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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 I. — Discovery by Tasman, 1642

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Discovery by Tasman, 1642.

IN the year 1642 the South Pacific Ocean was represented upon the map of the World by a vast irregular mass of land with no defined boundaries beyond the outline of York Peninsula on the north, a fairly accurate delineation of the Australian coastline on the west, and the outline of the land as far as the head of the Great Australian Bight on the south. From these known boundaries the imagination of geographers pictured a great continent stretching across the face of the Globe, and appearing to the south of South America as Staten Land.

The nearest centre of civilisation and of commerce to this great unknown region was Batavia, on the island of Java, the commercial headquarters of the Dutch East India Co. The Portuguese, the English, the Spaniards, the French and the Danes, had each, for a time at any rate, to acknowledge the supremacy of the Dutch in the East, and in 1642, the Company, without a rival in sight, held undisputed commercial sway among the islands in the East. This secure position the Dutch leaders wisely used to extend their knowledge of the coastline far and near, and the great stretch of unknown territory lying to the east and south of their possessions, suggested so attractive a picture to these adventurous seamen, that after many proposals, and at least one unsuccessful attempt, there was brought together at Batavia the expedition which was to establish the insularity of Australia and to place the western coastline of New Zealand on the map of the world.

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Abel Janszoon Tasman was selected to take command of the expedition, and Visscher, the greatest Dutch pilot of that time, was appointed pilot-major. Visscher, although not in command, appears to have had more to do with the plan of the expedition and with the preliminaries than had Tasman, and a Memoir of his, of date 22nd January, 1642, regarding the scope of the expedition, was largely made use of when the instructions to the commander were being prepared.

The vessels selected were the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, and the instructions given to their commanders were to sail round the south-west corner of Australia, proceeding as far south as the fifty-second parallel of latitude, and then to make eastward until past the longitude of New Guinea, and ascertain whether a passage could be found in that direction into the Pacific Ocean. Shortly stated, the expedition was to determine whether the land known to the south was a continent or an island. If the land could be circumnavigated, the Company hoped that it would disclose a short and convenient route to Chili, and enable trade relations to be established with that country.

The voyage was commenced on 14th August, the Mauritius reached on 5th September, and Tasmania (called after the Governor of Batavia, Antony Van Diemen's Land), sighted on 24th November. After some time spent in skirting and surveying its coastline, the expedition, on 5th December, resumed its voyage to the eastward.

Very good time indeed was made in the run across, and on 13th December, about noon, “a large high-lying land” came in sight to the south-east, and the rugged mountain chain along the west coast presented itself to the delighted gaze of the great Dutch explorer. Tasman forthwith bore down upon the newly-discovered land and summoned the officers of the Zeehaen, when it was decided to communicate with the land as quickly as possible, a task not very easy of accomplishment with the sea then running, unless safe land-locked bays could be met with.

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Sailing on to within about eight miles of the shore, Tasman followed the coast (which here extended northward), and which, he says, showed a very high double land with the mountain tops lost in the clouds, anchoring at times when the calm threatened to allow the vessels to drift into dangerous proximity to the rocks, and making all sail to the north when favourable winds allowed that to be done. On the fifteenth the “high steep cliffs, resembling steeples or sails,” at Cape Foulwind were noted. On the sixteenth, what is now known as Cape Farewell was reached, when a sitting of the Council with the second mates was convened, and it was decided that the expedition should still follow the land as it stretched to the eastward round the northern portion of the South Island.

As the two vessels sailed along the coast, no trace of natives was observed until the seventeenth, when their presence was revealed by smoke ascending from fires on shore. During the afternoon of that day the two vessels passed close to the sandspit, and in the evening anchored at its extremity, not far from where Cape Farewell lighthouse now stands.

