Mercury Bay Museum Musings #1

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Mercury Bay Museum Musings - 21 August 2015

With the completion of the successful events this month, which marked the 175th commemoration of HMS Buffalo foundering in Mercury Bay in July of 1840, the Mercury Bay Museum now looks forward to the next big event of even more significance to “Te Whanganui A Hei”. That being the 250th Anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook, in command of HM Bark Endeavour, arriving in the bay on the 3rd of November 1769. With that purpose in mind a new display, designed by John Henson, in which Cook and his achievements are recognised, has been installed in the foyer of the Museum. With this early signalling of things to come the Museum along with the Mercury Bay Historical Society, and being guided by objectives of the recently established Sestercentennial Trust, are already engaged in contemplating appropriate commemorations in 2019. It will not only be a local event but one of national and international importance with much planning for public events and research on the historical aspects now in train.

Many people and organisations, from governments to Cook aficionados, both in New Zealand and internationally, are stirring themselves in anticipation of what will take place in 2019, particularly in Mercury Bay where Cook's twelve day stay played such a large part in our country's formative history. In this respect one of many questions asked by interested people is whether Cook's descendants have been traced and will they be involved in the celebrations. Well the answer has proven to be a disappointment to them as there are no direct descendants of James Cook and his wife.

James Cook married Elizabeth (nee Batts) in 1762. They had six children. They were James Cook jnr, born 1763 died 1794. Nathaniel Cook, born 1764 died 1780. Elizabeth Cook, born 1767 died 1771. Joseph Cook, born 1768 died 1768. George Cook, born 1772 died 1772. Hugh Cook, born 1776 died 1793. They all predeceased Cook's widow and as none of the children married there was no further issue. However there are extended family descendants through Cook's sisters, Christiana and Margaret. The issue through these two lines, originated by James Cook's two female siblings and their unions, is extensive. Margaret married a Fleck and numerous descendants of this union, with many different surnames, are now spread around the world. Similarly with Christiana who married a Cocker. They produced two daughters, one who remained a spinster and one who married a gentleman named Tree. The Tree's produced one daughter who married a Rumsey. However the brothers of James Cook, John and William, never married or had issue and both predeceased their famous sibling. Cook's widow, Elizabeth, lived a long life and died in 1835. She was an intensely private person and jealously guarded her husbands legacy. Some time after her husband's death in 1779 she burned all of his letters to her and effectively stymied the “picklocks” of biographers and historians in their efforts to more fully understand the hidden side of Cook's personality –  his thought processes and the central core of his ambition to succeed where others before him had failed. These more personal aspects of the inner man, albeit attributes or foibles, are not to be found in reading Cook's more formal correspondence to his superiors, or even those he addressed to close friends and acquaintances.

On another tack, the celebrated English naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences, Sir Joseph Banks, who as a young man accompanied Cook on his first voyage to the South Pacific in HM Bark Endeavour, also died without leaving any “known” direct line of descendants. He was President of the Royal Society for 41 years, made Kew the world's leading botanical gardens and was influential in the choice of New South Wales as a penal colony. Banks had an attractive and outgoing personality and was quite a libertine – he apparently being a member of the notorious 'Hellfire Club in England. Banks certainly displayed few inhibitions in his relationships with the opposite sex during the sojourn of the Endeavour in Tahiti between April and July of 1769. However, once back in England he eventually married. He predeceased his wife in 1820 at the age of 77 – their union having no issue. It is interesting to speculate whether Banks left a direct line of descendants in Tahiti.



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