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New Zealand 1826-1827: From the French of Dumont D'Urville

III The Passage From Port Jackson to Tasman Bay and Visit to Astrolabe Bight†

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III The Passage From Port Jackson to Tasman Bay and Visit to Astrolabe Bight

1826, 19th December—The pilot came aboard at seven o'clock in the morning, we raised anchor immediately and the corvette was soon under sail. We hove to before the small island of Pinch Gut to take on the long boat, then we were set to sail out of the bay. At forty-five minutes past eight we were athwart the channel and the pilot left us. As I have said already, this pilot, whose name is Richard Siddins, is a good man, highly intelligent, and very obliging. He was the man who, on our last voyage, had already taken this same corvette, then called the Coquille, in and out: he was delighted to render her the same service under her new name of the Astrolabe. Siddins had had a great deal, of experience in navigation in the Pacific Ocean and in particular had made two or three voyages to the Fiji Islands to get supplies of sandalwood. I got some useful information from him about how to navigate in passing through that archipelago, which is very dangerous from every point of view; but he could not procure for me any plan or even a rough sketch which might make my course clearer in that labyrinth. Siddins assured me that no document of that kind existed, that he had had no help in his own voyages except from the men who had been there before, and further he declared that the Astrolabe was too big a ship to attempt such exploration with any chance of success.

Nevertheless, I left the coasts of New Holland and set my course towards those of New Zealand, full of the most buoyant hopes. At last the Astrolabe was about to embark on her real task, for the important results already achieved, and the considerable collections already gathered were, in our eyes, only the prelude to our vast enterprise. Indeed, if one recalls the instructions I had received, not one of the places in New Holland visited up to this moment, with the exception of Port Jackson, was mentioned therein. An immense vista opened before our eyes and offered us as the goal of our efforts the least known places, the most imperfectly mapped coasts in the whole of the Pacific Ocean. Such a prospect was indeed enough to excite our zeal and to keep our enthusiasm constantly at a high pitch. Every one page 61of the officers without exception, shared these lofty sentiments. The petty officers and mates understood them to some extent. Finally, won over no doubt by the very easy tasks they had to carry out, by the continual care lavished on them and especially by the good fortune which had favoured our earlier operations, even the members of the crew appeared to be attached to their ship and to shew a helpful attitude.

Under such happy auspices did we launch out on the ocean once again. Basing my opinion on what I had read of the various voyages of the navigators who had preceded me, and above all on the experience I had gained in the successful and easy enterprise carried through by the Coquille, I thought that, even allowing for a certain number of mishaps, we should find more satisfaction than disappointment, and that with a little perseverance it would be easy to surmount all the obstacles that fortune might place in our way. False hope! Vain illusion! It was decreed that fortune should be unrelenting in her hostile pursuit of us in every place, that she should persecute us in every way and that we should only reach the end of our task after having been subjected to the most cruel ordeals.

Outside the harbour, we found a very fresh south wind and a short steep swell, which caused us to ship some sea, for the now heavily loaded corvette had more difficulty than before in riding the wave.

The wind abated a lot during the evening and stayed at S.S.E. and S.E. and even E.S.E. throughout the next two days, with a high swell from the south, which reduced our speed very considerably.

21st December—We took advantage of the weather to get our guns in readiness, to repair and put into position the boarding nets, lastly to train our sailors once more in the use of firearms. The misfortunes that had overtaken nearly all the Europeans who had had dealings with the natives of New Zealand made these precautions necessary.

Yesterday at midday our observations had already shewn a set of twenty-four miles to the S.E. in the preceding twenty-four hours, and from yesterday to midday today it has not been less than sixty miles to S.S.E., an enormous amount and difficult to explain, having regard to the swell from the south and the winds from the same quarter which have prevailed since the day before we left; unless it be assumed that these currents are the after-effect of the violent north winds which had previously blown for so long. What is no less curious is that the action of such strong currents should have no page 62effect on the surface of the sea; not the least choppiness, not the slightest movement in the waves seems to accompany such a rapid displacement of the whole body of water. As a matter of fact, the effect on our route in carrying us to the S.E. reduced to some extent the immobility to which the calm or the contrary winds seemed to condemn our ship.

These winds remained constant until the 25th, scarcely allowing us to steer at all during this time, but accompanied by glorious weather and a delightful temperature. How I deplored the ill-fortune which forced me to waste such lovely days lying out at sea, when I might have been using the time with good results at anchor or sailing along the coast.

The drift had again been forty miles to E.S.E. from the 21st to the 22nd, twelve miles in the same direction the following day, then it varied in different directions. The waters of the Pacific Ocean, compressed as they are in this region into a sort of channel that separates New Zealand from New Holland, would appear to offer the naturalist a more lively field than those at great distances from any shore, yet the men aboard the Astrolabe found a very poor harvest.

Nothing broke the stillness of the air except a few brown petrels and some albatrosses appearing at rare intervals, while the calm of the ocean was only disturbed by the whales which rose to its surface occasionally.

The fine weather broke; in the evening rain fell and at night the wind freshened considerably to the S.E. It rose still more the next day veering to the S. At nightfall it turned into a real gale with violent gusts and a very heavy sky.

The storm lasted forty-eight hours without a break. Although we had reduced sail to the main-foretop-mizen-staysail and to the fore-staysail, the corvette strained the gear because, of a very rough, very heavy sea. These two days of navigation were gloomy and depressing beyond any words I can find. At such moments, physical powers are enfeebled by the continuous violent blows that assail them, and a man's moral strength is undermined; even his imagination, deadened as it is by the gloomy scenes which surround him, no longer affords him the consolation on which he can usually count. These trials, essentially inherent in the nature of navigation and of such frequent occurrence especially in the Southern Seas, will always make sea voyages much more arduous, much more disheartening, than the longest journeys by land.

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The three following clays, although the fury of the wind had abated a little, the weather was still very bad. There were frequent squalls and the sea was still rough. Instead of making any progress we continually fell to leeward; and at noon on the thirtieth the reading of the latitude showed us that we were still thirty miles further to the North than we had thought; that is to say that since the twenty-sixth we had really drifted more than one hundred miles to the North of our course.

