The Endeavour in Turanganui

Dame Anne Salmond

In any account of events in the past, it’s important to try to get the facts straight. To do this, it’s necessary to look at what happened from different vantage-points, draw on the widest possible range of evidence, and set the events in their broader contexts.

In the case of the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook and his Endeavour party in Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa in October 1769, we need to try to understand what was going on in the bay before the Endeavour arrived, how different groups of local people viewed the ship, its crew, the Royal Society party led by Joseph Banks, and Tupaia, the high priest and star navigator from Ra’iatea, who acted as a mediator with local Maori. In our community at present, the Navigations Project and the story-telling that is going on is a long overdue effort to enrich this side of the story.

It’s also important to investigate what was going on in Britain at that time, the reasons why the Endeavour was sent to the Pacific, the instructions given to Cook by the President of the Royal Society and the Admiralty, the dynamics on board the ship among James Cook and the crew, the scientists and Tupaia, and the detailed records kept on board. All of these also contribute to our understanding of what happened in Turanganui in early October 1769. It’s fair to say that until recently, far more scholarly effort and public funding has been invested in this side of the story.

If our community is to do justice to the commemoration in October next year, it’s vital to work towards a shared understanding of these first close encounters between Maori and Europeans. That requires listening attentively to the oral narratives recorded in the past and handed down among local iwi. In October 1969, for instance, many school children were taught that James Cook “discovered” New Zealand, while Maori arrived here by accident, and oral accounts of planned voyages of exploration by the ancestors of Maori were dismissed. Over the past 50 years, however, scientific inquiry and the revival of star navigation have given powerful support to those ancestral stories.

In October 1769, when Maori and Europeans first met face to face, neither side knew anything about the other. It’s not surprising that those first encounters were marked by radical misunderstanding. On the one hand, Cook had instructions from the Royal Society that as legal possessors of their own lands, the inhabitants of Pacific islands might rightfully resist a landing in their territories, and that he should avoid violence if at all possible; while the Admiralty instructed him that his men could use their weapons in self-defence if they were attacked. On the other hand, Maori had their own protocols for handling meetings between strangers, which included wero or formal challenges, exchanges of speeches and songs, and greetings with a hongi followed by a shared meal if they came in peace.

In the event, when the first party of men from the Endeavour landed on the east bank of the Turanganui River on October 8, 1769, Cook and some of his scientific companions crossed the river to inspect a fishing camp and gather botanical specimens, leaving four boys from the ship guarding the yawl. It seems from the evidence that Tupaia did not come ashore with them as an interpreter; and that instead of staying with the small boat, the boys wandered off to the beach.

When four men carrying long spears came down from Titirangi and advanced on the boys, they ran back to the yawl and tried to row out to sea. The coxswain, who was guarding the pinnace, saw one man lift his spear to throw it, and fired two warning shots overhead. When the man did not drop his weapon, the coxswain shot him through the heart. We know from early tribal accounts that this man was called Te Maro, and from recent research in the Navigations Project, that he was a rangatira, a skilled gardener and peace-maker.

Although your correspondent Dr Davis describes this as an attack, it is more likely that this was a formal challenge or wero. In former times, spears were used in this kind of challenge. If this had been an attack, many more warriors than four would have been sent to the beach. According to oral narratives recorded last century, local Maori did not know what the Endeavour was — a great bird, a floating island, or a weird craft crewed by ancestors. Most likely the challengers were sent to try to get the strangers to identify themselves.

The shooting of Te Maro was a turning point, because from that time on, it seemed clear that the strangers were hostile. This set the stage for more violent clashes, and more local people were killed. Aware that he had breached his instructions from the Royal Society, Cook deplored the shootings, but argued that he and his men had acted in self-defence. After the shootings, during their second day in the bay, Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, “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 reflection.”

In many ways, Banks’s remark was prescient. Those shootings have not been forgotten; they still echo across the bay.

What is less explicable is when, after almost 250 years of shared history, we still treat each other as strangers. Some of The Herald’s correspondents write with almost as little understanding of Maori life as those first Europeans, and with less empathy and respect. Not surprisingly, this breeds resentment and anger, making it difficult for those bitter memories to heal.

From what I have heard, however, the vast majority of people in our community want to live together in friendship and mutual respect. In a world full of fragmented, violent societies, that’s a future worth fighting for. The Tuia 250 vision of “dual heritage, shared future” points towards a country in which all of our children and grandchildren can stand tall and proud.

That’s the real opportunity of October 2019 — a time to listen to all of the stories, good and bad, learn from the mistakes of the past, decide to head down a better track, and do so in style.

In any account of events in the past, it’s important to try to get the facts straight. To do this, it’s necessary to look at what happened from different vantage-points, draw on the widest possible range of evidence, and set the events in their broader contexts.

