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

Chapter II — Before the Days of Tasman

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Chapter II
Before the Days of Tasman

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).

The de la Rochette Chart

The British Government's action in approving what is known as the de la Rochette (or Faden) chart (which was first published in 1803, a second edition following in 1817) lent official colour to a suggestion that portion of the eastern coast of the North Island was discovered by the Portuguese about 1550 A.D. Against the outline of New Zealand appears this note: “New Zeeland: Discovered and named by Tasman 1642, but whose eastern coast was known to the Portuguese about 1550.” East Cape is shown on the chart as “Cabo da Fermoso, 1550.” Opposite Cook Strait, on the eastern side, is the legend: “Gulf of the Portuguese, 1550” whilst, on the other side, are the words: “Gulf of 1642, by the Dutch.”

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Several important improvements appear in the 1817 issue. Stewart Island, which was shown in 1803 as a peninsula, is plainly delineated and it and Foveaux Strait are given the designations which are still in use. On the face of the chart there is the following text: “Chart of the Indian Ocean. Improved from the chart of M. d'Apres de Mannevillette. With the Addition of a Part of the Pacific Ocean, as well as of the Original Tracks of the Principal Discoverers or other Navigators to India and China, and which, it has been admitted, give a Chronological Indication of Successive Discoveries. By L. S. de la Rochette (London). Published by W. Faden, Geographer to the King and to H. R. H. the Prince Regent.”

Three much older charts upon which the de la Rochette map appears to have been based are of historic interest as much to the people of Australia as to those of New Zealand. If it could be shown that they were derived from first-hand information, the honour of discovering at least portion of the eastern seaboard of Australia and of the islands to the east of it in the sixteenth century would require to be awarded to the Portuguese. It is held (Transactions of the Historical Society of Australasia, Vol. 1, p. 89) that the Dauphin chart of the French must have been compiled between 1530 and 1536 A.D. on account of two facts—(1) that it shows the Straits of Magellan, the existence of which had not become known in Europe until del Cano published the results of Magellan's voyage in 1523 A.D.; and (2) that in one of the upper corners of the map the arms of France appear with the crown open, whereas, if the map had been made in 1536 A.D. or later, the crown would have been shown arched over. In addition, the map also carries the arms of the Dauphin Henry (afterwards Henry II of France) who was born in 1518 A.D.

The map that was drawn in 1542 A.D. for King Henry VIII of England by John Rotz, the hydrographer, was, it is plain, based upon the Dauphin chart, or upon the material from which that chart was compiled. It contains some fresh details in regard to some portions of the globe, but nothing new in the case of the part held to represent Australia. Like the Dauphin chart, Desceliers' chart is of French origin. It is labelled: “Faicte a Arques par Pierre Desceliers pbre Lan, 1550.” Its outline of Jave (supposed to be Australia) also bears a close resemblance to that which appears on the Dauphin chart. This land is represented as being inhabited by elephants, camels with swanlike necks, and men with dogfaced heads. No particular attention need, of course, be given to the ornamentation, seeing that, in those days, map-makers were allowed considerable license.

Published by the Geographer to the King, the de la Rochette page 12 chart bears an inscription: “Approved by the Chart Committee of the Admiralty.” Admiral Edgell (Hydrographer to the British Admiralty) informed the writer (8/3/1938) that the Chart Committee which assisted de la Rochette consisted of British naval officers, at the head of whom was Captain T. Hurd, R.N. Probably, however, the personnel was changed from time to time, since war conditions might have required the services of some of the officers at sea. He added that the copper plate of the de la Rochette chart passed into the hands of the Hydrographic Office; that the chart became known as “Admiralty chart, No. 748”; and that it was not withdrawn until 1856, when it was superseded by up-to-date charts. The chart was, therefore, in use by the British Admiralty for just over half a century. None of the Portuguese legends on it appear on the large scale Admiralty chart No. 1212: “New Zealand: Explored by Captain James Cook in 1769–70,” which was published on 30 April, 1816. Copies of both these valuable charts were forwarded to the writer by Admiral Edgell.

