Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Old Marlborough. or The Story of a Province.

[Cook's First Voyage]

page 123

Thine was the trumpet tongue, illustrious Cook,
That roused mankind and shook
Blind, brooding Ignorance from Austral waves
And drove her, darkling, to far dungeon caves.

For more than a hundred years this hopeless condition of chaos hung like a storm-cloud over the land, and under its shadow men's minds were darkened by superstition, their actions governed by rapine and their feelings by revenge. This absence of all moral and spiritual enlightenment gave to might an unworthy right, by which the strongest became the greatest, and who shall say what pain and anguish was endured by the weaker members of this barbarous community while some proud chief was climbing to power over their suffering bodies? But when the eighteenth century had passed its meridian, the first silver ray of light began to illumine the horizon, and gradually grew in strength and page 124beauty until the day of discovery had fully dawned.

The recorded history of Marlborough dates from the time when Captain Cook, "the ablest and most renowned navigator that England or any other country hath produced," was proceeding to carry out the design originated by His Imperial Majesty George III., of determining and settling at rest the geographical theories which prevailed regarding the terra incognita of the Pacific Ocean. Although marvellous progress had been made in the arts of navigation and ship-building since the great discoveries of Columbus, and although the Dutch seamen, led by Tasman, had gone out and pioneered the way for Byron, Wallis and Carteret, the vast expanse of ocean lying in the tropical zones had only been explored in the most cursory fashion, and in 1768 it was still a matter of speculation whether the southern hemisphere consisted more of land than water.

At this time the Dutch navy had reached its period of decline, and Spain, the only other country that had displayed a disposition towards discovery, had long since felt the grip of decay upon her, and as a naval power she was even then comparatively impotent. With England, however, the position was different. Her only rival upon the sea was France, and she was too busily engaged in page 125holding together the scattered fragments of her existing colonies, which the war of 1755 had threatened with dismemberment, to trouble herself with the discovery of new ones. Upon the English navy then, which had the stoutest ships and ablest seamen, devolved the privilege of opening the sealed book of geographical knowledge concerning this side of the globe.

In despatching his ships to these unknown waters the king was inspired not so much by a desire to add fresh territory to his empire, as to find an outlet for British trade, which was ever extending with amazing rapidity. The choice of Sir Edward Hawke, who had been commissioned to select a commander for the expedition, fell upon a young lieutenant, James Cook, who at that time was engaged in making a survey of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the coast of Newfoundland, and who, by his natural inclination, his courage, energy, and native skill, was eminently suited for the post. The purpose of the expedition was a two-fold one. Their first duty was to make complete observations of the transit of Venus; and then to search into the recesses of the Pacific Ocean, both of which were so admirably performed that Cook received not only the enconiums of the astronomical and geographical leaders of the scientific world, but he also received the page 126greater compliment of being entrusted by his king on two other occasions with the prosecution of the work he had so admirably begun.

It was while in the performance of the latter portion of the royal duty thus imposed upon him, that he first sighted the coast of New Zealand; and although not the original discoverer, his visits gave a value to Tasman's voyage which it could not otherwise have attained. But Tasman never sighted the coast of Marlborough. He never got a glimpse of the snow-capped Kaikouras, glinting like domes of chiselled marble in the rays of the winter sun, hence it is not to his log, but to Cook's record of his first voyage, that we must look for the earliest accounts which serve as the basis upon which all the more recent history of Marlborough rests.

An appropriate time and place, therefore, to introduce the discoverer of the province will be the morning of the 14th of January of the auspicious year 1770, while sailing leisurely down the coast of the North Island, for it was on that day that he sighted the western side of the Strait, and obtained his first view of the shore, around which there has ever since clung so many pleasant and historical associations. Although recognising several deep bays, to all appearances suitable for anchorage, he did not deem it wise to page 127approach too closely to the land that night, and so he kept plying the "Endeavour" on and off the land till morning, a course he could safely adopt, seeing that the weather was fine, and he had from sixty-three to eighty fathoms of water under his ship.

