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Captain Cook's teacup

Teacup that may have belonged to Captain James Cook, about 1770

Tea cup and saucer decorated with red and pink flowers.

Photo: George Serras.

Where and how it was made

This teacup and saucer were probably made in an English pottery in the late 1700s. English porcelain was produced in centres such as Chelsea, Bow, Worcester and Derby, and drew on designs from China and Continental Europe. The orange flowers were probably applied using a transfer, while the pink roses and green foliage were handpainted. Transfer printing sped up production and helped English manufacturers compete with Chinese imports.

Engraving of a factory.

Left: This engraving shows the first Worcester porcelain factory at Warmstry House on the River Severn in 1752. Courtesy: Worcester Porcelain Museum.

Where and how it was traded

The teacup and saucer were probably purchased as part of a larger tea set from a pottery showroom in a large town or city.

Illustration of a hall with crockery on tables for sale.

Left: Crockery for sale at the Wedgwood and Byerley Showroom, St James's Square, London, in the early 1800s. Courtesy: Guildhall Library, City of London/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Where and how it was used

Captain James Cook may have used the teacup and saucer. Frank Thompson, who donated the item to the Australian Government, was descended from Margaret Fleck, James Cook's sister. The cup and saucer were part of a tea set that had been passed down through the generations to Mr Thompson and his sisters.

Tea pots, cups and sauces.

Right: This selection of items from a Worcester tea service about 1775 includes tea and coffee pots, a variety of plates, teacups, a milk jug, a sugar bowl and a tea caddy. Courtesy: Perrins Museum, Worcestershire, UK/The Bridgeman Art Library.

How it came to be collected

The cup and saucer were donated to the Australian Government by Frank Thompson in August 1975. Thompson, an Englishman living in America, felt that a museum in Australia would be the 'rightful place' for an important relic of Captain James Cook. The cup and saucer became part of the National Historical Collection and were transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1981.

Tea cup and saucer.

Spot the difference!

Top left: Teacup that may have belonged to Captain James Cook, about 1770. Photo: George Serras.

Bottom left: This is a teacup from the same service, held by the Cook Birthplace Museum in Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire. Photo: Cook Birthplace Museum.

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