Brian Hooker

New Zealand


©  Brian Hooker 2006.


Early Pacific ships and personalities


Brian Hooker


[Further items to follow]

© 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 illustrations must not be copied and in examples where the item is unique the copyright belongs to the holder of the original item.

NB1. The arrangement is not in any particular order.

Thursday Christian (born 1780)

Thursday October Christian, son of Fletcher Christian, leader of the Bounty mutineers in 1789, changed his name from Friday, following contact with the outside world. Mayhew Folger of the American sealer Topaz discovered the settlement at Pitcairn on 6 February 1808, It was revealed to him that his father had failed to allow for the crossing of the International Date Line, when he sailed the Bounty eastward from the scene of the mutiny near Tonga, to Pitcairn Island. The settlers were obliged to deduct a day from their calendar. (See my essay on the voyaging of the Bounty after the mutiny - go to the contents page and scroll down to the title "Down with Bligh - Hurrah for Tahiti" in Section C.


Although the Prime meridian at Greenwich was not finally adopted until 1884, Christian knew about the 180th meridian from London, which passed over the Pacific east of New Zealand. Obviously he decided to ignore this irregularity in his calendar. Thursday Christian was the first child born on Pitcairn. His mother was Mauatua, a Tahitian. Like all the descendants he was bi-lingual and according to the earliest visitors he spoke English similar to that of England in the time of George II, and Tahitian of the period of the mutiny.

The Stella

The New Zealand Marine Department played an important part in early surveys in New Zealand waters. In the 1870s, Captain R. Johnson carried out surveys in the Government Steamer Stella. Captain Johnson became the first head of the Marine Section of the Customs Department which-was the predecessor of the Marine Department. In 1878, Captain Johnson's administrative duties included that of Secretary of marine and Nautical Adviser. The New Zealand maritime historian John O' C. Ross mentions in his review of surveys published in 1969 that Captain Johnson surveyed in the following areas: Manukau, Kaipara, and Hokianga Harbours. In 1882 he was surveying off Nelson, and in 1885 he was surveying in the Stella in Palliser Bay and Cook Strait.

Anchors lost and found at Doubtless Bay, 1769-1974

The French vessel St Jean Baptiste, under the command of Jean de Surville, sighted land on 12 December 1769, south of Hokianga Harbour. De Surville then sailed north, doubled the northern tip of New Zealand on 17 December and headed down the east coast of Aupouri Peninsula, to enter Doubtless. Bay. At the same time James Cook in the Endeavour was trying to round northern New Zealand from east to west but the two explorers passed without sighting each other. The voyage was a trading enterprise that originated from India. The visitors stayed a fortnight before sailing east. During a storm on 27 December several anchors were lost. Recovery of two anchors by Kelly Tarlton in 1974 provided two museums, Kaitaia and the National Museum, Wellington, with New Zealand's earliest European relics. According to a note written by Kelly Tarlton in 1977 one anchor remains on the seabed. - For details of the De Surville memorial plaque at Whatuwhiwhi - access my article in Section K through the contents page.
No room for error - Dumont d'Urville's traverse of
French Pass in 1827
In command of the French corvette Astrolabe, the explorer, J. S. C. Dumont d'Urville sighted the west coast of the South Island in the vicinity of the Grey River, on 10 January 1827. He then headed north, rounded Farewell Spit and prepared to closely examine Tasman Bay. After anchoring the ship and climbing a hill, d'Urville saw across Tasman Bay on the eastern  side, a deep opening that made him suspect that a passage existed through to Admiralty Bay. At enormous risk, after two unsuccessful attempts, d'Urville sailed the Astrolabe through the narrow gap on 28 January and named the channel "Passe de Francais." His officers insisted that the island revealed be named D'Urville Island. The dramatic event as the Astrolabe traversed the passage is captured in the engraving after L.A. de Sainson's sketch, reproduced above right. De Sainson produced a number of drawings as the Astrolabe proceeded north to leave the vicinity of New Zealand on 18 March 1827.
The Heemskerck off Cape Foulwind, 1642
Abel Tasman, the European discoverer of New Zealand, sighted the west coast in the Hokitika-Abut Head area around noon on 13 December 1642. (See my pages entitled "Abel Tasman's journal" this web site - go via contents above to Section A.) Tasman shaped his course northward and followed the coast until on 6 January 1643 he left the vicinity of northern New Zealand and headed northeast. He made further discoveries in the Tonga and Fiji Islands. The Heemskerk, probably named after a village in the Netherlands, was a three-master and the flagship of Tasman's 1642-1643 expedition. She was a small pinnace of war of 60 lasts burden (120 tons) and sailed with a crew of sixty men. The view illustrated is of the Heemskerck and Zeehaen with Tasman's "Conspicuous Point", now named Cape Foulwind in the background. The "Continent" in the title in this English-captioned version relates to the fact that Tasman was unsure about the extent of the land.

