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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter I — The Pre-Missionary Era

page 1

Chapter I
The Pre-Missionary Era

Since Abel Tasman did not land in New Zealand, European exploration began on 9 October 1769 when Captain Cook, with the scientists Banks and Solander, landed in Poverty Bay and went about one mile up the right bank of the Waikanae river. The party was well suited for exploration because Cook had an almost unique appreciation of topography and Banks and Solander, as scientists, were able to describe phenomena unnoticed by him. The party did not have a particularly successful day, but they began the exploration of New Zealand and took the first step in the study of its flora. They were more fortunate elsewhere and from their diaries we obtain a good account of three days in Anaura Bay and of eight days in Tolaga Bay, where the botantists enjoyed themselves collecting over 160 species of plants. At Mercury Bay, where they spent eleven days, they did not venture far from the coast, otherwise they would have noted the beautiful kauri trees then clothing the surrounding hills. But page 2from the Firth of Thames a much more definite advance was made into the interior. In the ship's boat Cook, Banks, and Solander went about twelve or fourteen miles up the Thames river to land on the western bank and study the forest of white pine trees. They made no other survey of the interior until they had circumnavigated the North Island and were in the sheltered waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. The ship was careened and the naturalists were free to explore the coastal fringe and to collect specimens of over 220 plants. They were well chosen and accurately described, as one would expect from 'two of the most illustrious botanists of their Age.' From here Cook sailed down the east coast of the South Island, not landing but commenting on any prominent features of the coast. Banks Peninsula was charted as an island; Foveaux Strait was not charted at all, although some of the ship's company suggested its existence. When off the west coast, Cook, respecting the prevailing west winds, kept well off shore and took no unnecessary risks. But he did notice the entrance to Dusky Sound and the peaks of the Southern Alps. They were of 'prodigious height, the mountains and some of the valleys being wholly covered with snow.' This is an interesting comment, for what he calls valleys of snow were the great glaciers—the Franz Josef, the Fritz, and the Fox. That he did not call page 3them glaciers is natural because at that time English literature on the subject was very limited.

On his second expedition he gave more attention to the west coast. In 1773 Dusky Sound was surveyed, and the botanists, J. R. and J. G. A. Forster, collected a few specimens. They seem to have been somewhat inactive and did not study the rich mountain flora for which the region is famous. The only specimens of this type were collected by some of the ship's officers who are said to have struggled to the top of one of the mountains. This virtually ended interior exploration for some years, and it was not until Vancouver visited Dusky Sound in 1791 that any further information was obtained. The harbour survey was extended and Dr Menzies, the botanist, made several pleasant excursions from the different inlets. Botanists credit him with the discovery of the cryptogamic riches of New Zealand—in other words he collected mosses and Hepaticae (liverworts) when they were not usually thought worthy of attention. His account of a shooting expedition to Goose Cove could have been written to-day, for he slept on a fern bed, was plagued by sandflies and delighted to find that smoke would reduce the attack. It is not quite so modern when he mentions the warbling cadence of the birds lulling him to sleep and in the morning entertaining him with their 'wild heterogeneous concert.'

The next scene of interest was the Bay of Islands page 4from which Lieutenant Hanson of the Daedalus in 1793 took two Maori chiefs to Norfolk Island. The Lieutenant-Governor, Captain King, hoped that they would show the convicts how to dress flax, but this being women's work the chiefs could not be very informative. But one of them, Too-gee (Tuke) drew on the floor of a room a map of New Zealand. The North Island was sufficiently accurate to be recognised from Cook's chart, so the chief was persuaded to place the map on paper, and, during his stay on the island, to add corrections and additions. To what represented the South Island the name 'Poenammo' was given, and in the interior was drawn a lake (Wakatipu) from which stones for hatchets were obtained. Thus with the greenstone trade some knowledge of the southern interior had filtered through to the north. The North Island could be recognised, although the draughtsman gave undue prominence to the localities with which he was familiar. To anthropologists the most interesting feature must be the 'spirits' road' zig-zagging through the peninsula to the North Cape and plunging into the darkness of Te Po (the underworld).

Of more material interest were the sealing grounds of south-west Otago. In 1792–3 Captain Raven's sealing party in Dusky Sound obtained 4,500 skins, built a boat, and experienced a mild earthquake. The sound was the recognised haven on that forbidding coast; Bass, the Australian navigator, planned page 5the foundation of a fishery in those parts, and it is thought that his proposals attracted to south-west Otago the Bass Strait sealers who had exhausted their own region. It is known that they visited Otago in 1803 and that American vessels were in the vicinity in 1804. From some unknown vessel O. F. Smith, in a whale-boat, made a most important discovery—the strait 'between the Southern and Southernmost Islands of New Zealand.' He prepared a map* full of interesting detail but somewhat distorted in its main features. The discovery was kept secret for reasons of trade and because of official hostility towards American interlopers. No mention was made of the new sealing ground until 1809 when the Governor Bligh and the Pegasus returned to Sydney from a successful voyage in the course of which they had visited a newly discovered strait 'which is called Foveaux Strait.' Later in the year the Pegasus paid another visit during which William Stewart charted the coast of the island now called after him, and Captain Chase discovered that Banks 'Island' was a peninsula.

During this period between 1790 and 1810 the other centre of European interest was the Bay of Islands, where traders bartered for flax and timber and whalers obtained water, pork, and potatoes. page 6In 1805 a convict ship visited the bay and John Savage, the ship's surgeon, wrote a short account of all he saw. His book was published in 1807 and, although there is no description of the interior, it is important because it was the first work dealing exclusively with New Zealand. The south, on the other hand, had no historian and we are inclined to forget that the harbours of Foveaux Strait were just as well known as those along the east coast of the Auckland peninsula. Although sealing was the great attraction, Foveaux Strait was often visited by whalers and flax-traders. In 1813 a certain amount of exploration was conducted by Robert Williams of Sydney. Convinced that he could improve the method of dressing flax, he persuaded some Sydney financiers to send him to Stewart Island in the brig Perseverance. In the ship's boat Williams and others went over to Bluff harbour which they named Port Macquarie. Soundings were taken, and the harbour, hitherto supposed to be barred by sandbanks, was found to be navigable for large boats. Williams wandered about the interior in search of flax and covered a considerable expanse of country. He would have accomplished much more if Jones, as agent for the financiers, had not obstructed him. The story is quite pathetic. Jones had wanted to return before sighting New Zealand, Jones said there was no flax, Jones refused to go inland from the Bluff, and over-ruled the suggestion of bringing the page 7 Perseverance over. However, Williams did the best he could, and the map illustrating his wanderings about the Bluff is probably the first to show a European's movements on the mainland of New Zealand. But there was no immediate result of the expedition and it was years before the determined Williams persuaded the New South Wales authorities to send over another expedition to inspect the flax resources of Southland.

* The author discovered the map in the Alexander Turnbull Library in May 1938 and immediately informed Dr Howard, the authority on the history of Stewart Island and Foveaux Strait. The subject will be dealt with more fully in Raki-ura (Stewart Island) which will be published as a Centennial memorial for Stewart Island.