Then in 1969 Governor General Sir Arthur Porritt unveiled a copy of the statue on Kaiti Hill, Gisborne, to commemorate the bicentenary of Cook’s first landing in New Zealand. Fourteen years later Prince Charles visited Kaiti Hill and saw the statue. He remarked that Cook looked like an Italian admiral because the statue’s uniform and hat were not those of an eighteenth century Royal Naval officer. Instead its attire seemed to be of an Italian fashion. Since then people have known that mystery surrounds the identity and origin of the brewery statue. Who is this Italian admiral (or is this an Italian admiral’s uniform?) Is the statue a likeness of Cook? And who sculpted him?
Is the statue wearing an Italian admiral’s uniform?
During the past few months I have trawled through naval and military reference books, Wikipedia and Google Images looking at pictures of every Italian, Genoese, Venetian and Neapolitan admiral I could find; and also at images of French, Spanish and Dutch admirals and explorers from all these countries. However I couldn’t find any European admiral or explorer wearing a uniform similar to the one worn by the brewery statue.
Is the statue a likeness of Captain James Cook?
On 3 December 1884 an Auckland Star column reported the recent erection of the statue at the Captain Cook brewery.2 The column backgrounded Samuel Jagger’s decision to obtain it. Jagger usually visited the commercial and artistic exhibitions held in Sydney and Melbourne during the 1870s and early 1880s; and according to the Star, at the Sydney Exhibition he saw “the best known portrait [of Captain Cook] in existence.” He decided to order a statue based on this portrait to enhance the brewery’s main entrance.
The portrait’s location today is the key to the mystery surrounding the brewery statue. Enquiries to the Mitchell Library in Sydney about a Cook portrait shown in the city during the 1870s were inconclusive. A portrait of Cook by Marshall Claxton was displayed at the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition in 1870,3 but Cook’s features and uniform in Claxton’s portrait make him instantly recognisable as the man in the well-known portraits by William Hodges, Nathaniel Dance and John Webber. Claxton’s portrait does not resemble the brewery statue, which has Cook wearing a different style of uniform, and with facial features apparently based on a lesser-known engraving by James Basire. The Mitchell Library did not have any information about any other Cook portrait exhibited in Sydney, or about Jagger’s mystery portrait.
However unless we dismiss the Star’s claim as unverifiable reportage, we must attempt to explain this strangely attired statue. As far as we know Jagger was very satisfied his statue was Captain Cook, so the existence of a Cook portrait identical to the brewery statue would settle all doubt that it, too, was a likeness of the man. But Jagger’s mystery portrait has eluded me in many extensive and fruitless searches. The painting’s elusiveness makes this article a historical detective story in which three mysteries have to be considered; first, the identity of the person depicted in the statue; second, why the uniform he wears differs from that in which eighteenth century Royal Naval officers are traditionally depicted; and third, who sculpted the statue?
Francesco Bartolozzi’s engraving
John Flaxman’s medallion plaque
Sir Thomas Brock
The first obvious difference striking even the most casual observer is that the brewery statue is facially different from the Cook portraits by Hodges, Dance and Webber. The statue’s face is also different from Francesco Bartolozzi’s engraving, which Bartolozzi based on Webber’s first head-and-shoulders portrait of Cook. Furthermore Cook’s profile on the brewery statue is different from his profile on John Flaxman’s medallion plaque produced by Josiah Wedgwood. And the brewery statue’s face and profile are quite different from Cook statues by Thomas Woolner (in Hyde Park, Sydney), Leon-Joseph Chavalliaud (in Sefton Park, Liverpool), John Tweed (at Whitby), Sir Thomas Brock (at the Admiralty, London), William Trethewey (in Victoria Square, Christchurch) and Anthony Stones (at Waikanae Beach Park, Gisborne).4
What did Cook look like?
Generally speaking, he was identified by a prominent forehead, large nose and firmly-set mouth and chin. But the images we have of him today differ so much they are not all instantly recognisable as the face of the same man. While Cook looks much the same in the paintings by Hodges, Dance and Webber (painted in 1775 or 1776 in that order), his face looks different in engravings based on those paintings. For example in Bartolozzi’s engraving (from Webber’s portrait), Bartolozzi changed the solemn expression Webber gave Cook, but made him look withdrawn and worried. And when Cook became famous, many other engravers made portraits of him. A survey of Google Images reveals how many of them made him look like a different person. Why did this happen? Perhaps because “the Cook we recognise is something of a stereotype, created by a market hungry for images of the great man.” 5
How could artists see Cook’s face so differently?