British Admiralty Comment

According to D. Bonner Smith, F.R.His.S. (Librarian to the British Admiralty), to whom the author was indebted for amplifying the information supplied by Admiral Edgell, the historian Burney, in 1803, drew the attention of the British Admiralty to the fact that the Dauphin chart (1530–36 A.D.) and Pierre Desceliers' chart (1550 A.D.) had come into the possession of the British Museum authorities. The Rotz map (1542 A.D.) had previously been acquired for the museum. Burney was of the opinion—based upon the information which these charts afforded—that there were reasons for supposing that the eastern coast of New Holland (Australia) had been seen in the sixteenth century, and had added: “But they are not sufficient to authorise the insertion of any part in a chart of the discoveries made previous to 1579 A.D.”

Commenting on these ancient charts, Mr. Bonner Smith said:

“Documentation for these charts is wanting; it is not known who, if anyone, voyaged down to Australia and supplied the material for them. The interpretation to be placed upon them is, I think, also a matter of difficulty. Burney thought that these charts indicated only the east coast of Australia when he described them in 1803. I think that they are the authority for all of de la Rochette's legends on the Faden chart of 1803 and 1817, which would seem to indicate that the suggestion was then current that some of the legends applied to New Zealand and not all of them to New Holland (Australia). De la Rochette may have misread Burney and interpreted part of his eastern coast to mean that of New Zealand, whereas Burney meant the whole of it to apply to New Holland.”
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On the land mass which appears to represent Australia on the ancient charts, there is no sign of the real Cape York Peninsula. The eastern coastline starts at Sumbava Island and wanders in a south-easterly direction across the site of Australia until it dips beyond where New Zealand lies, ending in 60 deg. S. latitude. A remarkable feature is that the middle section is shown with a bulge as in the case of Australia. The islands that have been claimed to represent New Zealand are in too low a latitude.

As there were but few lands to discover in the South-west Pacific, it must be regarded as a striking feature of the sixteenth century charts that those shown are limited to the major islands which appear to represent Australia and New Zealand. There is a “Coste dangereuse,” or “Costa pesillentia,” or “Costa pergosa” on the north-east section of the “Jave la Grande” of the Dauphin chart; on the “Londe of Java” of Rotz; and on the “Jave” of Desceliers. This fact is held by some investigators to prove that at least one very early navigator gained a fleeting glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef. Near the latitude of 30 deg. S. on the eastern seaboard, there is a stretch of coast which is named “Coste des Herbaiges,” or “Costa des Ervas.” It answers in situation to Botany Bay—a name which, it would seem, Cook did not bestow while he was there, and which might have been suggested, later, by Banks.

Whilst the storm over the so-called “French-Portuguese” charts was at its height, some of the critics admitted that it was difficult to account for some of the features delineated on the outline of the major land mass. Even so, they preferred to believe that any near-coincidences did not arise from knowledge gained by voyagers, but were the fruits of lucky conjecture. Burney (History of the Discoveries in the South Sea: 1803) parried any such suggestion by pointing out “that it is not easy to imagine that all of the many instances of similitude … that are to be found in the general outline of this land [Jave la Grande] were produced merely by chance.”

Modern Portuguese and Spanish Viewpoints

No other latter-day historical expert is more uncompromisingly critical of the sixteenth century “French-Portuguese charts” than Professor G. C. Henderson (Research Professor of History at the University of Sydney). Writing to the compiler of these records (18/5/1938), he pointed out, inter alia, that de la Rochette was one of the controversialists who, after Cook's return from his first voyage, proclaimed (as he no doubt believed) that the Portuguese had been the real discoverers of the east coast of Australia. But, by 1803, it was, he continues, no longer possible page 14 for any rational being to believe that the southern part of the east coast of Jave la Grande could have any meaning as applied to the southern part of the east coast of Australia. Before that date, as his own map plainly shows, Bass Strait was known, the coasts of Tasmania had been fairly well surveyed, and the coast of New South Wales had been drawn almost as it should have been….

“But,” he adds, “de la Rochette's resources (such as they were) were not yet completely exhausted. He knew that the latitude and longitude of Cabo da Fermoso on the French-Portuguese charts would place it far to the east of Australia. So, in 1803, he places ‘Cabo da Fermoso 1550’ on the coast of New Zealand where Cook in 1769 had written ‘East Cape.’ Having decided on this, it was easy to find another Portuguese legend for Cook Strait and he wrote ‘Gulf of the Portuguese’ and gave the date 1550. Lastly, in order to make everything clear to students of his map, he tells them that, though Tasman ‘discovered’ the west coast of New Zealand in 1642, the eastern coast ‘was known’ to the Portuguese ‘about the year 1550.’ Evidently, he was what we would call nowadays a ‘die-hard,’ and the unscrupulous ingenuity displayed in this last attempt to save his face will help any reader to understand something of the temper of the men who, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, were determined to put this young upstart Cook in his proper place!”

