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  • Title
    Item 01: Mrs Elizth Cook. Aged 81 years, 1830 / W. Henderson
  • Call number
    ML 430
  • Level of description
  • Date

  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Issue Copy
  • Physical Description
    1 painting - oil on canvas - 75 x 63 cm. inside frame 99 x 87 cm.
  • Scope and Content
    Once described by Library, and other authorities, as a portrait of the widow of Captain James Cook, but now known to be a portrait of another Elizabeth Cook (1750-1837).

    A half-length portrait depicted in calash, ruff and shawl. The ring on the right index finger has been compared to Captain Cook's memorial ring (held in the Mitchell Library at R 363), but differs in colour and shape.
  • Access Conditions

    Access via appointment
  • Copying Conditions
    Out of copyright: Artist died before 1955
    Please acknowledge:: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
  • General note

    "This portrait used to hang with 8 others in the George St show room of W. Chorley & Co., Sydney. Mr Henry Chorley offered it on loan in 1938 as "apparently [that of] the wife of Capt. Cook". The offer was not accepted as the authenticity of the portrait could not be proved.
    See Corres. 1938/55 in and 1938/70 and 148 out. In Oct. 1956 after Mr Chorley's death the 9 portraits were presented to the ML [Mitchell Library] by Mrs H.J.A. Chorley. 6 are of Yorkshire ancestors of F. Thornbury of Sydney called Dale and Reynolds, the 7th is of an unidentified boy probably of the same family, the 8th is of Mr Taylor, engineer, the connection with the Thornburys is not known. None of the names appears in Young's History of Whitby but the Yorkshire marriage registers (for W. Riding) lists a John Dale and Mary Reynolds, Oct. 3, 1802. Graves' Dictionary lists a William Henderson, Whitby 1874-92, painter of figures; there is also a W.P.S. Henderson, domestic painter, London, 1836-74. Other W. Hendersons do not seem to fit. Possibly the portrait was painted by the Whitby Henderson from an earlier drawing or painting. For a description of Mrs. Cook see Muir, J. R. - Life and achievements of Captain James Cook 1939." -- note by Library officer in Mitchell Library Pictures card catalogue. A re-examination of the letters referred to above indicates that the reason the Library declined the offer of a loan of the portrait was not because its authenticity could not be proved, but that "the Trustees are definitely opposed to accepting anything on loan". The Principal Librarian notes a discrepancy between the dates of the portrait and the life of Mrs Cook, adding "but this does not necessarily mean the picture is not of Mrs Cook".

    However, according to family (6 April 2021) all of the portraits described by the Mitchell Library as the Yorkshire ancestors of F Thornbury of Sydney were gifted by the widow of Mr Henry Chorley having been purchased by her father-in-law, William Chorley, in 1905. It is possible that the paintings came from an auction on 10 August 1905 of the estate of David Featherby Thornbury which described the items being auctioned as including “… Water Colour drawings, and oil Paintings including some Fine Old Family Portraits. Also a Small Collection of Books including Old and Rare Australian Works.” (Evening News 5 August 1905 page 3)

    Mr Thornbury was a barrister and died at his residence “The Bungalow” Titania Street Randwick in his 80th year on 29 May 1905 (Sydney Morning Herald 30 May 1905 page 6). He died intestate and the curator of the Estate said that he was known as either Featherby David or David Featherby Thornbury (Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales 22 August 1905 page 5708).

    David Featherby Thornbury was born in 1825 in Goole Yorkshire as the only surviving child to David Thornberry (1798-1870) and Sarah nee Cook (bc 1788). David and Sarah married in 1820. Sarah’s mother was Mrs Elizabeth Cook who was born in 1750 and died in 1837 meaning that in 1830 she could have been 81 years of age. The will of David Thornbury refers to his estate containing some family oil portraits but does not itemise who the subjects of the paintings. The dates for this Mrs Elizabeth Cook match the inscription on the portrait. It also explains why this picture of Mrs Cook was in a collection of family portraits owned by F Thornbury – as it was his grandmother.

    While Elizabeth Cook is described in the following terms in The life of Captain James Cook, by J.C. Beaglehole (London : A. and C. Black, 1974): "In her old age handsome, with good bones and a great deal of dignity, rather than warmly beautiful, her white hair rolled back in an eighteenth century fashion, her face a rather squarish oval, nose aquiline, mouth good but rather too thin, strong jaw - erect, dressed in black satin, her head surmounted by a large cap with goffered edge, tied over a sort of ruff, she must have conferred distinction upon the street" (pp.693-4). A footnote reads: "The preceding paragraph is a good deal founded on the childhood reminiscences of Canon Frederick Bennett, son of John Leach Bennett, Mrs Cook's executor, supplied to Sir Walter Besant for his Captain Cook (1890), 190; and of Miss Eliza Elliotson, of Clapham, as recorded by Louisa Jane Mackrell, great-niece of Isaac Smith" (p.694). It is unclear to what extent this description derives from the portrait itself, which is reproduced by the author, and recent Thornbury family information seems to clearly disprove the idea that this portrait is the widow of Captain Cook.
    Reference: Information supplied to the State Library by the Thornbury family, 2021
    Digital order no:Album ID : 874534
  • Signatures / Inscriptions

    "Mrs Elizth Cook. Aged 81 years. W. Henderson. Pinxt. 1830" -- inscription painted on back of canvas, recorded in Pictures card catalogue

    Signed and titled via an inscription on the reverse of canvas.
  • Creator/Author/Artist
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  • Topic

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