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Ship Cove

 

The quiet nook that Cook happened upon proved to be ideal for his needs--a forest on the hillsides, excellent water tumbling in a stream, abundant fish, and a sloping shore for Endeavour. He had found the cove nestling near the broad entrance of a waterway that tapered far into the interior. Within a few hours three hundred pounds of fish were brought in from the sound and distributed equally among the sailors. A few Maoris paddled about throwing stones and threats, but Tapaia established a precarious detente by questioning them about their ancestors, and inviting an old man named "Topaa" aboard for a guided tour. Because the Maoris declared they had never seen a ship before, Cook decided they had no received memory of Tasman; and that Murderer's Bay itself must be located somewhere to the northwest (now Golden Bay adjacent to Tasman Bay). So ideal was the location that, only two months after leaving Mercury Bay, Cook once again gave the order to careen the ship on shore and look after her below-water planking. The barnacles and seaweed were scraped off, and the planking smeared over with mixtures of tar, oil, and resin. In only two days the job was done and she was afloat again. Whenever the Maoris commenced to quarrel and interfere, Cook dissuaded them with a blast of smallshot. Nothing in their experience had prepared them for this floating island suddenly in their midst with all those pale-faced strangers dashing about.

Banks led the way in taking up the question of cannibalism, and it must be allowed that from time to time a certain amount of incriminating evidence of a circumstantial character did accumulate. A boating party came upon a floating corpse that attracted some attention. Farther along the sound a Maori family was just getting up from dinner on shore. A dog was still buried in an oven, and Banks, poking through the left-overs of the repast, found a couple of well-done arms with teeth marks. Cook was handed a fresh arm with the flesh picked off. Did you eat the flesh? Yes, Tupaia was told. And who is it that you eat? Those we kill in battle. Several days earlier, when a canoe of enemies intruded, seven of them were killed, of whom the owner of an arm was one. When the visitors seemed skeptical, an epicure helpfully demonstrated the procedure by taking hold of his own arm with his teeth. That floating body was that of a relative clubbed to death in the fray, and all strangers were enemies. This solemn discourse on the beach was carefully translated for the edification of the sailors who were standing there agape. Cook had seen enough; he had not "the least doubt but what this people were Canabels."46

The next morning Banks was diverted from his horrors. "I was awaked by the singing of the birds ashore from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile; their voices were certainly the most melodious wild music I have ever heard almost imitating the small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable." It is strange that Banks and Solander did not collect any birds in New Zealand, not even the now-extinct bell bird, although they did make many additions to their herbarium collections.

Every day the boats went out, exploring and probing the numerous coves and inlets fronting the tranquil sound. Parkinson was intrigued by the Maori method of lifting fish out of the water with large, hooped nets, although Cook was not impressed. At first Banks thought that "his fair English country women" were easily matched by several women he saw in a canoe wearing a curious headgear of black feathers. "But upon their nearer aproach I was convinced that nothing but the head dress had misled me as I saw not one who was even tolerably hansome." He did not know that the headgear was actually a sign of mourning. Another time a woman, wailing and cutting herself to draw blood, left no doubt about her sense of loss, and in fact few Maoris were ever seen without self-inflicted scars on arms, cheeks, or thighs as signs of grief. Old Topaa brought along four skulls he was keeping as trophies of past accomplishments; they had been steamed and smoke-dried for preservation and pieces of skull were sewn in as false eyes. Banks prevailed on him to trade a skull for an old pair of pants. Occasionally the Maoris offered various limb bones for sale. "I suppose they live intirely upon fish dogs and Enemies."47

On January 22, 1770, Cook savored one of the most satisfying and dramatic experiences of his life. He rowed up the sound with Banks and Solander in the pinnace for about fifteen miles; but not finding an exit and accompanied by one sailor, he climbed a hill (1,268 feet) on the southeast side (on the present Arapawa Island). To the south, the intervening hills still seemed to hide the exit he sought (into Tory Channel). But he had abundant recompense for his trouble. Of a sudden he saw to the east what surely must be one of the fairest panoramas on earth. In the foreground were various inlets, their connections with the sound and the outlet of the channel still hidden. And just beyond the wooded hills lay a breath-taking sight of blue water extending unmistakably across his line of sight.48

I saw what I took to be the Eastern Sea and a strait or passage from it into the Western Sea. The land on the opposite side seem'd to trend away East as far as the Eye could see, to the SE appear'd as oppen Sea and this I took to be the Eastern.

He was looking northeast and east across Cook Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Tasman Sea, and on the far side he could trace the coast of North Island extending southwest until it curves into the present location of Wellington Harbor. With no more effort than that of climbing a steep hill, Cook had solved the geographic problem that had eluded Tasman.

