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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Fact versus Fiction

Fact versus Fiction

As Bullock states in her introduction her story ‘may justly claim to be ‘founded on fact,’ for, though the characters are imaginary, the incidents are worked up from reliable materials, and the more shocking events are but detailed reflexes of historical fact’ (Utu 2)29. These factual events concern the ill-fated voyage of Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne one of the first European explorers to set foot in New Zealand. While Bullock is factual to a point with the events of this journey she uses her ‘abnormally developed imaginative faculty’ to add spice to an already exciting factual tale. Captain Marion Dufresne led an expedition to the southern seas with the boats Marquis de Castries and the Mascarin with Julien Crozet. Both Dufresne and Crozet were aboard the Mascarin while in charge of the Marquis de Castries was an aristocrat by the name of Ambroise du Clesmeur, who was not yet twenty. Bullock mentions that two men on board the ships, Jean and Jacques, had belonged to the crew of the St. Jean Baptiste under Captain de Surville which had previously visited New Zealand. While this voyage did take place there is no evidence to suggest that Dufresne’s expedition had members from de Surville’s expedition. It was assumed by a contemporary commentator on Dufresne’s voyage that de Surville’s activities had influenced Dufresne’s fate ‘He felt that Marion’s wearing of the Cross of Saint Louis, just as de Surville had, served as a ‘mark of recognition’ for the Maoris determined on vengeance’ (Duyker 201)30.

Bullock has the expedition sighting New Zealand ‘in the early days of May 1772’ (74)31 when in fact their first sighting of New Zealand occurred on 25 March 1772 around the area of Cape Egmont. However, it was the early days of May when they reached the Bay of Islands arriving at Cape Brett on the 1 May 1772. On the 3 May boats were sent on a reconnaissance mission for potential mooring spots. It was on the 3 May that the expedition had their first significant encounter with Māori people in the Bay of Islands, previously having only seen people from a distance and once having made an exchange of ‘several handkerchiefs and a knife’ (Ollivier 22)32for fresh fish. Three Māori canoes approached the Mascarin cautiously and the crew encouraged them to come aboard. They were boarded first by one old man who was given gifts and had his cloak removed and was dressed in European clothes. At which point the old man encouraged other tribal members to come aboard, and it is reported that after this first friendly encounter, other Māori canoes came along side the boats and they had by one account 250 people aboard. Du Clesmeur recounts the encounter in an entertaining way stating that:

Finally we had on board the two vessels at least a hundred Zealanders, who sang and danced almost all the time, and it was only with difficulty that we got rid of them, and even then on condition that we would pay them a visit; to engage us still further they gave us to understand that their women were pretty, hoping to attract us by this ploy which is indeed an effective way to unite nations the most disparate in their ways, their manners and their customs (Ollivier 22-3)33.

The fictional first encounter that Bullock envisioned between the two cultures is a somewhat sombre affair. A canoe is spotted in the ocean but it is filled with people that are ‘either all dead or in a very exhausted condition’ (Bullock 75)34 and indeed all but two of the hundred or so men on board the canoe have died of starvation. It is at this point that an interesting exchange takes place between Dufresne and D’Estrelles (the villain of Utu):

Another thing occurs to me, D’Estrelles. The poor Maori has been grievously mis-represented. He has been called a cannibal. But a hundred men have perished in that canoe of hunger, and not one is mutilated...Those warriors there must have been ravenous as wolves, yet there is no evidence of cannibalism. Depend upon it the gentle savage has been maligned (78)35.

This episode seems to have been included by Bullock to dispel the notion that the Māori people were socially deviant and killed humans for food. As Bullock states in her introduction, the chapters that are ‘descriptive of the life of the ancient Maori’ though ‘sketchy’ are ‘true to that past life, as Maori scholars and historians have handed it down to us’ (2)36. Although she deals with Māori cannibalism further on in the book, it is made clear that the reasons behind the cannibalism are based on revenge, including an explanation in her own footnote stating that: ‘The ancient Maori was not a cannibal from choice. He merely ate his enemy for utu, as the last evidence of his hatred and contempt’ (106)37. She even states in Utu the dire consequences of breaking tapu:

Probably all the terrible deeds of bloody cannibalism, which, in the beginning of the century made civilized cheeks pale at the name of New Zealand, were but reprisals for some infringement of this unknown law, and might have been avoided had the pioneers of settlement been acute or heedful enough to master its meaning (86)38.

Bullock depicts the French men as being rather enamoured of Māori women, particularly Rau-kata-mea, a Māori princess daughter of a well-respected chief. Bullock’s narrator states that ‘the majority of the young wahines were fine creatures’ (99)39 and has Dufresne stating that Rau-kata-mea is ‘not the only pretty one in the kainga, parbleu!’ (123)40. However, the opinions of the French men that were actually on the expedition were somewhat less flattering. Jean Roux, the ensign on board the Mascarin, wrote a detailed retrospective account of the expedition and he states: ‘In the chief’s fine canoe there were four young women, not pretty in the least and rather badly built’ (Ollivier 139)41 and later on when the locals offered the crew some of their women: ‘They presented them to us and they seemed angry that we rejected them’ (147)42.

