Bombardment, Bones and Captain Cook

We decided to give Whitby another look on the way back from Sandsend. There’s a lot to see in Whitby and we decided to have a look at the Captain Cook statue and the whalebone arch on the West Cliff.

The first thing we saw was the Bombardment Garden, which commemorates the East Coast bombardment of 16th December 1914. On that day two groups of German warships sailed down along the coast and attacked the towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool. One group attacked Scarborough, killing 18 people, before steaming up the coast and killing three more in Whitby. The other group attacked Hartlepool, killing over 100 people.

To be fair to the Germans they were attacking military targets -they shelled a naval radio station at Scarborough and the railway at Whitby. At Hartlepool they engaged shore batteries and the Royal Navy.

The garden represents a house destroyed by a shell.  The shell in the middle of the living room floor is a proper WW1 shell that was given to the town for fund-raising during the war and donated to the project by the town council.


Just along the cliff is the statue of Captain Cook. He was born at Marton, which is now part of Middlesbrough, lived at Great Ayton, was apprenticed to a haberdasher on the coast in Staithes and finally ended up in the Merchant Navy at Whitby. He first came to official notice for his service in the Royal Navy when his charts of the St Lawrence River helped General Wolfe to take Quebec. This led to him being selected to make his famous voyages of discovery, with a certain William Bligh acting as his sailing master on the third and final voyage.

Despite his great achievements he is little more than a cycle rack and seagull perch these days.


The third thing of note on the cliff top is the whale bone arch. Whitby was a major whaling port and between 1753 and 1837 the Whitby fleet accounted for 2,761 whales, 25,000 seals and 55 polar bears.

The inventor of the Crow’s Nest (William Scoresby) came from Whitby and used to be commemorated by a modern sculpture (now replaced by a war memorial). His son, also William Scoresby, was, like his father, a whaler and arctic explorer, but also a scientist and priest, who was quoted by Ishmael in Moby Dick.

The original arch was set up in 1853 to signify the importance of whaling in Whitby’s history. That set lasted around a century and were replaced by a set from a Fin whale donated by Norwegian whalers. They only lasted until the 1990s, when their replacement caused a certain amount of ethical concern. One suggestion was that there might be some bones preserved in the cold of the Falklands. In the end Whitby’s twin town of Barrow in Alaska came to the rescue with a set of jawbones from a Bowhead whale killed in a legal hunt by Alaskan Inuit.

I don’t know what I’d do if I was in charge of the whalebone arch. Fibreglass and plastic have been considered but dismissed, which I think is fair enough, but I’m not easy with the idea of using real bones, even if they are legally taken. I think I’d opt for a nice stainless steel sculpture.

Or a plaque saying that there used to be whale bones there but we have moved on.




17 thoughts on “Bombardment, Bones and Captain Cook

  1. Pingback: The Scone Chronicles XI | quercuscommunity

  2. Laurie Graves

    Yes, I’m with on the whale bones. Funny, I don’t remember the bones or the statue of Captain Cook. The Abby, the town, the profusion of flowers—it was June. All the dogs. Well…

  3. tootlepedal

    We used to be very impressed by the whalebone arch at North Berwick when we were nippers. I shall look at it with a different eye (if it still there) when we go there on holiday soon.

  4. derrickjknight

    An excellent tour. What a weird notion – to be fair to the Germans 🙂 Impressive to remember a quote from Moby Dick. Did you know that the oldest bulding in Australia is Captain Cook’s house in Melbourne, that someone took over there?

    1. quercuscommunity

      I confess I saw the reference somewhere while researching the post. I read Moby Dick last year but tended to glaze over when reading the lengthy discourses.

      Didn’t know that about Captain Cook’s house. I knew they’d taken it over there but I’m amazed it’s their oldest building.

  5. jfwknifton

    For me the real bones are a monument to the 2,761 whales who died. The whalers at Whitby did little damage though, compared to the Norwegians with explosive harpoons or the US Navy causing strandings we-are-not-quite-sure how.


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