Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Cook, Thomas (1808-1892)
COOK, THOMAS (1808–1892), tourist agent, was born at Melbourne, Derbyshire, on 22 Nov. 1808. His father died when he was four years old; he left school at ten, and was employed in the gardens of the Melbourne estate and helped his mother, whose only child he was, to eke out her earnings from a small village shop. Having a strong desire to better himself, he became the apprentice of his uncle, John Pegg, who was a wood-turner. After his apprenticeship he went to Loughborough in Leicestershire, where he was employed by Joseph Winks, a printer, and publisher of books for the General Baptist Association. Cook's religious training led him to become an active member of the Association of Baptists, and in 1828 he was appointed bible reader and missionary in Rutland. In 1829 he traversed 2,692 miles on missionary duty, 2,106 of them on foot.
Cook married the daughter of a Rutland farmer named Mason in 1832, taking up his abode in Market Harborough, and beginning business as a wood-turner, with the intention of acting as a missionary also. When Father Mathew passed from Ireland into England as an apostle of temperance, Cook became one of his converts, and his zeal in the cause led to his appointment as secretary to the Market Harborough branch of the South Midland Temperance Association. In 1840 he founded the 'Children's Temperance Magazine,' the first English publication of the kind. A gathering of members of the temperance society and their friends was appointed to be held in 1841 at Mr. W. Paget's park in Loughborough. It occurred to Cook that the Midland railway between that place and Leicester might be utilised for carrying passengers to the gathering, and he arranged with Mr. J. F. Bell, the secretary, for running a special train. On 5 July 1841 this train, being the first publicly advertised excursion train in England, carried 570 passengers from Leicester to Loughborough and back for a shilling. Owing to the success of the venture Cook was requested to plan and conduct excursions of members of temperance societies and Sunday-school children during the summer months of 1842, 1843, and 1844.
Cook's business of wood-turning had to be given up. Removing to Leicester, he continued to print and publish books there. In 1845 he made the organising of excursions a regular occupation, arranging with the Midland railway for a percentage upon the tickets sold. One of the first pleasure trips under this condition was made from Leicester to Liverpool on 4 Aug. 1845, a 'handbook of the trip' being compiled by Cook, who visited beforehand the places at which stoppages were to be made, and he arranged with hotel-keepers for housing the pleasure seekers. Afterwards Cook issued the coupons for hotel expenses which are now familiar to travellers. An excursion to Scotland was next undertaken, 350 persons journeying from Leicester to Glasgow and back for a guinea each. They went by rail to Manchester and Fleetwood, and by steamer from Fleetwood to Ardrossan. At Glasgow they were welcomed with salutes from cannon and music from bands, while both there and in Edinburgh they were publicly entertained. The publisher William Chambers (1800–1883) [q. v.] delivered an address of welcome to the Scottish capital, which was afterwards published with the title ' The Strangers' Visit to Edinburgh.'
Soon afterwards Cook issued a monthly magazine called 'The Excursionist.' He wrote in 1850: 'I had become so thoroughly imbued with the tourist spirit that I began to contemplate foreign trips, including the continent of Europe, the United States, and the eastern lands of the Bible.' In 1865 he crossed the Atlantic, issuing beforehand a circular letter to the editors of the press in the United States, and Canada, wherein he said, 'Editors of, and contributors to, many of the principal journals of England and Scotland have generally regarded my work as appertaining to the great class of agencies for the advancement of Human Progress, and to their generous aid I have been indebted for much of the success which has crowned my exertions' (The Business of Travel, pp. 42-7).
Cook's only son, John Mason (see below), became his partner in 1864, and next year (in 1865) the head office was removed from Leicester to London, owing to the rapid growth of the tourist business. While hundreds of persons visited the continent under Cook's guidance and enjoyed themselves, others objected to the new industry, and Charles Lever writing as 'Cornelius O'Dowd,' said that the parties of tourists under Cook's care were convicts whom the Australian colonies refused to receive, and were sent to Italy by the English government to be gradually dropped in each Italian city. The Italians did not understand that the statement was a joke, and Cook appealed to Lord Clarendon, then foreign secretary, for redress, receiving in return the sympathy, which was all that could be given (ib. pp. 151-7).
