Title: Exotic Intruders

Author: Joan Druett

Publication details: Heinemann, 1983, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Joan Druett

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Exotic Intruders

Cook's cook

page 8

Cook's cook

James Cook's cook was another James, James Thompson. James Thompson had only one hand, but managed somehow to cope with a procession of bizarre foods. He also had to put up with a captain who was obsessed with the diet of the men, and who was always ready to instruct his cook to conduct all sorts of experiments in the hope of preventing scurvy. These included a new method of salting pork, boiling down spruce tips to make a sort of beer, and serving sauerkraut, a dish the men detested. In New Zealand Thompson had to devise ways of cooking kumara and fern roots, and make edible dishes out of 'wild sellery' and scurvy grass.

Cook was no gourmet, and made no demands for his own table that he didn't make for his men, but the scientist he carried was different. Banks liked a sauce made with 'the kernels of cocoanuts,' he wrote in his Journal, 'fermented until they dissolve into a buttery paste, and beaten up with salt water.' Banks disliked ship's biscuits heartily, asserting that they were infested with five sorts of vermin, which gave food a strong taste of mustard. However he did enjoy a dish made out of seasquirts. He was also partial to a jelly made from boiled fishheads, sea eggs, sturgeon, sharks' tails, squid and dried stingray. Banks reckoned that one of the best soups he ever ate was made from a very dead cuttlefish that had been pulled to pieces by birds. He also liked stingray tripes and kangaroo.

Because of the efforts of his cook and his own ingenuity, James Cook was able to declare, in a letter to the Admiralty dated 23rd October 1770, that he had not lost one man by sickness during the whole of the voyage. Sadly, after this date many of his men were to die, sick of dysentery contracted in Java. Cook wrote, on the 26th December, 'We came here with as healthy a ships company as need (go) to sea and after a stay of not quite 3 Months lift it in the condition of Hospital Ship.'

On the journey to England 23 people died on board. One of them was the cook, James Thompson, on the 31st January 1771.