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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

De Surville

De Surville

1769 to 1770

Details of the circumstances leading to M. de Surville's voyage are not available. One source states that he was sent out from France on a secret mission which was supposed to produce extraordinary results. Another says that he was given permission to make a trading voyage to Peru, on condition that he attempt to make new discoveries. Whatever the circumstances, he sailed in 1791 from Pondicherry, India, in the St. Jean Baptiste to procure a cargo in the East Indies. He left the Philippines, passed south by New Britain, west of New Caledonia, and reached the northern part of New Zealand in December 1769. He was in Lauriston Bay, which he named, when Cook bore down on the two points which marked the bay; but the two failed to sight each other. Cook, without entering the bay, named it Doubtless Bay.

From the incomplete story which is available, it appears that the sick were sent ashore and that in a violent storm the boat with the sick members of the crew and the ship's surgeon were succored by a Maori chief named "Naginoui." The chief gave up his house to the sick, provided food, and did everything he could for them. Surville went ashore on December 17 and met a chief, who asked for his musket. Surville gave him his sword instead, and friendly relations were established. However, on December 31 one of the ship's boats was washed ashore and was towed away by the Maoris and hidden before Surville could recover it. Surville determined to punish the people. He beckoned to a group standing near their canoes; and when one of them came toward him, he arrested the Maori and sent him as a prisoner to the ship. The rest of the natives fled, and Surville, after burning their canoes and houses, sailed off with his prisoner. Though the surgeon recognized the prisoner as the chief "Naginoui" who had succored the wounded, this did not seem to affect Surville's conduct. Surville sailed east between the latitudes of 35° and 41′ S. without seeing any Polynesian islands, which was just as well. On March 12, 1770, when the ship was within sight of Juan Fernandez, "Naginoui" died as the direct or indirect result of confinement. Surville's conduct was not an elevating example of the higher tenets of civilization, and his death by drowning while attempting to land at Callao seems strangely appropriate.