In 1872 Cook started on a tour round the world, recording his impressions in letters to the 'Times.' His purpose was to prepare the way for tourists. He was absent 222 days. At the close of 1878 Cook's son became the sole manager and acting head, Cook himself receiving a fixed annual payment. His later years were passed at Leicester, and were saddened by the infirmity of blindness. He died in his house, Thorncroft, Stonegate, on 18 July 1892.
John Mason Cook (1834-1899), tourist agent, Thomas Cook's only son, born at Market Harborough in 1834, accompanied his father as a boy in his excursion trips, and when a young man entered the service of the Midland Railway Company. Afterwards he engaged in business as a printer, and when in 1864 he became his father's partner, he liberated him, as he wrote, 'from details of office work and enabled him to carry out foreign schemes of long projection in both the eastern and western hemispheres' (The Business of Travel, p. 72). After taking charge of the office in London, when it was opened in 1865, and of the 'Excursionist' magazine, he visited America next year, owing to the railway managers there having repudiated the arrangements made with his father, and he entered into contracts by which forty-one series of tickets issued by his firm were made available at any time in the United States and Canada. This laid the foundation of the large tourist business of his firm on the North American continent.
The Great Eastern Railway Company having appointed Cook in 1868 to manage the continental traffic by way of Harwich, he had many interviews on the subject with the managers of railways in Holland, Belgium, and Germany. At first the president of the Rhenish railway advised him to abandon his visionary project of issuing through tickets Finally the concession was granted him for the issue of a special series, subject to the condition that five hundred first-class passengers took them during twelve months after the agreement was signed. At a meeting held shortly afterwards he announced the five hundred tickets had been taken in one month. Two years later the president o the Rhenish railway proposed, with the approval of his colleagues, that J. M. Cook be appointed paid agent for all the companies concerned in traffic through Germany, by way of the Brenner Pass, to Brindisi. During the Franco-German war this route was alone available for English visitors to the Riviera. At the close of the Franco-German war the French railway companies, which till then had refused to allow through tickets to be used over their lines, appointed J. M. Cook their agent for the development of this form of traffic. In England he then held the same office for the Midland, the Great Eastern, the Chatham and Dover, and the Great Western railway companies. In January 1871 he was employed by the Mansion House Committee to convey the supplies provided for the relief of the Parisians after the armistice ; his success caused Fames White, M.P. for Brighton, to say in he House of Commons that, if T. Cook & Son were entrusted with the transport of troops within the United Kingdom, 'the country would probably be a gainer to the extent of something like 120,000l. or 130,000l, while the soldiers would find the change attended by a great increase of comfort' (Hansard, 3rd ser. vol. ccv. col. 1592).
A year before, the Khedive of Egypt had appointed Cook government agent for passenger traffic on the Nile. In 1873 he opened a branch office at Cairo, and instituted a regular service of steamers to the first cataract, and two years later between the first and the second, becoming also sole agent for the postal service. An hotel was opened by J. M. Cook at Luxor in 1877, and a hospital for the treatment of natives was built and endowed by him in after years.
After the battle at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882, the wounded and sick were transported by him from Cairo and Alexandria by water, while sufferers from enteric fever were conveyed up the Nile, with the result that eighty to ninety per cent, recovered, owing to the Nile trip. The Duke of Cambridge, then commander-in-chief, sent J. M. Cook official thanks for his services to the army.
In 1884, when the British government resolved to send General Gordon to the Soudan, Cook was requested to convey him as far as Korosko. Before leaving that place Gordon sent a letter of thanks and expressed the hope of 'again having the pleasure of placing myself under your guidance.' Cook was consulted when the relief expedition was planned, and he was entrusted with conveying from Assiout, the terminus of the Egyptian railway, as far as Wady Haifa, at the foot of the second cataract, eleven thousand English and seven thousand Egyptian troops, about 130,000 tons of stores and war material, eight hundred whale boats, and between sixty thousand and seventy thousand tons of coal. To do this work twenty-eight large steamers were running between the Tyne and Alexandria, six thousand trucks were passing along the line between Alexandria and Assiout, while twenty-seven boats were steaming on the river by day and night. At the appointed time, the first week in November, the task undertaken was accomplished (Business of Travel, pp. 189, 191). The secretary for war expressed his opinion in writing that 'great credit is due to you for the satisfactory way in which your contract was performed.'
