December 19th: Filling the gaps

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Tasman's position at anchor in golden Bay and nearby areas of Maori occupation

Tasman’s position at anchor in Golden Bay and nearby areas of Maori occupation

There is no surviving account of the meeting of Tasman and the Maori from the Ngati Tumatakokiri perspective, and without that we are missing the counterpoint of the Dutch account, which is not without prejudice, most particularly in Tasman’s Journal.

Tasman’s journal is biased towards showing that he has complied with his written instructions. An example of this is that when the company flag was planted in Tasmania he wrote this: “… the natives of this country, who did not show themselves, though we suspect some of them were at no great distance and closely watching our proceedings”.

His instructions required that he plant the company flag in the presence of the natives, which he did not, but he implied that they were present.

We might expect that for similar reasons, he omitted to mention opening fire on the natives of Golden Bay on the night of 18th December.

The records from the Dutch viewpoint are; Tasman’s Journal, The Sailors Journal, the Barber-Surgeon’s account, Gilsemans’ drawing and Visscher’s chart.

The Maori viewpoint that has been presented here is an extrapolation based on the Dutch records, and what is known of Maori occupation in the area, and customary practice.

The Maori “Diary” presented in Six Boats is a fictional account based on the evidence available. It is set in the character of a woman to provide a more objective view of events; men had a stereotype to uphold that obstructs an impartial view of occurrences.

In this part in particular, Tasman’s approach and entry to Golden Bay, some assumptions have been made that warrant further explanation.

Signal fires

Tasman approached Cape Farewell from the North-East, and saw smoke at dawn in “various places”. Literature relating this event usually attributes this smoke to cooking fires of the locals, but this is unlikely for several reasons.

When Tasman recorded seeing smoke he was over 7km offshore. He had had not yet turned and seen the dunes of Farewell Spit, nor had he seen into Golden Bay.

When the first European settlers arrived in Golden Bay, they found a small settlement of about 50 people at Tata. Other Maori were living in the Bay in smaller transient groups, with evidence of early occupation at Ligar, Pohara, Parapara, Aoere, Pakawau and Puponga.

Even if at the time of Tasman’s visit there were similar numbers living at each of these locations (and there is no indication that this was the case), this would only give Golden Bay a population of about 200.

None of these settlement locations was visible to Tasman when he saw smoke; the coastal ridge (150 metres high) lay between Tasman and those Golden Bay locations.

There was no Maori settlement on the land that Tasman could see.

Tasman's position dawn on December 17th, and the local Maori occupation areas

Tasman’s position dawn on December 17th, and the local Maori occupation areas

There shouldn’t be fires where he could see smoke, and he couldn’t see the places where there should be fires.

Two other intriguing aspects of the smoke are; that he could see smoke at all from over 7km away, and that he saw this smoke at dawn.

It was early summer, and for at least 4 days prior the weather had been fine. We know this from Tasman’s journal.

The land visible to Tasman was bush covered, so there was plenty of good and dry firewood available.

Fires made with good dry wood do not smoke enough to be visible from even a hundred metres, and Tasman was nowhere near that close. Most definitely, fires burning good wood do not produce enough smoke to be seen from 7km away.

The suggestion is often made that the smoke Tasman saw was from cooking fires, but this cannot be correct; they were in the wrong place for cooking fires… and there was too much smoke.

If the fires were camp fires, left burning from the night before to keep alight, then they would be dry embers smouldering slowly; hot but with little or no smoke or flame. This too does not produce sufficient smoke to be seen from Tasman’s location.

In addition, Tasman said that “in various places we saw smoke ascending from fires made by the natives”. These were point fires, “made by the natives”, not fires spread over a wide area. They were not fires clearing bush for crops.

So, why were there multiple fires, each producing enough smoke to be seen over 7km away, in dry weather, at dawn, where no people were living?

These were signal fires, deliberately, and near simultaneously lit.

But this poses another question. Why were there so many?

The Ngati Tumatakokiri only had a very small population in Golden Bay, yet on this occasion it seems that there were at least three (‘various’) but most probably more, sentry positions manned on the northern part of the coast.

Given their population it seems most unlikely that this could be the normal state of affairs for them.

Looking down the cliftop ridge to Farewell spit. The headland on the horizon is Seperation Point on the opposite side of the Bay.

