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

Chapter V — Unhappy Naming of Poverty Bay

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Chapter V
Unhappy Naming of Poverty Bay

Cook in Disgruntled Mood—Threat by Large Native War Party— Timely Retreat to the Boats—“Endeavour Bay” First Name Given—Vessel in Peril off Portland Island.

On Wednesday, 11 October, 1769 (civil date), the second day after his arrival in Poverty Bay, Cook (vide his rough notes) sent an officer ashore with the marines to guard a party of woodcutters, as his ship was in need of wood as well as water. This party left the ship at 8 a.m. and landed at Boat Harbour. Probably, the wood was obtained on the lower slopes of Kaiti Hill, facing the ship. Shortly afterwards, Cook, Banks and Solander went ashore. They took with them the three native lads captured the previous day.

According to Banks, each of the lads had eaten an enormous breakfast and they had been ornamented with bracelets, anklets and necklaces after their own fashion. Cook was under the impression that they would be quite willing to go away on the Endeavour, but, as Tupaea could make himself understood by the inhabitants, he decided that they might prove of more service if they were put back on shore, where they would be able to show their friends that they had not been harmed. It was on that account that he extended his stay by that day.

The boys expressed much joy when they learned that they were to be landed, but, when they saw the boats heading for Boat Harbour, they begged very hard not to be set ashore there. The people at that place, they said, were enemies of theirs, and would kill and eat them. Cook (rough notes) mentions that they wished to be carried over to the other side of the bay [the south-west side]. He was reluctant to acquiesce, as it would have been necessary first to take the woodcutters back to the ship. Personally, he did not believe the boys' story. A discussion took place as to whether it would be better to carry the boys over in a boat or to march round with them. Cook resolved that, if the boys did not elect to leave them, he would, in the evening, send them away by boat. Without being pressed to do so, the lads, “with tears in their eyes,” left the party after it had crossed over to the western side of the river.

As there were no natives in sight, Cook and his companions sauntered along a ridge lying between Waikanae Beach and Waikanae Creek, intending to shoot some ducks, of which Banks says, “there was a great plenty.” The sergeant and four marines page 38 walked abreast of them, and the other marines marched along the ridge, “which overlooked the country.” Banks reckoned that they had proceeded about a mile when the guard called out “that a large body of Indians was on the march towards them.” [Native tradition states that they had come from Orakaiapu pa.] Cook (rough notes) gives the distance traversed as “not above half a mile.” He also mentions that the natives were in several groups. His party (he adds) drew together, retired to the river, and crossed over to the eastern side. En route, their three young native friends rejoined them.

An Awkward Situation

The fullest account of the retreat is given by Banks. He says that the ship's party went on to the beach, it being the clearest place, and walked briskly towards the spot where the boats had been left. One party of natives marched along the ridge and the other went round the swamp, where they could not be seen. Those in sight now ceased to run, “walking but gently on.” The pinnace was a mile at least from her station (she having been sent by the officer-in-charge to pick up a bird which he had shot); the small boat had been carried across the river; and there was no sign of the middy who had been left in charge of it. Three trips had to be made to transfer all on to the eastern side of the river. Immediately afterwards, the natives—one hundred and fifty to two hundred—assembled on the other bank, “all armed with spears and lances and short truncheons of jasper.” They had arrived, not in a body as had been expected, but two or three at a time. [Parkinson says that Cook ordered his party to re-embark in haste, lest the natives should attempt to cut off their retreat to the boats.]

According to Banks, the visitors now despaired of making peace with people who were not afraid of their small arms. The ship lay so far off the shore that she could not throw a shot there. They, therefore, decided to re-embark so as to avoid the possibility of any further slayings. As they were moving towards the boats, one of the native boys said that the natives who had assembled were friends of his, and he suggested that they should stay and talk with them. Much conversation passed, but neither would the boys swim over to the newcomers nor would the latter come over to the boys. The bodies of Te Maro and Te Rakau had not been touched. Some clothes were placed by the boys over that of Te Rakau. Shortly afterwards, Marakauiti's uncle swam over and presented a green bough—believed to be an emblem of peace—to Tupaea. Gifts were made to him, but he refused to page 39 visit the ship. The boys preferred to return with Cook's party rather than stay with the man.

