The excellent James Cook Museum is one of the main attractions in Cooktown. At the entrance two artifacts from Cook's ship are prominently displayed - the original anchor (huge) and a cannon recently retrieved after 200 years on the ocean floor. The museum has several rooms on two floors that covered important topics in Cooktown's history. Displays included information about pre-contact aboriginal lifestyle, Cook's 7 week layover, the gold rush years and miners' life, settler's life, missionaries and war times, to present day issues. The museum used primary sources, information boards to summarize a time period, and artifacts to tell these stories. In addition to this historical information, the building itself is of interest as it once was the home to missionary nuns in the late 1800's.
On the first floor, there were several aspects of the Cook display that I liked. One was the wall display showing some excerpts of the daily diary entries written by Cook and James Bank after they landed on the shores of Cooktown on June 18, 1770. During Cook's 7 week layover, the entries explain why the ship needed repair, what was done to get the ship water tight, and who did the work. Cook also describes his men's unsuccessful attempts at fishing; thus turtles found were treasured as meat and fed to the sick. Banks' entries describe what the men found inland - pigeons to shoot, strange hopping animals, native huts, fresh water, and plants to collect. Cook also writes about the aboriginals with whom they shared fish and gave European things. I chuckled when Cook described how his men had found all of these European things discarded on the ground as unwanted.
Adjacent to Cook's impression of the aboriginals and his attempts to befriend them, the museum also presents the aboriginal point of view of Cook's landing. When they saw the large canoe in which ghosts came on land, they thought they would observe them and hoped they would leave. When Cook wouldn't share his captured turtles with the aboriginals, they felt offended and saw the white men as trespassers. They wanted no goods given to them by these ghosts who seemed to be able to wound their warriors with invisible objects.
In the gold mining gallery, the museum again used primary sources to present 2 points of view, that of the white man and the natives, towards the gold rush. The aboriginals again felt invaded when miners poured onto their land to find gold. The miners were greedy and used guns when the natives tried to obstruct them. Information boards explained the arduous work of crushing the rock, the miner's life, the influx of Chinese as miners and suppliers of food and the amount of gold mined during the 5 year gold rush. Statistics were given to show the numbers of these miners and the families they brought with them.
Upstairs, the display included information about the missionaries who established a convent in Cooktown in the very building that was now a museum. Their story seemed to end when they were evacuated out of Cooktown in 1942 when there was a fear of a Japanese invasion. I loved the comment about the aboriginal girls not being allowed upstairs where the nuns lived - they were scared to set foot on the stairs.
Also, upstairs, a good section of the information boards were about Aboriginal history and their cultural ways prior to European contact. Disused barbed spears, boomerangs, and digging tools were in glass cases. A map showed the distribution and location of the aboriginal land. Land issues seemed to end with the recognition of their rights to land by the government.
In an adjacent room, display cases and furniture units filled with drawers held countless artifacts from the homes of European settlers from the late 1800's, early 1900's. Among items on display wer a dentist chair, various medical equipment, china, and jewellery made from shells.
The James Cook Museum is located 1 block off the main road. Cooktown Botanic Gardens is also located further along the same road, about a 10 minute walk away. Visitors could spend half a day visiting these 2 attractions. James Cook Museum was worth the $10 entry fee. We stayed about 1 1/2 hours.
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