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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 2 (May 1, 1939)

Captain Cook Memorials — A Centennial Gesture?

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Captain Cook Memorials
A Centennial Gesture?

Captain James Cook, F.R.S.

Captain James Cook, F.R.S.

It seems that the time has come when New Zealand might do well to consider the advisability of marking the Centennial of either Wellington or Auckland by a fitting memorial to Captain Cook. What could be more appropriate at this time? For, except in Christchurch, the memory of the great navigator has scarcely been recognised, and it is surprising that the other capital cities have so far neglected to raise in enduring stone or marble any memento of the man who gave Britain her heritage of the Pacific.

Overseas, Captain Cook has been honoured in many places. Strangely enough, France, whose navigators followed close on his heels in the South Seas, set up the first Cook memorial. This was erected in 1779 by Pajou in the garden of the Chateau de Mareville, and was the only one raised in the year of his death. Unfortunately, however, it has disappeared from the Chateau grounds, and it is not definitely known where the white marble sarcophagus which Pajou erected there has found a resting place. An interesting search awaits the traveller who wishes to unearth this early memorial, which included a bust, an urn, and a lion eating an eagle.

It is not so strange that France should have erected the first memorial, for her navigators followed close on the heels of Cook in the South Seas; the tribute of La Pérouse being that he had left him “nothing but to admire.”

Next came a British memorial erected on the spot where Cook's body was burned. It was set up by Captain Lord Byron of H.M.S. Blonde, in 1825, followed by a stone, at Venus Point, in the Society Group, to commemorate the observation of the transit of the planet, on which event hinged the whole of Cook's voyages and undertakings.

The most important and certainly the most inspiring of British memorials is the obelisk at Easby, Yorkshire, raised by Robert Campion, Lord of the Manor of Easby in 1827. On the highest point of the Cleveland hills it stands like a beacon, as if to keep guard over the moorland villages those hills enfold, many of them associated with Cook's early life, from Marton to Great Ayton, and on to sea-washed Staithes and Whitby. Campion's obelisk, overlooking as it does those dear familiar scenes of his boyhood, the soil from which he sprung, the rolling moors so familiar to his eyes, bears a longer inscription than any of the other memorials, and perhaps fittingly, as if to remind the simple Yorkshire folk that there is that in their fibre which can go forth and bind the world. The opening paragraph reads:

“Erected to the memory of the
(Photo. W. Hall Raine) The memorial to Captain Cook at Ship's Cove, Marlborough Sounds. South Island, New Zealand.

(Photo. W. Hall Raine) The memorial to Captain Cook at Ship's Cove, Marlborough Sounds. South Island, New Zealand.

celebrated circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, F.R.S., a man in nautical skill scarcely inferior to any, and in zeal, prudence and indefatigable exertion superior to most. Regardless of personal danger he opened an intercourse with the inhabitants of the Society Islands, and other portions of the Southern Hemisphere. He was born at Marton in this neighbourhood, October 27th, 1728, and was massacred at Owyhee, January 14th, 1799, to the unspeakable grief and disappointment of his countrymen. While the sciences in general and navigation in particular, shall be cultivated among men, while the spirit of enterprise, commerce and philanthropy shall animate the sons of Britain, while it shall be deemed the high honour of Christian nations to spread the enjoyments of civilised life and the higher blessings of the Christian faith among Pagan and Savage tribes; so long will the name of Captain Cook stand enrolled among the most celebrated and most admired of the benefactors of the human race.”
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(F. Keen. photo.) The memorial to Captain Cook at Christchurch, New Zealand

(F. Keen. photo.) The memorial to Captain Cook at Christchurch, New Zealand

In 1912 Whitby received a fine memorial in the statue presented by Sir G. Beckeand. Little James Cook in 1742 had tramped twelve weary miles from the fishing village of Staithes, where he was apprenticed to a grocer, to take up service in the coasting trade with Mr. John Walker of Whitby. “A weary lad flung himself upon the grass of West Cliff, Whitby,” states a recent writer, “where his statue now gazes over the roofs of the old seaport.” Its inscription reads: “For the lasting memory of a great Yorkshire seaman this bronze has been cast, and is left in the keeping of Whitby; the birthplace of those good ships that bore him on his enterprise, brought him to glory and left him at rest.”

