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by Karla Whitmore

James Cook RN, the renowned navigator and mapmaker, has been commemorated in several stained glass windows in Australia and one each in New Zealand and England.  This reflects the perception of Cook as integral to European settlement in Australia, a perception that has been subject to a progression of prevailing views of him and his influence following his death. The stained glass windows depicting James Cook RN were installed in Australia between 1859 and 1937, the New Zealand one in 1938 and the one in England in 1951.  There were other windows in Australia that have not survived.

Cook’s death in 1779 at Kealakakua Bay, Hawaii, was followed by accounts of his voyages and death by different authors, an authorised edited version of his journals published from 1773, and continuing scholarly debate about the man and his influence. The Life of Captain Cook by Andrew Kippax published in 1788 remained in print for over a century. Cook’s journals edited by Dr J.C. Beaglehole, published from 1955-1974, are based on his original journals.  Paintings of Cook were done by Nathaniel Dance in 1776 following the second voyage and, in 1874, by John Webber who was official artist on the third voyage.  Different versions of his death were painted in the decade following, including one by Webber who was not an eyewitness to the event.

Public memorials in the form of statues were initiated in Australia, the earliest being erected in 1874 in the Sydney suburb of Randwick.  A larger than life statue in Hyde Park, Sydney unveiled in 1879 before a crowd of thousands, includes an inscription of Cook as the discoverer of the land before him which overlooks the earlier visits of William Dampier and  Dutch navigators and the existence of the country’s original inhabitants.  Controversy continues around his reputed responsibility for colonisation.

The statue in the Mall, London, was erected in 1908 on the recommendation of the then Premier of New South Wales Sir Joseph Carruthers, an avid Cook supporter. Statues in England, Victoria, New Zealand and Hawaii typically show Cook as the explorer gazing outward.

Following his death Cook was celebrated, not only in England, but across Europe in the papers, poems and theatrical events. In death ‘the explorer was accorded tributes he had never known in life’.[1] Recent studies look at the heroizing of his reputation and the idea of unified national myth-making as a contested one.[2] A controversial aspect of his reputation has been the suggestion of the veneration of Cook by natives in Hawaii.  In 1785 a pantomime was staged at Covent Garden called ‘Omai, or, a Trip round the World’ based on Omai, a native from Huahine who travelled with Cook to England. The ending had a backcloth based on an engraving called The Apotheosis of Captain Cook which showed Cook being lifted to heaven on a cloud by Britannia. La Mort du Capitaine Cook, a grand-serious-pantomimic-ballet was staged in Paris in 1788 and in London the following year.

Cook was commemorated at the 1870 centenary in New South Wales by a public holiday, the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition and music and sports festivals.  News reports focused on his life, discoveries and progress made in the colony. In 1874 a pageant was advertised at Queen’s Theatre, Sydney depicting Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay where he supposedly planted the English flag.[3] A re-enactment of Cook’s landing there was the main event of the 1970 bicentennial commemoration in Sydney attended by members of the Royal Family. An interpretive centre at Kurnell, Botany Bay in Sydney, including a statue, is proposed for 2020.

Great Hall University of Sydney KW

Fig. 1: Clayton and Bell, Captain Cook, Great Hall, University of Sydney 1859  Photograph: Karla Whitmore

From theatrical spectacle, Cook became the subject of scholarly debate from the second half of the nineteenth century and continues to be subject to reassessment. A recent study focuses on the geopolitical factors of national, particularly Anglo-French, rivalry in exploration of the Pacific in framing Cook’s account of his 1770 voyage and posits strategic considerations in the recording of some events.[4]

The earliest depiction of Cook in a stained glass window is in the Great Hall at Sydney University.  It was installed in mid-1859 as part of a suite of windows with life-size figures of historical, literary and scientific figures from British history, from the Venerable Bede to Cook.  They were made by the London firm, Clayton and Bell, which also made the 14-light Cambridge and Oxford windows and the Royal Window depicting monarchs from William the Conqueror to Queen Victoria for the Great Hall.  In the nineteenth century England was the main source of cultural imports and colonists took pride in being part of a greater Britain. As Federation approached the emphasis widened to express national sentiment within this context.

