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Life in Early Poverty Bay

Cook's Visit in Light of Maori Tradition — Gisborne as it Was in 1769. — Natives' Lack of Hospitality

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Cook's Visit in Light of Maori Tradition
Gisborne as it Was in 1769.
Natives' Lack of Hospitality.

The interest which will always attach to the first visit of Captain Cook to the shores of New Zealand is sufficient justification for any attempt to elucidate a portion of his narrative, and, by the aid of personal acquaintance with the localities touched at, and reference to Maori traditions of the events, to enable any reader to present to his mind a more vivid picture of all the circumstances When, as in this case, places are not described in minute detail, it is often a matter of considerable difficulty to identify any particular spot; though this difficulty may often in a great measure be overcome by careful examination of the ground, and close attention to every hint contained in the narrative which may serve as a clue to the identification of the actual site of the occurrence. This, then, is what it is proposed to attempt in this paper with reference to Captain Cook's visit to Poverty Bay and Tolaga Bay.

First Glimpse of Land.

It was on Friday, October 6, 1769, that the land was first seen from the masthead, bearing west by north, the longitude of the ship having been ascertained to be 180 degrees, 55 minutes W. On Saturday, October 7, it fell calm till the afternoon. At 5 p.m. Cook noticed a deep bay and stood in for it, but, when night came, he kept plying off and on till daylight. In the morning (Sunday Oct. 8) he found himself considerably to leeward of the bay, the wind being at north, and it was not till 4 o'clock in the afternoon that he anchored “on the north-west side of the bay, before the entrance to a small river … at about half a league from the shore.”

“In the evening,” Cook says, “I went on shore accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander with the pinnace and yawl and a party of men. We landed abreast of the ship on the east side of the river, which was here about 40 yards broad; but, seeing some natives on the west side whom I wished to speak with, and finding the river not fordable, I ordered the yawl in to carry us over, and left the pinnace at the entrance. When we came near the place where the people were assembled they all ran away; however, we landed and, leaving four boys to take care of the yawl, we walked up to some huts which were about two or three hundred yards from the waterside.

Why Te Maro Was Shot.

When we had got some distance from the boat, four men, armed with long lances, rushed out of the woods and, running up to attack the boat, would certainly have cut her off if the people in the pinnace had not discovered them, and called to the boys to drop down the stream. The boys instantly obeyed, but, being closely pursued by the natives the coxswain of the pinnace, who had charge of the boats, fired a musket over their heads. At page 4 this they stopped and looked around them, but in a few minutes renewed the pursuit, brandishing their lances in a threatening manner. The coxswain then fired a second musket over their heads, but of this they took no notice, and, one of them lifting up his spear to dart at the boat, another piece was fired, which shot him dead. When he fell the other three stood motionless for some minutes, as if petrified with astonishment. As soon as they recovered they went back, dragging after them the dead body, which, however, they soon left, that it might not encumber their flight. At the report of the first musket we drew together, having straggled to a little distance from each other, and made the best of our way back to the boat; and, crossing the river, we saw the native lying dead on the ground. Upon examining the body we found that he had been shot through the heart … We returned immediately to the ship, where we could hear the people on shore talking with great earnestness, and in a very loud tone—probably about what had happened, and what should be done.”

Landing at Boat Harbour.

The place of landing was evidently what is now called the boat-harbor, immediately on the south-east side of the mouth of the river, and separated from it by a narrow reef of rocks. From this place Cook and his companion walked about two hundred yards to a sandy point clear of the shelving rocks, as the most convenient point from which to cross over to the point formed by the junction of the Waikanae Creek with the river, where the natives were first seen, who ran away as the strangers approached them. The huts for which they were making when the attack was made upon the boat were probably not far from the north bank of the Waikanae, a short distance above the present signal-station. The four men who attacked the boat are said to have rushed out of the woods on the east side of the river. There are no woods in the neighborhood now, nor have there been any for the past fifty years; but woods are said by the natives to have existed formerly on the hill-side, within a short distance of high-water mark, which would form a convenient hiding place for the natives, whence they might observe the movements of the strangers without being seen themselves. The four men belonged to the Ngationeone hapu of the tribe called Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, and the name of the one who was shot was Te Maro.

