Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011

Over the past 12 months a small team of volunteers have been planning to erect a large six-ton ship's anchor, donated by the Royal New Zealand Navy, on the site of where Captain Cook is thought to have landed during his historic voyage up the Waihou River on November 21, 1769.

The landing area was identified back in 1975 as part of the Paeroa district centenary celebrations. With the co-operation of the Ohinemuri and Hauraki County Councils a small stone plinth and cemented to it a small anchor was placed on the left bank of the Waihou River, close to Sarjant's Corner (before it was realigned)—the intersection of Hauraki Road and State Highway 2 with Captain Cook Road some 500m further downstream.

The monument could not be easily viewed from the road and there was no easy access for motorists to park off the busy roads.

The first stone cairn erected

The first stone cairn erected to mark the approximate landing site of Captain Cook at Netherton. Gordon Fisher is a descendant of one of very early district settlers.

Captain Cook's Landing Sites
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011
The first stone cairn erected

Vandals have twice removed the small anchor, and now the plan is to erect a substantial concrete pad, inserting the large anchor and developing a picnic area. Support has come from the Hauraki District Council, Environment Waikato and Opus International Consultants.

This was second commemorative site marking Captain Cook's excursion up the Waihou River on November 21, 1769. The first site was at the eastern end of the Hauraki Bridge at Kopu, on the eastern approach to the bridge. A 10 feet, high obelisk was unveiled by Mr J. Thorn, Member of Parliament for Thames, on November 21, 1941.

Mr Thorn said in opening his address to a good gathering of residents, that the "north-westerly wind blowing today was precisely that which blew on the memorable 21st of November, 172 years ago, when Captain James Cook landed approximately on this spot".

Mr Thorn paid generous tribute to Captain Cook who, he said, had been the first to put New Zealand on the map.

"We owed to Captain Cook the first scientific study of our land and its Maori people. He had given New Zealand shape and character. For six months he sailed round our coasts, sounding, surveying, charting and studying. Banks and Solander, the distinguished scientists attached to the expedition, had used every opportunity to study the novel plant life of this rich, green country.

Before Cook came, practically nothing was known of the nature of New Zealand: after he visited this country, men of the maritime and scientific world knew the shape and size of New Zealand, its exact position, some of its principal harbours and its type of vegetation. Above all, they learned that its native inhabitants, if treated humanely and carefully, would trade in a friendly manner with European visitors and supply them with fresh provisions. It was only 23 years later that seamen profited from Cook's information, landed a gang of sailors in Dusky Sound, a harbour used and praised by Cook.

Mr Thorp said the idea of erecting memorials to Captain Cook marking his landing places, had originated when, in 1937, Captain J. D. McComish, of New South Wales, a keen Cook scholar had made the suggestion to the New Zealand Historical Committee of the Centennial Council, which had secured the Government's approval. Seven such memorials would be erected, the Kopu one being the first. The second would be at Mercury Bay.

"Memorials like this one at Kopu", continued Mr Thorn, "are of great value to all of us, because they serve to remind us of our rich heritage. The marking of historic spots such as this is a small but significant sign that the Government and people of New Zealand remember and appreciate the great work done for their country by our foremost British navigator, Captain Cook.

"The imaginations of all of us are stirred when we think, as we look at this memorial, that we are standing almost on the exact spot where, 172 years ago, a small party landed from the pinnace and long-boat of the barque "Endeavour". For, although the exact place at which Cook landed cannot be precisely identified, from the journals of Cook and Banks we know that it was very near the site of Kopu.

"Let us try to imagine the colourful scene here 172 years ago yesterday. From the swamp and mud of the river banks, mighty trees soaring into to the sky, would come Tupia, the chief priest of Tahiti, brought from his homeland to New Zealand to interpret messages between the strange white captain and the Maori. And finally, no doubt, there came a number of jolly Jack Tars in their quaint and, we can presume, grubby uniforms."

Mr Thorn described how Cook had given the wrong date of the landing. He had written in his journal November 20, but since he had not allowed for "westing" when crossing the international date-line, he must have landed actually on November 21.

The speaker went on to quote from Cook's journals, describing the anchoring of the "Endeavour" off the site of the present-day town of Thames, the rowing in a pinnace and long boat to the broad river in which the gulf ended, and a visit to a village of friendly "Indians" three miles up-river. The party continued up another 10 miles or so, possibly to where Turua stands today, then had landed to view some of the magnificent trees which were observed to grow ever more thickly as they went up the river. Cook measured one tree and found it to be 80ft from root to branch, in which space he said there would be 356 solid feet of timber. "And at 3 o'clock we embarked in order to return, but not before we had named this river The Thames, on account of its bearing some resemblance to that river in England, " recorded Cook.

Mr Thorn said that on the return trip the boats met a strong breeze and could not reach the ship all night. The men and officers slept as best they could, and eventually stepped on board the "Endeavour" at 7 o'clock in the morning.

At 9 a.m, a fresh gale was howling and the vessel was weather-bound for two days.

Mr Thorn spoke of the absence of the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. W. E. Parry, who sent the following telegram:

"Greatly regret inability to be present at Kopu ceremony, but send best wishes for interesting and successful function. I would stress importance of Cook's first great voyage not merely for world history but for our own country. The achievement of Cook and his companions should be part of our common heritage and tradition in New Zealand, and, in reminding us of this, Kopu memorial has a useful part to play. We do well to remember such men in these difficult days. Their courage and tenacity has set us a very high standard to be followed."

