The first meeting - Abel Tasman and Māori in Golden Bay

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When the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman sailed into Golden Bay in 1642, a mutual cultural misunderstanding may have been one reason for the brief violent encounter with local Māori.

Abel Tasman in Golden Bay 

Abel Janszoon Tasman commanded a Dutch East India Company expedition to discover more about “South Land,” the great southern continent that included the already charted coastline of much of Australia.1 He left Batavia in 1642 with the ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen, making landfall at Mauritius and discovering and charting Van Diemen’s Land 2 before sighting Te Tai Poutini, the South Island’s West Coast.

By the time the Dutch had rounded Onetahua  into Mohua (Golden Bay) on the night of December 17, 16423 waka are believed to have followed them in the darkness.  The fires and smoke the Dutch crew reported seeing along the coastline are likely to have been a succession of signal fires lit by Māori of the dominant tribe, Ngati Tumatakokiri, warning settlements ahead of the approach of the strange ships.4

A view of the Murderers' BayGilsemans, Isaac: A view of the Murderers' Bay, as you are at anchor here in 15 fathom [1642], drawings and print collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, PUBL-0086-021
Click image to enlarge

The following morning Tasman sent small boats out to look for a better anchorage and a watering place and that evening the ships anchored somewhere off Wainui Inlet.5  Doubtless Ngati Tumatakokiri would have been assessing throughout the day the threat posed by the strange pale men and their vessels.6  

Tasman’s journal records that four waka paddled towards them and that there were calls between the vessels. A warrior “blew several times on an instrument…we then ordered our sailors…to play them some tunes in answer.” 

It has been suggested that cultural misunderstanding was at the heart of this first contact between Māori and European. Māori may have challenged the ships because they believed the white people were patupaiarehe, fair-skinned fairy folk or ghosts, who were feared because they took women and children away. The shell trumpets may have been blown to scare them away. Imagine the surprise when the ghosts apparently accepted their challenge.7

But it was when the Dutch fired a cannon, that Ngati Tumatakokiri must have really got a fright.  The resulting explosive boom has been described as a "sonic event" 8 and Māori fled in their waka back to shore.  Tasman's men kept a close guard overnight.9

De Moordenaars Baay ; Aldus vertoont zich Abel Tasmans Baay, als ghy'er aldus in ten anker legt op 33 vademen, Engraving, Frederik Ottens (active 18th century), Nelson Provincial Museum: NPM2012.47
Click image to enlarge

There have also been suggestions that Maori were simply guarding their territory from attack.  Ngati Tumatakokiri had crossed from the North Island to Te Tau Ihu (Top of the South Island) in the mid 16th century, becoming involved in skirmishes with other tribes already living there.  By the late 16th century the tribe was strongly established in various communities around Golden Bay and as far south as Te Tai Poutini (the West Coast of the South Island).10 

But Ngati Tumatakokiri was subjected to successive retributive raids from other tribes throughout the 17th century (and beyond into the 19th century) and was on alert.  So when strange vessels arrived with white men it is not surprising that communities would rally together to fend off a possible attack.11 

There are a number of other factors that may have contributed to the violence that was to follow. The first is that Tasman arrived in the middle of the kumara (sweet potato) growing season.  Kumara was a vitally important food source and one which Māori would have fiercely protected.12   Another is that the Dutch anchored close to the cove and cave of the taniwha Ngarara Huarau and it could be that the superstitious Māori were concerned about the intruders waking the spirit of the dreaded supernatural creature.13 

Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp (attrb) (c1594 – 1651). [Abel Janszoon Tasman]. Portrait of Abel Tasman, His Wife and Daughter c.1637 (part of). Colour photograph printed on textured canvas board. The original oil on canvas is held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra (Rex Nan Kivell Collection NK3. Pictures Collection. National Library of Australia), and reproduced by special arrangement with the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Nelson Provincial Museum: A5066.
Click image to enlarge

The large number of waka and paddlers recorded by Tasman in his journals also indicates more people than were understood to have lived in the immediate area were in the bay at the time.  Rather than the separate Ngati Tumatakokiri communities gathering because of the strangers in their midst, it is possible that Tasman happened to arrive in the middle of a large tribal gathering, perhaps a hui (meeting) or tangi (funeral). 14   Lastly, it is possible that stories of European seafarers and their harsh treatment of native peoples in the Pacific had already reached New Zealand and the arrival of men who matched their descriptions was met with a decision to make a pre-emptive strike against the potential threat stories the Dutch posed.15  

