Story of Captain Cook - John Lang

Cook Visits New Zealand for the First Time

On 15th August the Endeavour  sailed towards the south-west, leaving other Islands behind her.

On 6th October, from the masthead a long line of coast was seen, ranges of beautiful hills rising one behind the other; in the far distance vast mountains, white with snow.

"At last," some on board thought, "we have found the Great Unknown Land."

From olden days the belief was general that a huge unknown land lay far to the south. Many had looked for it. In 1642 Tasman, the Dutch sailor, sighted a cape, to which he gave the name of Cape Maria van Diemen, and which he believed was part of that great land.

Now Cook's men imagined that they had found it.

In reality, what they had come upon was the North Island of New Zealand.

A land fair to look upon, a land "flowing with milk and honey," is New Zealand; another England, but with climate finer, and scenery more beautiful. Till Cook landed, no white man since the world began had set foot on its shores. Though Tasman had discovered it more than a hundred years before Cook's day, he feared to land, because on casting anchor, in what he called "Murderers' Bay," he was fiercely attacked by the natives.

The sun does not shine on land more beautiful than New Zealand; a race of people more chivalrous and brave than the Maoris does not breathe Heaven's air—nor, it may be said, a race more ready to fight for pure love of fighting.

Long years after the days of Cook, well within the memory of living men, when your fathers were boys, the Maoris were fighting against our troops. It chanced that some of our men were surrounded in a "pah" (or fort), and their supply of food, and of powder and shot, was nearly done. The Maoris knew the straits that our small force was in, and they knew that a convoy was trying to make its way through the bush to its relief. But they let the convoy with its food and powder come through without attempting to take it.

After the war was over, an officer, who had been shut up in the pah, asked a Maori chief why they had been foolish enough to let such a chance slip through their fingers. It would have been so easy to stop the convoy, and then our men must have surrendered.

The chief stared. "Why," he said, "you fool, if we had taken your powder and your food, how on earth could you have gone on fighting? Of course, we didn't take them!"

On another occasion, when our men tried to storm a pah, an officer and one soldier got in, but the others were beaten back. The officer lay sore wounded and gasping for water. But there was no water in the pah. A Maori chief (who died but a few years ago), climbed over the stockade, ran down the hill under the heavy fire of our men, filled a gourd with water from a stream, ran back again unhurt through the hail of bullets, and gave the water to his wounded enemy. How can one but admire such a people!

It is true that, as Cook discovered, and as the whole world knows, they were cannibals; they ate their enemies whom they slew in battle. But that is a custom which has long since ended.

The day following that on which land had been sighted, the Endeavour  ran into a bay and dropped anchor at the mouth of a small river. Cook, with Banks and Solander, went ashore in the evening.

There were a few natives standing near where the party landed, and attempts were made to talk with them. But the natives retreated. They would have nothing to say to the strangers. Cook and the others then walked up to some huts near at hand, leaving four boys in charge of the boat. But at once the natives attacked the boat, and one of them was shot dead when about to throw a spear. The others for a moment stood, utterly astonished, and then seizing the dead body, dragged it away with them for some distance. Probably they expected that the white men would eat their slain enemy, if the body were left where it fell.

On the next day three armed boats were sent ashore. About fifty natives were waiting, seated on the ground. This, Cook's men thought, meant that they were afraid. The party advanced, when at once the natives, tall, strong men, started to their feet and brandished spears, and axes made of greenstone.

Tupia called to them in his own tongue, but these warriors, their fierce faces aflame with defiance, only became the more threatening. A second time Tupia called out. And now they listened and understood. They were willing to trade, Tupia thought, but he warned Cook to beware of treachery.

For the beads and the iron nails that were offered to them they seemed to have no use, but they were willing to give their weapons in exchange for muskets and swords. When this was refused, they became noisy and troublesome, and one of them suddenly snatched Mr. Green's sword from him, and ran off with it a little way, shouting with joy. The others at once became more threatening, and more and more natives hurried up to join them. Mr. Banks then, at about fifteen yards, fired with small shot at the man who had taken Mr. Green's sword. The man was hit, but even then he did not give up the sword. He retreated very slowly, still waving it over his head. Thereupon Mr. Monkhouse fired with ball, and shot him dead.

