W hat I believe to be genuine and authentic the collected publications of William Colenso


On the day in which Captain Cook took formal possession of New Zealand



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1877 On the day in which Captain Cook took formal possession of New Zealand.
Transactions of the New Zealand Institute 10: 99-108.

[Read before the Hawke Bay Philosophical Institute, 13th August, 1877.]

For several years I have been of opinion that all our colonial almanacs are in error on this subject. They all give the 15th of November, 1769, as the day in which Cook took possession of New Zealand in the name of the King. This they have always done, and in this they have been followed by other publications, both Colonial and British, when speaking of the circumstance. My object in bringing this matter in a few words plainly before you is to initiate an enquiry, which, whether I am right or wrong, will serve to settle the question. And I have good reasons for believing that what I shall state will cause you all to agree that, at least, there is considerable doubt about it. [100]

The almanac makers and others, as I have said, give the 15th November, 1769, as the day, and Mercury Bay as the place in which this act was done, and, to a certain extent, they are right, viz., that on that day, according to what is related in Dr. Hawkesworth’s narrative of Cook’s first voyage, such a circumstance took place. The words are as follows:—

“Before we left the bay, we cut upon one of the trees near the watering-place the ship’s name and that of the commander, with the date of the year and the month when we were there; and after displaying the English colours, I took a formal possession of it in the name of His Britannic Majesty King George the Third.”257

And here I may remark, in passing, that this sentence stands alone as a short paragraph added on at the end of the chapter; after we had been told of their having left the bay, and of their having been obliged through contrary winds to change their course at sea.

Dr. Hawkesworth, who was employed to edit this first voyage of Cook, says in his introduction that he was largely indebted to Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Banks, for much of his scientific, popular, and interesting information; indeed, as it would appear, to a far greater extent than to Capt. Cook himself, from whom, however, were derived “the particular account of the nautical incidents of the voyage, the figure and extent of the countries, with the bearings, harbours, soundings, the latitudes, longitudes, and variation of the compass, and such other particulars as lay in his department.” And, in still plainer language, the editor further says: “As the materials furnished by Mr. Banks were so interesting and copious, there arose an objection against writing an account of this voyage in the person of the commander, the descriptions and observations of Mr. Banks would be absorbed without any distinction in a general narrative given under another name: but this objection he generously overruled, and it therefore became necessary to give some account of the obligations which he has laid upon the public and myself in this place.”

I quote this rather fully, because, as I think, it will partly serve to show how the error (if an error) came about. For it must not be forgotten that Captain Cook did not himself write his first voyage as we have it printed and published; neither was he in England during the time of publication, and consequently knew nothing whatever of it until three or four years afterwards.

Having said so much by way of introduction, I shall now give you my reasons for supposing an error to exist. I propose, therefore, to consider:

(1.) Cook’s usual custom in taking possession of any newly-discovered country. [101]

(2.) The length of time he was in New Zealand before the day in question.

(3.) What has also been published respecting Cook’s taking possession of New Zealand by a fellow-voyager and witness of the transaction.

(4.) What may possibly have been the real meaning of the paragraph quoted.

(First.) Cook’s usual custom in taking possession of any newly-discovered country.

This is clearly shown, I think, from what took place but a few months before, namely, on the 20th July. He says:—“We now made sail from the island of Huaheine for the island of Ulietea, distant seven or eight leagues, and when the day broke the next morning we stood in for the shore, and anchored in twenty-two fathoms. ... We determined to go on shore without delay. ... I landed in company with Mr. Banks, Dr. Solander, and the other gentlemen, Tupia being also of the party. He introduced us (to the natives) by repeating the ceremonies which he had performed at Huaheine, after which I hoisted an English jack and took possession of this and of the three neighbouring islands, Huaheine, Otaha, and Bolabola, which were all in sight, in the name of His Britannic Majesty.” Cook remained here at anchor, “trading with the natives and examining the products and curiosities of the country,” four or five days.

