In late December 2005 I had an opportunity to visit Point Venus, Tahiti, site of Cook's observation of the transit of Venus in 1769. James Dunkley has described a visit in 1990 and reported the disappearance of the three wooden memorials commemorating Cook, Wallis and Bougainville.1 With a taxi waiting and a flight to catch, I was only able to stay a short time, but sadly I found no record, other than the name of the promontory itself, of Cook's historic stay. I took a series of photographs of how Point Venus looks today.
The site is a popular recreation area. It was not overly crowded with people and cars as it was at the time of Dunkley's visit. It appeared clean, tidy and well-managed. With its black sandy beaches, green lawns, palms and shady casuarina trees and elegant nineteenth century lighthouse, it provided a calm oasis close to the sprawling eastern suburbs of Pape'ete. A relaxed, mixed, five-a-side football match was taking place on the sandy spit where Cook erected Fort Venus. See the map in Beaglehole's book.2
There is a substantial memorial listing the members of the London Missionary Society who landed here from the Duff in 1797. More relevant to the Cook story, remembering that William Bligh sailed as master of the Resolution on the Third Voyage, is a shiny new, if rather uninspired, monument commemorating the arrival of HMS Bounty on 27th October 1788. The event was commemorated on 27th October 2005. The memorial comprises brass plaques and representations of the ship, a sprig of breadfruit tree and two portrait heads in bas relief mounted on a plinth of dark volcanic rock within a square of large beach pebbles set in concrete. The portraits are presumably those of Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian. They appear to owe more to Hollywood than history.
The date stated as that of the Bounty's arrival is one day later than that given by Barrow.3 Could it have been adjusted to comply with the International Date Line which was not established until nearly a century later in 1884?
f I had had more time I would have liked to have examined the site more closely and to have found out more about the Bounty monument and how it came to be erected. I'm not aware of the existence of a rival Captain Bligh Society! The local tourist board would be my prime suspect.
- Dunkley, James. Point Venus, Tahiti. Cook's Log, page 740, vol. 13, no. 3 (1990).
- Beaglehole, J. C. The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery, Vol. 1, The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771, Cambridge for the Hakluyt Society 1955, page 77.
- Barrow, Sir John. The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of HMS Bounty, its Causes and Consequences. First published John Murray 1831. Folio Society edition 1976, reprinted 1998.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 34, volume 29, number 3 (2006).