Alvaro de Mendaña (1541-1595), Spanish discoverer
Adventurers had pondered from earliest times the whereabouts of "Ophir", but had little to guide them except references stating that King Solomon had obtained gold in Biblical times from this unidentified location to build the temple at Jerusalem. A Spanish expedition set out from Callao, Peru, under the leadership of 25-year-old Alvaro de Mendaña, in late 1567 to search for Solomon's gold and also a supposed southern continent in the Pacific. The expedition consisted of two vessels Los Reyes and Todos Santos. Mendaña steered a west-southwest course for twenty-six days by which time he expected to find land. Mendaña missed the scattered islands of Polynesia but on l5 January 1568 he discovered a small atoll in Tavalu. Eventually, on 7 February 1568, he arrived at an island, now named Santa Isabel, in the centre of the Solomon Islands. Mendaña's expedition spent six months exploring the Solomon Islands before heading back across the Pacific to Peru.

Ferdinand Magellan (c.1480-1521), pioneer circumnavigator.
Ferdinand Magellan, commander of the first expedition to reach the East by sailing west was born in Oporto, northwest Portugal, of a noble family. As a young man he spent some time in the East and reached a point by voyaging east in 1511, which was later, overlapped by his voyaging west in 1521. Magellan returned to Portugal as a veteran sailor before 1517, expert in navigation, and with a plan for reaching the Moluccas, or Spice Islands by sailing west from Europe. Unable to obtain the King's approval, Magellan renounced his Portuguese citizenship and prepared to serve Spain. Magellan made the pioneer traverse of the Pacific in 1520-21 and at the same time discovered parts of Polynesia. He was killed in the Philippines. At the time of his departure from Spain in 1519 Magellan was described as being dark-complexioned, short in stature, but broad in body, and strong and and agile. The only vessel from the original fleet to return to Spain was the Victoria. (See the illustration on my Home Page.)

Louis Isidore Duperrey (1786-1865)
A Parisian, Isidore Duperrey joined the French navy at the age of sixteen. His first major voyage was when he sailed with the rank of ensiegne - broadly equivalent to lieutenant in the Royal navy. On his return he was commissioned as lieutenant de Vaisseau. On 3 April 1824, the French corvette Coquille, commanded by Duperrey, anchored in Manawaora Bay, Bay of Islands Duperrey and his officers received a considerable amount of geographical information about New Zealand during their stay. The Coquille left the Bay on 17 April for further exploration in the Pacific. The Coquille was later renamed l'Astrolabe. (See the illustration above.)
Thomas McDonnell (1788-1864) and the Tui
Thomas McDonnell (1788-1864) owned the Tui but it is unlikely that he sailed in the schooner further than northern parts of the North Island. Perhaps McDonnell investigated as far as the area of the entrance of the Mokau River, which he named "Tui Bay" in the chart he compiled for James Wyld I at London, in 1834. McDonnell, a former lieutenant in the Royal Navy purchased a shipbuilding yard at Horeke, Hokianga, in 1831. He is often credited with having visited many parts of New Zealand but his highly inaccurate chart suggests the improbability of his having done this. The sketch reproduced here is based an inset drawing in a chart of Kaipara Harbour compiled by McDonnell and published at London around 1840. James Lowrington commanded the Tui at the time. The sketch was done in either late January or early February 1836.
George Vancouver (1757-98) English navigator and explorer.

Vancouver sailed with Cook on his second and third voyages and promoted to captain in 1794, carried out survey work in Australia, New Zealand, and North America Vancouver commanded and expedition of two ships HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham when he came to anchor in Dusky Sound, on 2 November 1791. Vancouver had not planned to visit New Zealand but south of Tasmania he became concerned about the health of his crew and decided to call at Dusky Sound in search of fresh provisions. During a three-weeks stay, Vancouver carried out surveys before sailing from New Zealand in mid-November. The authenticity of his portrait held in the National Portrait Gallery, London, has been questioned but copies and reproductions are scattered all over the world and the likeness has been repeated in a number of statues of Vancouver. Vancouver died at the age of forty in 1798 and the portrait by an unknown artist could be of an older man. (See "False claims" in Section K - go via contents above).

HM Steam Ship Acheron, 1848.

The first comprehensive survey in New Zealand waters was carried out by the Royal Navy between 1848 and 1855 by HM steam ship Acheron, and HM brig Pandora. The Acheron was commanded by John Lort Stokes. The Acheron was a barque rigged, five-gun, paddle-wheel sloop of 722 tons, which had been launched at Sheerness, Kent, in 1835. She was 45 metres long, had a beam of 10 metres and was the first surveying vessel in New Zealand waters to be fitted with auxiliary power - an engine developing 170 hp. This proved of particular value in New Zealand where the prevalence of high winds is always prejudicial to surveying. The charts published by the Hydrographic Office, London, resulting from the surveys of the Acheron and Pandora, are, collectively, one of the great scientific achievements relating to New Zealand. Acheron Passage, which links Dusky and Breaksea Sounds honours the name of this early surveying vessel. □