The Long White Cloud
Chapter IV — The Navigators
A ship is waiting in the harbour now,
A wind is hovering o'er the mountain's brow.
There is a path on the sea's azure floor,
No keel hath ever ploughed that path before.
Nearly at the end of 1642, Tasman, a sea captain in the service of the Dutch East India Company, sighted the western ranges of the Southern Alps. He was four months out from Java, investigating the extent of New Holland, and in particular its possible continuation southward as a great Antarctic continent. He had just discovered Tasmania, and was destined, ere returning home, to light upon Fiji and the Friendly Islands. So true is it that the most striking discoveries are made by men who are searching for what they never find. In clear weather the coast of Westland is a grand spectacle, and even through the dry, matter-of-fact entries of Tasman's log we can see that it impressed him. He notes that the mountains seemed lifted aloft in the air. With his two ships, the small Heemskirk and tiny Zeehan, he began to coast cautiously northward, looking for an opening eastward, and noting the high, cloud-clapped, double range of mountains and the emptiness of the steep, desolate coast, where neither smoke nor men, ships nor boats, were to be seen. He could not guess that hidden in this wilderness was a wealth of coal and gold as valuable as the riches of Java. He seems to have regarded New Zealand simply as a lofty barrier across his path, to be passed at the first chance. Groping along, he actually turned into the wide opening which, narrowing further east into Cook's Strait, divides the North and South Islands. He anchored in Golden Bay; but luck was against him. First of all the natives of the bay paddled out to view his ships, and, page 76 falling on a boat's crew, clubbed four out of seven of the men. Tasman's account—which I take leave to doubt—makes the attack senselessly wanton and unprovoked.
He tells how a fleet of canoes, each carrying from thirteen to seventeen men, hung about his vessels, and how the strongly built, gruff-voiced natives, with yellowish-brown skins and with white feathers stuck in their clubbed hair, refused all offers of intercourse. Their attack on his boat as it was being pulled from the Zeehan to the Heemskirk was furious and sudden, and the crew seem to have been either unarmed or too panic-stricken to use their weapons. Both ships at once opened a hot fire on the canoes, but hit nobody. It was not until next day, when twenty-two canoes put out to attack them, that the Dutch marksmen, after much more firing, succeeded in hitting a native. On his fall the canoes retired. Satisfied with this, Tasman took no vengeance and sailed away further into the strait. Fierce north-westerly gales checked for days his northward progress. The strait, it may be mentioned, is still playfully termed “the windpipe of the Pacific.” One night Tasman held a council on board the Heemskirk, and suggested to the officers that the tide showed that an opening must exist to the east, for which they had better search. But he did not persevere. When next evening the north wind died away there came an easterly breeze, followed by a stiff southerly gale, which made him change his mind again. So are discoveries missed.
He ran on northward, merely catching glimpses, through scud and cloud, of the North Island. Finally, at what is now North Cape, he discerned to his joy a free passage to the east. He made one attempt to land, in search of water, on a little group of islands hard by, which, as it was Epiphany, he called Three Kings, after Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. But the surf was rough, and a throng of natives, striding along, shaking spears and shouting with hoarse voices, terrified his boat's crew. He gave up the attempt and sailed away, glad, no doubt, to leave this vague realm of storm and savages. It says something for his judgment that amid such surroundings he saw and noted in his log-book that the country was good. He had called it Staaten Land, on the wild guess that it extended to the island of that name off the coast of Terra del page 77 Fuego. Afterwards he altered the name to New Zealand. The secretive commercial policy of the Dutch authorities made them shroud Tasman's discoveries in mystery. It is said that his discoveries were engraved on the map of the world which in 1648 was cut on the stone floor of the Amsterdam Town Hall. The full text of his log has only been published in our times. His curt entries dealing with the appearance of the New Zealand coast and its natives seem usually truthful enough. The tribe which attacked his boat was afterwards nearly exterminated by invaders from the North Island. This would account for the almost entire absence among the Maori of tradition concerning his visit. It is noteworthy that he describes the natives of Golden—or, as he named it, Murderers'—Bay as having double-canoes. When the country was annexed, two hundred years afterwards, the New Zealanders had forgotten how to build them.