Next day the expedition sailed into Golden Bay, in the direction of Separation Point, and a boat was sent ahead from each ship to look for a fitting anchorage and convenient watering place. At sunset the anchor was cast in fifteen fathoms. About an hour afterwards lights were visible, and four canoes were seen close in shore, two of which came towards the vessels, whereupon the ships' boats returned. So far as we can gather, the vessels were now anchored off Waramanga Beach. The Maoris, whose curiosity prompted them to visit the strange Dutch craft, later in the evening began to shout out, and blow an instrument like a Moorish trumpet. To this the trumpeters on both ships replied, and after an exchange of blasts, the natives, when it grew dark, paddled away. To prevent surprises on board the Dutch vessels, double watches were kept, and arms were held in readiness for instant use.

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The nineteenth of December commenced with every prospect of getting into peaceful touch with the natives of the new found land. In the morning there came off from the shore a boat with 13 occupants; it consisted of two long, narrow prows, set side by side, with planks placed across, so that the occupants could look into the water underneath. Their language could not be made out from the vocabularies which had been supplied to the expedition at Batavia, but the Dutchmen noted their rough voices, their strong boned appearance, the colour of their skins, and the Japanese style of tying the hair at the back of the head in a knot surmounted by a large, thick, white feather. Every effort was made to induce them to come on board, and linen, knives, etc., were displayed, but all to no purpose. After a while the Maoris returned to the shore.

Tasman had, on the previous night, summoned a meeting of the Council, and now, in obedience to that summons the officers of the Zeehaen came on board the Heemskerck, when it was decided that as the people appeared to be friendly disposed, and there was good anchoring ground, the vessels should move in closer to the shore. Before this decision was carried into effect, however, the vessels were visited by seven more canoes. Two of the larger of these appeared specially to direct their attention to the Zeehaen, one with 17 men on board, paddled round behind the Zeehaen, while the other, with 13 occupants, came within half a stone's throw of the Heemskerck. As if they contemplated united action of some kind, the natives in the two boats kept calling to one another, and paid no attention to the efforts which were made from the Heems-kerck to divert their attention by a display of goods. At this juncture, while his vessel was evidently the object of close attention by the natives, it was unfortunate that the captain of the Zeehaen was on board the Heemskerck; and the steps he took to put the crew of his vessel on their guard caused a fearful disaster. Why he did not rejoin his ship in the hour of danger cannot be explained; it can only be stated that he sent his quartermaster, with six men, to page 5 warn his second mate to be on his guard, to use caution, and, if the natives offered to come alongside, not to allow too many on board. The vessel he appeared satisfied to leave without either its captain or its first mate.

When the boat conveying this warning was passing from the one ship to the other, the natives in the canoe alongside contented themselves with merely calling to those in the larger canoe and waving their paddles; the moment, however, the instructions sent to the junior officer of the Zeehaen had been delivered, and the boat was on its return journey, the Maoris in the smaller canoe paddled furiously towards the Dutchmen, the two crafts collided, and in the excitement, one of the occupants, with a long blunt pike-looking instrument, knocked the quartermaster overboard, and the others set upon the Dutchmen with their meres, killing three and mortally wounding a fourth. Three of the sailors, including the quartermaster, plunged or were thrown into the water and swam for the Heemskerck, and were picked up by a boat sent to their aid. The natives had no sooner committed the deed than they took one of the dead bodies into their canoe, threw another overboard, and paddled off without injury, although a heavy fire was directed against them from the ships. Holman, the captain of the Heemskerck, then manned a boat and rowed to the unfortunate craft, which had been turned adrift, there to find one man dead and one mortally wounded.

In “Harris' Voyages,” published in 1744, Tasman is described as being on board the Zeehaen, not on the Heemskerck, and the Maoris are stated to have come on board the latter vessel, whereupon Tasman sent a boat to put the officers upon their guard. Another variation from our narrative is contained in some of the older authorities in the description of the fight, which is stated to have taken place as the boat was making its way from the Heemskerck to the Zeehaen, instead of when returning from that vessel. Of the authorities for the latter, Burney, in his “Voyages and Discoveries,” written in 1813, may be taken as an example.

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Horrified at the awful scene of which the two ships' crews had been witnesses, the captains weighed anchor and set sail.

