Graham, John M.
Captain James Cook: Yorkshire’s Most Famous and Enigmatic Explorer.
Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum.
John Graham is a very quizzical writer, as throughout his book he poses to the reader numerous questions, for example, Who was Thomas Skottowe? What happened to Furneaux? and What was the North-West Passage? He even starts his book with a question in the very first sentence: “There are many, many books about Captain Cook, so why another one?”
Fortunately the author answers all of the questions that he asks. As to why another book about Captain Cook is needed, Graham explains that he believes that he has spotted a niche in the market. The ordinary man in the street, who knows very little about Captain Cook, wants a book that summarises his three major voyages as succinctly as possible, and gives details of the Captain from his early years, right up to the present. Such a booklet should ideally be visually interesting with plenty of photographs, prints, charts etc., to hold the reader’s attention.
In the 70 pages that follow, I am pleased to report that the author ticks all of the above boxes in his writing, his chosen content, and the format of the publication. I would never have thought that Cook’s life could be condensed into such a small volume, but Graham has accomplished it with ease.
He has divided the Cook story into nine chapters. The first four chapters cover Cook’s life up to 1755, when he was 26, and he decided to join the Royal Navy. The next four chapters cover his naval career, with one chapter for each of his voyages of exploration.
The ninth and final chapter is a miscellany, covering what happened in the years following Cook’s death at Hawai`i in 1779. This chapter tells of his widow, Elizabeth Cook, and what happened to his various ships, along with other interesting facts.
This book is certainly not a dry read. There is hardly a page that does not carry a full colour illustration, and many that carry two or more. So if a reader tires of reading the text, Cook’s story can be followed through the pictures on the pages. These images are not large, but then they do not need to be, as the author has chosen his illustrations well.
The book has a magazine format, with the text of each chapter containing appropriate illustrations, and panels that focus on some particular element of the story. I was pleased to see that the creation of the book received the support of other local figures, including the photographer Joe Cornish, and Michael Shaw of the Sutcliffe Gallery in Whitby.
I predict that this book will sell well, both within Cleveland, and further afield. The ordinary man in the street will flick through the pages and feel that he is getting good value for money. Those who already know the Cook story will flick through the pages, and be surprised to find facts and illustrations that they have never seen before; for instance, whilst it took Captain Cook several years to circumnavigate the Earth, did you know that another son of Cleveland managed the same feat in 90 minutes? He was an astronaut orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station, which he had reached using a NASA Space Shuttle appropriately named Discovery.
The book was commissioned by the Trustees of the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum at Great Ayton. I applaud them for their foresight and financial acumen in appointing John Graham to produce this work. I hope that it will reward the Trust for many years to come.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 69, volume 43, number 2 (2020).