So it was that with heavy hearts we saw the end of the year 1826 draw near, and in these regions, in the month of December, which corresponds to June at home, we had weather comparable to the very worst that winter brings us in our own land.

1827, 1st January—The year 1827 seemed to promise some amelioration in our condition. From the first of January the wind lessened, and we could venture a little more sail than it had been possible to use for a long time. On the second it was fine and the zoologists gathered a few live carinaria [small molluscs] whose shells showed eight to ten longitudinal lines.

At about two hours after midday, in perfect calm, the thermometrograph No. 7 was let down six hundred fathoms absolutely perpendicularly by means of a lead weighing twenty-seven kilograms. It did not touch bottom. The temperature, which was 18.6°C. in the air and 19.4°C. at the surface of the sea, dropped to 5.6°C. at this depth. Already in the time it took to raise the cylinder on deck, the mercury had risen between five and six degrees, which shows once again how unsatisfactory experiments have been when made simply with water drawn up from great depths.

4th January—The very next day, in order to get comparative data, at seven-thirty in the morning, in lovely calm weather, the thermometrograph, attached to a lead weighing fifteen kilograms, was dropped three hundred and fifty fathoms. This time the mercury, which had registered 17.4°C. in the air, and 19°C. at the surface of the water, only went down to 7.9°C. at that distance below the level of the sea. The experiment proves conclusively what all the earlier ones had already indicated, viz,, that the loss in heat in the submarine strata does not follow a simple ratio, but rather tends to drop rapidly towards a limit of 4 to 5 degrees; which means that beyond four hundred or five hundred fathoms there are only very slight variations in the loss of heat.

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The Astrolabe in The French Pass

The Astrolabe in The French Pass

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Village, Astrolabe Bight

Village, Astrolabe Bight

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Although the weather had become tolerable, the wind which remained obstinately at S. and S.E., in combination with the calm and the swell, forced us to remain, as it were, in the same place. During the seventeen days since we had left Port Jackson, we had scarcely advanced one hundred and thirty leagues in a direct line, yet in normal circumstances it would not have taken more than ten days at the most to carry through the whole journey that we had to make. This delay, as surprising as it was unforeseen, forced me to modify the plan of exploration that I had conceived for New Zealand. My instructions only laid down that I was to pass through Cook's Strait and to survey a few portions of the N.E. coast of the Northern Island. Nevertheless, feeling certain that Cook's work had of necessity been very incomplete, and being anxious to present what would be a very interesting contribution to geography, I had conceived the idea of approaching New Zealand by Chalky Bay and, after making a short stay there, going all along the whole of the West Coast of Tavai-Pounamou [South Island] passing through Cook's Strait and surveying the whole East Coast of Ika-Na-Mawi [North Island] including North Cape. But the fifteen days we had just spent so uselessly in struggling against calms, winds, currents, and tempests, meant so much time lost from what I had counted on giving to this part of my enterprise. Consequently, although it cost me dear, I gave up all thought of a halt at Chalky Bay and had to resign myself to landing at some point in New Zealand nearer to the Strait.

At last on the fourth, at noon, the wind blew from the N.W. and freshened little by little from that quarter; we were able to steer S.E. For the rest, the weather showed not the slightest improvement and two days later we had to face another very violent gale which blew from the N.W. and lasted at least fifty-three hours, changing to W., S.W., and S., and finally returning to S.W. with tremendous seas, a leaden sky and torrents of rain. It is worth noting that the barometer, which had remained steady during the very strong S. winds that we had had recently, dropped in an alarming manner with those from the N.W. From noon on the sixth until the same time on the ninth, the mercury remained below 27P 7L, and on the seventh between four o'clock and six-thirty in the evening, it was stationary between 27P 0L and 27P 2L

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3rd January—This frightful weather decided me on the evening of the eighth to bear away E.N.E. in order to approach the coast more rapidly. We were already in about 43° S. Lat., and no doubt with a little more persistence, it would have been possible to reach the southern regions of New Zealand. But I felt that I must not lose sight of the other objects of my mission and there was none too much time.

10th January—The weather was still far from good, there were frequent squalls and a heavy swell persisted from the S.W., when flocks of petrels, some black, some white, and even more the appearance of a few terns told us that we were nearing land. In fact at seven o'clock I saw it distinctly to E.S.E. and to S.E. From where we then were, at a distance of not less than thirty to forty miles, it appeared in the S.E. in the form of a lofty island crowned with jagged peaks. As we approached, it spread out more and more, but its summit was still jagged, like a saw with sharp teeth tilted towards the North in an absolutely regular and most curious manner. And it still appeared to be cut off from the land to the left, in a way that suggested that the space between might form the entrance to a harbour.

We steered straight for this part of the coast and by noon we were not more than four leagues away. It was easy to persuade ourselves that there was no break in the coastline and that our earlier impression was only due to the fact that it dropped to an appreciably lower level in the area where we suspected a submergence. Geographical work was begun at once and to M. Gressien was given the task of surveying the whole extent of New Zealand between Cape Farewell and the land sighted at the most southerly point, at 42° 28' S. The sounding showed one hundred fathoms, a sea bottom of fine sand and mud; the temperature, 16.2°C. in the air, 17.2°C. at the surface, was only 13.2°C. at this depth.

Each of us, looking on these wild shores, these frowning mountains lashed by the stormy winds of the Antarctic Ocean, rejoiced that at last, after so many ordeals, he had gained his heart's desire, and reached a spot worthy of his investigation. Proud to follow in the steps of the Tasmans, the Cooks, and the Marions, we aspired to add to the sum of knowledge by new records of these almost unknown regions, to study in greater detail the various page 66natural kingdoms, and above all, to observe more systematically the curious habits, the extraordinary customs that tend to impart so distinctive a character to the members of the human race found here.

As soon as the observations made at midday were completed, we steered a course N.E. and N.N.E. with an uncertain wind and overcast sky, in order to sail along the coast at a distance of five to six miles. The thick mists, which enveloped the summits of the mountains, prevented us most of the time from distinguishing their shapes at all clearly. We only saw that the seashore is very level everywhere and that the coast rises suddenly in steep, inaccessible bluffs covered with trees, behind which rise mountains of a considerable height, several breaking up into sharp peaks at the summit. To one of them, very striking because of five sectors rather like the five fingers of an open hand, we gave the name Les Cinq Doigts du milieu (The Five Fingers of the Middle Region), with obvious reference to Cook's Five Fingers near Dusky Bay.