In Bullock’s tale she has members of the crew breaking a significant tapu, the accidental desecration of a sacred burial site of Māori chiefs; it is this act of irreverence that seals the fate of the crew in the novel. This event is of course an invention of Bullock’s, but it would appear that Dufresne’s crew, at least unwittingly, did break several tapu laws. Edward Duyker in An Officer of the Blue: Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, South Sea Explorer, 1724-1772, has an excellent account of the reasons why Dufresne and some of his crew were most certainly murdered. For example, the camp they had set up for felling kauri trees to re-mast their ships would not have taken into account rituals required before the cutting down of trees. As Duyker states ‘To the Maoris, all natural objects had a spiritual dimension’ (150)43 and the god of the forest, Tane, had to be placated before the removal of any trees. Likewise, when the French were fishing they would have been unaware of the debt that needed to be paid to Tangaroa, the god of the sea. As Duyker states in relation to the sea ‘whole areas could be off-limits and subject to tapu because of their association with disturbing events. Marion was unaware of the significance of such ritual prohibitions, if he observed them at all’ (151)44. Indeed, in Te Ao Hou magazine there is an account told to John White (British ethnographer 1826-1891) of Dufresne’s visit to the Bay of Islands, and it recounts the breaking of the tapu of the fishing grounds. The only thing known about White’s informant is that he was a member of the Ngapuhi tribe. The informant states that:

But there came a day when the foreigners rowed ashore in order to net fish on the beach at Manawaora. The Maoris scolded them for this, for the beach was tapu to some of Te Kauri's people...Some men from there had been drowned in the Bay of Islands, and had been cast ashore on this beach. Although the people of Ngati Pou told them angrily not to do this... the foreigners took no notice, and persisted in drawing in their net on the beach. Then Ngati Pou became very sad, and no longer visited the ships (Te Ao Hou 1965)45.

Along with breaking tapu, Duyker cites economic and territorial reasons for Dufresne’s demise. Te Kuri (possibly the chief Takori that Bullock refers to in her text) was ‘the paramount chief of the region’ (149)46 and he is described by Roux as ‘regarded as one of the great chiefs of this area; almost all the others paid him homage’ (Ollivier 149)47, and he seemed to begin to feel threatened by the presence of Dufresne. As the crew began to set up on Moturua Island Roux states that:

I do not know what the natives thought when they saw us settling in this fashion. I am convinced that they believed very firmly that we would stay there forever because each day we unloaded many items from the vessels (147)48.

If this is what Te Kuri believed then Dufresne would have been a threat to his authority. The economic effect of supplying food for the two crews would also have given Te Kuri cause for concern. For all these reasons ‘by the middle of June 1772 Te Kuri appears less an individual motivated by barbaric passions, than a leader under great pressure’ (Duyker 151-2)49.

Bullock’s account of the murder of Dufresne seems to be fairly accurate. Up to the end Dufresne had no suspicion of the offence that he had caused the Māori people and his casual attitude depicted by Bullock matches his attitude as evidenced by Roux in his log book, as he details the last conversation that he had with Dufresne:

I remarked that he should not be so trusting with these people and that I was convinced that the natives were plotting harm. He would believe nothing of it and kept on repeating that we had only to treat them kindly and they would never do us any harm...Mr Marion said to me: ‘How can you expect me to have a poor opinion of a people who show so much friendship for me? Since I do them nothing but good, surely they will not do me any harm?’ (Ollivier 175)50

According to Roux’s log book this conversation occurred on the 11 June 1772. On the 12 June 1772, Marion Dufresne along with at least 12 others went at the invitation of Te Kuri and other chief’s on a fishing expedition at Te Hue, the cove below Te Kuri’s village. It was there that they were slaughtered. According to the information given to John White:

Marion and his men used their nets, and the fish were lying in their boat. When the foreigners were putting the net into the boat, the Maoris attacked them and clubbed them to death. All of them were killed; not one escaped.

They took the bodies and cooked them, and Te Kauri and Tohitapu of the Te Koroa sub-tribe ate Marion, and Te Kauri took Marion's clothes. The bones of the foreigners who had been killed were made into forks for picking up food, and the thigh-bones were made into flutes (Te Ao Hou 1965)51.

Bullock describes the aftermath of the killings as taking place a lot more quickly than the events actually occurred. She does recount accurately that Māori were spotted by the French wearing Dufresne and the other men’s clothes, and that Crozet was some way inland and on being informed of Dufresne’s death tried to keep the news from his men as he led them back to the coast in order to prevent panic (Duyker 158-9)52. The first attack by the French on a Māori pa took place on June 14; this attack was made on Moturua Island to preserve the French water supply, but it wasn’t until the 7 July that the French attacked Te Kuri’s village, killing the occupants who couldn’t flee in time and then setting fire to the village so that nothing remained (Duyker 160-162)53. At eight o’clock on the morning of July 13 1772, both ships set sail and headed for Guam (Ollivier 207)54.

Margaret Bullock passed away on 17 June 1903 after a long illness. Her obituaries remember her as a ‘clever descriptive writer’ (Evening Post 17 June 1903)55 and as ‘one of the pioneers of the Ladies’ Gallery of newspaper writers in the House. She was a very bright writer of sessional notes, observations, and comments’ (The Free Lance 27 June 1903)56. It is her obituary in her hometown paper the Wanganui Herald that fittingly gives the most complete account of her life. It details how she became known throughout the colony for her ‘facile and descriptive pen’, her involvement with the Wanganui Women’s Political League and the New Zealand Council of Women, and her community involvement which had ‘been greatly appreciated by all classes of the community’. The obituary also mentions her regular contributions to the paper in regards to the issues she was concerned about as being ‘pointed and forceful’ (Wanganui Herald 17 June 1903)57 an accurate account of a lady who was not afraid of having her opinions heard. What remains of Margaret Bullock is her ‘clever descriptive’ writing that in her novel, her tourist guides, her letters to the editor and her speeches to various women’s organisations detail important aspects of New Zealand history. It seems appropriate to conclude with Bullock’s own words regarding Utu: ‘Such as it is, the author now abandons it, not without some fear and trembling, to the unbiased verdict of that potent judge and jury combined. The Public’ (Utu 2)58.