I’m a history buff.
Take me anywhere and the historical landmarks, the museums and the landscapes where history was made are what draw me. I’ve walked up the ramparts of the Iron Age hill-forts at Hod Hill and Maiden Castle in the south of England, I’ve taken part in an excavation at the Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester, I’ve wandered the remains of the Mycenaean Palaces at Knossos and Malia and marvelled at the survival of the wall frescoes and I’ve visited all of the castles along the coast of Wales built by Edward 1.
The more ancient the history, the more interested I am.
Now I’m in Melbourne, where the history isn’t ancient but I do enjoy it’s historic buildings and landmarks, so I just had to make time to visit the oldest building in Melbourne. Not that it’s actually been here as long as some buildings have.
What? You ask.
Captain Cook’s Cottage
Well, Captain Cook’s cottage was actually built in 1755 but has only been in Melbourne for 80 years.
So how on earth did a tiny 18th century English cottage come to find itself in the middle of Melbourne?
Good question, I knew you’d ask, so I found out for you.
It seems that a philanthropic Melbourne businessman, by the name of Sir Russell Grimwade , was responsible. He learnt that Cook’s cottage (or at least his parents’ cottage, as the story goes) was for sale in England, and he arranged for it to be brought to Australia to celebrate Melbourne’s centenary of European settlement in 1934.
The building was taken apart brick by brick and individually numbered. It was then packed into barrels and transported from the village of Great Ayton in Yorkshire to be reconstructed in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne.
When the cottage was dismantled cuttings were taken from the Ivy that covered the house in the English village and replanted around the cottage when it was rebuilt here on the other side of the world. Today the ivy covers much of the building creating an authentic picturesque English country cottage look.
The bronze statue of Cook that’s been erected behind the cottage is believed to close to life size – his naval records list his height as 6ft 3in (191cm) – and he is depicted in his naval uniform holding the tools of his trade.
In the garden you’ll also find a rack of 18th century clothing for visitors to wear and have their photo taken. I wasn’t game to don the outfits but a couple of youngsters were having a ball trying on the clothing of this bygone era.
The cottage is very tiny inside and it makes you wonder how on earth a family, generally with several children, could possibly live in such a confined space. With our dependence on a separate bedroom for each child, a family room, dining room, games room and large kitchen, maybe it would do us good to spend time in a house such as this and learn to appreciate what we have.
Downstairs is a kitchen and a small corridor, while a narrow staircase leads up to two tiny bedrooms. The main bedroom would have functioned as a bedroom for the whole family and may have been given over to visitors who came to stay.
I found this little cottage and its history quite fascinating. It was a gorgeous sunny day when I was there and I spent an interesting hour or so wandering the Fitzroy gardens, the cottage and the conservatory (more to come on that later).
If you’re in Melbourne and you need a break from the shopping, the eating and the drinking , wander down to the gardens and refresh yourself.
Where: Fitzroy Gardens are on the corner of Wellington Pde & Landsdowne St, just behind the Treasury Gardens.
How to get there: The best way I found was to take the free tourist tram (no.35) which does a circular loop of the city. Get off at the Spring St stop near the corner of Flinders St and then walk through Treasury Gardens into Fitzroy Gardens and follow the signs to the cottage.
Cost to enter the cottage and its garden: Adults $6.00, concession $3.60, children (5-15yrs) $3.00, family $16.50
Suggestion: If it’s a nice day, grab a sandwich (and a cake) and have lunch in the gardens. Not only is it an inexpensive lunch option but you’ll get to relax to the twittering of the birds.