At half-past three and at five o'clock in the evening we found fifty and forty fathoms, fine sand and mud, at less than four miles from the coast. At ten minutes past five, the wind having quite fallen, we were left at the mercy of a tremendous swell from the S.W. and opposite a frightful shore on which the sea was breaking with unexampled fury. I was already beginning to ponder seriously on our situation, when at seven o'clock a fresh wind from the N.W. made it possible to hug the wind to starboard and so draw a little further from the coast.

Just where we tacked out to sea, the coastal mountains appeared broken by a broad deep gully that must be the bed of a river or at any rate a great torrent. Three or four miles from this cut and not more than three miles from the shore, rises the peak called The Five Fingers, while fifteen miles away in a N.N.E. direction we saw a low headland that ran out some distance into the sea.

All night the wind blew from the N.W. with heavy squalls, wet weather and a leaden sky of most sinister aspect. In addition, the swell from the S.W., that we met absolutely head-on, caused the ship to pitch very violently. Our position, which was already very critical on that iron coast, became still more alarming about four o'clock in the morning. At that hour the whole sky was like lead, rain fell in absolute torrents and the wind blew furiously with terrific squalls from the N.W. to W.N.W. We were forced page 67to take in the storm-mizen-staysail and the fore-topsail, and while keeping as close as we could, it was impossible not to go to leeward. For a few hours I felt the keenest anxiety, for if the wind had veered to W.S.W. and S.W., and kept the same force for as long a time as it had a few days before, the corvette would have been doomed. Forced by the storm to run nearer and nearer towards the shore, in the end she would have been hurled on it and smashed to pieces.

11th January—But to my great satisfaction, towards half past seven the fury of the storm abated; at ten o'clock, the wind having become manageable and having gone round to the west, we put the ship about and crowded her with sail, heading N. by E. and N.N.E. At half past twelve we saw once again the serrated heights nearly forty miles away, which showed us that in spite of the wind and the sea we had clawed off the land to a considerable extent during the night. At half past four we were on a parallel and twelve miles from the gully sighted the previous evening. At seven o'clock in the evening Cape Foul Wind was still N.E. by N. twelve or thirteen miles away, a low tongue of land running out a long way to the West and ending in a flat-topped hillock: on this side of the Cape the level of the shore descends considerably, although the range of mountains behind remains as imposing as ever.

We continued to make from six to eight miles till a quarter past eleven when we tacked to starboard, having found sixty-five fathoms, muddy sand, and being only four or five miles from Cape Foul Wind. The sky, which had been fairly clear until this moment, then clouded over, and rain was almost continuous from midnight to daybreak with a feeble wind from N.N.W.

12th January—At four o'clock Cape Foul Wind reappeared about eight miles E.N.E. and the course was set to pass it at four to five miles. When we were near it, we realized that the Cape runs two or three leagues out to sea and is formed of flat land covered with magnificent forest. About a mile and a half to the north of its extremity there are three separate rocks, quite bare, between sixty and eighty feet high. We called them Les Trois Clochers [The Three Towers] because of their appearance, seen from some distance away. As soon as we were abreast of them, at twenty-two minutes past nine in the morning, and less than a league away, the corvette ploughed through very muddy water, strewn with tree trunks, leaves and vegetable debris. This page 68lasted until four o'clock in the evening, for a distance of about eighteen miles, without our being able to see how far these discoloured waters extended out to sea. As to what causes this condition, there is every reason to think that it is due to the presence of a river or a powerful torrent that may be assumed to find its outlet on the North side of the valley which forms Cape Foul Wind. We even thought that we saw a break at 41° 46' S. which could quite well be the mouth of this river, and thence would have come all this vegetable débris and this muddy water brought down by the torrent after the recent rains.

Throughout this time, the lead line recorded successively eighty, fifty-three, thirty-five, and even thirty fathoms, mud and hard sand. No doubt, on all this part of the coast, boats could anchor in shelter, so long as the winds blew from the East. But to do so with a measure of security, one would need to have acquired local information as to the course of the winds and the signs that indicate their duration and changes. Until that was done, it would be most imprudent to risk such an anchorage, for all the experience that I have gained in three months spent on these stormy coasts has taught me only too well how little one can rely on what appears to be the finest weather and the most favourable wind.

Further, it would seem probable that if human beings have found a means of penetrating as far as this inhospitable coast, they must have settled in the neighbourhood of Cape Foul Wind, where the telescope revealed some attractive sites and fine grassland suitable for cultivation. Yet, try as we would, we could not discover any huts or trace of inhabitants or even any sign of fires.

Beyond this headland, the coast rises suddenly in steep bluffs sheer from the water's edge, and seems not to have the least strip of foreshore where a man could find foothold. Shortly before nightfall, however, we passed along a stretch where the land seemed to have dropped and to be covered with tall trees: but heavy mists which enveloped it quite early hid the details from us.

The soundings gave twenty-nine fathoms at five forty-five, and forty fathoms at seven thirty-five. The tallow, with a little mud on the edges but dry in the middle, and deeply slashed, indicated a slight layer of mud on a rocky bottom. This conjecture was further confirmed by what had happened page 69frequently in the naturalists' drag-net; when thrown several times into the sea with every possible precaution it had yielded nothing whatsoever.

At night the wind fell and squalls came up. In one light squall that was sudden and strong at a quarter past eleven, the wind jumped to the N.E., then came back immediately to N.W., where it then remained very uncertain and irregular. We spent the night on short tacks.

13th January—This was another day not at all favourable to our operations; the sky clouded up in every direction, sudden squalls, many pretty violent from the W.N.W. to N.W., followed one another without a pause from four o'clock to eleven o'clock in the morning, with heavy rain and a very rough sea.