(Second). The length of time he was in New Zealand before the day in question (November 15th).

Cook, as is well known, first saw New Zealand on the 6th of October, and landed on its shores on the evening of Sunday, the 8th, on which occasion a Maori was unfortunately killed. On the next morning Cook landed again in three boats with a large party, and spent some time on shore, when, unhappily, several Maoris were killed, as well as some others on the sea when returning to the ship. And on the following day Cook and others with him again landed, and spent some time on shore shooting ducks and collecting plants. After this Cook sailed southwards, coasting close in shore, round Table Cape, Portland Island, Long Point, Wairoa, Tangoio, Ahuriri, and Cape Kidnappers, but did not land, although (as he says) they were about to do so (near our Petane). After another unhappy affair near Cape Kidnappers, Cook sailed south as far as Cape Turnagain, and then returning north anchored on the 20th in a small bay north of Tolago Bay (probably Anaura), where they first watered in New Zealand. In the evening of this day Cook being pleased with the people again went on shore, and remained here and at the adjoining bay of Tolago (to which he had removed on the 22nd) until the 30th, when he sailed to the north. During nearly the whole of this time Cook and his companions [102] were mostly on shore, not at all annoyed by the Maoris, who (as he says) “behaved very civilly, showing us everything that we expressed a desire to see;” and enjoying themselves greatly in rambling about, going into the woods, seeing what was to be seen, and in making extensive botanical and other collections, having also with him on shore nearly the whole strength of his ship, including the chief officers, the scientific gentlemen, and the marines. He says (after leaving Tegadoo, or Anaura bay):—“In the afternoon of the 23rd, as soon as the ship was moored, I went on shore to examine the watering-place, accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander; the boat landed in the cove without the least surf; the water was excellent and conveniently situated; there was plenty of wood close to high-water mark; and the disposition of the people was in every respect such as we could wish. ... On the 24th, early in the morning, I sent Lieutenant Gore on shore to superintend the cutting of wood and filling of water, with a sufficient number of men for both purposes, and all the marines as a guard. After breakfast I went on shore myself, and continued there the whole day. Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander also went on shore to gather plants, and in their walks saw several things worthy of notice,” etc., etc.

And here I would remark (1), that we know, from Cook’s own words, the high expectations all on board of his ship had on their first seeing this new land; which, no doubt, was greatly increased during their slow approach of from two to three days to their first anchorage: Cook says, “The land became the subject of much eager conversation; but the general opinion seemed to be that we had found the Terra australis incognita.” (2). That at this time (as a matter of course) Captain Cook did not know how far the land he had discovered extended to the north, neither was he sure (after the experience he had had of its natives and of its coast) that he should ever land again; or, if he should, that he could possibly have a better opportunity than he had here, during his ten days’ stay at Anaura and Tolago Bays. Here then, if he had not already done so, would have been the place and the fitting opportunity for him to have taken possession of his newly-discovered country.

Leaving Tolago Bay on the 30th October, Captain Cook coasted north until the 4th November, when he anchored at Mercury Bay. Here he remained from ten to eleven days, spending, with his party, much of their time on shore very agreeably. On their leaving the bay, on the 15th, they acted in the manner already quoted and described. So that, if this was really the first time of his taking formal possession of the country, he had been no less than thirty-eight days in the New Zealand waters, of which about twenty-four days were spent on land in various places on the east coast; and yet, though nothing hindered, and delay in such matters (as we have seen) was not in keeping with Cook’s [103] custom or temper, such an important event was unaccountably delayed for a very long period; and note, further, that in his now leaving Mercury Bay, he was not about to leave the country.

I come now to the positive part of my argument, viz:—

(Third). What has also been published respecting Cook’s taking possession of New Zealand by a fellow-voyager and witness of the transaction.