Emboldened by the success of their first venture, no less than eleven canoes, swarming with natives, now approached the Dutch vessels. They were allowed to come close alongside, and were then greeted with a number of shots from the guns, but beyond one man hit by the discharge from the Zeehaen, no one appeared to be injured. The natives were, however, terrified by the volley, and rapidly paddled away for the shore.

At noon another meeting of the Council was held, the awful tragedy was discussed, and the following resolution drawn up: “Seeing that the detestable deed of these natives against four men of the Zeehaen's crew, perpetrated this morning, must teach us to consider the inhabitants of this country as enemies; that, therefore, it will be best to sail eastward along the coast, following the trend of the land, in order to ascertain whether there are any fitting places, where refreshments and water would be obtainable.”

There seems little reason to doubt that the terrible calamity just described could have been averted, had the captain of the Zeehaen rejoined his vessel on the first sign of danger. Possibly the deliberations of the Council were not completed, and Janszoon, his place being still on the Heemskerck, had no alternative but send instructions to the junior officer what course to follow should the natives attempt to come on board, but all experience is against a captain absenting himself from his vessel on such an occasion. The instructions having been given to the officers on the Zeehaen, the boat had to return to the captain on board the Heemskerck, which would not have been necessary had Janszoon rejoined his vessel instead of simply sending a message. The appearance of the boat passing from one ship to another suggested to the natives an attack, the return gave the opportunity. Tasman, while recording with great detail the events connected with the massacre, does not give the names of those killed. Another log, kept by a sailor, gives no information about the attack, but page 7 records the names of the poor fellows killed—the first Europeans to meet their death at the hands of Maoris—Jan Tyssen of Oue-ven, Tobias Pietersz of Delft, and Jan Isbrantsz. The fact that one of the dead bodies was taken into the Maori canoe, though it suggested nothing to the Dutchmen, indicates how the Maori victory was that night celebrated on the shores of Golden Bay.

The name Staten Land was given to the mainland, and that of Murderers Bay to the scene of the disaster.

After a perusal of Tasman's Journal and the charts accompanying it, the scene of this encounter is capable of fairly accurate determination. In coming to a conclusion the author has also had the benefit of the very valuable opinion of Captain Lambert, one of the most experienced navigators on that part of the coast, who has kindly put at his disposal a careful analysis of Tasman's remarks. His anchorage was in Golden Bay, off Wara-manga Beach, and two miles W. by N. ½ N. of Separation Point. This spot is ascertained by taking the error known to be present in his calculations at fixed points on the coastline and applying it to the figures given when recording his anchorage. It also fits in with the position shown in his chart and with native tradition.

Leaving the anchorage, Tasman sailed on a N.E. by N. course, which would take him past Stephens Island and well over to the mainland near the mouth of the Rangitikei River. His first thought was that here he would find a passage into the open South Sea, but as his soundings indicated the near approach of land, he altered his course to the westward.

On the twentieth, land was visible on all sides, and Tasman, who was rather far to the west to get a view of Cook Strait, seeing land ahead, tacked to the north and sailed on until he again picked up the coastline north of the Wanganui River. Beating about to get out of the bay in which he appeared to be, his next southern tack brought him across to the South Island in a direct line with Stephens Island, which he picked up during the page 8 afternoon. After running down the coastline of D'Urville Island for a few miles, Tasman cast anchor.

Here the expedition spent several days. The weather, however, proved very unsatisfactory, and as the anchorage was rather exposed, Tasman did not enjoy a very comfortable time. During the second night both ships had to drop second anchors, and the Heemskerck was compelled to strike her tops. Throughout the third day the weather was even more threatening. On the twenty-fourth, during a lull in the storm, Tasman summoned the officers of the Zeehaen on board his ship, and again pointed out to them the evidences of a passage to the south-east, and intimated that it would be well, when the weather moderated, to search for it and see whether fresh water could be got in that direction. On the twenty-fifth the weather moderated, and the vessels were got ready for sea.