Cook estimated that about three or four hundred Maoris lived in the region. They were dispersed along the coves and inlets where they eked out a precarious existence on a diet mostly of fish and fern roots. Despite the way they sometimes augmented their diet--if we are to believe Cook--they were uniformly friendly to the English sailors. One day Cook led a boating party to the "Hippa" perched on the nearby small island the ship had passed on entering the sound. The good-natured people showed the visitors all over the place and gladly brought out some bones to sell. They called the island "Motu-ouru." Tupaia always went along on these excursions, for he was of great help in translating. Frequently the Maoris would stand in rapt attention as he expounded their shared religion. Once when Banks and Solander clambered up a hillside to collect plants, the Maoris flocked from near and far to bestow on them "numberless huggs and kisses"--by old and young, men and women--for which they received beads and ribbons. Charmed by the civility he met everywhere, Banks again wrote of "our friends the Indians."

That east-west passage was still occupying Cook's thoughts; Banks and Solander also wanted to see it. Rowing across the entrance to the sound, they climbed another hill on the east side (on Arapawa Island), where they had a full view. Cook had no doubt that the waterway connected both seas. There they built a cairn of stones and musket balls as a monument that might stand the test of time (it didn't). "I resolv'd after puting to Sea to search this passage with the Ship." Near the shore stood a group of eight or so huts. In a burst of hospitality the Maoris dumped a pile of dried fish in the pinnace in exchange for some nails, ribbons, and a few scraps of paper.

Whenever Cook and the gentlemen went out sightseeing, the sailors had to remain at the never-ending work of the ship: drying the gunpowder, cutting grass for the livestock and wild celery for the ship's mess, fixing the tiller and cutting timber, caulking the decks, and looking after the ballast. But now and again the sailors, having by then picked up a few words of the local dialect, were allowed to do some sightseeing on their own. One day two boats rowed out at different times. The first boat returned with the sailors agog over meeting a double canoe of Maoris who told them they had lost a female child they thought had been stolen by their neighbors. After a time the sailors in the second boat came back in a state of excitement, having bought some bones from a double canoe's occupants who said they had eaten a child for dinner the day before. From then on the sailors talked of nothing but eating people.49

Cook had become attached to this region of New Zealand. At the anchorage he planted the Union Jack on a marker with the date and the ship's name, and on January 31, accompanied by Tupaia and Monkhouse, went over to Motuara Island for the act of taking possession. Finding old Topaa there and suddenly recalling the admonition to obtain "the Consent of the Natives," he asked that he might leave a marker so that any other ship might know they had been there. Topaa freely consented and promised that it would not be pulled down. With the flag flying, Cook declared that the long inlet would be called "Queen Charlotte Sound," whereupon they solemnized the occasion by drinking a bottle of wine to the Queen's health and giving old Topaa the empty bottle and a couple of coins marked 1763.

The old man did his best when asked about the neighboring coasts. He spoke of three lands. To the north lay "Aeheino mouwe," which required many moons to go around; Cook knew that. This is called Te Ika a Maui (North Island). He mentioned "Teirawhitte"--the present Cape Terawhiti near the entrance to Wellington harbor. And to the south were two lands he called "Tov-poenammu," or the land of the green stones; these required four days. Because Cook had already conjectured that the land to the south was not continental, he was glad that he might finish his chart in so chart a time. Pickersgill, wandering about on the eastern shore of the sound, picked up an accurate list: the island to the north (North Island); and two islands to the south, one "which we was on" (Arapawa), which they could go around in four days; and the other, which remained a land of mystery to the Maoris, was called "Towie poe namou," or Tovy-poenammu (South Island).50

Banks and Solander hurried ashore to tidy-up their work; "to wind up our bottoms," said Banks. As Endeavour moved slowly out of Queen Charlotte Sound, old man Topaa came aboard to take his leave. No, he had never seen a canoe this big. But his grandfather had often spoken of a long ago time when a vessel, or vessels, came from the north--Cook heard "a small Vessel"; Banks, "2 large vessels"--and that four men were killed on landing. Cook recalled some such story at the Bay of Islands; Banks wondered whether this were a memory of Tasman. And where did Topaa's ancestors come from? Banks heard him say a placed named "Heawye." This was a remarkable name to hear, inasmuch as Hawaiki is the name known among Polynesians all over the Pacific for their mythological home.51 Cook named his anchorage of three weeks "Ship Cove." This pleasant retreat would be his port-of-call on four more occasions. But apparently he did not think the region was suitable for a settlement. If New Zealand were ever colonized, he said, the best place for that would be far to the north, at the River Thames and the Bay of Islands. Perhaps he thought of Ship Cove as his own; today it remains tranquil in isolation. On February 6 Endeavour was making way south through the passage that Tasman had surmised, and Banks announced that it was to be called "Cooks streights."

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