It was my first time at a Captain Cook Society meeting. I was a bit nervous as I didn’t know what to expect. But afterwards, I can recommend anyone to attend one. Many people go frequently, so take care, it seems to be contagious.
We arrived on Friday in Newcastle and rented a car to go to Middlesbrough. Driving on the left was a bit strange in the beginning, but we managed to get to the hotel while enjoying the typical autumn landscape with yellow, red and green trees everywhere and a quick lunch stop in Durham.
The first evening started with an informal dinner. We felt immediately welcomed. Everybody was very friendly and wanted to know each other’s interest in Cook. The slightly different approaches, interests or expertise (from art to astronomy, philately, Cook’s family or crew, London’s history, science, explorers, maps, ships, etc.) enriched the evening. It was almost a family gathering talking about the good old James, his crew, the family.
If young people aren’t interested in history anymore, they should meet some CCS members. It gets so much more lively than the mere facts and dates. I am still amazed you can find so much information on the 18th century. I also liked the historical gossip as it were, to make it more human and alive. And even more so the passion to find the objective truth and to put things right. Trying to find what really happened and not necessarily following the common view on a topic is what Captain Cook in 2012 would do.
I don’t know much about stamps and didn’t think much about them before. But I have gained a new respect for philatelists. When you collect stamps on a subject, like Cook for example, you have to know a lot about it. If you have a stamp with a kangaroo, you want to make sure that he really saw this kangaroo and not another species or variant of it. That takes a lot of research. Every stamp is a story and helps to remember history. So philatelists have loads of interesting stories. I think they sometimes know more than historians as they are looking for specific and detailed facts. The general knowledge comes along with it.
I saw a Banksia dried fruit. That’s a plant named after Joseph Banks. Ian Boreham told me a story about it. Coincidently, later that evening Lesley Hawkins showed me one he happened to have brought along. He had bought it for £2 and didn’t know much about it. Chris North told us some facts and nice stories about it. For example, that the follicles open easier after a bushfire as they are adapted to the Australian climate.
The meeting on Saturday took place at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. A very nice place to visit with a beautiful park around it. The day was a great mix of different subjects. I think not only the listeners learned a lot, but as there was so much expertise in the room, each speaker received interesting comments to take his/her lecture or research on to the next step. As a big thank you for the new website Robrecht and I produced for the CCS, we were given a Cook engraving. It is a very beautiful drawing from a book. We’ll give it a special place in the office.
In the evening there was an auction and the formal dinner. Time to dress up with your CCS tie. And also tonight I heard interesting facts about Cook. Derek Morris told me about the history of Mile End in London and how it had been in the 18th century. How the unknown Cook, after five years of mapping Newfoundland, had made some money, so he and Elizabeth could move to Mile End, where all the navy merchants of the East India Company lived. Such facts make you think. What did this move mean for his career? What did he learn from these merchants? Did Mrs Cook throw dinner parties with any of them? With whom and what did they talk about? She’d probably had her colourful and flowery dinner table set on, just like the cup presented in the museum. Maybe it was like a CCS meeting, the formal dinner evening, without the CCS tie.
On Sunday we visited some of the Captain Cook places in Yorkshire, and enjoyed the beautiful landscape. And we made some plans to make the new website even better. We enjoyed the weekend very much and would like to thank all of the speakers for their interesting lectures and the attendees for their kindness, good jokes and great stories. We hope to meet again.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 34, volume 36, number 1 (2013).
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