When Cook and his party had landed that day, they were not aware that Te Rakau had died. “The man that was wounded yesterday,” Cook says in his rough notes, “was found dead on the spot where we had left him.” He adds that the boys' action in covering the body seemed to indicate that his party should have done so to prove their friendliness. The beads and the nails which had been left alongside Te Maro's body, and those which had been left in the houses, had not been touched. Banks explains that, after dinner, the boys were put ashore at Boat Harbour. They left the boat willingly, but soon returned, wading into the water and begging hard to be taken on board again. But the orders that had been given to the two middies who were in charge were positive, and they were left behind. A man in a catamaran took them over the river. Before the band of natives moved off, the boys went down on to the beach and waved their hands three times towards the ship.

Describing the lads, Parkinson says that they resembled the Tahitians. One difference was that only their lips were marked with a blue colour, whereas the Tahitians were “tataowed on other parts of their bodies.” In contrast with the lads, however, the natives around Boat Harbour were “tataowed.” He also notes that the lads ate an immoderate quantity of everything that was set before them, “taking pieces at one time six times larger than we did,” and that “they drank a quart of wine and water at one draught.”

Among details which appear only in Parkinson's journal is a statement that the lads told their hosts that taro, eape, oomera (kumara) and yams, also a peculiar kind of deer [? dogs], were to be found upon the island. As the lads had holes pierced in their ears, it seemed to Parkinson that, sometimes, they wore some kind of earrings. They had some bracelets. Necklaces, too, they well knew the use of, “but they did not like our iron wares.” Nothing was found in the native houses “except a few cockles, limpets and muscle shells.” He adds: “A vast quantity of pumice stone along the shore indicates that there is a volcano within this island.”

Cook (rough notes) says of the natives of Poverty Bay:

“They are of the common stature, well made and of dark copper colour, with long black hair, which they tye upon the crown of their heads. They have thin black beards and white teeth, They tattow their faces in the same manner as the people of George's Island [Tahiti] do backsides. Their habits are a sort of jacket made of a kind of grass very course and looks like a rug or a thrummed mat.”
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Next morning (Thursday, 12 October; civil date) the Endeavour sailed out of Poverty Bay, where she had lain for two days and fourteen hours. Cook and others had spent nineteen hours, in all, away from the vessel. Captain Cook's Journal (Wharton) states:

“At 6 a.m. we weighed and stood out of the bay, which I have named ‘Poverty Bay’ because it afforded us no one thing we wanted.”

That the voyagers had a very lean time in Poverty Bay is beyond question. Not a single canoe-load of natives went off to the ship to trade, or even to inspect her closely. Fresh water was not found. But little wood could have been obtained. Some ducks were shot; the number was probably not large. If any fishing was engaged upon, the extent of the catch is not disclosed.

Cook's rough notes contain the best account of the naming of the bay. They show—and no other account does—that, at first, he bestowed upon it the designation “Endeavour Bay.” The change to “Poverty Bay” could hardly have been made before he proceeded to complete the entry for the day. He might have turned back, after disparagingly summing up the bay, and made the alteration. What is more likely, however, is that the change was not made until after he had told Banks that he had awarded the name “Endeavour Bay” to their first halting-place in New Zealand. In this connection, it is interesting to recall that Botany Bay was first called “Stingray Harbour” by Cook. Some commentators believe that Banks persuaded him to adopt the name “Botany Bay” instead. Perhaps, Banks also assisted Cook to change his mind in the case of “Endeavour Bay.” In any case, Banks was disappointed with the meagre results which had attended his own and Solander's botanical research efforts in Poverty Bay.

