Captain James Cook’s first landfall in New Zealand 250 years ago was in my home town Gisborne/Turanga on 7 October 1769.
Things went badly – 4 young midshipmen left to guard Cook’s yawl on Kaiti Beach shot Te Maro, a chief of Ngati Oneone, it seems because his haka (challenge) was interpreted as aggressive intent.
On day 2, the 2 sides lined up on opposite sides of the Turanganui River, 100 or more warriors on the southern side doing haka, which must have been both fearsome/magnificent. Cook’s Tahitian navigator Tupaia spoke to them which encouraged one unarmed warrior (history hasn’t left a name) to swim across. He stopped at a rock close to Cook’s riflemen. Cook waded out and the 2 exchanged a hongi (nosepress greeting).
The 2 sides moved closer after that but things quickly went astray again. Cook’s men shot a man who had taken/tried to take a sword and 3 others also, including another chief, Te Raka (sp?) (Te Raka’s descendants claim that his intent was to seize the Endeavour, so Cook’s men averted that unknowingly). Cook then sailed south towards Mahia, naming the area Poverty Bay because “it afforded us no one thing we wanted”.
I’ve tried to capture their mutual courage and mistrust. The faces borrow from the old faces/candlestick optical illusion and a Pink Floyd album cover.
The rock – Te Toka-a-Taiau – was formerly a tribal boundary between Ngati Porou and the local iwi Rongowhaata but was detonated when the port expanded in 1877.
Young Nicks Head (Te Kuri o Pāoa – The Dog of Pāoa) in the background is reputed to be the expedition’s first sighting of land (some recent histories argue for Hikurangi, an inland peak) by Cook’s surgeon’s boy Nicholas Young, who was given a gallon of rum for his troubles.
There have been several attempts since the 1860s to consign the awful Poverty Bay name to history – getting close to achieving that now, at last, maybe.
Acrylic on canvas 12″x18″