Volume 1 1892 > Volume 1, No. 4, 1892 > The occupation of the Chatham Islands by the Maoris in 1835: Part III - The Jean Bart incident, by A. Shand, p 202-211
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WHILE the Maoris—Ngatitama and Kekerewai—were waiting at Waitangi for Captain Ray, which, so far as can be ascertained, was in March or April, 1839,1 a sail was seen coming into the Bay. A number of the people went off and boarded the vessel, which proved to be the Jean Bart, a French whaler. Going into the bay she made a board too close in, and stirred up the bottom, but getting out two boats they swung her round by her jibboom, and stood out again. By this time a large canoe of Matioro's called Whakanekekaha had arrived from Whangaroa, bringing across a number of the Ngatimutunga natives, amongst whom were Te Mate-kaipuke, Tatua, Nga-Pane, Toenga te Poki, Te Wharekura, Te Nohinohi, and many more. Arrived on board, they commenced disputing among themselves— whakangutungutu—regarding the vessel. The Whangaroa people wished her to go to their place, while Ngatuna of Waitangi, desired her to stay and trade with his people at Waitangi.2 Evidently their excited gestures—so common to the Maori—alarmed the captain, who invited about twenty of them to go below into the cabin, where he gave them wine to drink, and distributed biscuits to those on deck, and sent to talk to them an English sailor called “Tommy,” who was previously known to Arapata Hakuturi, the only living survivor of that day. Tommy came down in the vessel as pilot, to show the captain the sperm-whale ground. He had been a third or fourth mate on board the brig Bee, which was whaling in Cloudy Bay in about 1832, when - 203 Arapata was a “hand.” He told Arapata that the captain was angry, but Arapata and the others could not understand for what cause. Tommy, together with the steward, had been deputed to treat the Maoris to wine in the cabin, and he (Arapata) took several glasses on deck, passing them up, and returning them below. On one of his trips he noticed the captain standing on top of the boats handing down to the crew, who were close around him, the lances, harpoons, and blubber-spades used in whaling. Arapata could not understand what they were about. Others, telling the same story afterwards, remarked that they did not like the look of the captain and his men, or the getting down of the irons; while others said, “O, they are only preparing the irons for their work at sea.” No sooner, however, were the weapons in the hands of the crew than they made a rush at the Maoris on deck. A thrust was made at Tikaokao, who parried the weapon with his bare hands, and, catching it at the same time in the middle, wrenched it from his opponent, and thrust him through the body, at the same time shouting wlth all the energy of an old warrior, as he was, “Ngatiawa e! kei au te mataika!”—“O Ngatiawa, mine is the first slain!” This was the only revenge the Maoris got at this part of the attack. The next instant he fell dead on the deck, run through by another sailor. At the same time Te Patu-Hapai was run through from side to side with a lance. He rushed down into the cabin shouting, “I am killed.” The Maoris below then raised a shout “It is Ngaitahu! They are in the vessel.” This they said in remembrance of the treachery—in which some of them assisted—on board Captain Stewart's vessel the Elizabeth, when Te Maiharanui was taken at Banks' Peninsula and brutally killed by Te Rauparaha's tribe. Meanwhile the crew were killing all on deck. Three only escaped, who rushed below to the cabin for safety. The French sailors threw the dead bodies overboard; while others jumped over, and were drowned. All this time there was no one at the wheel, and the Jean Bart was drifting broadside on before the wind. On the Maoris first coming on board all the canoes were sent ashore except one small one belonging to Ngatitama, which was towing alongside. While the massacre was going on on deck, one Pirika Te Aue, brother of Wiremu Kingi Meremere, slipped over the side, and got into the canoe. He was too terrified to look up, but lay in the bottom slowly cutting the plaited flax-rope painter, which done, the canoe drifted free of the vessel. As soon as he got to a safe distance, he with the same shell, cut adrift the lashing of a side-rail of the canoe, which he used as a paddle, and with it managed to land at Te Wharau, about six miles away from Waitangi. Here he met his relative Te Kati's wife, who sent her husband with him to Waitangi with all speed to join his relatives there, for, owing to the grim custom which prevailed of killing those who were saved from wrecks in canoes as payment for the lost people, Pirika's life - 204 would not have been safe. Arriving at Waitangi, he at length gave way to his pent-up feelings by shouting the cry for a pa invaded by a taua, and then recited the losses so far as he knew them. Before leaving the vessel, he said it was a dreadful sight to see the men thrown overboard, crimsoning the sea with their blood, whilst others who jumped overboard only came up again to drown afterwards. One poor fellow asked to be taken on board Pirika's canoe, but was not allowed, Pirika assigning as a reason that he would be killed by Te Kati as soon as they reached the shore.

