The Ship - A Captain Cook Museum Voyage

By Richard Moss | 23 August 2002

The BBC series The Ship recreated the story of Captain James Cook and his voyage to chart the East Coast of Australia on board The Endeavour in 1769. A 21st century crew of volunteers, historians and scientists was assembled to recreate the epic 18th century adventure. A member of the crew of The Ship, following in the wake of Captain Cook. © BBC

For those of you who prefer to keep your feet dry and hands free of calluses whilst exploring the history of Cook's explorations, our history trail takes in the museums in the UK that tell the story of Captain Cook and the legacy of his historic voyages.

A naval pioneer in many fields, Cook produced maps of unprecedented accuracy; revolutionized the seaman's diet, all but eliminating scurvy; and exploded the myth of the Great Southern Continent.

Captain James Cook in all his finery

Captain James Cook in all his finery. © National Maritime Museum

It is not surprising then to find his looming presence in the galleries of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Relics of Cook are everywhere - in the Exploration Galleries, the Trade and Empire exhibits as well as the Navigational section.

Amongst the many artefacts are Cook's sextant from 1770, his Chinese tea service, a dried and desiccated tablet of ship's soup dating from Cook's voyages and 'K3', Kendall's third attempt at a Maritime timekeeper - an object that made the third and final fateful journey from which Cook did not return.

the chronometer, a complex little device that helped Cook travel thousands of uncharted miles

The chronometer, a complex little device that helped Cook travel thousands of uncharted miles. © National Maritime Museum

Temporary exhibitions also feature a wealth of Cook related items. An exhibition in 2002 on tattooing, called Skin Deep, took Cook's south sea voyages as its starting point and Oceans of Discovery, an exhibition about exploration naturally featured Cook as a pivotal figure.

The three expeditions yielded thousands of scientific and anthropological specimens many of which are housed in our two most famous university cities.

Quite apart from housing thousands of ethnographic objects from around the world, The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge houses a sizeable collection of material from eighteenth century voyages to the Pacific.

Taumi or breast gorget ornamented with feathers, pearl-shell disks and sharks' teeth, from Tahiti. Part of the Sandwich collection and probably collected on the first voyage.

Taumi or breast gorget ornamented with feathers, pearl-shell disks and sharks' teeth, from Tahiti. Part of the Sandwich collection and probably collected on the first voyage.

The collection was originally held by Trinity College and consists of artefacts found by Cook and later owned by his patron and First Lord of the Admiralty, The Earl of Sandwich.

Maori paddle-club from New Zealand, formerly owned by the Holdsworth family in South Devon.

Maori paddle-club from New Zealand, formerly owned by the Holdsworth family in South Devon.

Most of the 200 objects derive from the South Pacific, others were collected along the Bering Strait, the northwest coast of North America, Siberia and Tierra del Fuego. Visitors to the Maudslay gallery can view native body armour, jewellery, weapons as well as a vast array of clothing, clubs and even conch-shell trumpets.

Another great holding of anthropological items can be found in Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum.

Tahitian mourning dress

Tahitian mourning dress. Photo Peter Narracott.

The home of the Captain Cook Collection of ethnographic items from Australasia, the museum boasts some 150 objects collected in the South Pacific by Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George during Captain Cook's second great voyage of discovery in 1772-75.

two Tahitian wooden figures

Two Tahitian wooden figures. Photo Malcolm Osman.

Most of the objects in the collection come from the Marquesas Islands, Tonga and, especially, Tahiti and New Zealand. Since 1970 the objects have been housed in a single permanent display where it can still be viewed in the Lower Gallery.

Moving northeast, the area around the Yorkshire Coast from Whitby to Middlesbrough is designated Captain Cook country and is rich with the history of one it's most famous sons. Cook was born near Middlesbrough and began his seafaring career on the North Sea coal shuttles sailing out of Whitby.

Situated in the grounds of Stewart Park in Marton, and only 50 yards from Cook's birthplace, the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum charts the explorer's early life and later adventures as well as tackling the broader history of discovery and exploration.

Thanks in part to a recent £1.2 million renovation new exhibits utilise the latest innovations in presentation with films, interactive displays and a 'Space Shuttle' that takes visitors on a journey through the history of exploration.

a mini replica of Cook's most famous vessel, the Endeavour.

A mini replica of Cook's most famous vessel, the Endeavour at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum

Exhibits also include a 29ft recreation of life below decks, a specially commissioned film explaining the 'New Worlds of Discovery' in the South Seas and a cabinet of curiosities with original artefacts from Cook's voyages.

Visitors can also take in St Cuthbert's Church, just across the road, and see where Cook was baptised as well as a stained glass window commemorating the explorer.

Shows a photo of the exterior of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum.

Outside the Captian Cook birthplace museum

Cook's early education is dealt with at The Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum in Great Ayton, housed in a building once used as a charity school founded in 1704 by Michael Postgate, a local landowner. It was here, between 1736 and 1740, that Cook received his early education.

he would go on to be a master of science, medicine and geography, but even Cook had to learn his times tables

He would go on to be a master of science, medicine and geography, but even Cook had to learn his times tables.

Visitors can take part in interactive displays that chart Cook's voyages or sit next to the young Cook in an eighteenth century schoolroom and even enter a reconstruction of the deck of The Endeavour and, by using a sextant and chronometer, attempt to chart the location of the original ship in the South Pacific.

Leaving the schoolroom behind, at the age of 17, James Cook was apprenticed to a Mr. Sanderson, a grocer and haberdasher in Staithes near Whitby. It has been said it was this early experience in the world of 18th century retail that encouraged Cook to seek a life of adventure on the open seas.

