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Captain James Cook: from Whitby to the Southern Hemisphere


Taking a stroll through Whitby’s historic centre it’s impossible to miss references to Captain James Cook dispersed throughout the town. From the museum on Grape Lane to the Captain Cook Experience: a replica HMS Endeavour which sets sail from Whitby’s shores, taking tourists on a 25-minute educational voyage along the coastline.


It is clear that the people of Whitby consider this gallant seaman as one of their own, but exactly are Captain Cook’s connections to our home town?


The Captain Cook Merorial Museum on Grape Lane

A brief history


Captian James Cook was born in Marton-in-Cleveland, later moving with his family to Great Ayton. However, it was in Whitby that the young Cook’s preparation for the remarkable voyages that he was to make years later began. Cook was determined to go out to sea from a young age and was taken in by the Walker family, Quaker shipowners in Whitby, making his first journey in 1747 aboard the Freelove.



Portrait of James Cook by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland, c. 1775

In 1755 Cook volunteered in the Royal Navy and was involved in action in the Seven Years’ War carefully applying himself to surveying and mapping the entrance to St Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This work was recognised by the Admiralty leading to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour on which he would sail the first of his three Pacific voyages.



Replica HMS Endevour embarking on a mini cruise along the coast
a better ship for such service I never could wish for.

Cook on HM Endeavour


Whitby-built, HM Bark Endeavour  was sturdy and reliable. Cook and the Endeavour set sail with the aim of calculating inter-planetary distances by observing the transit of Venus from Tahiti as well as exploring the Southern hemisphere in search of the ‘Southern Continent’.


The fittest for service of any I have seen

Cook on HM Resolution


Cook became the first man to sail around the world in both directions aboard HMS Resolution during his second voyage, whilst his third took him to Hawaii which sadly was to be is final destination as he was killed in a fight with natives.



Death of Captain James Cook, oil on canvas by George Carter, 1783, Bernice P. Bishop Museum

Whitby, therefore, had no small part to play in the great voyages that were to change our understanding of the world. Yet another reason to be proud of our home town.


Now for the important question: Would Captain Cook have enjoyed a Whitby Gin and Tonic?


All the ingredients to make a G&T were kept aboard the ships: quinine, found in tonic water, was taken aboard to treat malaria whilst limes were used for the treatment of scurvy. That leaves the Geneva itself which was drunk to keep warm at sea.


Perhaps, then, Cook was indeed partial to a gin & tonic and may have enjoyed our perfect serve.



Whitby Gin-the perfect serve

Fun Facts about Captain James Cook:


Whitby’s Caedmon college has a House system with the ‘houses’ named after Captain Cook’s ships (Jess was in Endeavour!)


Captain Cook was the first European to see the East Coast of Australia


In New Zealand the Cook’s crew were impressed by the tattoos of the native Maori tribe and wanted some themsleves. It is believed this was the start of the traditional image of a sailor with anchor tattoos!


Cook fed the crew sauerkraut to help keep them healthy and, above all, prevent scurvy


Some of the crew wanted to stay in Tahiti as it was such a nice place and the locals were very friendly.



UK Hydrographic Office nautical chart from 1908 showing Sandy Island. Image credit R.C. Carrington, of the Hydrographic Office

Until 2012 a non-existent island called Sandy Island could be found on Google Maps which was published in Cook's "Chart of Discoveries made in the South

Pacific Ocean" in 1776. It is unknown exactly what Cook saw on that voyage.



Whitby today retains a strong sense of pride in the towns connection to this great voyager, last year celebrating 250 years since Cook’s first expedition to the South Seas with The Cook 250 festival.

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