On Monday morning, October 9, a party of natives was observed at the spot, at which they had been seen the previous evening, and Cook determined at once to try to open up friendly intercourse with them. Three boats were ordered, manned with seamen and marines, and with these he proceeded towards the shore. Cook, with three others, landed first from the small boat; but they had not advanced far towards the natives when the latter all started up and showed themselves to be well armed with spears and meres, manifesting at the same time unmistakeable signs of hostility. Cook therefore determined to return at once to the boats and get the marines landed. This was soon done, and they marched, with a Jack carried before them, to a little bank about fifty yards from the water-side. Here they were drawn up and Cook again advanced with Tupaea, Messrs. Banks, Green and Monkhouse, and Dr. Solander. Tupaea was directed to speak to the natives and it was soon evident that he could readily make himself understood. After some parleying about twenty or thirty were induced to swim over, most of them, however, bringing their arms with them. All attempts to establish friendly intercourse were vain, as the only object the natives seemed to have in view was to get possession of the arms of the strangers which, as they could not obtain them by barter, they tried to snatch out of their hands. What followed is best described in Cook's own words:—

Te Rakau Slain.

“In a few minutes, Mr. Green happening to turn about, one of them snatched away his hangar, and, retiring to a little distance, waved it round his head with a shout of exultation. The rest now began to be page break page 6 extremely insolent and we saw more coming to join them from the opposite side of the river; it was therefore necessary to repress them, and Mr. Banks fired at the man who had taken the hanger with small shot, at the distance of about fifteen yards. When the shot struck him he ceased his cry, but, instead of returning the hangar, continued to flourish it over his head, at the same time slowly retreating to a greater distance. Mr. Monkhouse, seeing this, fired at him with ball and he instantly dropped. Upon this, the main body, who had retired to a rock in the middle of the river on the first discharge, began to return. Two that were near to the man who had been killed ran up to the body; one seized his weapon of green tale, and the other endeavored to secure the hanger, which Mr. Monkhouse had but just time to prevent. As all that had retired to the rock were now advancing, three of us discharged our pieces, loaded only with small shot, upon which they swam back to the shore, and we perceived, upon their landing, that two or three of them were wounded. They retired slowly up the country, and we re-embarked in the boats.”

Turanganui River in Cook's Day (“Brett's Early History of New Zealand”).

Turanganui River in Cook's Day (“Brett's Early History of New Zealand”).

Mistook Ship for Floating Island.

The party of natives thus encountered was not the same as that which had been seen the evening before. According to the Maori tradition, the ship had been seen coming into the bay the day before, and was thought to be a floating island; and this was a party of the Rongowhaka-ata tribe, who had come from Orakaiapu, a pa just below the junction of the Arai and Waipaoa rivers for the express purpose to take possession of the ship, and hence their hostile attitude. The man who seized Mr. Green's hanger and lost his life in consequence was Te Rakau. The landing was effected, as before, at the boat-harbor, and the place where the marines were posted could easily be identified before the whole aspect of the place was changed by the harbor-works which are now in progress. It was a level piece of ground, about one acre in extent, from four feet to eight feet above the level of high-water mark, and immediately adjoining the spot where the river was crossed on the preceding evening. A part of it may still be recognised between the outer end of the blockyard of the harbor-works and the base of the hill. The rock in the middle of the river which the natives used as a resting-place is known by the natives as Toka-a-Taiau, and, from the way in which it is spoken of by Cook, would seem to have stood higher, at that time, than it has done now for many years past, and perhaps to have been awash, if not dry at low water. Till within the last few years its position was always indicated at low water by the rippling of the current, but since it has been partially blasted away with dynamite it has not been so easy to detect it.

Four More Natives Killed.

Having failed, as above related, to establish any sort of friendly intercourse with the people, Cook proceeded with his three boats, to examine the bay in search of fresh water, and also with the design, if possible, of surprising some of the natives and getting them on board his ship, that by kind treatment their friendship might be secured, and that, by their means, an amicable correspondence might be established with their countrymen. Two canoes were seen coming in from the sea, making apparently for the mouth of the Kopututea river, which was then situated much nearer the Turanganui than it is now, and somewhere near where it is shown in the accompanying map. One of these canoes was intercepted, but, on the approach of the boats, the crew, seven in number, began the attack so vigorously with their paddles, with stones, and with other weapons, that the order was given to fire upon them, when four were, unhappily killed. The other three, who were all young lads, immediately leaped into the water, but were soon captured and taken on board the ship. Their names were—Te Haurangi, Ikirangi and Marukauiti. (Cook writes the names thus: “Taahourange, Koikerange and Maragovette.” The descendants of Ikirangi and Marukauiti still talk of the intercourse which their ancestors held with “Tepaea” but the name of page break page 8 Te Haurangi is forgotten.) The kind attentions of their captors soon allayed their fears, and they became very sociable, asking and answering many questions with great appearance of pleasure and curiosity. On the following morning (Tuesday, October 10) they were told, to their great delight, that they were to be put on shore again, but it was not without reluctance that they consented to be left at the place where the boats had landed the day before. An officer and a party of men had already been sent on shore to that spot to cut wood, and Cook afterwards landed at the same place, with the three boys, Mr. Banks, Dr. Solander, and Tupaea. When they had crossed the river, the boys, after some hesitation, took their leave. Cook and his own companions then crossed the Waikanae at the old ford, a short distance from the mouth, and strolled up the right, or seaward, bank of the creek, hoping to shoot some ducks, four marines being directed to keep abreast of them on the sandy ridge between the creek and the sea, to guard against surprise.