The Dutch made no use of their Australian discoveries. They were repelled by the heat, the drought, and the barrenness of the north-western coasts of New Holland. For a century and a quarter after Tasman's flying visit New Zealand remained virtually unknown. Then the veil was lifted once and for all. Captain James Cook, in the Endeavour, sighted New Zealand in 1769. He had the time to study the country, and the ability too. On his first voyage alone nearly six months were devoted to it. In five visits he surveyed the coast, described the aspect and products of the islands, and noted down a mass of invaluable details concerning the native tribes. Everyone may not be able to perceive the literary charm which certain eulogists have been privileged to find in Cook's admirable record of interesting facts; but he may well seem great enough as a discoverer and observer to be easily able to survive a worse style—say Hawkesworth's. He found New Zealand a line on the map, and left it an Archipelago, a feat which many generations of her colonists will value above the shaping of sentences. The feature of his experiences which most strikes the reader now is the extraordinary courage and pugnacity of the natives. They took the Endeavour for a gigantic white-winged sea-bird, and her pinnace for a young bird. They thought the sailors gods, and the discharge of their muskets divine thunderbolts. Yet, when Cook and a page 78 boat's crew landed, a defiant war-chief at once threatened the boat, and persisted until he was shot dead. Almost all Cook's attempts to trade and converse with the Maori ended in the same way—a scuffle and a musket-shot. Yet the savages were never cowed, and came again. They were shot for the smallest thefts. Once Cook fired on the crew of a canoe merely for refusing to stop and answer questions about their habits and customs, and killed four of them—an act of which he calmly notes that he himself could not, on reflection, approve. On the other hand, he insisted on discipline, and flogged his sailors for robbing native plantations. For that age he was singularly humane, and so prudent that he did not lose a man on his first and most troubled visit to New Zealand. During this voyage he killed ten Maori. Later intercourse was much more peaceful, though Captain Furneaux, of Cook's consort, the Adventure, less lucky, or less cautious, lost an entire boat's crew, killed and eaten.
Cook himself was always able to get wood and water for his ships, and to carry on his surveys with such accuracy and deliberation that they remained the standard authority on the outlines of the islands for some seventy years. He took possession of the country in the name of George the Third. Some of its coast-names still recall incidents of his patient voyaging. “Young Nick's Head” is the point which the boy Nicholas Young sighted on the 6th of October, 1769—the first bit of New Zealand seen by English eyes. At Cape Runaway the Maori, after threatening an attack, ran away from a discharge of firearms. At Cape Kidnappers they tried to carry off Cook's Tahitian boy in one of their canoes. A volley, which killed a Maori, made them let go their captive, who dived into the sea and swam back to the Endeavour half crazed with excitement at his narrow escape from a New Zealand oven. The odd name of the very fertile district of Poverty Bay reminds us that Cook failed to get there the supplies he obtained at the Bay of Plenty. At Goose Cove he turned five geese ashore; at Mercury Bay he did astronomical work. On the other hand, Capes North, South, East, and West, and Capes Brett, Saunders, Stephens, and Jackson, Rock's Point, and Black Head are neither quaint nor romantic names. Cascade Point and the Bay of Islands justify themselves, and Banks's Peninsula may page 79 be accepted for Sir Joseph's sake. But it could be wished that the great sailor had spared a certain charming haven from the name of Hicks's Bay, and had not rechristened the majestic cone of Taranaki as a compliment to the Earl of Egmont.
