Blood on the water

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The Heemskerck and Zeehaen at anchor in Golden Bay

The Heemskerck and Zeehaen at anchor in Golden Bay

On the morning of December 19th, 1642, Abel Tasman was sat at anchor in Golden Bay, with his two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen.

At first light a native boat had come out to them, stayed a while and then gone away. They had showed some of their trading goods to the natives, but the south-landers had shown no interest.

From the land, the Chief had gone out with one of the boats to have a closer look at the enemy. So far, they had only been up close in the dark. Now he had looked in their eyes, he and he had measured their strength. He had demanded that they explain themselves, but had received no satisfaction.

The Maori were extremely wary of visitors.

When they saw strangers, they didn’t know if they were friend or foe, and they assumed the latter. They were foe until they accounted for themselves satisfactorily and were given permission to stay.

The residents had all rights, the visitors had none.

There were strict protocols about how to approach when entering someone else’s territory. If they did not observe these protocols, or did not observe them properly, then they were a danger, and the resident Maori would not wait for them to strike first.

The Maori observed the precautionary principal… A dead stranger can’t hurt you.

Anyone who was not up to mischief would have explained who they were, and what their purpose was. These strangers hadn’t done that.

Tasman had not observed the proper protocols.

The strangers had come uninvited, they had not said who they were, they had not asked if they could stay, and they stayed un-bidden.

Now, it was his duty, Chief of the Ngati Tumatakokiri, to protect his people, and teach the strangers some manners.

Early morning, Dec 19th 1642, Golden Bay, New Zealand

Tasman’s Journal
“Early in the morning a boat manned with 13 natives approached to about a stone’s cast from our ships; they called out several times but we did not understand them, …
                         … They did not come nearer, however, but at last paddled back to shore.”

“In the meanwhile, at our summons sent the previous evening, the officers of the Zeehaan came on board of us, upon which we convened a council and resolved to go as near the shore as we could, since there was good anchoring-ground here, and these people apparently sought our friendship.”

Diary: Taupo Pa
It was still early when we assembled on the shore. The Tohunga spoke a karakia over us, our weapons, and our boats. Then we took our positions and paddled from the beach.

We went in nine good boats. Of all out boats, these were the best for fighting from; steady and fast. I was in the biggest of them, with 16 paddlers and the steersman. I was as strong a paddler as most of the men, and was proud to be given a place in the crew.

“Shortly after we had drawn up this resolution we saw 7 more boats put off from the shore, one of which (high and pointed in front, manned with 17 natives) paddled round behind the Zeehaan while another, with 13 able-bodied men in her, approached to within half a stone’s throw of our ship; the men in these two boats now and then called out to each other; we held up and showed them as before white linens, etc., but they remained where they were.”

As we got closer to the ships we separated and stood singly. Each of the big ships had one small boat, but when we arrived both were tied to the ship with the higher pointed stern. The Chief said this should be the ship of their chief, and took his position there. We moved our waka to the far side of the ship with the fat stern, and the others placed themselves around evenly.

At some time, the strangers would take a small boat back to the other ship… and when they did, we would be ready.

The strangers on both ships were shouting and waving things at us, but the Chief called out for us to ignore that, and hold our positions.

All the officers of both ships were on the Heemskerck. A Ships Council had been convened to agree and record what to do next. They had decided that they would move closer ashore; it was good anchoring ground in a safe harbour, and they could re-stock their supplies here.

With all the officers of the Zeehaen at the Ship’s Council, the Zeehaen was left without any senior command, so they sent instructions across to the crew on the Zeehaen.

At this stage, Tasman’s party still believed that there was no threat from the Maori. Tasman wrote that “these people apparently sought our friendship”, and the Sailors Journal recorded the same sentiment; “nine ships, full of people, came from the land, we thought came to us to make peace”.

They were gravely mistaken.