Sir Joseph Banks took with him an experienced draughtsman, named Sydney Parkinson. (Of this young gentleman, who was a member of the Society of Friends, I have something more to say in a brief memoir.) He kept a journal of the proceedings and of the main incidents of the voyage. Unfortunately he died at sea, after leaving Batavia, on the voyage home of the ship, much lamented by all on board. His journal, however, was published in London by his brother, in the same year as the larger work of Cook’s First Voyage (1773), and in it Sydney Parkinson, speaking of their landing, etc., in Poverty Bay, says:—“Early on the morning of the 10th, the long-boat, pinnace, and yawl went on shore again, and landed near the river where they had been the night before, and attempted to find a watering-place. Several of the natives came towards them, and, with much entreating, we prevailed on 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 pacifically disposed, our company went over to them and were received in a friendly manner. Some of the natives were armed with lances, and others with a kind of stone-truncheon; through the handle of it was a string which they twisted round the hand that held it when they attempted to strike at any person. We would have purchased some of their weapons, but could not prevail on 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 two deceased comrades, which having effected, they quietly departed. After having taken possession of the country in form for the King, our company embarked and went round the bay in search of water again, and to apprehend, if possible, some of the natives, to gain farther information of them respecting the island. They had not gone far before they saw a canoe; gave chase to it; and when they came up with it, the [104] crew threw stones at them, and were very daring and insolent. Our people had recourse to their arms: the captain, Dr. Solander, and Mr. Banks fired at them and killed and wounded several of them. The natives fought very desperately with their paddles, but were soon overpowered; their canoe was taken, three of them made prisoners and brought on board the ship, and the rest were suffered to escape.”258

In connection with this I just copy a few sentences from Cook’s voyage where, in speaking of this landing, Cook (or his editor, Dr. Hawkesworth) says:—“In the morning (October 9th) we saw several of the natives where they had been seen the night before. As I was desirous to establish an intercourse with them I ordered three boats to be manned with seamen and marines, and proceeded towards the shore accompanied by Mr. Banks, Dr. Solander, the other gentlemen, and Tupia. On the marines being landed they marched with a jack carried before them to a little bank about fifty yards from the water-side; here they were drawn up, and I again advanced with Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander; Tupia, Mr. Green, and Mr. Monkhouse being with us.”

Here, then, we have from a qualified and unexceptionable eye-witness, in plain and positive language, that on this day and in this place the newly-discovered country was formally taken possession of for the King; and we also see from Captain Cook’s statement that there were on shore on that occasion the marines and the English colours and the gentlemen of the ship, with a fine long summer’s day before them,—“the foe, too, having retreated.”

I may also mention that Parkinson’s entry in his journal of their taking formal possession of Ulietea, (already quoted from Cook), is made in a similar manner; he says,—“The captain went on shore and took possession of the island for the King; he saw but few inhabitants and scarce any of distinguished rank among them.”

And it should not be forgotten: (1). That Sydney Parkinson was a very moral, truthful, young man, one not likely to have entered anything wrong in his journal; indeed all his entries exhibit carefulness. (2). That Sydney Parkinson died at sea on their voyage to England, so that he could not have purposely altered his journal; and further, (3), that as his journal was published by his brother in London in the same year in which Cook’s first voyage appeared, it cannot be reasonably said or supposed that any addition or alteration thereto was made by the publishers, who were, of course, as utterly ignorant of the materials Dr. Hawkesworth had at command as they were of New Zealand itself! Besides, his brother, the editor, says in his preface,—“I shall leave the works of my brother to speak his talents,259 [105] thinking I have paid a proper respect to his memory, though it should be said of his journal (which has been faithfully transcribed)—that its only ornament is truth, and its best recommendation, characteristic of himself, its genuine simplicity.”

