(pre 1800s) The Navigators

Read about early Navigators such as Kupe, Toi, Abel Tasman and James Cook.

New Zealand is a group of islands surrounded by the largest ocean on the planet and our closest neighbours are 600 nautical miles (1,200km) away. Maori legend tells us that one day Maui went fishing and using a magical hook hauled a large fish to the
surface, which has since become the North Island. The South Island was his canoe and Stewart Island his anchor.

Many years later Kupe was chasing a giant squid which was eating all his fish and far from his home he found a land covered in cloud and inhabited only by birds. He returned safely home, where he related his adventures and told of the land he had discovered. Many years later Toi sailed in search of his grandson who had been blown off-shore during a canoe race. Toi found New Zealand but not his grandson. His grandson, Whatonga, had landed at another island and when he found that Toi had been searching for him and had not returned, he set out to find him. He eventually reached Aotearoa and settled here with Toi.

In later years conflicts in Hawaiki caused a number of people to leave. Over a period of time and in fully equipped voyaging canoes, they followed the directions of Kupe and settled in New Zealand. These Polynesian settlers are the ancestors of the Maori.

 Abel Tasman

On 12 August 1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman left Batavia (near present day Jakarta in Indonesia) in command of two ships of the Netherlands East Indies Company, Heernskerk, a small warship of 120 tons and Zeehaen a small trading vessel. The aim of the expedition was to discover the “Great South Land”, a continent which was believed to be in the southern ocean.

His instructions were to sail first to Mauritius and then east along latitude 36° south, until he reached the longitude of the Solomon Islands, when he was to sail north, returning to Batavia. Tasman charted the southern coast of Australia and on 4 December sighted the west coast of a land that he was to name New Zealand. Charting the north-western tip of the South Island, Tasman continued into what is now known as Tasman Bay, where the two ships anchored. Unfortunately there was a violent encounter with local Maori, in which two of his men were killed and Tasman left without stepping ashore. Having charted the south-west portion of the North Island the expedition returned to Batavia, arriving there on 15 June 1643.

Abel Tasman was born in 1603 and when old enough, joined the Netherlands East India Company as a seaman. By 1634 he was a First Mate and received his first command in May of that year. Tasman spent most of the rest of his life at Batavia, where he died in 1659. He was married twice, his first wife died shortly after giving birth to his only child, a daughter.

The French

In 1769 a French Naval officer, Jean de Surville in command of Saint Jean-Baptiste, was off the coast of New Zealand, unaware that Captain James Cook in HMS Endeavour was also on the coast completing his first chart On 12 December the two ships passed within about 60 nautical miles of each other.

Between then and 1840 when New Zealand became a British colony, there were several French expeditions to these islands. In 1772 an expedition lead by Marion du Fresne ended tragically in a confrontation with local Maori in the Bay of Islands. Several men were killed including Marion du Fresne and the expedition left depleted in regards men, stores and health and it was some years before the French returned.

The next to arrive was Louis Duperrey in Coquille in 1824. A young officer assisting him in charting the northern coast and the Bay of Islands during the expedition’s visit was Dumont d’Urville. Captain Laplace in La Favorite called during a voyage around the world in 1831. He stopped at the Bay of Islands and compiled a number of charts of the area.

After his return to France Dumont d’Urville was placed in command of two further expeditions to New Zealand in 1827 and 1840. He named his ship formerly Duperrey’s Coquille, Astolabe after that of another great French navigator, La Perouse. D’ Urville produced many charts and was second only to Cook in his attention to detail and accuracy.

The Spanish

A fleeting visit to Fiordland was made by a Spanish expedition under the command of Don Alessandro Malaspina in February 1793. He had two specially built ships, Descubierta and Atrevida and spent five days off the entrance to Doubtful Sound without actually going on shore. Nevertheless it was possible for him to prepare a chart of the entrance to Doubtful Sound, from observations taken and soundings. This expedition is commemorated by Malaspina Reach in Doubtful Sound and Bauza Island at the entrance to the Sound.

Captain James Cook

James Cook is one of the greatest navigators in history. He commanded three Royal Navy expeditions to New Zealand and the Pacific, the first in 1769 and others in
1773 and 1777 His 1769 survey of the whole coastline is remarkable for its accuracy, especially for the time and conditions under which it was compiled.

Cook’s first expedition was undertaken in HMS Endeavour a small bark, 100ft (33m) in length and 366 tons, which had previously been the collier Earl of Pembroke. For the second expedition Cook was appointed to command HMS Resolution with HMS Adventure in company and for the third he again commanded Resolution, that time with HMS Discovery in company.

The son of a farm labourer, James Cook was born Yorkshire, England, in 1728 and was about 40 when he sailed in Endeavour. Over 6 ft (1.8m) in height (unusually tall for the period) he had long brown hair that he usually wore tied back. With his wife Elizabeth, he had six children, three died in infancy and the others through misadventure. In their 16 years of marriage, the couple only spent 4 years together James was killed in Hawaii in 1779, while Elizabeth lived to the age of 93 and died in 1835.

Cook came to the Pacific for two reasons. In Tahiti he was to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun and secondly, on secret orders from the Admiralty, to search for the Great Southern Land, Terra Australis Incognita, which was believed to lie in the South Pacific. He reached New Zealand in October 1769 and spent six months on the coast, charting not just the overall outline of the country but also several ports and harbours. The chart is remarkable for its accuracy, with only three significant errors; Stewart Island is deemed to be part of the mainland, Banks Peninsula is shown as an island and Cook did not explore the Hauraki Gulf and thus missed the Waitemata Harbour, although he noted that the islands might be concealing a harbour.
Many of the place names bestowed by Cook during this survey remain in use today For example, Cape Kidnappers where local Maori tried to kidnap a young
Tahitian who was in Endeavour; Thames where a large river ran as fast as the Thames below London Bridge and Queen Charlotte Sound after the Queen, where Cook took formal possession of it and the adjacent lands, in the name of King George II.