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New site for Cook statue

THE “Crook Cook” will be installed on the grounds of Tairawhiti Museum but not before the completion of an interpretation project to accompany the contentious statue.

Museum director Eloise Wallace said staff were in the final stages of the interpretation development process.

The museum would present the statue with great care as it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to represent the statute uncritically and without regard to the wider discourse ongoing within the community, she said.

Museum staff were working not just on the story of the statue itself but “how we might best communicate the messages we would like to share about the statue in its historical and contemporary context”.

Staff were looking at “ways we might be able to encourage ongoing critical thinking and discussion as well as providing opportunities for people to share their own perspectives”.

“The approach we prefer to take when displaying complex objects such as this is based more on a co-development approach, with opportunities for feedback and adjustment as we move through the stages of the project.”

Discussions were ongoing with iwi, Gisborne District Council and subject experts.

“We are fortunate the museum has a group of trustees who represent the interests of iwi, council and the wider community, which enables us to work in this way.”

Mrs Wallace said the statue was in poor condition.

“It does present a challenge around safe installation and public display that we are still working through.”

The statue would be displayed outside because of its weight.

There was no date set for installation as that depended on contractor availability once the interpretation process was completed, she said.

The statue was erected on Titirangi/Kaiti Hill for the Cook Bicentenary in 1969 but never had the support of iwi.

The original Cook statue, believed to be sculpted in Sydney by an Italian, was erected in 1884 in Auckland by the Captain Cook Brewery and a copy was gifted to Gisborne in 1969.

Criticism of the statue and repeated vandalism led to Gisborne district councillors deciding in 2018 to remove the statue and relocate it at the museum.

The statue had became colloquially known as the “Crook Cook” because of doubts over whether the man depicted was James Cook.

It was widely believed the sailor was Italian because of his Italian-type uniform.

Mrs Wallace has previously written that a research project undertaken by writer Christopher Paxton (published 2012) confirmed it was a statue of Cook.

“The statue is a likeness of Cook that is possibly based on a head-and-shoulders engraving by English artist James Basire, 1777, which was in turn based on Hodge’s portrait of Cook, 1775-6.

“The face of the statue does not closely resemble today’s well-known portraits or sculptures of Cook.

“However, as only a small number of portraits were drawn from life, many ‘likenesses’ of Cook do not resemble each other.

“The Cook we recognise today is something of a stereotype, based on a proliferation of representations by generations of artist, engravers and sculptors.”

Captain Cook Society (of the United Kingdom) president Cliff Thornton wrote to The Herald four years ago in support of Mr Paxton and said “a bit more research by the sculptor would not have gone amiss”.

A crowd watches Navy ships arrive in the bay during the Cook Bicentenary commemoration in 1969. The Captain Cook statue stood on Titirangi/Kaiti Hill for 50 years before being removed in May of last year after vandalism and widespread questioning of its appropriateness. The walls of Cook Plaza and the name itself are also planned to be removed. Gisborne Herald file pictures
The Cook statue is removed from Kaiti Hill. It has been stored at Tairawhiti museum but is to be installed in the museum grounds following the completion of an interpretation project.

  1. Clive Bibby says:

    Can’t understand why the statue hasn’t been melted down and recast in the form of a Maori Chief of note if that’s what Maori think would be a more appropriate use. I can’t imagine any Pakeha wanting to retain anything that wasn’t a verifiable replica of Cook. Anyway, don’t we have a suitable replacement down by the Cut?
    And don’t we already have enough trouble trying to get both Iwi and Pakeha to agree on establishing a balanced number of replicas that are factual representations of Cook’s time in Tairawhiti without inflaming things further by perpetuating a myth? That statue serves no useful purpose in any capacity. It should go.

    1. Thelma Karaitiana says:

      In the past I have appreciated the good works of Tairawhiti Museum, but now I would like to know more of the drive to demonstrate a connection by Cook the Crook to other objects in the museum’s collection, to other artefacts and objects relating to 1769, and the commemorations of that event. I don’t get the drive for relationship when the purpose of the doppelganger and its beginnings, despite the research, are so vague. In my view repurposing rather than reinstallation is more worthy of consideration and I find merit in Mr Bibby’s suggestion to melt it down, the statue has no meaning, nor mana but it does have monetary value. Besides the insightful coverage by the Gisborne Herald, I would also like to know how the museum encourages ongoing critical thinking and discussion, as well as providing opportunities for people to share their perspectives?

    2. Don McMillan, Tauranga says:

      All history is relevant, no matter how painful it be to some individuals. Better to remember than to forget. Otherwise, what is the point of ANZAC Day, Easter and all the other holidays we have? Why should some symbols go simply because they are offensive to some people? That automatically implies that they are important enough to be retained for the other people.
      I don’t believe in censoring history. It’s far too important that we know as many sides of the story as possible, so that future historians can start with a clean sheet.

  2. Bill Sutton, Napier says:

    Whatever Gisborne residents may think or say about Captain Cook, his role in the history of Pacific exploration will remain significant for all time. Trying to judge him unworthy, on the basis of one-sided interpretations of a few historical incidents, is a waste of time. Those interested would be better to read a select few of the many excellent biographies of Cook, rather than travelling to Gisborne to stare at a controversial statue.

  3. Lissa Jeri, Jerusalem, Israel says:

    The history of the statue itself makes it part of the local history. The story isn’t its representation of Cook, rather the history of the why, how and wherefore of its getting there in the first place. For example, I found this article while searching for “what happened” to the statue which I read about in another source. So now the statue itself is the curiosity.