Our Village Remembers Captain Cook: The links between Great Ayton and its most famous resident.
Published by the author.
Dan O’Sullivan wrote, in my opinion, one of the best books on James Cook to have appeared in the last twenty years.1 However, before that he was already associated with Great Ayton, the village where Cook spent part of his childhood. To this end, he had two small, but significant, books to his name that covered Cook’s time in the village.2
Since the publication of his earlier works, new information has come to light about buildings and properties associated with Cook. O’Sullivan has responded by producing a new book that draws from the earlier ones, and one by Cliff Thornton,3 while adding much new information.
The first part of the book covers the recent work to establish the location of the cottage occupied by the Cooks on the Aireyholme Farm property. He uses a report by John Rowlands on the archaeological excavation of the site (funded by the National Lottery) that seems to indicate that the floor of the cottage has been identified. As to why and when the cottage totally disappeared remains unexplained.
O’Sullivan also writes about Cook’s parents’ cottage in Easby Lane. He explains its origins in 1755, and the various modifications that were made to it over the years before it was sold to Australia. Two cottages were changed into one, extensions added (and bits removed), doors and windows added (and removed), so that the building sold to the Government of Victoria was somewhat different from the original one.
There has been confusion over the years about the name of Cook’s teacher at the Postgate School. Beaglehole gave it as Pullen,4 but O’Sullivan convincingly shows that the teacher was William Rowland. O’Sullivan proceeds to describe the sort of schooling Cook would have received during his four years there.
Cook had a knack throughout his life of having people advance his cause. He obviously impressed people sufficiently for them to help his career. O’Sullivan devotes chapters to two such men with Ayton connections. Thomas Skottowe was “Lord of the Manor” during Cook’s childhood, and helped pay for his schooling. His own rather erratic life is detailed here. William Wilson became a friend of the adult Cook, when he had already made something of a name for himself. Wilson had been a successful sailor himself for the East India Company, and had retired to Great Ayton. James and Elizabeth Cook stayed with him on a rare visit north.
A short chapter covers All Saints Church, where the Cook family worshipped, and where members of the family were buried. The book finishes with information about the various monuments and statues commemorating Cook in the village and surrounding area.
The author has produced an interesting and charming little book. It works as a stand-alone book, but should be considered required reading for anyone visiting the village.
- O'Sullivan, Dan. In Search of Captain Cook: exploring the man through his own words. I.B. Tauris. 2008.
- O'Sullivan, Dan. Great Ayton: a history of the village. Published by the author.2nd ed. 1996. O'Sullivan, Dan. The Education of Captain Cook. Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. 2000.
- Thornton, Cliff. Captain Cook in Cleveland. Tempus Publishing. 2006.
- Beaglehole, J.C.The Life of Captain James Cook.Hakluyt Society.1974.Page 4.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 61, volume 43, number 2 (2020).