The next day, December 19,  a waka returned, with its crew giving a “rough loud” call, possibly a haka  resulting from the exchange of ritual challenges the previous evening. Tasman’s men, misunderstanding the chant’s intent, unsuccessfully tried to encourage them closer, waving linen and knives and calling out. The Māori eventually returned to land and Tasman decided to move the ships closer inshore, as “these people apparently sought our friendship”.16

Before this could be done, two waka paddled out to the ships. While the Dutch crews continued encouraging the Māori to board, a small boat moved from the Heemskerck to the Zeehaen to warn its crew to be on guard and not to let too many aboard. On the boat’s return trip, a waka rammed it and a warrior clubbed Cornelis Joppens on the neck with a long blunt pike, knocking him overboard. Four sailors were killed and the body of one was dragged into a waka. Both waka sped back to shore as the Dutch fired at them with muskets and guns. Cornelis Joppens and two other survivers swam back to the ships and the boat and bodies were retrieved.17

Tasman decided to leave Mohua immediately “since we could not hope to enter into friendly relations with these people, or to be able to get water or refreshments here.”18

As the ships sailed for Cook Strait, eleven waka paddled towards them. A man standing in a large waka held a small white flag, possibly a peace sign, but as they drew closer, Tasman’s men fired, hitting and felling him.19

Tasman named the bay Moordenaers (Murderers) Bay and recorded that the meeting “must teach us to consider the inhabitants of this country as enemies…”20

While Tasman had been warned of the possibility of attack, Māori had experienced a number of bewildering firsts – firearms, tall ships and white men. It would be more than 120 years before Māori and European next met, with the arrival  James Cook in 1769.21

 

2008 (Revised 2012)

Sources used in this story

  1. Salmond, A. (1991). Two worlds. Auckland, N.Z.: Viking/Penguin , p.71.

  2. Grahame Anderson (2001). The Merchant of the Zeehaen, Isaac Gilsemans and the voyages of Abel Tasman. Wellington: NZ., Te Papa Press.

  3. Mitchell, H. & J. (2004). Te ao ihu o te waka: a history of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Volume 1: te tangata me te whenua - the people and the land. Wellington, N.Z.: Huia, p.142.

  4. Mitchell,  H & J (2012) Who were Ngati Tumatakokiri?, part of the Abel Tasman 270 Seminar, Nelson, June 15, 2012
  5. Mitchell (2004) p.142, 144, 146.

  6. Mitchell (2012)
  7. Mitchell (2004) p.146.
  8. Nunns. R. (2012) Did the musical exchange contribute to the disaster the next day?', part of the Abel Tasman 270 Seminar, Nelson, June 15, 2012; Nunns, R. & Thomas, A. (2011). A first encounter in New Zealand. In World music is where we found it - essays by and for Allan Thomas. Wellington, N.Z. : Victoria University Press
  9. Mitchell (2004) pp.142-143 ; Salmond, pp.78-79.

  10. Mitchell (2012)

  11. Mitchell (2012)

  12. Barber, I (2012) Engaging archaeology and historical anthropology to research the Tasman expeditionary records of Dutch and Maori interactions', part of the Abel Tasman 270 Seminar, Nelson, June 15, 2012
  13. Mitchell (2004), p.146
  14. Mitchell (2012)
  15. Mitchell (2004), p.146
  16. Salmond, p.79,81. ; Mitchell (2004) p.144.

  17. Salmond, pp.81-82.

  18. Mitchell (2004) p.144.

  19. Salmond, pp.81-82.

  20. Mitchell (2004) p.144.

  21. Jenkin, R. (2000). Strangers in Mohua: Abel Tasman’s exploration of New Zealand. Takaka, N.Z.: Golden Bay Museum, p.23. ; Salmond, p.82, 84,87

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  • A really interesting article about the first european/maori encounter.

    Posted by Kyla, 09/12/2013 4:59pm (8 months ago)

  • Tis is real good info. It helped me heaps!

    Posted by Sparkles, ()

  • Being a dutchie I try to understand the reasons of the Tasman s failure to acihieve what he wanted but seen from Maori perpective. This essay is very helpfull. Thank you so much

    Posted by Mark de Nobel, ()

  • Im doing a unit standard on maori and pakeha and this really heled

    Posted by Lydia, ()

  • this is cool

    Posted by bob, ()

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Further sources - The first meeting - Abel Tasman and Māori in Golden Bay

Books

Articles

[Where no hyperlink is supplied ask at your local library about full text access to the articles.] 

