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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 3 (June 1, 1940)

The Chequered History of … — Dusky Bay — I

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The Chequered History of …
Dusky Bay

The Naming of the Bay.

In the far south of New Zealand lies a very lovely bay—not a simple curve in the coast line, to be seen at a glance; but a wide, intricate sound, holding many islands and islets, deep coves, and long arms stretching away into the mainland.

On a squally afternoon, one hundred and seventy years ago, Captain Cook—sailing up the south-west coast of the South Island—sighted this bay and as it appeared to be a good place wherein to anchor, the Endeavour hauled in toward the shore. But after standing for an hour, Cook decided that the distance was too great to run before dark, and the wind blew too hard to attempt it in the night, so in the gathering twilight he bore away up the coast, and named this bay he had wished to enter—Dusky Bay.

Thus, quietly, on 14th March, 1770, Dusky Bay entered New Zealand history.

Cook Enters the Bay.

Three years later, in the same month, Dusky Bay suddenly rose to greatness; for about noon on Friday, 26th March, 1773, Captain Cook, on board the Resolution, sailed into the bay and anchored under Anchor Island—the first place he touched in New Zealand on this, his second voyage round the world.

The Resolution had just come from Antarctic regions, where, with her consort the Adventure, she had been sailing among thick fogs, sleet, snow, and icebergs. During a furious gale a great part of the live-stock brought from
Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Sound.

Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Sound.

the Cape, was lost, and in February the Adventure disappeared from view in a dense fog; everything possible was done to gain contact with her again, but without avail. On 17th March Cook decided to proceed to New Zealand, to look for the Adventure, and to get greatly needed refreshment for his people. By the time he reached Dusky Bay, Cook had been over four months without even sighting land.

It was with feelings approaching ecstasy that the ship's company looked on Dusky. George Forster—one of the naturalists with the expedition—describes their sensations on entering the bay:

“Flocks of aquatic birds enlivened the rocky shores,” he says, “and the whole country resounded with the wild notes of the feathered tribes.” “The view of the rude sceneries … of antediluvian forests which clothed the rock, and of numerous rills of water which everywhere rolled down the steep declivity, altogether conspired to complete our joy. And so apt is mankind, after a long absence from land, to be prejudiced in favour of the wildest shore, that we looked upon the country at that time as one of the most beautiful which nature, unassisted by art, could produce.”

At three o'clock in the afternoon the Resolution was anchored, and immediately Cook sent “a boat and people afishing”; meanwhile, some of the gentlemen killed a seal—out of many that were upon a rock—and thus a fresh meal was procured for the whole ship's company, which numbered 112.

Not liking the place where they had anchored, Cook sent Lieutenant Pickersgill over to the south-east side of the bay to search for a better anchorage, while for the same purpose he himself went to the other side. After hearing Pickersgill's report, Cook considered his finding to be the better; therefore, the following morning they got under sail, and working over to Pickersgill Harbour, entered it by a channel scarcely twice the width of the ship. Mooring head and stern in a small creek, they were so near the shore that it could be reached by a stage. Certainly, it was a most convenient spot—wood for fuel and for other purposes was right at hand, and a fine stream of fresh water ran about 100 yards from the ship's stern.

Dusky Bay woke up—disturbed in its sleep by the shouting of voices, the moving of gear, sawing, hammering, and chopping of wood. In the woods places were cleared in which to set up the astronomer's observatory, a forge to repair the ship's iron work, tents where the coopers and sailmakers could work while mending the sails and watercasks. Out in the bay, men were fishing with great success; getting, in a few hours, enough to serve the whole company for dinner.

(Continued on p. 52 ).

page 52
At the Head of Dusky Sound.

At the Head of Dusky Sound.

Cook's Momentous Decision.

The second large catch of fish, and the fact that there appeared to be plenty of wild fowl in the bush, showed that Dusky was well able to provide good food for his people; therefore, Cook determined to stay there for some time. He wished to make a thorough examination of the bay, as no one before him had landed there or on any other part of southern New Zealand. Dr. McNab considers that Cook's decision in this matter, “played a very important part in the history of southern New Zealand, as it gave an accurately surveyed harbour to the merchant service of the world.”