However, we crowded her with sail in order to round the headland of the Rocks, which is a great promontory showing a lot of weathering, with a few rocks round its base but all quite close to the shore. A few miles south of this spot, the coast is very high and steep, covered with trees, and without any sign of haven, cove, or inhabitants. At the very end of the Rocks, a white streak, which stood out against the dark colour of the earth, marked the presence of a waterfall whose waters rushed down in a vertical line to meet those of the ocean.

We had already left it a few miles behind, when, at the observations taken at half past three in the afternoon, the sounding showed sixty fathoms, coarse sand, a league and a half from land. After that, driven by a good westerly wind, we ran quickly along the shore which becomes more and more attractive in appearance as it approaches the strait. The mountains withdraw towards the hinterland and the gentler slope of the foreshore appears; here and there we could make out fine beaches and pretty little woods, but saw no trace of any inhabitants.

The sea itself becomes much calmer and its muddy colour indicates that there is not much depth of water anywhere.

About six o'clock we thought we caught a glimpse of a large inlet in the coast, that should serve as a good anchorage, and I cherished the hope that I should be able to run in there the next day to investigate this part of New Zealand. I therefore hugged the coast very closely in order to examine this inlet further. We were scarcely two miles away when we passed it; just then M. Gressien went up on to the cross-trees to get a better view. He saw clearly that in fact it was a very spacious basin; but, unfortunately, the page 70only entrance from the sea was by a narrow channel absolutely blocked by a reef. So I was forced to abandon my hopes as to this spot and we left it the name of Havre-Barré [Blocked Haven].

By seven o'clock we had reached the latitude of Cape Farewell and were three or four miles away. This is land of no great height, with a steep slope towards the shore, and there our chronometers gave us entirely different readings from Cook's positions. We found seventy fathoms, sand and mud.

The weather seemed really to have improved; the night was calm and we spent it on short tacks, with a pleasant wind from the west.

14th January—At three o'clock in the morning, I steered in the direction in which I assumed that we should find Cape Farewell, but at daybreak I realized that during the night the set of the current had carried us in a surprising manner to E.N.E., and we were already a fair distance inside the strait. With all haste I stood in for land and soon, blessed with lovely weather and a pleasant westerly wind, our corvette glided smoothly into the calmest of waters, less than a mile from shore. The soundings gave fairly steadily eight, ten, and twelve fathoms. It was easy for us to see, especially from the cross-trees, that the land along which we were sailing was only a very narrow tongue with little rounded sand hills and a few sparse clumps of bushes. Beyond stretched a vast basin hemmed in on every side by high mountains, some of which farther back towards the interior were covered with snow.

This beach stretches between twelve and fifteen miles almost due East and West and is narrow and very flat at the end. I was just preparing to steer to the South, in order to hug it closely and enter Tasman Bay, when we became aware of a reef running out from the end of the Cape for more than five miles out to sea. Almost at the same moment, the wind veered to the South and finally dropped to an absolute calm. No doubt, as the tide had also turned, the direction of the current was diametrically changed, and in the space of two hours, we had drifted three or four miles to the West. Our proximity to the coast and the impossibility of steering the ship began to cause me anxiety; I was already preparing to anchor close to the shore, when, at half past eleven, the wind rose from the north, and so made it possible for us to stand to our course by crowding her with sail. After rounding this reef at the entrance at a distance of less than a mile, we drove to the page 71South into the bight, which Cook, on his second voyage, had designated by the name of Tasman Bay.

The visits of that famous navigator had furnished fairly extensive information about Admiralty Bay and Queen Charlotte Bay. So I thought that we should render greater service to geography by taking the corvette to anchor in Tasman Bay, which so far had not been made known by any expedition.

Since morning, M. Guilbert had followed M. Gressien in carrying out the hydrographic work and he was made responsible for all the part relating to Cook Strait. We wish to point out here that the task of the geographer was most exacting and difficult.

From daybreak until it was quite dark, he stayed tied to the compass in order not to miss the slightest detail that might be useful for his work and to add to the data that was required to ensure the greatest accuracy. He scarcely left his post to eat a hasty meal and nothing but violent squalls could force him to abandon it even for a moment or two. Then when he had finished the section of the coast which had been assigned to him, while waiting for his turn to come round again, he had to devote every moment that his duties left him to making the map of the area, work which, although less tiring, was just as delicate and exacting.

Advancing towards the South, we saw that the vast bay between the headland of Cape Farewell on the one side, and Cape Stephens on the other, which on his first voyage Cook called Blind Bay, is divided into two very distinct basins by a remarkable promontory that I have called Pointe de Separation [Separation Point]. The basin on the West, that Cook called Massacre Bay, is only rather vaguely indicated on our map, because at the distance at which we passed, we could scarcely do more than note its general character.

On the other hand, the southern basin, for which I have retained the name Tasman Bay, given to it by Cook on his second voyage, became more particularly the object of our attention and henceforth it is only with this one that I shall deal.

We continued on our course to the South, when at four o'clock the wind suddenly jumped to S.S.E. with every indication of bad weather; but it came to nothing more than a few squalls. However, being disinclined to beat about in a contrary wind, I took advantage of a good soft mud bottom to page 72drop anchor at twenty-six fathoms, so as to spend the night there. It was fine all night, and after the calm which lasted till one o'clock in the morning, a little southerly wind sprang up, growing gradually stronger, and blowing with considerable force when day broke.

15th January—A majestic scene surrounded us as we lay at anchor. On both sides a steep coast stretched to the head of the bay, and on the West, the side nearer to us, we saw the loveliest verdure and pleasant forests. At the head of the bay there seemed to be a stretch of lower land, not at all clearly seen however, from which in the distance rose a chain of mountains white with perpetual snow.

As with the wind it was scarcely possible to advance towards the head of the bay and as I was glad to procure for M. Guilbert the means of spending a little time on Separation Point, from which we were only two leagues distant, at six o'clock I sent this officer in the whaleboat with Messrs. Quoy, Gaimard, and Dudemaine. The land breeze lasted till ten o'clock when an interval of calm followed, and at half past eleven the sea breeze came up. Being eager to take advantage of it, I fired a gun to recall the boat. Quite soon we saw her putting off from the headland; then we got under sail ourselves and the Astrolabe scudded gently along the coast to give the boat time to overtake us. At three o'clock she was back on board.

