In 1933 the owner of the cottage in Gt. Ayton, that was built by Captain Cook's father, decided to sell it. In a patriotic attempt to prevent its being taken to the United States by certain Americans she made it a condition of sale that the building remain in England. However she was persuaded to change "England" to "the Empire", and accepted an Australian bid of £800, as opposed to the highest local offer of £300 .
The Australian offer arose because a report of the forthcoming sale appeared in the Melbourne Herald. A week later it was suggested to Mr. (later Sir) Russell Grimwade (a local businessman) that the cottage should he bought for re-erection in Melbourne, as the capital city of Victoria, the state whose coastline included Cook's first Australian landfall; and it was Victoria's centenary the following year.
Since this was Saturday, and the sale took place the following Wednesday there was no time to be lost. Grimwade decided to buy the cottage and donate it to the state.
The cottage was demolished brick by brick and packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels, together with slips of the ivy from the walls to be transplanted. Everything was put on board the Port Dunedin which sailed from Hull. The transportation and rebuilding was conducted by firms who waived most of their normal charges.
The newly opened cottage immediately became a popular attraction. During the following years it suffered from vandalism and in 1978 was restored.
What we have today is a building which Cook probably saw, but which he may never have lived in. It is a building which has almost certainly been very largely rebuilt in a different form sometime about the early nineteenth century.
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).
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