In 2005, there appeared in Cook’s Log a 1968 photograph of the plaque on the Captain Cook monument at Point Venus in Tahiti.1
The lettering is legible from the image, and reads,
This Memorial erected by
Captain James Cook
to commemorate the Observation of the
Transit of Venus June 3rd 1769
was restored and fenced round
and this plate was placed here by the
Royal Society and the Royal Geographical
Society in 1901
The article included a photograph of the memorial itself, showing the surrounding fence of approximately six feet high iron railings. Adrienne Reynolds must have gone to some lengths to photograph the plaque, which could not have been easy to reach, as the photographs show it was placed at the foot of the monument near the central column.
In 1990, James Dunkley reported that on his recent visit to Point Venus three wooden memorials to Cook, Wallis and Bougainville had disappeared, and, unlike his visit 15 years earlier, the site was now host to hundreds of visitors, with accompany-ing cars and litter.2
In 2006 Jeffrey Stokes reported on the Captain Bligh monument at Point Venus, but the Cook monument was not mentioned.3 This was followed by the report of a visit Malcolm Boyes in 2007, who wrote that due to there being no inscription on the monument there was little wonder the Captain Bligh reporter had not found it.4
The Point Venus Cook monument was refurbished in 2011, and the subsequent report in Cook’s Log by Anthony Hill showed a photo of the memorial in 2006,5 with those cumbersome railings, and, in contrast, another in 2011 without them. The restored memorial was thus ready for the transit of Venus which was due on 5th June, 2012, and reported by Nigel Rankin and John Freeman.6
On preparing for my own visit in 2014, I searched in vain for a photograph of the inscription on the monument which was legible. Unable to find one, I included the photographing of the plaque in my itinerary. I hoped I could get a readable image, both for myself and to show other CCS members.
Our party arrived at Point Venus on the last day of February 2014. On a beautiful sunny Tahitian afternoon, we mingled with crowds of visitors which included a bridal party. Venus being the goddess of love, this proved a popular venue for wedding photographs on the black sandy beach. As the visitors enjoyed this idyllic scene the Cook monument was obviously not on many itineraries as a “must see” attraction; indeed if we had not been members of the Captain Cook Society, we too no doubt would have passed it by in ignorance, and without a second glance.
I located the plaque on the monument, and with camera poised, I found it to be totally unreadable. It was not so much that it was on black material with black inscribed lettering; it was not so much that it was set at an odd unreadable angle in the bright sunlight; but, as in that earlier photograph, the new plaque had been replaced at the base of the central column, and although those railings were no longer in place, I was not going to clamber onto the base and risk damaging it, or myself.
What I did manage to do was squat at the side of the monument, reach my camera over to within zooming distance of the plaque, and click—at least I had managed to record an image that was certainly easier to read back home when blown up on my computer screen. The lettering is smaller than on the first plaque, there are more words, and these are doubled due to a French version appearing above the English version.
But what of all those visitors, who still rush past the monument, ignorant of the knowledge of the very reason it is called Point Venus! For them there is a note on one of the many notice boards at the entrance to Point Venus, which reads,
The memorial stone which is supposed to commemorate the observation of Venus was not erected by Captain Cook. The pillar, capped by a sphere, as the symbol of Venus, was constructed by the French public authorities in 1901, at the initiative of A.L. Anderson. That English visitor was indignant about the fact that nothing had been built to commemorate the event.
At least now, I am able to present the Captain Cook Society with a close up photograph of that plaque
However, as I’m unable to avail you all with a digital copy to enlarge, I must still record for you that the inscription reads,
The People of Tahiti built this memorial to
Captain JAMES COOK RN., who observed the
Transit of Venus near this site on 3rd June 1769
during his first Pacific voyage, and gave the name
He returned here on his following two voyages.
Erected 1901, proposed by the Royal Society and
the Royal Geographical Society…
Restored 2011 by the Government of French Polynesia
at the suggestion of the Captain Cook
All this now makes me wonder who A. L. Anderson was. He isn’t listed as a member of the Royal Society! His initiative produced a lasting memorial to that event in 1769, almost 250 years ago, and it just seems a pity that it is not really advertising the fact.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 15, volume 39, number 1 (2016).
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