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

Chapter IV — A Tragic Day

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Chapter IV
A Tragic Day

Natives in Truculent Mood—Theft Leads to Casualties—Marines Landed as Protective Force—Fatal Raid on Canoe in Bay—Was Possession of New Zealand Taken at Poverty Bay?

Tuesday, 10 October, 1769—the day following Cook's historic landing at Poverty Bay—was the blackest day during the whole of the Endeavour's six months' stay in New Zealand waters. In the morning, another native, Te Rakau, was shot and left to die for snatching away Mr. Green's hanger, and three others were wounded. During the afternoon, four natives were killed out in the bay merely because they showed fight when molested, and three of their companions were taken captive. Parkinson suggests— and his contention was accepted by Colenso, McNab and others— that Cook took possession of New Zealand for King George III that day. It will be found, however, that the claim was erroneous.

Parkinson's account states:

“Early in the morning of the 10th [the Canberra logbook says at 8 a.m.] the longboat, pinnace and yawl went on shore again, and the party landed near the river where they had been on the night before, and attempted to find a watering-place. Several of the natives came towards them and, with much entreating, we prevailed upon some of them to cross the river: to whom we gave several things, which they carried back to their companions on the other side of the river, who seemed to be highly pleased with them and testified their joy by a war-dance.
“Appearing to be so peaceably disposed, our company went over to them and were received in a friendly manner…. We would have purchased some of their weapons, but could not prevail upon them to part with them on any terms. One of them, however, watched an opportunity and snatched a hanger from us: our people resented the affront by firing upon them and killed three of them on the spot; but the rest, to our surprise, did not appear to be intimidated at the sight of their expiring countrymen, who lay weltering in their blood, nor did they seem to breathe any revenge upon the occasion, attempting only to wrest the hanger out of the man's hand that had been shot and to take the weapons that belonged to their other 2 deceased comrades which, having effected, they quietly departed. After having taken possession of the country in form for the King, our company embarked….”

As several of Parkinson's statements—viz. that the natives appeared friendly; that Cook's party went over to the western side of the river; that three natives were slain during the quarrel over the theft of the hanger; and that the country was taken possession of in form for the King—are not in accord with other accounts, it is practically certain that he was not on shore on that page 29 occasion. Native tradition is also clear upon the point that only the native who snatched away Mr. Green's hanger was fatally injured.

According to Wharton's Captain Cook's Journal, p. 131, Cook, Banks and Solander landed [at Boat Harbour] and went to the [eastern] side of the river. In his rough draft, Cook states that heavy surf prevented his party from landing to the west of the river [on Waikanae Beach], where some natives had assembled. Banks says that the reason why only a few landed at first was because the Indians—about fifty—remained on the farther [western] side of the river, and that their action in so doing was looked upon as a sign of fear. He includes Tupaea as a member of the first party that landed. Cook adds that, when they—probably Tupaea—called to the natives in the George's Island [Tahitian] language, they answered by flourishing their weapons over their heads and by dancing what was believed to be a wardance. Consequently, his party retired [to Boat Harbour] until the marines were landed, “who I ordered to be drawn up about 200 yards behind us.”

Why the Marines were Landed

The spectacle afforded by the landing of the marines must have been colourful as well as animated. Cook and his companions of rank would be attired in knee breeches, heavily buttoned coats with lace trimmings, waistcoats with long flaps, stout shoes adorned with buckles, and headgear in the form of three-cornered looped-up hats. In striking contrast to the seamen in blue frocks and short, loose trousers, the marines would look resplendent in red coats, grey trousers and high steeple hats. Short muskets and hangers would be carried by the officers, civilians and marines.

What led up to the landing of the marines is more realistically told by Banks:

“… As soon as we appeared at the river side they [the Indians] came up and every man produced a long pike or a small weapon of well polished stone, about a foot long and thick enough to weigh 4 or 5 pounds. With these, they threatened us and signed to us to depart. [In his unpublished journal, Lieut. Gore says that the Indians formed up in two lines, brandished their spears, and gave a war-dance, rolling their eyes and obtruding their tongues as they swayed first to one side and then to the other.]

