Fish and Ships! Food on the voyages of Captain Cook

Fish and Ships! Food on the voyages of Captain Cook, foreword by Glyndwr Williams. Captain Cook Memorial Museum.

Exhibition catalogues too often give a weighted, one-eyed view of the shows they attempt to represent, with merely tantalising illustrations and explanations of their broader aspects. Fish and Ships! is an excellent example of what can be achieved. It sumarises all the themes of the two exhibitions held in 2011 and 2012 in the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, with a rich and enticing selection from the displays, and it includes four deliciously readable yet scholarly essays.

Fish and Ships

Fish and Ships! Food on the voyages of Captain Cook. Captain Cook Memorial Museum. 2012.

Janet Macdonald writes on naval provisioning in the eighteenth century, Brian Vale disentangles the controversy of Cook’s supposed achievement in “curing” scurvy, Nancy J. Pollock discusses Cook’s contrasting gastronomic experiences in Tahiti and New Zealand, and Simon Werrett supplies valuable and fascinating extras in his examination of Cook as pyrotechnist.

Previous public surveys of great voyages have usually focused on such matters as exotic localities and the nature and customs of people “discovered”, as well as the ships themselves, their personnel, the story of the expeditions and the objects brought back, from art representations to artefacts. Instead, these two exhibitions concentrated (as the foreword explains) on the intriguing domestic matter of exactly how in a “cramped wooden world of one of Cook’s ships a hundred men had to be kept alive and active on voyages lasting three years or more”. Its catalogue is a most satisfying and lasting guide.

Kevin Ireland, £8.99 on site, £11.50 by post UK, £14.50 by post worldwide.