The actual unveiling was performed by Mr Thorn, who removed first the Maori mat wrapped around the lower half of the obelisk, then a New Zealand flag which covered the upper portion.

Following the unveiling there were short addresses by Mr S. Ensor, Mayor of Thames, and Mr D. Courtney, representing the Thames County Council. All present were invited to adjourn to the Kopu Hall where a pleasant and welcome afternoon tea was served by the ladies of the district. A number of brief informal speeches were given.


The story of Cook's landing is told in an old volume entitled "Captain Cook's Three voyages Round the World" compiled by Dr Hawkesworth, about 1800, largely from personal discussions with Banks and Solander, the two naturalists who accompanied Cook, and from Cook's own voluminous log and notes.

In the narrative of Cook's first voyage round the world, Cook's entrance into the Firth of Thames is described. The tale runs:

". . . . About half an hour after seven in the evening, forming the entrance of a strait, bay or river . . .

"At daybreak on the 19th the wind being still favourable, we weighed and stood with an easy sail up the inlet, keeping the nearest to the east side. In a short time, two large canoes came off to us from the shore. After having run about five leagues from the place where we had anchored the night before, our depth of water gradually decreased to six fathoms; and not choosing to go into less as it was a tide of flood, and the wind blew right up the inlet, I came to an anchor about the middle of the channel, which is near eleven miles over; after which I sent two boats out to sound.

"The boats not having found above three feet more water than we were now in, I determined to go no further with the ship but to examine the head of the bay in boats. At daybreak, therefore, I set out in the pinnace and long-boat, accompanied by Mr Banks and Dr Solander. We found the inlet ended in a river about nine miles from the ship. Into this river we entered with the first of the flood tide and within three miles we found the water perfectly fresh.

"Before we had proceeded more than one-third of that distance we found an Indian town, which was built upon a small bank of dry sand, but entirely surrounded by deep mud, which possibly the inhabitants might consider as a defence These people, as soon as they saw us, thronged to the banks and invited us on shore. We accepted the invitation and made them a visit, notwithstanding the mud . . . .

"We proceeded up the river till near noon, when we were fourteen miles within its entrance and then . . . . We landed on the west side to take a view of the lofty trees which everywhere adorned its banks. Before we had walked a hundred yards into the wood, we met with one of them which was 19 feet eight ins. in girth at a height of six feet from the ground. Having a quadrant with me, I measured its height from root to the first branch, and found it to be 89 feet; it was as straight as an arrow and tapered but very little in proportion to its height; so that I judge there were 356 feet of solid timber in it, exclusive of the branches.

"As we advanced, we saw others that were still larger; we cut down a young tree and the wood proved heavy and solid, not fit for masts, but such as would make the finest plank in the world . . . . Possibly some method might be found to lighten them, and they would then be such masts as no country in Europe can produce . . . .

"The river at its height is as broad as the Thames at Greenwich, and the tide of flood is strong; it is not indeed quite so deep, but has water enough for vessels of middle size, and a bottom of mud so soft that nothing could take damage by running ashore.

"About three o'clock we re-embarked in order to return with the first ebb and named the river The Thames, it having some resemblance to our own river of that name . . . ."


The Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr W. E. Parry, in August, 1941, when plans were being made to erect a rock obelisk to mark Captain Cook's landing site, wrote to Mr J. Thorn, Member for Thames and chairman of the National Historical Committee, stating:

"You will be interested to learn that as a further step in carrying out the recommendation of the National Historical Committee, that as part of the centennial observances the Government should mark the landing places in New Zealand of Captain James Cook, R.N., a memorial is to be erected at an early date on part of a road reserve at the Thames end of the Kopu Bridge, to mark Cook's landing in the locality in November, 1769.

"The memorial will take the form of a rock obelisk, triangular in shape, with two feet sides and rising to a height of nine feet from the ground level. Local stone from a quarry on the Kauaeranga Valley Road will be used, and the pile will carry a bronze plaque suitably inscribed.

"The actual 'spot' of Captain's Cook's landing in this locality is a matter of conjecture. It was somewhere on the river bank 'before we had gone three mile up' according to Cook's Journal, or 'one mile up' according Banks.

"The site selected conforms approximately to the distance recorded by Cook and the plaque will therefore carry the words 'near this spot'."


A most interesting feature of the Kopu ceremony was the fact that one of those who stood in the breeze to watch the unveiling and hear the speeches was married to a descendant of Captain Cook. He was Mr W. Barclay of the Public Works Department, Paeroa.

Mrs Barclay, who was prevented by illness from attending, was a direct descendant of the famous 18th century navigator.

Her family in England—named Adams and living in Ealing, London—had in their possession Cook's personal seal. Mr Barclay said he had seen this seal often before he came out to New Zealand, little thinking how the association with Cook would recur in years to come.


Captain Cook's obelisk

Captain Cook's obelisk alongside the eastern approach to the Kopu Bridge.

Captain Cook's Landing Sites
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011
Captain Cook's obelisk

The Captain Cook commemorative rock obelisk sat for some 40 years on the road reserve at the eastern end of the Kopu Bridge. It was so close to the carriage-way that it was not possible to stop and read the plaque or take photographs. When some road widening was done in the early 1980s it was moved to site in front of the Kopu Hall, adjacent to the Kopu Station Hotel. The plague reads:

"Near this spot James Cook, with the naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, landed while exploring the River Thames in the ship's boats of HMS Endeavour, 21 November, 1769."