The southwestern window in the Great Hall has physician and chemist Dr Joseph Black, judge Sir William Blackstone and Captain James Cook. The figure based on the portrait by Nathaniel Dance, standing rather than seated, is a realistic portrayal. Cook’s hand gesturing over an outline map of Australia has been emphasised in the only instance in the windows of proportion being of secondary importance to the message. Cook’s hand is over the east coast which he was seen as visiting and then as discovering.  The gesture reflected, as noted in a lecture given in the hall in 1947, the passage in Cook’s journal about the land being ‘ín a pure state of nature’ with potential for agricultural development.[5] It is a restrained depiction which focuses on the possibilities of a harsh but still largely unknown land. The window sets Cook among the esteemed men of history in a public building earlier than in England where the memorial to navigators Drake, Chichester and Cook was installed in Westminster Abbey in 1979.

The University of Melbourne had the large Stevens (South) window in Wilson Hall from 1928 until its destruction by fire in 1952.  Twenty-four lights contained figures from English literature, arts and science, half being full-size figures and the rest were busts set into medallions.  Four lights depicted navigators James Cook and Matthew Flinders. The original design was incomplete when its artist, William Montgomery, died in 1927 and it was completed by Mervyn Napier Waller and realised by Brooks, Robinson and Co. Waller’s design included more figures around Cook and Flinders in a naturalistic yet formalised grouping style which he refined in his later memorial windows and art deco murals. At the unveiling ceremony the window’s donor, Edward Stevens, noted with pride that it was designed and made in Melbourne.[6] 

Like the windows at Sydney University, the Stevens window expresses Australia’s cultural ties with England seventy years on.  The subject was in line with the university’s view of its place, aspirations and attainments.  At the unveiling ceremony Stevens noted that arts and sciences were the province of all while stressing the English connection and the inspiration the men shown would be to future graduates.  Cook and crew members were depicted taking possession of the east coast by planting a flag, a subject that reinforces the idea of Cook as discoverer.

Hillside NSW KW

Fig. 2: John Ashwin and Co. Captain Cook landing at Botany Bay, Hillside, Edgecliff, (NSW) 1935        Photograph: Karla Whitmore

The landing of Cook at Botany Bay is the subject of a residential window in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and two roundels at Sydney University.  The five-storey ‘Hillside’ in Edgecliff has stairwell windows which extend over 18m.  In an unusual combination, two figurative panels are set in art deco backgrounds of amber and pale cathedral glass with Renaissance touches. They have Australian wildflowers in narrow side panels.  The figurative panels depict Cook’s landing and Governor Arthur Phillip.  Cook is shown extending a conciliatory arm towards his crew facing two menacing Aboriginals after the painting by E. Phillips Fox (1902) in the National Gallery of Victoria.  Colour is sparingly used with Cook shown in a white jacket and breeches indicated by flesh tone shading on clear glass. The depiction suggests Cook as portrayed following his death as a moral figure of the Enlightenment. His own journal describes the initial contact as friendly with a less than friendly exchange with two Aboriginals, although no one was killed, when shots were fired.[7] The brightly garbed figure of Governor Phillip is based on the painting by Francis Wheatley in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The painting on which Cook’s landing is based infers the Red Ensign (the Union Jack is shown minus blue) is to be planted in the act of possession.  From the 1870s reports in the colonial press asserted that this took place at Botany Bay rather than at Possession Island off Cape York as recorded in Cook’s journal.  One report queried this interpretation some thirty years later on the basis of Cook’s journals, suggesting it may have come from the painting by T.A. Gilfillan[8], an image that was circulated as a print and engraving from the 1880s.  Nonetheless, the idea continued into the 1920s.