At a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society held on 5 Jan. 1885, J. M. Cook narrated some discoveries concerning the navigation of the Nile. The river had been surveyed when in flood, while the expedition was undertaken at low water. Going in a small boat from the Lower Nile to Dongola, he ascertained that the third cataract placed at Hannek did not exist, while there were four or five cataracts between the second and the so-called third one. Cook's mastery over the Nile was completed in 1889, when the Egyptian government granted him the exclusive right of carrying the mails, specie, and the civil and military officials between Assiout and Assouan. A like contract was made with the British government, under which stores and troops were despatched to the Soudan to overthrow the Mahdi. He bought a large piece of land at Boulac, where he erected works for constructing and repairing steamers, and brought a graving dock from England to be used in the process. At the launch in 1889 of his new steamer, Rameses the Great, Cook said that twenty years before there were 136 dahabeahs and one steamer on the river, while thirty dahabeahs and nineteen steamers were then at the service of tourists. Since that time the business has grown so large as to be conducted by an independent company with the title of 'Egypt, Limited,' which was formed on 1 May 1894.
Meanwhile Cook had greatly developed touring arrangements in Norway, where he opened operations in 1875. He had also acquired the railway up Mount Vesuvius, working it successfully and safely. In 1880 he travelled through India and arranged for the issue of international tickets over all the railways there, opening branches at Bombay and Calcutta. He had the sanction and help of Gladstone, the prime minister ; of Lord Hartington, secretary of state for India ; and Lord Salisbury, who had filled that office. He returned to India in 1885, being invited by Lord Duft'erin, the gover- nor-general, to co-operate in devising plans for the safer travel and better treatment of pilgrims to Jeddah and Yambo, and to Mecca and Medina. He devised a scheme which worked well, with the qualification that it brought him no pecuniary return (ib. pp. 209, 215). He was experienced in conducting pilgrims, a party of 1,004 having been led by his agents from France to and through the Holy Land.
The jubilee of the firm was celebrated on 22 July 1891, by the publication of a book for private circulation, entitled 'The Business of Travel, a Fifty Years' Record of Progress,' and by a banquet to eminent representatives of all classes of the public at the Hôtel Métropole. 'A serious and enthusiastic letter was read from Mr. Gladstone, and another, full of gratitude for real services, from Lord Wolseley, giving it as his opinion that the good work done by Messrs. Cook in the Nile campaign could have been done by nobody else ' (Times, 23 July 1891). Cook gave the following figures to illustrate the growth of his business. In 1865 the total receipts for the year were under 20,000l; in 1890 no less than 3,262,159 tickets had been issued, and they had refunded 44,644. for unused tickets. In 1865 the staff consisted of his father, himself, and two assistants ; in 1890 the fixed salaried staff was 1,714, while the offices numbered eighty-four, and the agencies eighty-five. His tourist business had expanded into a banking and shipping business as well.
In the autumn of 1898 the German emperor and empress, whom he had previously conducted up his railway on Mount Vesuvius, visited the Holy Land under arrangements made by Cook. His health at this time was feeble. He rose from a sick bed to greet the imperial party on entering Jerusalem (Blackwood's Magazine, clxxxvi. 220). The pressure of work broke down his health prematurely. He had a fine physique, and, like his father, he was a water drinker ; but he had always taxed his powers to the uttermost. While in the service of the Midland Railway Company he worked eighteen hours out of the twenty-four; later he passed a hundred nights at a stretch without sleeping in a bed. Attacks of influenza eventually undermined his constitution. He never rallied from an illness in Jerusalem, with which he was seized in October 1898, and on 4 March 1899 he died in his house, Mount Felix, at Walton-on-Thames.
According to the 'Times' for 6 March 1898, 'his real work consisted in breaking down the obstructiveness of foreign railway managers, and even governments, and in making journeys all over the world possible and easy to any one who might choose to buy a bundle of coupons at Ludgate Circus.'
On 29 Dec. 1861 J. M. Cook married Emma, daughter of T. W. Hodges of Mayfield, Leicestershire ; she survived him with three sons and daughters. His sons Mr. Frank Henry Cook, Mr. Thomas Albert Cook, and Mr. Ernest Edward Cook—now carry on the three branches of his business, tourist, banking, and shipping, the banking and exchange department being more especially controlled by Mr. Ernest Edward Cook.
[The Business of Travel; Times, 6 March 1899; Blackwood's Magazine, August 1899; private information.]