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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.

COOK, James



Dr Samwell, surgeon in the Discovery, who accompanied Cook on the voyages of 1775–76, says:

“His person was above six feet high, and though a good looking man, he was plain both in address and appearance. His head was small, his hair, which was dark brown, he wore tied behind. His face was full of expression, his nose exceedingly well shaped, his eyes which were of a brown cast, were quick and piercing: his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.”

Source: Captain Cook and Hawaii – a narrative by David Samwell (originally published 1786, reprinted 1957), pp. 32–33.

Sir Walter Besant, a biographer of Cook; writes:

“He was, to begin with, over six feet high, thin and spare; his head was small; his forehead was broad; his hair was of a dark brown, rolled back and tied in the fashion of his time; his nose was long and straight; his nostrils clear and finely cut; his cheek bones were high, a feature which illustrated his Scotch descent; his eyes were brown and small, but well set, quick and piercing; his eyebrows were large and bushy, his chin was round and full; his mouth firmly set; his face long. It was an austere face, but striking ….”

Captain Cook, Besant, Walter (1890), p. 33.


  1. Portrait by Sir Nathaniel Dance, R.A., painted during May 1776. Cook is shown full face, looking towards his left, and he is wearing a wig. Seated at a small table, Cook holds the corner of a chart with his left hand while pointing to a feature on it with his right.

    Original oil painting in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Reproduction (in colour) The Journals of Captain Cook Vol. I (frontispiece), Beaglehole, J. C. (1955).

    Dance's portrait was engraved by J. K. Sherwin and published in Samwell's Captain Cook and Hawaii, facing p. 34.

    Of this engraving Samwell says: “it may not be amiss to observe, that the plate engraved by Sherwin, after a painting by Dance, is a most excellent likeness of Captain Cook; and more to be valued, as it is the only one I have seen that bears any resemblance to him”.

  2. Engraving by C. Westermayers after another, less known, portrait by Dance. A copy of this engraving is held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. It is undated but would appear to have been made prior to 1800.

  3. Portrait by John Webber, R.A., painted about 1780 for Cook's widow. The portrait is of three-quarter length and shows full face, with Cook looking to his right. His right hand, which rests on his hip, holds a tricorne hat. The original was acquired by the New Zealand Government in 1960 and now hangs in the National Art Gallery, Wellington.

  4. Portrait by John Webber, R.A., is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is said to have been painted at the Cape of Good Hope about 1780. Like the other Webber portraits, it is a disappointing work of art. Reproduction (black and white). Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S., by Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell, v.c. (1936). Frontispiece. Webber's portrait was engraved by Thornton (1781) and appears in Anderson's Large Folio Edition of the Whole of Captain Cook's Voyages &c. Complete (1786), frontispiece.

  5. Portrait by William Hodges (1777). This shows Cook's head and shoulders. He is wearing civilian clothes and we see him full face, looking towards his right. The whereabouts of Hodge's portrait is not known but a black and white reproduction of an engraving by John Basire after Hodges, appears in the Journals of Captain Cook, Vol. II, Beaglehole, J. C. (1961), facing page xxxiii.

  6. Portrait by an unknown artist, now held in the Museum, Whitby. This portrait, which is half-length, shows Cook in later life. It is full face and looking slightly to his right. He is in naval uniform and his left arm rests upon a globe while in his right hand he holds a pair of dividers. The features show a more serious cast of countenance. It is reproduced (black and white) in Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S. – the Circumnavigator, Kitson, A. (1907), facing p. 343.

  7. A portrait by an unknown artist (1776), painted for the Governor of Newfoundland. It shows a standing figure in naval uniform, face three-quarters to the right. Historical and Descriptive Catalogue of… the National Portrait Gallery (1909), p. 88. The catalogue lists the portrait under James Cook but adds “identity doubtful”. It is reproduced (black and white) in the National Portrait Gallery, List of Paintings, Sculptures, Miniatures, &c. (1910), plate XVII.

Busts, Medals, and Statues

Several busts and statues of Cook were commissioned and executed long after his death and in the main derive from Dance's portrait. The medal struck by the Royal Society, in Cook's honour, was designed by Lewis Pingo and bears his signature. There is a specimen in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. The National Portrait Gallery, London, has a 23 in. high marble bust of Cook, which was executed by Le Vieux in 1790. The National Gallery of Scotland has a medallion of Cook by James Tassie. This, which is undated, shows head and shoulders; body almost square on; head turned slightly to the right, and a little to one side; prominent nose; resolute mouth and chin; coat, with braided edges hanging open, shows high waistcoat. (Plaster, oval 4 by 3½ in.). Executed from a painting formerly in the possession of Sir Joseph Banks.

Statue of Captain Cook, Christchurch, by W. J. Trethewey.

Cook Relics

The following Cook relics are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington:

  1. Wedgwood cameo, 9½ in. by 7 in., after the Basire engraving from Hodges portrait. (c. 1775.)

  2. Wedgwood cameo, 4¼ in. by 3 in., showing profile right side. By John Flaxman R.A. (c. 1775.)

  3. Silver Medal to commemorate the voyages of the Resolution and Adventure, March 1772. Diam. 4–4 cm. This medal was presented by Cook to the native chiefs on his second voyage as evidence of discovery.

  4. Royal Society Silver Medal, honouring Cook, showing profile left side. Designed Lewis Pingo. Diam. 3–9 cm.

  5. Bronze Medal struck for First New South Wales International Exhibition, 1879. Shows Cook, full face, looking towards his left – an indifferent likeness. Diam. 3–9 cm.

NOTE – The portraits listed here do not include those which, painted in Cook's lifetime, are now held in Australian Art Galleries and Libraries.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.