The Museum is in Walker’s House which belonged to Captain John Walker to whom the great explorer, Captain Cook was apprenticed in 1746, and to which Cook returned in the winter of 1771/2 after the First Voyage. 7 October 1728 at Marton-in-Cleveland. His father, originally from Scotland, was also called James and married Grace Pace from Cleveland. They had eight children, though several died young. When James was still a child, his father moved to Great Ayton, a few miles away near the Cleveland Hills, and became the foreman at Aireyholme Farm. Here the young James received the rudiments of education at the village school and assisted his father on the farm. In 1745, he began work in a grocer’s shop at Staithes, a fishing village only a short distance from the busy port of Whitby. After eighteen months, he determined to go to sea, and was introduced to the Walker family. John Walker and his brother Henry were Quaker shipowners engaged in the coal trade between the North-East and London. The Quakers, or Society of Friends, were upright, hospitable people known for their simplicity of manners and public spirit. According to long-standing Whitby tradition, Walker lodged Cook when not at sea in the house in Grape Lane which is now the Museum.The young Cook could not have come to a better environment. The Walkers’ ships were workaday ‘cats’, trading to London and across the North Sea. Cook began the life of a sailor on the Freelove in February 1747, carrying a cargo of coal to London.
After three voyages in the Freelove, Cook took part in rigging and fitting out a new ship of Walker’s called the Three Brothers. Signing on after his apprenticeship had expired, he remained on that ship until 1752, apart from a voyage to the Baltic and St. Petersburg in the Mary. In 1752 he became mate and joined Walker’s latest ship, the Friendship, sailing in her for three years. By 1755 Cook was an experienced and trusted seaman, and Walker offered him the command of the ship. But Cook had other plans. In June 1755, Cook left Whitby and volunteered as an ordinary seaman in the Royal Navy. The only explanation he gave was that: “I had a mind to try my fortune that way.” Walker was surprised, but continued to assist Cook and remained his life-long friend. Cook signed on serving in HMS Eagle for two years. Within a month he was promoted to master’s mate, the same rank he had held in Walker’s ships. It was the beginning of the Seven Years War with France. He saw action in two sea fights. Significantly, he caught the eye of his Captain, Hugh Palliser who gave him instruction in charting and navigation. After two years, he was promoted to HMS Pembroke as master. He witnessed the effects of scurvy when crossing the Atlantic, and put his charting and navigational skills to good use in the St. Lawrence river as the British fleet closed in on Quebec. In the following years Cook charted the waters around Newfoundland. He was commended for his ‘genius and capacity’. His reports to London brought him to the attention of the Royal Society. The stage was set for him to be selected to lead the Voyage to the Pacific in HM Bark Endeavour.
It was known that if the planet Venus could be observed at the same time from different places as it passed across the face of the sun, it should be possible to calculate inter-planetary distances. A ‘transit’ was to take place in 1769. The Admiralty decided to dispatch a ship with members of the Royal Society to observe the transit from Tahiti. It was also believed that there was a ‘Great Southern Continent’ in the southern hemisphere, which 'balanced' the great land masses of the North. After observing the Transit, the ship was to sail south and search for the Southern Continent. Cook was chosen to lead the expedition. He was given the command of the Endeavour and promoted lieutenant. He was of course very familiar with the type of vessel chosen by the Admiralty. The Endeavour was a Whitby-built collier, solidly built, flat-bottomed and so easy to beach and repair, capacious and able to carry many provisions. The ship could also be managed by a small crew if necessary. According to Cook, “a better ship for such service I never could wish for.” So Cook and a Whitby ship came together again in the Endeavour to lay the foundation for some of the most significant voyages in the history of exploration. The acquisition of Walker’s House by the Cook Museum Trust enabled the Trust to establish a museum in Whitby dedicated to the celebration of the life of Captain Cook and the scientists, artists and crews who sailed with him. The collections comprise original letters about the Voyages including correspondence of Cook, Lord Sandwich, Sir Joseph Banks and the Forsters, paintings and drawings by the artists who went with Cook to the Pacific, including Parkinson, Hodges, and Webber, artefacts from the Pacific islands and New Zealand, original maps and charts, and ship models.
The Captain Cook Birthplace museum is 30 miles away from Whitby, while the Captain Cook Heritage Centre is in Staithes 10 miles from Whitby, a picturesque fishing village. The Heritage Centre is an Aladdin’s cave. of nauticalia. Wheelchair users now have access to the ground floor and to the first floor via a specially installed lift. A DVD of the upper floor and the attic is available to view while at the museum, which shows the Artists and Scientists rooms on the second floor. This is updated every year to show the year's special exhibition in the attic above. Records of exhibitions from earlier years may also be viewed. Guide dogs are welcome as long as they are 'on duty'. There is a diabled access toilet. Large print guides are available, as are detailed room by room guides in small print. We have translations of the latter in French, Dutch and Norwegian. If you have time, try the Esk Valley branch line which runs between Middlesbrough and Whitby Station. The journey takes a very pleasant 1½ hours through lovely countryside. Whitby is the terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (to Pickering).
Location : Grape Lane, Whitby YO22 4BA
Transport: Whitby (National Rail) 7 minutes. Bus route 94 stops nearby.
Opening Times: Daily 09:45 to 17:00.
Tickets: Adults £5.40. Concessions £5.10. Children (5 - 16) £3.40.
Tel: 01947 601900