Among the tasks which were begun immediately, was the brewing of spruce beer; Cook's recipe for making this is most interesting:—

First make a strong decoction of the small branches of the spruce and tea plants, by boiling them three or four hours, or until the bark will strip with ease from off the branches, then take them out of the copper and put in the proper quantity of mollasses; ten gallons of which is sufficient to make a ton, or two hundred and forty gallons of beer. Let this mixture just boil, then put it into the casks, and, to it, add an equal quantity of cold water, more or less according to the strength of the decoction, or to your taste. When the whole is milk warm, put in a little grounds of beer, or yeast, if you have it, or anything else that will cause fermentation, and after a few days it will be fit to drink.”

This beer was intended to supply the want of vegetables, which it did. The spruce tree to which Cook refers, is rimu or red pine, and the tea plant is manuka.

First Sight of Maoris.

On the second day after entering Dusky Sound, some of the ship's officers reported having seen some natives. No sooner had the officers got on board, when from round a point about a mile from the ship, appeared a canoe with about seven or eight people in it. After a while the canoe came within a musket shot of the ship, and for some time the natives remained, looking at the strange sight. Signs of friendship were made to them, but they would come no nearer.

After dinner, Cook went in search of the natives, and found their canoe hauled up on the shore, near two small huts, where there were several fireplaces, some fishing nets, and a few fish lying about. No natives were to be seen. After a short stay, Cook left some medals, looking glasses, beads, etc., in the canoe, and then rowed to the head of the bay.

On returning, he put ashore again at the spot where the canoe was lying, but still saw no natives, though the smell of fire smoke showed they were near. Cook wisely comments: “I did not care to search farther, or to force an interview which they seemed to avoid; well knowing that the way to obtain this was to leave time and place to themselves.”

For the next few days, wet and stormy weather confined everyone to the ship. On 1st April, Cook went to see if any of the articles left for the “Indians” had been touched; but everything in the canoe remained as before.

Various members of the company engaged in botanising and shooting excursions, while Cook himself continued his survey of the bay. While so doing he discovered a “capacious cove” where fourteen ducks, besides other birds, were shot; for this reason it is named—Duck Cove.

Cook Meets with the Maoris.

As they returned in the evening, Cook and his companions had a short interview with three of the natives—a man and two women—who appeared on an island which thereupon was named, “Indian Island.”

The man stood—his club in his hand—on the point of a rock, while behind him, at the edge of the wood, were the women, each holding a spear.

As the boat with Cook and his party drew near, the man showed signs of fear, but he stood his ground. At length Cook landed, and embracing the man presented him with such articles as he had about him. This treatment dispelled the man's fears, and for about half an hour they chatted together, though with little understanding on either side.

The following morning, Cook went back to Indian Island, and meeting the natives he gave them various presents, including hatchets and spike-nails, which were the only things they appeared to value.

At this interview the whole family appeared—the man, three women, a boy about fourteen, and three young children. They brought the ship's party to their dwelling—two mean huts made of the bark of trees—a little way within the skirts of the wood. Mr. Hodges—the artist of the expedition—made a drawing of most of these natives, who for this reason gave him the name—Toe-toe. On this occasion, the chief presented Cook with a piece of cloth or garment of their own manufacture, and made it clear that he would like a boat cloak. Subsequently, Cook ordered one to be made for him, of red baize.

When next the natives were paid a visit, they were found at their huts, “all dressed and dressing, in their very best, with their hair, combed and oiled, tied up upon the crowns of their heads, and stuck with white feathers. Some wore a fillet of feathers round their heads, and page break all of them had bunches of white feathers round their heads, and all of them had bunches of white feathers stuck in their ears. Thus dressed, and “all standing,” they received their guests “with great courtesy.” Cook presented the chief with the cloak which had been made for him and so pleased was he, that, taking his Pattapattou from his girdle, he gave it to Cook.