Banks adds:

“A Musquet was then fired, wide of them, the ball of which struck the water. They saw the effect and immediately ceased their threats; we thought it prudent to retreat till the marines were landed and drawn up to intimidate them and support us in case of necessity. They landed and marched with a jack carried before them to a little bank about 50 yards from the river, which might be about 40 broad. Here they were drawn up in order, and we again advanced to the riverside.”
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The party at the riverside, according to Wharton, comprised Cook, Banks, Solander, Green and Tupaea. Banks says that Tupia (Tupaea) told the natives that they were willing to exchange iron for provisions. The natives acquiesced, but, as they would not lay down their arms, Tupaea regarded them as treacherous. At last, one native stripped and, unarmed, swam over to them. He was followed by two more and, soon afterwards, by most of the rest, who brought with them their arms. Iron and beads were given to them, but, being totally ignorant of the uses to which iron might be put, they set little value upon it. In return, they would part with only some feathers. Banks adds:

“They made several attempts to snatch our arms from us…. They were made to understand that we must kill them if they snatched anything from us. After some time, Mr. Green, in turning himself about, exposed his hanger. One of them immediately snatched it, set up a cry of exultation, and, waving it round his head, retreated gently. “It now appeared necessary for our safeties that so daring an act should be immediately punished. This I pronounc'd aloud as my opinion. The Capt. and the rest joined me, on which I fired my musquet, which was loaded with small shot, levelling it between his [Te Rakau's] shoulders, who was not 15 yards from me.
“On the shot striking him, he ceased to cry, but, instead of quitting his prize, continued to wave it over his head, retreating as gently as before. The surgeon [Dr. Monkhouse], who was nearer him, seeing this fired a ball at him, on which he dropped. Two more men who were near him returned. Instantly, one seized his weapon of talk [talc]; the other attempted to recover the hanger, which the Surgeon had scarce time to prevent.
“The main body of them were now upon the rock, a little way in the River. They took to the water, returning towards us, on which the other three [of us], for we were only 5 in number, fired on them. They then retired and swam again across the river. On their landing, we saw that 3 were wounded, one seemingly a good deal hurt. [Polack says that a native told him in Poverty Bay in 1836 that his father, a chief, was one of those injured. A ball passed through his shoulder, but he had lived until a few years previous to his (Polack's) visit.] We re-embarked in our Boats.”

Cook Takes a Risk

In the rough notes which Cook made at the close of the day, he included some important details which he did not afterwards incorporate in his journal. Outstanding among them are those which indicate the risk to which he exposed himself. It seems that the marines and sailors were in boats lying off Boat Harbour when he and his companions retired to that spot to have them landed. He adds:

“When we returned to the riverside … Tobia (Tupaea) called to the Indians and told them that we wanted to be friends with them; him they perfectly understood and he them. We shew them several things, such as beeds and nails, and throw'd a nail over to them, but it fell short.
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“One of them then swam over to a rock [Te Toka-a-Taeao] that lay nearly in the middle of the river, but would come no farther. I then laid down my arms and went to him and gave him some presents and, very soon, 2 more came. These brought their arms with them. I gave these three men most of what I had about me; but the people on the other side of the river began again a war dance, upon which, having no arms with me, I thought fit to retire, which they did not offer to prevent.
“Soon after this, about 20 more came over, all armed. They would willingly have exchanged their arms for ours, but would not part with theirs on any other condition, and soon attempted to snatch ours out of our hands. I got Tobia to tell them that we was their friends and only come to get water and to trade with them and that, if they offered to insult us, we could with ease kill them all. But Tobia told us plainly that they were not our friends, and told us several times to take care of ourselves, and it appear'd very plane that all they came for was to seize some of our arms. They several times seized hold of my musket and one of them at last tore Mr. Green's hanger from his side and was making off with it when I ordered him to be fired upon.”

Hawkesworth would have his readers believe that Te Rakau died soon after he received the second shot. This, however, was not the case. In his rough notes, Cook says that this native did not seem to mind when Banks hit him with only small shot; he turned and flourished the hanger about. He adds: “I then order Dr. Monkhouse, whose piece was load with a ball, to fire at him…. The man, who I thought at first was dead, recovered so far as to talk to Tobia. Yet their was great possibility of the wound being mortal.” [Te Rakau was found dead next morning.]