Speaking of this anchorage, Tasman says: “We are lying here in 40° 50′ S. Latitude and Longitude 192° 37′.” Counting his errors as present in all his New Zealand reckonings, he must then have been in the same latitude as when anchored in Murderers Bay and 1° 7′ E. of that anchorage. The Rangitoto Islands are in the same latitude as Separation Point and 1° E. of it. If, therefore, the first anchorage was W. of Separation Point, the second must have been just outside the Rangitoto Islands. This position would place Stephens Island N.N.W. as described by Tasman and would also give a limited protection from the westerly winds which prevailed while the expedition was at anchor, and would, at the same time, suggest a removal when the wind shifted round to the east. All these points, added to Tasman's description, “There are many islands and cliffs all around here,” enable us to locate the anchorage from the positions quoted with tolerable certainty.

The sailor's log differs somewhat from Tasman's Journal in giving the twenty-second as the date when the vessels anchored, but its description is generally fully as good as that of the commander's. It says they “came into page break page break
Visscher's Chart of New Zealand, 1642–3Indicating presence of Cook Strait 128 years before its discovery.

Visscher's Chart of New Zealand, 1642–3
Indicating presence of Cook Strait 128 years before its discovery.

page break page break page 9 a creek about one mile from the shore.” As it is speaking of Dutch miles, which are equivalent to four English miles, it evidently is referring to the shores of D'Urville Island. Our sailor friend tells us that on the twenty-fifth the master of the Zeehaen and the merchant came on board the Heemskerck as guests of the Commander, two pigs were killed for the crew, and a tankard of wine given to every man “as it was the time of the fair”—the first Christmas celebrations on the coast of New Zealand. While Tasman's journal gives the same, his chart shows a different latitude for the two anchorages. The site marked on the chart would place his second anchorage near the mouth of the Pelorus, which might be read as the “creek” mentioned by the sailor. Under the circumstances the more specific statement of the latitude in the journal must prevail as against the appearance of the chart, though the latter is quite as definite in fixing the locality as is the former.

On the twenty-sixth, easterly weather brought a suitable opportunity of getting away, but when the ships were clear of their anchorage the weather changed to southerly and south-westerly with a stiff gale. Tasman therefore had to abandon the idea of examining whether a passage existed to the south-east, and was compelled to follow the coastline seen stretching away to the northward. So satisfied was he that a passage would be found to the south-east that one of the maps prepared by Visscher contains a break in the coastline at the very spot where 128 years afterwards Cook discovered the strait.

Tasman kept within reach of the western coast until 4th January, 1643, when he found himself off a cape with an island N.W. by N. of him.

A conference of the officers declared for touching at the island for fresh water and vegetables, but on getting nearer, it appeared to hold out little prospect of supplying their needs, and it was decided to take advantage of the favourable weather and run on. The island was called Three Kings, because the expedition came to an anchor there on Twelfth Night Eve, and sailed thence on Twelfth Day.

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On the morning of the fifth, the wind being favourable, Tasman steered for the island, and at noon two boats were sent off to look for water, but although water was seen, they could not procure it on account of the surf at several places, which prevented their landing. They found the island inhabited, seeing in all thirty or thirty-five persons, heavily-armed men, who took enormous strides as they walked. That evening the vessel anchored close to the shore. The attempt on the following day was again unsuccessful. It was found impossible to land with the casks, on account of the surf, and the two boats sent out for that purpose were recalled to the ships, the Council was summoned, and the expedition sailed away.

Thus ended Tasman's visit to New Zealand. From 13th December, 1642, to 6th January, 1643, the Dutch expedition was on the coast, and surveyed with wonderful accuracy many hundred miles of it. In all else attempted, however, nothing but the most miserable failure appears to have attended the efforts of the officers. What the real cause of the want of success was, it is hard to say. The Dutch authorities were not at all satisfied with the work accomplished, and, in the memorandum penned on the occasion of the return of the expedition to Batavia, stated that the real situation and nature of the lands would require to be further ascertained. In the instructions, too, given to the subsequent expedition, Van Diemen speaks of Tasman as having been “somewhat remiss in investigating the situation, conformation and nature of the lands discovered, and of the natives inhabiting the same, and as regard to the main point, has left everything to be more closely inquired into by more industrious successors.”

