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Captain Cook or an Unknown Italian Admiral on Statue continued


Edited version of an article published in New Zealand Legacy1

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Statue of Captain Cook

In 1882 Samuel Jagger, manager of the Captain Cook brewery in Newmarket, Auckland, decided to have a statue of Captain Cook mounted over the brewery’s central doorway.  The statue was erected there on a high plinth in November 1884. 


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.

William Hodges


Nathaniel Dance


John Webber


James Basire

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


Thomas Woolner


Leon-Joseph Chavalliaud


John Tweed


Sir Thomas Brock


William Trethewey


Anthony Stones

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

Sani’s keystone heads

Who sculpted it? 


There were two Italian sculptors working in Sydney during the 1880s.  Tommaso Sani was a sculptor’s pointer, or carver.15  Since 1882 he had been carving the monumental keystone heads and high relief figures on the spandrels of the Sydney General Post Office.  Among Sani’s keystone heads are five famous explorers, one of whom is Captain Cook.  Sani seems to have used Woolner’s 1879 Hyde Park statue as the inspiration for his Cook keystone.  Hence his Cook has a grim face; its features angular and hard.  Later Sani repeated Cook’s head on a bust he exhibited at the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition.16  But both Sani’s severe Cook faces differ from the softer, rounder face on the Auckland brewery statue.  So our statue does not seem to be his work.  And neither is Sani known to have made any other full-size Cook statues.  Furthermore by 1883 his reputation had already been tarnished by public controversy about his Sydney GPO spandrel reliefs, which self-appointed colonial art critics proclaimed too realistic in style.17  Would Jagger have commissioned a statue from this man? 


Despite the inaccuracies of the brewery statue’s uniform it is still a fine piece of work.  The Italian/Australian most likely to produce a statue of this quality was Achille Simonetti.  Simonetti was a professionally-trained sculptor who received favourable attention and reviews when he exhibited a full-size plaster model called the “Venus of the South” at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition.  Simonetti’s “Venus” and two other busts were later shown as the New South Wales sculpture exhibit at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.  Through influential patronage Simonetti became the most fashionable Sydney sculptor during the 1880s.18  He is best known for his statue of Governor Phillip in the Sydney Botanic Gardens.  His work combined realistically portrayed subjects with elements of neo-classical restraint.  Australian sculptor and critic Ken Scarlett believes the brewery statue could be Simonetti’s work because “it is clearly the work of a professional, well-trained academic artist.  It manages to combine a great amount of detail in the costume with a very relaxed pose – all very convincing.” 19 

Alessandro Contardi’s head-and-shoulders engraving

But while “the Italian/Australian theory” is plausible, it still poses unanswered questions.  Samuel Jagger might have “sent to Sydney” for his Cook statue, but it could still have been made overseas and imported into Sydney.  Any professional sculptor working anywhere in the world who needed to find out about Cook had access to books and prints about him.  Continental Europeans knew about Cook’s part in eighteenth century navigation and discovery because of Europe-wide interest in the Transit of Venus and Pacific exploration.  In 1812 the Societa Menichelle e Beccari produced an Italian account of Cook’s voyages including Alessandro Contardi’s head-and-shoulders engraving “Giacomo Cook” (Contardi’s copy of Basire).20  As we’ve seen, the brewery statue’s sculptor used the most widely-known images of Cook either by Basire or Contardi to model Cook’s face and profile. 


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.