Far from being frightened, however, the others seemed only the more inclined to attack the white men, and the sword was got back with difficulty. At last a volley of small shot was fired into the crowd, and they then crossed the river and slowly went away.

After this, Cook made a plan to surprise some of the natives and to take them on board ship, so that by kind treatment he might show them, that they had nothing to fear, after which he imagined that there would be no further trouble.

Whilst his boats were one day near shore, unable to land owing to the heavy surf that was breaking on the beach, he thought he saw a chance to put his plan in use. Two canoes were seen coming from seaward, one under sail, the other being paddled. Cook ordered his boats to separate, so as to cut off all escape for the canoes. Then they waited. The Maoris in the canoe which was being paddled saw the boats, and by hard paddling got away. The other canoe sailed in amongst them before the Maoris in her noticed the boats.

Then began a chase. The Maoris lowered their sail, and, paddling furiously, were also escaping, when Cook ordered a musket to be fired over their heads. This, he thought, would cause them either to surrender or to jump overboard. But in place of surrendering, the seven men in the canoe at once turned on the nearest boat and fell on the sailors and marines fiercely with stone axes and with their paddles. Such a fight did they make against hopeless odds that at last the marines used their firearms, and four of the Maoris were shot dead. The three others, who were but boys, the eldest nineteen and the youngest not more than eleven, at once jumped into the water and tried to swim ashore. With great trouble they were caught and taken into one of the boats.

This unhappy affair was the cause of much sorrow to Lieutenant Cook, and he gave orders that the three boys were to be treated with the greatest kindness on board the Endeavour. Two days later they were put on shore, rather against their wish.

fight with Maoris


Cook thought it wise to leave this part of the coast. No good had come of his visit, and he had been unable to get any supplies for his ship, except of wood. From this fact, he called it Poverty Bay. The south-west point of the bay he named Young Nick's Head, after the boy who first sighted the land.

As the Endeavour  sailed down the coast southward, many large canoes filled with Maoris came off from the land, but seldom could the natives be got to trade. They were too suspicious, and generally they seemed inclined to attack the ship. Muskets fired over their heads had no effect in frightening them, and more than once one of the ship's guns had to be fired, a little wide of them, before they would retire.

Once a Maori was seen wearing over his shoulders the dark-coloured skin of some animal. Cook wanted to get this skin, and in exchange for it offered the man a bit of scarlet cloth. The Maori took off the skin and held it up from his canoe, but would not part with it till he had got the cloth. As soon as that was in his hand, he calmly rolled it and the skin together and paddled off. Neither skin nor cloth was ever got by Cook.

Soon the canoes returned to the ship, this time offering fish. The boy who had come with Tupia from Otaheite was at the time over the side, handing up things which had been bought. Suddenly one of the Maoris seized the boy, bundled him into a canoe, which made off. Shots were fired, and some of the men in the canoe were hit. In the confusion Tupia's boy jumped into the sea, and, swimming for his life, was picked up by a boat which the ship lowered to save him.

In remembrance of this attempt by the Maoris, Cook named the point of land near at hand Cape Kidnappers. The large bay immediately to the north he called Hawke's Bay, in honour of Sir Edward Hawke. On the shore of this bay now stands the important town of Napier.

The Endeavour  at this time did not sail much farther to the south, but, when nearly abreast of a bluff which Cook named Cape Turnagain, went about and stood to the north.

All the way up the coast large canoes hurried out from the land, some coming quite close to the ship and looking as if they meant to attack. Everywhere was heard the Maori war-song. Generally, however, they paddled off when one of the ship's guns was fired, though once or twice spears and stones were thrown.

When the ship was abreast of White Island (which is a volcano that still continues to this day to spout flame and smoke), between forty and fifty canoes were seen coming from the land. A few began to trade, but one Maori, seeing some linen hanging over the ship's side, seized it. A musket was fired over his head, but he took no notice. A second musket loaded with small shot was then fired at him. He was hit on the back, but he only gave a shrug of his shoulders and went on packing up the linen. The Maoris now dropped astern and began their war-song; but when one of the ship's guns was fired near them, and they saw the ball go skipping over the water, they paddled away in great haste.