Hillside NSW 2 heraldry KW

Fig. 3: John Ashwin and Co., Cook’s coat of arms, Hillside, Edgecliff, (NSW) 1935        Photograph: Karla Whitmore

The lowest of the ‘Hillside’ windows has a depiction of Cook’s coat of arms which were awarded in 1785, the only award made posthumously.  It contains the signature ‘Made in Australia by John Ashwin & Co. (J. Radecki) Studio Dixon Street Sydney 1935’.  John Radecki had trained with Frederick Ashwin at Ashwin and Falconer before setting up in business with John Ashwin in 1910.  The choice of subject suggests the pending 150th anniversary of Phillip’s arrival in 1938.  A design with the same figure of Phillip plus coats of arms and naval ships and flags was prepared by John Ashwin & Co. for this anniversary but   it is not known where this window was to be located.[9] 

The coat of arms has a shield with two polar stars above and below the globe.  On either side are two flags and below four cannons and cannon balls.  Above the shield a naval uniformed arm on a wreath holds the Union Jack.  Inscriptions in banners are Circa Orbem (around the world) and Nil Intentatum Reliquit (he left nothing unattempted). The city of Sydney’s coat of arms granted in 1908 included the globe and pole stars. Curiously the shield and adjacent flags are shown in the window in monochrome and Cook’s voyages are not outlined on the globe.  The shield is azure and the two rear adjacent flags blue and red respectively.  A panel below the coat of arms with Renaissance style design seems to have been included to compensate for the lack of colour.  Although those of the Union Jack would be known, the artist may not have had access to a source showing the colours of the coat of arms.

Nicholson vestibule Univerity of Sydney KW

Fig. 4: Detail St Nicholas window, Nicholson vestibule, University of Sydney (NSW) 1921      Photograph: Karla Whitmore

Two World War I memorial windows from 1920 at Sydney University are situated in the Nicholson Vestibule stairwell.  They were made by Archibald Keightley Nicholson, the son of the first Chancellor Sir Charles Nicholson and are signed AKN, 105 Gower Street, London.  The main figures in the 3-light windows are set in a neo-classical architectural setting with wreaths, coats of arms, badges and cherubs.  Curiously, there are some anomalies of detail in the roundels.  In the depiction of Cook’s landing, colours are restricted to yellow, black, white, brown against a blue background. His attire of loose black jacket, long yellow tunic with a musket in his waist sash is at odds with his naval uniform. Non-menacing Aboriginals are shown with one kneeling before Cook in a gesture that can be seen as welcoming.

Two stairwell windows at St Andrew’s College, Sydney University were installed in 1937. These triple lancet windows are designed with scenes in roundels and quatrefoils set in patterned backgrounds and borders to complement the earlier windows by Lyon, Cottier & Co. in the adjacent library.  The roundels include historical and contemporary Australian subjects.  In one Cook is shown handing beads to an Aboriginal while a crew member looks on.  The artist was Norman Carter, a successful portrait painter who also taught drawing and art history at the university for twenty-five years.[10]  Cook noted in his journal that on landing he threw nails and beads to the natives, who were initially non-menacing, and later that ‘they seem’d to set no value upon any thing that we gave them’.[11]

St Andrew's College University of Sydney KW

Fig. 5: Norman St Clair Carter, Detail staircase window, St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney (NSW) 1937   Photograph: Karla Whitmore

Carter had designed similarly on this theme in 1930 for in a window at All Saints’ Cathedral, Bathurst.  The windows in the Warrior’s Chapel were to be designed by William Montgomery but again had to be completed after his death.  Carter’s heroes’ series include explorers in the Heroes of the Lonely Way window.  Cook is depicted as the solid naval figure of history handing beads to a kneeling Aboriginal amid decoratively lush foliage with waratahs.  Between 1945 and 1956 Carter designed a series of windows for St Andrew’s Cathedral clerestory including the mission to indigenous Australians. In this depiction the kneeling figure of an Aboriginal before a bishop is balanced in the adjoining light by a soldier kneeling before an Aboriginal.

From earliest encounters Aboriginals were represented in different ways by artists and in the 1930s some sought to record individuals who were seen as part of a dying race. This idea was, however, starting to change.  Later paintings by artists such as Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan saw them more as an part of an ‘authentic national vision’.[12]  Carter’s depictions correspond to the artistic context of their time.