After the French had killed or driven overboard all on deck, they turned their attention to the cabin, taking off the skylights and getting out the glass deck-lights, so as to have room to drive their lances into the cabins and bunks within reach. (At the commencement of the attack on deck, “Tommy” vaulted out of the cabin by the skylight, both he and the steward getting away out of the cabin. The Maoris said, had he stayed he would have been safe, but he was evidently frightened.) The French killed only three in the cabin, and wounded others. Arapata narrowly escaped being run through in a room where he was, among “unbent” irons, &c., the weapon aimed at him just missed his head, but inflicted a severe wound on his lip. Unable to kill any more or dislodge those in the cabin the French, through another English sailor from the Bay of Islands, who spoke some Maori, proposed to cease fighting and made a truce. At this time a young fellow named Toko and a woman named Riha,3 the only ones on deck, and who had been hidden in the chains over the bow, were allowed to join their comrades in the cabin. It was then proposed by the French that the Maoris should go ashore. On asking how they were to do so, they were told they could make use of the blubber-room board as a raft. This they refused to do, saying that the French only wanted to drown them, or attack and kill them as they came on deck.

Meanwhile a little incident occurred which, as in many similar circumstances, changed the aspect of affairs. Te Patu-Hapai (the uplifted weapon) said: “Get revenge for yourselves, as for me I die.” As he died Meremere looks at the upward position of his thumb, and from it drew an omen of success.

Meremere then asked one Tame Kopae, who had been a voyage or two to Sydney and elsewhere, “Where do they keep the guns on board these vessels?” Pointing to the lazaret, he and Arapata replied “there.” They accordingly searched and found four double-barrelled guns loaded, one of which Matioro took and broke. After this they found a single-barrelled one, and then a case with single-barrelled flint muskets, also flints, powder, and ammunition. On first finding the guns they had no powder, but Matioro had some - 205 cartridges, brought with him from Whangaroa, with which they loaded one of the guns. On first finding the guns, one Hakitara startled them all and woke them from their torpor by shouting: “We have found the guns”—Ira! e ta ma! kua kitea nga pu! At this time it was growing dusk, and they noticed the mate going round, apparently to the wheel, on the outside of the bulwarks, and as he dropped down on to the deck Hakitara shot him through the chest. From the way in which he went round outside the vessel it is extremely likely that the French dreaded that the Maoris had found the firearms. As the man dropped, they shouted: “Mate rawa! mate rawa!—“Killed outright! killed outright!” the usual exclamation on the death of an enemy. Upon this the French threw on the skylights and put chains on top to keep them down, but the Maoris forced them up again from below. They also put men on watch at the companion way, who kept up a continual thrusting to and fro all night with their lances to menace the Maoris below.

Shortly after this a woman named Pahi, Toenga's wife, shouted: “They are cutting through into the cabin.” Others said, “Let them cut, and don't disturb them, so that we may see them.” Meremere had at this time another gun loaded, and was waiting for the person cutting through the bulkhead. It was the cooper who was cutting, whilst another man held a lantern. Meremere shot the cooper as soon as he got a full view of his body; the other man dropped the lantern and with a shout rushed on deck. The hatches were then battened down by the French from above. The Maoris got the lantern, then loaded their guns and eagerly waited for the day, having determined to sally on deck and attack the French so soon as morning broke.

Early in the morning they heard a great noise on deck, and the lance thrusting suddenly ceased. Looking out of the stern windows they saw the French going off in three boats—according to Arapata—or four by another account—but as Arapata was on board his story ought to be correct.4 Although a large barque of the size of the Jean Bart ought to have lowered four boats, and had hands for that number, two boats were left on board on the skids. As they passed close by the stern of the vessel the Maoris rushed on deck and fired a volley at the boats, without apparently taking any effect. The boats then went off in a westerly direction, apparently to New Zealand.5 By this time the ship was out of sight of land. The Maoris talked of chasing the boats, but did not do so, finding they had all they could - 206 do to steer and handle the ship. Luckily for them, four of those on board had been to sea and knew a little about managing the sails and steering. Two of them had been across to Sydney and Hobartown in whalers, while others had been about Cloudy Bay and elsewhere on shore whalers. Accordingly, on getting up on deck after the French had deserted the vessel, they first ascertained that the wind was north—the same as when they got on board at Waitangi—and then commenced to beat back to the island, after some time making the Pyramid Islet, or Te Rekokoe. The wind having veered to E.S.E. on the third day enabled them to beat up, and bring the Jean Bart into Petre Bay. After trying ineffectually to get into either Whangaroa or Waitangi, the wind then being east, they made Pohauta, or Ocean Bay, and anchored there, but left the sails unfurled, so that she drifted ashore on to the rocks and became a wreck. The ship was looted and subsequently burnt by the Ngatimutunga, as some sort of satisfaction for the treatment they had experienced and the sufferings they had undergone.

