Despite having a mountain, a county, a beach, streets and so much more named after him, Captain James Cook, remains a polarising personality 250 years after he first sailed into Aotearoa with the HMS Endeavour crew.
Cook is usually applauded for his navigational and mapping prowess; this commemoration however, the replica Endeavour has been denied access to Mangonui and refused a Maori pohiri in Gisborne, and the captain has been pilloried as a white supremacist, murderer and ‘barbarian’ for paving the way for the worst excesses of colonisation.
The sombre consideration that at least eight lives were lost in his first eight days in the country has dominated this year’s Tuia Encounters 250 with the focus shifting more to Maori and Pacific Island perspectives.
When Cook made initial landfall at Turanga-a-Kiwa (Gisborne) on the morning of 8 October 1769 several lives were lost (most reports say at least five and as many wounded) over two days through his response to perceived threats.
Just over a week later, on 16 October, at least two more Maori were killed aboard a waka that included high chiefs, shortly after Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to set eyes on what Maori had named Heretaunga and Ahuriri.
Scapegoat for land loss
More than $20 million has been invested to mark Tuia 250 which begins in Gisborne on October 8 and will attempt to honour Pacific navigators and give Maori and Pacific Island peoples a chance to tell their ancestral stories.
Organisers, acknowledging the impacts of colonisation, hope the mamae (hurt) of Maori is heard and understood and that stories can be shared in an honest way during the commemoration.
The Tahitian Va'a Faafaite left Tahiti on August 20 using ancient star navigation and oceanic knowledge with Ngāti Kahungunu navigator Piripi Smith on board supporting two Tahitian navigators who represent their ancestor, HMS Endeavour co-navigator and interpreter Tupaia.
The Va'a Faafaite joins double hulled waka from Auckland and Tauranga, the Endeavour replica from Australia, the Spirit of New Zealand from Auckland and the R. Tucker Thompson from the Bay of Islands as they circumnavigate the North Island and parts of the south.
After muskets and gunpowder overtook botched trading intentions at Turanganui the area was named Poverty Bay with Cook hauling anchors on October 11 and heading due south intending to complete the charting efforts of Dutchman Abel Tasman 127 years earlier.
As the Endeavour moved down the East Coast dozens of waka came for a closer look with Tupaia managing to entice some brave chiefs on board for bartering. The general response, however, was “a prodigious shouting and threatening”, shaking of spears and paddles and showers of stones thrown at the ship.
After rounding Mahia Peninsula toward what was to become Napier, five waka with about 90 men on board threatened to seize one of the ship’s boats until Cook’s men fired a four pounder over their heads.
On 15 October, now desperate to trade for water and food, Cook veered south toward the far end of the large bay, where there were steep white cliffs on either side and two large rocks resembling hay stacks near the headland.
A large canoe approached, followed by seven others containing about 160 men. As they gathered under the Endeavour’s stern, Tupaia communicated with them, “a war dance” was performed and gifts were given by the ship’s crew.
The next morning at 8am, several boats approached the Endeavour offering ‘stinking fish’. They were well behaved, and as Cook wrote in his diary, “we should have parted good friends if it had not been for a large canoe, with two and twenty armed men on board, which came boldly up along side of the ship”.
They had nothing to trade but the Endeavour’s crew still gave them “two or three pieces of cloth”. Cook was taken by a black skin thrown over one of the men in the waka “somewhat resembling that of a bear” and was curious to know “what animal was its first owner?”
He offered a piece of red baize (felt-like material) which seemed to be satisfactory. Cook believed a deal had been done but when the owner pulled off his cloak he refused to hand it over.
In good faith the cloth was handed down, then with amazing coolness the Maori crew packed everything into a basket “without paying the least regard to my demand or remonstrances”.
Soon after the “fishing boats” drew together at a distance and returned offering more fish. Among those placed over the ship’s side to hand up the fish was Tupaia’s young musician companion and religious initiate Taiato.
He was seized by one of the men, dragged into the waka and held down while the others “with great activity, paddled her off” with the rest of the canoes following.
Cook’s crew were ordered to fire. “The shot was directed to that part of the canoe which was farthest from the boy, and rather wide of her, being willing rather to miss the rowers than to hurt him.”
One man dropped and others quickly let go of the boy who leapt into the water and swam toward the Endeavour. The large canoe turned in pursuit but musket fire rained on them and the big gun was bought into action.
