I have been a member of the Captain Cook Society for a few years now, though as the eldest daughter of the editor it has been part of my life for a lot longer! Living in the UK I am very fortunate to be able to attend the CCS meeting in Marton every year, and for me it is definitely a highlight, a chance to indulge in Cook geekiness, a lovely chance to share something with my dad, while catching up with friends old and new.
The weekend for me starts on the Friday, when I arrive at Middlesbrough train station and Dad picks me up. This year I was able to get there a little earlier than usual so we could head to Great Ayton for the afternoon. A ham roll was much needed after my journey from Edinburgh, and a visit to Suggitt’s is always on the agenda. The reason for my slightly earlier arrival to Yorkshire was because the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum had been renovated,1 and Dad and I were eager to see it. We were not the only ones, as we bumped into several CCS members both in the museum and also about the village! Before we are allowed into the museum though, we have to stop outside so Dad can take photos of the building. It is a yearly ritual, as is reminiscing over how the external stairs to the top floor used to have wooden rails and not metal ones as they do now!
You now enter the building from the ground floor, where the shop is located. New internal stairs takes you to the museum itself. The original reconstruction of the schoolroom is still there, but there are also interactive displays on Great Ayton village and, of course, the life of Captain Cook. I was very impressed with the way the museum now worked, and hope it attracts a great many visitors.
If you have not been to Great Ayton, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It is a lovely village. We were lucky to have great weather as we walked round the village, visiting the important sites of the Cook statue, the Cook obelisk, the Cook gravestone and the Victorian toilet!
Then to the hotel and Friday night dinner. There was a time when this meal was a very informal affair and took place only if people had arrived early. But now it is a regular feature, though still remaining informal. It is a chance for us to catch up with each other. In some ways I feel like the CCS is my extended family, with family members that I see only once a year. But, it is all the more enjoyable because of that. And new members keep joining all the time! It always amazes me how far afield people travel to come to the CCS meeting. This year we had many members from Germany, as well as some from Canada and America. Along with the regulars from different parts of the UK, it all makes for very interesting dinner conversations.
Saturday was the main day of the weekend, with lots of interesting talks. It is held at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Marton. We started with an update on the museum by Phil Philo. Unfortunately, the financial situation is tough at the museum, with cuts being made in the council’s funding that are having a large impact on the museum itself. More cuts are likely, so the future is looking a little uncertain. Phil is doing a brilliant job in the middle of all this turmoil.
One of the things I love about the Society is the fact that, while Cook is the one figure that binds us all together, people come to him from different angles and interests. It was reflected in the talks given on the Saturday. Wendy Wales has spent many years researching William Wales, one of her husband’s ancestors. She gave an interesting talk on how she went about doing her research, where she started, and some of the documents that she looked at. As a researcher myself I always find it fascinating to hear of other resources that people use, and was reminded of the very useful ECCO.2 It is also reassuring that I am not the only one who can become obsessed about someone while doing their research!
The next speaker was George Fussey, a teacher at Eton College and curator of the Joseph Banks museum there.3 He gave a fascinating talk on Banks’s time as a pupil at Eton from 1756 (having previously lasted at the rival school Harrow for only one year!). We learnt of Banks’s furore into crime—shooting two swans! And how he appears in the painting “The Tide Rising at Briton Ferry, 1773” by Paul Sandby.4 George really whetted our appetites for a visit to the college and museum.
Lunch is always a chance for me and Dad to discuss what we have seen and heard, and have a general chat, as well as catching up with those who weren’t at the hotel the night before. Then we went down to the museum itself, which has also been renovated. The exhibitions were fascinating and I very much like the new layout. The previous thematic structure has been changed to a chronological one.
The first talk after lunch was by Stephen Baines. It was primarily about Endeavour and her life after Cook. The talk explored her voyages to the Falkland Islands, which I knew nothing about. I usually think about Cook’s ships in relationship to their time with him, so it was a good reminder that life continued for Endeavour after her round the world voyage.
Cliff Thornton’s talks are always entertaining – he has a great way of dividing up the information that he wants to tell you in a way that has you wondering how it is all linked together until the very end. In this case, the talk centred on the portrait of the chief of Santa Christina and the possibility of engravings from the Second Voyage being in a museum in Russia. If true, then can I suggest a CCS trip to that museum?!
The day of talks was wrapped up with a bonus short talk by Derek Morris who, since writing his fascinating article in the last issues of Cook’s Log,5 had discovered a little more information about Mary Smith and the possible connections between her husbands Samuel Batts and John Blackburn. He wondered if there was a link with John Blackbourn, baptised in Whitby in 1724.
For me, Saturday evening is spent not at the CCS auction, but watching as much of the TV programme Strictly Come Dancing as I can, while sending my mum text messages about the dances, etc. Then it is down for dinner and another chance to catch up with people. This year we were treated to some of Alwyn Peel’s jokes. Not to be missed!
Sunday is spent as you wish. Dad and I had the pleasure of Martin La Rocque’s company for the day. Martin is a fascinating character, a gentleman from California who travels across the waters to the UK for the meeting every year. Someone with many a tale to tell from his life as well! He kept us entertained as we travelled over the Yorkshire moors to Whitby. The sight of the town as you head towards the coast is wonderful. How I would have loved to have seen it in the 18th century, with hundreds of sailing ships and boats in the harbour.
For the first time we were going to the service at St Mary’s Church. This annual service marks Cook’s birthday on 27 October, 1728. St Mary’s Church is beautiful, perched on top of the east cliff overlooking the town, next to the incredible Whitby Abbey ruin. Inside the church are the original box pews. As one was reserved for members of the CCS, that is where Dad, Martin and me went. The service started with songs from the Coble Monday Folk Group followed by some sermons from various clergymen and dignitaries. I was pleased that St Hilda was mentioned, a woman who fascinates me.6 But, of course, the heart of the service revolved around Cook. This service marked the final reading of his journals by Dorothy Clegg,7 who has read a section every year. To mark this, Dorothy was presented with a book as a token of gratitude. Peering at it, I whispered to Dad that it looked like John Robson’s Encyclopaedia,8 and it turns out I was right! A welcome addition to any person’s collection.
After the service we carried out another tradition in the Boreham family for the CCS meeting weekend—lunch at Trenchers! Many other members do the same, so we got to fish restaurant to find four already there, and were joined by another two, making nine of us on one table.
Then on to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Grape Lane. Sophie Forgan showed us around the 2013 temporary exhibition,9 explaining how she came up with the ideas, found the exhibits to include, negotiated getting them from the various owners and then putting them altogether. Any exhibition about Cook is worth a visit, but to see it with the exhibition curator with you is a fantastic opportunity we never miss if we can help it. Sophie does an amazing job at this museum, working hard to raise funds to put on exhibitions and purchase items.
Sunday night found only a few members still staying at the hotel, so tea was a rather intimate affair, with the table shared by four Germans, an American, a Canadian, and two Britons. Afterwards, Michael and Teija Spiekien showed photos from their trip to the Society Islands and New Zealand. Michael is a very talented photographer and I now have a longing to visit these places myself!
A fascinating and exciting weekend as always. Roll on the next one!
Many thanks to Alwyn Peel, Henk Timmers and Ian Boreham for the photographs that appear in my report.1
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 37, number 1 (2014).
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