Sketch in Relation to Cook's Doings at Gisborne (By Bishop William Williams).

Sketch in Relation to Cook's Doings at Gisborne (By Bishop William Williams).

An Emblem of Peace.

After advancing about a mile a large body of natives was seen coming rapidly towards them, whereupon, they drew together, took to the beach, and hurried back to the boats, the three boys joining them again and claiming their protection. As soon as they had got safely across the river, the natives, all armed, to the number of about 200, followed them across the Waikanae to the point. The boys, recognising the body of Te Rakau, which still lay exposed on the beach, went to it and covered it with some of the clothes which had been given them. Soon after this a single man, unarmed, who proved to be the uncle of Marukauiti, swam over to them bringing in his hand a green branch, which was taken as an emblem of peace. After making him a few presents, they left him and returned to the ship, the boys accompanying them. The actions of the natives were closely watched from aboard the ship. The man who had swum across to them was seen to perform some peculiar ceremonies over the dead body of Te Rakau, which was afterwards fetched across the river, and carried away on a litter. The boys were landed again in the afternoon and were seen to go away with the main body, as they returned by the way by which they had come. The Maori tradition states that Ikirangi and his companions had been out fishing, and that in answer to Tupaea's questions they had told him that the ariki, or principal chief of the district, was Te Ratu. This man was chief of the Rongowhataata tribe, and must have possessed great influence; for afterwards, when coasting along the Bay of Plenty, Cook says, “as far as we had yet coasted this country, from Cape Turnagain, the people acknowledwged one chief, whom they called Te Ratu, and to whose residence they pointed in a direction that we thought to be very far inland, but afterwards found to be otherwise.” There are no direct descendants of Te Ratu now living, but the family is represented by the descendants of his brothers. The Maori tradition also mentions a red garment as having been laid upon the body of Te Rakan to which they gave the name of Te Hinui Tuhuru.

Unfortunate Naming of District.

“The next morning,” Cook says, “Wednesday, 11th, at 6 o'clock, we weighed and stood away from this unfortunate and inhospitable place to which I gave the name of Poverty Bay, and which, by the natives, is called ‘Te Oneroa,’ or ‘Long Sand,’ as it did not afford us a single article that we wanted … The southwest point of the bay I named Young Nick's Head, after Nicholas Young, the boy who first saw the land.” Thus ended Cook's only visit to this part of New Zealand; but as the ship lay becalmed in the afternoon, a little to the south of Young Nick's Head, several canoes put off, and, one, which had followed the ship out of Poverty Bay, came directly alongside. With a little persuasion the four men who formed the crew (one of whom was recognised as one of the hostile party encountered on Monday) were induced to come on board the ship. Their example was shortly afterwards followed by the rest and there was soon around the page 9 ship no less than seven canoes and about fifty men. About an hour before sunset, but three of the men were left on board, and were transhipped on the following morning to a canoe off Table Cape.

Cook Resumes His Voyage.

After this Cook continued his voyage southward, following the coast as far as Cape Turnagain, whence he returned, on October 17, with a view of examining the coast to the northward of Poverty Bay. On Friday, the twentieth, being prevented by the wind from fetching Tolaga Bay, he anchored about 11 o'clock in another bay, a little to the north, the name given to which by the natives, he says, was Tegado. What Maori name this represents I have been unable to discover. He gives no description by which the bay may be identified, but from Parkinson's journal it is clear that it was Anaura. (“On the 21st we anchored in a very indifferent harbor, in 8½ fathoms of water, about one mile and a-half from the shore, having an island on the left-hand which somewhat sheltered us”) (Parkinson, quoted by Mr. Colenso, “Trans.,” vol. X., p. 123.) It will be noticed that there is a discrepancy in the date; but throughout this portion of the narrative Parkinson's dates are one day in advance of those given by Cook). The people were all remarkably friendly, and were found to be acquainted with what had happened at Poverty Bay less than a fortnight before. On the 21st, Lieut. Gore, with a strong party of men, obtained a supply of fresh water, and Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found many new plants and shot a few birds.

