As a “Boro lass”1 I have been interested in James Cook since my childhood, going to the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum with school groups, and doing projects about him. At Stewart Park a “Parky” once told me that the large tree next to the commemorative vase in the grounds at the back of the museum is the one that Cook used to climb on as a boy. I have always imagined him climbing the tree, but have no proof. Still, it’s nice to dream.
In 2014 I took up the interest again as a personal project, and studied further into how the young boy developed into a man. I wanted to know more about his personality, but also realised how lucky I am to have all of his young life’s history within the area where I live: birthplace in Marton, the church where he was christened, Aireyholme Farm, his school, the place where his parents’ home once stood, Ayton Hall, Staithes, Whitby, and his family’s graves in Marske and Great Ayton. After a while I came to a stand-still at getting more information about him, so my sister suggested I search for a group or society that follows him. I wasn’t building my hopes when I started to look on the internet but then, to my surprise, I came across the Captain Cook Society. I joined immediately, wishing I had done so sooner.
After receiving my first copy of Cook’s Log, I already felt part of a group, even though I had not met anybody. However, I had received valuable information and was very surprised to see there is a large number of members WORLDWIDE!!
I spotted details of a meeting at Marton in Middlesbrough in October 2015, and the date was put into my diary immediately. I was adamant that nothing was going to hinder me attending.
The meeting weekend finally arrived, and on the Friday at work I couldn’t wait for the clock to strike 4pm. I left work, drove to the Blue Bell Hotel, parked up, and saw a group of people through the window. Once inside I approached them and, yes, they were from the CCS. Instantly I was made to feel very welcome within a warm relaxed group of people. One of the first was a lovely lady called Wendy Wales telling me about her new book “Captain Cook’s Computer” referring to the life of William Wales F.R.S.2 Such a privilege for me to meet an author who had collected copies of her book only that morning—hot off the press!
We had pre-dinner drinks in the bar, and I was able to meet and chat with more people, enquiring what and why they were interested in Captain Cook. We moved from the bar to the dining room when the meal was ready. Sitting opposite me at table was another new member who said it was also his first time there. During the meal people chatted and I was able to talk to the Editor, Ian Boreham, who sat next to me. Then I spotted Secretary Alwyn Peel at the other side of Ian, then the President, Cliff Thornton, the other side of him. Realisation dawned upon me that I must be at the top table. “Oh no”, I thought, “I hope other members don’t think I was pushing myself onto the top table. What will they think of me?”
After dinner, Alwyn Peel gave details of members unable to attend, and welcomed new members to the group, including me. Again, with a lovely warm reception. After the speeches, members mingled, swapping seats at the tables enabling them to catch up with each other, adding to a relaxed atmosphere.
The President, Cliff Thornton, approached me with a big hand shake welcoming me to the group, and we chatted instantly about his book, and some of the subjects within it.3 He also introduced me to a very nice man from Redcar, who had a lot of information regarding Ayton Hall. I could have stayed and chatted all night, but the next day was beckoning with more to look forward to.
Saturday morning at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum there were more people in attendance, including a number from Germany, Canada and New Zealand. I was very impressed to see that people from far and wide were very interested in Captain Cook. A personal pride for me as this great man is from my home town. At the meeting a handful of experts in their fields gave their accounts of historical information relating to Captain Cook; including chronometers, Mercury Bay in New Zealand, the accounts in Anchorage, and a whistle-stop guide to an exhibition of artifacts that had been attended by Queen Victoria.
On Saturday evening back at the Blue Bell Hotel we had another lovely meal. I was sitting alongside Linda Collins and Steve Cooney, as well as the lovely Harry Ward, who seemed to take me under his wing and looked after me very well.
After the meal an auction was set up by Robin Stenhouse. As it was a first for me I made sure I kept my arms tucked in, trying not to blink, cough or sneeze!! Now that I know the format and some of the lots on show, I will be there at the ready with my number to raise at next year’s auction. After the auction, Alwyn Peel gave anecdotes on life, which were very amusing—all the more so as they were true to life.
Sunday unfortunately I did not go to Whitby, which many members did. If the chance is there next time, then I will try to attend.
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend with the Captain Cook Society, impressed that members travelled a long way to attend, but disappointed that there were not more people from Middlesbrough, especially as Cook was born on our “doorstep”.
This great man journeyed into the unknown, crossing wild waters, meeting islanders not knowing what welcome there would be, wondering if and when he would ever get back home again, and maintaining a ship and all its company. All of this was for our education to learn more about this great planet from land, sea, plants, stars and the animal kingdom. So, “Thank you James” for all that we know today, and a personal thank you to everybody at the meeting, who made me feel very welcome.
I’m looking forward to seeing you all again.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 21, volume 39, number 1 (2016).
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