M. Guilbert had had a lot of difficulty in climbing a bluff to set up his apparatus and he had made the most of every minute at his disposal. The sailors, prowling about, had discovered some abandoned huts from which they had carried off various objects used by the natives. I spoke very seriously to them about this and threatened to punish very severely any who in future might dare to take such liberties. One can scarcely doubt that most of the regrettable quarrels which have occurred between the Savages and the Europeans owe their origin to causes of this kind. As it was impossible to send these articles back on shore, I had them put with all the things that are to form the King's collection.

We sailed along a good part of the east coast, keeping two miles from the shore, with a depth that decreased steadily from twenty-five to twenty, then to fifteen and ten fathoms, mud all the time. After we had passed two islets, situated close to land, the coastline dropped, leaving a wide foreshore of lower land, on which we could make out a few huts, and a fire with some groups of natives moving about in the vicinity. A league and a half to page 73the south of the village there rose a mass of enormous trees, with the upward thrust and dark green foliage characteristic of the cypress, and which, I conjectured, must belong to the genus Podocarpus. From this point the valley widened in a remarkable way, and M. Dudemaine, keeping a look-out in the cross-trees, saw distinctly a narrow channel that ran up into the land not more than a mile from the forest. I should have been delighted to use it as a safe anchorage for the corvette, but already the soundings showed no more than seven fathoms. Consequently I hove-to and sent M. Lottin to take soundings in that direction; less than a mile from the corvette he found only four fathoms and a half. Then I signalled to him to come back on board, and I continued to hug the coast, making a course to the S.E. towards a white headland that was not very lofty but absolutely perpendicular.

I had no doubt that the channel, which from the cross-trees could be seen some way off winding about in the plain, indicated the course of a fairly large river, that was doubtless fed by the snows of the mountain tops of the hinterland.

Night was coming on, and I wanted to find a bottom suitable for anchorage, especially as the depth was now only six or seven fathoms and the bottom had changed to rock instead of mud, which would have given us little security for the night. I therefore hugged the wind on the larboard side and at ten minutes past eight, in complete darkness, having touched twenty-seven feet, mud and gravel, I dropped the starboard anchor playing out twenty fathoms of cable. Shortly afterwards the wind dropped and it was a beautiful night. The darkness prevented us from getting any glimpse of the head of the bay although we had made nearly twenty-eight miles since last taking our position. Thus this bay, which is indicated on Cook's map as a slight indentation only a few miles in breadth and depth, proved to be of enormous extent. This unexpected discovery was a source of the liveliest satisfaction to us all and we congratulated ourselves on being the first to give more exact information about these still unknown regions.

16th January—Looking round from the corvette as soon as daylight made it possible to distinguish things, I was surprised to see that we had actually reached the head of the bay, which is bounded all along the southern side by low-lying land, often quite bare and apparently marshy. We found no bottom some distance from the coast and nowhere was there any sign of a safe, convenient anchorage for the Astrolabe. Consequently, as soon as page 74observations were complete, anchor was weighed, and we ran to the East till we were three miles and a half from the opposite shore; this soon rises to form lofty bluffs which are very steep and to some extent wooded. Two canoes, that had set out from the head of the bay, had made their way toward us and as there was very little wind, they were not long in overtaking us. I hove-to and shouted to them in their own language to come on board; the natives waited for a long time, still holding their paddles, looking as if they did not trust us. Now and then one of them would make a short speech, to which I made the same reply every time: "Aire mai Ki te pahi, e oa ana matou" (Come on board ship, we are friends.) At last, tired of seeing that my efforts were useless, I filled the sails; then they decided to come alongside; soon they even climbed on board without misgivings. One of the canoes carried ten natives, the other nine; half of these people seemed to be of high rank, judging by their tattooing, their fine figures, and the distinguished appearance of their faces; the others, without any tattooing, and with common unimpressive features, slaves, no doubt, or belonging to the lower classes, might easily have been taken for men of another race, so different did they appear at first sight from the chiefs.

These savages seemed to know about firearms, but very little about iron or instruments made from this metal, for they did not value anything but materials. They had not brought weapons of any kind with them and their cloaks were all made of reed or the coarse straw of New Zealand flax (Phormiurn tenax) except one, which was of fine silky material, and this its owner bartered for a wretched worn shirt made of blue cotton, after refusing to give it in exchange for some excellent axes and even a sword.

After one or two attempts, I soon realized that the language of these islanders was essentially the same as that of the natives of the Bay of Islands, with a few differences which arose from their pronunciation rather than from the real nature of the words. Thus I was able to make myself understood reasonably well by means of the words that I had learned from the vocabulary compiled by the missionaries. The calm spell allowed them to spend about four hours with us, and throughout that time they conducted themselves with the greatest honesty and with a restraint that was admirable in such warlike people, whom nature has so richly endowed with physical strength.

At eleven o'clock the wind began to rise a little in the N.N.E. and the page 75natives were quite two leagues from their village, which they pointed out to us pleasantly situated on the shore and which they called Skoi-Tehai. They explained to us that they were going to leave us, but that they would come back to see us at our anchorage the next day with their wives. Accordingly, they went off in their canoes, but four chiefs asked to remain on board, and I consented with the greatest pleasure, delighted by this astonishing proof of their courage and of the absolute confidence which we had inspired in them.

My one thought now was to move towards the anchorage that I hoped to find on the eastern shore, between the mainland and the two little islands near which we had passed the previous evening. The wind had grown fresher N.N.E.; I had to make tacks, with a uniform bottom of ten to fifteen fathoms, mud. At a quarter past five in the evening, when we were a mile from Adela Island, I sent M. Lottin on ahead to find out about the course. At six o'clock, I doubled the N.E. point of the island at a distance of less than half a cable in five fathoms, mud, and a few moments later I dropped anchor in the middle of the cove that afterwards received the name of our ship. This time our two chains served to moor the ship across the harbour, and the result was most satisfactory. The ease with which the chains could be handled and the little space they required on board had made them very useful already, and it will soon be seen that they became of the greatest value to us.

