The Maori were hopelessly out-gunned; literally.
While to the eyes of the Dutchmen the south-landers had only the most primitive of weapons, this did not make them harmless.
The Maori were fearless, ruthless, and magnificent strategists; as the British would repeatedly discover to their cost two hundred years later.
The Duyfken is a ‘Yacht’ of the same prescription as the Heemskerck. It was a standard formula used by the VOC, and designed for use as a light warship. The Heemskerck had the same sail, deck and general layout as the Duyfken, but was 30% larger.
Apart from being slightly smaller, the Dufken is otherwise very similar to the Heemskerck. These images of the Duyfken replica allow us to understand what the Ngati Tumatakokiri found themselves looking at on the morning of December 19th, 1642.
At first light the Chief had called the men together again.
Last night they had been out to the ships, but only in darkness. We know now that they are enemies, and we need to know more of them.
The chief said that now it was light he would make another visit, and this time they would see the enemy plainly.
He took just one boat, with twelve of our finest fighters, and went to have a proper look.
They weren’t gone too long.
They went right up to the ships, but this time nothing happened… there wasn’t any lightning, and there were no new surprises that we could see.
When they returned he told us of the enemy’s strength.
Each ship has perhaps 50 or 60 men on it, they saw no women, and the men are of odd appearance. They wear clothes that cover them completely, except for their heads and hands. Their clothes were made from a soft material, again like tapa, and are of all the colours imaginable.
They have strangely pale skin, like the colour of someone who is unwell, and they are mostly a bit smaller than us, but definitely not any bigger.
Some of the men on the ships, but only a few, have shiny hats. These shine like the sun reflecting off a wave; such taonga probably marks them as Chiefs or lieutenants.
These men don’t look frightening when you see them properly in daylight; if anything, they appear rather weakly.
The whole size of the ships is about 50 steps long, and about 10 steps wide.
On each boat stand three huge posts, two taller, and one shorter. These are so big that they must each have been made from a single tree. The posts are held up with a lot of ropes coming down to the sides of the ships. The sails are tied to poles that are fixed to these posts, and the sails are bunched up very tightly on them. The sails do indeed look like they are made of tapa; they are not woven flax.
The ships’ hulls are made of many small pieces of wood, but the method if fixing them together is mysterious; perhaps they are tied on the inside somehow.
The front is slightly raised, but the stern is very high, and stands off the water as tall as five men. The sides are lowest along the middle part. At the lowest places the sides of the ships are still higher than a man can reach. It would be difficult to climb onto the ships, but this is possible where the ropes holding the posts are tied to the sides of the ship.
On the prow of the ships is a painted carving of their God, which we didn’t recognise.
All around on the inside, the men stand on raised platforms. These are at the correct height for fending off attackers. Some of the men held long pointed poles, taller than a man, which would be very good for reaching anyone trying to climb the sides; other men had waved shorter ones at them.
Each of the ships seems to have only one small boat, secured by a rope back to the ship. The small boats can hold perhaps 10 or 12 people sat side by side, with another in the steering position. They paddle with their backs to where they were going, which means that only the steersman can see what is happening ahead of them. These little boats can carry a lot, but they are slow and unsteady.
When the Chief had finished describing the enemy, talk turned to strategy and tactics, and our respective strengths and weaknesses.
There was also some talk of their magic.
We had seen their lightning last night, but not since, and while it was alarming, it didn’t seem dangerous. It was quickly dismissed; only small children were afraid of lightning.
It would be very hard to attack the main ships, and success was unlikely; the defenders had the higher and steadier positions. To attack you had to both climb and fight. You would be one armed, unsteady, and below them, exposed to their long poles.
The ships are good defensive positions; it would be like trying to attack a Pa, and there were enough of the strangers that they couldn’t be overwhelmed in a mass attack, as we could only climb on the ships in a few places at once.
We wouldn’t succeed in an attack the main ships, but their small boats are vulnerable. You can’t fight well in a single hull, it’s too unstable, but we can from our boats. Their little boats are slow to turn and slow to run; they are also exposed to being overturned. And their paddles are poor weapons; they are too long, heavy and unwieldy. Once we get in close, they cannot use them against us.
It was soon settled.
The chief announced that we will see if we can draw them out from the big ships into their little boats; if we can, then we will beat them easily on the water.
Dead is best, but hostages might be good too… though no-one knew quite what we would do with a hostage, since we can’t communicate with their relatives to make any bargain.
We will see if they still want to stay after they have seen some of their own blood.