“This morn,” he says, “we took our leave of Poverty Bay with not above 40 species of plants in our boxes, which is not to be wondered at, as we were so little ashore, and always upon the same spot. The only time we wandered about a mile from the boats was upon a swamp [Waikanae Swamp] where not more than three species of plants were found.”

In his rough notes, Cook noted the physical features of the bay and then continued:

“However it [the bay] hath nothing to recommend it lying open to the winds from the … to the … in so much that you cannot lay near the shore with your ship to cover your men when attacked by the natives and what is worse still it affords no fresh water at least not near the shore that we could find….”

Only when Cook came to write up his journal from his rough notes did he introduce the phrase, “because it afforded us no one thing we wanted” to explain why he had given the name “Poverty Bay.”

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It is suggested in Parkinson's version of the leave-taking that Cook was anxious for the safety of his vessel whilst she lay in Poverty Bay, and that his main reason for moving on was to find a better anchorage.

“This bay (which, from the few necessaries we could procure, we called ‘Poverty Bay’) is,” Parkinson remarks, “not well sheltered from a south-east wind, which brings in a heavy sea. The natives called the bay ‘Te Oneroa.’ [Strictly speaking, the name Te Oneroa— ‘The Long Stretch of Sandy Beach’—was applied only to the beach running from the Turanganui River mouth to the westwards.] The point of land at the entrance on the E side they called Te Tua Motu.”

The Endeavour made slow progress to the southwards. At noon, she was held up by a calm three miles off-shore at a point between Whareongaonga and Tikiwhata. Several canoes made their appearance, but stood off about a quarter of a mile. A canoe was then seen approaching from the direction of Poverty Bay. Banks says that it had four people on board, including one whom he well remembered seeing on the rock in the [Turanganui] river. Its occupants did not stop to look at anything, but went at once alongside the ship and, with very little persuasion, stepped on board. Their example was followed by the occupants of the other canoes, seven in all, and containing fifty men.

Gifts were freely made to the visitors, and they quickly parted with almost everything that they had with them, even their clothes, in return for Tahitian cloth. The occupants of one canoe, after selling their paddles, offered to sell their craft. Only two men had arms, and one sold his “patoo patoo,” as he called it. The first man who went on board said that the lads who had been guests on the ship were at home and were unhurt. He had, he confided, gone on board with so little fear because of the accounts which they had given of the treatment which they had received.

Banks Describes the Natives

An excellent description of the natives is furnished by Banks:

“The people were in general of a midling size,” he says, “though there was one who measured more than six feet. Their colour was dark brown; their lips were stained with something put under the skin (as in the Otaheite tattow); and their faces mark'd with deeply engraved furrows, coloured also black, and formed in regular spirals. Of these, the oldest people had much the greatest quantity and deepest channel'd—in some not less than one-sixteenth part of an inch.
“Their hair, always black, was tied on the Tops of their heads in a little knot, in which was stuck feathers of various birds in different tastes, according to the humour of the wearer, but, generally, stuck into the knot, sometimes one on each side of the temples pointing forwards, which made a most disagreeable appearance. In their ears, they generally wear a large bunch of the down of some bird, milk white.
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“The faces of some were painted with a red colour in oil—some all over; others in parts only. In their hair was much Oil that had very little smell; more lice than ever I saw before and on most of them a small comb neatly enough made, sometimes of wood and sometimes of bone, which they seemed to prize much. Some few had on their faces and arms regular scars, as if made with a Sharp Instrument— such as I have seen on the faces of negroes.
“The inferior sort were clothed in something that very much resembled hemp. The loose strings of this were fastened together at the Top and hung down about two feet long like a peticoat. Of these garments they wore two—one round their shoulders and the other round their waists. The richer had garments probably of a finer sort of the same stuff, most beautifully made in exactly the same manner as the South American Indians at this day—as fine or finer than one of them which I have by me that I bought at Rio de Janeiro for 36 shillings and was esteemed uncommonly cheap at that price.
“Their boats were not large but well made—something in the form of our whaleboats but longer. Their bottom was the trunk of a tree, hollowed and very thin. This was raised by a board on each side, sewed on with a strip of wood sewed over the seam to make it tight. On the head of every one was carved the head of a Man with an enormous tong reaching out of his Mouth. These grotesque figures were some at least very well executed. Some had Eyes inlaid of something that shone very much. The whole served to give us an idea of their taste as well as ingenuity in execution; much superior to anything we have yet seen.”
“Their behaviour while on board shewed every sign of friendship. They invited us very cordially to come back to our old bay [Poverty Bay] or to a small cove which they showed us nearer to us. I could not help wishing that we had done so, but the Captain chose rather to Stand on in the search of a better harbour than any we have yet seen….”