“The skipper of the Zeehaan now sent out to them his quartermaster with her Cock-boat with six paddlers in it, with orders for the second mates that, if these people should offer to come alongside the Zeehaan, they should not allow too many of them on board of her, but use great caution and be well on their guard.”

In the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat were the Quartermaster from the Zeehaen, the Gunner from the Heemskerck and five others. There is no indication in the journal texts, or in Gilsemans’ drawing, that they were armed any way, and their is no suggestion anywhere that any of the occupants of this boat were soldiers.

After some time we heard the Chief calling.

One of the small boats was loading,
… he could see no weapons
… just paddles
… there were only seven of them.

Be ready; wait for the signal.

We could barely believe these strangers could be so stupid. While they stayed on their ships we couldn’t get to them, and they were safe. But when they were on the open water they were assailable. And according to the chief, there were only a few of them, and armed only with their clumsy paddles.

We sat quiet in the water, poised for the command.

The small boat moved off coming towards our ship. It moved very slowly. We waited in silence, waiting for the signal.

Then we heard calling from the chiefs boat, and paddles in the air. Now!

Nine boats pivoted in union. Heads and shoulders went forward, and paddles dug hard into the water. We sped, with accelerating strokes, bellowing towards the little boat halfway between the ships. What a ruckus was coming from our boats.

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen's Cock-boat

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat

“Just as the Cock-boat of the Zeehaan had put off from board again those in the prow before us, between the two ships, began to paddle so furiously towards it that, when they were about halfway slightly nearer to our ship, they struck the Zeehaan’s Cock-boat so violently alongside with the stem of their prow that it got a violent lurch, upon which the foremost man in this prow of villains with a long, blunt pike thrust the quartermaster Cornelis Joppen in the neck several times with so much force that the poor man fell overboard.”

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen's Cock-boat

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat

The Chiefs boats got there first. They were at full speed and hit the strangers boat square across its middle; the strangers seemed shocked and confused by what was happening. But if any of them thought to defend themselves with their paddles, it was too late. One of our men was up immediately, his Pouwhenua flashing in the light. He caught one of the them by surprise and had three or four good strikes before the man even knew what was happening, then made a hit that pitched the stranger right out of the boat. The strangers oars were too heavy to move quickly, and they couldn’t block the blows from our Pouwhenua.

Our men jumped straight in, patus moving like blurs. Two more of the strangers dived over the side, but our men dealt to the others. They dragged one of the strangers into the Chiefs boat, and then we all turned and left as quickly as we came, before the visitors could summon their thunder and lightning on us.

“Upon this the other natives, with short thick clubs which we at first mistook for heavy blunt parangs, and with their paddles, fell upon the men in the Cock-boat and overcame them by main force, in which fray three of our men were killed and a fourth got mortally wounded through the heavy blows.”

[From the Barber-surgeon’s account]
“Half-way between the two ships the boat was attacked from all sides by the Southlanders: who approaching made a fearful noise, and treated the seven sailors in such a way: that they beat four to death with long staffs. The remaining three swam away. After committing this murder, they rowed with incredible skillfulness to the shore: so that before could (we could) use the guns, they were out of range.”

[From the sailors account]
“In the morning, before breakfast, nine ships, full of people, came from the land, which we thought came to us to make peace, and treat us with friendship; but, on the contrary, they have, to our deep regret killed three of our people. May our Lord God preserve us from greater misfortune. The first was called Jan Tyssen, from Oue-ven; the second Tobias Pietersz, from Delft; the third Jan Isbrantsz.

The Cock-boat being brough back by the Heemskerck's pinnace

The Cock-boat being brough back by the Heemskerck’s pinnace

The quartermaster and two sailors swam to our ship, whence we had sent our pinnace to pick them up, which they got into alive. After this outrageous and detestable crime the murderers sent the Cock-boat adrift, having taken one of the dead bodies into their prow and thrown another into the sea.”

Once we had put some distance between ourselves and the ships, we turned to look. Then the thunder and lightning began. It came from both ships. First there was the flash, a cloud of smoke, the boom of the thunder, and then fish would jump to the surface where the lightning bolt landed.

