It wanted a couple of hours to sunset. All the way from the rim of the
world the blue Pacific waves heaved slumberously towards the shore,
thundered against the iron rocks, and rolled lazily eastwards into the
gathering night. The long cloud-shadows chased one another across the
fern, the silver-winged gulls circled the blue bay, ready to chorus a
harsh “good-night,” and the sinking sun, flinging a challenge to the
coming darkness, set the sky ablaze.
Night, swift, inexorable, was not far away; there would be no moon,
and the _Patupaiarehe_, imps of evil, wander in the dark in search of
mischief. Luckless the Maori who walks through forest glade or over
fern-clad hill when they flit on their wicked way.
So, lest they should be caught by the tricksy sprites, the Maori, who
were chatting in the _marae_, rose to disperse. Suddenly, one who had
been looking carelessly about him, uttered a loud yell.
“_He! He!_” he cried. “_Titira! Titira!_” (Look! Look!).
The clamour which followed brought the chief–a splendid figure in his
_kaitaka_ and coronet of _huia_ plumes. Hurried question and excited
answer gave him the reason of the commotion, and he, too, looked out to
A cry escaped him. Amazement, incredulity, fear were in the tone. “A
whale with white wings! What can it mean? It is magic or—-”
He broke off, staring at his men. His lips were trembling, his eyes
round. Great chief though he was, fear wrapped him as a garment.
None answered. Some looked under their lids at the oncoming Thing; some
fastened their gaze upon the chief, and every man there muttered a
_karakia_, if so he might avert impending doom.
On came the marvel, growing ever more distinct, and upon the polished
decks the astounded Maori could see beings who looked like men, though
their outward seeming was strangely different from any men whom the
Sons of Maui had ever encountered.
Then a voice was heard, calling something in a strange, harsh tongue. A
whistle shrilled; a score or so of the odd forms raced from end to end
of what the bewildered Maori now decided must be a canoe of some sort,
and with magical swiftness the “white wings” collapsed and lay folded
upon the long spars. Another call, a loud, rattling noise, something
fell with a mighty splash into the sea, and the mysterious vessel came
One minute of tense silence. Then a scream went up from the watching
The strangely garbed forms were human. But their faces! _Their faces
In the extremity of their terror the Maori fled into their _whare_ and
covered their heads. It was now only too plain that the _Patupaiarehe_
were abroad upon that awful night of nights.
Yet worse was to come upon the morrow.
On the 14th of August, 1642, the distinguished circumnavigator, Abel
Janssen Tasman, left Batavia in his yacht _Heemskirk_ with a fly-boat,
_Zeehaen_ (Sea-hen), dancing in his wake, to investigate the polar
continent which Schouten and Le Maire, his countrymen, claimed to
have found, and which they had named Staaten Land. It was on the 13th
of December in the same year that, after discovering Tasmania, the
commodore came one radiant evening within long sight of what he calls a
“high, mountainous country.”
This was the west coast of the Middle Island, then for the first time
seen by the eyes of white men, or so it is reasonable to believe; for
the claims made by France and Spain to priority of discovery are based
upon wholly insufficient grounds.
A few days later Tasman cast anchor in the bay to the west of that bay
which bears his name, and at whose south-eastern extremity the town of
Nelson now flourishes. Tasman himself gave a name to the bay in which
he anchored, but not until he was about to leave it. A glance at the
map will make it clear that both of these bays wash the northern shore
of the Middle Island, _Te Wai Pounamou_, “The Waters of Greenstone.”
The sun had not yet set when Tasman’s anchors splashed into the bay
and the sight of the strange white faces sent the Maori scurrying into
their _whare_. An hour must elapse before the long-lingering day faded
into night, and an hour is time and to spare for brave men to recover
their confidence, however badly their nerves have been shaken. So it
came about that, before nightfall, the chief and his warriors issued
from their _whare_, and low voices muttered questions which no one
One thing, however, had become clear in that time of fear and
hesitancy. So at length:
“They are men like ourselves,” the chief said reassuringly. “There
is no doubt about it, for I have been watching them from my
_matapihi_. Their faces are white and their canoes differ from
ours, but they have no desire to quarrel. On the other hand, they
continually signal, inviting us to visit them. I believe them to be
friendly. My children, let us take a nearer look at these Pakeha. Fear
nought. Atua fights for the Maori. Come!”
Accustomed to obey the word of their chief, the Maori manned a couple
of canoes and paddled out towards the ships.
But the chief was aware that, for all their calm exterior, fear–that
worst fear of all, fear of the unknown–tugged at his children’s
hearts, and he had no intention of trying them too far. So at his word
the huge _tetere_ brayed, “in sound,” says Tasman, “like a Moorish
trumpet,” the Maori shouted, splashing the water with their paddles,
but giving no hostile challenge, and the sailors crowded their
bulwarks, making signs of amity and displaying attractive articles to
the brown men.
But twilight was fading now, and the chief hastened ashore to see
his _hapu_ safely housed, and to set a guard, lest these queer white
fellows should land during the night. The _tetere_ brayed again an
unmusical “Lights out!” and with a great clamour of tongues the Maori
withdrew behind their stockade to discuss the most surprising event of
Then the day died and the curtain of night came heavily down, to rise
upon the tragedy of the morning.
The day was not far advanced when a single, small canoe rapidly
approached the ships, where officers and men ran eagerly to the rail to
observe the oncoming Maori.