In the case of the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook and his Endeavour party in Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa in October 1769, we need to try to understand what was going on in the bay before the Endeavour arrived, how different groups of local people viewed the ship, its crew, the Royal Society party led by Joseph Banks, and Tupaia, the high priest and star navigator from Ra’iatea, who acted as a mediator with local Maori. In our community at present, the Navigations Project and the story-telling that is going on is a long overdue effort to enrich this side of the story.

It’s also important to investigate what was going on in Britain at that time, the reasons why the Endeavour was sent to the Pacific, the instructions given to Cook by the President of the Royal Society and the Admiralty, the dynamics on board the ship among James Cook and the crew, the scientists and Tupaia, and the detailed records kept on board. All of these also contribute to our understanding of what happened in Turanganui in early October 1769. It’s fair to say that until recently, far more scholarly effort and public funding has been invested in this side of the story.

If our community is to do justice to the commemoration in October next year, it’s vital to work towards a shared understanding of these first close encounters between Maori and Europeans. That requires listening attentively to the oral narratives recorded in the past and handed down among local iwi. In October 1969, for instance, many school children were taught that James Cook “discovered” New Zealand, while Maori arrived here by accident, and oral accounts of planned voyages of exploration by the ancestors of Maori were dismissed. Over the past 50 years, however, scientific inquiry and the revival of star navigation have given powerful support to those ancestral stories.

In October 1769, when Maori and Europeans first met face to face, neither side knew anything about the other. It’s not surprising that those first encounters were marked by radical misunderstanding. On the one hand, Cook had instructions from the Royal Society that as legal possessors of their own lands, the inhabitants of Pacific islands might rightfully resist a landing in their territories, and that he should avoid violence if at all possible; while the Admiralty instructed him that his men could use their weapons in self-defence if they were attacked. On the other hand, Maori had their own protocols for handling meetings between strangers, which included wero or formal challenges, exchanges of speeches and songs, and greetings with a hongi followed by a shared meal if they came in peace.

In the event, when the first party of men from the Endeavour landed on the east bank of the Turanganui River on October 8, 1769, Cook and some of his scientific companions crossed the river to inspect a fishing camp and gather botanical specimens, leaving four boys from the ship guarding the yawl. It seems from the evidence that Tupaia did not come ashore with them as an interpreter; and that instead of staying with the small boat, the boys wandered off to the beach.

When four men carrying long spears came down from Titirangi and advanced on the boys, they ran back to the yawl and tried to row out to sea. The coxswain, who was guarding the pinnace, saw one man lift his spear to throw it, and fired two warning shots overhead. When the man did not drop his weapon, the coxswain shot him through the heart. We know from early tribal accounts that this man was called Te Maro, and from recent research in the Navigations Project, that he was a rangatira, a skilled gardener and peace-maker.

Although your correspondent Dr Davis describes this as an attack, it is more likely that this was a formal challenge or wero. In former times, spears were used in this kind of challenge. If this had been an attack, many more warriors than four would have been sent to the beach. According to oral narratives recorded last century, local Maori did not know what the Endeavour was — a great bird, a floating island, or a weird craft crewed by ancestors. Most likely the challengers were sent to try to get the strangers to identify themselves.

The shooting of Te Maro was a turning point, because from that time on, it seemed clear that the strangers were hostile. This set the stage for more violent clashes, and more local people were killed. Aware that he had breached his instructions from the Royal Society, Cook deplored the shootings, but argued that he and his men had acted in self-defence. After the shootings, during their second day in the bay, Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, “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 reflection.”

In many ways, Banks’s remark was prescient. Those shootings have not been forgotten; they still echo across the bay.

What is less explicable is when, after almost 250 years of shared history, we still treat each other as strangers. Some of The Herald’s correspondents write with almost as little understanding of Maori life as those first Europeans, and with less empathy and respect. Not surprisingly, this breeds resentment and anger, making it difficult for those bitter memories to heal.

From what I have heard, however, the vast majority of people in our community want to live together in friendship and mutual respect. In a world full of fragmented, violent societies, that’s a future worth fighting for. The Tuia 250 vision of “dual heritage, shared future” points towards a country in which all of our children and grandchildren can stand tall and proud.

That’s the real opportunity of October 2019 — a time to listen to all of the stories, good and bad, learn from the mistakes of the past, decide to head down a better track, and do so in style.

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Lloyd Gretton, China - 10 months ago
Perhaps Anne Salmond can give an example of two Maori tribes in pre-Christian times, unknown to each other, meeting unexpectedly and initially engaging in a happy wero. I also want a written record of it, not a waiata. I Googled Te Maro and couldn't find anything there.

Pat - 10 months ago
Kia ora Anne, thank you for writing this column. It is this kind of truth, wisdom, understanding, respect and genuine empathy that truly has the capacity to encourage a positive shared future in our region. I hope this sentiment opens closed minds and permeates those who choose to spread ignorant, bigoted views that seek to divide and mislead. Nga mihi nui

G R Webb - 10 months ago
Pat, a nice response but could you tell me what is positive and shared about removing the plaza and statue from Kaiti Hill? Are we not replacing one relic of closed minds with another?

