Endeavour replica… the replica death ship, the replica of the Endeavour, is literally on the horizon and will be arriving any day to re-enact the invasion of Maori whenua. —Dr Arama Rata, Senior Research Fellow at Waikato University, 26 September 2019

He [Cook] was a barbarian. Wherever he went, like most people of the time of imperial expansion, there were murders, there were abductions, there were rapes, and just a lot of bad outcomes for the indigenous people. –Ngāti Kahu elder Anahera Herbert-Graves, 15 September 2019

Hero or villain?

By Roger Childs

Captain Cook (1)In 1768, the barque Endeavour, captained by James Cook, sailed out of the English port of Plymouth. Its destination was the island of Tahiti, with the purpose of studying the 1769 transit of Venus.  However, he was also instructed to do much more. 

This would be the first of three epic voyages to the Pacific and in the process Cook would visit every continent on the planet. 

On 8 October 1769 he made his first landfall in New Zealand near modern Gisborne, and 250 years later the country is celebrating this momentous event and its consequences. Most people see James Cook as an iconic figure whose legacy is a modern, progressive, multi- cultural society. However some Maori extremists, as highlighted in the quotes above, see him as a negative influence who committed many crimes against the Polynesian inhabitants of the time. They do not disclose any evidence or sources.

These so-called authorities also make no reference to the December 1773 slaughter and eating of 10 men serving under Tobias Furneaux from the sister vessel to James Cook’s Resolution.  This was carried out in Queen Charlotte Sound by Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne led by the chief Kahura. Descendants of the murderers spoke on the television programme Coast a couple of years ago and were unapologetic – they described what happened to Furneaux’s men as “cultural process”!

First contacts – hostility meets good intentions

You are … to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them, making them presents of such Trifles as they may Value inviting them to Traffick, and Shewing them every kind of Civility and Regard… –Secret instructions to Captain Cook 

1830s interaction (1)Following his instructions, Cook established friendly relations with the people of Tahiti and he was hopeful of doing the same with the natives of New Zealand. Unfortunately the Maori he met in what he would call Poverty Bay, were aggressive when he and his crew first landed and on the following day.  As a result of this hostility and misunderstandings over ownership and theft, six Maori were killed. 

Unfortunately in this 250th year since Cook arrived off our shores, an anti-Cook movement has emerged, and the tired and inaccurate arguments about his voyages leading to unwanted colonisation and the subsequent degradation of Maori are being trotted out [encouraged by media organisations like Stuff —Eds].

Cook’s achievements


James Cook and botanist Joseph Banks introduced new animals and plants to the country, and their widely disseminated journals told the world about the nature and resources of New Zealand.

As a result of his explorations, the work of scientists on board, and the paintings of the official artists, the lands around the world’s biggest ocean became known throughout Europe and America. So it was inevitable that the exploitation of New Zealand’s resources by white people would follow, as well as settlement and governance.

The  1840 Treaty of Waitangi and subsequent western development saved Maori from possible extinction. The Treaty ended the endemic inter-tribal warfare which may have killed as many as 40,000 in the first four decades of the nineteenth century. Another consequence of the document, saw Maori women freed from a life of insecurity where rape, abduction, slavery and murder following battles, were common.

There were breaches of the Treaty on both sides in the years following, however ultimately Maori have benefitted from the colonisation, economic development and social progress that were the long term outcomes of Cook’s comprehensive reports on the country.

Because of Cook and the subsequent development of New Zealand, one vociferous Cook detractor, Tina Ngata, has had access to the cash economy, modern housing, hospitals, schools, retail outlets, transport and technology, and has been able to travel to the United Nations to decry the impact of the explorer’s three voyages.

A great man who had a huge impact

Captain Cook was one of the greatest explorers of all time. —John McLean

Cook’s arrival in New Zealand is one of the most important events in our history. His charting or our shores and the reports, paintings and sketches from his three voyages set in train the modern development of the nation. 

 The 250th anniversary of the Endeavour coming to New Zealand is a milestone we should all celebrate with pride.

JamesCooksNewWorldSpeaking on Cook in October

Well known writer, Graeme Lay, has written three novels on Cook and his voyages around the world. These works of fiction centre on a “secret log” Cook wrote for his wife Elizabeth.

Graeme is speaking on Tuesday 8 October, 5.30 – 6.30 pm, at the National Library in Wellington.