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

Flag Incident in Poverty Bay

Flag Incident in Poverty Bay

When Colenso took up the cudgels on behalf of Parkinson (Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. X, 1877, p. 99), he knew that Parkinson, alone among the voyagers, claimed that Cook had, at Poverty Bay, taken possession of New Zealand for the King. It also seems that he was under the erroneous impression that it was one of Cook's duties to throw the mantle of British sovereignty over the country, and it appeared to him that Cook would consider himself obliged to do so on that part of the coast at which he made his first landing. He argued that Cook's action in hoisting the Union Jack at Mercury Bay [an incident which is not mentioned either by Parkinson or by Banks] might have been dictated by a belief that he had reached another native king's domain, and that, in any case, he would regard it as necessary to leave an inscription there to show that he had observed the Transit of Mercury.

It was also Colenso's opinion that other records of the voyage might some day come to light which would support Parkinson's page 32 narrative. “Cook's logbooks and ship's papers,” he said, “are, no doubt, still in existence and in safe keeping. By an accurate and close examination of them—particularly in relation to his landing at Poverty Bay—the whole matter, I have little doubt, will be determined and for ever settled.” There is now, it will be noted, ample evidence to disprove any suggestion that Cook took possession of New Zealand at Poverty Bay. If Colenso had reflected for one moment, it would have occurred to him that it would have been incongruous on Cook's part to have chosen the disparaging designation “Poverty Bay” had he, in fact, taken possession of New Zealand there for the King!

In Tasman to Marsden (1914), p. 20, McNab also accepts Parkinson's unsupported statement that New Zealand was taken possession of “in form for the King” by Cook before he and his party re-embarked at Boat Harbour on the second day of his stay in Poverty Bay. McNab states:

“Whilst ashore on this occasion, the country was taken possession of for King George III. Parkinson says: ‘After taking possession of the country in form for the King, our company embarked.’ Strange to say, neither Cook, Banks nor Hicks mentions this interesting ceremony. But, outside of what Parkinson says, there is the fact that a strong body of marines and seamen had been landed in the boats and, according to Dr. Hawkesworth, who probably got it from the officers, the marines marched ‘with a Jack carried before them.’
“The presence of a body of marines with a Union Jack, when we think of Cook's mission, is sufficient corroboration of Parkinson's statement, even in the face of Cook's silence. Banks does not even mention the Mercury Bay hoisting. The result is that Gisborne is entitled to the honour of being the site of the first hoisting of the Union Jack in New Zealand, and the date was Tuesday, the 10th of October, 1769.”

McNab, it is plain, was also under the mistaken impression that it was part of Cook's mission to take possession of New Zealand. Upon that important point, however, the “Additional Secret Instructions,” which were not released until eleven years after McNab's death, speak for themselves—and to the contrary. Further details which are now available make it clear, beyond a shadow of doubt, that the marines were landed not to take part in a ceremony but to act as a protective force—in fact, to use Banks's words, “to intimidate them [the natives] and to support us in case of necessity.”

Whilst Cook was at Anaura Bay and Tolaga Bay, and at other points where landings were made in New Zealand, the marines were, invariably, called upon to undertake shore duty. No special significance attaches to the detail that they “marched with a Jack carried before them” whilst they were ashore at Poverty Bay. page break
Page from Captain Cook's Diary, showing alteration from “Endeavour Bay” to “Poverty Bay.” By courtesy of Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Page from Captain Cook's Diary, showing alteration from “Endeavour Bay” to “Poverty Bay.”
By courtesy of Mitchell Library, Sydney.

page break
Locale of incidents during Captain Cook's visit to Poverty Bay, 1769. W. L. Williams, Trans. N.Z. Institute, Vol. XXI

Locale of incidents during Captain Cook's visit to Poverty Bay, 1769.
W. L. Williams, Trans. N.Z. Institute, Vol. XXI

page 33

The director of the National Maritime Museum (London) informed the writer that that procedure was, by all accounts, customary in Cook's day. Hawkesworth's authority for the statement that a standard-bearer carried a Jack must have been Banks, for he alone mentions that the British colours were displayed, for the first time in New Zealand, at Poverty Bay on 10 October, 1769. How it came about that McNab saw fit to magnify the incident into a claim that the Union Jack was “hoisted” is inexplicable.

If it had been intended to take possession of New Zealand for the King at Poverty Bay, the consent of the natives would first have had to be obtained. No effort to do so was made, nor could it, in the circumstances, have been made. The setting up of a memorial likely to have some degree of permanence would also have had to be undertaken. Parkinson does not suggest that these steps were taken. The marines did not honour the alleged ceremony by firing three volleys of small arms. A resounding answer did not come from the mouths of the ship's great guns. No cheers then followed on shore and there were no loud hurrahs, in turn, from the vessel's shrouds.

Whilst Cook was at Tolaga Bay, an inscription was cut upon a tree and initials and names were engraved around Cook's Well. Nothing, however, was left at Poverty Bay as evidence of his visit excepting a few small gifts, interesting recollections for the three youths who were entertained; painful memories of the deathdealing properties of the white man's pu (musket); and a disparaging place-name.