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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 2, August 1976


page 7


The region now comprising this National Park became known to the European world after the visit of the famous Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, who discovered New Zealand in 1642. His ships, Heemskirk and Zeehaen, anchored in the vicinity of the Tata Islands, in Golden Bay, to search for wood and fresh water. The exact place of anchorage is uncertain, but it would seem to have been about three miles west of Separation Point.

At dusk as the ships lay at anchor, lights shone from the Maori settlements on shore and the sailors were intrigued by strange musical sounds floating across the water, which they compared with the notes of a Moorish trumpet. The Dutch ordered their own trumpeter to reply, hoping to show their friendly intentions. But next morning several canoes, each propelled by long, pointed paddles, wielded by seventeen big-boned natives, sped close to the Dutch ships and the visitors realized that the Maoris were suspicious and hostile. Gifts were offered to them but they rejected all attempts at friendship.

Matters might well have ended differently had there been an interpreter able to pass on the Dutch message of goodwill. Instead, tragedy took place when a jolly-boat, passing between the two ships was rammed by a Maori canoe and its crew attacked. Four men were killed. After rescuing the wounded, Tasman put out to sea pursued by more canoes launched from the beach, and leaving on his charts the name Murderer's Bay, the first European name in New Zealand.

Although his visit was short, Tasman was able to give some account of the seventeenth century inhabitants of Golden Bay and of their clothes, weapons and canoes. They are believed to have been of the Ngati Tumatakokiri, a war-like tribe which had disappeared by the time Europeans again visited this region.

This was by Captain Cook, some 130 years later, when he sailed directly from Stephens Island to Cape Farewell while circumnavigating New Zealand in 1770. He wrote in his journal "… the shore forms a large deep bay, the bottom of which we could hardly see sailing in a straight line …. I believe this to be Tasman's Murderer's Bay." He named it Blind Bay. Then in 1773, he notes the bay covered by a low point of land as being Tasman's anchorage, and that Blind Bay, which lies to the SE of this extends a long way south. In effect, he seems to have excluded Tasman's anchorage from Blind Bay and to have shifted Blind Bay eastwards. Unfortunately, Cook left us no page 8information about the inhabitants of these coasts, or their culture. This was not done until one hundred and eighty-five years after Tasman, when the French explorer, J. S. C. Dumont D'Urville arrived in the corvette Astrolabe.

D'Urville (who, incidentally, was responsible for the purchase for France of the famous Venus de Milo while he was stationed in the Mediterranean) was a capable botanist and entomologist and his staff included scientists and surveyors. He chose a safe anchorage, now named after his ship, close to the larger of two islands, which D'Urville named Adele Island in honour of his wife. Although the expedition remained only six days in this vicinity during this summer of 1827, they made very accurate surveys of the locality and vegetation. D'Urville must be considered the true discoverer of Tasman Bay and its coastline.

D'Urville indentified the two bays, dividing Murderer's Bay with Separation Point from Tasman's Bay, thinking, in error, that Cook had named it Tasman's Bay.

In the first place, it does not seem that Cook did so, and secondly, in strict justice, it is the other bay, now Golden Bay, which should be named Tasman's Bay; but it is only in this fashion, because of the apparent mistake of this very capable French explorer, that Tasman is given his due, and that his name survives at all on the chart of this coast.

D'Urville also was responsible for renaming Murderer's Bay Massacre Bay, again ascribing this to Cook, and again it seems there was no foundation for this change, which is, however, of little consequence.

The Frenchmen's observations were recorded in an official diary and later some were published in D'Urville's popular book, Voyage autor du Monde. Both of these reflect the obvious pleasure of the officers and crew in the small golden beaches of this coast and describe the peaceful blue waters which then, as now, mirrored the rocky headlands.

Of the rivers, D'Urville wrote, 'Like all the streams of the Oceanic Isles, their courses become confined and the slope steep. Enormous rocks encumber their beds, preventing the progress of the most determined traveller'. Tramping in heavy seaboots, he became lost, as many people have done since, in the puzzling manuka country above the coastal belt of forest. Once, when caught by the tide, he had to clamber over great rocks and a Veritable precipice' to return to his ship. 'After frightful exertions and horrible risks' he and his companions reached the beach where a waiting boat took them back to the corvette.

page 9

While the scientists worked, the expedition's artists made sketches of the scenery and portraits of the friendly Maoris who now replaced the savage warriors encountered by Tasman. Before many more years, they, too, were to be swept away by Te Rauparaha's invaders from the North Island.

The names D'Urville left here are linked with Adelie Land in the Antarctic and the Astrolabe mountains of New Guinea which were also named by him. The excellence of his charts was shown more than a decade later, when Captain Moore in the brigantine Jewess, storm-driven from Taranaki, was forced into Tasman Bay. He was able to cruise with confidence close in­shore, even finding time to admire the high ranges, rushing streams and golden beaches which had seemed so idyllic to the French explorers. Like D'Urville, also, he met nothing but kind­ness from the Maoris, who helped him to gather timber and to water his vessel.

This experience, and another brief visit the following spring, indirectly influenced the settlement of Nelson. When Governor Hobson and the New Zealand Company's representative, Captain Arthur Wakefield, disagreed as to the site of the new settlement, Captain Moore conducted the immigrant ships to Astrolabe Roadstead in the hope that it might prove suitable. On 9 October, 1841, the three ships, Will Watch, Whitby and Arrow, anchored at Astrolabe to begin the explorations that were to result in the discovery of Nelson Haven, and the choice of this site for the first planned settlement in the South Island.

Astrolabe must have provided a welcome spell ashore for the crowded passengers. A painting by Charles Heaphy, who became one of New Zealand's greatest surveyor-explorers, shows the pioneer settlers on one of the beaches with a sailing-pinnance lying off-shore. In the background the three expedition ships are shown at anchor near Adele Island.

This mountainous country proved unsuitable for settlement and after lighting a bonfire on Adele Island, to acknowledge the news of the discovery of a fine harbour further east, the three vessels sailed away to found the Nelson Colony.