Flag Incident in Poverty Bay

When Colenso took up the cudgels on behalf of Parkinson (Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. X, 1877, p. 99), he knew that Parkinson, alone among the voyagers, claimed that Cook had, at Poverty Bay, taken possession of New Zealand for the King. It also seems that he was under the erroneous impression that it was one of Cook's duties to throw the mantle of British sovereignty over the country, and it appeared to him that Cook would consider himself obliged to do so on that part of the coast at which he made his first landing. He argued that Cook's action in hoisting the Union Jack at Mercury Bay [an incident which is not mentioned either by Parkinson or by Banks] might have been dictated by a belief that he had reached another native king's domain, and that, in any case, he would regard it as necessary to leave an inscription there to show that he had observed the Transit of Mercury.

It was also Colenso's opinion that other records of the voyage might some day come to light which would support Parkinson's page 32 narrative. “Cook's logbooks and ship's papers,” he said, “are, no doubt, still in existence and in safe keeping. By an accurate and close examination of them—particularly in relation to his landing at Poverty Bay—the whole matter, I have little doubt, will be determined and for ever settled.” There is now, it will be noted, ample evidence to disprove any suggestion that Cook took possession of New Zealand at Poverty Bay. If Colenso had reflected for one moment, it would have occurred to him that it would have been incongruous on Cook's part to have chosen the disparaging designation “Poverty Bay” had he, in fact, taken possession of New Zealand there for the King!

In Tasman to Marsden (1914), p. 20, McNab also accepts Parkinson's unsupported statement that New Zealand was taken possession of “in form for the King” by Cook before he and his party re-embarked at Boat Harbour on the second day of his stay in Poverty Bay. McNab states:

“Whilst ashore on this occasion, the country was taken possession of for King George III. Parkinson says: ‘After taking possession of the country in form for the King, our company embarked.’ Strange to say, neither Cook, Banks nor Hicks mentions this interesting ceremony. But, outside of what Parkinson says, there is the fact that a strong body of marines and seamen had been landed in the boats and, according to Dr. Hawkesworth, who probably got it from the officers, the marines marched ‘with a Jack carried before them.’
“The presence of a body of marines with a Union Jack, when we think of Cook's mission, is sufficient corroboration of Parkinson's statement, even in the face of Cook's silence. Banks does not even mention the Mercury Bay hoisting. The result is that Gisborne is entitled to the honour of being the site of the first hoisting of the Union Jack in New Zealand, and the date was Tuesday, the 10th of October, 1769.”

McNab, it is plain, was also under the mistaken impression that it was part of Cook's mission to take possession of New Zealand. Upon that important point, however, the “Additional Secret Instructions,” which were not released until eleven years after McNab's death, speak for themselves—and to the contrary. Further details which are now available make it clear, beyond a shadow of doubt, that the marines were landed not to take part in a ceremony but to act as a protective force—in fact, to use Banks's words, “to intimidate them [the natives] and to support us in case of necessity.”

Whilst Cook was at Anaura Bay and Tolaga Bay, and at other points where landings were made in New Zealand, the marines were, invariably, called upon to undertake shore duty. No special significance attaches to the detail that they “marched with a Jack carried before them” whilst they were ashore at Poverty Bay. page break
Page from Captain Cook's Diary, showing alteration from “Endeavour Bay” to “Poverty Bay.” By courtesy of Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Page from Captain Cook's Diary, showing alteration from “Endeavour Bay” to “Poverty Bay.”
By courtesy of Mitchell Library, Sydney.

page break
Locale of incidents during Captain Cook's visit to Poverty Bay, 1769. W. L. Williams, Trans. N.Z. Institute, Vol. XXI

Locale of incidents during Captain Cook's visit to Poverty Bay, 1769.
W. L. Williams, Trans. N.Z. Institute, Vol. XXI

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The director of the National Maritime Museum (London) informed the writer that that procedure was, by all accounts, customary in Cook's day. Hawkesworth's authority for the statement that a standard-bearer carried a Jack must have been Banks, for he alone mentions that the British colours were displayed, for the first time in New Zealand, at Poverty Bay on 10 October, 1769. How it came about that McNab saw fit to magnify the incident into a claim that the Union Jack was “hoisted” is inexplicable.

