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Story: Cook, George Howe and Cook, Herbert Francis

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Cook, George Howe


Ngāpuhi; whaler

Cook, Herbert Francis


Ngāpuhi; whaler

This biography, written by Heather E. Lindauer, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

George and Herbert Cook came from a seafaring family. Their grandfather, William Cook, came to New Zealand as third mate on an English whaler. He took as his wife Tīraha, who was of Ngāpuhi and Kapotai and kin to several important Hokianga chiefs including Tāmati Wāka Nene. William and Tīraha were involved in boat-building at Stewart Island and in the Bay of Islands. Their eldest son, George, went to sea, and married Matilda Hannah Fawkes in 1849 at Port Ross in the Auckland Islands. He plied his own schooner, Sea Breeze, between Auckland, Rarotonga and Norfolk Island, and later commanded whalers operating from Sydney. Very often his family travelled with him. George Howe Cook was born on the whaling brig Independence off Lord Howe Island, according to family information on 8 May 1855; his brother Francis Herbert (later known as Herbert Francis) was born on 6 November 1859 at Russell; George Cook senior was by then a publican. There were four daughters and three other sons in the family; George and Herbert also had a half-brother.

Schooling must have been erratic. As a young man Herbert (Bert) purchased a set of school books and educated himself. George went to Auckland Grammar School, but also sailed with his father, and met Bully Hayes, the pirate and blackbirder, in the Pacific islands. In the 1920s and 1930s he wrote articles for the New Zealand Herald under the pen-name 'Lone-Hander', recording information on his early life, whaling and local history.

Herbert joined an American whaler at the Bay of Islands in 1879, and for the next 10 years sailed the world's whaling grounds. On one occasion a sperm whale smashed three whaleboats; on another, his foot was caught in the harpoon rope and he was dragged under before managing to free himself. He learnt the skills of a carpenter, blacksmith and harpooner. George Cook also served on whalers, at one time being first officer of the Splendid, an Otago-based ship. As a young man he was in the boat that secured the first whale off Russell. On another occasion he was caught up with a mutinous crew in Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island.

Herbert Cook married Ellen Anglem at Bluff on 8 April 1889. They settled at Russell, and Herbert worked for some time at Ninepin Rock at the entrance to the Bay of Islands, Ōutu Bay and Bland Bay before choosing Whangamumu for his base in the early 1890s. This provided good shelter and a good water supply.

In 1892 the brothers patented a wire net, which was strung underwater between the mainland and a large rock. Whales swimming along the coast were entangled, giving the whaleboats time to catch up and harpoon them. It is thought to be the only whaling station in New Zealand to have used this method. George Cook married his cousin Mary (Minnie) Cook, at Waikare, Bay of Islands, on 30 September 1896.

By 1899 about 20 men, mostly Māori, were employed at the whaling station. The Cooks' brother, William, and half-brother, David Kydd, also worked at Whangamumu. Buildings were added gradually as catches increased. In 1902 a steam launch, Waiwiri, was bought. It was used initially to tow whales and whaleboats; later it was equipped with harpoons. The Hananui II, an English steam whaler equipped with a harpoon gun, was added to the fleet in 1910. It was also used for one season at Campbell Island. One of the Hananui's more unusual catches was a live mine in 1918. Laid by the German raider Wolf it was discovered off Red Head in the Bay of Islands. Herbert Cook towed the mine carefully to Russell where it was later detonated; he received a medal for meritorious service.

The Cooks ceased whaling in 1931 and Whangamumu closed down. Herbert died at Whangarei on 28 December 1934, survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. George died at Auckland on 13 June 1941, survived by Mary Cook and six children. The Cook brothers were the last of three generations of Northland whalers; they had been involved in all aspects of deep-sea and shore-based whaling. Their use of netting was unique and their introduction of the harpoon gun began the mechanisation of the industry and marked the advent of modern whaling.

How to cite this page:

Heather E. Lindauer. 'Cook, George Howe and Cook, Herbert Francis', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3c28/cook-george-howe (accessed 23 July 2024)