'Really serious damage': Captain Cook's eyes gouged and nose cut off

Vandals have cost Christchurch ratepayers up to $25,000 after yet another attack on the statue of Captain James Cook in Victoria Square.

That is the estimated repair bill from the two attacks, early on February 14, and again the following night.

It is the third time Cook’s statue has been targeted on the anniversary of his death – he was killed in Hawaii on February 14, 1779.

During last week’s initial overnight attack, three of the four sides of the granite base were daubed with slogans in red paint proclaiming: ‘Happy Cpt Cook is Dead Day’, ‘The Crown is Complicit’ and ‘Landback’.

Tino Rangatiratanga, the Māori national flag, was painted on the other.

An individual or the people responsible also climbed the base and painted a red cross on Cook’s chest, then on Thursday night scaffolding put up the previous day was scaled and his nose was ground off and his eyes were gouged.

Captain James Cook’s facial features are being restored to their original state with his nose...
Captain James Cook’s facial features are being restored to their original state with his nose already reinstated after the statue was damaged last week. PHOTOS: CHRIS BARCLAY
The repair job’s progress was evident yesterday, with Cook’s nose clearly back in place. 

The city council posted a security guard after the second attack.

Cook’s statue had previously been targeted on the anniversary of his death in 2019 and 2022, while there was also damage done in June 2020 and August 2022.

Although Cook, who set foot in New Zealand on October 8, 1769, left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge, he is also a controversial figure in terms of enabling British colonialism.

The latest incident has prompted a call to station security guards at the landmark to prevent another costly restoration job in 2025 and beyond.

Waipapa Papanui-Innes-Central Community Board member John Miller now wants measures to be in place for next year’s anniversary.

“I think it would be worth having some eyes on it before the next anniversary.

"It’s fairly predictable there’s a good chance of a fourth attempt happening,” Miller said, adding the cost of repairing the statue would outweigh the cost of security.

“Grinding the nose off and gouging the eyes is not only macabre . . . from an art curation point of view that’s going to cost us an arm and a leg to repair and reinstate.

“This latest action crosses the barrier into really serious damage, it’s not just applying paint.”

Christchurch City Council acting head of parks Rupert Bool said the council was looking into additional security measures for next year.

He said the repair bill for last week’s damage ranged between $15,000 to $25,000 and covered security, scaffolding, staff labour, materials and remedial work undertaken by a heritage conservator.

A water-based paint stripping product was used to lift the graffiti.

The statue was donated by bookmaker and philanthropist Matthew Barnett, and was shaped from a 12-tonne block of marble by William Trethewey.

It was unveiled on August 10, 1932, and moved to a more central location when motor vehicle traffic on Victoria St stopped flowing through the square in 1989.

Monuments to Cook have drawn criticism in the past, particularly in present-day Gisborne, where his crew killed local Māori during an early interaction at the Turanganui River.

In 2019, the statue of Cook on Gisborne’s Titirangi Hill was relocated downtown to Tairawhiti Museum following ongoing protests and vandalism.