Cooks' Cottage History
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Memorial to Captain James Cook, R.N., Discoverer of the east coast of Australia.
The Cottage originally stood on an extremity of the village of Great Ayton, Yorkshire. Cook's father who had gone to Great Ayton from Marton to be a "hind" or bailiff on Thomas Skottowe's farm, Airey Holme, either built, rebuilt or bought it in 1755.
From the date 1755 and the initials (those of James and Grace, Cook's mother and father) over the doorway which is apparently older than the rest of the cottage, it would seem that the cottage was rebuilt, and not originally built by Cook's father when he bought it.
Not improbably, with the bettering of his circumstances, the elder Cook improved a building in which the family had lived since it had settled in Great Ayton, and it is possible that our Captain James Cook lived in the cottage during his boyhood years from 1736 until, in 1745 he left Great Ayton to enter his apprenticeship with William Saunderson, the grocer of Staithes.
It can with surety be said that he was born on October 27, 1728 (Julian Calendar), that the family moved to Great Ayton in 1736, that Cook went to Staithes in 1745, that Cook was resident at Great Ayton and spent some time with his father in the cottage in the winter of 1771/72 on his return from the Australia voyage.
The original thatched cottage in which Cook was born at Marton-in-Cleveland was demolished in 1786 and so the Great Ayton family cottage is the only concrete historical link we have with Captain Cook's origins.
In 1933, the last owner of the cottage, Mrs. Dixon put the cottage up for sale and it was suggested that it would make an ideal focus piece for Victoria's centenary in 1934. The prominent Melbournian Russell Grimwade agreed to buy the cottage and present it as a gift to the Victorian people. However, a difficulty arose in that the patriotic Mrs. Dixon had stipulated that cottage should remain in Britain. She had rejected offers from wealthy Americans for this reason, but she was persuaded to accede to Victoria's claim on the cottage as Australia was, after all, still "in the Empire".
The cottage was purchased by Russell Grimwade in 1933, dismantled, and shipped to Melbourne in 253 packing cases, arriving April, 1934. As the cottage structure had been altered considerably by a succession of owners following the Cook family's occupation, its Australian assemblers had the task of restoring the cottage as accurately as research and guess work would permit to its mid 18th century appearance.
A site in the Fitzroy Gardens was selected to complement the cottage with its large shady European trees and the construction work was completed in six months. The cottage was handed over to the Lord Mayor, H. Gengoult Smith by Russell Grimwade on the 15th October, 1934 during a centenary ceremony.
The cottage has undergone two restorations. The first was undertaken in the late 1950's and the most recent in 1978, when a thorough effort was made to investigate and restore the building, furnish it with material appropriate to the period, and surround it with a garden of eighteenth century character.