12 February 2012

Cook

A visit to a faraway country like New Zealand is not something you file away in the back of your mind like a beach holiday in Spain. New Zealand was at the top of my "must visit" list. A special country. I knew a lot about it before I went - it's Maori heritage, its unique flora and fauna, its settlement by Europeans - mostly of British stock. And of course there was the connection with Yorkshire through master mariner Captain James Cook who circumnavigated the North and South Islands in 1769 aboard the "Endeavour" - a buoyant vessel that had once carried coal from the north east coast of England to London. 

A hundred and twenty years beforehand, the Dutch "discoverer" of New Zealand - Abel Tasman had not set foot ashore, didn't realise there were two big islands and never even saw the east coast. In contrast, Cook spent six months carefully mapping the country with astonishing accuracy and made contact with Maori tribes. Sadly this involved some musket fire and killing. Scientists aboard carefully collected hundreds of previously unknown plants and  The "Endeavour" was careened in Queen Charlotte Sound. Lovely word that - isn't it - careened. It simply means that the ship was beached so that its hull could be repaired and stripped of seaweed and barnacles.

Last week through the magic of "Amazon" I acquired Alistair MacLean's affectionate, authoritative and thoroughly readable account of Cook's life and achievements as a master mariner. He was an intensely private man and little is known of his personal life or how he progressed from such obscure origins in the North Riding of Yorkshire to become England's finest seaman and arguably the greatest explorer the world has ever known. That mystery exists in spite of his copious journals which pretty much limited themselves to factual matters surrounding the weather, the ship's position, problems with supplies etc.. 

MacLean refers to Cook's first landfall at Gisborne. While we were there, I went to find the Cook Landing Monument. It was erected in 1906. Every New Zealand schoolchild had been invited to contribute a penny to fund its construction and the monument was duly unveiled with much pomp and ceremony. (I guess that Maori families might not have been too happy about parting with their pennies!)  Today the monument sits close to Gisborne's gluttonous timber docks and there are ugly industrial units hiding it from the sea.

Though New Zealand is growing up now, it is still very much a young country. Even America seems ancient in comparison. New Zealanders still revere Captain Cook in statues and street names and of course he supplied the country with so many of its familiar geographical names - Young Nick's Head, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, Cape Turnagain, Hawke's Bay, Cape Foulwind etc.. In fact, no one who has ever lived named as many places as Captain Cook did - though admittedly  he would occasionally ignore the fact that there were many pre-existing Maori names.

Below, the unveiling of the Cook Landing Monument in 1906 and my own photo taken last month:-

10 comments:

  1. You may have seen some of Cook's letters in the museum in Whitby - - fascinating! You've been travelling further than I have recently - in the last few weeks I have explored Northern England between Blackpool and Hull.

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  2. DAPHNE Nothing wrong with northern England between Hull and Blackpool - until of course you reach the Lancashire border...There be Dragons!

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  3. Now that you've traipsed all over this planet, I think you should be the Yorkshire representative on the first interplanetary crew. As long as your blogs would make it back here.

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  4. verilly good sir.... your tales give a poor duffer like me, the prick of interest

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  5. Nice post.
    Did you know that Mrs Elizabeth Cook is thought to have sewed and embroidered James a lovely waistcoat for him to wear on special occasions like meeting natives?

    http://arthur-palmer.blogspot.co.nz/2009/06/captain-cook-embroidered-silk-waistcoat.html

    and...

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Gc-XSp8dHZQ/TkuAsXccgoI/AAAAAAAAF7s/jxHsaxTDajA/s400/screen_2011-08-17+09.34.30+%25282%2529.jpg

    (sorry for the long link addys but I don't know how to embed them.)

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  6. Wow, but nearer home, have you ever been to the Captain Cook centre/museum in Staithes - a fascinating must, and a bit cheaper than flying half-way round the world!

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  7. We too have a great fondness for Captain Cook. In Melbourne Captain Cook's cottage has been rebuilt stone-by-stone in Fitzroy Gardens as a tribute to this wonderful seaman. http://www.onlymelbourne.com.au/melbourne_details.php?id=681
    It made us feel quite at home when we encountered a statue of Cook on the waterfront of Victoria, Canada and another one at one end of the Mall in London - like meeting up with a relative in a strange land!
    High on our list of must-dos on our next trip to the UK is a visit to Whitby.
    I'm enjoying your visit to NZ.Glad you enjoyed it, it is a beautiful country.
    Cheers

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  8. JAN BLAWAT If I do get on that crew, you will also have to be on board as Nyota Uhura!
    MASTER GRAY Please forward your distance learning fee for this semester and no more reference to pricks of interest please! Or are you John Inman reincarnated?
    KATHERINE I didn't know about the waistcoat. MacLean emphasises how hidden the real Cook remained after many hours of painstaking research. I'll check out vthe links tomorrow.
    BRIAN I didn't know about the Staithes museum. If I'm up in those parts I shall make a point of visiting. Should be cheaper than a return air ticket to Auckland - unless of course I travel by train!

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  9. Here in Oz we're very fond of Captain Cook too and it made me feel quite at home when we came upon a statue of him in Victoria, Canada as well as at one end of the Mall in London. Sort of like meeting a relative when you're far from home.
    Cook's cottage now stands in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens, painstakingly transported stone by stone and rebuilt as a tribute to him and the part he played in the settlement of Australia.
    http://www.onlymelbourne.com.au/melbourne_details.php?id=681
    Glad you enjoyed lovely NZ. Keep the holiday stories coming.
    Cheers

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  10. Using one of those new-fangled ideas known as googles, i found the link to the centre ...
    http://www.captaincookatstaithes.co.uk/

    as they say, full of fascinating memorabilia :)

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