The Captain Cook Memorial at Kealakakua Bay Hawaii

by John M. MacFarlane 2011

Captain Cook Monument

The Captain Cook Memorial at Kealakekua Bay Hawaii as it appeared in 1957.

Captain James Cook RN is justly remembered in history as one of the greatest explorers, navigators and map makers of all time. But he is not without accompanying controversy - labelled by revisionist historians with negative epithets for perceived "crimes" against the peoples of the lands that he "discovered". Regardless of the spin on history that we carry we all acknowledge the fact that Cook pioneered the exploration and mapping of more of the face of the planet than any other person. His tragic death at Kealakekua Bay on January 14th, 1778 prematurely ended this great career. He is remembered today through monuments, place names and commemorated in many other ways. The impact of his death in what was, at that time, such a remote location left a void in the hearts of his admirers. There is no grave site in the UK to which pilgrimages can be made - these must be made to other more remote locations.

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook RN

King Kalakakua of Hawaii honored the Captain at the centenary celebration of Cook's 'discovery' of the Hawaian Islands by erecting a statue of King Kamehameha the Great which stands on a pedestal in front of the Judiciary Building in Honolulu. Later, a statue of James Cook was erected in Waimea, Kauai commemorating his first contact with the Hawaiian Islands at the town's harbour in January 1778.

Hawaii State Flag

Hawaii’s state flag demonstrates its historical links to Captain Cook and the Royal Navy.

Geographic places were named in his memory. Monuments were built at locations around the world but it was a hundred years before a monument was created at Kealakekua Bay where he was killed. A large white stone monument was built in 1874 on the order of Princess Likelike the sister of King Kalakaua of Hawaii. The land under the monument was deeded to the United Kingdom in 1877 and is considered as sovereign non-embassy land owned by the British Embassy in Washington DC and managed and maintained by the British Consul–General in Los Angeles California.

Captain Cook Inscription

The inscription on the monument.

The monument is an obelisk, painted white with the carved inscription highlighted in black paint. The inscription on the monument reads: "In memory of the great circumnavigator Captain James Cook, R.N. who discovered these islands on the 18th of January, 1778, and fell near this spot on the 14th of February, 1779." The chain around the monument is supported by four cannons from the ship HMS Fantome placed with their breaches embedded in the rock to serve as bollards in 1876. About 180 acres (0.73 km2) around the bay was designated a State Historic Park in 1967, and it was added, as a Historic District, to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Nearby, just beneath the surface of the water, is the bronze tablet, the inscription of which reads: "Near this spot Capt. James Cook, R.N., was killed, Feb. 14, 1779."

Captain Cook Death Site

The monument marking the site of Captain Cook’s murder.

The Sesqui-Centennial Celebrations

The Hawaiian Historical Society sponsored the first movement to honor Captain Cook in a sesquicentennial (150th) celebration in Hawaii in 1928. This took considerable energy to organize, and a committee chaired by Albert P. Taylor (Librarian of the Archives of Hawaii) who planned the celebrations. The highlight of the celebration was a symposium focusing on Captain Cook whose speakers included:

  • – Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis, who spoke on Early Relations of Hawaii and the United States;
  • – Judge F. W. Howay, F.R.G.S., of Canada, representing Canada, contributed a paper on the Relations of Hawaii with the Northwest. He also brought brought a number of books and photostat copies of old ships' logs of the 1780's, a photostat of the original map made by Capt. Cook of Kealakekua Bay;
  • – Professor F. A. Golder, of Stanford University, a paper on the Relations of Hawaii with Russia;
  • – Verne Blue, a paper on the Relations of Hawaii with France;
  • – Sir Henry Newbolt, of England, a paper on Captain Cook;
  • – Sir Joseph Carruthers, of Sydney, Australia, representing the Commonwealth of Australia, spoke on Captain Cook at the unveiling of the bronze tablet at Kaawaloa;

Captain Cook appeared on a United States coin, the 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half dollar. Minted during the celebration marking the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the islands, its low mintage (10,008 coins) has made this example of early United States commemorative coins both scarce and valuable to collectors. The coins were sold in Hawaii for $2.00 each as a fundraising method to fund the celebrations.The fund from the sale of Cook coins, by Act of Congress, went to the Archives of Hawaii as a special fund to establish a "Captain Cook Memorial Collection,". The first contributions came from Judge F. W. Howay, Canada's representative, who brought a number of books and photostat copies of old ships' logs of the 1780's, and a photostat of the original map made by Captain Cook of Kealakekua Bay.

Albert P. Taylor described the scene at the monument erected at Kealakekua Bay:

The morning of Saturday, August 18, 1928, found these vessels near the entrance to the bay and within it the three British warships. The bay has room enough to float a fleet. It was a wonderful sight. As the two ships entered there appeared a double formation of Hawaiian outrigger canoes, and on the platform of double-linked canoes, stood "Kamehameha the Great," in feather helmet and feather cloak and carrying a spear. The paddlers were in ancient garb. It was a wierd, barbaric, majestic sight. The canoe fleet led the fleet of small ships' boats to the temporary landing, which was at the foot of the square within which is the old obelisk monument, erected to the memory of Captain Cook ...

