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False Trails and Fallacies 3 - Factual Errors

 

Simple factual errors frequently appear in treatments of Cook, especially with reference to his private and domestic life. Since anything that appears in print is likely to be quoted, it is worth setting the record straight when possible.

A good many years ago a piece in the "Essex Countryside" magazine suggested that Cook once had a house at Leigh on Sea near Southend. Both the local historian and the archivist of the Essex Record Office told me the same story. There had been a house called "Cook's Place" but the Cooks in question, John Cook Snr. and his namesake son were 18th century physicians. The mere name Cook seems an incitement to those with vivid imaginations and a disinclination to check their facts!

On August 22, 1960, "The Times" newspaper printed a story about the proposed restoration of the blitzed Trinity Almshouses Chapel, Mile End, East London, "known" (they alleged) "as Captain Cook's Church". Although within easy walking distance of Cook's Mile End home (No. 7 Assembly Row, later 88 Mile End Road), he is most unlikely ever to have set foot in it, as the Chapel was for almshouse inmates only.

Finally, there is the story of a game being sold as "The Captain's Mistress", a posh version of the plastic Connect 4. I first spotted this in a 1992 "Past Times" catalogue, but it has since appeared in other catalogues with a nautical slant. I quote, "legend has it that on his voyages of discovery Captain James Cook spent so many hours poring over the game's stratagems that the crew joked he had a mistress aboard."

Needless to say, enquiries with the publishers of these catalogues - one even associated with the Greenwich Museum - led to nothing that went in any way towards substantiating this absurd tale. However, as our Editor reminded me, the 1996 "Blood, Sea and Ice" exhibition at the National Maritime Museum did include, among various oddments, an item labelled "Captain Cook's dice"!

Alan W. Smith


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1450, volume 20, number 4 (1997).

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