He gave the natives seed potatoes and the seeds of cabbages and turnips. The potatoes were cultivated with care and success. One tribe had sufficient self-control not to eat any for three years; then they had abundance. Gradually the potato superseded amongst them the taro and fern-root, and even to some extent the kumara. The cabbages and turnips were allowed to run wild, and in that state were still found flourishing fifty years afterwards. The Maori of Poverty Bay had a story that Cook gave to one of their chiefs a musket with a supply of powder and lead. The fate of the musket was that the first man to fire it was so frightened by the report and recoil that he flung it away into the sea. The powder the natives sowed in the ground, believing it to be cabbage seed. Of the lead they made an axe, and when the axe bent at the first blow they put it in the fire to harden it. When it then ran about like water they tried to guide it out of the fire with sticks. But it broke in pieces, and they gave up the attempt. With better results Cook turned fowls and pigs loose to furnish the islanders with flesh-meat. To this day the wild pigs which the settlers shoot and spear in the forests and mountain valleys are called after Captain Cook, and furnish many a solitary shepherd and farmer with a much more wholesome meal than they would get from “tame” pork. The Maori who boarded Cook's ships thought at first that pork was whale's flesh. They said that the salt meat nipped their throats, which need not surprise us when we remember what the salt junk of an eighteenth century man-of-war was like. They ate ship's biscuit greedily, though at first sight they took it for an uncanny kind of pumice-stone. But in those days they turned with loathing from wine and spirits—at least Crozet says so.
What Captain Cook thought of the Maori is a common-place of New Zealand literature. Every maker of books gives a version of his notes. What the Maori thought of Captain Cook is not so widely known. Yet it is just as interesting, and happily the picture of the great navigator as he appeared to the savages has been preserved for us. Among the page 80 tribe living at Mercury Bay when the Endeavour put in there was a boy—a little fellow of about eight years old, but possessing the name of Horeta Taniwha (Red-smeared Dragon)—no less. The child lived through all the changes and chances of Maori life and warfare to more than ninety years of age. In his extreme old age he would still tell of how he saw Kapene Kuku —Captain Cook. Once he told his story to Governor Wynyard, who had it promptly taken down. Another version is also printed in one of Mr. John White's volumes.1 The two do not differ in any important particular. How far the tale is of what he actually saw; how far it repeats what he picked up from others; how much is fact and how much fiction, Heaven knows! From his youth up he had, of course, proudly repeated the story. He may have improved it as time went on.
The people at Mercury Bay knew at once, says Taniwha, that the English were goblins, because a boat's crew pulled ashore, rowing with their backs to the land. Only goblins have eyes in the backs of their heads. When these creatures stepped on to the beach all the natives retreated and the children ran into the bush. But seeing that the wondrous beings walked peaceably about picking up stones and grasses and finally eating oysters, they said to each other, “Perhaps these goblins are not like our Maori goblins,” and, taking courage, offered them sweet potatoes, and even lit a fire and roasted cockles for them. When one of the strangers pointed a walking-staff he had in his hand at a cormorant sitting on dead tree, and there was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, followed by the cormorant's fall there was another stampede into the bush. But the goblins laughed so good-humouredly that the children took heart to return and look at the fallen bird. Yes, it was dead; but what had killed it? and still the wonder grew!
1 Ancient History of the Maori, vol. v, p. 188.
Then they saw the captain draw black marks on the quarter-deck and make a speech to the natives, pointing towards the coast. “The goblins want to know the shape of the country,” said a quick-witted old chief, and, rising up, he drew with charcoal a map of The Fish of Maui, from the Glittering Lake at the extreme south to Land's End in the far north. Then, seeing that the goblins did not understand that the Land's End was the spot from which the spirits of the dead slid down to the shades below, the old chief laid himself down stiffly on the deck and closed his eyes. But still the goblins did not comprehend; they only looked at each other and spoke in their hard, hissing speech. After this little Taniwha went on shore, bearing with him his precious nail. He kept it for years, using it in turns as a spear-head and an auger, or carrying it slung round his neck as a sacred charm.1 But one day, when out in a canoe, he was capsized in the breakers off a certain islet and, to use his own words, “my god was lost to me, though I dived for it.”
