Historic Captain James Cook possessions sail on Queen Mary 2’s New Zealand Circumnavigation

Personal possessions carried by Captain James Cook on his 18th century voyages of discovery to the South Pacific have returned to New Zealand on Cunard Line’s flagship Queen Mary 2.

Original documents including Cook’s handwritten account of his first days in New Zealand and encounters with Maori are among items securely displayed during the liner’s historic circumnavigation of New Zealand, which included a visit to Auckland today.

President and Managing Director of Cunard Line Peter Shanks said it was a privilege for Cunard to be able to host such remarkable items on Queen Mary 2 given their deep historical significance.

“Our guests are fascinated to be able to view these items as Queen Mary 2 retraces part of Cook’s course around New Zealand,” Mr Shanks said.

Cook’s personal possessions and handwritten documents are drawn from the world-renowned Cook Collection held by the State Library of NSW, which has given permission for the highly prized items to travel on Queen Mary 2.

Recently-named New Zealander of the Year, Dame Anne Salmond, Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies at the University of Auckland and New Zealand’s foremost expert on Cook’s three voyages to the South Pacific, said the return to New Zealand of the Cook items was of great significance.

“New Zealand’s shared history began with the meetings between Cook and his companions and Maori in different parts of the country,” Dame Anne said.

“Cook visited New Zealand a number of times during his three epic voyages of discovery. His journals show he developed a deep respect for Maori, writing that he had always ‘found them of a brave, noble, open and benevolent disposition’.

“But he also wrote that they were ‘a people that will never put up with an insult if they have an opportunity to resent it’.’”

Dame Anne Salmond’s literary masterwork, The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, provides one of the best accounts of James Cook’s numerous visits to New Zealand during his South Pacific voyages.

State Library of NSW Emeritus Curator Paul Brunton is sailing on Queen Mary 2 with the Cook items and giving a series of presentations to passengers while onboard.

“Personal letters written by James Cook are exceptionally rare; there would be less than a dozen of them in the world,” Mr Brunton said.

“As far as I am aware, this is the first time letters from our collection have left the library so we are thrilled to bring these items to New Zealand on a liner like Queen Mary 2.”

Items from the Cook Collection being carried on Queen Mary 2 include:

  • Cook’s tea caddy and a spoon which he had with him on his voyages to New Zealand
  • Signed 1768 correspondence about his preparation for the first New Zealand voyage on Endeavour
  • Cook’s letters to mentor John Walker in 1771 and 1775, which include descriptions of his first and second voyages around New Zealand
  • Cook’s handwritten draft journal from his first voyage to New Zealand including an  account of Endeavour’s arrival at Poverty Bay and first encounter with Maori.

Cook was under orders to treat the communities in the South Pacific with restraint and he was keen to explain his encounters with Maori after first landing at Poverty Bay. He described his 1769-70 circumnavigation of New Zealand in one of the letters being carried on Queen Mary 2:

“... I found it to be two Large Islands, both of which I circumnavigated in the space of six months...and are together nearly as big as Great Britain. It is a hilly Mountainous Country, but rich and fertile, especially the no(r)thern parts, where it is also well Inhabited.

The Inhabitants of this Country are a strong well made active people, rather above the common size, they are of a very dark brown colour with long black hair, they are also a brave warlike people with sentiments void of treachery, their Arms are spears, Clubs, Halbarts, Battle Axes, darts and stones, they live in Strong hold(s) or fortified towns, built in well chose situations and according to art.”

In another dimension to Queen Mary 2’s voyage, New Zealand born Commodore Christopher Rynd is at the helm as the liner graces local waters.

Following her visit to Bay of Islands yesterday and Auckland today, Queen Mary 2 will visit Wellington (March 13), Akaroa (March 14) and Milford Sound (March 16) as part of her 106-day world voyage taking in 34 ports, 18 countries and four continents.

Stretching 345 metres long, Queen Mary 2 is 17 metres longer than Auckland’s Sky Tower is tall, and at 151,400 tonnes is the largest vessel to visit New Zealand, towering 60-plus metres above the waterline.