Various smaller memorials mark other spots in Yorkshire connected with Cook, such as the marble vase in Stewart Park, Marton, on the site of the clay “biggin” where he was born, and the monument of Cape Everard granite on the site of the Great Ayton cottage, removed to Melbourne under the false impression that it was his birthplace. This cottage was merely the home of his parents in old age.

London has her bronze statue at Admiralty Arch and a tablet in Mile End Road, while Liverpool, whose shipping connection with the lands of his discovery seems to warrant some reminder, has also a statue. Australian memorials include statues at Randwick and at Botany Bay, while the Australian Museum boasts the largest collection of Cook relics in the world, among them the stern plate of the Resolution, and the ornamental jacket which Mrs. Cook was working for her husband during the third voyage from which he never returned.

A plate at Cooktown, Queensland, recalls that here the Endeavour was repaired, and on Possession Island, Torres Strait, an obelisk bears the magnificent unchallenged assertion that James Cook took possession of the whole east coast of Australia.

At Kealakekua, Hawaii, a native princess had granted land for the erection of a memorial as long ago as 1874, and here, near the spot where the tragedy took place, a tall shaft was later set up, catching the tropic sunlight above the place which witnessed the closing scene of a great life. On 18th August, 1928, Kealakekua was again the centre of a memorial ceremony when a half-submerged plate was unveiled near the spot where the massacre took place. Its inscription runs: “Captain James Cook, R.N., was killed near this spot, Feb. 17th, 1777.” On that occasion, Sir Joseph Carruthers, representing Australia, expressed the opinion that the famous navigator met his death as a result of “a complete and mutual misunderstanding.”

Compared with enduring monuments, we are forced to the conclusion that so far, New Zealand has not sufficiently honoured the man to whom she owes her very existence as a British Dominion. In the North Island, his first landing place is marked at Poverty Bay by a granite obelisk mounted on three steps. It stands on the beach near Gisborne, and though lacking the personal appeal of a statue, its historic interest gives it a unique place among world memorials.

“On the 7th (October, 1769) it fell calm,” says Cook, “we therefore approached the land slowly … About 5 o'clock we saw the opening of a bay, which seemed to run pretty far inland, upon which we hauled our wind and stood in for it … we could now perceive that the hills were clothed with wood … The sides of the bay are white cliffs of a great height … with hills gradually rising behind, one towering above another … In the evening I went on shore (October 8th) accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander, with the pinnace and yawl and party of men.”

Thus the great navigator first set foot on our shores; and his first landing place in the South Island is fitly marked at Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, by a cairn of stones, and the guns of Cook's period presented by the Admiralty. Of his first sight of the South Island Cook says: “The land here is of a considerable height …. At daybreak (Jan. 15th, 1770) I stood for an inlet … and at light I got within the entrance … We saw a village situated upon the point of an island (Motuara) … and anchored in a very safe and convenient cove (Ship Cove) on the north-west side of the bay.”

The most recent, and indeed by far the best among New Zealand memorials, is that of Christchurch in 1932. The statue, from a triangle facing Colombo Street, surveys with calm dignity the busy thoroughfare, seeming to gaze cathedral-wards with the eyes of one used to the far distances of uncharted oceans. Sunset flames behind the figure, morning gilds the face; all about him are silver birches whose leaves turn russet as in the land which gave him birth.

Surely no higher centennial objective could be attained than to mark thus in other centres the memory of Captain Cook, but for whom neither Auckland nor Wellington would be celebrating their hundred years of life, except perhaps under the flag of France.

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(Rly. Publicity photo.) Taxis awaiting the arrival of the Auckland-Wellington Limited express at Wellington Station.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Taxis awaiting the arrival of the Auckland-Wellington Limited express at Wellington Station.