Captain Cook of Royal Lineage.
I was looking forward to reviewing this book after reading its advance publicity. That had referred to the missing ancestry of Captain Cook, and suggested that the lack of information was a deliberate obfuscation to hide his secret royal lineage. The author claimed that such a lineage “is a much more credible explanation of Cook’s genius than an origin as the son of a day-labourer.” Dr McGrath clearly does not share the more egalitarian view, usually associated with fellow Australians.
For the purpose of this review I have divided the book into three separate sections.
The first section tells a tale of royal intrigue as
King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) sought to protect his position from other potential claimants to his throne; principal amongst these was Arbella Stuart, the niece of Mary, Queen of Scots. Dr McGrath traces the noble birth of Arbella, and recounts various aspects of her life, noting the restrictions imposed by King James because of her ancestry. Arbella was subsequently engaged to marry William Seymour, a union which the King forbade. But love prevailed, and the couple married in secret. When their marriage became known, the King ordered Arbella to be arrested and intended banishing her to Durham.
However, following an unsuccessful attempt to escape to France, she was confined to the Tower of London. Legend says that she starved herself to death in the Tower before being given a respectable burial in Westminster Abbey.
McGrath tells the above tale in some detail, giving the names, locations and dates of various events in Arbella’s short life. I am surprised that Hollywood has not made this fascinating royal tale of mystery and romance into a blockbuster film!
Sadly the second part of the book does not maintain the high standard that precedes it. In this section the author raises the possibility that Arbella’s marriage produced a daughter. McGrath comments on how that child would have borne the burden of its noble lineage, and speculates on how the baby may have been spirited away from London before Arbella’s incarceration in the Tower.
It is claimed that the child was taken to Scotland, where her descendants settled in the Border country. According to the author, several generations later, those descendants of Arbella’s daughter included the Cook family of Ednam, Roxburghshire.
I say “according to the author”, but actually this part of the story derives from a Scot called Adam Cooke. He claimed that he was descended from one of Captain Cook’s uncles, and claimed that his line went back to Arbella Stuart’s daughter.
Whilst McGrath has done her best to authenticate Adam Cooke’s claims, she has failed to find any supporting evidence as the records for the relevant geographical areas no longer exist. Not all 17th century records have survived the passage of time, but in the author’s eyes the absence of these particular records was more than convenient to a family trying to cover its tracks. I thought that I detected a whiff of a conspiracy in the air!
Compared to the first section, this part of the book lacks the names, locations and dates needed to corroborate the story. This section also contains some factual errors, e.g. Thomas Skottowe is described as a Quaker, which he wasn’t, and as an “ironmaster” long before the development of the local iron industry.
This part of the book contains too many holes to convince me of its veracity.
Whilst checking my research notes recently I came across a document that had been given to me some 35 years ago by the late Fred Lumb, a well-known Cook enthusiast. It is a copy of an old letter in which it is claimed that Captain Cook’s father was none other than James Stuart – the “Old Pretender”; making Bonnie Prince Charlie a brother to Captain Cook!
Who on earth would make such a preposterous claim?
The writer of the letter was an Adam Cook of Scotland, presumably the same Adam Cook(e) whose claims about Arbella prompted McGrath to write her book! Although this letter is undated, I have been able to trace its contents back to 1930, as the same claim from Adam Cook was published in the 38th annual report of the Hawaiian Historical Society.
The third part of the book is the largest and least contentious. It comprises a suite of the author’s poems relating to Captain Cook.
McGrath is to be congratulated for capturing so much of Cook’s life in verse. She has completed a monumental piece of work, her words conveying wonderful imagery. Her fifty poems, covering individual aspects of Cook’s early life and maritime adventures, are a major literary tribute to the Captain. In a variety of poetical styles she ranges from early subjects, such as “Thomas Skottowe”, through to the modern era with “The Endeavour Replica”. It is no wonder that the late Kenneth Slessor, one of Australia’s leading poets, who also was inspired by Cook, once wrote a glowing tribute to Dr McGrath’s poetry.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 35, number 3 (2012).