A few days later the natives were seen coming towards the ship. Cook met them, and leaving his boat, got into their canoe; but he could not persuade them to come alongside the ship. At last, however, they put the canoe in a little creek, and sat down on the shore abreast of the ship, but would not come aboard. Cook “caused the bagpipe and fife to play and the drums to beat.” They paid no attention to the music, but showed some interest in the beating of the drum—another instance of the universal appeal of rhythm.

Survey Continued.

On the afternoon of this day, Cook took Mr. Hodges to a large cascade which fell from a high mountain on the south side of the bay; Mr. Hodges made a drawing of it which he afterwards painted in oils. Cook named the place—Cascade Cove.

In the course of his survey of the rocks and isles at the mouth of the bay, Cook found—on the south-east side of Anchor Isle—“a very sunny cove, sheltered from all winds. Here by the side of a pleasant brook, shaded by trees from both wind and sun,” Cook and his party dined on crayfish. Hence the name—Luncheon Cove. To Cook, what a delightful pause in his unending toil—to rest by the side of a pleasant brook, shaded by trees from both wind and sun!

The next day, while continuing his survey of the bay, Cook came upon the sportsmen's boat adrift and seized her at the moment when she was about to be dashed on the rocks.
Dusky Sound from Captain Cook's Look-out, Pickersgill Harbour.

Dusky Sound from Captain Cook's Look-out, Pickersgill Harbour.

Proceeding to the place where it was thought the sportsmen would be, they found them—at about seven or eight o'clock in the evening—on a small isle in a cove. There seemed to be no better place, so Cook and his party landed on a bare beach. There in the growing darkness they kindled a fire and broiled some fish. “We made a hearty supper,” says Cook, “having for sauce a good appetite. This done, we lay down to sleep, having a stony beach for a bed and the canopy of heaven for a covering.”

The Maoris Venture on Board Ship.

One evening the natives paid another visit to the vicinity of the ship, and the following morning the chief and his daughter were induced to come on board. But first, the chief presented Cook with a piece of cloth and “a green talk hatchet”; Mr. Forster and Mr. Hodges also received a present of cloth. Then the chief, taking in his hand a small green branch struck the ship's side several times with it, meanwhile repeating a speech or prayer. This over, he threw the branch into the main chains and came on board.

The natives were taken down to the cabin, where breakfast was in progress; they consented to sit at the table, but would not eat anything. At noon, after having been shown all over the ship, they left.

Cook remarks that as far as riches might be counted in New Zealand, this chief exceeded every man there; having received from one and another not less than nine or ten hatchets, three or four times that number of large spike nails, besides many other articles. A few other natives were seen, but the total number in Dusky Bay did not seem to exceed three families. Possibly, these Maoris were a remnant of the Ngatimamoe tribe, whose famous Chief Te-Uira (The Lightning) made a last stand at Jackson's Bay, South Westland, about the year 1760; and then fled with his people to the wild, mountainous country between Lake Wanaka and Milford Sound.

Further Exploration and Final Days.

Whenever the weather permitted, the work of surveying, botanizing, and sealing was carried on. The seals served three purposes—the skins were made use of for the ship's rigging, the fat gave oil for the lamps, and the flesh was food—“little inferior to beef steaks”—which the company enjoyed.

On the morning of 23rd April Pickersgill, Gilbert, and two others went to Cascade Cove in order to ascend one of the mountains. Returning, they reported that on reaching the summit, nothing was to be seen inland but “barren mountains with huge, craggy precipices disjoined by valleys, or rather chasms, frightful to behold.”

The following day, Cook took five geese—brought from the Cape of Good Hope—and released them in a cove which now bears the name—Goose Cove. It was hoped that the geese would multiply and spread over the country. A succession of eight or nine fine days facilitated the work of getting a supply of wood and water, and making the ship ready for sea.