But Abel Tasman knew nothing of the addiction of the Sons of
Maui to forms and ceremonies, nor did the latter allow for their
visitor’s ignorance. Consequently, there arose at the very outset a
misunderstanding, which was to bring about fatal consequences.
One of the thirteen occupants of the canoe must have been the
herald, come to announce that his chief would immediately visit the
strangers. The rowers lay on their oars within easy distance of the
_Heemskirk_, while the envoy delivered his message.
Making no attempt to discover the Maori’s meaning, the Dutchmen rather
stupidly “kept up a great shouting throughout his oration,” while they
displayed food, drink and trinkets to the admiring eyes of the rowers,
who were sorely tempted to take risks and clamber aboard. But loyalty
to their chief restrained them, and with dignified gestures and in
musical speech they signified their regret at being obliged to decline
the Pakeha’s invitation. Then, conceiving their message understood,
they paddled back to the shore, much to the disappointment of the
No sooner did the solitary canoe swing away from the ship than seven
others put off from the shore. As they drew near, six of them slackened
speed, while one came on confidently to the _Heemskirk_.
After a momentary hesitation, half-a-dozen Maori clambered up the
side with, according to Tasman, “fear writ upon their faces.” This is
probable; for here was a clear case of _omne ignotum pro magnifico_;
but that these were brave men is proved by the fact that, “with fear
writ upon their faces,” they showed a bold front to the cause of that
fear, and boarded the _Heemskirk_.
Scarcely had the feet of the brown men touched the deck than Tasman
seems to have taken fright and, as far as one may judge, lost his head
and committed a deplorable error.
He was, he says, aboard the _Sea-hen_ when the Maori boarded the
_Heemskirk_ and, without awaiting developments, he manned a boat with
seven men, whom he sent off to the yacht with a warning to guard
Fatal mistake! The kettle of misunderstanding was full to the spout,
and it now boiled over. Tasman feared that the six attendant canoes
meant to attack; the Maori, observing the hurrying boat, instantly
imagined that their comrades were to be detained on board the yacht as
Stirred to action by the cries of their alarmed friends, who had also
observed Tasman’s action with apprehension, those in the canoes dashed
to intercept the boat.
Whether by accident or design, the boat crashed into one of the canoes,
and the Maori, their worst fears confirmed, struck to kill, and did
kill outright three Dutchmen, mortally wounding a fourth. One poor
corpse they carried off, and the Maori on the ship leapt without delay
into their own canoe and raced for the shore.
“We shall get neither wood nor water from this accursed spot,” said
Tasman, “for the savages be too adventurous and bloody-minded.” So he
pricked off the place upon his chart, naming it “Murderers’ Bay,”
weighed anchor, and made off in disgust.
While he was yet in the bay, a fleet of two-and-twenty canoes, crowded
with men, put out after him, with what intention is not known. Tasman
does not appear to have feared an attack, for he tells us that a man in
the leading canoe carried a flag of truce. The Maori really held in his
hand a spear with a pennon of bleached flax; but, if Tasman believed
this to be a flag of truce, his action was the more reprehensible.
For he stopped the pursuit, if pursuit it were, by delivering a
broadside which probably equalised the loss he had sustained. At all
events, the man with the flag went down, and the Maori, terrified by
the noise of the discharge and its deadly effect, turned and sped to
So began and ended in bloodshed the first authentic meeting of Maori
and Pakeha. Had Tasman not been so quick to take alarm, had he allowed
his visitors time to realise his friendly intentions, it is highly
probable that New Zealand would to-day have been a Dutch colony instead
of a Dominion of the Empire.
Away went the Dutchman, nursing his wrath and jotting down in his
journal all sorts of uncomplimentary remarks about the “bloodthirsty
aborigines,” and in due course rounded the north of the North Island,
naming one of its prominent headlands “Cape Maria Van Diemen,” in
compliment to the daughter of his patron, Anthony Van Diemen, governor
of the Dutch East Indies.
A little farther north he made the islands which he charted under the
name of “The Three Kings,” since he discovered them upon the Epiphany,
and he again endeavoured to obtain “rest and refreshment.” But he was
disappointed once more, for the same cautiousness which had led him so
precipitately to launch the boat on that unhappy day in Massacre Bay,
now caused him to sheer off from The Three Kings. Small wonder, though,
that he did not stop there to investigate.
“For we did see,” he records in his journal, “thirty-five natives of
immense size, who advanced with prodigious long strides, bearing great
clubs in their hands.”
“Valentine,” “Jack,” or any other historic destroyer of the race of
giants might well have been excused for showing a clean pair of heels
in face of such odds. Thirty-five of them! It was too much for Tasman,
who, without more ado, bore away for Cocos, where he obtained the “rest
and refreshment” of which he stood so much in need.
So Abel Tasman never set foot in New Zealand. Having mistaken the
southern extremity of Tasmania for that of Australia, he now fell into
the error of believing the land at which he had touched to be part of
the polar continent, or Staaten Land. Months later, the mistake was
corrected, and Tasman’s newest discovery received the name by which it
has ever since been known–New Zealand.
In this manner came the first Pakeha to the country of the Maori,
and fled in fear, learning nought of the land or of its people. The
Children of Maui watched for the return of the men with the strange
white faces; but they came not, neither Tasman nor any other. So the
visit of the Pakeha became a memory ever growing fainter, until at
last it died, not even tradition keeping it alive.
Then, one hundred and twenty-seven years after Abel Tasman had found
and seen and gone away, there came a greater than he, one not so easily
turned back–the captain of the _Endeavour_, James Cook of undying