Tuia – Encounters 250: Cook’s place names around New Zealand - Acheron Passage and Resolution Island

Photo of Acheron Passage
Photo Credit: Colin Miskelly – Te Papa – CC-BY-SA 4.0

Cook returned to New Zealand on his second voyage in 1773, arriving from the south after surveying in Antarctic waters. Cook’s ship, the HMS Resolution, spent five weeks in Dusky Sound, while those on board refilled their supplies of water, wood and greens, and surveyed the coast. On 30 April, they left their snug anchorage and attempted to make their way up through an arm of the sounds that Cook had found earlier. After many delays, the Resolution emerged at Breaksea Island. Lieutenant Richard Pickersgill named this passage after the Resolution, while Cook applied the name Resolution to the large island to the west of the sound. 

In 1851, the HMS Acheron steamship entered Dusky Sound, under the command of Captain John Lort Stokes. The Acheron was a wooden paddle sloop, rigged with sails for most of her power and an auxiliary steam engine for extra manoeuvrability.

Stokes was charged with surveying the coast of New Zealand. He carried with him charts that used the information Cook had provided, as Cook’s work has been reproduced by many map-makers and little new information had been added in the intervening years. While he knew about the names Cook had used (Stokes referred to Resolution Island), he probably did not know about Pickersgill’s name. He named the passage Acheron, after his own ship.

After Stokes’ voyage many of the peaks around the passage were named after men aboard either his ship or Cook’s from eighty years earlier. It is likely that Stokes (or someone on his ship) was responsible for the Acheron names being applied, but we do not know if the Resolution names were applied by Stokes or someone at the British Hydrography office.


  • NZ Gazetteer - Acheron Passage
  • NZ Gazetteer -Resolution Island
  • R.J.B. Knight, ‘John Lort Stokes and the New Zealand Survey, 1848-1851’, in Alan Frost and Jane Samson (eds), Pacific Empires: Essays in Honour of Glyndwr Williams, Melbourne University Press, 1999, p. 89
  • J.L Stokes, ‘With H.M.S Acheron on her Early Surveys’, Star, 17 July 1926, ‘Once More Following Cook’ – newspaper clipping in ‘Diary kept by Captain Stokes during his survey of the New Zealand coast in H.M.S Acheron, ATL P q910.f STO 1926
Last Updated: 15 February 2019