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Murihiku: A History of the South Island of New Zealand and the Islands Adjacent and Lying to the South, from 1642 to 1835

Chapter V. — Cook's Last Visit, La Perouse and Bligh, 1776 to 1788

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Chapter V.
Cook's Last Visit, La Perouse and Bligh, 1776 to 1788.

On Cook's return to England from his Second Voyage, a vacancy occurred among the captains of the Greenwich Hospital, and he immediately made application for the position, asking at the same time that he should be allowed to quit it for active service at the call of his country or when he could be of use. Naturally the application was favourably entertained and the condition assented to. The salary accompanying the post was the modest one of £200 per annum, with residence, fire and light, and one shilling and two pence per diem table allowance; but small as it was Cook described it as “a fine retreat and a pretty income,” though he must inwardly have felt that he would chafe under the limits and comparative inaction of his new command.

The opportunity of testing the opinion of the Admiralty soon came. The problem of a great southern continent was not the only geographical problem of the day. The idea was widespread that a sea passage existed between the Atlantic and the Pacific by way of North America. The mystery of the Southern Pacific being settled, men turned their minds to that of the Northern Pacific, and, in compliance with a widespread desire, George the Third sanctioned the fitting out of an expedition of two vessels to solve this second problem. No man at that date held such a reputation as a voyager as Cook, and when, on 10th February, 1776, he wrote and offered his services as commander of the expedition, the Admiralty felt itself relieved of any difficulty it might otherwise have experienced in filling that important post. Kippis, in his “Life of Cook,” states that the whole thing was arranged page 63 prior to this, when Palliser, Sandwich and Stephens consulted with him regarding the equipment of the expedition. Cook threw himself with all his well-known ardour into his new undertaking, and until the hour of sailing worked day and night, getting men and ships into a fit state for the important and hazardous voyage.

The object of the expedition was not associated in any way with New Zealand, but Cook was directed, if he thought it advisable to do so, to touch at New Zealand on his road from the Cape of Good Hope to Tahiti or the Society Islands. The vessels given him were his old friend the Resolution, and a sloop called the Discovery, commanded by Captain Charles Clerke, who had sailed with him as A.B. and third lieutenant in the Endeavour and then as second lieutenant in the Resolution. Cook was therefore well armed for his work in that his brother commander was a man after his own heart and trained in his own school. Advantage was taken of the opportunity which thus presented itself to send to his home at the island of Raiatea, Omai, who had joined Furneaux in 1773, and had been present at Queen Charlotte Sound in the Adventure when the boat's crew was massacred there.

The two vessels sailed from Plymouth on 12th July, 1776, and cast anchor in Ship Cove on the morning of Wednesday, 12th February, 1777, and that very day preparations were made for the refreshment of the crews, for the establishment of two observatories, and for substantial guards. Canoes of natives quickly gathered round the ships, but contrary to previous experience their occupants showed the greatest disinclination to come on board. They saw Omai and probably realised that Cook had been back to his own country where he had met the Adventure's crew, and their first thought naturally was that the expedition had returned to demand satisfaction for the massacre. It was with the greatest difficulty that Cook could persuade even those natives with whom he had previously been particularly friendly, that his intentions were strictly peaceful, and he had to make specific declaration upon the page 64 subject before the former confidence was restored and the old intercourse renewed.

During the next two days the observatories were put into working order, under King and Bayley, and two tents were erected on the old sites. These are shown in the illustration reproduced, and an examination of the Cove to-day will enable anyone on the spot to locate the site of the tents to within a few feet. Profiting by the experience of the Adventure's crew, in addition to the guards provided for the shore party, the workmen and the boats leaving the ship were all armed. Cook had never done this before, and, though he did not think it necessary now, did not care to follow his old practice after Marion's experience at the Bay of Islands in 1772 and Furneaux's at Grass Cove in 1773.

Cook says that after provision had been made for the ship's crew the natives occupied every available spot in the Cove. As the artist's sketch shows no native huts intruding on the foreground the presumption is that they kept upon the left bank of the creek. Referring to Webber's sketch it may be mentioned that a comparison on the spot with nature speaks even more in favour of the artist's accuracy than does a comparison of the sketch with any photograph. The greatest difference is visible in the outline and the flora of the hillside, the former not being so full in appearance, whilst the forest growth is represented as denser and heavier. The steep face of Long Island and the outline of the mountains above and beyond it are faithfully portrayed. The artist's position must have been close to the site of the monument now being erected to mark that historic spot.

