Such was life

Captain Cook’s cottage

Captain Cook’s cottage, located in Fitzroy Gardens, was initially built by Captain Cook’s family in the town of Great Ayton in Yorkshire, England. It is believed to have been built around 1755 and was transported then erected in Melbourne in 1934. But did Cook ever actually live there?

A 1940 etching on paper by Melbourne artist Victor Cobb.

 Cook’s Cottage, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, H2010.56/59

In June 1933 an article appeared in The Herald (17 June 1933, pg 7) stating that the cottage was for sale, with an embellished assertion that the cottage was ‘where Captain Cook always went in the intervals between his voyages to the South Seas’. Shortly after a response by Hermon Gill, who had visited the cottage in 1929, was published. He proposed that the cottage should be bought and re-erected in Melbourne. Furthermore, as Melbourne’s centenary was approaching it was felt that the cottage would be a perfect birthday gift for the city. This idea was realised through Sir Russell Grimwade, who met the Premier of Victoria, Sir Stanley Argyle, on 26 June 1933 and offered to present the cottage as a gift to Victoria.

Initially there were some complications organising the purchase of the property, as a condition of the sale was that it must stay in the UK (there had been concerns that the property would be bought by Americans and then shipped to the United States). However, the owner of the cottage, Mrs Dixon, was convinced to change this stipulation, instead stating that it could not be sold outside of the Empire, thereby allowing it to be sold and shipped to Australia.

The cottage was packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels, with all the bricks and stones numbered, and the door head was encased in protective concrete. The final touch was to take some cuttings of ivy from the walls of the home, which were replanted at the new site in Melbourne (Cook’s cottage: in memory of James Cook, pg 29). All of these items, weighing 150 tonnes, were transported to Australia on the ship Port Dunedin.

Shows the entrance to Captain Cook's Cottage, with an English flag.

[Captain Cook's Cottage, Treasury Gardens, Melbourne]H98.30/336

As the purchase of the home generated lots of publicity, various claims were made. These included that it was Captain Cook’s birth place or that it was his boyhood home. However, neither of these claims were correct, and in fact it is not known for certain if Captain Cook ever visited the home. The general consensus seems to be that it is possible that Cook stayed at the cottage when he visited Great Ayton in 1772.

The present site of the cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens was not the only proposed location, as the State Library of Victoria was also considered a possible site. It was proposed that the building could be located out the front of the library, near the corner of Swanston and Latrobe Streets. However, not everyone was in favour of this plan, with one objector noting that, ‘If there were additions to the Library a ‘squalid little place’ in front would interfere with the dignity of the building.’ In the end it was decided to locate the cottage in the Fitzroy gardens, close to the caretaker’s cottage, as it was felt that here the cottage could be situated in a ‘setting appropriate to its architecture‘.

After the re-erection of the cottage it was handed over to the State of Victoria on 15 October 1934 as part of the Victorian and Melbourne centenary celebrations. The Library holds a range of Cook’s cottage resources, including the digitised pamphlet Captain Cook’s Cottage and architectural drawings of the cottage.

Written by Debra Hutchinson
Librarian, Australian History and Literature Team

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COMMENTS (2)

  1. Dr Gae Anderson says:

    This is a very engaging article Debra Hutchinson has written. I’m currently writing a book on Esther Paterson, wife of George Hermon Gill. I’d like to know if Esther & George were invited to the opening of Cook’s Cottage. Could anyone at the VSL enlighten me?
    I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you.

    • pdee says:

      Hi Dr Anderson,
      Thankyou for your comment and interest. I have passed your enquiry onto Debra and she will be in touch with you shortly.
      Paul

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