Many may not realise the humble beginnings of Captain James Cook, which makes it all the more remarkable that he achieved so much.

Cook's family was not wealthy and had no real association with the sea and sailing. His father was a farm labourer from Scotland, also named James, who married Grace Pace, of Thornaby-on- Tees. James, the sailor, was the second of eight children and was born in a cottage in the Yorkshire village of Marton, which has now been subsumed by the city of Middlesbrough.

Marton Place celebrates the birthplace of Captain James Cook.

The cottage and its location have been variously built over and rediscovered, but currently, the location is marked with a commemorative granite urn in what is now Stewart Park. In 1978, the Middlesbrough Council opened the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

In there is the story of how the cottage was removed by Bartholomew Rudd in 1786 to build Marton Lodge, but Rudd recognised the historic significance of the site and marked its location with a quadrangle of flint stones. The lodge was destroyed by fire in 1832 and was rebuilt by a new owner, Henry Bolckow, in 1853. He replaced the flints with the commemorative urn in 1858. The new Marton Hall was also destroyed by fire in 1960 and the current museum is built on the site.

Cook left Marton in 1736 and, after some education, followed his father into farming and then became apprenticed as a shop boy to a grocer in the fishing village of Staithes.

He proved "unsuitable to shop work" and was taken on as an apprentice in the merchant navy in Whitby, sailing colliers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Who knows, maybe the residents of Marton Place are harbouring a genius who, in 250 years, could be said to have come from humble beginnings?

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

Related Information


James Cook Biography (2007), David Mackay. Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand


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