The Captain Cook Myth. Robertson, Jillian. 1981

The Captain Cook Myth. Robertson, Jillian. 1981

Robertson, Jillian.
The Captain Cook Myth.
Angus and Robertson.

I have read a book about Captain Cook that doesn’t talk so much about HIM as about the misconceptions and romancing that his name has generated in Australia.

The book points out that while Cook was outstanding as a scientific navigator, he has become a superhero for many Australians for the wrong reasons, Many people believe that Cook discovered Australia, that he was responsible for the country’s colonisation and he was in some way Australia’s founder.

The book examines Cook’s contact with Australia and those of other explorers and discoverers, such as the Dutch, the Portuguese, William Dampier and Sir Francis Drake.

The colonisation of Australia by the British did not come about by Cook’s recommendation, but was the result of the advocacy of Joseph Banks and James Matra. The latter produced in 1783 a pamphlet entitled "A proposal for establishing a settlement in New South Wales".

The second half of the book is devoted to describing how the first Cook memorials were erected in -Australia, and the memory of Cook became idolised.

Here are some of the items mentioned.
In 1822 a brass plaque was erected by the Philosophical Society of Australasia on Point Sutherland where an aborigine said he had, as a boy, seen Captain Cook and his men scramble ashore 52 years earlier.
The first free-standing memorial at Botany Bay was a pub!
The Banks Inn was opened in 1842 by Thomas Kellet. It was soon extended to become the elegant Sir Joseph Banks Hotel.
Australia’s first Cook statue was erected on 27th October, 1874 in the Sydney suburb of Randwick.
On 27th March, 1869 the foundation stone for a Cook statue was laid in Hyde Park, Sydney. For 10 years, only the pedestal ever got completed, until on 25th February, 1879 a statue was finally put on top. (It was made in England.)

The book is easy to read, and contains a great deal of detail on how several early Cook memorials came about. It ends with the following paragraph:
"When Captain Cook’s name is applauded in Australia the gratitude is misplaced. He wasn’t interested in Australia, and had small faith in its possibilities. His achievement lies not in what he added to the maps of the world, but in what he took away: Terra Australia Incognita. What Australia owes to its ‘discoverer’ - the continent’s fifth? tenth? fifteenth? - has been greatly exaggerated. He charted Australia from Cape Everard to Torres Strait and he did it well. That’s all."

Ian Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 412, volume 9, number 1 (1986)

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