Brian Hooker

New Zealand




  False claims in New Zealand history

 [Click on any thumbnail to view the enlarged image.]

Te Ara The New Zealand Encyclopaedia

Early Pacific European journeys
The author of this caption (which accompanies the map of th
e routes of early explorers) has not understood how the world was divided into two hemispheres by Pope Alexander VI.

Also extensive text under the heading "Spanish and Portuguese in the Pacific" is grossly wrong and needs entirely rewriting. The explanation that Portuguese vessels crossed the Pacific is misleading.  

[Te Ara text follows:] "In the 16th and early 17th centuries the central Pacific Ocean became well known to Spanish and Portuguese navigators." This map shows the paths travelled by Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan, 1521) and Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (1605–6). The first Englishman to cross the Pacific was Francis Drake, who sailed around the globe between 1577 and 1580. His path in the Pacific is also shown. It was not until Abel Tasman’s voyage (1642-43) that two islands in the far south-west of the Pacific – today’s New Zealand – were discovered."

The following is is a brief explanation: (Click on the thumbnail above and then scroll down to read the caption.) Fo
llowing the discovery of America, Pope Alexander VI settled the rival claims of Spain and Portugal in 1493 by issuing the famous Bull instituting a Line of Demarcation running from the north to south a hundred leagues west of the Azores, to the west of which the Spaniards were authorised to explore, and to the east of which the Portuguese received the monopoly of discovery. In 1494 under the terms of the Treaty of Tordisillas the imaginary line was moved further westward and fixed at 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands.  Enlarging a little on this note: The early exploration and European history of the Pacific revolves around the division of the world partly because it could not be determined whether the Spice Islands (Moluccas) came within the Spanish or Portuguese hemispheres. (Longitude reckonings to determine the antimerdian were imprecise.) It was mainly the riches of the Spice Islands that attracted the early European explorers. However, unquestionably the whole of the Pacific including unknown New Zealand (but not in truth the Philippines) came within the Spanish hemisphere which meant that no Portuguese vessels trespassed into Spanish territory. (And the Spanish kept away from Portuguese regions). The Line placed the whole of America within the Spanish hemisphere except Brazil where to this day the people speak Portuguese. This is one reason why the suggestion of a Portuguese discovery of New Zealand is a false idea. Where the Te Ara author says the central Pacific became well known to Portuguese navigators  is not correct  and should be deleted or preferably changed to include some of the above. The Portuguese voyaged north to Japan and Macau but they did not attempt any voyages east into the Pacific from south-east Asia or west into the Pacific from Portugal around the bottom tip of South America. Magellan (a Portuguese), Torres, Quiros, and others (e.g. Mendaňa) commanded Spanish expeditions. Of course Drake being an Englishman ignored the pope and his rules as did the Dutch later.
[there is an excellent explanation of the Line of Demarcation in the Pacific in: L. C. Wroth The early cartography of the Pacific 1944, pp. 147-150. This book is in the Turnbull - the best book overall on the subject is O H K Spate The Pacific since Magellan - The Spanish Lake ANUP, 1979]

Te Ara

The map '"Navigating by the stars" is more than misleading. It is a hybrid but nevertheless a sham and deceptive. There are clear references to the "Southern Cross" and other constellations. "The Big Dippe" and the "Little Dipper"  are named among others. The grouping together of stars into constellations was an ancient Middle Eastern invention (almost certainly by the ancient Babylonians) and there is no evidence that Polynesians devised a grouping system identical with the Middle-eastern idea. There is no meaning in the groups but they are convenient groupings today for identification purposes. (except of course ancient people read all sorts of meanings into them).  In particular the Southern Cross was not identified as a group or a constellation until about the middle of the fifteenth century when European explorers sailed down the west coast of Africa and the southern stars came into prominent view. It was the Portuguese who developed mathematical rules for obtaining the latitude of a place from observing the Southern Cross. The idea that the upright Southern Cross was some magical idea that automatically occurred to anyone who looked at the main stars of the Cross is false. (The Te Ara map mentions the upright Southern Cross.) This fact was found to be useful well after it was proved that the earth is a sphere, has an equator, and a north and south pole. The Melanesian man Mau Piailug and his associates have leap-frogged over the five thousand years or more of eastern and western scientific discoveries. What I am saying is that they have made use of all the hard-gained earlier information and claimed it as their own. Of course any intelligent interested person of any race who had associated with western or eastern navigators would have picked up this vital information. Native races in the Pacific and south-east Asia were doing this as soon as European navigators entered their waters early in the 16th century. Replica voyages are useless for proving anything because the crew members already know the basic principles of geodesy, geography and details of the constellations.