A window with Cook was made for the residence of John Lamb Lyon who ran the prominent interior decorating and stained glass firm Lyon, Cottier & Co. in Sydney.  Lyon, Cottier & Co. was established in 1873 by John Lamb Lyon and Daniel Cottier, who was based in London, with a branch also in New York. Prominent in interior design and stained glass the firm introduced a decorative style influenced by aestheticism in their work for public buildings, residences and churches in New South Wales. The window made for Lyon was exhibited in Melbourne in 1875 and 1878, in Queensland in 1876 and the same year in Philadelphia.  It remained in place from c.1884 when he moved to Birchgrove till 1950 when it was destroyed in a gale.

The window was described as Cook seated at a table ‘in deep meditation…quadrant in hand, and nearby a globe with his latest achievement – Australia – conspicuously brought out’[13] with his hand  resting on the globe.  The borders featured wildflowers, possum and kangaroo reflecting the botanizing of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander during the voyage.  On the Endeavour’s return to England they quickly became celebrities; Banks went on to become President of the Royal Society, a baronet and was knighted. They can be seen in the window made by Lyon, Cottier & Co for Cranbrook, a residence at Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.[14] It was installed in 1874 for parliamentarian and racehorse owner and breeder James White. Subsequently Cranbrook was home to state governors and Governors-General before becoming a private school for boys in 1918. The window is notable for its narrative design and decorative quality.

Cranbrook School 1 KW

Cranbrook School 2 KW

Fig.6 and 7: Lyon, Cottier & Co., Details from Captain Cook window, Cranbrook School (NSW) 1874    Photographs: Karla Whitmore

Cranbrook School 3 KW

Fig. 8: Lyon,Cottier & Co., Banks and Solander, Cranbrook School (NSW) 1874     Photograph: Karla Whitmore

The window is composed of three rectangular panels deeply recessed in masonry, each with three scenes.  Five feature Cook on board, in a longboat and looking through a telescope.  Two depict his ship, one Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander botanizing and one a slightly out of proportion kangaroo as in early illustrations.  Realistic portrayals are second to the activities portrayed: Cook is shown directing his crew and Banks and Solander show intense interest in a plant specimen which, like the luxuriantly large flowers at their feet, is exotic rather than realistic.[15] The background colouring is soft with darker browns and blues for garments and vibrant yellow in the Renaissance style borders with flowers, fruit, shells and garlands.  The painting is detailed and realistic.

Rather than the seasons, English pastoral scenes or heraldry that were popular in domestic settings the residential window at Cranbrook has romanticised depictions of Cook at Botany Bay.  It shows the virtue of leadership of his men, whom he kept free of scurvy, and his connection with national identity.

A five-light window at the Great Hall at Brisbane Grammar School has a young Queen Victoria portrayed as a scholar in the central light with twelve portrait busts in roundels of statesmen, men of letters and science.  English coats of arms and those of Brisbane, the Governor and the school seal and add to the imperial connection also seen in Sydney University’s Great Hall windows.  This sense of connection and its importance to students was prevalent in the country’s colonial academic institutions. The window was made by prominent Melbourne firm Ferguson & Urie in 1880.[16] The depiction of Cook follows the Nathaniel Dance portrait, and line engravings based on it, and the sepia coloured portrait is set in a geometrical patterned background of glowing colours.

The heritage-listed former Young Australia League memorial hall in central Perth, Western Australia, has busts of eight Australian historical figures including Captain Cook in large circular windows installed from 1924-28. The Young Australia League was an Australian initiative designed to foster patriotic ideals of citizenship.  The windows are now obscured. The one with Cook was dedicated in 1927 by Colonel Amery, Secretary of State for the Dominions, on a visit from England. Cook appears among Australian statesmen, literary, artistic and scientific figures from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. They represent nation building in the time of strong ties with and allegiance to Britain.

