The temperature was heading for zero (well, 10°), the wind was blasting and it was threatening to rain. But, intrepid traveller that I am, I headed back into the city. It’s years since I’ve been to Captain Cook’s cottage, settled in the gorgeous Fitzroy Gardens, stretching behind the State Parliament buildings.
The cottage originally stood in the English village of Great Ayton, and was owned by the parents of James Cook, another intrepid traveller, although Cook never lived in it, having already entered his sea-faring apprenticeship by the time the house was bought. He would have stayed in it, though, on his trips home.
To celebrate Victoria’s centenary in 1934, the house was bought by prominent Melbournian, Russell Grimwade, dismantled and shipped to Melbourne in 253 packing cases. It was reassembled and presented as a gift to the Victorian people.
Originally, a large portion of the house had to be demolished, to allow for the widening of the road through the village, but it was still a good size for the times: three bedrooms, a good-sized kitchen and a very nice sitting room cum office off the main bedroom. A thorny Hawthorn hedge surrounds the cottage. Young spring Hawthorn leaves were used for salads, the flowers for brandy, fruit for jellies, and timber for heating and cooking.
The kitchen would have been a warm and cozy spot, with coal and peat logs burning all day for heating and cooking. The small bedroom, off the kitchen, would have been pretty cozy, as well.
At 6ft. 3ins, Cook must have spent a lot of time, on his visits home, ducking his head to get up the stairs and through the doorways.
At the top of the stairs are the second and main bedrooms.
The herb and vegetable garden, at the back of the house, has been planted as it would have been at the time. In the 18th century, families relied on home-grown produce for their food supply. Poultry shared the space with vegetables, mixed fruits and flowers.
Most families had a good knowledge of the properties of herbs for cooking and medicine. They were used to cure a variety of illnesses and injuries, including bad breath, influenza and broken bones. Cook prevented scurvy amongst his crews by including scurvy grass (a New Zealand spinach), sauerkraut and other fresh produce in their diets.
The rain had held off but it began again as I left the cottage. The sun came out, it clouded over and rained and the sun came out and it clouded over and rained. A typical Melbourne day. But the Fitzroy Gardens are lovely, rain or shine, even in winter when many of the European trees are leafless and the new seedlings are waiting for Spring.