At Mercury Bay the Endeavour  remained a week to get wood and water, and to take sights of the transit of the star Mercury. Here too there was trouble. A Maori made off with some cloth, without giving up what he had agreed to give in exchange, and Lieutenant Gore, seizing a musket, shot him dead. Everywhere, almost, there was the same tale. The Maoris "feared no foe."

After rounding Cape Colville, whilst Lieutenant Cook was on shore, many Maoris came of, and some went on board the Endeavour. A young man stole a small article, and Lieutenant Hicks, who was in command during Cook's absence, ordered him to be seized and flogged. The other Maoris ran to the side for their weapons, and those still in the canoes tried to climb on board. But when Tupia told them that the young man was not to be killed, but only flogged, they stood quietly by and watched the punishment. When the flogging was over, the thief's father also gave him a sound beating, and sent him into his canoe.

All along the coast the Endeavour  sailed, Cook everywhere giving names to the capes and bays and noticeable places.

At the Bay of Islands, when on shore, his party was surrounded by hundreds of natives, who tried to seize the boats. For a time things looked very ugly: it seemed as if there must be a big fight. But Cook's coolness got the party out of the scrape without loss, and the only blood shed was that of a few Maoris who were wounded with small shot.

This is the same bay where, two years after Cook's visit, Marion de Fresne, a Frenchman, and sixteen of his crew were killed and eaten by the natives.

As the Endeavour  began to round the north end of New Zealand, she fell in with storm after storm. From 27th to 31st December it blew without ceasing, a gale, as Cook says in his Journal, "such as I hardly was ever in before," and the sea, he writes, "run prodidgious high." It is always a stormy part of the world, and the ship made little way. Cook says in his Journal, that it is strange that in the summer season she "should be 3 weeks in getting 30 leagues" (30 miles) "to the westward, and 5 weeks in getting 50 leagues" (150 miles).

On 30th December they sighted Cape Maria van Diemen, and thereafter ran down the west side of New Zealand. On 13th January 1770 a "peaked mountain. of a prodidgious height," covered with snow, was seen. This Cook named Mount Egmont.

On the 14th they sighted the north end of the South Island of New Zealand. Here, not very far distant from the place in which Tasman had anchored in 1642, in a great bay which Cook named Queen Charlotte Sound, the Endeavour  remained for some time.

Here also they saw many natives, who again gave trouble. In this place, too, it was clearly proved that the people were cannibals. Parts of a body not wholly eaten were found, and the natives told Tupia that they had a few days before killed and eaten the crew of a canoe which they had taken.

From Queen Charlotte Sound the Endeavour  sailed through the strait between the North and South Islands, and headed up the east side of the North Island as far as Cape Turnagain, to make quite certain that it was an island. Then. turning, she went round Stewart Island (which Cook supposed was part of the mainland), and so up the west coast to her old station at Queen Charlotte Sound.

Cook sailed past the entrances of the great sounds (or fjords) which have helped to make the scenery of New Zealand famous, and one of them he named Dusky Sound. But he did not venture into any of them, owing to the winds. Nor did he see that highest mountain of all in New Zealand, Mount Cook, which was probably hidden by clouds.

Cook had remained on the coasts of New Zealand for six months, and the chart which he drew from his observations was a wonderfully correct one. Of it Captain Wharton, RN., writing in 1893, says, "Never has a coast been so well laid down by a first explorer." Cook's work in this respect was always of the best. For some of the islands in the New Hebrides group his charts are used even to this day.

In spite of the many times that the ship was attacked by the Maoris, Cook formed a very high opinion of them, and he did not think them a treacherous people, though they were ever ready, indeed anxious, to fight. In his journal, he says that the words the Maoris used to shout when they came near the ship meant in English "Come here. Come ashore with us, and we will kill you with our patoo pathos," (axes,)—a sort of "Dilly, dilly, come and be killed!"

Let us sincerely hope that the Maoris will not, like so many native races, die out through contact with Europeans. But if, unhappily, in the course of time they should do so, it is certain that they will leave in their place a white people who are worthy to rank with them as fighting men. In South Africa the New Zealanders of our own day have shown that they too can fight to the death.

Of the country as a place for white people to settle in, Cook thought very highly, and time has shown how correct was his opinion. There is in the whole world no land more pleasant than New Zealand, none better suited to the British race.