How we delighted once again in the calm and rest, after the torments we had endured in the New Zealand channel, and the anxieties inseparable from the ticklish navigation of the last eight days off very dangerous and often unknown shores! The basin in which our corvette rode at anchor was sheltered on every side and offered the most picturesque landscape as well as the promise of all sorts of discoveries to our eager eyes. Gently undulating country, but hilly for the most part, cool dark forests, then more open stretches covered with nothing but tall bracken, lovely sandy beaches, in turn attracted our attention and we groaned because we were forced to wait till the next day to satisfy our burning curiosity.

On their part, our guests continued to be well pleased with us and gave no sign of regret or fear as to our intentions towards them. Yet their whole behaviour led us to think that they had never had any direct dealings with Europeans, but had only vague notions passed on by neighbours, or perhaps by warriors of their tribe who had met some on their travels. They told us page 76repeatedly that their canoes would return the next day with some women, as if that ought to be of special interest to us. They also explained to us that a neighbouring tribe, armed with guns, often came from the N.W. to pillage and destroy them, and that they were intensely afraid of them: they often asked if we were not going to kill and eat these people, showing clearly how pleased they would be if we did so. They grow potatoes, but have no pigs, which they only know as a name, Pouaka. I ordered a sail to be given to them to serve as a bed; they wrapped themselves in it and slept extremely well in the long boat.

Early the next day everyone set to work at once. Messrs. Jacquinot and Lottin went off to set up their observation post on a little sandy beach near which were a few deserted huts; Messrs. Guilbert and Dudemaine began the plan of Astrolabe Bight and a party was sent off to get wood.

At about eight o'clock in the morning, three canoes arrived alongside carrying about forty persons. Two of these canoes were the ones we had seen the day before, the third held people new to us. This time the savages did not bring more than three women, who remained hidden under their mats as long as the canoes were near the ship, and once on land, rushed away into the bracken when anyone tried to approach them.

The islanders stayed quite a long time alongside the ship, exchanging cloaks, native flax and other articles for trifles from Europe. For the most part they displayed much gentleness and even good faith in their bargaining and one could find nothing but praise for their behaviour. When they had finished, they went as far as the beach of our observation post, drew their canoes on shore, and settled down in the huts nearby. It pleased me very much to see them settle down near us; nothing could demonstrate more clearly their confidence and the sincerity of their intentions. Further, stationed in this way actually within range of our guns, the slightest attack on their part would have been met by prompt and severe punishment.

Having satisfied myself as to the peaceful disposition of the natives, and also having made every preparation, if they should show any other attitude, to subdue them immediately, at half past nine I went down to the beach which on our map bears the name Aiguade [Fresh Water] accompanied by M. Lesson, and taking Simonet, one of the hands. In truth one of the first things I noted with great pleasure was a charming stream of very clear water, that wound its way through the sand and flowed into the sea, and from which page 77our longboat, at high tide, would be able to obtain our water supply with the greatest ease.

The land all round was very rough, hilly, and difficult to penetrate. At first sight, I was struck by the prominence in the vegetation here, in a region already so far removed from the equator, of bracken and ferns of every kind, identical with those found in the tropics, or at any rate absolutely similar. Tree ferns of every type and size flourished in the damp gullies, while entire hillsides were covered by the species whose root supplied the inhabitants of the regions with one of their foodstuffs. The Phanerogams [flowering plants] show very little variety when compared with the ferns: as it was late in the season, few bore any flowers or fruit. This was particularly true of the trees, several of which were very striking because of their elegant shape as well as the beauty and hardness of their wood. Among the parasitic plants, I noticed some fine Epidendrum [Earina] or Dendrobium [orchids] but not a single stalk of Phormium [New Zealand flax] could I find. The scene is not enlivened by any type of coleoptera, except a tiger beetle, or by any diurnal butterflies. There are, however, a good many birds; I shot seven or eight different species, and I saw several others that I could not get. It is worth noting that they are all very shy, except a flycatcher [fantail] which is extraordinarily bold.

As soon as you come to a standstill in any part of a wood, you are sure to see at least one or two flycatchers round you. They gaze at you in silence and, it would seem, with curiosity; if you yourself remain perfectly still, they carry their confidence so far as to come and perch on your stick or on the barrel of your gun. The lovely white-shirt-blackbird [tui] (Forster's Certhia Circinnata) is common in these woods. A rat was the only quadruped that I saw.

The sky clouded over at about four o'clock in the afternoon; very soon rain began to fall and continued till midnight. At daybreak it did not clear, however, but began to rain again and this continued till noon.

18th January—Another canoe arrived and the men who manned it joined the others. They came on board now and then and went on with their barter in their usual orderly fashion, returning to their huts on shore when they had finished or found the rain troublesome.

Although it was still raining rather heavily, on the stroke of half past seven in the morning I got a boat to take me to a beach immediately to the page 78south of the one where we have our observation post, and taking no one with me except Simonet, I walked towards the interior. After following for some little time a fairly big stream, flowing at the bottom of a gorge full of tall woody ferns and splendid trees, I climbed with some difficulty to the top of the bluffs that overlooked the coast. As soon as one reaches three hundred or three hundred and fifty feet above sea level, the soil is very dry and almost completely covered with edible fern, the branching twigs of which intertwine and form closely tangled thickets; these are often five or six feet high and almost impenetrable.

A few Leptospermum [manuka] and two or three other kinds of shrubs may be seen here and there in these parts. No birds, no insects, no reptiles even; this complete absence of any living creature and the unbroken silence create a solemn, almost sinister atmosphere. Going through these gloomy solitary places, one felt as if one were transported to that point in time when nature, having produced the members of the vegetable kingdom, still waited for the decree of the Eternal to bring forth living creatures. To complete the illusion, one cannot find even the slightest trace of human beings on these heights; no doubt the natives have little temptation to leave their fertile coasts to wander in these gloomy sterile deserts.