Possibly they portrayed Cook from different angles, which changed the set of his face. Or perhaps his mood had changed. Thus Hodges portrayed the bluff Northern mariner, Dance the confident captain and Webber the forbidding master. Cook’s biographers have also pointed out that his expression no doubt changed as his health worsened and by the time Webber painted him at the Cape of Good Hope in late 1776,6 Cook was suffering from rheumatism,7 stomach ulcers,8 stress-related depression, advanced old age and possible chronic lead poisoning.9
The closest facial likeness between the brewery statue and an image of Cook is the 1777 head-and-shoulders engraving by James Basire, based on the earliest Cook portrait by William Hodges10 (although even in Basire’s engraving Cook’s face looks different from what Hodges painted). Basire made Cook look more engaging and less awe-inspiring than he does in the Dance and Webber portraits, and less withdrawn than in Bartolozzi’s engraving.
As Hodges’s portrait soon disappeared into a private collection, Basire’s engraving became the earliest and most familiar image of Cook available to the public.11 So perhaps the “best known portrait [of Captain Cook] in existence” that the nineteenth century businessman Jagger would be likely to see was a copy of Basire. This would explain why it is easy to imagine Basire’s Cook in the contemplative face of the brewery statue.
Where was the statue made?
The Star’s December 1884 column said the brewery statue had been carved from a block of Italian marble. I suspect this may be the basis for incorrect modern speculation that the statue was made in Italy, because two years previously the New Zealand Herald reported that Samuel Jagger “sent to Sydney for a life-sized statue of Captain Cook, which he intends to erect over the centre of the front of the building.” 12
Recently Edna Carson, librarian at Lion (now the statue’s owners), suggested it had been carved in Sydney but by an Italian sculptor. Edna asks “being Italian, did he have any portraits of Cook to guide him and would he know what an English mariner wore?” 13 Her theory explains Cook’s inaccurate Italianate uniform as the Italian’s interpretation of an English admiral. She reasons “a British [sculptor] would not have made such a mistake.” 14
And surely any Sydney sculptor working on a Cook statue during the early 1880s but uncertain about his uniform could have easily checked Woolner’s Cook for detail. But then a history of the Sydney suburb, Leichhardt, tells a strange story that Simonetti once borrowed the retired Captain Deloitte’s naval uniform, because he was working on a naval subject and wanted to get its details right.21 If this is true Simonetti might be the brewery statue’s sculptor. The only other naval subject Simonetti is known to have completed was the bust of Commodore Goodenough, for which he did not need a coat.22 But it would also mean any captain’s coat on which he based Cook’s would be a mid-nineteenth century anachronism.23
However the brewery statue’s sculptor seems to have decided to transcend detail and interpret Cook the explorer as he thought a Royal Naval captain should be. From the well-known portraits we picture Cook wearing a tricorne hat and an open coat with low collar and no epaulettes; but here the sculptor has chosen to portray him with his collar turned down and coat buttoned across his chest24 (perhaps artistically symbolizing a frozen circumnavigator who’d almost sailed to the Arctic and Antarctic) in a late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century style25 dating from after Cook’s 1779 death. He wears a lieutenant’s coat (judging by the number of buttons), but with captain’s epaulettes added.26 On his head the sculptor’s idealized Cook wears a captain’s bicorne based on a mid-nineteenth century officer’s “fore and aft” cocked hat, but worn “athwart” like Royal Naval hero Admiral Nelson.27
Is the navigator’s set-square a clue?
And finally there is one last detail strongly indicating the brewery statue is meant to be Captain Cook. The statue holds a navigator’s set-square. First the navigator drew a line on his chart from his starting point to his ship’s destination. After placing his set-square on this line he then placed a ruler along the set-square’s right-angle. He then flipped the set-square, and moved its right-angled edge along the other side of the ruler until he could draw a parallel line passing through the centre of the chart’s nearest compass rose. This parallel line showed the angle (in degrees) of the true compass course he must steer to reach his destination; although in practice he would have to allow for wind, current and magnetic deviation.28 Cook was the pre-eminent European navigator of the Pacific. If this statue was made in Sydney, who else would an Australian sculptor portray like this?
So what can we say about the strange Auckland brewery statue? It is an idealized likeness of Captain Cook. Cook personifies the spirit of exploration. The statue was probably carved in Sydney by Achille Simonetti, although this is not certain. And while the statue differs so much from other images of Cook to seem a questionable likeness, consider that Cook’s biographer Alan Villiers pointed out that portraits of him “differ so much they could be of different persons.” 29 This judgement must also apply to other Cook engravings, medallions and statues in various countries around the world. In the end who really knows if any likeness of Captain Cook is completely accurate? It seems that, for our sculptor, the Newmarket brewery statue was the representational likeness of Captain Cook.