Banks also says that, after a stay of about two hours, most of the natives went away, but, “by some means or other, three were left on board and not one boat would put back to take them in and, what was more surprising, those left aboard did not seem at all uneasy with their situation.” With the aid of a light nor'-wester, the Endeavour steered along shore under an easy sail until midnight and brought to off Table Cape [Mahia]. In the morning, when their guests noted that the ship had sailed some leagues, they began to lament and weep very much. About 7 o'clock, a canoe with an old man, who seemed to be a chief, came out and took away the ship's guests “much to their, as well as to our, satisfaction.”

“Endeavour” in Peril

The Endeavour skirted Mahia Peninsula, passing between a sunken rock, N. 57 E, two miles or so from the south point of Portland Island and the mainland. [This rock was “Bull Rock.” The s.s. Tongariro struck there and sank on the night of 30 August, 1916.] As Cook was about to haul round the south end page 43 of the island, his ship fell into shoal water and broken ground. It was at this point that he encountered the first of a number of perils which he experienced whilst on the coasts of New Zealand. Wharton (Captain Cook's Journal) says that four canoes filled with people went off to the vessel whilst she was in that difficult situation and kept for some time under her stern, “threatening of us all the time.” The narrative continues:

“As I did not know but what I might be obliged to send our boats ahead to sound. I thought these gentry would be as well out of the way. I ordered a musket shott to be fir'd close to one of them; but this they took no notice of. A 4-pounder was then fir'd a little wide of them; at this, they began to shake their spears and paddles at us, but, notwithstanding this, they thought fit to retire.”

Banks supplies a more realistic picture of the ship's delicate situation:

“About dinner time,” he states, “the ship was hauling round an island called by the inhabitants ‘Te ahoura’ and by us ‘Portland.’ The ship on a sudden came into very broken ground [Parkinson says that it was off the west point] which alarmed us a good deal. [Becket's account states that the shoals were met with about three miles northeast from Portland Island, and that Cook called the locality “The Shambles.” No mention of this name is made in the official account of the voyage, but the locality is so described by those on board the Resolution and the Adventure when they passed off Table Cape during Cook's second expedition to the South Seas.] The officers all behaved with great steadiness and, in a very short time, we were clear of all danger….
“The island lay within a mile of us, making in white cliffs, a Long Spit of Low Land running from it towards the main. On the sides of these cliffs sat a vast quantity of people looking at us. These people probably observed some confusion in the manœuvre of the Ship, for 5 Canoes almost immediately put off from the nearest shore full of Armed People.
“They came so near us, shouting and threatening, that, at last, we were in some pain least they should seize our small boat, which had been lowered down to sound and was now towed alongside. A musket was therefore now fired over them, but the effect of this was rather to encourage them than otherwise. So a great gun was ordered to be prepared and fired wide of them loaded with Grape. [This was the first occasion on which a cannon was fired by Cook on the coasts of New Zealand.] On this, they all rose in their boats and shouted, but, instead of continuing the chase, drew all together and, after a short consultation, went quietly away.