On 27th April Cook discovered an arm or inlet which communicated with the sea, and which afforded a better outlet for ships bound north, than the one by which he had entered Dusky Bay. The following day—the tents and every other article being safely on board—Cook set fire to the top wood, in order to dry the ground they had been occupying. “Next morning the ground was dug up and sowed with several sorts of garden seeds. The soil did not promise much success to the planter, but was the best that could be found.” (con. on p. 54 ).

page 54
“Kb” class locomotive in use in the South Island.

“Kb” class locomotive in use in the South Island.

At two o'clock in the afternoon they set sail, but after getting through between Indian and Long Islands it “fell calm,” and they were obliged to anchor near Long Island. In the morning, 30th April, they tried again to get away, but after struggling till five o'clock in the evening, were compelled to anchor again under the north side of Long Island. After another effort to leave the bay, calms kept them in a cove—aptly named “Detention Cove”—until the afternoon of 4th May, when they got the length of the passage leading to the sea. The breeze then left them.

The night brought heavy squalls of wind, attended with rain, hail, snow and thunder, and in the morning all the hills and mountains in sight were covered with snow. With the help of a light breeze and their boat, the next day saw them down the passage to the place where Cook had intended to anchor. To the east ran a second arm which Cook wished to explore, but being confined on board with a cold, he sent Lieutenant Pickersgill, accompanied by the two Forsters, to do the work. Apparently they experienced some rough weather, as the arm is called “Wet Jacket Arm.”

Finally, at noon on 11th May, the Resolution got clear of the land, and sailed away up the coast, leaving Dusky Bay to settle down once more to sleep.

Special Account of Dusky Bay.

Captain Cook devotes a chapter of his journal to describing Dusky Bay, and to detailed instructions concerning the best way of entering and leaving it.

“There are few places where I have been in New Zealand,” he says, “that afford the necessary refreshments in such plenty as Dusky Bay, a short description of it and of the adjacent country may prove of use to some future navigators, as well as acceptable to the curious reader. For although the country be remote from the present trading part of the world, we can, by no means, tell what use future ages may make of the discoveries made in the present.” Particular note is made of the birds and other animals found in the bay. Cook speaks of five different kinds of ducks, the largest being as big as a muscovy duck, and having such very beautiful, variegated plumage, that they called it the painted duck. Amongst the small birds, he mentions particularly the wattle bird, the poy bird, and the fantails. The most remarkable fantail was one—so small, that Cook in describing it, said: “the body is scarcely bigger than a good filbert, yet it spreads a tail of most beautiful plumage, full three-quarters of a semi-circle, of at least four or five inches radius.”

Unfortunately for the birds in Dusky,
(Photo., E. J. McClare). “Ab” class locomotive being turned in the station yard at Auckland.

(Photo., E. J. McClare). “Ab” class locomotive being turned in the station yard at Auckland.

the Resplution's cat, discovering how unsuspecting they were, used to wander off daily and procure for itself a full and tasty meal.

During the first few days of their stay in the Sound, a four-footed animal was seen by three or four of the Resolution's company; but as “no two gave the same description of it,” Cook could not say what it was. However, all the witnesses agreed that it was “about the size of a cat, with short legs, and of a mouse colour.” One of the seamen who had the best view of it, said that it had a bushy tail, and was more like a jackall of any animal he knew.

More than once, Cook refers with gratitude to the fish in Dusky; not only were they in abundance, but in great variety. A species of cod—which the sailors called the coal-fish, on account of its colour—was considered the best and most savoury of all.

Almost the only annoying thing was the host of sandflies. They were tormenting; and “exceeded everything of the kind ever met with.” The other evil was the nearly continuous rain, though in fairness to Dusky, Cook adds: “This may only happen at this season of the year.” Yet the people felt no ill-effects from the rain; on the contrary, “the sick and ailing recovered daily,” due to the healthiness of the place and to the fresh provisions—seal-meat, fish, and spruce beer.

The great work done during Cook's stay in Dusky, says Dr. McNab, was, of course, the accurate survey and charting of the sound. Cook must have worked very hard to have accomplished what he did in the time; “distance, length of coast line, and weather, were all against him.” The chart is, without exception, the finest made during his second voyage.