Tuia - Encounters 250: Cook’s place names around New Zealand - Dusky Sound

Photo of Dusky Sound
Photo Credit: 15990 - Lloyd Homer - GNS Science | Te Pū Ao - All rights reserved

On James Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand, while sailing up the coast of Fiordland, he saw a sound that was a potential anchorage. Uncertain he could reach it by nightfall, he named it ‘duskey Bay’, and continued on.

On his second voyage, Cook was given command of two ships, which sailed south from England to the Cape of Good Hope and then spent several weeks in Antarctic waters, further investigating the southern continent. As the Antarctic winter set in, the ships headed north, but became separated. Cook’s ship, the HMS Resolution, approached New Zealand from south and entered Dusky Sound, needing fresh water and supplies of wood.

The Resolution spent five weeks in Dusky Sound. The astronomer William Wales, with the assistance of some crew, cleared an area of trees to set up his observatory, while others surveyed the sound and its surrounds. Supplies of water and firewood were replenished and the men feasted on the abundant wildlife. They also interacted with the local Māori.

Unlike Cook’s first voyage, it appears they did not consult these local people on their place names. Instead they applied English names. In Fiordland, nearly 80 names in the Gazetteer come from the charts of Cook and other men onboard the Resolution. The vast majority are descriptive, detailing physical characteristics (Long Island, Many Islands, First Cove) or wildlife (Seal Islands, Woodhen Cove, Crayfish Island). A few are mysteries, such as Occasional Cove or Prove Island.

Others are ‘narrative names’, recalling stories. The place where the Resolution first anchored is Anchor Point. Cook wasn’t satisfied with this anchorage, however, and sent Lieutenant Pickersgill to investigate the southern coast while he headed north. Pickersgill discovered a good anchorage and this was therefore dubbed Pickersgill Harbour.

Some of the narrative names are simple:

One place name requires a bit more explanation: Wet Jacket Arm.

Leaving Dusky Sound, the Resolution sailed to the north. At Occasional Cove, the crew took advantage of fine weather to bring everything up on deck to dry out, while Pickersgill took a few men and the pinnace (a small boat) to survey an arm off the main channel (Cook was confined to the ship with an illness). The men had expected to get back the same day, but a violent storm blew up, with snow, hail and thunder. The naturalist Johann Forster was particularly dramatic in his description:

  • it seemed as if all nature was hastening to a general catastrophe...and our hearts sunk with apprehension lest the ship might be destroyed by the tempest or its concomitant aetherial fires, and ourselves left to perish in an unfrequented part of the world.

They were forced to take cover in a cove, where they had nothing to eat but a few mussels. The sound was dubbed ‘Wet Jacket Arm’ and the cove ‘Muscle Cove’ (Cook’s misspelling of Muscle Cove has been preserved).

These and many more place names of Ngāi Tahu can be seen on the Ngāi Tahu Cultural Map, Kā Huru Manu.


Last Updated: 14 February 2019