Anne Salmond - 10 months ago
Some of the Herald's correspondents could learn from James Cook's attitude towards Maori, based as it was on many encounters during a six-month circumnavigation and later visits to New Zealand. When he heard about the killings in Grass Cove, Cook wrote:

"I must however observe in favour of the New Zealanders that I have allways found them of a Brave, Noble, Open and benevolent disposition, but they are a people that will never put up with an insult if they have an opportunity to resent it."

As for the tikanga associated with encounters between different iwi, there are innumerable accounts of peaceful meetings in the early contact period. Regarding Te Maro, Archdeacon W.L. Williams, who lived close to the site of the shootings and knew many local elders, identified Te Maro as the first man who was shot in the bay (see his 1888 paper in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute).


Pat - 10 months ago
G Webb: In my humble opinion the statue on Titirangi should never have been erected there in the first place. So it's removal is very positive in my book. There is a Cook statue at the Cut which seems a more suited location considering his movements while briefly here, don't you think? I also applaud the council in their efforts to bring balance by acknowledging both histories of this region. The dual name of Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay recognises both histories and two renowned navigators. Maybe you should ask yourself why a certain sector in this community have such a resistance to these things and see if you come up with a positive answer to that question. I wouldn't normally waste my time in responding to the likes of Lloyd Gretton and his flippant Google searches, but it's just another example of utter ignorance and divisiveness that is far from positive. If what Anne Salmond says can't open his mind I doubt anyone can.

Tony Lee - 10 months ago
Thank you Pat, a very supportive and sincere response to Dame Anne Salmond's article. The article's objective historical perspective was a welcome relief from off-cuff responses presented as fact.

We should all heed her comment that: "Some of The Herald's correspondents write with almost as little understanding of Maori life as those first Europeans, and with less empathy and respect."

Colin Francis, Auckland - 10 months ago
The throwing of a spear is hardly a friendly gesture and the use of a musket in self defence is completely understandable and justified. Sad and all as these events may have been, it was a wonderful day for New Zealand that Captain Cook actually landed here. The 250th anniversary is surely a time for a huge celebration. My Union Jack will be prominently flying from my deck overlooking Auckland Harbour for most of next year as part of these celebrations.

If Gisborne does not want the statue of Captain Cook then let's have it at the pinnacle of the Auckland Harbour Bridge or at Bastion Point or North Head.

John Marcon, Te Kauwhata - 10 months ago
Many of us carry legitimate hurts from the past when a combination of confusion, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, even carelessness resulted in an injustice that continues to cause pain. We can decide to let that pain burn within us, that injustice demand everything from revenge to retribution. To heal that past we can recognise it for what it is, make restoration where practical, bring forgiveness and absolution to the fore - not to minimise the justifiable anger, but to prevent it from controlling our lives for the future. Listening carefully to others who have suffered, respectfully accepting their reality and seeking to bring a harmonious resolution that is satisfying as far as possible to all parties. I can't alter the fact that I live in the colonisers' world primarily, whose culture and law are largely my own. Neither can I alter the cultural heritage of Maori particularly and other peoples who have arrived since Maori. I can only appeal to our common heritage of humanitarian attitudes and trust that our common sense and mutual goals can find sufficient unity to enable a functional society, without assuming that Maori will simply assimilate into what I find culturally comfortable.

Roger Strong, Taupo - 10 months ago
Problem that Anne Salmond doesn't ever explore is that although there were written records from several of the people on board the Endeavour, there were only oral accounts from the Maori side on land. In spite of what she might wish to think, we have no reliable records whatsoever from the Maori side. Also not added into the context is the fact that many of the ordinary sailors on board the ship were just that - illiterate sailors who although highly skilled at practical matters in what they did, had little intellectual ability and indeed were not expected to make decisions on their own. Saying that the shootings 'are not forgotten but echo across the Bay' is just garbage - at best!
As a footnote - all of the diaries that I am aware of are available and can be read online. Cook's own log was just that, a log. All of the diaries should be read to fully understand what the Europeans on board saw and understood.

G R Webb - 10 months ago
There is nothing dual about destroying the existing Cook Plaza and removing the historic statue both of which were put there for the 200th anniversary. What is proposed is a one-sided desecration of a memorial to a great navigator and explorer. The better track of living in mutual respect and friendship will not be enhanced with this proposed action. To do so runs the risk of perpetuating the same folly that currently exists albeit from another angle. I don't want that. Put your stories, recollections and knowledge on Titirangi and share the space.

Vince, Auckland - 10 months ago
"Dual heritage, shared future" - how is the shared future going to work if the country is being divided between the Crown and Maori? Unfortunately the current approach is leading to a divided future, because a cultural and economic divide is being created between the two groups.