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

A Strange Misconception

A Strange Misconception

To all who are familiar with the coast in the vicinity of Poverty Bay—backed as it is by high ranges—it must seem strange that Young Nick's Head is given by two of the voyagers as the point of land that was first seen. This misconception can be accounted for only by the fact that, some time after the high land had been sighted, this headland was found to lie directly ahead, and that it was named after Nicholas Young.

Parkinson was under the impression that Young Nick's Head was the part of the land that was first sighted. He says:

“About 2 o'clock in the afternoon, one of our people, Nicholas Young, the surgeon's boy, descried a point of land of New Zealand from the starboard bow at about nine leagues distance bearing west by north. We bore up to it and, at sunset, we had a good view of it. The land was high and appeared like an island. We regaled ourselves in the evening on the occasion. The land was called ‘Young Nick's Head,’ and the boy received his reward.”

Cook did not mention the headland by name until after he had left Poverty Bay on the 12th (corrected date). “At noon,” he says, in his entry for that date, “the S.W. point of Poverty Bay which I have named Young Nick's Head (after the boy who first saw this land) bore….” Nowhere in his journal does Cook state that it was the first point of land to come into view. The opening to Poverty Bay was not seen until twenty-seven hours after land was first sighted.

Another voyager who believed that Young Nick's Head received its name because it was the first land sighted was James Roberts, of Banks's suite. His journal entry regarding the first attempt that was made—on 9 October—to sail into Poverty Bay states: “At 11 tack'd ship within 2 miles of a bluff head caul'd Yong Nicks Head from its being the first land seen by Nicholas Yong a boy.” Roberts's entry seems to have been belatedly made.

Whilst Professor E. E. Morris, Litt.D. of Melbourne (who was a noted authority on Captain Cook) was on a visit to Poverty Bay in 1901 (Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 33, pp. 499–514), he agreed with W. L. Williams that the first land sighted must have been the high ranges in the interior. Cook, in his reference to the naming of Young Nick's Head had, he added, merely said that he had called it “after the boy who first saw this land,” meaning, presumably, New Zealand.

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There is no mention in any account of the voyage of the sighting of cliffs on 7 October (the day on which land first came into view from the masthead). The Canberra logbook says that the land appeared west by north “in the form of low hummocks,” and that it was then eight or nine leagues away. Becket (Anon. 1771) uses a similar term. At sunset, Banks, after having been aloft, described it as “like an island or islands, but seemed large.” The first reference to cliffs is made in the noon entery in the Canberra logbook on 8 October: that, at a distance of from thirteen to fourteen miles, “several smokes and white cliffs” could be seen. The southernmost land [Mahia Peninsula] then appeared “like an island.”

Early on the evening of 8 October, Banks supplies a realistic word-picture:

“In the evening a pleasant Breeze. At Sunset, all hands at the Mast head. Land still Distant 7 or 8 leagues; appears larger than ever. In many parts, 3, 4, and 5 ranges of hills are seen one over the other, and a chain of mountains over all, some of which appear enormously high. Much difference of opinion and many conjectures about Islands, Rivers, Inlets, etc., but all hands seem to agree that this is certainly the continent we are in search of.”