The Treaty found us in the throes of cannibalism…This was at a time when the Maori tribes were fighting fiercely among themselves. The Maori did not have any government when the European first came to these islands. There was no unified chiefly authority over man or land… the people were divided. Sir Apirana Ngata
Remembering the great explorer
Roger Childs argues that Captain James Cook is a hero.
‘From humble beginnings he worked his way up first in the merchant navy and then the Royal Navy.
He established a reputation in the late 1750s and early 1760s for his navigational and charting skills off the coast of eastern Canada.
Later, in 1768, he was appointed captain of the Endeavour and sailed for the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti. From there he followed secret instructions to search for the “great southern continent” and on 8 October 1769 Cook stepped ashore near modern Gisborne.
Extraordinary achievements and a lasting legacy
This would be the first of three epic voyages by Cook to the Pacific and in the process he would visit every continent on the planet. However, of all the places he visited it was New Zealand where he had his greatest impact.
In accordance with his instructions from the Admiralty, Cook showed the diverse peoples of the country, who varied in hair colour, stature and skin colour, the Civility and Regard they deserved.
Unfortunately, misunderstandings over ownership and theft in what Cook called Poverty Bay, led to the deaths of some natives, however in other places good relations were established.
James Cook and botanist Joseph Banks collected hundreds of plant and bird specimens, introduced new animals and plants from England and their widely disseminated reports told the world about the nature and resources of New Zealand.
As a result of his explorations, the work of scientists on board, and the paintings of the official artists, notably Sydney Parkinson, the lands around the world’s biggest ocean became known to Europe and America.
It was inevitable that in the South Pacific, the exploitation of resources by white people, as well as settlement and governance, would follow.
A lasting legacy and salvation for Maori
The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and western development saved Maori from possible extinction. The Treaty ended the endemic inter-tribal warfare which probably killed more than 40,000 in the first four decades of the nineteenth century.
As a consequence, Maori women were freed from a life of insecurity where rape, abduction, slavery and murder following battles, were common.
In a recent Q&A on TVNZ Reporter Jack Tane asked Minister of Crown-Maori Relations, Kelvin Davis, to name one good outcome of colonisation.
He was taken aback by the question, and in spite of being asked multiple times, refused to identify a single benefit, instead arguing that we should be honouring the contribution made by Maori.
Kelvin Davis might have recognised that some of the benefits of colonisation include the Rule of Law, democracy, secure property rights, the enforcement of contract, infrastructure, health care, and education.
These helped to provide the foundation for the economic growth and improvement in living standards that have transformed New Zealand into the modern society it is today. Dr Muriel Newman, New Zealand Centre for Political Research.
Honouring the great man
Cook’s arrival in New Zealand is unquestionably one of the most important events in our history whatever our ethnicity and origins. His charting or our shores and the reports, paintings and sketches from his three voyages set in train the modern development of the nation.
The 250th anniversary of the Endeavour coming to New Zealand is a milestone we should all commemorate with pride. Furthermore, in future years we could celebrate the extraordinary James Cook with a holiday on the day he first set foot in the country.
In novelist and Cook aficionado Graeme Lay’s opinion, that occasion 250 years ago is the greatest event in our history.