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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970


page 16


In 1827 Dumont D'Urville came in "Astrolabe". He had been more successful with the natives in Golden Bay than had Tasman, and had sailed round the coast examining the southern edge of the bay. He hoped to find a gap that would give entry to Admiralty Bay without having to sail northwards round Stephen's Island. He had seen Croisilles Bay, naming it after the district in which he used to live. The name is now spelt "Croixelles" or "Croixilles". As this harbour was approached in the evening, the wind had fallen, and the ship was becalmed. In order to escape being driven by the swell upon the rocks, which are very numerous along this coastline, he had to anchor two miles south of Cape Souci. This is the southern headland of the Croisilles bay, and though shown by that name on the ordnance map, the name has been anglicised, in pronuciation at least, to Cape "Susie", calling up visions of some fair, young maiden, rather than the grim care or anxiety that D'Urville assigned to it.

Next day, "Astrolabe" made the first attempt on the narrow pass of water that separates D'Urville Island from the South Island. The tide surges through this confined space, and the mad whirlpools twist wildly as the water makes its hurried way through the narrow gap left by the reef, the bones of Te Kawau-a-Toru. In the late afternoon the ship was standing for the pass under all sail when the lookout called out a warning that the way ahead was barred with breakers. At once, not a moment lost, all sails were lowered, and the anchor dropped in mid-stream. Two boats were sent out to examine the sides of the channel. They were away for four hours. The boat which explored the southern side of the bay said that it seemed safe, but the boat from the island shore had almost been tossed on to the rocks by a very violent current.

The night was a terrifying one for the men on the corvette. The wind freshened rapidly from the north-west, and by ten o'clock it was blowing so hard that the waves swept right over the ship, covering the forecastle. When this sudden storm had passed, the sea went down and the sky cleared. Next morning it was discovered that the cable had parted, only a single anchor chain had held, and even of this anchor one fluke was broken. Had that last chain snapped, the corvette would have been swept on to that rocky coast, all lives lost.

Next morning the ship approached the Pass once more. On the left hand lay the island, covered with forest. His officers insisted that their commander should give it his own name. On the right lay the rugged cliffs and rocks, the ferny hillsides of Te Wai Pounamu. Ahead of them, visible through the Pass, lay the islands and headlands of Admiralty Bay. D'Urville says, "Such was the extraordinary spectacle that we could have enjoyed, if care of the vessel had not prevented us."

page 17

A second attempt on the Pass also failed, as the water came "rushing through in whirpools of unbelievable violence". The vessel was swept back into Current Basin, and she spun round several times, almost grazing the rocks. It must have been a fearsome ordeal for captain and crew. However, D'Urville was not deterred. That evening he took the whale-boat and examined the Pass. It was during this visit that he decided to make the attempt at low water. In his Journal he mentions the crowds of sea-birds—cormorants, he calls them—perched on the bushes. Shades of Kawau-a-Toru!

During the next day he actually traversed the Pass in the small boat, being carried through by the tide as he was taking soundings. He was able to return at slack water.

Whilst waiting for suitable weather to make the attempt D'Urville visited the Island. His efforts to become acquainted with the natives were unsuccessful.

On January 28th he decided to make the attempt. Very early in the morning he climbed the ridge overlooking the Pass. This would be on the point where the light-house now stands, and where Kawau-a-Toru had first seen it. From the steep cliff D'Urville looked at the dangerous reef and the narrow passage below. He could not hide from himself that the enterprise might end fatally. He looked across at his beautiful ship and thought of the lives for which he was responsible. Soon they might be drowned, or at best living a miserable existence on a hostile shore. For a moment D'Urville almost gave up the idea of navigating the Pass. "Such reflections for a moment shook my resolution, but I strengthened myself shortly, and I returned aboard and decided to try my fortune".

Soon after 7 a.m. the tide was slack, and the attempt made. But as the ship approached the Pass, the wind failed, and the current caused the ship to swerve towards the reef. Twice she touched the reef, and the second time heeling over, until the crew cried out in fright. But D'Urville called out, "It is nothing, we are over it!" and in a moment they were indeed, the current dragging them off the rock, the wind freshening again and sweeping them into the calm waters of Admiralty Bay. In the wake of the ship floated bits of the false keel, detached as she struck. One can only imagine the relief of that moment.

Now D'Urville anchored in the sheltered bay now known as Catherine's Cove, a few miles south of Cook's anchorage. The peninsula that protects it from the north is called Point Bonne, anglicized now to Bonnie Point.