The view of native canoes in the sketch shows the long hollow trunk for a bottom, the side planks lashed together with flax passed through small holes, and the seams caulked with the down of reeds. A distorted human face at the prow and the high carved ornament at the stern, give a very picturesque appearance when contrasted with the plain blunt ship's boat of that day. The dress and posture page 65 of the men and women are shown with wonderful fidelity, and the armed sentry near the tents reveals the precautionary measures taken by Cook upon this occasion.

So successful had Cook's treatment of the men been that of the two ships' companies only two men, and these on board the Resolution, were upon the sick list. Health precautions however were not relaxed and fresh fish, vegetables, and spruce beer, were supplied daily to the men. The results of this treatment amply justified the presentation to him of the Royal Geographical Society's medal the previous year.

The pah at Motuara was visited and found to have the houses and pallisades rebuilt, as in 1773, but unoccupied. The gardens had many of the vegetables growing in them, but were overrun with weeds. The attempt to get the natives to cultivate them had resulted in failure. Webber's sketch of the inside of a pah shows the interior of the fortified promontory at Motuara and is worth examination for its excellent representation of the homes of the ancient Maori in Queen Charlotte Sound.

On Sunday, 16th February, Cook set out with five boats to collect grass for the stock and to visit the scene of the massacre of Furneaux's men. Here he met a native named Pedro with whom he had been on terms of great personal friendship during his previous visit. The natives, though at first somewhat fearful, showed Cook over the scene of the carnage and explained what had taken place. They represented that while the boat's crew was at dinner, with Furneaux's black servant taking care of the boat, some of the natives stole some bread and fish for which they were beaten. A scuffle took place and two New Zealanders were shot. Only two shots were fired, as the natives rushed in and overpowered the party with numbers. From what the young New Zealander (who accompanied Cook when he sailed) stated, it would appear that the theft was from the boat and that the negro in charge had struck the culprit a heavy blow with a stick. The cries of the injured man page 66 caused the natives to think he was being murdered and they immediately attacked the sailors, who were killed before they could reach the boat and defend themselves. From the position of the sun, as indicated by the natives, the massacre must have taken place late in the afternoon. Cook had the exact spot pointed out to him and states that “it was at the corner of the cove, on the right hand.” The boat was about two hundred yards away. Evidently none of Burney's relief party were with this expedition or mention would have been made of where the bodies were found.

Monday was stormy and no work done. On Tuesday and Wednesday however the weather cleared up and work proceeded as usual. On Thursday a blast, so furious as to make it difficult for the ship to ride it out, was experienced and the week ended with the great bulk of the natives belonging to the Sound encamped in the Cove, going in and out of the vessel and drinking the oil produced by the melting of seal blubber ashore. “They relished the very skimmings of the kettle, and dregs of the casks; but a little of the pure stinking oil was a delicious feast.”

Cook had now accomplished his task and accordingly he brought everything on board and made preparations for leaving Ship Cove for what was to be the last time. Some delay took place however through an unfavourable change of the wind, and it was not until Tuesday, 25th February, that he got clear of the Sound.

During that time, in answer to the urgent solicitations of some of the chiefs, more goats and pigs, which all the efforts of the past had failed to establish, were handed over to the natives. The idea of leaving cattle was abandoned.

One of the last of the natives to visit Cook was Kahoora, a chief who had been pointed out as the man who killed Mr. Rowe, and who had been the leader of the massacre of the Adventure boat's crew. He appears to have been hated by many of his countrymen and some did not hesitate to urge his death. His page 67 courage in placing himself in the hands of Cook commanded the latter's admiration. Omai, not capable of the same feelings, upbraided him for his part in the massacre and threatened all sorts of dire vengeance if he appeared again, but the Maori chief knew enough of the rules of government to understand the difference between Omai's threats and Cook's looks. Always anxious to hear more of Mr. Rowe's fate, Cook ascertained from Kahoora that a Maori had brought a stone hatchet to trade and on giving up the implement the purchaser refused to hand over anything in return. The defrauded Maori then snatched the bread as an equivalent and the row commenced. In the struggle Kahoora only escaped death by dodging behind another who received the charge meant for him, and thereupon attacked and killed Mr. Rowe, but not before the latter had wounded him in the arm with his hanger. Speaking of the encounter next day, all agreed in the statement that Mr. Burney, who commanded the relief expedition, failed to injure a single person in the encounter. As illustrating Kahoora's confidence in Cook's promise that he would not be injured it may be mentioned that while on board and away from his friends he sat to Mr. Webber the artist and had a sketch made of himself, a marvellous exhibition of courage when the grim savage must have known that some of his own countrymen were actually soliciting his death and many more were expecting it.

