Story: Place names

The River Thames

In 1769 James Cook gave the name Thames, from England’s most renowned river, to a large inlet and the most prominent river flowing into it. It was the first large river he had seen in the country. The river reverted to its Māori name of Waihou, but the inlet is still known as the Firth (estuary) of Thames, a combination of English and Scottish words. The nearby town is called Thames, and the district is the Thames Valley. Cook also named Mercury Bay and the Bay of Islands. On the East Coast he recorded Tolaga Bay as the Māori name. But Māori call the bay Uawa, and it’s unclear what Cook heard that produced ‘Tolaga’.

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Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: MapColl 832.15aj/1773/Acc.32020

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How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Place names - The imperial connection', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 January 2022)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 24 Nov 2008