On Sunday, the 22nd, another start was made, but, the wind being unfavorable for standing to the northward, Cook determined to put into Tolaga Bay, seeing that some natives had told him of a small cove a little within the south point of the bay where fresh water was handy, and where boats might land without being exposed to a heavy surf. This is the cove, which, in recent times, has always borne the illustrious navigator's name. The natives here were as friendly as those at Anaura, and a good supply of wood and water was easily procured. During the eight days' stay at this place, Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander explored the neighborhood, and were rewarded by the discovery of many plants new to science. In the course of their rambles they came upon what is described as a very extraordinary natural curiosity. “It was a rock, perforated through its whole substance so as to form a rude but stupendous arch or cavern, opening directly to the sea. This aperture was 75 feet long, 27ft broad and 45ft high, commanding a view of the bay and of the hills on the other side which were seen through it, and, opening at once upon the view, produced an effect far superior to any of the contrivances of art.”

“Te Kotore O Te Whenua.”

There are three small streams of water here, one of which finds its way to the sea through the natural arch above-described. The arch (called by the natives “Te Kotore o te Whenua”) pierces the ridge, the extremity of which forms the western head of the cove, and is about 400 yards from high-water mark within the cove. The measurements given by Cook do not quite correspond with the present dimensions. The present length is 55 feet, the breadth at the narrowest part 24½ feet, and the height at the lowest part 23 feet. The length has probably been reduced by the falling away of the cliff at the other end, at which part also the measurements of the height and breadth given by Cook may have been estimated.

About thirty yards from high-water mark, among some bushes, about 20 feet up the side of the same hill as that in which the arch occurs, is what is known as “Cook's well.” This is a small hole, about 10 inches in diameter and about one foot deep, excavated in the soft rock where a tiny rill trickles down from a small spring a little higher up the hill. This could not have been used in any way for watering the ship, but was probably hollowed out for amusement by some of the boys in the ship's company. That it is not a natural cavity, but that it was made on the page break page 12 occasion of Cook's visit, seems to be satisfactorily shown by the name which the natives have given it—viz., “Te Wai Keri a Tepaea” or “Tepaea's well”; Tepaea (in which form they have preserved the name of the Tahitian “Tupaea”) having been thought by them to have been the name of Captain Cook. Various letters have been cut near the little well, but most of them have become very indistinct from the scaling-off or the surface of the rock. It is impossible to assign any date to these, which may, all of them, be much more modern than 1769.

Maori Canoe Scene on Turanganui River at Time of Arrival of First Settlers.

Maori Canoe Scene on Turanganui River at Time of Arrival of First Settlers.

Gisborne in Its Infancy.

Gisborne in Its Infancy.

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Cook Memorial Anniversay Ceremony, with Detachment from H.M.S. Laburnum in the Foreground.

Cook Memorial Anniversay Ceremony, with Detachment from H.M.S. Laburnum in the Foreground.

Native Queen of the East Coast.

Maori tradition states that Hinematioro, who was then a young girl, was pointed out to Cook as a young lady of high rank and that he presented her with beads and other ornaments. Hinematioro was much looked-up to in her time by all the tribes along this part of the coast, and her name was known formerly as far north as the Bay of Islands as that of a great rangatira. She lost her life about 60 or 70 years when making her escape from Te Pourewa on “Sporing's Island,” the pa which was attacked by Ngatiporou. The canoe was making for Whangara, and was upset at sea, the only survivor being her grandson, Te Kani-a-Takirau.

Cook says that the bay is called by the natives “Tolago,” but this has not been identified with any Maori name now in use in the neighborhood. The bay takes its name from the River Uawa, which flows into it; ano the name of Cook's Cove is Opoutama. The rocks off this entrance to the cove have altered very little since Cook's time, for the description which he gives of them might have been written yesterday. “Close to the north end of the island (Sporing's Island) at the entrance into the bay are two high rocks: one is round like a corn-stack; but the other is long and perforated in several places, so that the openings appear like the arches of a bridge. Within these rocks is the cove where we cut wood and filled our water casks.”

On Monday, October 30, Cook made sail again to the northward and here we take our leave of him.

Waikanae Beach After Heavy Flood.

Waikanae Beach After Heavy Flood.