I cannot bring myself to believe that Capt. Cook omitted the taking the formal possession of the country on that occasion; seeing, too, that he had with him the marines, and the flag, and the gentlemen of the ship—that the coast was clear of the enemy, who had, as he says, “slowly retreated to the interior after crossing the river, carrying their dead and wounded with them”—that a heavy surf was then settling the shore (which, indeed, prevented their landing again anywhere on that eventful day), and that this was now the second day of their being on shore in the newly-discovered country.

And here I may mention that, just twenty years after, Lieut. Broughton, in H.M. Brig “Chatham,” took possession of the Chatham Islands, in these seas, under somewhat similar circumstances. Lieut. Broughton was under Capt. Vancouver, who in the “Discovery” commanded that expedition, and who had been (as he says in his voyages) four times to New Zealand with Capt. Cook; and as Lieut. Broughton received his directions from Capt. Vancouver, no doubt they were like those formerly issued by his old commander Capt. Cook. Lieut. Broughton says of his first landing at those islands:—“Accompanied by Mr. Johnston the master and one of the mates we proceeded towards the shore in the cutter. ... As the natives approached they made much noise ... and seemed very anxious to receive us on shore; but as all our intreaties were ineffectual in obtaining anything in return for our presents, perceiving many of them to be armed with long spears, and the situation being unfavourable to us in case they should be disposed to treat us with hostility, we did not think it prudent to venture among them. ... But having again reached the shore without any interruption, we displayed the Union flag, turned a turf, and took possession of the island, which I named Chatham Island (in honour of the Earl of Chatham), in the name of His Majesty King George the Third, under the presumption of our being the first discoverers.”260

On the whole, I conclude that Sydney Parkinson is right; and that the act of taking formal possession of the country of New Zealand in the name of the King was done on that particular day, viz., the 10th or 9th of October, 1769, at Poverty Bay, and not on the 15th of November following, at Mercury Bay. [106]

At the same time I am aware of the difference in dates as to the day of the month between Parkinson and Captain Cook as edited by Dr. Hawkesworth. Sydney Parkinson gives the 10th of October as the day on which those events occurred; which, in Cook’s Voyage, is as clearly said to have happened on the 9th. And this difference of a day extends throughout nearly the whole of that month in both journals, save that on the 1st they both agree, and then again on the 30th they do so. So that, from the 2nd to the 29th of October inclusive, all the entries of occurrences in Parkinson’s Journal (and they are almost daily made) are one day in advance of the corresponding ones in Captain Cook’s Voyage. And what is still more strange is the further record of this difference as to date in their respective maps of New Zealand. In both maps the ship’s track all around New Zealand is given; in Parkinson’s it is engraved,—“Made the coast October 5th, 1769;”—in Cook’s, “Made the coast October 6th, 1769.” I have endeavoured, by closely comparing the two accounts, to find out where the error is, or how it occurred, but I have failed to do so. On the one hand, in Parkinson’s Journal, we have almost daily entries, generally made in separate paragraphs; while, on the other hand, in Cook’s Voyage, we have the day of the week given as well as the day of the month,—although in a few places several days are thrown together in a single paragraph; and we must not lose sight of this, that the editor, Dr. Hawkesworth, made use of several journals in compiling his narrative.

And now I will offer a few remarks on what may possibly be the real meaning of the ceremony of taking possession at Mercury Bay. First, however, for clearness, again quoting that paragraph:—“Before we left the bay we cut upon one of the trees near the watering-place the ship’s name and that of the commander, with the date of the year and the month when we were there, and after displaying the English colours I took a formal possession of it in the name of His Britannic Majesty King George the Third.”

May “it” not mean “the bay?” that being the proper antecedent to the pronoun “it;” the country is not mentioned. Moreover, it should be noted that Cook does not say in speaking of “the date” which he caused to be cut that such was the date of his discovery of the country; but, on the contrary, that of “the month” of their being “there”—at that bay and watering-place, which we know was not the month in which he discovered the land. Curiously enough Parkinson makes no allusion whatever to this ceremony at Mercury Bay in his journal, although he says a good deal about the place and people, etc., etc.

