Whitby celebrates the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s South Sea voyage
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 July 2018
©2018 CAG Photography Ltd
Whitby was the place to be as the town celebrated a famous son in a very special way, writes Tony Greenway
Who said he wanted to explore ‘farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go’? If you said Captain James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise you need to get to the back of the class and take a long, hard look at yourself. Because it was, of course, the famous Yorkshire-born explorer, navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook, who set sail on his first voyage of discovery to the South Seas 250 years ago this summer. So you know what that means. Yep. It’s time for a festival.
‘Captain Cook is an international icon, so we planned a world-class festival in Whitby to welcome visitors from across the globe,” says Janet Deacon, tourism and corporate marketing manager for Scarborough Borough Council and area director for tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire. ‘Inspired by Cook and his voyages, the festival will showcase the very best of the Yorkshire Coast’s rich and vibrant culture.’
The Captain Cook Festival, which featured a programme of related maritime entertainment: live music (including shanty singers, sea-balladeers and fishermen’s choirs); street theatre; the world premiere of a new anniversary edition of Eye of the Wind, a folk opera about Captain Cook originally recorded by the BBC; a specially commissioned maritime play by Time Will Tell theatre, performed at Whitby Abbey; some intriguing new ways to navigate and explore Whitby and even Maori music and dance from Ngāti Rānana, the group who performed for a pre-spliced Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Anzac Day back in April.
Something else immediately associated with the name Captain Cook is... er... live cookery theatre. Isn’t it? It must be, because a big part of the festival was something called Cook’s Kitchen, featuring various celebrity and local chefs.
Actually, don’t be so cynical. It turns out there’s a very good reason why cookery demos were added to the festival line up. ‘Captain Cook’s journals reveal how excited and curious he was about the food he encountered on his travels,’ says Irene Myers, organiser and MC of Cook’s Kitchen. ‘For Cook, food wasn’t just about survival, but part of his cultural voyage of discovery – you might even call him the first pioneer of world cuisine, and he especially enjoyed a South Seas baked pudding of exotic fruits and coconut cream. Hailed as the conqueror of the sea’s great plague, scurvy, he also recognised the importance of a healthy, nutritious diet for his crew, and he didn’t lose a single sailor to scurvy on his voyages, the first captain who had ever achieved this.’
That is why chefs including Michelin-starred chef Andrew Pern, multi award-winning restaurateur Rob Green, TV chef and food writer Gilli Cliff, and Scarborough’s Eat Me Café owner Martyn Hyde were there to rustle up dishes inspired by the ingredients ‘that fuelled Cook’s voyages’. On the menu were exotic fruits and 18th-century seafaring staples such as salt pork, hard tack (an unappealing looking biscuit eaten by sailors during long voyages) and rum, and fresh seafood.
Captain Cook is intrinsically linked with the Yorkshire coast. Born in Marton, near Middlesbrough (so he only just about made it), he moved to Staithes to work as an assistant at a grocers at the age of 16. From there it was on to Whitby where he began his career in the merchant navy as an apprentice, sailing between the Tyne and London (Whitby’s Captain Cook Memorial Museum is housed in the 17th century building where the young Cook had lodgings). In 1755, he joined the Royal Navy, seeing action in the Seven Years War with France and in 1768, after being promoted to lieutenant, he set sail on HMS Endeavour around Cape Horn to Tahiti and then onto New Zealand and Australia, returning home via Jarkarta and Cape Town, where — despite his reputation for running a scurvy-free ship — illness and disease claimed many of his crew. The expedition took three years.
For his second voyage, Cook and his crew sailed to the Antarctic coast, and he became, notes the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, ‘the first man to sail round the world in both directions.’ During his third voyage, ostensibly to find the North-West Passage, Cook was stabbed and killed by islanders at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. (You get a much friendlier welcome these days, involving flower garlands and a programme of ukulele music).
In another 10 years, no doubt Whitby will be marking the 300th anniversary of Cook’s birth; but this lively festival should keep us going until then. ‘It’s not just a celebration of a Yorkshire hero, but of the place that inspired his love of the sea and his sense of adventure, and we’re looking forward to sharing that with the world,’ adds Janet Deacon. ‘In celebrating this 250th anniversary, we are celebrating a Yorkshireman whose unrivalled skill, continued self-improvement, perseverance and quiet ambition are an example to all and to future generations,’ says Charles Forgan from the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. ‘Whitby is still a place with an adventurous spirit where Cook would feel right at home. Cook’s great feats as an explorer, navigator and cartographer deserve to be celebrated and there’s nowhere better than the Yorkshire coast to discover more about Cook and his early life.’
The replica of one of the most famous ships in the history of maritime exploration completed its voyage along the North York Moors coast to Whitby.
A partnership led by Whitby businessman Andrew Fiddler last August bought HM Bark Endeavour, one of only two full-scale replicas in the world of the ship commanded by explorer Captain James Cook for his voyage to Australia and New Zealand.
The partnership’s auction bid of £155,000 safeguarded the replica’s future as a North East visitor attraction, having beaten competing bids that could have seen the ship moved to Portsmouth, London or Dubai.
Nearly £750,000 has been spent refurbishing and repairing the 33-metre long Teesside-built ship and then was towed from its berth at Stockton-on-Tees to Whitby, where the original Endeavour was built in 1764.
Mr Fiddler intends re-opening HM Bark Endeavour as an historic tourist attraction and centre of learning for schools and colleges, with the aid of product development and business support from the Coastal Communities Fund project being delivered by the North York Moors National Park Authority.
The arrival of the tall ship in Whitby coincided with the 250th anniversary when Captain Cook first set sail from Portsmouth on-board Endeavour to observe the transit of Venus at Tahiti, circumnavigate and chart New Zealand and chart the East coast of Australia.
‘It is fantastic to see the Endeavour coming through the harbour entrance knowing that this replica will be staying put in its rightful home which also happens to be where Cook began his maritime career,’ said Mr Fiddler. ’The ship was in a pretty poor shape when we purchased her, with rotting wood, worn fittings and spaces that didn’t do justice to the story. While we’ve retained and restored many of the features, we are planning to bring the story to life in new ways. ’Rather than a museum the Endeavour will be an exciting and entertaining learning attraction that captures the imaginations of children and adults alike. It will be contemporary while blending in with the ship’s surroundings and will perfectly complement the existing Captain Cook landmarks and attractions in the area.’