The little ship making its way around the northern coasts of New Zealand this month should be celebrated everywhere she goes. She is a replica of the ship that 250 years ago literally put New Zealand on the map.
Granted, it was a European map. Polynesian explorers had discovered these islands centuries earlier. But British Naval Lieutenant James Cook's 1769 expedition on Endeavour gave New Zealand shape and identity to the rest of the world by charting it in ink on paper.
Endeavour's voyage did much more. It gave Britain an interest in Australia and New Zealand that led to colonisation and overwhelming immigration. That left much to celebrate as well as repair. But does the repair preclude celebration?
The official website of the 250th anniversary has almost nothing to say about the expedition. No reference to Captain Cook appears on the "Tuia 250" homepage and the Endeavour replica is mentioned only in a list of sailing ships, ocean waka and Polynesian craft assembled to represent "Aoteatoa New Zealand's Pacific voyaging heritage."
We are invited to "use Tuia 250 as an opportunity to hold honest conversations about the past, the present and how we navigate our shared future." Well, OK.
A fair assessment of Endeavour's voyage would rate it as one of history's most remarkable achievements, celebrated at the time for advances in astronomical, navigational and botanical knowledge as well as the contacts it made with people and places in the "South Seas", hitherto a black hole on Europe's maps.
I find it surprising Europeans took so long to reach the South Pacific. By the time Abel Tasman ventured down this way in 1642 more than a century had passed since Magellan circumnavigated the globe. Trading posts had become well established as far as Southeast Asia. Tasman was operating from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
Yet for another 150 years, Europe knew nothing more of this part of the world than the slivers of land Tasman had seen and named. Science said they could be edges of the vast continent that must exist to give weight to the Southern Hemisphere. Cook's voyages put that theory to rest.
A delightful book published last year was entitled 'Endeavour. The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World'. The author, Peter Moore, writes, "Endeavour still has a place in many people's hearts today…. At Darling Harbour in Sydney there is an ongoing process of historical reanimation on the exquisite HMB Endeavour replica with voyages that see the squared rigged bark glide into the harbor among yachts and cruise liners and beneath skyscrapers and aeroplanes…"
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'I feel honoured to captain her': On board Captain Cook's replica ship Endeavour
Here it may be overshadowed by sleeker sailing ships in the flotilla. The bark was a small, squat, blunt-nosed, wide-bellied vessel built to carry coal on England's coasts. It was chosen by the Admiralty for the scientific expedition on account of its storage capacity and stability on a single anchor in shallow water.
Cook chose a larger, faster ship for his second voyage. Endeavour, renamed, remained in naval service as a supply ship, saw action in the American War of Independence and Moore believes she met an inglorious end, scuttled at Newport, Rhode Island, as part of a sunken barrage against an approaching French fleet.
Small as she was, Endeavour must have been a fearful sight for Māori when she appeared off the East Coast of New Zealand 250 years ago last week. And Cook knew she would be. An honest conversation about the past has to evaluate what happened in that light.
Historical apologies always make me uncomfortable. British seamen who had never seen a haka came face to face with people who had never seen different coloured men and muskets before. The fatal misunderstandings have been fairly described by historians such as Dame Anne Salmond, no apologist for imperialism.
Her book, Two Worlds, also describes what Cook did to try to repair the damage that first day. He had his crew capture two boys from a canoe and bring them aboard Endeavour where they were given food and wine and encouraged to talk with the help of the Tahitian Tupaia.
Salmond writes, "Given that Māori people had lived in considerable isolation (except from each other) for almost a thousand years, it must have been astonishing and frightening, like being taken on board a spaceship full of aliens."
Those centuries of isolation raise a question for me when I contemplate the Polynesian migrant craft sharing Endeavour's anniversary. Why didn't they make regular journeys? Why isn't there evidence of pre-European trade and two-way travel to the Pacific?
I don't know if these are among the "honest conversations" Tuia 250 invites but in any case, Endeavour ended New Zealand's isolation. It was inevitable that a European ship would come this far eventually. We can be proud it was this one.