Having criticised  the illustration of the compass as false I would like to point out that there is a tradition of south-west Pacific people navigating by southern stars. One of the early overland explorers reported this back to Europe; I am not sure without checking whether it was Marco Polo, de Conti or Varthema but it is in one the narratives of their journeys. But here again we run into the problem that the Te Ara writers  writers are lumping all navigation under the one heading. It is so important to refer to navigation in coastal waters or short distance navigation or long-distance navigation. They are separate subjects. The Phoenicians, Arabs, Chinese and Mediterranean people were experts at coastal navigation (that is they never ventured out of the sight of land or too far from the sight of land). The most skilled experts the world has ever known at short-distance navigation were the Polynesians. The early Polynesians were steering way out into the unknown expanses of the Pacific Ocean while Europeans, Mediterranean mariners, Arabs, and Chinese navigators were still hugging coastlines. However, overall none of these early people were capable of long-distance navigation. (that is finding a remote island - say over 500 km from their homeland - returning home and then relocating it - there is no proof whatever that any did - the rules of logic dictate that  it is up to the theorists to prove that they did and to date there is not a scrap of evidence in support of this theory). I am not denying that early Polynesians used the stars to guide them in navigating short distances and the star map may very well include information that would assist in short-distance navigation. European navigators started to solve the long-distance navigational problems in the middle of the 15th century. One further point is the use of degrees. The idea of dividing the circle into 360 degrees dates back at least to the time of the Babylonians and is associated with the sexigesimal numbering system (60s). There is no evidence that any of the eastern or western numbering systems reached Polynesia. They had their own numbering system and it didn't operate with 360 degrees in a circle. So this degree business shown in the illustration must also have been picked up by Mau Piailug from a western or eastern mariner. In summary the diagram is misleading, and has no place in a serious history of Polynesian navigation..

That it is possible for an astute and experienced sailor of any race today to find his approximate latitude at sea without scientific equipment is not surprising, since every modern mariner knows the basic geographical, astronomical, and mathematical principles and is aware of the precise latitude of his departure point. He also knows the principles for making a basic angle-measuring device. Every proficient sailor has studied charts and navigation theory and is most likely familiar with the night sky in both the northern and southern hemispheres. He is aware of the apparent diurnal movement of the heavenly bodies caused by the earth rotating slowly and uniformly about its polar axis. Wherever he is, he has a rough idea of the answers to many of the questions relating to position finding.

In regard to the north/south axis from the Pole Star (x Ursa Minoris) to the upright Southern Cross. There are parts of the central Pacific Ocean where both the Southern Cross and the Pole Star are at times visible simultaneously but without knowledge of latitude and lacking the compass it would have been beyond the ability of Polynesians to appreciate the facts, which are useful and obvious today. In any case the exact relationship across the hemispheres is not straightforward.

The earliest known reference to the interesting fact of the north/south axis from the Pole Star to the Southern Cross is recorded in the Tratado da ulha de ma.rear de Joao de Lisboa of 1514.

The Tasman "Bonaparte" map.
It is often claimed that the Tasman "Bonaparte" map (the original map is preserved in the Mitchell Library, Sydney - the reproduction here is of a facsimile.) The map  was not prepared in Tasman's time and under Tasman's direction. In fact recent publications persist with this argument. (A larger image can be found with a note on the map under Section F. Go via the Contents.)

The two leading authorities on this subject are Schilder and Sharp. Both agree that the map was not prepared by Tasman or under his direction and was made around 1695.

References: Andrew Sharp, The voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman, Oxford: Clarendon, 1968, Günther Schilder, Australia unveiled, Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1976.

Both Sharp and Schilder argue extensively and quote earlier authorities. I have seen no new evidence which conflicts with the views expressed by Sharp and Schilder.


See my separate article - go via Contents to Section F.


Portraits of Tasman
Portraits are often reproduced purporting to be of Abel Janszoon Tasman and also Tasman and his wife and family. One of these is  illustrated here.
Expressed bluntly - these are frauds. There is no evidence that any of these pictures are of Tasman, his wife or his family.

It is known that one or more of the paintings in question originated through a London art dealer in the 1920s. Knowing that there was an interest in New Zealand and Australia in Tasman this dealer kept his eye out for paintings that included a figure who might look like a representation of Tasman. Of course in due course he found paintings that fitted his requirements but they had no connection with Tasman.

The problem is best summed up by Sharp (p.339) where he quotes Heeres (1898).

Authors wanting to give some kind of recognition to a portrait of Tasman could re
produce a photograph of part of the Tasman memorial plaque at Lutjegast, The Netherlands. A photograph of the plaque is reproduced here. Of course this portrait is a fanciful representation but it does capture the spirit of a 17th-century Dutch seafarer. The copyright of this photograph belongs to Mr I. I. Stokroos, Lutjegast.

References: J. E. Heeres, "Abel Janszoon Tasman: His Life and Labours", in Abel Janszoon Tasman's Journal, Amsterdam:, 1898; Andrew Sharp, The Voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman, Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.
Tasman landing in New Zealand
It is sometimes claimed that Tasman landed in New Zealand during his exploration of part of the western coastline in 1642-1643. Tasman's journal makes it clear that no landing was made either on the mainland or on off-shore islands. Readers further interested can check Tasman's journal:- go via Section 1 in the Contents Page.