Further, Capt. Cook may have had several reasons for so doing; two prominent ones I will mention:—1. Capt. Cook observes that he heard [107] continually (both when on shore at the various places where he had landed, and from the very many canoes, which, during his coasting voyage S. and N., came alongside) of a great chief or king named Teratu; this he mentions several times, and seems to have been in great expectation of meeting with him. When nearing Mercury Bay (having passed the island which he named the Mayor and the Court of Aldermen), he says:—“As far as we had yet coasted this country from Cape Turnagain, the people acknowledged one chief whom they called Teratu.” And again, “It is much to be regretted that we were obliged to leave this country without knowing anything of Teratu but his name. As an Indian monarch, his territory is certainly extensive: he was acknowledged from Cape Kidnappers to the northward and westward as far as the Bay of Plenty, a length of coast upwards of 80 leagues, and we do not yet know how much farther westward his dominions may extend. Possibly the fortified towns which we saw in the Bay of Plenty may be his barrier; especially as at Mercury Bay he was not acknowledged, nor indeed any other single chief.”

But after landing in Mercury Bay and obtaining friendly intercourse with the natives residing there, Cook says:—“It was also discovered that the natives of Mercury Bay acknowledged neither Teratu nor any other person as their king; as in this particular they differed from all the people that we had seen upon other parts of the coast, we thought it possible that they might be a set of outlaws in a state of rebellion against Teratu, and in that case they might have no settled habitations or cultivated land in any part of the country.”

Hence he might have done it through supposing he was now in another king’s territory; but I do not believe this. At the same time it should not be forgotten that Captain Cook came direct to New Zealand from the Society Isles and other Polynesian islands where he had seen all the inhabitants living under kings; of whose immense power over their people he had also seen a great deal.

2. One of Captain Cook’s principal instructions from the British Government was,—to observe the transit of Venus in the South Seas; and for this purpose he was accompanied by Mr. Green, the astronomer. This was a matter eagerly looked forward to by all the leading scientific men of Europe; and Captain Cook in carrying it out was highly fortunate. So again at Mercury Bay, where he stayed some days to observe the transit of Mercury; here he was again “in luck,” as the sailors say;—he was in a good situation, with plenty of leisure and skilled assistants, free from annoyance from natives, and, as before, favoured with delightfully fine weather, for we read, “not a cloud intervened during the whole transit!” On the day of their leaving the place he says, “to the bay which we had now [108] left I gave the name of Mercury Bay, on account of the observation which we had made there of the transit of the planet over the sun.” What then could have been a more appropriate termination at such a time than to cut the date of their successful scientific achievement “to be left as a memorial of our having visited this place,”261 (to use his own words recorded on a subsequent occasion), accompanied with a display of the English colours, and to take a formal possession of the bay (or territory) in which they had performed that duty in the name of the King?

At all events we find him doing something very similar some six or seven months later when at Botany Bay. He says:—“During my stay in this harbour I caused the English colours to be displayed on shore every day, and the ship’s name and the date of the year to be inscribed upon one of the trees near the watering-place.”262 In this instance, the taking of formal possession of the whole country or island as being the first discoverer, had nothing to do with it; as New Holland (as it was then called) had been discovered and visited long before Captain Cook’s time.

Lastly, and in conclusion, I will say, that if what I have herein advanced is considered to be of the least moment towards the defining of an interesting point in our history, it will not, it cannot end here: and that is just what I wanted. Captain Cook’s log-books and ship’s papers are, no doubt, still in existence, and in safe keeping. By an accurate and close examination of them—particularly of his landing at Poverty Bay—the whole matter will, I have little doubt, be fully determined and for ever settled.

And if it should be asked why it was that I never brought this matter forward before, seeing it is one of public or of national importance, I think I can also satisfactorily answer that, but I reserve my reply.

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