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History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840

Captain D'urville's Vistt to Tasman Bay. — 1827

Captain D'urville's Vistt to Tasman Bay.

It will be of interest to say a few words just here about the visit of the celebrated French Captain, Dumont D'Urville, in the corvette "Astrolabe," which occurred early in 1827, and which, so far as is known, was the first visit of an European ship to that bay since Tasman in 1642. It was on the 18th December of that year that the Dutch navigator anchored off Separation Point, which divides Tasman from Massacre (or Golden) Bay, and, as is well known, one of his boats was attacked by the Ngati-Tu-mata-kokiri tribe and four of the sailors killed. Hence Tasman gave the name Murderers' (or Massacre) Bay to the place. It would have been of interest to have learnt the Maori account of this affair, but, unfortunately, the tribe that committed the murders was practically exterminated by the Ngati-Apa tribe about the beginning of the nineteenth century, so we have nothing from native accounts but the bald fact of two ships having visited the bay, where they were attacked by the Maoris and some of the crew killed. This information comes down through some of the women, or slaves, spared when Ngati-Apa conquered the country.

And as to Captain Cook's three visits to Queen Charlotte Sound in 1770, 1773, and 1777, for the same reason we have no native accounts. The people with whom Cook had intercourse, probably Ngai-Tara or the Rangitane tribes, having also been exterminated. One would have thought that such a notable event as Cook's visit would have been retained in the traditions of the Ngati-kuia tribe who inhabited the Pelorus Sound, but my old friend Pakau-wera, from whom I obtained much information as to his tribe, absolutely knew nothing of Cook's visit.

Captain D'Urville left Sydney on the 19th December, 1826, and after a very stormy passage made the West Coast, near the mouth of the Grey River, on the 10th January, 1827. From there be coasted along to the north, round Cape Farewell, and anchored off Separation Point, not far from Tasman's anchorage, on the 14th January. It was then that he ascertained that Tasman's Bay was of far greater size than Cook had supposed. On the 16th January D'Urville was off Mackay's Bluff, a few miles north of Nelson, and here he first communicated with the natives, who visited the ship in two canoes page 433from a settlement pointed out as being situated near the north end of Nelson Haven (which D'Urville never saw) and called, according to D'Urville, Skoi-te-hai (which may be, perhaps, Kohi-te-whai, or some such name).* D'Urville thought he recognised amongst these people two distinct classes—the fine, stalwart tatooed men who were evidently chiefs, and some untatooed men who appeared to be slaves, or of the lower orders. There is no doubt these people were members of the Ngati-Apa-ki-te-ra-to tribe, who conquered Ngati-Tu-mata-kokiri, and probably the lower class were slaves or vassals of the latter tribe held in bondage after their conquest by the first named. The same day the Astrolabe anchored under the lee of Adèle Island, on the west shore of the bay, in a fine, sheltered place, which received the name of Astrolabe Bay. They remained here several days, the natives from the head of the bay coming to visit them and remaining camped on the shore whilst the ship was there. D'Urville remarks that these people were unacquainted with iron, and put no value on it; but much preferred clothing in exchange for their mats, etc., etc. He says they had potatoes, but possibly he means the kumara, or sweet potato. They complained of the effects of fire-arms in the hands of some neighbours who came from the north-west, evidently alluding to Ngati-Toa and Te Ati-Awa, with whom these people had come in contact in 1824 at the attack on Kapiti Island already described.

D'Urville, after four days at Astrolabe Bay, sailed for the French Pass, which he discovered, and after a very great many difficulties managed to take the Corvette through, with the loss of part of her false keel, for the terrible current of the Pass carried the ship on to the rocks. It was a very narrow escape. D'Urville's description of these exciting times is of very great interest.

page 434

His officers requested him to allow his name to be applied to the island that lies to the north of the French Pass. The Captain's remarks thereon are worthy of being quoted, as showing that he had the true spirit of the discoverer, and did not wish to deprive the first explorers of their right to name their discoveries. The Maoris, of course, were the first to visit the island. He says, "The name of D'Urville Island, therefore, will remain until the epoch when we shall learn the name it has already received from its inhabitants."The Maori name of the island is Rangitoto, but D'Urville's name still takes precedence, and it is as well in this case that it should remain, for the name of the distinguished French navigator is not signalized in any other part of New Zealand, although he did so much to make its coasts known.

They saw several villages about the Pass and Admiralty Bay, and even some of the natives in their canoes at a distance, but held no communication with them. These were some of the Ngati-kuia people of Pelorus Sound, who at that time owned Admiralty Bay and Rangitoto Island.

After this long digression we return to the

* This place name cannot now be identified; the subsequent conquest of the country by Ngati-Toa and Te Ati-Awa having destroyed those people who might have known. But Judge Mackay tells me there were to be seen, when Mr. James Mackay first occupied the country to the north of the Nelson Haven in 1845, a very large number of papa-whare, or house foundations, all along the Boulder Bank, and that at the head of this place "there are numerous papa-whare to be seen in close contiguity and of all shapes, as also along the bank for several miles, along the margin of the flax swamp which formerly existed there…. The site of this swamp was previously occupied by a forest of mixed timber, which was ultimately destroyed by fire, and a growth of flax took its place. The site of the mixed forest was originally covered with a growth of kahikatoa (manuka), the remains of which were discovered when digging ditches to drain the swamp laying on a clay surface at a depth of six feet below the level of the swamp. There must have been a great subsidence there, for the present surface of the swamp is very little above sea level."