Notwithstanding the details given in the previous paragraph, interested readers should refer to the article,  Rodiger Mack, "Did Dutch Sailors Land in Wainui Bay on 18 December 1642" (in) The Turnbull Library Record,  volume 217 (2004).
Supposed Portuguese discoveries in the South-west Pacific
There is no basis to claims that early Portuguese explorers made discoveries in New Zealand and Australia. Theories have existed since the time of Alexander Dalrymple in about 1772. There is simply no credible evidence that early Portuguese explorers visited or charted any part of New Zealand or Australia. The main evidence from which such theories spring is the so-called "Dauphin Map" produced in the French map-making town of Dieppe in the sixteenth century. This shows the world as then known with most continents recognizable against modern maps. However, south-east of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula lies an odd-shaped continent named "Jave la Grande" and various writers have attempted to show that this represents the western, northern and eastern shores of the Australian continent, and consequently demonstrates that Europeans visited the east coast of Australia. Islands shown to the east are sometimes claimed to represent the islands of New Zealand. Another piece of so-called evidence is the story that Christovao de Mendonca sailed down the east coast of Australia in 1521 but here again romance has exceeded fact. Mendonca sailed east from Malacca near the southern tip of the Malay peninsula in 1521 but that is all that is known. This slender piece of evidence has been theorised into a supposed voyage down the Australian east coast and has been seized upon by the romancers and presented as fact whereas it must remain a theory unsupported by credible evidence. The best explanation of the problem is given by Andrew Sharp in his 1963 book The discovery of Australia (Clarendon). Also the overall theory has been debunked by the Australian scholar W. A. Richardson. Old brass cannon found in Australia have sometimes been claimed as evidence of earlier Portuguese contact but recent studies have shown that these cannon originated in South-East Asia and were no doubt brought to Australia by Indonesian trepangers in earlier times.

It is often claimed that the name Aotearoa is the original Maori name for New Zealand. However, there is no evidence to support a view that Maori had a name for the whole country. In fact the evidence is to the contrary. James Cook found names for the main islands but not a name for the whole country. Dumont d'Urville summed up the naming problem when he wrote that Maori had a name for every rock, islet, island, stream, river, hill and mountain etc but did not have names for islands or islets or features collectively. The name Aotearoa is a concocted name that dates from the latter part of the nineteenth century. (See also my page on the naming of New Zealand: follow the link to the Contents Page to Section K.)

It is often claimed that another race arrived at or settled in New Zealand before the ancestors of the Maori. Some authors become mixed up with the name of the settlers of the Chatham Islands who are known as Moriori. There is no evidence that a different race arrived before the Maori. Please see my explanation on the page entitled "Migrants without descendants - New Zealand's first settlers " Click here. Very briefly - the ancestors of the Maori as well as other Eastern Polynesian people arrived in New Zealand in stages. In effect there were earlier settlers than the ancestors of the Maori but they all came from the same homeland or nearby islands in Eastern Polynesia. So-called evidence left by an "earlier" race of people is unsound and misleading.
- Brian Hooker, June 2002.
Early Spanish contact
Claims are made from time to time that a Spanish helmet found in early European times in Wellington Harbour is  evidence  of an early visit by Spanish navigators. New Zealand was in fact within the Spanish hemisphere of influence as determined by the 15th-century Treaty of Tordesillas but New Zealand is located too far to the south for any possible Spanish exploration. Most Spanish voyages kept within a band of approximately latitude 20o north to approximately 20
o south. There were enough mutinies, disasters and losses within this central area without thinking that the poorly-designed and usually ill-equipped vessels could venture as far south as New Zealand where the most northern part is in about 34o 30' south. Parts of wrecks that have been found around New Zealand's coastline are unlikely to be the remains of either Spanish or Portuguese vessels. Nothing has been found in any of these wrecks that positively identifies the wreck as being from a Spanish or Portuguese expedition. The above remarks do not discount the possibility that some Spanish ships became wrecked on Pacific islands and that the survivors intermarried with Polynesian women. There are numerous records of missing Spanish vessels. This could have happened from the latter part of the 16th-century onward. It is possible that some descendants of these lost Spanish sailors arrived in New Zealand and formed part of the continuing settlement contribution.
Felton Mathew
Felton Mathew was appointed acting Surveyor-General of New Zealand by Governor William Hobson in 1840. With his wife Sarah, Mathew carried out some remarkable surveys in the short time he held his appointment. Included in a long list of surveys is the first survey of the town of Auckland. This note is concerned with a so-called silhouette of Felton Mathew. The picture often used in books and articles is reproduced here. The caricature is in fact that of a woman riding side-saddle and is possibly of Sarah Mathew. (Sarah Louise  Mathew (1805 - 1890?) The original picture is preserved in the Auckland Public Library.

George Vancouver
George Vancouver (1757-98) commanded an expedition of two ships HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham when he came to anchor in Dusky Sound on 2 November 1791. The portrait reproduced here has been used as the basis for statues and many illustrations over many years. The painting is preserved in the National Portrait Gallery, London, but has apparently been withdrawn from from display. The authenticity has recently been questioned. The work is by an unknown artist and it is unlikely to be of Vancouver. Vancouver was 40 when he died and the portrait appears to be of a much older man. Readers interested in the problem of authenticity should consult the appendix in W. Kaye Lamb (ed.) The voyage of George Vancouver 1791-1795, (4 vols) London: The Hakluyt Society, 1984.