The dawn of the 15th was of that quiet beauty, which makes this part of New Zealand a climatic paradise. A bright rosy sunrise, followed by the softer violet and deeper blue, the colour of the heavens above lending an azure tone to the sea beneath. The light and variable airs which played around the ship seemed to fan her on, and act as a friendly, if inconstant, helpmeet to the more powerful tide, which, with its irresistible sweep, was slowly bringing the great discoverer towards the shores of Marlborough. By eight o'clock the impulsive agencies of nature had unconsciously carried the ship to the entrance of Queen Charlotte Sound, where for the next three weeks her company were to make their home; and certainly the guardian angel of these adventurous mariners could scarcely have brought them to a more favourable haven where the sailors could rest and the ship be repaired. The wind was still light and uncertain, and as the running tide was inclined to carry the vessel on to the N.W. shore of the Sound, the boats were got out and the ship towed away to the music of the page 128sailors' song, mingled with the less harmonious tones of the leadsman as he sounded the depths beneath, and recorded the fact that they were still in fifty-four fathoms of water. As they passed along every feature of the sea and shore was critically examined, and two facts were noticed, which doubtless proved of considerable interest to these strangers in a strange land. The first was the appearance of a sea-lion, which twice came to the surface to look with surprise upon these intruders into the sanctity of his retreat; and then they saw a canoe full of dark-skinned natives flitting across the face of the Sound towards a village built upon the apex of a little island, which was destined to become a spot made memorable in history as the one on which the southern portion of our colony was first claimed as a part of the British Empire.

The appearance of the sea-lion at the side of the "Endeavour" is a fact which, to us of the present day, carries with it but little significance, except to indicate that before the southern ocean became a theatre of commerce, these aquatic monsters availed themselves of their greater freedom to enjoy the warmer climate, and that the advent of the early discoverers, followed by the whalers and the merchantmen, has imprisoned them within the less hospitable region of the Antarctic Sea. But the view obtained of the natives is page 129a matter of greater moment, for it satisfied Cook that he had come to a country inhabited by a people scarcely dissimilar in any particular to those of Te-Ika-a-Maui, * which he had so recently left, and his remarks upon their appearance, their habits and customs is the first authentic account we have of historic man in Marlborough.

The novelty of the view could scarcely have been so welcome to the natives, who in their proneness to superstition, doubtless regarded the sight of a ship in full sail as an apparition of their gods. That fear was their dominating feeling, is amply evinced by the fact that when the "Endeavour" had proceeded far enough to come abreast of the pah on Motuara Island, the crew were able to discern the natives crowded together in eager conference, and armed with such weapons of war as their savage ingenuity had devised for offensive and defensive purposes.

By two o'clock in the afternoon Cook had finally decided upon his anchorage, and had brought his ship into the picturesque little bay on the N.W. shore of the Sound, known to the natives as Totaranui; but which has ever since been more appropriately called Ship Cove. The movements of these strange visitors were narrowly scanned by the natives from their island pah, and when the sails had

* Maori name for the North Island.

page 130been furled and everything made snug, curiosity overcame alarm, and a few of the most venturesome members of the tribe set out in their canoes to more critically inspect the newcomer. Their first method of testing its reality was by pelting stones at the irresponsive timbers of the ship, and when they discovered that there was no disposition to retaliate, one of their number, an old and venerable-looking native named Topa, who appeared to be a chief amongst them, even ventured, in compliance with the invitation of Tupia, a Taheitean boy whom Cook was carrying with him as interpreter, to climb on board, where, however, he did not appear at his ease, for he soon returned to his canoe, and was received back again by his companions with shouts and dancing. Whether this demonstration was intended in a friendly or hostile spirit could not be ascertained, but in any case it did not last for any length of time, for the natives almost immediately paddled back to the island.

