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Nestled in the Fitzroy Gardens is the oldest building in Australia. A building so old that it once belonged to parents of explorer Captain James Cook, the man who first discovered the south east coast of Australia and landed in Botany Bay in 1770.
James Cook was born in Marton, Yorkshire on the 27th of October 1728 to parents James and Grace Cook. In 1736, the family moved to Great Ayton in North Yorkshire and resided at Thomas Skottowe’s Aireyholme farm. In 1755, James Cook senior built Cooks’ Cottage and engraved the year and the initials J.C.G (James and Grace Cook) on the lintel above the door. With James having moved to the seaside village of Staithes in 1745 it is unlikely that he ever lived in Cooks’ Cottage; however, he did visit his parents in 1757 and visited his aging father in December 1771 upon returning from his first voyage to Australia. In 1772 James’s father left Great Ayton to live with his daughter (Cook’s sister), Margaret in Redcar.
From 1873 the Dixon family owned Cooks’ Cottage, although they never lived in it, deciding to sell it in 1933. Mrs Dixon had rejected offers from wealthy American buyers as she wanted the property to remain in England; however, she was persuaded to alter ‘England’ to ‘The Empire,’ allowing Australian businessman and philanthropist Sir Russel Grimwade to purchase the property for £800.
Cooks’ Cottage was carefully deconstructed under the instruction of a six page manual and each brick was numbered and packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels before being shipped from Port Dunedin in Hull, England. Clippings of ivy that clothed the house were also shipped to Melbourne and replanted around the cottage.
Although the cottage found its forever home in the Fitzroy gardens, other locations were proposed, including the corner of Swanston and La Trobe streets, outside the State Library of Victoria, but it was feared that the differing architectural styles wouldn’t sit well together. Once the location was decided, the house was meticulously reconstructed using seven colour drawings of the cottage in its original form. Volunteers furnished the house in 18th-century materials and fittings and an English garden was planted around the house. The cottage features a kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs and is portrayed as a comfortable English home.
On the 15th of October 1934, on the centenary of the settlement of Melbourne, Sir Russel Grimwade donated the cottage to the people of Melbourne and the sight quickly became a popular tourist attraction. Cooks’ Cottage was restored in the 1950s and again in 1978 and continues to draw visitors, from school excursions to tourists and Melburnians wanting to connect with the history of Captain James Cook.