In spite of the bad weather and the fatigue that I felt from walking in such difficult country, on reaching the top of a high hill to the S.W. of our anchorage, I was richly rewarded for my trouble by the view of the whole of Tasman Bay and by the discovery of a second basin lying at my feet. This seemed to me to offer an anchorage no less safe than Astrolabe Bight, from which it is only separated by an isthmus not more than three-quarters of a mile wide. Three lovely torrents flow into it, a pretty foreshore of level ground runs round one part of its extent, and in the south a roadstead, completely closed to the outer swell, promises a most peaceful and convenient harbour for small ships. Lastly, an immense forest of tall trees, several of which would undoubtedly be suitable for construction purposes, fills the head of the gorges from which the torrents issue. Without the slightest hesitation I decided to investigate it myself and to have this lovely basin surveyed in order to ascertain whether, in fact, it possessed the advantages which it appeared to offer.

As I gazed down at all the features of Tasman Bay, noting them one after the other, I was able to conclude, from the dominating point on which I had page 79taken up my position, that it does not offer any inlet or any cove that could afford shelter to ships. I recognized the majestic mass of Podocarpus, near the village to the west, called Mai-Tehai by the natives; a little farther on, the gully discovered by M. Dudemaine could be seen clearly, to some distance inland, as the bed of a river, while at the same time its muddy waters imparted their colour to the bay for more than four or five miles out to sea. To the S.E. an island (Pepin Island) situated close inshore, suggested the existence of a channel forming a possible shelter between it and the coast. Farther to the north, at a point in the bay directly opposite the one where I was, a deep inlet made me suspect at once a connection between Tasman Bay and Admiralty Bay. Lastly, to the N.E. the land was formed of jagged mountains ending in the headland that Cook called Cape Stephens.

After wandering for nearly eight hours on these wild hills and going right round the crest of the mountain, I came down to the shore again through the woods overlooking the Aiguade [Fresh Water] beach, and I was back on board again at about four o'clock in the afternoon, bringing with me several new kinds of plants and birds. Among these were two specimens of the brown New Zealand parrot (Psittacus nestor) a curious bird, rare even in its native land.

The longboat made three consecutive journeys to the fresh water supply in the bay, and it was possible to carry out work of this kind so quickly that the store of water we needed was replenished without delay. It turned wet again in the evening; at night it cleared up, and the next day was fairly fine.

19th January—At eight o'clock sharp I set off in the whaleboat to visit the bay I have already mentioned, and which I shall refer to henceforth under the name of the Anse des Torrents [Bay of Torrents]. I hugged the coast to the north of our anchorage, having a depth of five to eight fathoms all the time at less than a ship's length from the coastal rocks themselves. The only thing is that a careful watch must be kept for an isolated reef, two cables at the most from the N.E. point of the entrance, which M. Guilbert found covered by scarcely ten feet of water at high tide. In reality it is merely a rocky plateau sixty to seventy feet in diameter and between this and the coast there is a safe channel twenty, thirty, and forty feet deep, gravel bottom. After hugging the coast for about a mile, we reached the southern tip of the Bay of Torrents, formed by a narrow chain of rocks page break
D'urville'S Map Of New Zealand 1835

D'urville'S Map Of New Zealand 1835

page break
Orange-Wattled Crow

Orange-Wattled Crow

page 80running out about twelve hundred feet from the shore. There is a similar formation at the N.E. end; as a result, the entrance to the basin is less than half a mile wide, which gives all the more shelter to the interior. Thus the sea is absolutely calm inside; I found everywhere, as M. Guilbert did afterwards, a good mud bottom rising from forty-five to twenty-five feet from the entrance right to the little bluff which is the highest point on the inner peninsula. Close inshore almost everywhere there is a depth of not less than twenty to twenty-five feet of water. I would specially recommend the southern roadstead, in which ships of our size and less would find the best anchorage imaginable in thirty to forty-five feet of water, alongside a lovely beach, overlooked by a hill with fairly gentle slopes.

Beyond the peninsula, in the bay itself, there stretches a sort of backwater which, at high tide, forms a vast basin from four to six hundred yards in diameter, but which dries up to a great extent at low tide, leaving nothing but a channel four or five feet deep, formed by the mingled waters of the three torrents that flow into it. I followed the course of two of them for a mile or two; although neither was very deep, they were as full of water at that distance as at their mouth. Only, as almost always happens in the islands of Oceania, the bed of these torrents narrows, the gradient becomes steep, and enormous boulders, which block the bed every minute, finally bring the efforts of the most determined traveller to an end.

Right at the water's edge, one finds trees of admirable height and dimensions from which it would be very easy to develop trade in timber. The little foreshore of flat land, which runs alongside the beach and has evidently been formed by the silting up of torrents, seems to be extraordinarily fertile and other land capable of cultivation would probably be found in the neighbouring hills. There is no doubt that this area would be suitable for a small settlement. More extensive cultivation could only take place on the banks of the river Mai-Tehai and in the plains round about.

Messrs. Quoy and Lottin, who had reached the Bay of Torrents by land, crossing the isthmus which separates this harbour from the one we called Astrolabe, joined us at about eleven o'clock. We went together through the little valley I have just spoken of; there we found a few huts, in which the natives had left some of their utensils and round about them some fields planted with potatoes. No doubt these are encampments to which the inhabitants of Mai-Tehai or Skoi-Tehai come, staying there for a time for pur-page 81poses of fishing or during the potato harvest. We all got back on board at half past four in the afternoon.

In the evening Messrs. Guilbert and Dudemaine finished the detailed map of Astrolabe Bight and the numerous soundings which are recorded make it an admirable piece of work.

20th January—The weather was still misty with slight winds. From five o'clock to ten o'clock in the morning it rained, then it was fairly fine. I only had a few days to give to this anchorage, and I did not want to lose a minute; by nine o'clock I was ashore with M. Lesson and Simonet on the big beach to the south of the roadstead. It is the pleasantest spot on the whole coast and the richest in bird life. A narrow sandy belt, covered with nothing but herbaceous plants, runs along by the edge of the sea; it is surrounded by a vast deep forest fairly easy to penetrate; a magnificent stream crosses it from one end to the other, dashing its plenteous waters over a bed formed of enormous blocks of granite; here and there in its course it produces lovely waterfalls with echoing music and foaming spray. Delightful cool shady walks ring with the varied songs of the birds, and this scene of new life formed a striking contrast to the gloomy silence that I had noted on the neighbouring hills, scarcely two or three miles away. The character of these regions, the appearance of the dashing streams and the forests reminded me very vividly of various spots in New Guinea near Dorei, and I was more and more impressed with the extraordinary similarity of the ferns. The almost complete absence of insects was the only thing that reminded me that it was a region in Tavai-Pounamou [South Island]: indeed in the whole of my walk I only noticed one insect, red in colour, that I failed to catch and that I took to be one of the Hymenoptera. I do not count a few unimportant little species of locusts, crickets, and cicadas, living in grasses on the beach. Simonet and I shot down a lot of birds, of which we brought back more than forty specimens of various kinds, among others a big dove with brilliant colouring, two orange-wattled crows and several fine philedons with ruffs [tui].

