I was asked to be the non-member commentator for the Cook Conference 2018. (Thanks Ian!)
I am married to James Ross, member of the Captain Cook Society since the early 1980s and Captain Cook enthusiast well before that. My entrance into the world of Captain Cook, apart from the basic Australian history taught in school, was via the botanical art of Banks’s Florilegium. An exhibition of the first prints came to Melbourne in the mid-1980s, and we were keen to attend and view the long-awaited art works up close. They were even more wonderful than expected, but buying one was out of reach for our meagre finances at the time. We bought six cards, had those framed, and have had them on our wall ever since. We love them even though they’re a bit faded now. For those of you interested in the botanical, we now have a print of a Banksia by Celia Rosser. She was commissioned to document all the different species of Banksia across Australia as part of a project through Monash University. Well worth a look!
This year, the alignment of our retirements and the 250th anniversary of Cook setting off to Tahiti and beyond, meant that attending a CCS meeting for the first time zoomed up the travel priority list. James started planning. From Australia it’s a long flight so he wanted to make the most of the trip, and get to some places he’d been looking to visit for a while. The itinerary ended up being UK, Morocco, Portugal, Ghana, and a short stay in Dubai to break the long flight home. A very varied menu of cultures! Our flight from Dubai landed in Newcastle, which provided a much more relaxed entry to the UK, compared to the frenzy and queues of Heathrow. Several trains and a taxi later, and we were installed in our room at the Sporting Lodge Inn at Stainton.
Our first adventure was to Yarm, a nearby town recommended to us as a good place to find dinner. It was indeed a delightful village. We walked in the late afternoon sunshine along the Tees River, with views of Yarm Castle and the huge railway viaduct, and then up the hill to the War Memorial and the Churchyard beyond, ending up at “The Pot and Glass” Pub. This ticked all the right boxes of intimate, cosy atmosphere, good food and beer, a friendly publican, and locals who were chatty and willing to answer all of our questions about the area, with a few extra stories thrown in. An excellent night.
The next day, Friday, we were up early to make our pilgrimage to Whitby. We’d been to Whitby before, on a previous trip a few years ago with our two daughters, and loved it. On that trip we visited Great Ayton and Staithes as well. The bus from Middlesbrough wound through the countryside, and up and over the moors. Next visit, if there is one, I would like to allow time to do some walking in these wild areas.
Our first stop in Whitby was to view the Endeavour Replica from the quay, a new addition since our last trip. Eager for exercise, we then walked up to the Abbey, and wandered the cliffs and the Abbey grounds enjoying the coastal and river views, the roofscapes, and the archaeological displays in the visitor centre. After lunch we visited the Captain Cook Memorial Museum with its displays showing what life was like for James Cook during his apprenticeship, plus paintings, maps and items from his voyages. Very well presented and interesting, even for the non-enthusiasts! The exhibition in the attic, “Whitby in the Time of Cook”, added historical context to create a fuller picture of Cook’s early life. After the museum we wandered the cobbled streets of the quayside, and up to the Cook Statue on the headland, where all photos have a resident bird perched atop. Whitby’s steep, cobbled streets, little shops and narrow houses are full of atmosphere and character.
The trip back to Middlesbrough by train wanders through the Esk valley with glorious views of forests and fields. A lovely end to our day trip. Note: Do not get off the train at Marton expecting to be able to get a taxi back to the hotel. There is nothing at all at the station.
When we eventually got back to the hotel, the welcoming committee was there to greet us with badges and introductions and stories. A very warm start to the conference continued over dinner later that evening. Conversation was relaxed and chatty, even though we had not met any of the other members before. After dinner we all retired to the Yarm Suite upstairs for further introductions and a run through of how the conference would proceed the next day. Car-pooling was organised for the morning; then weary travellers retired for the night.
The day of the conference itself was packed with interest, plus it was friendly and relaxed. The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum is the ideal venue, set in beautiful grounds with something for everyone. There are animals, sports fields, a playground complete with ship to practise your mast climbing, a beautiful garden and forest walks and, of course, historic sites. After the welcoming address, fellow Aussie Malcolm Nicolson talked about all the celebration events planned for 2020 in New Zealand and Australia. It certainly whetted our appetite, so we hope many members and friends will brave the high seas, or clouds, to visit down-under and experience first-hand the landscapes, plants, animals and Indigenous culture that provided the setting for Cook’s explorations. Other talks about the refurbishment of the Endeavour Replica, and life on board ships in Georgian times, fleshed out my sketchy knowledge of the voyages. The final talk, which included excerpts of Bank’s diary punctuated with pictures of the plant and animal life found, was a fascinating insight into daily life for the scientists and artists.
The talks were broken up with chatting to other members from different countries and backgrounds, and with a pleasant lunchtime walk through the gardens to St Cuthbert’s Church, to see where Cook was baptised, and to visit other historic graves in the old churchyard.
After the conference it was back to the hotel for the auction, and then a dinner with newfound friends, followed by a session in the Yarm Suite upstairs for some of Alwyn Peel’s renowned stories. All in all, a great day!
The following day many of the members were off to Whitby or other Cook sites, but we were off to London to visit some cousins, take in some museums, and see a few shows, before continuing our travels beyond the UK. Our visits to Morocco and Ghana were amazingly colourful and memorable cultural experiences, but Lisbon is perhaps the most interesting to CCS members due to its long history of maritime exploration.
The Maritime Museum at Belem was excellent, even for the non-maritime enthusiast. It has beautiful maps, dozens of intricate ship models, and a huge exhibition space displaying full-size open boats, barges and sailing boats. On the waterfront, the “Memorial to Explorers” and the historic Belem Tower are also must-see icons. Beyond maritime experiences, the Monsteiro Jeronimos and the Coach Museum are also fabulous, along with the Portuguese Tarts!
Writing this article on the plane home, I am reflecting on the many and varied experiences we’ve had. Thanks to all the conference organisers for their efforts and for being the instigators of such a fabulous trip!!
James and I hope to see many of you in 2020 as you take the plunge, and come southwards for an equally amazing adventure with a South Pacific/Australasian flavour. If Cook could do it in 1770, then you can in 2020!
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 5, volume 42, number 1 (2019).
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