Housed in an old Methodist chapel, the ground floor of the Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre is given over to a replica of a full scale street scene of the period 1745 - containing Sanderson's village shop, a fisherman's warehouse and ship's chandlers.

Once he had decided on a life on the ocean waves, Cook headed back to Whitby for a career on the coal ships. What better way to explore this period than by visiting one of his early haunts?

Located in a house by Whitby harbour-side where the youthful James Cook actually lodged, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum boasts meticulously restored period rooms including Cook's atmospheric attic bedroom with its roof constructed from old ship's timbers.

who could fail to fall in love with the sea when this sight greets them each morning?

Captain Cook Memorial Museum - who could fail to fall in love with the sea when this sight greets them each morning?

The museum also houses a permanent collection of exhibits relating to Cook's time in Whitby as well as his later achievements. Amongst the many rare paintings, prints, ship-plans and manuscripts is a letter written from Mile End on 17 August 1771 by Cook to his old master Captain John Walker of Whitby. In it he describes the first part of his voyage in The Endeavour to Tahiti.

the very stairs climbed by a youthful James Cook

The very stairs climbed by a youthful James Cook.

This excellent museum has recently benefited from a new extension allowing it to expand on it's telling of the Cook story. New themed rooms show the perils of exploration in Cook's time, Antarctic exploration and the original seventeenth century kitchen restored to its period condition.

shows a bronze statue of Captain Cook

Whitby Museum - golden boy, Whitby's most famous son.

The town Museum also features the life of Cook with The Whitby Museum housing a special Cook Wing to celebrate his association with Whitby and the events of his three historic voyages.

Among many rare and fascinating personal artefacts is a hand-drawn map, signed and made by James Cook whilst serving as a non-commissioned officer during his survey of the coast of Newfoundland.

one of Cook's handwritten journals on display in Whitby.

One of Cook's handwritten journals on display in Whitby Museum.

The collection also includes an autographed letter written in 1772 from Great Ayton and four pages of manuscript in Cook's handwriting, the latter describes incidents on his voyage towards the South Pole in 1773-74 and forms the only known surviving part of the original draft of his Journal. There are also scale models of the Resolution and The Endeavour.

a small relief portrait of Captian James Cook

Moving further north into Scotland the legacy of the Endeavour and some of the artefacts brought back can be seen at the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery.

Bright and interactive, the Museum houses a major part of the collection of Joseph Banks. During 1768 - 1771 Banks accompanied Cook's first historic expedition to the South Pacific and became a key figure in the collation of the botanical material found on all of the voyages, in fact most of it came into his hands at some point.

a carved wooden figure of a South Pacific god

A carved wooden figure of a South Pacific god. © Hunterian Museum

Various Cook related artefacts are on permanent display and include corals, insects and tribal artefacts from New Guinea, and New Zealand. The artefacts form the core of the museum's anthropological collection, which also features the shell collection and drawings of Sydney Parkinson, the natural history artist on the first of Captain Cook's voyages.

a portrait of a man in frock coat and silk scarf

Capt. James Cook of the Endeavour

For those of you who wish to explore the Cook phenomenon further there are several other locations dotted around the UK.

In addition to an excellent selection of museums, the countryside between Middlesbrough and Whitby boasts several places of interest for the intrepid Cook discoverer.

The town of Middlesbrough has a Cook trail as well as the Cleveland Shopping Centre in the town centre, which contains a huge scale model of The Endeavour hanging from its ceiling and an inlaid map on the floor, charting the voyages with brass plaques and engravings illustrating exotic plants and animals.

The Cuming Museum in Southwark London is an undiscovered (not to say understated) gem of a museum that houses the holdings of 18th century collector Richard Cuming.

Amongst the fascinating collection of items that stretch from Roman to Victorian times the museum has various Cook artefacts that often go on loan to museums like the Pitt-Rivers and Captain Cook Birthplace Museum.

For those of you who are interested in the work of the ship's Botanist, Joseph Banks, the Library of The Natural History Museum houses 738 copper engraved plates of Bank's finished drawings.

Also in the capital the small but highly impressive collection of ethnographic items held by The British Museum relates to the three voyages and includes stunning native helmets, drums, headdresses and carvings. The collection forms part of the study collection in the ethnography department.

On their return from the third expedition, the crew of Cook's ship the Resolution stopped off at Skaill House in the Orkneys, where they sold souvenirs and trinkets to the locals to fund the rest of the trip.

Situated close to the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, the 17th-century house has been refurbished and is now open to the public and you can see the dinner service used on the Resolution during the third and fateful voyage.

At Abbotsford, the house of Walter Scott (a voracious collector of everything from militaria to ethnographic totems), there are several anthropological items purported to have been collected from auctions of Scott's south sea voyages.

For Cook memorials check out Chalfont St Giles and Cook's Monument in the National Trust property Stowe Landscape Gardens, both in Buckinghamshire. Also, Whitby and Greenwich both have prominent statues of our hero.

If all that museum talk is just too much, why not take a virtual tour with our guide to Cook on the web.

An excellent guide to the attractions and places to visit and stay in Captain Cook country can be found at

For fans of big boats the official website for The Ship and HMS Bark Endeavour can be located at

Formerly the Captain Cook Study Unit, the Captain Cook Society is a good port of call for all those interested in the explorer,

Visit the British Museum website on and enter 'captain cook' into the search facility for an online look at some fascinating artefacts.

Transcripts of the fascinating Cook's journals can be read at

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