Looking down the cliftop ridge to Farewell spit. The headland on the horizon is Seperation Point on the opposite side of the Bay

It is to be expected that they maintained lookouts over both the Eastern and Western approaches to Golden Bay. The Western lookout would be checking traffic to and from the West Coast, and watching for vessels from the North-East; Taranaki. At the Eastern entrance to the Bay, the hill behind Taupo Pa, or the islet itself, afford views of the Eastern extremity of Farewell Spit. Nothing could pass into Golden Bay un-seen from this position.

At the Western end, several places on the coastal ridge rising from Cape Farewell offer views of the length of Farewell Spit, and of the portage at the Puponga end.

A smoking fire lit in either of these positions can be seen from within the Bay.

However, having so many sentries deployed suggests that they were expecting trouble… and had posted extra observers.

There are at least three ways that they could have been forewarned of Tasman’s approach.

Tasman’s ships could have been seen from Kawatiri as they approached the Steeples on the morning of 15th December. A Maori boat could easily have travelled around the coast to the North faster than Tasman was sailing. Such a boat would be un-noticed by Tasman, as he crossed the outside limits of the Bight. A low vessel, like a Maori catamaran would not be visible if it had followed the coast, and in the light winds of that say, a Maori boat would be far quicker than the deep draughted Dutch ships.

When Schouten and Le Maire in 1616 had encountered a small Polynesian boat in the middle of the Pacific, Le Maire recorded that “She sailed so fast that few Dutch ships could have outstripped her”.

It was possible for a waka from Kawatiri to sail around the Karamea Bight, into the Whanganui inlet, and dispatch a runner through the 2km flat valley to Pakawau, in time to warn of approaching danger.

A less likely possibility is that someone ran through what we now know as ‘the Heaphy track’. Whilst we know that this area was explored by the Maori for Pounamu, it is not a quicker alternative to the sea routes except in the very worst of sea conditions. Even the most determined of athletes would struggle to complete the distance in a day.

Of all the possibilities, the most likely is that they were seen on the evening of December 16th from the Whanganui Inlet. From Pakawau it is only 2km through a low valley to reach this inlet, which forms a safe harbour on the West Coast. The occupants of Golden Bay used this to access the West Coast. Anyone there on the evening of December 16th would have seen Tasman’s ships, and the alarm could have been raised in Pakawau within an hour.

Access point and strategic observer locations

Access point and strategic observer locations

This would allow them to post sentries to the strategic positions by nightfall.

Attacks could only be sprung from beaches, so the following places would require oversight; Wharariki Beach, Farewell Spit, and the beach and portage at the western end of Farewell Spit.

To remain in direct sight of each other there would also need to be additional sentries around Cape Farewell itself, and between Wharariki and The Whanganui Inlet. To be in sight of the Bay they needed to be on the the ridges that descend to the start of Farewell Spit.

Sentries arrayed like this would account for the fires “in various places” visible to Tasman, as he approached Cape Farewell from the North East, and then turned to the East.

The Maori response

It is perfectly feasible that the Ngati Tumatakokiri in Golden Bay received advanced warning of Tasman’s approach, and this makes sense in view of what happened later.

On the morning of the December 19th nine boats were involved in the attack on the Zeehaen’s cock-boat. As Tasman left the bay, eleven boats were chasing him, and another eleven were in the water, close to the shore. “we saw 22 prows near the shore, of which eleven, swarming with people, were making for our ships”.

The Ngati Tumatakokiri put 22 boats and nearly 200 warriors on the water. The 22 boats seen had to be large enough to be visible from Tasman’s position at anchor, over 5 km from the closest land. But, the population living in the Bay was nothing like sufficient to present a force this large, either in warriors, or boats of this size.

So how did the Ngati Tumatakokiri manage to assemble such a large force of boats and warriors?

If the fires were signal fires, then the Maori had over 48 hours between them sighting Tasman at dawn on Dec 17th, and their attack on the morning of Dec 19th. This gave them time; to summon assistance, and to re-configure their boats.

While in Tahiti James Cook noted that hulls would be paired up for bigger journeys, but were otherwise used singly for day to day work, and that “all those that go single, both great and Small, have what is called Outriggers.”

