It is thought that the Cooks built the cottage in 1755 shortly after Cook senior had left Thomas Skottowe's farm, Aireyholme, to become a stonemason. Over a doorway is the year "1755" and the initials "JCG", probably of the parents James and Grace Cook. The young James Cook cannot have lived there for any significant time for he left Great Ayton in 1745 to work at Staithes; perhaps just for visits to his parents. It cannot be stated with certainty that Cook actually stayed at any time in this cottage.
It is a detached house of two storeys with only one main chamber on each floor. In Great Ayton it fronted directly on to a lane known in Cook's time as Goat Lane and now called Easby Lane. Little is known of the original garden; the modern one tries to look like an eighteenth century English cottage garden. The plants used are species which could feasibly have been in use then, but it seems unlikely that the range of plants would have all been present in any one particular garden. And it is by no means certain that the Cooks were keen gardeners.
The cottage was sold unfurnished. None of the present contents, except one, has any direct connection with Captain Cook or his family. But all have been carefully selected as original or reproduced pieces representative of the period. The "Ditty Box", a studdied hide-covered wood used by sailors and fishermen to hold their smaller possessions, bears the initials "JC" and is reputed to have been the personal property of Captain James Cook.
Cooks' Cottage stands in Fitzroy Gardens, close to the centre of Melbourne. A short guide entitled "Cooks' Cottage" is available. It is edited by J.P. Rogan, published by the Joint Management Committee of Cooks' Cottage, 1979.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 212, volume 6, number 3 (1983).