At Queen Charlotte Sound in 1770, during Captain Cook's Endeavour voyage, Europeans first saw the common bird we now call the tui.
Back in Britain, others used the specimens, paintings and written descriptive notes from the naturalists on Cook's ships. As a result, the world got its first printed image of a New Zealand bird in 1776 when Peter Brown published a hand-coloured engraving of a tui.
From Cook's materials, John Latham included many New Zealand birds in his book A General Synopsis of Birds, with the tui listed in a 1782 section as the "Poë Bee-eater".
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We now know that the tui is a honeyeater, but the German naturalist Johann Gmelin
perpetuated the bee-eater error by using Latham's description and giving the tui the newfangled scientific Linnean name, Merops novaeseelandiae, in 1788.
By 1800 the tui was thought to be a kind of starling, but in 1822 it was recognised as a honeyeater and it got its current Latin name, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae, in 1841. The first name refers to the curled feathers on the neck.
The tui is just one of several dozen New Zealand birds documented by Cook's naturalists. They also pioneered the biological discovery of New Zealand plants, fishes, insects and other animal groups. Through Cook's voyages, New Zealand plants and animals began to be known in Europe and then around the world.
Don't believe the humanities academics, with their "post-modern" agenda, who dismiss Cook's biological surveys as some sort of nasty European "conquest of nature".
The scientific cataloguing of the world's living things, begun for New Zealand on Cook's voyages, is vital work for humanity. Only when plants and animals are known scientifically
can we properly understand them and use that knowledge in grander philosophies such as biogeography and evolution.
We have to delimit and inventory species before we can understand how malaria kills people, which antibiotics we can obtain from which fungi, or what insects can be used for biological control of an invasive weed. Correct knowledge of species underpins big sectors of our economy from aquaculture to nature tourism.
We also have to know our species of plants and animals scientifically before we can strive to save them from current threats of extinction.
Cook reached New Zealand in 1769 with more scientists than had ever been taken on
a voyage of discovery. Science was at the forefront of his expeditions.
If New Zealand had been uninhabited, Cook's voyages would still have given reason to celebrate a priceless legacy of navigation, map-making, geographical exploration and astronomy, besides the start to the scientific description, illustration and naming that underpins our modern understanding of New Zealand biodiversity and conservation.
Yet, bizarrely, the $23-million Tuia 250 commemoration project seems to be all about culture, or commentary and events that have a cultural slant. It seems we are to be forced into thinking that the encounter between Cook and Māori people was the only important event of 1769. What a poor relation science has now become to humanities in New Zealand, that such a distorted commemoration could come to pass.
Surely the outdated attitudes of past generations should be countered by a balanced middle ground: Tupaia in addition to Cook; not Tupaia instead of Cook. An 180-degree shift to an opposite extreme gives nothing of value, just more that is wrong and unsustainable.
By embracing a bias that downplays Western and scientific achievement, the government's commemoration committee risks stoking new anger and resentment. And for our children, such a bias can only increase New Zealand's slide in international educational rankings.
In the face of a Tuia 250 website that scarcely mentions the great man and his crew, or science, I want to record here — and many New Zealanders will concur — a tremendous pride in the bravery and accomplishments of Captain James Cook and his compatriots.
• Dr Brian Gill was curator of birds at Auckland Museum for many years. He discussed Cook's encounter with the shining cuckoo in his book The Unburnt Egg: More Stories of a Museum Curator (Awa Press).