Inquiries made by the author reveal that lively interest continues to be taken by research workers in Portugal on the subject of early exploration in the South-west Pacific.

From the British Consulate at Lisbon, under date 15 November, 1939, there came to hand the modern Portuguese viewpoint, gathered from members of the Lisbon Geographical Society.

“It seems certain,” Admiral Gago Coutinho stated, “that the west coast of Australia was visited by the Portuguese before 1550. But New Zealand was so far outside of the meridian of Tordesilhas [the line of demarcation between the Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence in the Pacific] that it is unlikely that the Portuguese went so far to the eastward as New Zealand.”
Admiral Freitas Ribeiro emphasized the point that there exist but very scanty records of the discoveries made by the Portuguese in what was once known as the “Spanish Pacific.” He continues: “The earliest information about Australia is of Portuguese origin, as can clearly be seen from the first maps of Australia, which are preserved in England and France…. However, the Portuguese refrained from publicizing their discoveries, since the meridian of Tordesilhas divided Great Java (Australia) into two parts—the Portuguese and the Spanish—and it was not politic to aggravate with new details the irritating issue of the Moluccas then being disputed between the governments of Madrid and Lisbon. Moreover, the new land (Australia) hardly seemed to be a Land of Promise. As regards Tasmania, it is almost certain that, long before Tasman, the Portuguese had reached there. This is shown by the name ‘Pedra Blanca,’ preserved by Tasman in 1642 for the point now known as ‘Eddystone,’ and which may well be identified with the Cabo da Fermoso of the Dauphin's map. The name naturally came from the Portuguese maps page 15 taken to Holland. With reference to New Zealand, it is probable that the Portuguese visited that land also, but I know of no documents proving the priority of any discoveries on our part. If the Portuguese did reach New Zealand (in the sixteenth century) they did not take the trouble to make the fact known, since it was situated well within the Spanish hemisphere.”
Dr. Armando Cortezao, in his reply, stated: “As for New Zealand, it is very likely that the Portuguese went there before 1642, but I have no positive knowledge. I have a note of a vague reference which might lead to a theory to this effect, but I have never had the time to follow up the trail. I trust that I may, some day, be able to do so.”

The modern Spanish viewpoint on the subject is also of considerable interest. Under date 5 March, 1940, Professor Balles-teros, of the Spanish Academy of History, Madrid, informed the writer that he had come to the tentative conclusion that Juan Fernandez, the Spanish navigator (1536–1603), might have been the first European discoverer of New Zealand. He referred to a work published by Ricardo Beltran y Rozpide in 1918, entitled Juan Fernandez and the Discovery of Australia, in which the narrative of Dr. Juan Luis Arias is quoted, and added:

“The opinion held for many years that the land which he visited was Easter Island must be discarded. An island with a circumference of only 35 kilometres, and with an area of only 118 square kilometres could not be said to possess a coastline of considerable length. Nor does the latitude of the island, which is in 27 deg. S., agree with that given by the navigator's chronicler. Furthermore, between 30 deg. and 50 deg. S. latitude there are in the Pacific no large islands or territories outside New Zealand and the southern parts of Australia. From the foregoing, it will be seen that there are fairly solid grounds for the belief now held by certain Spanish historical students that New Zealand must be included within the range of Fernandez's discoveries and further research in this direction might bring to light facts that will convert this belief into a certainty.”

Commenting on earlier claims made on behalf of Fernandez, Professor Henderson, of Sydney, is both brief and caustic:

“I have,” he says, “read a fair amount about phantom islands and lands in the Pacific, and have always been disposed to put Fernandez's alleged discovery of New Zealand on the list. The South Pacific has been fully explored since his day, and where is the land which will answer to his description? As for New Zealand, it is, as Burney points out, 100 deg. of longitude from the coast of South America—not 40 deg.”

Startling revelations are now not likely to result from more intense research in England. Edward Lynam, secretary to the Hakluyt Society, carried out an investigation on behalf of the writer and informed him (20 April, 1939):

“I can find no recorded evidence in England that either the Arabs or the Portuguese or the Spaniards ever got near New Zealand before the days of Tasman, although the Portuguese seem to have had knowledge of northern and north-west Australia at the beginning of the sixteenth century.”