Cook took away with him from Queen Charlotte Sound a young chief named Taweiharooa, 17 or 18 years of age, and a boy named Kokoa about 9 or 10. These willingly, and with the consent of their relatives, left the homes of their people and came on board the ships with Omai the South Sea Islander. From the young chief Cook learned that prior to the arrival of the Endeavour a ship had visited the N.W. coast of Terawhiti and spent some time there, the captain living with the natives ashore. Of this vessel nothing more is known beyond the information thus page 68 obtained, and as Taweiharooa did not impart the information until after Cook had left the Sound, it was impossible to obtain details from older natives who might have seen this unknown navigator during his visit.

Thus on 25th February, 1777, Cook left Queen Charlotte Sound for the last time. No part of Australasia can claim his presence at any one spot for so long a time as can Ship Cove.

First Voyage, 15th January to 6th February, 1770, 22 days
Second Voyage 18th May to 7th June, 1773 20 days
Second Voyage 3rd to 25th November, 1773 22 days
Second Voyage 18th October to 10th November, 1774, 23 days
Third Voyage 12th to 25th February, 1777 13 days

In all he spent 100 days at anchor there and his only other stay on the shores of the South Island was at Dusky Sound from 24th March to 11th May, 1773, a period of 46 days.

We have seen that in 1770 Cook selected this spot as the recruiting ground of any expedition which might thereafter be fitted out to explore the Pacific for the long talked of Southern Continent. And when he was himself selected to perform the work he not only carried out his former advice to the letter, but entirely ignored all the harbours on the North Island, calling at no other port but Dusky during his four succeeding visits to New Zealand. The result was that no place in the southern world was so well known to the voyagers of the latter portion of the eighteenth century as was Queen Charlotte Sound; the names and manners and customs of its people had been placed upon record, and its exact position on the map had been ascertained by a succession of brilliant scientific men, whose observatories had for weeks stood near the site of the now proposed Cook monument at Ship Cove.

During his visits to New Zealand after his survey of it in 1770, Cook never allowed himself to explore stretches of coastline admittedly left uncertain in his survey from the deck of the Endeavour. This at first blush would appear page 69 to indicate a disregard for accurate survey work which was quite foreign to his usual methods. The reason for this seeming carelessness is not difficult to find. He only visited New Zealand to enable him to carry out his grand plan, and the question of the exact coastline of our islands was a minor one when the problem of the existence of continents required solving, or the presence of connecting lands between ocean and ocean had to be ascertained. He had surveyed New Zealand and proved its insularity. Nobler game than the further details of its survey was in sight.

No true conception of Cook's great work can be obtained by ascertaining the list of islands he discovered, or the length of coastline he explored. His greatest achievement was the exploration of the Southern Ocean, when he proved that it was an open sea and not a closed-in continent. This class of discovery does not appear so conspicuous on the map of the World as does the discovery of a few islets in the Central Pacific, and we are apt to regard the ocean unmarked by islets as involving no field of discovery, and contributing nothing to the fame of an explorer.

With the information gleaned by Cook during this visit to Queen Charlotte Sound and the sidelights thrown upon the scene by Forster, the scientist of the Resolution, it is not difficult to reproduce the events which led up to the massacre of the Adventure's crew, and to place the blame upon the proper shoulders. Speaking of Rowe, the midshipman who had charge of the boat's crew, Forster says “he combined with many liberal sentiments the prejudices of a naval education, which induced him to look upon all the natives of the South Sea with contempt, and to assume that kind of right over them, with which the Spaniards, in more barbarous ages, disposed of the lives of the American Indians… This relation is very reconcilable with the opinion which the late Mr. Rowe always entertained of the New Zealanders, viz: that they would never stand the fire of European musketry. He had before, when at Tolaga Bay, been exceedingly desirous of firing upon them, for page 70 having stolen a small keg of brandy from the boat's crew; but the judicious and humane advice of Lieutenant Burney checked his impetuosity.”

We recognise the type at once, brave and fearless himself, he, so very different to Cook, held his opponents in the utmost contempt. The history of our wars with barbarous and even civilised foes is full of such cases, and for the possession of such men our country has paid a terrible toll in human life. He was a relation, it appears, of Furneaux the commander.

It is evident that the massacre was quite unpremeditated and that it arose suddenly through the happening of some event which roused to fury the wild savage instincts of the Maoris. Several initial circumstances are mentioned by the natives; the first was the stealing of a sailor's jacket; the second was the theft of some bread and the consequent punishment of the culprit by the negro in charge of the boat, causing the Maoris to think that their countryman was being killed; the third was Kahoora's statement that a sailor had refused to pay for a valuable axe offered him for barter and the native forthwith stole the bread as an equivalent.