British and American Marines, under arms, landed, occupied spaces outside the chains which are reeved through the muzzles of old British muzzle-loading cannons, and then Vice-Chairman Gregory made a brief historical address, following which the captains and officials laid wreaths at the base of the monument. From there they walked over rough black-hued lava to the little hallowed spot where Captain Cook was slain. The black, broken, uneven lava, the fringe of kiawe trees, the little inlets, the black rocks just beyond the shore, the lapping of the waves, and an unusual, strange silence, presented a wierd setting for the ceremony to follow.

Just off from a little inlet, just where the water softly lapped the shore, stood a tripod of sticks and over these an Hawaiian flag. Under the tripod, and just beneath the surface of the water could be seen the bronze tablet, the inscription facing toward the heavens, the tablet to be unveiled. The inscription read: "Near this spot Capt. James Cook, R.N., was killed, Feb. 14, 1779."

John C. Lane, a part-Hawaiian, gave the dedicatory address, both in English and in Hawaiian, and then removed the flag and declared the tablet unveiled to the honor of the world's great navigator, and a man of whom the Hawaiians could well be proud. To Sir Joseph Carruthers, whose hobby has been the life of Captain Cook, and who has raised funds to erect monuments and memorials in Australia, England and Hawaii, was given the honor of making the return address, and he made an impressive speech, one long to be remembered. Then from the middle of the bay, as a signal man waved his small flags from that hallowed shore, came the boom of salutes, each warship firing 21 guns, and at the end a party of British buglers gave "The Last Post," one of the most beautiful and impressive ceremonies to the dead in the regulations of the British Navy. It was done, and Capt. Cook was honored in an unusual manner by that intermingling of people from England, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the American mainland, Hawaii, while scattered throughout the assembly were peoples from China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Siberia, Porto Rico and Tahiti.

The Government of Australia sent $2,500 to build a permanent jetty at Kaawaloa, in front of the Cook monument. Nearby is the the bronze tablet, the inscription reads: "Near this spot Capt. James Cook, R.N., was killed, Feb. 14, 1779." The remains of the jetty can still be seen at the site but has fallen into disrepair and is no longer functional.

The monument is at a remote location that is only accessible by water or by following a long a steep trail (parking is difficult at the trail head). Most visitors rent a kayak and paddle across the bay, about 1.5 miles from its southern end. The beach sand was mostly removed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. About 180 acres around the bay was designated a State Historic Park in 1967, and it was added as a Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as site 73000651. The 315 acres of the bay itself were declared a Marine Life Conservation District in 1969.

When contacted the Hawaiian State Parks agency maintained that as sovereign British territory it was the responsibility of the UK to maintain the site. Apparently the British Consulate General in Los Angeles contracts a local family to undertake minor maintenance. Over the years the navies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand have sporadically maintained the monument and its grounds on a voluntary basis. Passing ships of these navies occasionally call at the site to maintain it - but this is only arranged as operational schedules permit - and depends on the corporate memory of this need to be maintained in those respective navies. When contacted none of the representatives of these navies and the British Consul General in Los Angelese were able to state when the last time this work had been undertaken or what their policy was for carrying out this work. Apparently there has not been any Royal Navy monument maintenance conducted at this site for many years.

In 1957 Rear-Admiral Hugh Pullen RCN, then Flag Officer Pacific Coast, ordered a Canadian naval squadron (HMC Ships Stettler and Jonquiere) undertaking a long cruise through the Pacific to undertake this work. While in Hawaiian waters they called at Kealakekua Bay and the ships companies did grounds maintenance (cutting back the enroaching jungle) and painting the monument and its inscription.When the work was completed, at sunset in aremembrance ceremony a guard of honour was mustered and wreaths from the Captains of the two ships were laid at the base of the memorial to keep faith with the memory of Captain Cook.

Laying Wreath on Monument

RCN Guard of Honour formally pays respect to the memory of Captain James Cook RN in 1957.

Wreath on Monument

Wreath laid at the monument included cap tallies from HMC Ships Stettler and Jonquiere whose crews undertook the maintenance work.

Many place names around the world have been named in Cook's memory and honour. Some of the many Captain Cook place names in our geographical area include:

  • Cook inlet, Alaska
  • Cook Point, Hawaii
  • Captain Cook, (town) Hawaii
  • Captain Cook Point, Oregon USA
  • Mount Cook (Alaska/Yukon boundary)
  • Captain Cook Channel (Nootka Sound) BC
  • Cape Cook (Vancouver Island) (BC)
  • Cook Street (Victoria BC)
  • Cook Crater (a crater on the Moon visible through a telescope)


The article quotes come from a published paper written by Albert P. Taylor "How Hawaii Honored Captain Cook RN in 1928".

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2012) The Captain Cook Memorial at Kealakakua Bay Hawaii. 2012.

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