Cook is shown after the portrait by Dance in a medallion-style setting framed by a wreath and anchor against a ruby and blue background with a pale border and outer ring of clear ripple glass bordered by green.[17]  The windows were designed by Perth artist Arthur Clarke and one of Sir Galahad in the same location is by H.H. Eastcourt.[18]  Both Clarke and Eastcourt worked for Perth stained glass studio Barnett Bros.

Sydney Town Hall 1 KW

Fig. 9: Goodlet and Smith, Captain Cook staircase window, Sydney Town Hall (NSW) 1889      Photograph: Karla Whitmore

The centenary of 1888 was marked in stained glass by two windows in Sydney Town Hall installed in 1889, one depicting Cook and the other an allegorical figure Oceania representing New South Wales.  They were designed by French artist, Lucien Henry, who came to Sydney after being deported as a communard from France to New Caledonia.  Henry’s decorative designs were executed by the Sydney firm of Goodlet and Smith.  A European perspective is seen in the figure of Cook who is a resolute but more refined figure than the sturdy Yorkshireman depicted by Dance or Webber.  He is portrayed on board ship, spyglass in hand with the other resting on a railing.  The border of the central round-headed window has rose and thistle floral emblems, the ships Endeavour and Discovery, seven pointed stars, ship’s wheels and anchors.  The seven-pointed star predates the seven-pointed Commonwealth star on the Australian flag and coat of arms.  The inscription commemorates Cook 1728 to 1779, John Harris, Mayor of Sydney and Lord Carrington, Governor of NSW.  Exuberant English floral displays in urns are in the rectangular side panels. The companion Oceania window has Australian wildflowers, particularly the waratah, which appears in later windows by Goodlet and Smith.

The Cook window is an illustration of civic pride and progress. A French artist with a flair for design showcased Cook as forerunner of colonial settlement in the lead up to Federation.

Christchurch NZ Arts Centre KW

Fig. 10: Martin Travers, Central section of War Memorial window, Christchurch Arts Centre (NZ) 1938      Photograph: Karla Whitmore

Cook’s place in imperial and national myth-making is clearly seen in the large 5-light window in Canterbury College Hall, now the Christchurch Arts Centre, New Zealand.  It was designed by Martin Travers who from 1925 to 1948 taught stained glass at the Royal College of Arts, London and also designed churches and church furniture.  Travers’ original design for the war memorial window from 1924 showed humanity’s upward progress to a female figure representing the mother of virtues.  Cook is one of many figures moving up a rocky outcrop projecting from the sea.  Most of the historical figures are based on portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London with modifications to suit the design of the window.[19]

The College Council thought this war memorial window should have greater emphasis on English men of letters and science and New Zealand soldiers keeping the enemy at bay. The window is signed MT (letters overlaid) 1938.  Cook has become a major figure in the design, featured in the central light to the fore of Scott of the Antarctic and above a banner remembering the sacrifice of 1914-18 and soldiers repelling the red dragons of brutality and ignorance.  He holds a telescope and compass and his ship Resolution is shown in a side light. At the apex of the design are figures representing the mother of humanity and values action, justice, truth and thought.

The need to incorporate layers of meaning resulted in a busy design but, by skilful draughtsmanship and painting, the window maintains clarity and interest in its details.  It reflects a post-war celebration of British and imperial civilisation; even the shape of the rocky outcrop has been suggested to represent Britain.[20]

The most recent window featuring Cook was installed in 1951 at St Cuthbert’s, Marton in Middlesborough, England, the church where he was baptised.  It was made by Gerald Edward Roberts Smith of London. Smith worked at the studio of A.K. Nicholson and in 1937 took over running the firm.

