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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.


Were Portuguese off East Coast in 1550 A.D.?—East Cape as “Cabo Da Fermoso” on British Official Chart (1803–56)—Borrowings from Sixteenth Century Maps—Prophecies by Hocken and McNab.

It was widely believed in England, at the opening of the nineteenth century, that the Dutch might not have been the first non-Polynesian discoverers of New Zealand. Indeed, some of the highest British authorities were convinced that sailors belonging either to Portugal or to Spain—or, perhaps, to both of those countries—had gazed upon the striking headlands and pretty bays which adorn the mid-eastern section of the North Island coast over two hundred years before Cook stepped ashore, in 1769, at Boat Harbour (Poverty Bay) and nearly a century before Tasman, in 1642, sighted the rugged western coast of the South Island.

Not a great deal that is fresh has been written on this important subject for many years, mainly because the search for new material would involve much time, expense and difficulty. Hocken and McNab—two of the Dominion's most gifted historians—held that further research might reveal that the true story of the discovery of New Zealand has yet to be told. Unhappily, neither gained an opportunity to elucidate what both seem to have rated a first-class historical mystery.

In Transactions of the New Zealand Institute (1894) at p. 616, Hocken says:

“Doubtless before Tasman, there were voyagers who had visited New Zealand…. We are justified in thinking that there are buried in the old archives of Portugal and of Spain journals which, if found, would give an earlier account of New Zealand than those which we consider our earliest…. The iron-bound chests of Portugal and of Spain are the probable repositories of these treasures, or they may have been emptied into the Papal and monkish libraries … and may lie covered with the accumulated dust of centuries.”

Touching upon the Jean Rotz map of 1542 A.D., Dr. Hocken added:

“This strange map shadows forth the strong probability that New Zealand was known to Europeans, and most likely to the Portuguese, at least 350 years ago [i.e., the sixteenth century].

In an address which McNab forwarded to the Poverty Bay branch of the Royal Colonial Institute on the occasion of the Cook anniversary celebrations for 1915, he stated (The Gisborne Times, 10/10/1915):

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“New Zealand had been on the map of the world just over a century and a quarter before Cook rediscovered it in 1769. There is also evidence which seems worthy of consideration that it had been previously seen on more than one occasion. I believe that the information will one day be unearthed, and I further believe that I know where it will be found, but it will be only after a search that might last for years.”

Some writers infer that E1 Edrisi, the twelfth century Arabian geographer, must have had some knowledge of New Zealand because, in his Sinbad-like stories, mention is made of huge birds seen in a distant land by navigators among his kinsfolk. Colling-ridge, the noted Australian historian (Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. V, No. 2) dismisses this claim with the remark: “Those navigators would not have required to venture as far as New Zealand to make the acquaintance of birds which, on account of their great size, caused them to marvel.”

It was supposed by other early commentators that New Zealand might be the distant land, “Southern India,” which a Frenchman (Sieur Binot Gonneville) claimed to have visited in 1503 A.D. He is said to have reached “a great country situated between 50 deg. and 60 deg. S. latitude.” The people with whom he sojourned for six months in a river about the size of the Orne were “amiable”—a description which does not tally with the ungentle Maori cannibals of pre-civilization times. He took back to France one of the natives, who married into his family, a descendant being the Abbé Jean Paulmier. Not a tittle of corroboration has been forthcoming that the native was a Maori. Moreover, the course which Gonneville is stated to have steered would not have taken him into the South-west Pacific.

A voyage which the Spanish explorer Juan Fernandez claimed to have made from the west coast of South America in 1576 A.D. is still favoured in some quarters as one which might have led to the discovery of New Zealand. It is described in a memorial submitted to King Philip III of Spain in 1610 A.D. by “his dutiful subject, Dr. Juan Luis Arias.” The land which Fernandez is stated to have discovered had a coast of considerable length, cut by the mouths of rivers carrying much water; a land of temperate clime and peopled by light-skinned natives “well-disposed, peaceful and civil.” Critics point out that he could hardly have traversed the five thousand odd miles which separate South America from New Zealand in his small vessel “in about a month or so “and that the description given of the natives does not answer to that of the Maoris before they became civilized.

The designation “New Zealand” is stated by Curnin (Index to the Laws of New Zealand; 1885) to have first appeared as a record on a piece of sculpture, consisting of two hemispheres page 10 representing a map of the world, which was used to embellish the pavement of the great hall of the present Stadt House in Amsterdam. The map, he says, was laid down in 1648, but it became obliterated by the constant tread of feet. When Sir Joseph Banks visited Holland in 1773, he could not find any trace of it. Burney (Voyages to the South Seas, Vol. 3, p. 182) avers that Banks “was at much pains in making inquiry concerning the Stadt House map, but he could obtain no proof of the work having been visible within the memory of man.”

That the fate of this wonderful map was not as indicated is shown in a letter, dated 16 August, 1939, which the compiler of these records received, through the British Consul-General at Amsterdam, from the Municipal Archivist there. It states:

“The date of this marble and copper map can be fixed more closely as 1653 or 1654 A.D., for it was in the latter year that the marble intended for the Burgerzaal (Civil Hall), which was bought in that year or the year before, was paid for. The map now lies in the Groote Krijgsraadkamer (Chamber of the War Council) and, if my information is correct, there are now plans to put it back in its original place in the first floor of the Burgerzaal. The Civil Hall and the Chamber of the War Council are the two most important halls in the present Royal Palace”

Further interesting details (received from H. Antcliffe, 48 van Hogenhoucklaan, The Hague) reveal that New Zealand is not shown on the famous map. It was, it seems, first laid down in the City Hall and then removed to the Chamber of the War Council, where it is now covered with a wooden floor. Mr. Antcliffe added that the oldest map of New Zealand in Holland appears in Tasman's original diary (1642–43), which is in the Dutch General Government archives (Kol. aan. 63). A copy of this map is reproduced in the facsimile edition of Tasman's diary by J. E. Heeres (Amsterdam, 1898).