A fourth version—an improbable one—rests upon the authority of John Ledyard, an American, who accompanied Cook in the Resolution and who published an account of the voyage in 1783. In this account he tells of one of the sailors who formed a violent attachment for a Maori maiden and obtained from her the following account of the massacre:—

“She gave him to understand that one Gooboa, a very bad man, who had been often at the ship and had stolen many things, when he came to understand she was about to sail went up into the hill country and invited the warriors to come down and kill the strangers. They at first refused, saying the strangers were stronger than they, particularly insinuating the force of the fire arms he told them they need not fear, for he knew where they must come page 71 “before they departed, in order to procure grass for their cattle, and that on such occasions they left their fire-arms behind them in the Ship or carelessly about the ground, while they were at work. They said they were no enemies but friends, and that they must not kill men with whom they were in friendship. Gooboa said they were vile enemies, and complained of their chaining him and beating him, and showed them the marks and bruises he had received at the ship: And told them besides how they might destroy their firearms by throwing water over them. Gooboa undertook to conduct them in safety to the place where the strangers were to come, and showed them where they might conceal themselves until he should come and give them notice, which he did. And when the men were busy about getting grass and not thinking any harm, the warriors rushed out upon them and killed them with their Patapatows, and then divided their bodies among them. She added that there were women as well as men concerned, and that the women made the fires while the warriors cut the dead men in pieces; that they did not eat them all at once, but only their entrails; that the warriors had the heads which were esteemed the best, and the rest of the flesh was distributed among the crowd.”

The first three reasons are quite consistent with the well-known propensity of the old native for theft. Probably the three incidents happened before the eyes of the Maoris and subsequent events were regarded as the consequence of what had been seen to take place. The Maori could only tell what happened; which of the incidents precipitated the attack by causing resentment in the breast of the European, the ignorant savage could not even surmise. If we could reproduce the events of that day in Grass Cove the most conspicuous reasons for the massacre would probably be found first of all in a weakness in the discipline of the boat's crew which allowed of the men page 72 taking liberties with the natives, and, when a crisis arose, in the fatal but erroneous belief of the young midshipman that the New Zealanders would never stand the fire of European musketry.

With Cook's expedition during his last visit to Queen Charlotte Sound were three officers whose names afterwards became famous in English history. These were William Bligh, who afterwards, as Commander of the Bounty, experienced being set adrift in a boat in mid-ocean by his sailors, and later on, as Governor of New South Wales, endured being deposed and held under arrest by his soldiers; Edward Riou, afterwards Captain of H.M.S. Amazon, whose death at the battle of Copenhagen was characterized by Nelson as an “irreparable loss” to his country; George Vancouver, the celebrated explorer of the North West Coast of North America and after whom the Province, Island and City of Vancouver are called. The first was master on board the Resolution, the second and third were midshipmen on board the Discovery.

Omai was landed at Huahine, and with him the two natives of New Zealand who came away from Queen Charlotte Sound. At the parting the older native took things very complacently but the younger proved so unwilling that he had to be forcibly taken away from the ship. So great was the latter's disinclination to leave that Cook confesses that had he thought there was the most distant possibility of any ship being sent again out to New Zealand he would have brought the two youths to England with him. When Bligh reached the island in October, 1778, he was informed that Omai had died about two and a half years after Cook left, and was shortly afterwards followed by the older of the New Zealand lads and then by the younger.

The explorations and observations of Cook had brought prominently before our own people the benefits of Queen Charlotte Sound for any expedition which might propose to examine the southern portion of the Pacific, but they had also brought these benefits before other nations as well. page 73 The French, in 1785, profiting by Cook's experience, decided to fit out and send for exploratory work an expedition, on a scale beyond anything hitherto attempted, and the frigates Boussole and Astrolabe were selected, and their command given to La Perouse.1

The sailing instructions issued by the King of France set out in great detail the course the vessels were to take in an expedition which was expected to be away for something like five years. La Perouse was directed, amongst other things, to explore the western and southern coast of Australia and Van Diemen's Land, to sail eastward for Cook Strait in New Zealand and to make Queen Charlotte Sound the third rendezvous of the expedition. March, 1787, was the date fixed for his departure from the Sound, and the course thereafter was along the 41st or 42nd parallel.

Cook had supplied such a mass of information about New Zealand that little remained to be investigated and his praise of Queen Charlotte Sound and the length of time he spent there, indicated that spot as a likely place for any settlement established by the British Government. La Perouse was therefore directed to inquire, not so much about the natives as whether the English had formed or intended to form any settlements in the Sound, and if any had been established, to visit them and learn their condition, strength and objects. The scientific institutions of France asked for information regarding New Zealand flax and the fern root used by the Maoris for food.