The ship lay well off Long Point (Mahia) during the night of 13 October (civil date). Cook saw the opening to Waikokopu, where there appeared to be a safe anchorage, but uncertainty on the point and lack of time prevented him from exploring the bay. During next day, he skirted Hawke's Bay. When the vessel was off Petane on the morning of the 15th, he ordered the boats to be sent in search of water, but, as several canoes were seen approaching, they were hoisted in again. Cook estimated that page 44 there were between eighty and ninety natives in the canoes; Banks says about one hundred and fifty. Only by firing a cannon in their direction could they be dispersed. At noon, the ship was off Napier Bluff. As she could not, by dark, make the point which next day was called Cape Kidnappers, she stood off and on all night.

Next morning, trade was engaged in with some fishermen who had only stinking fish, including crayfish, to offer. The Canberra logbook says the fish was “served to ye officers and the sick.” A large armed canoe then came alongside. Its occupants had nothing with which to trade, but Cook gave them some cloth. He wished to exchange a piece of red baize for a black skin, “something like a bearskin,” which one of the natives was wearing. Its owner would not agree to send up the garment unless the cloth was sent down to him first. Upon receiving the cloth, he wrapped both together and ordered his companions to paddle clear of the ship.

When the native fishermen returned to trade, the incident which led to the name “Cape Kidnappers” being given to the headland occurred. Parkinson says that it had been planned to trepan the armed canoe by throwing a running bowline around its head and hoisting it up to the anchor. However, just as the plan was about to be executed, Tayeto (Tupaea's boy) who was in the main chains, was seized by the natives. The canoe was fired upon, and, in the commotion, Tayeto jumped overboard and was taken up unhurt, but “so terrified that, for a time, he seemed deprived of his senses.” Banks mentions that some muskets and a great gun were used against the culprits. How many were killed he did not know, but he saw three being carried up on the beach. Cook says that two or three were slain and that many more would have shared a like fate had it not been for fear of killing Tayeto. [Colenso was told at Waimarama in 1843 that five natives were killed and several wounded.]

On Friday (the 17th) the Endeavour came abreast of Cape Turnagain and Cook decided to return northwards. Off Long Point (Mahia) on the 19th, five natives went on board and stayed all night. Next morning, when the ship was off Table Cape, they were sent away. By 3 p.m., Gable End Foreland was reached.


It was in Gisborne that it was first made known in New Zealand that Cook's original choice of name for Poverty Bay was “Endeavour Bay.” Professor E. E. Morris (Melbourne), who visited Poverty Bay and Tolaga Bay early in 1901, returned home via Sydney, where he came across Cook's holograph notes in the Australian Museum. Writing to the Poverty Bay Herald (20/2/1901), he mentioned his discovery, adding:

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“I found this out only a few days ago, and this is the first time I am publishing the fact.” Cook does not indicate in the journal which is in his own handwriting (and which is now in the National Library at Canberra) that, at first, he intended to bestow the name “Endeavour Bay” on Poverty Bay. Probably, this journal was compiled after his return to England.

Cook makes no reference to the health of his crew upon the arrival of the Endeavour at Poverty Bay. In the Canberra logbook, apart from the entry made at Cape Kidnappers mentioning that there were sick people on board, a Tolaga Bay entry says: “The Indians came aboard to trade; brought off fish enough for the officers and the sick.” When the ship had left the Society Group some months earlier, Cook found—vide Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World by Dr. J. R. Forster (London, 1778)—that half of his crew were infected with “V.D.” On account of the eagerness with which celery and scurvy grass were sought at Anaura and Tolaga Bay, it is not improbable that some of the sick had the incipient symptoms of scurvy.

Although Banks and Solander obtained only forty botanical specimens in Poverty Bay, they secured an additional 210 at Anaura and Tolaga Bay. In all, 360 specimens were taken away from New Zealand. Dr. L. Cockayne (New Zealand Plants and Their Story) identifies the celery which Cook found at Tolaga Bay as Apium prostratum and Apium filifolium and the scurvy grass as Lepidium oleraceum, the most famous plant of the Lepidium genus.