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Cooks' Cottage


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.

Milan Filipovic

Front view (72k) | Rear view (57k)

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 212, volume 6, number 3 (1983).


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Derrick, thanks for your interesting comments. In 1996 the booklet "History under the Hammer" was published which tells the story of the cottage being dismantled and sold to Australia. It was published by the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, so they may have copies for sale.
I wonder if you heard that in 2018, during some works on the site of the old cottage at Great Ayton, some of the the original foundations stones were discovered, and have been used to show the footprint of the original building. You can see the foundations on this website
By Cliff Thornton on 3/29/2021 12:33:46 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Very interested to read the reviews. My connection is that my grandfather William Harper and his son Ben Harper where involved with dismantling and numbering the building when it was dismantled from Great Ayton
By Derrick Fox on 3/27/2021 9:10:44 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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My grandfather Ellis Stones was involved in the restoration of the cottage in the 70's. He kept one of two leftover paving bricks which I have in my possession. I'd like to return/donate it to Cooks Cottage if you think it would be useful. I live in Brisbane, but visit Melbourne every year and could deliver it at some point in the future.
By Tony Rice on 1/19/2020 1:29:18 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Gary, I agree with your comments. I know of no evidence that James Cook Snr. was a stonemason by trade. As a an experienced day-labourer he was a "jack-of-all-trades" and would have been able to build a wall, as well as undertaking a range of agricultural duties. The Cook Cottage, now in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, has a large stone lintel over the entrance. The lintel in engraved with the initials of James and Grace Cook, and Cook Snr. is thought to have undertaken the engraving; but that hardly qualifies him as a stonemason.
By Cliff Thornton on 9/11/2017 10:56:55 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Can you advise where the information that James Cook became a stonemason comes from? I understand that he acquired the plot of land the cottage was built on in June 1755 when he was 60 years old, after being a day labourer and farmhand all his life (on Skottowe's farm for much of the later part). Seems inconceivable that at over 60 he becomes a stonemason.
By gary paine on 9/10/2017 7:42:13 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Paul, thank you for your comment. The event which you attended on 27 October 1978 marked the reopening of the cottage after it had had an extensive renovation. The date was chosen as it was the 250th anniversary of Cook's birth. The Governor General performed the official reopening. The cottage still stands on the site in Fitzroy Gardens, where it was first erected in 1934, after being reassembled from the fabric of the Cook cottage dismantled in Great Ayton.
By Cliff Thornton on 4/21/2015 8:10:45 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I was in the Royal Australian Navy when the Capt. Cooks cottage was relocated to the Fitzroy gardens as the honour guard. this was in 1977-8 . I believe the cottage was relocated to the gardens then from another place in Melbourne. I have contentious arguements about this fact. Is it true it is not on the original site when first landed and built in melbourne and where was it first located. with thanks Paul Ferguson
By Paul Ferguson on 4/20/2015 1:19:27 PM Like:0 DisLike:1
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Thank you for addressing a popular misconception. As mentioned in the biography section of this website, James Cook attended Postgate School, Great Ayton (now a museum – http://www.captaincookschoolroommuseum.co.uk) but had left the village by the time that his father built what has become known as Cook’s Cottage. As an individual brought up in the village, and a history graduate, I am fascinated by the personal details surrounding an individual. Yes, Cook became a celebrated explorer and navigator whose mapping of the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia changed western perceptions of world geography but I have the privilege of walking around the area which helped form the man, on a regular basis!
By Claire Whayman on 8/4/2013 6:33:43 PM Like:6 DisLike:1

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