We watched on as their other small boat went out to pick up the survivors.

Tasman’s Journal
“Ourselves and those on board the Zeehaan seeing this, diligently fired our muskets and guns and, although we did not hit any of them, the two prows made haste to the shore, where they were out of the reach of shot.

With our fore upper-deck and bow guns we now fired several shots in the direction of their prows, but none of them took effect.”

When the Cock-boat was nearly halfway to the Zeehaen, the Ngati Tumatakokiri had attacked; suddenly and ferociously. On command they paddled in fast and hard, making a huge noise, confusing and frightening their enemy, and then they struck without hesitation. After only a few moments three of Tasman’s people were in the water, swimming for the Heemskerck, and the other four were either dead or taken.

Tasman’s ships opened fire with musket and cannon, but didn’t hit anything.

Holman, the Skipper of the Heemskerck, took the Pinnace to rescue the swimmers.

After a while the thunder attack stopped, and quiet fell over the water. As we sat in our positions near the shore waiting for the next action, we watched the small boat we had attacked return to its ship. Soon after, to our delight and surprise, we saw sails appear on both ships.

The Chief now called in the remaining men good boats, and we all set off to chase them from the bay.

Tasman leaving Golden Bay being pursued by the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Tasman leaving Golden Bay being pursued by the Ngati Tumatakokiri

“We now weighed anchor and set sail, since we could not hope to enter into any friendly relations with these people, or to be able to get water or refreshments here.

Having weighed anchor and being under sail, we saw 22 prows near the shore, of which eleven, swarming with people, were making for our ships. We kept quiet until some of the foremost were within reach of our guns, and then fired 1 or 2 shots from the gun-room with our pieces, without however doing them any harm; those on board the Zeehaan also fired, and in the largest prow hit a man who held a small white flag in his hand, and who fell down. We also heard the canister-shot strike the prows inside and outside, but could not make out what other damage it had done. As soon as they had got this volley they paddled back to shore with great speed, two of them hoisting a sort of tingang sails.

They remained lying near the shore without visiting us any further.”

The wind was light and their ships were only moving away slowly, so we closed on them quickly and easily. As we got close the thunder attack started again. This time we found that the lightning bolts were accompanied by flying stones. Some of these hit the boats and one of our men was hit and fell.

The Chief, seeing that the ships were still leaving, had us turn back; there was no shelter from the flying rocks, and going on would only mean taking casualties for no gain.

We turned back towards the shore. Those that carried sails used them to preserve their strength should another fight come.

When we were beyond the limit of the flying rocks we stopped, and waited, holding our place between the strangers and the land.

We remained there at the ready. The visitors stopped for the while in the middle of the Bay, but then began moving again, and to our delight finally left in the direction of Rangitoto. Our brothers there should by now have heard of the approaching strangers. Now we can tell them that they are scared of a fight.

Tonight there will be feasting and celebrations, and around the fire the story will be told.

For generations to come people will talk about this day. The day that the Ngati Tumatakokiri chased the Spirit Ships from Mohua.

Written this day, 2nd September, 2014.

Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Gilsemans’ drawing of the events of December 19th

2 thoughts on “Blood on the water

  1. Penny Griffith

    Welcome to Golden Bay/Mohua, Dave. Here you are, at the place of the first recorded meeting between Maori and European, of which we have both words and images. Yes, they are European words and images, but it’s still pretty breath-taking, and a heritage responsibility that our small community respects. Today the right dynamics meant we met at Collingwood wharf, and so the network of understanding and interpretation expands. Don’t forget to visit our great displays at the Golden Bay Museum in Takaka — Aotearoa/New Zealand’s only permanent displays to that First Meeting (we’re just starting to plan AT 372 this December)

    Reply
  2. sixboats Post author

    Hi Penny. The museum was my first stop when I arrived in Golden Bay. The diorama in particular is magnificent.

    Reply

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