Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

How a Great White Bird Came to the Shores

It is doubtful that white man first saw the shores of New Zealand. But the honour is generally given to the Dutch discoverer Tasman. In 1642, returning to Batavia, after having discovered Tasmania, he came upon South Island. Hoping to get fresh water and green food to supply his ship, he anchored. Soon canoes pushed out from the shore, and wild, half-naked savages surrounded Tasman's two ships. They called to the white strangers in loud, rough voices, and blew upon a harsh sounding trumpet. But they would not come within a stone's throw of the ships, although Tasman tried to entice them with presents of linen and knives.

Seeing the natives so many and so warlike, Tasman thought that it would be well to warn the sailors in the other ship to be on their guard, and not let them come aboard. So he ordered a boat to be lowered. But as soon as the natives saw the boat in the water, they surrounded it and drove their canoes crashing against its sides, so that it heeled over. The savages then attacked the Dutchmen with their paddles and short, thick clubs. Three were killed, and one wounded so badly that he died; the others jumped into the water and swam to their ship, while the savages made off, taking one of the dead Dutchmen with them.

Now all hope of friendly barter with the natives being at an end, Tasman sailed away. In memory of this cruel greeting from the savages, he called the place Murderer's Bay, but the name has since been changed to Golden Bay. The whole land Tasman called Staten Land, but that name, too, was soon changed to New Zealand, which name it has kept ever since. And, although we have come to think of it as an English name, it is really Dutch, for the new found land was called after that part of Holland called Zeeland.


"Cook told the Maoris that he had come to set a mark upon their islands."

But although Tasman had discovered and named New Zealand, no white man had yet set foot upon its shores. The Dutch made no use of their discovery, and for many years the wild Maoris, as the natives of New Zealand are called, were left undisturbed. Now and again a ship touched upon the shores, but little was known of the island until, a hundred years and more after Tasman had sailed away, when another great sailor reached them. This was Captain James Cook.

In 1769 Cook set out upon a voyage of discovery, and before he reached the Great South Land, he came upon the shores of New Zealand. He touched the shores, not on the west side as Tasman had done, but on the east coast at Poverty Bay. Here he landed, being the first white man who is known certainly to have set foot upon these islands.

To the natives the coming of Cook was a thing of fear and wonder. As the Endeavour,  with outspread sails, came nearer and nearer, they watched the great, white bird, as they took it to be, in amazement, marvelling at the size and beauty of it's wings. Presently the white bird folded it's wings, and from it's side down dropped a tiny wingless bird. This, as it came near, they saw was a curious canoe, filled with white-faced gods. At the sight they turned and fled away in terror. But soon taking courage, they returned brandishing long, wooden spears, and seeming so ready to fight that Cook's men fired upon them. And thus upon the very first day on which the white man came, blood stained the ground.

From Poverty Bay, Cook sailed northward, meeting often with savages. Sometimes they were friendly, and would barter honestly with the ship's crew. At other times they were warlike or thievish, stealing what they could, and singing loud war-songs in defiance.

Cook had with him a South Sea Islander called Tupia, who helped him very much to become friendly with the savages. For although their languages were not quite the same, they could understand each other. So Tupia was able to tell the savages that Cook came in a friendly way, and did not want to fight.

At Mercury Bay, Cook again landed, set up the Union Jack, carved the ship's name and the date upon a tree, and claimed the land for His Majesty, King George. Then sailing onward, he passed all round North Island, and through Cook's Strait (named after himself), proving thus to himself and his crew that these lands were indeed islands, and not part of a continent as had been thought.

At Queen Charlotte's Sound, upon South Island, Cook set up two posts, one on the mainland and one on a little island. Upon these posts were carved the ship's name, the month, and the year, and from the top of them the Union Jack fluttered out.

A few natives came to watch these strange doings, and Cook told them that he had come to set a mark upon their islands, in order to show any ship that might put in there that he had been before them. So the savages allowed him to put up the posts, and promised never to pull them down. They did not understand, however, that Cook, in the manner of those days, was claiming their land in the name of a king who lived in another island, far far away.

After setting up the Union Jack on Queen Charlotte Sound, Cook sailed all round South Island and Stewart Island, and upon 1st April 1770, he left the coast, and steered for the Great South Land.

Cook discovered many interesting things about New Zealand. Among other things, he found out that except a few rats and a few ugly dogs, there were no four-footed animals in the islands at all. Both rats and dogs were used for food, but the natives chiefly lived on eels, fish, and fern-root. New Zealand is the land of ferns, and every valley and hillside is green with them. With the Maoris, fern-root took the place of corn with us, for in New Zealand, although the land was fertile and good, no grain of any kind grew. Fern-root was first roasted, then beaten into a greyish kind of meal, from which bread was made.

The Maoris were tall, strong men of a brownish colour. Their hair was black, and they wore it tied into a bunch on the top of the head, into which they stuck a black, red, or white feather. The faces of the chiefs were tattooed all over in wonderful patterns, the less important people painted themselves with red ochre.

They were a savage and ignorant people, but brave and warlike. Many of them did not care in the least for beads and ribbons and things which usually pleased savages. They thought much more of iron nails, knives, and hatchets. But although they were such fine men, there was one very bad and horrible thing about them. They were cannibals.

The islands were filled with many tribes, who were constantly quarrelling and fighting with each other. Very little was enough to make a quarrel, for the Maoris were terribly proud. A blow was a deadly insult which could only be wiped out in blood, and after a battle the victors would make a horrid feast upon the bodies of their fallen foes. That a chief should be eaten was counted a great disgrace to his tribe, for it was a proof of defeat. And to say to a Maori that his father had been eaten was an insult beyond all words. To have killed and eaten many enemies was a warrior's brightest glory, and great men were often called 'eaters of chiefs.'

In seven years Cook paid five visits to New Zealand. Each time he discovered more of the coast, and learned more of the people and their customs. He brought with him pigs, fowls, potatoes, maize, and other plants and animals likely to be of use to the savages. Some of the plants and animals died, but both pigs and potatoes soon grew plentiful in the land.

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