Captain Cook’s House, the MCG and Horses.

Date Posted: 20/12/2010


Now that the great Ashes circus is moving to Melbourne for the Boxing Day test I thought I would reassure all you English cricket fans that there is reason for hope in an unexpected quarter. You may presume that Melbourne, famous for the MCG – the cavernous, soulless, giant bear-bit that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground – offers nothing but heartache and homesickness to all Englishmen, but this is not true.


Melbourne actually is the location of a wonderful early eighteenth century Yorkshire cottage that once was the home of Captain James Cook’s parents. Odd you say? Well you’re not wrong. The house, of course, was not originally in Melbourne – it was in fact in Great Ayton, a tiny village on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moor a little inland from Whitby. But, in 1933 the owner of the cottage decided to sell it, with the only addendum being that it should remain in England. Then, dazzled by Ozzy dollars she agreed to change ‘England’ to ‘Empire’ in an impressive slight of hand thus refusing to sell it to the Americans whilst happily selling out to an Australian entrepreneur called Russell Grimwade. The cottage, brick by brick, was then taken to pieces and shipped to Australia (in 253 cases and 40 barrels) and was then reconstructed in a park in the middle of Melbourne called Fitzroy gardens.


It can be argued, therefore, that Melbourne is not as alien as we may think and in this crucial instance it is actually a home from home – sort of like an Australian Headingly. And if that isn’t enough, to get to Fitzroy gardens from the north you must pass through an area called Collingwood. My point is, of course, that because of all of this, the fourth Test is in the bag. They may have Mitchell Johnson but we have a dismantled re-mantled eighteenth century cottage that once belonged to the parents of an eighteenth century naval legend. Beat that!


Oh I actually can beat that. Shortly after Captain Cook’s death in 1779 at the hands of a villainous Hawaiian tribe the entire unfortunate episode was turned into a London show by a circus master. This was not just a show dedicated to the final moments of Captain Cook but was nothing less than a ‘Grand Equestrian Spectacle’: horses, you see, were sort of like eighteenth century roller skates and this show was the Starlight Express of its time. Anyway, what is particularly impressive about the show is that, when Cook died, horses were then completely unknown in the South Pacific. Now who would let such a minor detail get in the way of a good story?