In Golden Bay the Ngati Tumatakokiri needed boats that could be managed by a small number of people, for fishing and transport within the Bay. A few may have been fully double hulled, some would have one large hull and an outrigger, or a minor hull, and some would be single hulls… but these were only useful for river work.

Those that had been fitted for outriggers or second hulls in the past, could be paired up into fighting boats quite quickly; the holes required for lashing down cross spars were already made… but it still took time to make the changes. The Maori were working with stone tools, and even a simple lashing together of canoes that were already drilled for tying down crossbars, required new timbers cutting, and new rope making for the bindings.

It took time to cut and trim the timbers, and to make more rope. It would also take time for aid to reach them.

The 22 boats seen on the water would probably not all be doubled hulled, but at the very least nine were. That means there were 31 large hulls (large enough to be visible from 7 km) on the water; far more than the local population could deliver.

Whilst there was only a small population inside Golden Bay, the Ngati Tumatakokiri had very significant numbers to the east.

Deriving Tasman's position at anchor

Adjacent Ngati Tumatakokiri settlements, and potential reinforcement routes.

From Taupo Pa, it is the same distance by sea to Puponga on the other side of the Bay, as it is to Motueka, in Tasman Bay. A very conservative speed for a waka on an urgent mission would be 10 kph. At this speed it would take just 3½ hours to paddle from Motueka to Taupo Pa.

Within a few hours of being alerted, reinforcements could begin arriving from; Totaranui, Awaroa Inlet, Bark Bay, Marahau, Kaiteriteri, Riwaka, Motueka and beyond.

Support could be called on readily from the bays immediately beyond Separation Point, but the time between Tasman being sighted, and the attack, was over 48 hours, Which also makes it possible for boats to have arrived from further around Tasman Bay; Mapoua, Wainui and even Whakatū (Nelson). They also had the weather and moon in their favour. It was calm, and there was a half moon. So it was perfectly feasible, with local knowledge and with good weather, to enter Golden Bay by both day and night.

Given sufficient warning it was perfectly reasonable that very substantial reinforcements could come to support their cousins in Golden Bay.

It is also quite conceivable that a contingent followed Tasman up from Kawatiri. They could have entered Golden Bay by either; entering the Whanganui Inlet, and finishing the journey on foot, or across the portage at the land end of the spit, near Puponga. Either way, Tasman took the whole day to travel the length of Farewell Spit, so any following force had ample time to enter the Bay unseen by him.

Even after Tasman was inside Golden Bay, boats travelling close to the shore could have easily entered the Bay unnoticed.

From Rangitoto (d’Urville Island) to Hokitika, they were all Ngati Tumatakokiri; brothers and cousins. If there was a threat they would come to each other’s’ aid, immediately, and in strength.

Spirit Boats

In the initial Maori “diary” descriptions of Tasman’s ships they are portrayed as “Spirit Ships”.

There is no first-hand account that makes such an assertion. This is entirely a projection of how the Maori might have perceived Tasman’s vessels, seen from a distance.

Based on the knowledge the Maori had of boats, and materials, they had no other explanation for the ships that they saw, other than that they were magic of some sort.

  • Tasman’s ships stayed upright without outriggers, or second hulls. The Maori did not know about the ballast below the waterline holding a ship upright.
  • The sails were white cloth, and the only similar material that the Maori knew of was tapa. But it was not strong enough for sails, and had never been seen is such quantities.
  • At the stern of the ships was a large lantern; the Maori had no equivalent form of long burning night light.

To Maori observers these ships were inexplicable, they had no earthly explanation for them. Hence, their initial presentation as mystical entities.

As the encounters unfolded, their understanding is presented as shifting from the ships being entirely magical, to ships carrying people; people that had some powerful sorcery, but people nonetheless.

Why did the Ngati Tumatakokiri attack Tasman’s expedition

The suggestion is often made that the Ngati Tumatakokiri were protecting their crops; specifically kumara. But this seems a both an unlikely, and unnecessary explanation.

The attack happened in mid-December. The Kumara crop would still have another two months in the ground before harvesting. So the timing is wrong for theft of the Kumara to be a perceived motive for Tasman’s appearance.

And whilst the kumara was extremely precious to the Ngati Tumatakokiri, the threat to their territory, tribe and families, came before the threat to their Kumara.

The simplest and most likely reason that the Ngati Tumatakokiri attacked Tasman’s men is that Tasman had no right to be there, and presented a potential threat to the people. No more than that was needed.