If it had been intended to take possession of New Zealand for the King at Poverty Bay, the consent of the natives would first have had to be obtained. No effort to do so was made, nor could it, in the circumstances, have been made. The setting up of a memorial likely to have some degree of permanence would also have had to be undertaken. Parkinson does not suggest that these steps were taken. The marines did not honour the alleged ceremony by firing three volleys of small arms. A resounding answer did not come from the mouths of the ship's great guns. No cheers then followed on shore and there were no loud hurrahs, in turn, from the vessel's shrouds.

Whilst Cook was at Tolaga Bay, an inscription was cut upon a tree and initials and names were engraved around Cook's Well. Nothing, however, was left at Poverty Bay as evidence of his visit excepting a few small gifts, interesting recollections for the three youths who were entertained; painful memories of the deathdealing properties of the white man's pu (musket); and a disparaging place-name.

A Regrettable Attack

The afternoon of the second day of Cook's stay at Poverty Bay (10 October) was even more disastrous for the natives than the morning. Wharton says that, as Cook found that nothing more could be done with the people on the northern side of the bay, and as the water in the [Turanganui] river was salt, he embarked to visit the bottom of the bay in search of fresh water “and, if possible, to surprise some of the natives and to take them on board and, by good treatment and presents, endeavour to gain their friendship.” In Cook's rough notes, the paragraph dealing with the decision to make this journey appears to have ended originally with the words “fresh water.” Some light is thrown on the postscript by the entry in which an account is given of the attack that was made on the natives in the canoe. Cook points out that heavy surf prevented him from landing at this part of the bay. He adds: “This made me resolve upon taking one of 2 boats I saw coming into the bay….” Cook uses the term “head of the bay.”

Wharton says that one of the canoes [Polack was told that they page 34 had come from the direction of Young Nick's Head] made off and that, when the boats got alongside the other, Tupaea called upon its occupants to bring it alongside, telling them that they would not be hurt. Quoting Cook, Wharton adds:

“As they endeavoured to get away, I order'd a Musquet to be fir'd over their heads, thinking that this would either make them surrender or jump overboard; but here I was mistaken, for they immediately took to their Arms or whatever they had in the Boat and began to attack us. This obliged us to fire upon them. [Parkinson says that Cook, Banks and Solander did the firing] and, unfortunately, either 2 or 3 were killed and one wounded and 3 jumped overboard. These last we took up and brought on board, where they were Cloathed and Treated with all imaginable kindness….
“I am aware that most Humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will Censure my conduct in Firing upon the People in their boat; nor do I myself think that the reason I had in seizing upon her will at all justify me; and, had I thought that they would have made the Least Resistance, I would not have come near them; but, as they did, I was not to stand still and suffer either myself or those that were with me to be knocked on the head.”

In Cook's rough notes, the final paragraph reads:

“I can by no means justify my conduct in attacking and killing the people in this boat who had given me no just provocation and was wholly ignerorant of my design and, had I had the least thought of them making any resistance, I would not so much as have looked at them; but, when we were once a long side of them, we must either have stud to be knocked on the head or else retired and let them gone off in triumph, and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timorousness.”

Banks supplies the fullest account of the regrettable attack upon the canoes. Incidentally, he gives as additional reasons for the expedition that Cook was anxious to ascertain whether there was any shelter for the ship on the other side of the bay and that he would have liked to have landed there, “where the country appeared to be much more fruitfull.”

“We had,” he continues, “almost arrived at the farthest part of the Bay when a fresh Breeze came in from the Seaward and we saw a Canoe sailing in Standing right towards us, and soon after another padling. The Capt. now resolved to take one of these which, in all probability, might be done without the least resistance, as we had 3 boats full of Men and the Canoes seemed to be [those of] Fishermen who probably were without Arms.
“The Boats were drawn up in such a manner that they could not well escape us. The padling Canoe first saw us and made immediately for the nearest land; the other sailed on till she was in the midst of us before they saw us. As soon as she did, she struck her Sail and began to padle so briskly that she outran our boat.
“On a Musquet being fired over her, she, however, ceased padling immediately and the People in her, 7 in all, made all possible haste to Strip, as we thought to leap into the water. But no sooner did our boat come up with her than they began with Stones, padles, etc. to make so brisk a resistance that we were obliged to fire into her, by page 35 which four were killed; the other 3, who were boys, leaped overboard. One of them swam with great agility and, when taken, made every effort in his power to prevent being taken into the boat; the other two were more easily prevailed upon.
“As soon as they were in, they squatted down, expecting, no doubt, instant Death, but, on finding themselves well used, and that cloathes were given them, they recovered their Spirits in a very short time, and, before we got to the ship, appeared totally insensible of the loss of their fellows.”