Marton KW

Fig. 10: G.E.R. Smith, St Cuthbert’s Church, Marton (UK) 1951                    Photograph courtesy of St Cuthbert’s Church

The window depicting Cook is signed G.E.R. Smith with the London studio address.  It commemorates members of the Bolckow family who were prominent in industry and local development.  The Hon. H.W.F. Bolckow had in his library at Marton Hall Cook’s journals, the Admiralty’s secret instructions and other manuscripts for fifty years until they were sold at auction in 1923 to the Australian Government and deposited in the Australian National Library.[21]

This round-headed window focuses on Cook as explorer and navigator.  He is shown striding forward, hat and sword in hand, while a sailor raises a Red Ensign. Above Cook is a roundel with New Zealand, which Cook circumnavigated, and which may have been chosen for design reasons as it complements the curve of the roundel through to Cook’s outstretched leg. The decoration draws on early maps with sea creatures, a cherub blowing wind, ship’s anchor and Renaissance style border.  The design in red, blue, yellow and white on a clear glass background conveys a sense of lively activity and purpose.

The Red Ensign features prominently in the design. Cook’s journal notes that he took formal possession of two localities at Mercury Bay and Queen Charlotte Sound.  New Zealand press reports from around 1900 diverge as to the time and place, status and scope of these events from specific locales to the whole country.  Notwithstanding, the defining moment in the relationship with England was the ceding of sovereignty in 1840 by Maori chiefs under the Treaty of Waitangi, a document that is subject to ongoing debate.[22]

Depictions of Captain Cook in stained glass reflect sentiment at the time of their creation; Cook as navigator, geographic and scientific discoverer, symbol of membership of the British Empire and of national identity.  In this milieu the windows’ makers used their artistic and design skills to adapt and create a notable series of representations of Cook in the medium of stained glass.


[1] Glyn Williams (2008), The Death of Captain Cook, a hero made and unmade, Profile Books, London, p.61.

[2] Ruth Scobie (2013), ‘The Many Deaths of Captain Cook, a Study in Metropolitan Mass Culture 1780-1810’, PhD thesis, University of York, p.20.

[3] Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 1874, p.12.

[4] Margaret Cameron-Ash (2018), Lying for the Admiralty, Captain Cook’s Endeavour Voyage, Rosenberg Publishing, Sydney.

[5] F.W. Robinson MA, PhD (1947), ‘The Great Hall of the University of Sydney and Voices of the Past’, Sydney University Extension Board, Sydney University Archives, p.7.

[6] Waller’s c.1935 art deco window made for Wilson Hall survived the fire and is in the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne.

[7] A. Grenfell Price (Ed.) (1958), The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific as Told by Selections of his own Journals, Georgian House, Melbourne, p.65.

[8] The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 6 May 1908, p. 1192.

[9] The design, which is signed, is in the collection of Kevin Little, formerly of Arncliffe Glass.

[10] The windows by Norman Carter were funded from a bequest by Roy Noel Teece, an alumnus of St Andrew’s College who had a distinguished career in law.

[11] Grenfell Price, p.85.

[12] Geoffrey Dutton (1974), White on Black, the Australian Aborigine Portrayed in Art, MacMillan, Melbourne, pp.58, 65.

[13] Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser, 4 May 1878, p.5.

[14] The window is listed as by Lyon, Cottier & Co. in The Australasian Decorator and Painter, 1 August 1909, p.264.

[15] The panel with Banks and Solander featured on an Australian stamp in the 1986 bicentennial series of Cook’s voyage to New Holland.

[16] Before coming to Sydney John Lamb Lyon had been a partner at Ferguson & Urie, Melbourne.

[17] Email from Tammy Rae-Schaper, Chief Executive, Young Australia League, 22 March 2019.

[18] Register of Heritage Place Assessment Documentation, Young Australia League, 13 December 1996 . https://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.

[19] Fiona Ciaran (1998), Stained Glass Windows of  Canterbury, New Zealand, University of Otago Press, Dunedin, p.84.

[20] Arthur Pomeroy (2014), The Portrayal of the First World War and the Development of a National Mythology in New Zealand, Journal of  New Zealand Studies NS18, p.46. https://ojs.victoria.ac.nz.

[21] Peter Cochrane (Ed.) (2001), Remarkable Occurrences: The National Library’s First 100 Years 1901-2001, National Library of Australia, Canberra, p.6.

[22] Michael King (2003), The Penguin History of New Zealand, Penguin Books, Auckland, p.157.