Taniwha describes how a thief was shot by Lieutenant Gore for stealing a piece of calico. The thief offered to sell a dog-skin cloak, but when the calico was handed down over the bulwarks into his canoe, which was alongside the Endeavour, he simply took it, gave nothing in return, and told his comrades to paddle to land.
They paddled away. The goblin went down into the hold of the ship, but soon came up with a walking-stick in his hand, and pointed it at the canoe. Thunder pealed and lightning flashed, but those in the canoe paddled on. Then they landed; eight rose to leave the canoe, but the thief sat still with his dog-skin mat and the goblin's garment under his feet. His companions called him, but he did not answer. One of them shook him, and the thief fell back into the hold of the canoe, and blood was seen on his clothing and a hole in his back.
What followed was a capital example of the Maori doctrine of utu, or compensation, the cause of so many wars and vendettas. The tribe decided that as the thief had stolen the calico, his death ought not to be avenged, but that as he had paid for it with his life he should keep it. So it was buried with him.
The French were but a few months behind the English in the discovery of New Zealand. The ship of their captain, De Surville, just missed meeting Cook at the Bay of Islands. There the French made a fortnight's stay, and were well treated by the chief, Kinui, who acted with particular kindness to certain sick sailors put on shore to recover. Unfortunately one of De Surville's boats was stolen, and in return he burnt the nearest village and a number of canoes, and kidnapped the innocent Kinui, who pined away on shipboard and died off the South American coast a few days before De Surville himself was drowned in the surf in trying to land at Callao.
For this rough-handed and unjust act certain of De Surville's countrymen were destined to pay dearly. Between two and three years afterwards, two French exploring vessels under the command of Marion du Fresne entered the Bay of Islands. They were in want of masts and spars, of wood and water, and had many men down with sickness. The expedition was on the look-out for that dream of so many geographers—the great south continent. Marion was a tried seaman, a man of wealth and education, and of an adventurous spirit. It is to Crozet, one of his officers, that we owe the story of his fate. Thanks probably to the Abbé Rochon, who edited Crozet's papers, the narrative is clear, pithy, and business-like, an agreeable contrast to the Hawkesworth-Cook-Banks motley, so much more familiar to most of us.
For nearly five weeks after Marion's ships anchored in the page 83 bay all went merry as a marriage bell, though the relations of of the French tars with the Maori wahiné were not in the strict sense matrimonial. The Maori, at first cautious, soon became the best of friends with the sailors, conveying shooting parties about the country, supplying the ships with fish, and showing themselves expert traders, keenly appreciative of the value of the smallest scrap of iron, to say nothing of tools. Through all their friendly intercourse, however, it was ominous that they breathed no word of Cook or De Surville. Moreover, a day came on which one of them stole Marion's sword. Crozet goes out of his way to describe how the kindly captain refused to put the thief in irons, though the man's own chief asked that it should be done. But it leaks out—from the statement of another officer—that the thief was put in irons. We may believe that he was flogged also.
Crozet marked the physical strength of the Maori, and was particularly struck with the lightness of the complexions of some, and the European cast of their features. One young man and a young girl were as white as the French themselves. Others were nearly black, with frizzled hair, and showed, he thought, Papuan blood. To the Frenchman's eye the women seemed coarse and clumsy beside the men. He was acute enough to notice that the whole population seemed to be found by the sea-shore; though he often looked from high hill-tops he saw no villages in the interior. Children seemed few in number, the cultivations small, and the whole race plainly lived in an incessant state of war. He admired the skilful construction of the stockades, the cleanliness of the pa, the orderly magazines of food and fishing gear, and the armouries where the weapons of stone and wood were ranged in precise order. He praises the canoes and carving—save the hideous attempts at copying the human form. In short, he gives one of the most valuable pictures of Maori life in its entirely primitive stage.