The expedition sailed from Brest on 1st August, 1785, and reached Avatscha Bay, Kamchatka, in September, 1787. On the 21st of that month La Perouse in a letter stated that he intended to proceed from the Caroline Islands or from the Island of Guam to Queen Charlotte Sound, which he hoped to reach about 20th January, 1788. So far therefore nothing had happened to take New Zealand out of his programme.

While at Avatscha, however, a mail arrived from France, and although no mention is made in any letter published page 74 that New Zealand was to be left out of the programme, La Perouse altered his plans and proposed to use the time intended for the New Zealand trip in exploring the coast of New Holland. What the instructions were which caused the original plan to be altered and New Zealand dropped out of the itinerary, cannot be known without a perusal of the letter of instructions received from Paris, and that is not at present at the author's disposal. His plans were however altered, and seeing that he reached Botany Bay shortly after the First Fleet, and as the main object of the visit to New Zealand was to examine into the English settlements there, it is probable that the proposal to establish a British colony at Botany Bay was the subject of discussion in Paris at the time, and La Perouse was commanded to call and report upon, or call and forestall, the establishment of that colony.

La Perouse arrived too late to do other than be the first visitor to the new settlement, and after obtaining what refreshments were available, sailed away with the object of visiting the Friendly Islands and then circumnavigating Australia. The gallant commander and his brave crew never reached their native land.

On his voyage La Perouse used, for his magnetic work, the dipping needle which Cook had employed for that purpose during his voyages. Sir Joseph Banks generously handed this treasure to the French navigator.

Passing from the wish of the French nation to extend their knowledge of the geography of the World we come to the desire of the British residents of the West Indies to have the bread fruit tree introduced among them. This desire was voiced in applications to the King, who, in order to comply with the request of his subjects in Jamaica, sent Lieutenant Bligh, in 1787, to the South Sea Islands in a vessel called the Bounty, to procure as many plants as possible and take them to the West Indies.

Failing, through bad weather, to round Cape Horn, Bligh took the route via the Cape of Good Hope, which he reached on 24th May, and Van Diemen's Land on 20th page 75 August, 1788. Continuing his voyage past the south of New Zealand, he says2:—

“On the 19th (September 1788) at daylight, we discovered a cluster of small rocky islands, bearing east by north four leagues distant from us. We had seen no birds nor anything to indicate the nearness of land, except patches of rock-weed, for which the vicinity of New Zealand sufficiently accounted. The wind being at N.E. prevented our near approach to these isles; so that we were not less than three leagues distant in passing to the southward of them. The weather was too thick to see distinctly, their extent was only 3½ miles from east to west, and about half a league from north to south, their number including the smaller ones, was thirteen. I could not observe any verdure on any of them: there were white spots like patches of snow; but, as Captain Cook, in describing the land of New Zealand, near Cape South, says, in many places there are patches like white marble, it is probable that what we saw might be of the same kind as what he had observed. The westernmost of these islands is the largest; they are of sufficient height to be seen at the distance of seven leagues from a ship's deck. When the easternmost bore north, I tried for soundings, being then 10 miles distant from the nearest of them, and found bottom at 75 fathoms, a fine white sand; and again at noon, having run six leagues more to the E.S.E., we had soundings at 104 fathoms, a fine brimstone-coloured sand. The latitude of these islands is 47° 44′ S.; their longitude 179° 7′ E. which is about 145 leagues to the east of the Traps, near the south end of New Zealand. Variation of the compass here 17° E. While in sight of the islands, we saw some penguins, and a white gull with a forked tail. Captain Cook's track, in 1773, was near this spot, but he did not page 76 “see the islands; he saw seals and penguins hereabouts, but considered New Zealand to be the nearest land. I have named them after the ship, the Bounty Isles.”

On 28th April, 1789, the celebrated Mutiny of the Bounty took place. Bligh's later history would be out of place here, but the mutiny on board the Bounty, Bligh's subsequent governorship of New South Wales, his deposition, and the stormy events of that distant period are intimately associated with the history of the little group of islets in the far south.

The spelling adopted by Cook, of the names of natives met by him during his second and third voyages, has been followed in this work. The Hon. Mr. Carroll, Native Minister, states that in his opinion the more correct spelling is:—

  • Te Weherua for Taweiharooa

  • Kahura for Kahoora

  • Ko Koa for Kokoa

  • Te Ratu for Teiratu; and

  • Omae for Omai.

While on the subject of Maori names and spelling it may be mentioned that, according to Mr. S. Percy Smith, Long Island is Te Ketu, and Motuara should be Motuanauru.