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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Cook’s Cottage

I had a look at Captain Cook’s cottage in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens, yesterday. Perhaps, even more interesting than the insight it gives us into eighteenth-century living, is the origin of the building.

Originally, the cottage was erected in the village of Great Ayton, Buckinghamshire. Apparently, it was shipped to Australia lock, stock, and barrel, such was Australian approbation for all things Cookean.

Melbourne’s The Age carried a report *, on Monday 25th November, about some work by a British historian, Gavin Menzies, concerning the discovery and mapping of Australia’s East Coast. Originally firmly attributable to James Cook, because of the extraordinary amount of documentation supporting him as the ‘discoverer’, this legacy has come into question.

Menzies has suggested that the Chinese admiral Zheng beat Cook to it. Of course, the notion has gone down well with the Chinese, but the attempt to rewrite history on rather flimsy evidence is disturbing.

In the humanities, one often comes across arguments of the type ‘Something might have happened; therefore it did and something iconoclastic follows’. This is sloppy and dangerous and, until there is much more compelling evidence, I will stay in the Cook camp. Having browsed through Cook’s meticulous journals, (edited by Beaglehole, a name to conjure with very seriously), I await the publication of Zheng’s writings with impatience.

[ * I have given a link to this article. I read it as hard copy. It is well worth reading for its analysis on the subject. However, the page obtained seems to want payment for access. Using the link from my faves gives the same result Well, bollocks to that. Perhaps it’s to do with propinquity – I was able to get into The Age’s archives without charge while in the UK. On the other hand, perhaps the greedy buggers have changed their policy. Whichever it is, please don’t encourage them. I won’t.]

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