Cook then took his officers with him, and went on shore to explore the cove, for although by the consistent use of his anti-scorbutic remedies, and a vigilant care over the sanitary state of his ship, he had succeeded in keeping his crew free from the terrible scourge of scurvy, which made so many ships of that day little better than floating coffins, his men page 131would be benefited by the change to a shore residence, and his unsheathed vessel sadly required cleaning and caulking, her weather-beaten sides having been strained by many weeks of voyaging. Ship Cove proved to be an ideal recruiting ground, for then, as now, it was one of the sweetest beauty spots ever kissed by the lips of nature. Under its salubrious air the forest trees grew full to the water's edge, and there in security the birds warbled their morning hymn with such delightful melody that those on the ship, lying a quarter of a mile away, could only compare them to "myriads of small bells exquisitely tuned," as the sounds vibrated over the still water. A clear limpid stream came trickling down the hillside, so that there was an abundance of both wood and water for the domestic wants of the crew, and upon the sandy bottom of the bay the ship could lie safely while her timbers were again being put in a seaworthy condition. These natural advantage were quickly noted by the practised eye of Cook, and so, early next morning, he had the ship placed upon the careen, and the work of accomplishing needful repairs was commenced.

At first Cook had reason to apprehend trouble from the natives, whose attitude was not altogether conciliatory, for their only idea of superiority was one of numbers, and when page 132that was on their side they did not hesitate to attack; so that when the boats were sent ashore to renew the ship's supply of water, some of the canoes immediately gave chase, and could not he induced to desist until several small charges of shot had been fired amongst them. A quarrelsome disposition was also shown by those who were engaged in traffic with the sailors, one of them attempting to snatch a piece of paper from the hand of the ship's market-man, but failing in his object, he seemed to at once recognise his mistake, and immediately put himself in a posture of defence, flourishing his puapua as though about to strike with it, the contents of a pistol discharged at him were so effective, however, that he subsided into the bottom of the canoe a great deal more frightened than hurt. But when a better understanding had been arrived at, through an unmistakable attitude of firmness, Cook had leisure and opportunity to look about him, and with his customary method, to note down in detail all that he saw. His exploration of the Sound itself was, on this occasion, necessarily of the most limited character, and when he left it a few weeks later, he had no idea that it swept on in undiminished majesty for twenty miles. Doubtless he was unwilling to venture too far away in the boats, for although he had endeavoured to encourage traffic with the natives page 133in such articles as they were prepared to barter, he had not failed to notice that their attitude was still, at times, of an unfriendly nature, so that at no time did he get more than a few leagues from the cove.

His most important observations of the surroundings were, therefore, made from the neighbouring hills, the first of which, about four or five miles from the cove on the S.E. side of the Sound, he climbed seven days after his arrival, and it was while standing upon its summit that he virtually made the great discovery that a Strait* running between the two Islands united the eastern and the western seas. From this point of vantage he saw the dim outline of Terawhiti twelve leagues away, and stretching out on either hand as far as the eye could reach was the broad expanse of water dotted with numerous islands. The eastern shore of the Sound, which had previously appeared to the officers of the "Endeavour" as a portion of the main land, and which might have extended any distance to the eastward, was found to be only a narrow ridge of hills no more than four miles in width.

Three days later, Cook, accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander, the botanists of the expedition, again crossed over to the eastern side of the Sound, and from some-

* Called Raukawa by the Maoris, Cook Strait by the geographers, and "The wind-pipe of the Pacific" by tha sailors.

page 134where
in the locality of Cape Koamaru they had still another view of the Strait, which only tended to confirm the impression already formed that this stretch of water was a passage between the two main islands, and not a deep bay, as was at first supposed, and Cook thereupon determined to test the geographical truth of his opinion as soon as his ship was ready for sea. As a record of their visit they built a small cairn of stones upon the spot on which they stood, and placed within it a number of beads, shot and musket balls, as being the most durable material, so that Europeans finding it would know that it had not been built by native hands.

