leaving the farm, fell into the sea some years ago as a result of erosion. But there's a replica of the shop, and some Cook memorabilia, at the Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre.

The home and offices of John Walker, Cook's next employer, were in Grape Lane, Whitby. The building still stands and is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Here, they show the attic where Cook lived with the other apprentices. They show, also, how Walker's coal-ships moored almost outside the house, which may have further inspired the young man, with encouragement from his employer, to study navigation and seamanship.

While in Whitby, we should remember that this is where the ships in which Cook made his great voyages were built. We could hardly forget, for many establishments in the town are named after Cook and his ships. For example, the Endeavour and Resolution fish-and-chip restaurant stands right next door to the Discovery gift shop. Originally, the ships were barks, which worked in the coal trade before being bought into the Royal Navy. All were built at Thomas Fishburn's shipyard on the River Esk, just upstream from the harbour. Little remains of the yard today, except the name 'Endeavour Wharf', after Cook's first ship.

Resolution PlaqueEndeavour lives on, in the replica launched at Fremantle, Australia in 1993 and normally based in Sydney. There's another Endeavour, not far away, although not a sea-going one: steel-built replica lies at Castlegate Quay, Stockton. In spite of the omission of one of the decks for public safety reasons, it still gives a good idea of life on board.

Many people regard the Resolution as Cook's more significant ship, as it was used on two of his three voyages, and covered many more sea-miles than Endeavour and it's the Resolution that is shown on the plinth of Cook's statue on Whitby's West Cliff. Right now, it can only be seen in models or paintings in the museums. That could change, however. The Resolution Trust is seeking funds for a sea-going replica to be built and based at Whitby. If the enthusiastic welcome to the Endeavour replica's visit to Whitby in 1997 is any yardstick, the money shouldn't be too long coming!

Related Articles:

Whitby: Town of Voyagers and Vampires, by Jane Gilbert

Discovering Whitby Abbey, by John Ravenscroft

More Information:

Captain Cook

Captain James Cook

James Cook (Wikipedia)

The Captain Cook Society
A page with loads of links to other sites about Cook and his voyages

HM Bark Endeavour

The Endeavour Journal
Digitized copy of Cook's journal on the Endeavour

Captain Cook Country

The Whitby Guide

Keith Kellett is an English freelance writer and photographer who lives in Amesbury, England, only a short distance away from the great stones of Stonehenge. He retired from the Royal Air Force in 1996, since when he's spent his time travelling and writing about or taking pictures of food and drink, old cars, railways, steam engines, historical re-enactments, bygones, gardens, travel, nature and the outdoors. He also likes camping and hiking, driving, studying military and naval history, gardening and visiting his eight grand-children.
Article and Resolution photo © 2006 Keith Kellett
Additional photos courtesy of Wikipedia.org


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