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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

French Vessel at Tolaga Bay in 1827

French Vessel at Tolaga Bay in 1827

Whilst the French corvette L'Astrolabe was at Tolaga Bay in 1827, her commander (Captain D'Urville) saw, in the offing, a schooner which, at first, ran along the coast and then suddenly put out to sea and disappeared. This manœuvre he could account for only by supposing “that the vessel viewed our visit as not being quite an agreeable one.” She might have been the Elizabeth (Captain Kent). D'Urville says that he obtained “much phormium fibre at a reasonable price.” Perhaps, this supply had been got ready in anticipation of the arrival of the vessel which took to her sails!

D'Urville received a very warm welcome to Tolaga Bay. Two canoe-loads of natives at once went alongside, “without any fear and as though accustomed to seeing Europeans,” and began to trade. It was pleasing to the visitors to learn that pigs, potatoes and other provisions were plentiful there. Forty-five days had page 84 gone by since they had left New Holland [Australia], and their supplies of fresh provisions had long since become exhausted. They had doubled Young Nick's Head—described by D'Urville as “Cape Young Nicks”—and had quietly passed the opening to Poverty Bay, presumably on account of the evil reputation attaching to its inhabitants in consequence of Cook's unhappy experiences in 1769. “Turbulent and noisy in their bargaining, the natives showed much good faith, and we could only felicitate ourselves on the nature of our exchanges,” is how D'Urville describes the bartering at Tolaga Bay. A large hatchet had to be given for a large pig, and a tomahawk for a small one.

By 1827, a few firearms must have come into the possession of the Tolaga Bay natives, otherwise it is hardly likely that Te Kani-a-Takirau and his companions would have sought—unavailingly, of course—weapons from D'Urville to frighten away from the ship some older chiefs. These newcomers turned out to be relatives of theirs, and not enemies as D'Urville had at first thought. Two natives—Tohinui and Kohihore—who had joined the vessel at Palliser Bay, were, at first, unwilling to be landed at Tolaga Bay. What clinched the matter was a gift to them of a cartridge of powder, which they desired to give to a chief who had promised them a canoe to enable them to return home. D'Urville commented: “After muskets, more precious than gold and diamonds among us, powder is the object most essential in their eyes.” Colenso learned in 1896 that the Palliser Bay natives reached their home safely.

A few weeks before the brig Hawes was attacked at Whakatane on 2 March, 1829, she paid a visit to East Cape. John F. Atkins (Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 687 et seq.) says that a great many natives came off to her in large canoes, but could not be induced to trade. The ship's interpreter—an Englishman belonging to the Bay of Islands—warned the captain that they were preparing an attack. It is added: “We instantly flew to arms, removed the caps and aprons from our cannon, and determined upon a vigorous resistance; but the savages, whose success depends upon surprising their victims, as soon as they perceived that we were aware of their intentions, fled with the greatest precipitation.”