Cook Statue

Victoria Square, Christchurch

  • Cook Statue.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/12/2001.
  • Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: D Cosgrove.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Registered List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2
List Number 1860 Date Entered 26th November 1981


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Sec 1221 Town of Christchurch (CT CB29F/301), Canterbury Land District


This statue of Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was presented to Christchurch by a bookmaker, Matthew Frank Barnett. It was sculpted by William Thomas Trethewey (1892-1956), a monumental mason by trade, who also sculpted the Citizens War Memorial in Cathedral Square. Born in Christchurch, Trethewey was largely self-taught, although he did study wood carving under Frederick Gurnsey, the noted Christchurch carver, and life modelling for a year in Wellington. He won the commission for the statue of Cook in 1928.

Trethewey carved the statue of Cook from a twelve-tonne block of imported marble. It is an over-lifesize portrait in a heroic pose. The statue was officially unveiled by Lord Bledisloe, the Governor-General, on 10 August 1932. The inscription states: 'James Cook/Captain Royal Navy/Circumnavigator who first hoisted the British flag in New Zealand and explored her seas and coasts/1769-70 1773-4 1777/Oceani Investigator Acerrimus'

Cook made three voyages to New Zealand (in 1769, 1773 and 1776-1777), and was the first European to map the outline of the country. His charts served subsequent navigators for years to come and his voyages are still remembered in the names he gave to many natural features around the coast of New Zealand. To previous generations of Pakeha Cook has been seen as the 'true' founder of New Zealand, the Englishman who discovered the islands and thus made them available for colonisation by the British. As James Belich said, 'Cook was the first of a Pakeha pantheon of deified ancestors'. Such a portrayal of him led to the creation of numerous memorials built in his honour throughout New Zealand. Current opinion about Cook, however, ranges from his continued deification to a view of him as an agent of colonisation.

This statue is significant as an example of Trethewey's work, as one of the many monuments around New Zealand dedicated to Cook and as one of the landmarks of Victoria Square.


Additional informationopen/close

Completion Date

4th December 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Belich, 1996

James Belich, 'Making Peoples. A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century', Auckland, 1996


Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Mackay, David. 'Cook, James 1728 - 1779', updated 22 June 2007


In 1932, Matthew Barnett donated the statue of Captain Cook to the city, which stands in Victoria Square. He resided in 'Wharetiki', an eclectic Queen Anne style building located at 854 Colombo Street, Christchurch (also registered - 7551).