When the previous history of Tasman is taken into consideration, it is difficult to believe that the repeated failures on the New Zealand coast were due to any personal fear on the part of the commander. Rather are they to be traced to the peculiar powers given to the Council, which consisted of six officers associated with Tasman. This Council decided all matters relating to the progress of the page 11 voyage and the execution of the instructions, Tasman having only a deliberative and a casting vote. Disciplinary questions required the presence of the master boatswains; navigation questions, the presence of the second mates. What could a body of this kind do, where majority of votes reduced almost to the level of the common sailor the genius of the commander? Without reflecting on the ability or bravery of Tasman, the author thinks that the terror inspired in the officers by the massacre of 19th December, 1642, prevented all attempts to land while anchored for about five days in Admiralty Bay, upset one after another the decisions arrived at by the Council, hurried the expedition away when the question of the strait called for a settlement, stopped the landing on the Three Kings, pictured to the imagination the island as peopled with giants, and ultimately sent away the expedition from New Zealand, without the refreshments which were so much needed by themselves, without the commercial information which was of such advantage to the Company, and without the geographical knowledge which was of such importance to the world.

Speaking, before we leave the work of this great man, upon the subject of the retention of the names given by Tasman, the author is compelled to admit that his countrymen have scarcely been fair to the Dutch expedition. Rocky Cape is now Cape Foulwind; Steep Point is Rocks Point; Murderers Bay is Golden Bay; Abel Tasman's Road is now Admiralty Bay; and Zeehaen Bight has no name. None of the names given by Tasman are now found attached to the South Island. Names, it is true, have been given indicative of Tasman's visit. We have, for instance, Abel Head and Tasman Bay, though Tasman never saw the Head, nor did his ships sail into the Bay. Nothing can disguise the fact that we have not acted rightly to the great Dutch navigator who first unfurled a flag of Europe on the coast of New Zealand. It should be mentioned that the name New Zealand was given when Brouwer, in 1643, proved that the Staten Land, to the south of America, was not page 12 part of a continent, and therefore could not be identical was the Staten Land of Tasman.

Tradition is always interesting to compare with official record, and is often necessary to identify uncertain spots. Looking to tradition in the case before us, we are unfortunate in having to deal with a part of the country whence the original inhabitants have been driven out by the conqueror. In 1642 the shores of Massacre Bay were occupied by the Ngati-Tu-mata-kokiri tribe, which were driven out in the early portion of the eighteenth century by the Ati-Awa tribes. Some of the conquered remained as slaves to the conquerors, and Mr. James Mackay, a native land agent, who spent some considerable time among the Massacre Bay natives, learning that some of the old Ngati-Tu-mata-kokiri tribe still lived at Croiselles, or Whangarae, about 1859, visited them and was told that their ancestors had seen white men in former days, and had, a very long time ago, killed some of them who came in a ship to “Whanawhana (near Separation Point.)1 The locality mentioned, when compared with Tasman's chart, leaves little doubt that the story of the naval engagement with the Dutch expedition, and the cannibal feast which our knowledge of the Maori tells us must have happened, were so impressed upon the history of that tribe as to live through two centuries of time and survive the effects of war and slavery.

Mr. S. Percy Smith, in his researches among the northern natives, discovered what was evidently a tradition among them regarding Tasman's visit. “There was a ship came to these northern parts (of New Zealand) in very ancient days, long before that one which called in to the north of Mangonui. It is said that the name of the country from which it came was Te-upoko-o-tamoremore (‘the head of baldness’), and the name of the ship was Te-pu-tere-o-Waraki (‘the drifting stem of Waraki’—a sea-god, a European). This was before the first ship came to the Bay of Islands, in the days when the father of Nene and Patuone was alive.”