"I am conscious that the feeling of every reader of humanity will censure me for having fired upon these unhappy people, and it is impossible that, upon a calm review, I should approve it myself.
"They certainly did not deserve death for not choosing to confide in my promises; or not consenting to come on board my boat, even if they had apprehended no danger; but the nature of my service required me to obtain a knowledge of their country, which I could not otherwise effect than by forcing my way into it in a hostile manner, or gaining admission through the confidence and goodwill of the people.
"I had already tried the power of presents without effect; and I was now prompted, by my desire to avoid further hostilities, to get some of them on board, as the only method left of convincing them that we intended them no harm and had it in our power to contribute to their gratification and convenience. Thus far our intentions certainly were not criminal; and though in the contest, which I had no reason to expect, our victory might have been complete without so great an expense of life; yet, in such situations, when the command to fire has been given, no man can restrain its excess, or prescribe its effect."
These were Lieutenant James Cook's words written upon the HMS Bark Endeavour reflecting upon the deaths of Māori that had occurred in October 1769 during his stay in what he had named Poverty Bay.
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Passenger and botanist Joseph Banks wrote of the same incidents in Poverty Bay.
"Thus ended the most disagreeable day my life has yet seen. Black be the mark for it, and heaven send that such may never return to embitter future reflection."
The relations with indigenous people ‒ should the crew of the Endeavour come across them - were spelt out in the sealed orders from the Admiralty.
James Cook was to "observe the genius, temper, disposition, and number of the natives, if there be any, and endeavour, by all means, to cultivate a friendship and alliance with them, making presents of such trifles as they may value, inviting them to traffic, and showing them every kind of civility and regard, taking care, however, not to suffer yourself to be surprised by them, but to always be on your guard against any accident".
James Cook would again try to establish friendly relations with Māori, but his best intentions would result in more deaths. Even the presence of Tupaia, a Tahitian high priest who could make himself understood to Māori, had limited success.
An attempt was made to put a long boat from the Endeavour to look for freshwater upon entering on October 12 what he would call Hawke's Bay, but noting many canoes coming towards them, Cook decided against it. In all his three journeys to New Zealand, he would never set foot on land in Hawke's Bay.
When the canoes arrived, Cook's men threw gifts to Māori to in Cook's words, "gain their friendship … but all we could do was to no purpose".
Likely what was occurring from Māori was a wero (challenge ritual), and misunderstanding, Cook noted they didn't except one gift and "seemed fully bent on attacking us". A warning cannon shot was then fired wide of the canoes.
Success almost occurred when a group of Māori put their weapons in another canoe and came alongside the Endeavour to accept gifts, and Cook almost got them on board, but another group of five Māori came close "and begun again to threaten us". At this point all the canoes returned to shore.
On October 15 the Endeavour was anchored alongside "the southernmost point of the bay".
At 8am in the morning, some trade was conducted with Māori fishing boats, and during this it was noticed an approaching canoe with 22 armed men. Although they "had nothing for traffic", Cook and his men gave these men articles of cloth.
Cook was desirous to get a black skin, resembling a bear, from one of these Māori "that I might be a better judge what sort of an animal the first owner was". Some red cloth was given by Cook, but the trade was not reciprocated with the skin, and then all the canoes "went away, but in a very short time they returned again".
Fish was again traded on their return, but events would take a turn for the worse when Tupaia's servant boy, Tiata, who was over the side helping with the goods exchange, was seized and put into a canoe, which paddled for shore.
Cook records "two or three paid for this daring attempt with loss of their lives and many more would have suffered had it [not] been for the fear of killing the boy". Tiata was able to jump off the canoe and swim back to the Endeavour.
In 1844, William Colenso "saw at Waimarama an aged native who remembered this sad event; and also obtained from several natives, descendants of the sufferers on that occasion, their account of the affair, received from their forefathers; five, it appears, were killed, and several wounded; one of the poor fellows had received a ball in his knee joint which made him a helpless cripple during a long life".
James Cook wrote, "To the cape off which this unhappy transaction happened, I gave the name of Cape Kidnappers. It is rendered remarkable by two white rocks like hay stacks, and the high white cliffs on each side. It lies South West by West distant 13 leagues from the isle of Portland; and between them is the bay of which it is the south point, and which in honour of Sir Edward Hawke, then first Lord of the Admiralty, I called Hawke's Bay."
Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available at $65 from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell Street South, Hastings and Wardini Books Havelock North and Napier.
Michael Fowler FCA (email@example.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.