Cook museum keeps explorer’s memory alive

Charles Forgan inside the Captain Cook museum on Grape Lane which has been open for 25 years''w122604
Charles Forgan inside the Captain Cook museum on Grape Lane which has been open for 25 years''w122604

IN 1772 a Naval explorer came back to the house where he learnt his trade and from that moment on, John Walker’s Grape Lane house was the place to go for news of the famous Captain James Cook.

215 years later the Captain Cook Memorial Museum was established in the very same building to carry on this tradition, and it continues to do so to this day.

Charles Forgan has been involved with the museum for over a decade and said that at first, the residents of Whitby were oblivious to Cook’s exploits.

He said: “His master had kept in touch all his life, but the rest of Whitby was completely unaware and would have known absolutely nothing about what he was up to.

“But from that point on, all would have followed his subsequent voyages and what was known would be coming out of this house.”

Since it opened on 16 May 1987 over half a million people have visited the Captain Cook Museum and visited the rooms where James Cook the apprentice lived for around nine years.

Cook was the first man to cross both Arctic circles and the first to go round the world in both directions, and he is now considered the last of the great maritime explorers.

Mr Forgan explained why Cook’s fame has endured: “We sit on our sofas and watch TV but we like to watch people going to the moon and Cook has been likened to an 18th century version of Neil Armstrong.

“It’s the farm boy who came good and pulled himself up by his boot straps.”

Cook was not just renowned as a brave explorer, but was also a loyal captain who prevented any of his crew from developing scurvy by ensuring fresh fruit was available whenever possible.

He was also an incredible seaman, added Mr Forgan, and this was evident when the Endeavour became holed on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. He added: “Few captains could have got Endeavour back home after it was holed, but Cook and his officers behaved with the utmost coolness, control and calmness.

“These are the reasons why he’s still honoured and remembered.”

When he returned to Whitby, Cook had just completed his first voyage around the world and his reputation was growing rapidly, but little was known back home of ship-owner John Walker’s former apprentice, who went off to join the Navy. A common misconception is that he sailed from Whitby on his voyages, but this is not true, and so when he finally visited Whitby, it was a huge event.

The staff at the Walker’s residence had been told to treat Cook with the utmost respect, but one housekeeper, Mary Prowd, could not contain her excitement and threw her arms around the great Navy captain, saying: “Oh James how right glad I am to see thee.”

Although James Cook’s story was to eventually end in tragedy, killed by Hawaiian islanders in 1779, the museum has for the past 25 years stood as a monument to “Yorkshire’s most famous son” and provides a deep insight into his life, voyages, and his enduring legacy.