Brian Hooker

New Zealand


[© Brian Hooker 2006. The text that follows is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, no part may be reproduced without prior permission.]


The first traverse of Rangitoto Channel and Tamaki Strait by a European vessel - 1820


Brian Hooker

The only known details of events surrounding the first traverse of Rangitoto Channel and Tamaki Strait, by a European vessel, are brief references contained in Richard Alexander Cruise’s book, Journal of a ten months’ residence in New Zealand (London, 1823). Cruise commanded a military detachment on HMS Dromedary when she came to New Zealand in 1820 with Samuel Marsden on board. The Dromedary was accompanied by the New South Wales government schooner Prince Regent under the command of John Rodolphus Kent.


Cruise’s narrative is not easy to follow and a modern reprint with explanatory notes fails to expand on the Waitemata Harbour diversion. As well, many of the terms and the spelling of Maori names have a tendency to confuse the reader.


The Royal Navy Store Ship  Coromandel  had earlier sailed from the Bay of Islands to the peninsula that now bears her name in search of kauri spars and because of the length of time she was away concern was expressed for her safety. In August the Prince Regent was dispatched to the Firth of Thames (notice the Scottish term in the accompanying map: “Frith of Thames”) in search of the Coromandel. Kent was joined by Cruise as a passenger.


In his journal, Cruise records events as the Prince Regent proceeded south towards the Waitemata-Tamakimakaurau area. Part of an entry for 20 August 1820  reads:


In his journal, Cruise records events as the Prince Regent proceeded south towards the Waitemata-Tamakimakaurau  area. Part of an entry for 20 August 1820  reads:

The  Barrier Islands were passed during the night; and the course of the vessel was now directed by Witi, who undertook to pilot her to the Coromandel.

At this period the Hauraki Gulf was usually referred to as the River Thames; this being the name given in 1769 by James Cook during his circumnavigation of New Zealand in the Endeavour. Cook did not have time to investigate the western side of the Gulf.


Witi, a Hokianga chief, reasoning that no one on board the Prince Regent knew where the Coromandel  might be, advised Kent that he did not intend approaching the Coromandel Peninsula by the usual way of rounding Cape Colville. Witi knew of a different route via a series of channels to the west of a chain of islands.


According to Witi these islands were located ten miles eastward of the mainland and about twenty miles parallel to it. Witi thought that by keeping close to the western shore, that is the Takapuna-Tamakimakaurau coastline, contacts would be made with various Maori tribes who might have information as to where the Coromandel was located. Witi thought they would have little chance of encountering the Coromandel by striking out into the centre of the extensive waters of the Hauraki Gulf.


At 9 am on 21 August 1820, the Prince Regent entered Rangitoto Channel from the north with Cruise noting:  …  at first it was not more than three miles broad, but it soon widened to about ten. The mouth of a large river, called the Waitemata, was passed at ten o’clock.


British Admiralty charts soon began to include this term and revisions of charts almost down to the present day display the legend “Waitemata River” – an acknowledgement by earlier Hydrographers of the Royal New Zealand Navy of the part played in early surveys by pioneer navigators including Kent.


Cruise noted that Maori were on the shore and some were in canoes on the water. Proceeding cautiously with the schooner’s boat being sent ahead to take soundings Kent anchored the Prince Regent. But finding the water deepening rather than otherwise he weighed anchor and sailed about three miles further which brought them under the lee of Motukorea (Browns Island), Kent thought this might be a good place to seek information from Maori as to whether they had sighted the Coromandel.


Kent named the passage they had traversed “Prince Regent’s Channel” as he believed his vessel was the first to navigate it. The name appears on some early charts, but is usually changed to “Prince Regent’s Inlet”. Curiously, the French explorer Dumont d’Urville who traversed the same channel in 1827 provided another name for the passage, “Astrolabe Channel”. However, d’Urville, a well-educated man must have read Cruise’s book and known about Kent’s name for the channel. Cruise makes no mention of an earlier Maori name for the passage. Some writers including Admiral J. O’C. Ross and A. W. Reed consider it unfortunate that Kent’s name “Prince Regent’s Channel” fell into disuse.


Opposite Motukorea is the entrance to the Tamaki River. From their anchorage Cruise noticed the absence of kauri trees on islands to the eastward, meaning probably Motuihe and Waiheke while the mainland to the west was low, flat and almost bare of timber.


The schooner had no sooner anchored than several canoes came alongside and two chiefs were invited on board. One of them, Te Tata knew that the Coromandel was not far away and he offered to act as pilot to her the next morning. Te Tata also mentioned that Samuel Marsden had entered the Waitemata Harbour, in a small boat, two days earlier with the intention of sailing up the harbour as far as possible and then walking to the Bay of islands.


That evening a large canoe carrying attractive women came alongside the schooner and Te Tata who said they were “wives” for the white men ordered them to come on board the Prince Regent. Cruise’s narrative continues: 


When they had formed themselves in a line upon the deck, Te Tata walked aft to where the officers were standing, and very politely and individually asked them to select what number of wives they wanted. He seemed much disappointed that this mark of attention and hospitality was declined by those to whom he wished most to show it; and though many of the women found husbands among the other inmates of the vessel, the chief gave himself no trouble about them. They continued to dance and sing till a late hour; and it was generally observed that in the harmony of their voices,  the gracefulness of their movements,  as well as in personal appearance, they had far the advantage of any other tribes we had met with


At daylight the next day, 22 August, canoes filled with amiable men and women surrounded the schooner. They traded potatoes for nails and similar trifling objects. Cruise describes the people in the following terms: 


In appearance … far superior to any of the New Zealanders we had hitherto seen: they were fairer, taller, and more athletic; their canoes were larger and more richly carved and ornamented.


Continuing the voyage, the Prince Regent passed Motukaraka which Cruise describes in detail.


During the morning of 23 August they reached the entrance to Waiheke Channel.  Cruise describes the three passages leading into the Hauraki Gulf with the Prince Regent, taking the most westerly route.


After locating the missing vessel at the harbour now named Coromandel, the Prince Regent headed out on the return voyage to the Bay of Islands on 26 August. The same afternoon they passed Waiheke Island  and later anchored under the lee of Motuihe.


On 27 August they weighed anchor and the wind being contrary to their course for the Bay of Islands they anchored between Motukorea and the mainland.


On 30 August they explored Motokorea and in his journal Cruise describes the crater. Probably the best early description of the Mokoia settlement at Panmure is contained in Cruise’s journal. The Ngapuhi under Hongi later slaughtered these people.


No manuscript charts are known that derive from Kent’s voyage but there is little doubt that he prepared a survey-chart of the Waitemata Harbour. After the manuscript came into the hands of James Herd he delivered it to J. W. Norie the London chart publisher who published it in 1827. (See the accompanying illustration.) Raphael Clint a Sydney printer, well known for copying and publishing New Zealand charts around 1840, issued a version of Norie’s chart in 1839. A print of Clint’s chart is preserved in the Auckland Public Library. □



Note: Clint’s chart is reproduced in the Auckland – Waikato Historical Journal,  No. 69 (April 1997).