Cook says the boy was hauled back aboard unhurt, but terrified. Those watching the retreating waka through their glasses said they saw three men carried up the beach, “who appeared to be either dead or wholly disabled by their wounds.”
Immediately after this unfortunate engagement Cook rebranded Te Matau a Maui (Maui’s hook) as Cape Kidnappers and the bay he anchored in for the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Edward Hawke.
Limp for a legacy
In 1851, missionary and botanist William Colenso interviewed Zechariah Ngarangikamau who named those killed by Cook’s crew as Whakaruhe and Whakaika.
Zechariah (Hakariah) was the great grandfather of Te Ori who limped until his death, possibly around 1813, with a musket ball lodged under his knee. He was a direct descendant of Whatuiapiti and Hikawera II, who in his later years lived on a cliff top pa at Te Awanga.
Hawke’s Bay historian Pat Parsons suggests other prominent chiefs Rangikoianake and his son Hāwea were also among those on board the waka that fateful day.
Zecharaiah and the other old men told Colenso their fathers were warned by Tupaea (sp) not to approach the ship “hostilely” or they would be killed but the priests and chiefs didn’t believe
they had any serious weapons.
After the ‘Kidnappers’ incident Cook sailed south to what he called Cape Turnagain, between the mouths of the Porangahau and Akitio Rivers, then tacked north again to eventually find supplies and better relations with Maori at Akito Bay and Tolaga Bay.
He then hoisted the British flag at Mercury Bay on 15 November before carrying on with his circumnavigation.
Many question remain with the answers lost in the mists of time. Was the encounter with this strange waka simply part of a wero, a challenge, to determine whether Cook and co were friend or foe.
If the gift Cook was seeking to trade was a dog skin cloak, that puts another spin on the story. Dogs weren’t plentiful and a waterproof cloak made from dog skin was a prized possession (taonga) of a high chief.
Considering the high rank of those aboard the large waka that pulled Taiato on board it has to be asked whether they were simply asserting mana over their territory like they might have done with any other encroaching outsider?
The locals certainly didn’t seem afraid of confronting these strangers. Did they think they were rescuing Taiato or did he look like he would make good kaitangata (food)?
Was the Maori response shaped by news of the deaths at Tairawhiti and why did they not believe Tupaia when he warned them of the danger?
In Gisborne Cook had forcibly kidnapped several Maori and taken them aboard the Endeavour to give them gifts and try to understand more about this people ... were local chiefs attempting to do the same?
There are many reasons to put this down to cultural misunderstanding, a conflict of world views, an over-reaction to what was perceived as a threat.
Regardless, all seemed to have been forgiven on Cooks second visit in 1773 in the Resolution, when he again made contact with the people near Te Matau-a -Maui and gave them pigs, chickens, nails, yams, wheat, and vegetable seeds.
It’s true that Cook’s navigational and map making abilities, ably assisted by his Tahitian companion Tupaia, opened the way for whalers and traders and ultimately colonists to head down to the edge of the Pacific world in succeeding generations.
The real troubles for local Maori came a decade after the goodwill signing of the Treaty of Waitangi at the Tukituki river mouth on 20 June 1840 with the alienation of large blocks of land through the Ahuriri, Waipukurau and Mohaka purchases.
Chiefs who sold or leased the land were encouraged European settlement believing this would lead to tribal prosperity but the terms of that promised partnership are still being worked through 180-years later.
J C Beaglehole, The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768 - 1771, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 1968., pp. 147-51;177-178
Anne Salmond, Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans 1642-1772, Auckland: Viking, 1991, pp. 147-9.
Strathan and Cadell, Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere Vol11-111 (including James Cook’s journals), London 1773, p.304, 306
Ropiha, A, Cultural Impact report for the Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Napier City Council, Hastings District Council June 2017, p17-18
Heretaunga Tamatea Deed of Settlement 2015
Journals of William Colenso 1841-1854 entry 25 April 1851 cited in Salmond, First meetings p151-152
Waitangi Tribunal, The Mohaka ki Ahuriri Report 2004 Chapter 3: The Land and its People to 1850
Images: Parkinson drawing of Maori canoe, The Endeavour entering Poverty Bay, M.T Clayton 1905 (public domain)
James Cook portrait Nathaniel Dance-Holland - from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom, Public Domain