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 © Captain Cook Memorial Museum
Whitby’s Cook250 Festival — from the 6th to 8th July — commemorates Cook’s voyage of discovery on its 250th anniversary

In 1768, James Cook, a young man from Middlesbrough who learned his trade as a seaman in Whitby set sail on one of the greatest voyages in history. Known as the first voyage of discovery, Cook was commissioned by King George III and the Royal Society of London to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, and to seek evidence of undiscovered land in the south seas. 

Cook had gained recognition from the Royal family and the navy after his trips charting the waters around Newfoundland, and for his service in the merchant navy during the Seven Years’ War. He was already known as an outstanding seaman, and had previously recorded the annular eclipse whilst in Newfoundland, proving to the Royal Society that he was a capable astronomer. 

Over this three-year voyage, Cook and his ship the HMS Endeavour successfully reached Tahiti on 3rd June 1769 to observe the transit of Venus, an unusual astronomical phenomenon that only occurs once every 243 years, in hope of discovering how far the earth was from the sun. Cook and his men then set sail into the southern seas in search of new land. He was able to claim many islands for King George, including Bora Bora, Huahine and Raiatea, before eventually landing at New Zealand. 

Only the second european expedition to reach New Zealand, Cook spent the following six months charting the coastline, where he identified several parts of previously undiscovered land, including the Cook Straight which divides the North and South Islands. By 1770, Cook and his men became the first recorded Europeans to reach the eastern Australian coastline and entered Botany Bay, named as such by Cook for the variety of plant life found. Despite damage sustained to the ship whilst sailing through the Great Barrier Reef, Cook and the HMS Endeavour returned to Britain, the voyage was deemed a success, and Cook was hailed as one of the greatest explorers of all time. Cook and his men embarked on another two voyages before he was killed while attempting to kidnap the King of Hawaii in 1779. 

Over the weekend of 6-8th July, Whitby will be holding Cook250, a festival to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first voyage of discovery. Led by Scarborough Borough Council’s Tourism Team, Whitby will host the celebrations, which will feature a range of events for all ages. 

Maritime adventurers will have the chance to step aboard the Spanish Tall ship, Atyla, sailing into Whitby harbour from Bilbao. The HMS Pickle, a replica of the smallest ship at the Battle of Trafalgar, and a replica of Cooks’ HMS Endeavour will also be docked in the harbour for visitors to experience life at sea and retrace Cook’s voyages. The ships will be free for visitors to access, the ships’ captains will be on hand to discuss everything nautical, and demonstrations and talks will be held all weekend. 

Endeavour Wharf will see ‘Cooks Kitchen’, a live cooking theatre where local chefs and restaurants will be cooking up meals using ingredients found on Cook’s Endeavour. 

‘The Endeavour would have carried live animals on the deck, including sheep, goats and chickens, and they would then have supplemented their food with fresh produce and ingredients, wherever they stopped. Once they got to the south seas, they would be eating Polynesian foods including hog — they even tried walrus,’ explains Charles Forgan from Whitby’s Captain Cook Museum. 

‘Cook was absolutely insistent that his men would eat the food they were given and to persuade them to do so he would get the food served to himself first,’ says Charles. ‘It is known that early on in the first voyage, one sailor refused to eat the salt beef he was given, even though he was ordered to do so. It was a disciplinary matter, and he was flogged.’

There will be a total of 12 chefs holding live cooking demonstrations across the weekend, introducing Rob Green, the UK Chef Ambassador for Sea Fish, award-winning chef Christian Taylor and author, TV presenter and chef Gilli Cliff.

Other events include a large exhibition at the Captain Cook Museum, giving visitors an insight into what life in Whitby was like during Cook’s time, and a maritime play held at Whitby Abbey. 
There will be live, sea shanty music and street entertainment all weekend, and Saturday night will see a large fireworks display in the town centre. 

A selfie trail will be set across Whitby for visitors to follow and find out more about Cook as they explore the town, visiting historic sites such as Cook’s home and Whitby Abbey which he used as a point of navigation. Local schools will also be producing ‘Cook’s Cookies’, which they will be selling to visitors at the festival to raise money for the RNLI. 

To find out more, visit 

Published in: April 2018

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