The surprise family links Captain Cook has to Sunderland

Article researched, authored and submitted by Paul Emerson

‘The Explorer“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go”

Those words were said by one of the most famous Britons to have ever lived. In May 1892 an old lady took her last breath at the age of 75 at 26 Olive Street. You can see in the photo above where 26 Olive Street is today. The original building has gone but it’s the left hand section of what was once Laings pub.

Her name was Indiana Pile. She had married Joseph Pile in Bishopwearmouth in 1844. She was born as Indiana Duck in the Yorkshire coastal village of Hawsker. That is a clue to her famous great uncle. This whole post stems from me seeing the name Indiana on a record and thinking it’s an interesting christian name.

A few days after her death she was buried at Sunderland Cemetery on 28th May. Her mother Mary Fleck had married a butcher by the name of George Duck. They were wed in Easington, Yorkshire, in 1794. The family had moved to Sunderland from Yorkshire and they lived on Hendon Road.

In 1831 they were living at South Street. That’s the non descript road in the city centre just behind Jacky Whites market and the Bridges Shopping Centre. It once was a residential street in the heart of Bishopwearmouth.

It was on 16th October 1857 that Mary Duck passed away at 73 Hendon Road aged around 85 years old. A few days later she was laid to rest in the graveyard of Sunderland Parish Church. The mother of Mary Fleck was a lady called Margaret Cook. That is a clue to her famous uncle.

At Waterloo Place, Monkwearmouth Shore lived Captain John Fleck. He was the brother of Mary Fleck and a sea captain by trade. He also had an alternative address, possibly for communication, the Bridge Inn near Fawcett Street. On 30th January 1819 he married Isabella Cropton at the local church, St Peters.

John passed away on 9th October 1835 at Monkwearmouth Shore. On 12th October was buried at the graveyard of the church he was married in. He was born in the same year that his famous uncle died, 1779.

They were the relatives of a certain Captain James Cook, one of the most famous men of 1700’s Great Britain. No doubt all three of his family who lived in these parts were proud of their connection to their famous uncle. Captain Fleck and his sister Mary had another sister called Grace.

She lived at Redcar. She was named Grace as her grandmother and the mother of Captain Cook was called Grace. A historian visited her humble home to interview her in the 1830’s. Her daughter brought out a number of relics belonging to Captain Cook that had been given to the family by his widow.

Grace tells the visitor of her brother and sister and mentions Mary Duck was living in Sunderland. A daughter of Grace called Ann Carter also moved to Sunderland. From her and her husband many of their descendants have lived and still do in Sunderland.

They are distant nieces and nephews of Captain Cook. Captain Cook was married to his wife Elizabeth for just seventeen years. They only spent around four years together due to his life at sea and his exploration. The Captain was stabbed and killed in Hawaii on 14th February 1779 by local inhabitants during a struggle. The news took a year to reach Great Britain and the nation went into mourning.

Captain Cook and Elizabeth produced six children, five boys and one girl. By the end of 1793 all her six children and beloved husband were dead. Elizabeth took to her bed for two years. She lived on till 1835 and died at the grand age of 93 years old. Fifty six years after the loss of her husband.

In later life she had burnt all the letters she had received from him. Captain Cook had no direct descendants due to the death of his six children. So his only living relatives were the offspring of his siblings like John, Mary and Indiana who are mentioned in this post.

It had been Captain Cook’s wish that his relatives did not suffer from want. When his wife Elizabeth died, Mary Duck and Captain John Fleck were named in the will. No doubt all three were proud of their uncle and possibly they had relics of his.

It would have been one way to introduce yourself around Sunderland, Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth. As the nephew or niece of one of the greatest navigators and explorers of all time.