  • Barber, I. (1992, Dec.). First contact in Golden Bay. New Zealand Historic Places, 39: p.49-51.
  • Basham, Laura (2000, 31 January). ‘Dutch “at peace with Māori”. ‘ Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Clark, Karen (2000, 1 February ). Abel Tasman statue row ends in peaceful unveiling. Nelson Mail, p. 1
  • Collett, Geoff (2000, 27 January). Compromise means statue ceremony on. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Collett, Geoff (2001, 24 January). Second tribe backs protest over statue. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Courtney, David (1999, 13 November). Tasman welcomed back to Nelson. Nelson Mail, p.1. 
  • Dick, A. ( 2007, Aug./Sep.). The Abel Tasman. N.Z. today. 23: p.96-98,101.
  • Dutch group coming for statue unveiling (2000, 19 January). Nelson Mail, p.5. 
  • Glossary of coastal names, (1976, Aug.). Journal of the Nelson Historical Society. 3(2): p.22-27.
    http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-NHSJ03_02-t1-back-d1.html
  • Griffith, P. (2013) Abel Tasman's visit to golden Bay: new insights. Nelson Historical Society Journal 7(5), p. 52
  • Hilhorst, M. (1992, 17 Dec.). Park’s popularity brings problems, Press :p.13.
  • Hodge, R. (1998, Aug.). Early Birder: Perrine Moncrieff, a woman pioneer in conservation. Forest and Bird, 289: p.28-31.
  • Hunt, Tom (2008, 19 January). Statue reunited with sword. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Hutton, Catherine (2000, 2 February). Iwi disgusted by statue vandalism. Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Mack, Rudiger. (2004). Did Dutch sailors land in Wainui Bay on 18 December 1642? Turnbull Library Record, 37,

    p. 13-28.
  • Mayor backs move to Golden Bay for statue (2008, 3 May). Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Sculptor searches for Tasman’s image (1998, 24 November). Nelson Mail, p.2.
  • Sea views for statue’ (1998, 29 January). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Statue of Abel Tasman planned (1997, 22 December). Nelson Mail, p.6.
  • Sword won’t be replaced (2003, 11 December). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Tasman armed once more (2001, 6 April). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Tasman’s artist subject of book (2002, 4 February). Nelson Mail, p.1. 
  • Yarwood, V. (2005, Mar / Apr.). Abel Tasman: The search for Terra Australis Incognita and the discovery of Zeelandia Nova. New Zealand Geographic, 72: p.64-77.

Other

  •  Abel Tasman 370 seminar. Hosted by the Netherlands Ambassador , Mr Arie van der Wiel (2012, June 15). Seminar papers and programme. [held Elma Turner Library]

Visit Sites associated with Abel Tasman

  • Abel Tasman Memorial
    Located on a hill overlooking Tarakohe in Golden Bay, this lookout memorial was opened in 1942 to mark the 300th anniversary of Tasman’s encounter with Māori in the bay. The memorial offers panoramic views across Golden Bay and along the coastline to Whariwharangi Bay, the northernmost point in the Abel Tasman National Park. Information panels tell the story about Tasman and his expedition's fateful meeting with local Māori off Whariwharangi Bay, near Separation Point, the northernmost point in the Abel Tasman National Park.
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/nelson-marlborough/golden-bay/abel-tasman-memorial/
    and
    http://www.goldenbaynz.co.nz/w_abeltasman_memorial.html
    both retrieved December 1 2008
  • Abel Tasman National Park
    New Zealand’s smallest national park (22,500ha), Abel Tasman National Park was opened in 1942 to mark the 300th anniversary of Abel Tasman’s visit to Golden Bay. Access is from Marahau or Kaiteriteri in Tasman Bay or Totaranui or Wainui in Golden Bay. The park features golden beaches, rocky outcrops of lime, marble and granite, and the world renowned Abel Tasman walking track.
    Abel Tasman National Park. Department of Conservation. Retrieved October 21, 2008 from Department of Conservation Web site: http://www.doc.govt.nz/templates/PlaceProfile.aspx?id=38455
  • Abel Tasman Statue
    Located in the Abel Tasman carpark at Tahunanui Beach, this life-size statue of the Dutch explorer was sculpted by Anthony Stones in the United Kingdom and gifted to the region by Dutch immigrants. It was unveiled in 2000.
  • Golden Bay Museum
    Learn more about Abel Tasman and his visit to Golden Bay with displays and dioramas at the museum in Commercial Street, Takaka.
    http://www.virtualbay.co.nz/gbmuseum/diorama.htm

Web Resources