I had sent the boat back, thinking that if I followed the coast I should easily reach a point opposite the corvette. But when we attempted to return, we realized only too well how little the natives frequent these rugged shores. With the rising tide, the sea had almost completely covered the narrow rocky belt that I had seen high and dry in the morning; we had to pick our way pain-page 82fully, first through gullies, then across steep hills bristling with scrub and so it went on. Half-way back we walked right through a promontory, that runs well out to sea, by means of a natural tunnel more than one hundred paces long, which pierces it from one side to the other; but the next bluff presented incredible difficulties. We had to climb a veritable precipice, clinging as well as we could to wretched little bushes or fragile fronds of bracken, every minute running the risk of being dashed on to the jagged edges of rocks, if these weak supports failed us. At last, after frightful exertions and horrible risks, we reached the beach where the observation post was, and there we found a boat which took us back on board the corvette.

21st January—Shortly after midnight, rain began to fall in torrents and did not stop till two o'clock in the morning. At our anchorage, we only had slight winds from the S.E. and it was calm most of the time; but the sea had got up, and even in our sheltered cove we could feel a little swell and a fairly strong undertow on all points of the coast. I concluded that a southerly gale must be raging at this moment outside the strait and I counted myself fortunate to have escaped, this time at any rate. This fact also decided me to postpone getting under way till the next day, especially as M. Jacquinot had still a reading to make to correct the rates of the chronometers.

Doubtless we shall seem to have stayed a very short time, and so it seemed to me. Had I been free to consider nothing but the wishes of the naturalists, (whose collections were enriched every day by most interesting material) and my own personal feelings, I should at least have explored the plains at the head of the bay, to which my eyes involuntarily turned, and have visited the natives in their own village; but I could not ignore my instructions; our hydrographic investigations were finished, our water and wood were replenished, and other parts of New Zealand equally claimed our attention. A longer stay could not be justified and might spoil our subsequent operations.

At two o'clock in the afternoon, the sky having cleared a little, I went with several officers to take a last walk on the main beach. But the inclement weather had driven the birds into their hiding places and we were only able to shoot a few of them. Further, the shrubs were still full of the rain that they had just received and they completely soaked those of us who tried to go into the woods. So we came back early on board to make preparations for leaving.

page 83

The savages continued to visit us from time to time and their behaviour was invariably above reproach. The chiefs offered me women several times and seemed surprised by my refusal. It is true, however, that more gallant or more courageous than I, three of our young officers, undaunted by vermin, bad smells, and filth, went to their huts every evening, to spend the night with the beautiful New Zealand women, who had finally yielded to the wishes or rather to the gifts of their admirers.

These natives are undoubtedly very inferior both in crafts and in intellectual development to those of the Northern Island, of which they are probably mere offshoots. A less productive soil, a more rigorous climate, and greater privations have prevented the human race from reaching the same development and forming such powerful tribes here as has been done on Ika-Na-Mawi [North Island]. They seemed to me to be entirely ignorant of the Pihe, the national song, and the other songs in M. Kendall's grammar. Their mode of speech is also much more defective and they scarcely ever pronounce the r in words: thus they say koeo for korero, to speak; tainga for taringa, the ear, etc.; often the same thing happens with the d, which brings their speech nearer to that of the Tahitians.

The anchorage in Astrolabe Bight in Tasman Bay is incontestably one of the finest in these parts, by virtue of the security which a ship at anchor there can enjoy, its ease of access and its free exit, the resources it offers for reprovisioning both water and wood, and lastly, for the excellent fish that it will provide every day in abundance. We left it with everyone in good health, the ship completely reprovisioned, and the collections enriched with an incredible quantity of new finds. I have already called attention to the fact that the Bay of Torrents is in no way inferior and would even offer a less cramped position off the coast and one more suited to investigations to be carried out during a long visit or to repair work on damage that had to be made good.

It is well known that it was the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman who discovered New Zealand and who on the 18th December, 1642, first dropped anchor in the great bay that bears his name. The day after his arrival, the savages killed four men of the crew of one of his boats, which led him to leave this place, bequeathing to it the name of Murderers' Bay. Looking at our map, it is difficult to decide the exact spot at which Tasman may have anchored. If his latitude 40° 50' S. was accurate, it must have been as I page 84have marked it, facing a little stream situated four miles and a half to the south of Separation Point. It might also be that Tasman's ships rounded this headland and, in fact, stopped in the bay that we have continued to call, following Cook, by the name of Murderers' Bay. In that case, we should have to conclude that the bay extends further south inland than we have shown it; and we must agree that our map was drawn with insufficient data. This basin needs further investigation and one must admit that it is the one offering the best anchorages, since on no side does it lie open to the ocean.

M. Jacquinot's readings show that our observation post in Astrolabe Roadstead was situated at

40° 58' 22" South latitude,
170° 35' 25" East longtitude

by the average of the rates of the two chronometers no. 38 (Motel) and no. 83 (Berthoud) between arrival and departure.

For reasons that will be explained in the section on marine geography, we adopted as our final longitude an average between this calculation and those one would deduce from the results obtained by the astronomers Wales and Bayley in Cook's last two voyages. Our observation station in the Astrolabe roadstead is thus fixed at 170° 45' 30" longitude, and it is from this that the positions of all the other points in Cook's Strait are determined.

Angle of error of the magnetic needle, 14° 25' N.E.

d'Urville, Volume II, Chapter XII.




Tasman (1603-59), Cook (1728-79), Marion Dufresne, French navigator (1729-72). Appendix.