Christopher Paxton


  1. New Zealand Legacy is the journal of the New Zealand Federation of Historical Societies.  Visit website www.nzhistoricalsocieties.org.nz/ Original article was published as A Likeness of Captain Cook? in vol. 25, no. 3 (2013). 
    For articles by Christopher Paxton in Cook’s Log, see page 38, vol. 35, no. 3 (2012) and also page 30, vol. 36, no. 1 (2013) 
  2. Auckland Star.  3 December 1884.  Page 2, column 6. See http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz 
  3. Glenda Veitch.  8 May 2012.  Also see a review of the exhibition in the Sydney Morning Herald.  31 August 1870  Page 6, column.  Online in the Trove database at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13215402  Marshall Claxton’s portrait of Captain Cook is now owned in Sydney by the Chief Secretary in the Office of the Governor of New South Wales.  Also see Joan Kerr (ed.).  The dictionary of Australian artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870.  Oxford University Press.  1992.  Page 159. 
  4. Thomas Woolner’s statue of Captain Cook was unveiled in 1879, Leon-Joseph Chavalliaud’s in 1896, John Tweed’s in 1912, Sir Thomas Brock’s in 1914, William Trethewey’s in 1932 and Anthony Stones’s in 1992. 
  5. National Museum of Australia.  See www.nma.gov.au/collections/collection_interactives/european_voyages/european_voyages_to_the_australian_continent/empire/captain_james_cook_the_hero/depictions_of_captain_james_cook/
  6. This was Webber’s second (head-to-knees) portrait of Cook.  See John Robson et al.  The Captain Cook Encyclopaedia.  Random House. 2004.  Page 181.
  7. Villiers, Alan. Captain Cook: The Seaman’s Seaman, a study of the great discoverer.  Hodder and Stoughton.  1967.  Page 205.  Also J.C. Beaglehole.  The Life of Captain James Cook.  Hakluyt Society.  1974.  Pages 328, 370 and 556.
  8. Villiers.  Page 236. 
  9. Robson et al.  Pages 149-50. 
  10. Robson et al.  Page 180.  Probably painted for Cook’s early patron Sir Hugh Palliser.  Hodges’s portrait disappeared and was not rediscovered until 1986.  For years it was known only from Basire’s engraving. 
  11. National Museum of Australia.  See footnote 5 above. 
  12. New Zealand Herald.  Auckland.  9 September 1882.  Page 6, column 5. 
  13. Edna Carson. 12 May 2009.  In an e-mail to Ross Taylor, Lion Breweries. 
  14. Edna Carson.  3 April 2008.  In an email to Ken Scarlett. 
  15. Sculptor’s pointers did the rough carving on works in marble.  Pointers were not professionally-trained sculptors. 
  16. See Hon. R. Burdett Smith.  Report for the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888-9; with appendices and views of New South Wales Court.  Charles Potter.  1890.  Page 151. 
  17. Scarlett, Ken.  Australian Sculptors.  Thomas Nelson.  1980.  Pages 580-81.  And Noel S. Hutchinson.  Australian Dictionary of Bi-ography, 1851-1890.  Ed. Bede Nairn.  Melbourne University Press.  1976.  Vol. 6.  Page 86.  Sani’s figures were criticised as larger-than-life burlesques; “horrible travesties” that are “grotesque and inartistic.”  His sculptures were generally realistic in style, compared to the restrained neo-classical style of the brewery’s Cook statue.
  18. Hutchinson. Vol. 6.  Page 125. 
  19. Ken Scarlett.  4 April 2008.  In an e-mail to Edna Carson.  Other possible sculptors are James White and a Mr Wilson.   James White did not come to Sydney before 1884, two years after Jagger commissioned the Cook statue.  And White, a Scotsman, should have known what an eighteenth century Royal Navy captain wore.  Australian art critic William Moore described White as a “journeyman sculptor, as none of his work has much distinction.  The commonplace memorial of Queen Victoria in the Alexandra Gardens, Melbourne [and] the insignificant bronze figure of E.G. Fitzgibbon in St Kilda Road, [Melbourne]… bear  sufficient evidence that he lacked the skill and perception to undertake important works of this kind.”  See Scarlett.  Page 691.  The figures in White’s Boer War Memorial (see Scarlett. Page 688) look wooden and uninspired.  Mr Wilson is named as the sculptor of the Cook statue in the Auckland Star.  3 December 1884.  However he is untraceable as a sculptor in Australia or New Zealand; also refer to Una Platts.  Nineteenth Century New Zealand artists: A Guide & Handbook.  Avon Fine Prints.  1980.  And to Kate McGahey.  The concise dictionary of New Zealand artists: painters, printmakers, sculptors.  Gilt Edge.  2000.  Some of the facts in the Auckland Star column are vague and unverified and some are just wrong, e.g. the reported date of Cook’s death was actually when he was born. 
  20. National Museum of Australia.  See http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an9185005-t
  21. Joan Lawrence and Catherine Warne.  From Balmain to Glebe: the Leichhardt Municipality.  Kingsclear Books.  1995.  Page 63. 
  22. Scarlett.  Page 597. 
  23. By the 1840s captains’ full-dress coats were double-breasted with nine rows of buttons.  Coats were worn buttoned to the neck.  They now wore “fore and aft” cocked hats.  See W. E. May.  The Dress of Naval Officers.  National Maritime Museum.  1966.  Page 29, plate 40.
  24. Which could be done; note the undone coat buttons on Basire’s engraving and the Brock and Trethewey statues. 
  25. For example, see pictures of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century captains in May.  Page 24, plate 26 and page 26, plate 31.  A certain amount of unofficial individuality was allowed to officers in the cut of their uniforms (as long as the individuality was conformist and generally unobtrusive.)  If others began copying an unofficial variation, it could then be officially approved.  For another buttoned coat with a turned-down collar but no epaulettes (in style during the 1770s-1780s) see May.  Page 19, plate 11.  And also note that Nathaniel Dance did paint Captain Charles Clerke (Cook’s friend and valued deputy) in a buttoned double-breasted topcoat with turned-down collar and wide lapels, but no epaulettes (see Robson et al.  Page 62.) 
  26. For lieutenants see May.  Page 21, plate 18, and page 23, plate 23.  For captains see May.  Page 24, plate 26, and page 26, plate 31. 
  27. May.  Page 24, plate 26.  This captain wears uniform and hat from 1795-1812.  Compare with 1830-33 captain’s “fore and aft” cocked hat on page 29, plate 40.
  28. “Navigation Lesson” can be watched online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H90G7ijY3kA/  See also Günther Grell.  Beginners Book of Sailing.  Ward Lock  1972.  Pages 74-77.
  29. Villiers.  Page 236. 



Originally published in Cook's Log, page 16, volume 37, number 2 (2014).

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Maybe because James Cook was born Giavanni Giacomo in northern Italy. Traveling to England at the age of 14 on board a cucureddu,his passion at the time
By Philip white on 3/3/2018 3:27:32 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I have been reminded that a beautiful porcelain bust of Cook (32 cm high, 21 cm wide an 10 cm deep), based on the portrait of him by Nataniel Dance was featured in Cook’s Log, vol. 36, no. 1 (2013). For more details, including pictures, please e-mail holzhauseru@holzhauser.de
By Administrator on 11/22/2014 3:23:39 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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James, I do not know of any retailers stocking busts of Captain Cook. Small busts do come up, from time to time, on e-bay. I suspect that more will come on the market around 2019 & 2020, for the 250th anniversary of his first voyage of discovery.
By Cliff Thornton on 9/28/2014 9:39:46 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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An incredible seaman and leader. I sailed the South Pacific for many years when I was in my 30's setting sail from Vancouver, BC to New Zealand. To repeatedly come upon landmarks from the sailing expeditions of Captain Cook was daunting. And after running a marathon on Antarctic, I couldn't help but think that this amazingly driven sailor made a few attempts to penetrate that unforgiving and harsh part of the world. God Bless Captain James Cook. Would anyone know where one could purchase a CJC bust? Thanks in advance. j
By james stewart on 9/25/2014 12:00:33 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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