A camp on shore was established for the invalids and another for the party engaged in cutting down the tall kauri pines for masts. Crozet calls the kauri-trees cedars, and is full of praises of their size and quality. He was the officer in charge of the woodcutters. On the 13th June he saw marching towards his camp a detachment from the ship fully armed and page 84 with the sun flashing on their fixed bayonets. At once it occurred to him that something must be amiss—otherwise why fixed bayonets? Going forward, Crozet bade the detachment halt, and quietly asked what was the matter. The news was indeed grave. On the day before M. Marion with a party of officers and men, seventeen strong, had gone on shore and had not been seen since. No anxiety was felt about them until morning; the French had often spent the night at one or other of the pa. But in the morning a terrible thing had happened. A long-boat had been sent ashore at 7 a.m. for wood and water. Two hours later a solitary sailor with two spear-wounds in his side swam back to his ship. Though badly hurt he was able to tell his story. The Maori on the beach had welcomed the boat's crew as usual—even carrying them pick-a-back through the surf. No sooner were they ashore and separated than each was surrounded and speared or tomahawked. Eleven were thus killed and savagely hacked to pieces. The sole survivor had fought his way into the scrub and escaped unnoticed.
Crozet promptly dismantled his station, burying and burning all that could not be carried away, and marched his men to the boats. The natives met them on the way, yelling, dancing, and shouting that their chief had killed Marion. Arrived at the boats, Crozet says that he drew a line along the sand and called to a chief that any native who crossed it would be shot. The chief, he declares, quietly told the mob, who at once, to the number of a thousand, sat down on the ground and watched the French embark. No sooner had the boats pushed out than the natives in an access of fury began to hurl javelins and stones and rushed after them into the water. Pausing within easy range, the French opened fire with deadly effect and continued to kill till Crozet, wearying of the slaughter, told the oarsmen to pull on. He asks us to believe that the Maori did not understand the effect of musketry, and yet stood obstinately to be butchered, crying out and wondering over the bodies of their fallen.
The French next set to work to bring off their sick shipmates from their camp. Strange to say, they had not been attacked, though the natives had been prowling round them.
Thereafter a village on an islet close by the ship's anchorage page 85 was stormed with much slaughter of the inhabitants. Fifty were slain and the bodies buried with one hand sticking out of the ground to show that the French did not eat enemies. Next the ship's guns were tried on canoes in the bay. One was cut in two by a round shot and several of her paddle-men killed.
A day or two later the officers recovered sufficient confidence to send a party to attack the village where their captain had presumably been murdered. The Maori fled. But Marion's boat-cloak was seen on the shoulders of their chief, and in the huts were found more clothing—blood-stained—and fragments of human flesh.
The ships were hurriedly got ready for sea. The beautiful “cedar” masts were abandoned, and jury-masts set up instead. Wood and water were taken in, and the expedition sailed for Manila, turning its back upon the quest of the great southern continent. Meanwhile the Maori had taken refuge in the hills, whence the cries of their sentinels could be heard by day and their signal fires be descried by night.
Crozet moralizes on the malignant and unprovoked treachery of these savages. He pours out his contempt on the Parisian philosophes who idealized primitive man and natural virtue. For his part he would rather meet a lion or a tiger, for then he would know what to do! But there is another side to the story. The memory of the Wi-Wi,1 “the bloody tribe of Marion,” lingered long in the Bay of Islands. Fifty years after Captain Cruise was told by the Maori how Marion had been killed for burning their villages. Thirty years later still, Surgeon-Major Thomson heard natives relating round a fire how the French had broken into their tapu sanctuaries and put their chiefs in irons. And then there were the deeds of De Surville. Apart from certain odd features in Crozet's narrative, it may be remarked that he errs in making the Maori act quite causelessly. The Maori code was strange and fantastic, but a tribal vendetta always had a reason.