The protocol associated with entering someone else’s territory peacefully was clear, well established, and as far as the Maori knew, understood by all. This protocol was not invented by the Maori population in New Zealand; they brought it with them from Polynesia.

Visitors would approach respectfully, and stop some distance before the meeting house, or gathering of residents. Exchanges would then occur between the chiefs to establish each party’s bone fide’s, and to demonstrate mutual respect.

While in Rangiatea (the departure point of the Kurahaupo), James Cook had experienced this protocol first hand, and recorded it in his journal.

“The Moment we landed Tupia stripped himself as low as his waist, and desir’d Mr. Monkhouse to do the same. He then sat down before a great number of the Natives that were collected together in a large Shed or House, the rest of us, by his own desire, standing behind; he then begun a long speach or prayer, which lasted near a Quarter of an Hour, and in the Course of this Speech presented to the People two Handkerchiefs, a black silk Neckcloth, some beads, and two very small bunches of Feathers. These things he had before provided for that purpose. At the same time two Chiefs spoke on the other side in answer to Tupia, as I suppose, in behalf of the People, and presented us with some young Plantains plants, and 2 small bunches of Feathers. These were by Tupia order’d to be carried on board the Ship. After the Peace was thus concluded and ratified, every one was at liberty to go where he pleased, and the first thing Tupia did was to go and pay his Oblations at one of the Mories.

This seem’d to be a common ceremony with this people, and I suppose always perform’d upon landing on each other’s Territories in a peaceable manner.”

This was the only way to peacefully enter another’s territory. Any behaviour deviating from this demonstrated malicious intent.

Tasman did not present himself and his people in the proper manner, and therefore marked them as enemies.

The Ngati Tumatakokiri appear to have had no regard for the fact that Tasman’s party didn’t speak their language, or understand their customs. But then, why would they?

As far as the Maori understood, all lands were islands in a large ocean, with a common language and common customary practices. They did not know that other parts of the world had ‘nations’, that the people in these nations spoke quite different languages, and that customs between nations were different.

They had every reason to expect that the visitors knew how to behave, but chose not to.

Tasman’s behaviour required that he be removed from the Bay, forthwith, and by whatever force was necessary.

The Dutchman in the Maori Boat

There is no knowledge of what became of the Dutch sailor taken by the Ngati Tumatakokiri into one of their own boats, and no explanation from the Maori viewpoint is attempted here. We simply don’t know. There are however only limited possibilities.

When Cook was in the Marlborough Sounds in January 1770, he described the following encounter which provides insight into the likely outcome.

“… Soon after we landed we meet with 2 or 3 of the Natives who not long before must have been regaling themselves upon human flesh, for I got from one of them the bone of the Fore arm of a Man or Woman which was quite fresh, and the flesh had been but lately picked off, which they told us they had eat; they gave us to understand that but a few days before they had taken, Kill’d, and Eat a Boats Crew of their Enemies or strangers, for I believe they look upon all strangers as Enemies. “

If the sailor was already dead, then he might or might not have then been eaten. Eating a defeated enemy was a perfectly normal practice.

If the sailor was alive then he was either kept as a slave/pet, or killed, which was the more common end for defeated males.

There is no way to know which of these was the fate of that sailor.

Tasman’s departure

Tasman had by far the superior fighting force, and could easily have taken revenge on the assembled Maori had he attempted to do so, but he did not. After the incident with the cock-boat, he left, without delay.

So why did he not mount a counter attack to attempt to recover his lost sailor?

The answer is most probably because he did not have the authority to issue such instructions. Tasman was answerable to the Ships Council, and in turn, they had to adhere to their written instructions wherever possible. Tasman could not deviate from the written instructions without prior assent from the Ships’ Council.

The written instructions told them to make peaceful commerce with the natives… “and by shows of kindness gain them over to us”. They were permitted, indeed recommended to take defensive precautions, but there was no mention of taking offensive action.

It was not within his brief to launch an attack on the natives, and the Ships Council did not choose to exceed their instructions on this matter.

So Tasman’s ships left Golden Bay.

“Seeing that the detestable deed of these natives against four men of the Zeehaan’s crew, perpetrated this morning, must teach us to consider the inhabitants of this country as enemies; that therefore it will be best to sail eastward along the coast”.

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