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

A Regrettable Attack

A Regrettable Attack

The afternoon of the second day of Cook's stay at Poverty Bay (10 October) was even more disastrous for the natives than the morning. Wharton says that, as Cook found that nothing more could be done with the people on the northern side of the bay, and as the water in the [Turanganui] river was salt, he embarked to visit the bottom of the bay in search of fresh water “and, if possible, to surprise some of the natives and to take them on board and, by good treatment and presents, endeavour to gain their friendship.” In Cook's rough notes, the paragraph dealing with the decision to make this journey appears to have ended originally with the words “fresh water.” Some light is thrown on the postscript by the entry in which an account is given of the attack that was made on the natives in the canoe. Cook points out that heavy surf prevented him from landing at this part of the bay. He adds: “This made me resolve upon taking one of 2 boats I saw coming into the bay….” Cook uses the term “head of the bay.”

Wharton says that one of the canoes [Polack was told that they page 34 had come from the direction of Young Nick's Head] made off and that, when the boats got alongside the other, Tupaea called upon its occupants to bring it alongside, telling them that they would not be hurt. Quoting Cook, Wharton adds:

“As they endeavoured to get away, I order'd a Musquet to be fir'd over their heads, thinking that this would either make them surrender or jump overboard; but here I was mistaken, for they immediately took to their Arms or whatever they had in the Boat and began to attack us. This obliged us to fire upon them. [Parkinson says that Cook, Banks and Solander did the firing] and, unfortunately, either 2 or 3 were killed and one wounded and 3 jumped overboard. These last we took up and brought on board, where they were Cloathed and Treated with all imaginable kindness….
“I am aware that most Humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will Censure my conduct in Firing upon the People in their boat; nor do I myself think that the reason I had in seizing upon her will at all justify me; and, had I thought that they would have made the Least Resistance, I would not have come near them; but, as they did, I was not to stand still and suffer either myself or those that were with me to be knocked on the head.”

In Cook's rough notes, the final paragraph reads:

“I can by no means justify my conduct in attacking and killing the people in this boat who had given me no just provocation and was wholly ignerorant of my design and, had I had the least thought of them making any resistance, I would not so much as have looked at them; but, when we were once a long side of them, we must either have stud to be knocked on the head or else retired and let them gone off in triumph, and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timorousness.”

Banks supplies the fullest account of the regrettable attack upon the canoes. Incidentally, he gives as additional reasons for the expedition that Cook was anxious to ascertain whether there was any shelter for the ship on the other side of the bay and that he would have liked to have landed there, “where the country appeared to be much more fruitfull.”

“We had,” he continues, “almost arrived at the farthest part of the Bay when a fresh Breeze came in from the Seaward and we saw a Canoe sailing in Standing right towards us, and soon after another padling. The Capt. now resolved to take one of these which, in all probability, might be done without the least resistance, as we had 3 boats full of Men and the Canoes seemed to be [those of] Fishermen who probably were without Arms.
“The Boats were drawn up in such a manner that they could not well escape us. The padling Canoe first saw us and made immediately for the nearest land; the other sailed on till she was in the midst of us before they saw us. As soon as she did, she struck her Sail and began to padle so briskly that she outran our boat.
“On a Musquet being fired over her, she, however, ceased padling immediately and the People in her, 7 in all, made all possible haste to Strip, as we thought to leap into the water. But no sooner did our boat come up with her than they began with Stones, padles, etc. to make so brisk a resistance that we were obliged to fire into her, by page 35 which four were killed; the other 3, who were boys, leaped overboard. One of them swam with great agility and, when taken, made every effort in his power to prevent being taken into the boat; the other two were more easily prevailed upon.
“As soon as they were in, they squatted down, expecting, no doubt, instant Death, but, on finding themselves well used, and that cloathes were given them, they recovered their Spirits in a very short time, and, before we got to the ship, appeared totally insensible of the loss of their fellows.”

Parkinson's vague account differs greatly from those of Cook and Banks, and it cannot be regarded as that of an eyewitness. He mentions the presence of only one canoe, and concludes: “Several of the natives were killed and wounded and [apart from the three who were made prisoner] the rest were suffered to escape.” But only in his version is the canoe described. It was, he says, 30 ft. long; was made of planks sewed together; and it had a big sail made of matting.

The boats, which had been absent from the ship since 8 a.m., returned at 5 p.m. Banks says that, as soon as the natives were taken on board, they were offered bread “of which they almost devoured a great quantity.” They put on cheerful and lively countenances “and asked and answered questions with a great deal of curiosity.” At dinner they desired to taste everything that was on the table; salt pork appeared to please them most. Beds were made up for them on the lockers, and they laid down contentedly. Loud noises were heard on shore during the night. He adds: “Thus ended the most disagreeable Day my life has yet seen. Black be the mark for it and Heaven send that such may never return to embitter future reflections!”

Even on the day of the Endeavour's departure from Poverty Bay, Banks was still sorely troubled with pangs of remorse over the unnecessary slayings. He discussed with Cook the point whether they should put into a small cove close to Poverty Bay [probably Whareongaonga], but Cook preferred to search for a better harbour. In his journal, Banks wrote: “God send that we may not there have same Tragedy to act over again as we so lately perpetrated!” In a further note, Banks says:

“In the middle of last night, one of our boys [a captive] seemed to show more reflection than he had before done, sighing often and aloud. Tupia, who was always on the watch to comfort them, got up and soon made them easy. They then sang a song of their own. It was not without some taste, like a Psalm tune, and contained many notes and semi-tones. They sang it in parts, which gives us no indifferent idea of their taste as well as skill in Musick. The oldest of them is about 18, the middlemost, 15 and the youngest, 10. The middlemost especially has a most open countenance and agreeable manner. Their names are: Te Ahourange, Koikerange and Maragooete—the first two brothers.”
page 36

According to W. L. Williams, the correct spelling of the first name was “Te Haurangi,” but E. F. Harris gives it as “Te Hourangi.” Both agree as to the spelling of the other two names—Ikirangi and Marukauiti. Mr. Williams said that he had heard descendants of Ikirangi and Marukauiti talk of the intercourse which their ancestors held with Tupaea, but he added that the name “Te Haurangi” had been forgotten. Harris was unable to trace the ancestry either of Te Hourangi or of Ikirangi, and his inquiries went to show that Marukauiti's line had died out.