Parkinson's vague account differs greatly from those of Cook and Banks, and it cannot be regarded as that of an eyewitness. He mentions the presence of only one canoe, and concludes: “Several of the natives were killed and wounded and [apart from the three who were made prisoner] the rest were suffered to escape.” But only in his version is the canoe described. It was, he says, 30 ft. long; was made of planks sewed together; and it had a big sail made of matting.

The boats, which had been absent from the ship since 8 a.m., returned at 5 p.m. Banks says that, as soon as the natives were taken on board, they were offered bread “of which they almost devoured a great quantity.” They put on cheerful and lively countenances “and asked and answered questions with a great deal of curiosity.” At dinner they desired to taste everything that was on the table; salt pork appeared to please them most. Beds were made up for them on the lockers, and they laid down contentedly. Loud noises were heard on shore during the night. He adds: “Thus ended the most disagreeable Day my life has yet seen. Black be the mark for it and Heaven send that such may never return to embitter future reflections!”

Even on the day of the Endeavour's departure from Poverty Bay, Banks was still sorely troubled with pangs of remorse over the unnecessary slayings. He discussed with Cook the point whether they should put into a small cove close to Poverty Bay [probably Whareongaonga], but Cook preferred to search for a better harbour. In his journal, Banks wrote: “God send that we may not there have same Tragedy to act over again as we so lately perpetrated!” In a further note, Banks says:

“In the middle of last night, one of our boys [a captive] seemed to show more reflection than he had before done, sighing often and aloud. Tupia, who was always on the watch to comfort them, got up and soon made them easy. They then sang a song of their own. It was not without some taste, like a Psalm tune, and contained many notes and semi-tones. They sang it in parts, which gives us no indifferent idea of their taste as well as skill in Musick. The oldest of them is about 18, the middlemost, 15 and the youngest, 10. The middlemost especially has a most open countenance and agreeable manner. Their names are: Te Ahourange, Koikerange and Maragooete—the first two brothers.”
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According to W. L. Williams, the correct spelling of the first name was “Te Haurangi,” but E. F. Harris gives it as “Te Hourangi.” Both agree as to the spelling of the other two names—Ikirangi and Marukauiti. Mr. Williams said that he had heard descendants of Ikirangi and Marukauiti talk of the intercourse which their ancestors held with Tupaea, but he added that the name “Te Haurangi” had been forgotten. Harris was unable to trace the ancestry either of Te Hourangi or of Ikirangi, and his inquiries went to show that Marukauiti's line had died out.


The name of the rock in the Turanganui River was “Te Toka-a-Taiau, or Taeao.” W. L. Williams believed that, in Cook's day, it must have stood high enough out of the water to be awash even at high tide. During the development of the river for harbour purposes, it was removed by blasting. The harbour authorities, it is stated, were warned by the natives that, if they interfered with it, disaster would attend their efforts. Some natives professed to believe that the harbour troubles which followed were due to the removal of the rock. In some quarters it was claimed that the rock was an old tribal boundary.

J. E. Dalton was told that, upon the arrival of Matatua canoe in Poverty Bay, Maia landed on Waikanae Beach. He called to the people on the Kaiti side of the river to send a canoe to convey him across. As only a boy was placed in charge of it, he became incensed. He slew the lad, set the canoe adrift, and turned the boy's body into the rock; hence the name, “Te Toka-a-Taeao.” The rock became a tipua, or home of a divinity, and was held very sacred.

Thus W. L. Williams (Gisborne Times, 30/7/1902): “A red garment was laid on Te Rakau's body by Cook's people. The name given to it by the natives was 'Te Hinu-o-Tuhura.” According to the Harris Memoirs, Captain Harris was shown portion of the garment soon after his arrival in Poverty Bay. He tried to buy it, but he did not succeed even in seeing it again. He was told that it was worn by high chiefs upon going into battle. If it appeared bright, they regarded the fact as a good omen; if dull, they feared that defeat, or severe loss, lay ahead.