A few days later another survey of the Strait was made, but this time from the point ever since known as Cape Jackson, which Cook named after one of the secretaries to the Admiralty. From here they obtained a clear view of the ocean before them, and of an island about ten miles off, which the Captain designated Stephens' Island, in honour of another Admiralty secretary, who, recognising the great navigator's invaluable qualities, had befriended him in the matter of his appointment to the command of the expedition. Before returning to the vessel, Cook, in accordance with his usual custom, raised a pyramid of stones on the point of the cape, placing within it a few coins and musket page 135balls, and upon a staff built in by the boulders he left a portion of a pennant flying in the breeze. To Cape Jackson, therefore, belongs the distinction of being the spot upon which the first flag was unfurled on the Middle Island.

Cook was now thoroughly satisfied that a passage existed between the main lands, and it scarcely needed the assurance of Topa, the old native chief of the Motuara pah, that such really was the case, to make him certain of it.

In his journeyings to and fro about the Sound, Cook had ample opportunities of observing the native people, who were a mixture of the Rangitane, Ngatiara and Ngatikuri tribes, numbering between three and four hundred souls. These he found to be generally inferior to the natives he had already met on the other Island, except in the matter of trade. In this he saw that although they had nothing to barter except fish, which mainly consisted of the species to be met with in the Sound to-day, they displayed a sense and wisdom he had not noticed before, a fact which he thought remarkable considering their isolation and inexperience. In stature the men were equal to the average European, but were not soft and corpulent like the South Sea Islanders, who lived a comparatively luxurious life, the Maori muscles being hard and wiry by constant exercise. The women page 136were not blessed with many charms of figure or feature, but they possessed remarkably soft and cheerful voices and a much greater flow of animal spirits than their male companions. It was also observed that while both sexes displayed the most tender affection towards each other, they were alike implacable towards their enemies, neither asking nor giving quarter. Their store of general knowledge was extremely limited, and they seemed absolutely indifferent about increasing it; neither the instruction imparted by Cook, nor the information given by his Tahitian boy of what he had observed of the outside world, appearing to make a lasting impression upon them. They cultivated no land, nor showed the smallest desire to do so, but lived exclusively upon fish, fern roots and the karaka berry, which their ancestors brought with them from far Hawaiki, and, when the tide of battle turned in their favour, upon the flesh of their victims. That the revolting rite of cannibalism, probably arising from a state of semi-starvation, owing to their precarious food supply, was freely practised amongst them, the "Endeavour's" company had abundant proof, for not only did they find human bones in the native ovens, but at Cannibal Cove, a small indent to the northward of their anchorage, they saw freshly cooked flesh in the possession of the men themselves, who, to convince the visitors that the page 137morsel was a tasty one, proceeded to eat the remainder of the meat in their very presence. This occurred on several occasions, but when Cook reported the circumstance in England his story received but little credence. He also found that they indulged in the practice of preserving the heads of their victims, which they valued highly, and it was only with difficulty that Mr. Banks could induce them to part with one, even for a consideration. Their dwellings displayed neither mechanical skill nor architectural beauty, being devoid of decoration and were of the meanest possible order; but they seemed to have got beyond the stage of the pit-dwellers, who had been superseded about eight generations before. Each family was possessed of a whare of their own, varying in size according to their immediate wants, but they did not live continuously in them, frequently in the summer time migrating to huts on the beach where the cooler breezes blew. This, together with their Bohemian habits, was no doubt the reason that on D'Urville's Island and in some of the bays Cook came across, here and there, a deserted village which bore signs of recent habitation. In these temporary villages, as in the permanent pahs, it was customary for each family, however large, to remain together, and the various domains were partitioned off by low palisades, page 138not differing very much, except in height, from a European fence. In the domestic circle polygamy was frequently practised, while in morals the women were by no means orthodox, their virtue being turned into a marketable commodity by their avaricious lords and masters. They appeared to have had no complex form of government—if indeed they had any government at all, for the authority of no chief extended beyond the members of his own hapu, and even there, only in a lesser degree than amongst the tribes, might was right; but strangers coming on business, especially if they were trading in greenstone, were always cordially received if they did not out-stay their welcome. Their canoes, too, were small and insignificant compared with those of the northern natives, whose ornamental barques are still regarded as triumphs of Maori art, and their implements of war were such as every visitor to our museums is now familiar with, and were made and used with great dexterity, after the manner peculiar to the Maori in both Islands. Those of greenstone were naturally of special value, and we may form some conception of the high estimation in which they were held by the fact that the people called their country by the name which was to them the first consideration, Te Wai Pounamu, "the water of the greenstone." They also knew the value of iron, for they page 139preferred it, in the shape of nails, to any other article of trade. This knowledge they had probably acquired from the natives of the East coast of the North Island, who a few months before had been presented with some spikes by Cook, and who had apparently quickly communicated their use to others, for when the "Endeavour" was completing the circuit of the North Island, she was boarded by some thirty or forty natives, who came off near Cape Palliser, and who at once asked for maitai (iron), although none had been previously given to the inhabitants south of Cape Kidnappers. Their clothing, which corresponded with the description of other natives given by Tasman, appears to have been of the scantiest kind, at the best consisting of rough mats made from flax and grass, the only attempt at ornamentation being a cap of black feathers worn upon the head, and a necklace of sharks' teeth wound around the throats of the women. In other respects both sexes dressed exactly alike, even to the custom of smearing their bodies with oil and red ochre, and but for the difference in the moko, marks upon the face, and the tone of their voice, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between one and the other.

