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Royal Navy mess plate belonging to Captain William Cook, RAN

Date: 1880-1900
Dimensions:
Overall: 237 × 237 × 20 × 237 mm
Medium: Ceramic
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Rhod Cook
Object Name: Plate
Object No: 00054685

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    Description
    Blue transfer-printed earthenware British Royal Navy mess plate owned by Captain William Cook, RAN. This object is one of a large collection of documents, photographs, uniforms, ship badges and ephemera associated with the Royal Australian Navy service of brothers William Cook and Frederick Cook. Both men entered service prior to the Second World War, were seconded to the Royal Navy, and underwent training at Greenwich and Portsmouth. Frederick Cook later gained fame as the only Australian survivor of HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed by a German U-boat in October 1939. William Cook was the youngest commander of an Australian destroyer during the Second World War, and was First Lieutenant of HMAS Wyatt Earp, the primary research vessel for the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition in 1947-48.
    SignificanceThis ceramic plate is unique because it dates to the late-Victorian era (1880-1900) and was almost certainly not issued to William Cook during his naval service. To the contrary, it seems likely Cook collected the object in the United Kingdom during his first years as a RAN officer-in-training. The mess number featured on the plate (Mess No. 37) may have some personal significance to Cook (i.e., it may have been his first mess number aboard a ship), but this is unclear from discussions with his son Rhod Cook. However, William Cook certainly prized the plate, as it hung on the wall of his office for many years. While mess plates of this type were mass produced during the nineteenth century, intact examples of the 'Old Head' variant represented by this specific object are relatively rare.

    Cook had a distinguished naval career, and served aboard notable Australian warships during the Second World War, including HMAS Perth (I), HMAS Voyager (I) and HMAS Nizam. He was mentioned in despatches for his service aboard Voyager during the Greek campaign in 1941. Awarded command of Nizam at the age of 28, Cook became the youngest Australian to command a destroyer during the conflict. He was later present at Tokyo Bay (while in command of Nizam) during the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on 2 September 1945. He later served as First Lieutenant of HMAS Wyatt Earp, the first Australian vessel to conduct Antarctic research in the immediate post-war period.

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