Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
It was at 2 p.m. on 7 October, 1769, that a lad at the masthead earned lasting fame for himself on account of being the first member of the complement to feast his eyes upon the shadowy outline of the eastern coast of New Zealand. The scene aboard when the welcome cry “Land Ahoy!” rang out is described very interestingly by Banks:
“At half-past one [the logbook gives the hour as 2 p.m.] a small boy who was at the masthead call'd out Land. I was luckily upon deck and well I was entertained. Within a few minutes, the cry circulated and up came all hands. The land could not then be seen from the Tops; yet few were there who did not plainly see it from the Deck, till it appear'd that they had looked 5 points wrong. Weather page 18 most moderate. We came up with it [the land] very slowly. At sunset, myself was at the masthead. Land appear'd much like an island, or islands, but seemed to be large.”
Little is known concerning the sharp-eyed lad who first descried the land, but whose memory is kept green by the name “Young Nick's Head,” which, in his honour, Cook bestowed upon the southern headland of Poverty Bay. As Hugh Carrington (Life of Captain Cook) says: “Young Nick is one of the mysteries of the voyage.” Cook does not hand down the lad's name. Molineux (the master) and Parkinson describe him as “Nicholas Young and James Roberts (one of Banks's servants) refers to him as “Nicholas Yong.” The name “Nicholas Young” does not appear on the ship's original muster roll.
There has been much speculation even as to Young Nick's occupation on board. In Murihiku (1907), p. 6, McNab says that he was one of Banks's suite; in Tasman to Marsden, that he was “the boy to the surgeon's mate.” Kitson (Life of Captain James Cook) claims that his name was omitted from the early muster sheets while he was the servant of Mr. Perry, the surgeon's mate, but that it appeared on 18 April, 1769, when he was entered as an “A.B.” in place of Peter Flowers (dronwed). To Banks, he was only “a small boy.” The fact that the lad was taking a turn as lookout lends colour to Kitson's assertion. Surgeon Rear-Admiral John R. Muir (Captain Cook: London, 1939, p. 111) supports Kitson, and adds that, apart from the fact that Young Nick would have accompanied Banks on the second voyage if Banks had not withdrawn, “that is all that can be traced of the career of the youth.” In The Remarkable Story of Andrew Swan, p. 143, it is stated that Young Nick hailed from Greenock, on the Clyde.
When the coast of New Zealand first came into view it bore west by north and Poverty Bay had been passed. During the twenty-four hours up till noon on 6 October, sixty-two miles had been sailed along a S.W. by S. course. If no alteration had been made, that course would have given a landfall between Cape Kidnippers and Cape Turnagain. However, just before noon on the 6th the course was altered, and, by noon on the 7th, forty-one miles had been traversed on a N. 70 deg. W. course, and Poverty Bay lay directly ahead.
According To Admiralty chart No. 1212, prepared by Captain Hurd, R.N (Hydrographer to the Admiralty) and dated 30 April, 1816, the Endeavour was opposite Mahia, and about seventy miles out to sea, when the course was changed on 6 October from S.W. by S. to N. 70 deg. W. Her position would then be slightly farther from Young Nick's Head than from page 19 Mahia. At noon on the 7th—two hours before land was sighted—she would be about thirty miles off Poverty Bay.