So far as the Europeans could observe, these natives of the Sound had no places of worship, but they had a liberal supply of page 140tohungas, or priests, who offered fervid invocations for their success in temporal affairs; and their religious principles, if such they might be called, were thoroughly instilled into them from their youth up. A remarkable instance of this was brought under Cook's notice, when a boy, who, having had his hair cut by one of the sailors, refused to eat anything during the greater part of the day, although strongly persuaded to do so, his fear being that should food pass his lips his atua, or god, would, kill him for his sacrilege, but towards evening his superstitious scruples gave way, and he ate, but only sparingly.

In common with the northern natives they manifested their grief at the loss of relatives and friends by cutting and slashing their bodies with sharp shells and splintered stones, but this custom was mostly indulged in by the women, and considering the reckless disregard for life which prevailed, owing to the incessant tribal feuds, these wounds must have been both deeply and frequently inflicted. Their dead were disposed of by burial, and in the case of a person who enjoyed eminence amongst his people, a monument was afterwards reared to his memory, and one of these—a structure exactly in the form of a Christian crucifix—decorated with feathers and planted on the island of Motuara, particularly attracted the notice of Cook, who, however, page 141could not ascertain the name of the chief it was intended to honour.

Cook, having now got his ship's condition repaired and his store of wood and water replenished, began to make ready for his departure. Before going, however, he decided to leave some permanent memorial of his sojourn as a guide to any other mariners who might come after him. Accordingly he had prepared by his carpenters two long poles with inscriptions, setting forth the name of the ship, the month and the year, chiselled deeply into them.

One of these he had erected at the watering place on the shore of Ship Cove, and upon it he hoisted the Union Jack, thus conferring on Marlborough the distinction of being the first soil in New Zealand over which the emblem of the British Empire floated. The second post was taken off to the island of Motuara, and after its purpose had been explained to Topa, the chief, and his sympathies enlisted, it too was raised upon the highest point of the land, and the flag of Great Britain run up on the halyards. Cook then distributed presents of silver and copper coins amongst the natives, and formally took possession of the Sound and the adjacent islands in the name, and for the use, of his Sovereign. The former he dignified with the name it has ever since born—Queen Charlotte page 142Sound, in honour of the Queen and Consort of George III., consummating the baptism by drinking a bottle of wine and presenting the old chief of the pah with the empty bottle, a proceeding which was highly prophetic of what was to happen in after years to the native lands. This ceremony, simple in nature though it was, and witnessed only by a handful of English gentlemen and a horde of benighted savages, was really an epoch in the history of empire making. It was the true foundation upon which the temples of colonisation and civilisation were to be built in tne Middle Island, and the success with which the great work, so humbly begun by Captain Cook, has been carried on by subsequent toilers in the same cause, is borne witness to by the thriving condition of the whole colony to-day.

These precautions having been taken, the "Endeavour" was hauled out into the stream and the anchor weighed on the afternoon of February 7th. The breeze, which had been fresh in the morning, had died away, and the ship was practically carried through the heads by the ebb tide. As she drifted slowly past the island of Motuara, with her sails flapping loosely to the masts, the venerable old chief Topa, who had shown such a friendly disposition towards Cook and his sailors, came off in his canoe to take farewell of them, and page 143in the conversation that followed he gave them a misty idea of some tradition concerning a ship which had previously visited the Islands. By seven o'clock in the evening they had got well out of the Sound, but the calm continuing, they were still at the mercy of the tide, and ere sufficient wind had sprung up to give them steerage way, they were carried close to the Brothers, and only escaped the disaster of wreck by bringing the ship to anchor within a few cables' length of the rocks. From this dangerous and unpleasant predicament they were rescued by a freshening breeze, and the "Endeavour's" head having been put about, a course was steered directly through the Strait, into what Cook now realised to be the Eastern Sea.

From this point the land seemed to trend away to the southward, and the vessel accordingly bore down upon it, Cook being anxious to test the accuracy of his theory as to whether it was not an island rather than a continent. Later in the evening she had entered Cloudy Bay, so called because of the dull and heavy appearance of the atmosphere at the time, but sufficient was seen of the landscape to enable the voyagers to note that what is now known as the Wairau Plain was densely covered with a forest of tall trees, which have long since disappeared, but of page 144whose previous existence there is still abundant proof to the interested observer.

The majestic peak of Mount Tapuaenuku (9,467ft.) with its snow-clad steeple towering high above the lofty Kaikouras, was equally a subject of note and admiration; and it is a fact, interesting though trifling, that a few days later, when the ship had been brought back abreast of Cloudy Bay, an animated discussion took place on the deck between the Captain and his officers as to the relative heights of this and other famous peaks. Cook averred that it was not so lofty as either the peak of Teneriffe or even Mount Egmont (8,260ft.), and his opinion was based upon the circumstance that whereas the latter was deeply covered with snow well down to its base, the drift only lay upon "Tapu's" higher slopes and in the deep ravines. The Captain found but little support amongst his officers, although his theory was a plausible one, and while it displayed an observant mind, it also betrayed a hasty judgment. It is possible at this time he did not know as a climatic fact that, owing to the West coast of New Zealand being colder than the East, the snow lies heavier upon its high mountains, but he should not have neglected to remember that since he saw Egmont fully a month of summer had passed, and in that time a single warm rain would have denuded the king of the page break
Captain Cook.

Captain Cook.

page break
Ship Cove.

Ship Cove.

page 145Kaikouras of his snowy mantle, and left him the brown and broken pile he then appeared to be.

After Cape Campbell had been sighted and named, the "Endeavour" sailed onward to the south, and nothing further remains to be recorded in connection with the great discoverer's first visit to Marlborough beyond the fact that when opposite Kaikoura four double canoes, containing some fifty-seven warriors, probably a section of the Ngaitahu tribe, came off to inspect the passing mystery, and that on account of their timid attitude, which constrained them not to board the ship, although invited to do so, but merely to look on, Cook commemorated the circumstance by designating the neighbouring mountain range as the "Lookers On."