The above is the account given by Arapata, and, as he was on board and helping to work the vessel, it may be presumed to be true. The other story is to the effect that, on anchoring in Pohauta Bay, and feeling themselves safe, Ngatuna said to the Ngatimutunga people that he wished them to land there, as he intended to take the vessel to Waitangi. Whereupon—their safety being now assured—all the old jealousy and dissension between the two tribes arose again. Angry at the proposal, Tauru Matioro, one of the Whangaroa or Ngatimutunga people, knocked out the shackle-pin of the cable and let the vessel drift ashore. Arapata says he neither heard any dissension nor saw the pin knocked out. On the other hand, the story appears too circumstantial to be untrue, and it is possible that as Matioro had been to sea, he might have done so unobserved, and thus give his tribe the subsequent looting of the vessel.

After coming to anchor the Ngatimutunga took one boat, the Ngatitama another. The former broke theirs in lowering it. The second boat was that recovered by the Héroine at Waitangi, Some of the party returned by land to Waitangi, and on their arrival, there was a terrible scene of grief, the residents beating and thrashing those who had returned, while others proposed to kill them.

Not long after their return Captain Ray called at Waitangi, and heard the particulars of the story. He afterwards proceeded to the Bay of Islands, where, apparently, he gave information of the occurrence, and, judging by subsequent events, accused the Maoris of being the aggressors in the sad affair. He might easily have satisfied himself that the reverse was the truth had he inquired. It is uncertain what time elapsed, but it evidently was not long before Captain Ray returned again to the Island, and with him the Héroine, - 207 Captain Cécille, French war-vessel, which remained far out at the entrance of Petre Bay, whilst Captain Ray sent a boat ashore with a message to Ngatuna, who knew him, telling him and others, that he had tobacco to give them.

Seeing that there were two vessels, one of which remained in the offing, and after their late experiences the Maoris were afraid. One James Coffee, an old sealer and whaler, and resident on the Island, warned Ngatuna and others not to go on board, and told them he would go first, and make sure that all was safe. Arapata says he was offered tobacco, and asked to go on board Ray's vessel, but refused, as he suspected something was wrong. Ngatuna, however, with his wife did so, and was immediately seized by a party of French marines or sailors. His wife, on seeing her husband seized, jumped overboard, and was shot dead in the water, her body drifting ashore afterwards at Te Hiti, and was there buried by her relatives. A gun was then fired to denote that this treachery was successful, and the Héroine sailed up to Waitangi, which place she bombarded, firing grape and either twenty or twenty-five pound shot at the place, some of which are to be seen there now. Subsequently the French captain landed a party, and marched up to and surrounded the pa, but the Maoris had already moved off about a mile and a quarter away on to the hill called Tongariro, situated in a south-easterly direction from the pa, where they quietly watched the proceedings. Some of them went to the north-east corner of the same ridge—to Te Ihu—where they also watched what was going on from a commanding point, but numbers of the more timid spirits went much further away, to return only to their seaside habitations a long time after the war-vessel left. After burning everything that could be burnt, such as houses, &c., the Héroine proceeded to Ouira, at the north end of Kekerione beach, firing at it from the sea, and ultimately burning the village. They then went to Whangaroa and Ocean Bay, and burnt all the houses, cultivations, fences, &c., there, the inhabitants fleeing away to the hills. It does not appear at what time the French captain took on board the other natives who followed their chief into captivity. One of these was Tukuwaru, Tikaokao's younger brother, another Ropata Nga Kerenu, and one whose name is forgotten. Ropata still lives. Both he and Tukuwaru returned to New Zealand, but never again visited the Island. Ngatuna, it is said committed suicide in France, grieving for the loss of his wife and people, and his separation from them. Some say that this occurred on his way to take his trial in Court, when he silently choked himsely, unperceived by his warders, by putting a rope or cord round his neck thence to his foot, and pressed it with his other foot—a not unfrequent mode of committing suicide among the Maoris.6

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Thus ended this episode in the history of the Maori occupation of the Chatham Islands. The attack on them was thoroughly unprovoked and the result of misapprehension and timidity on the part of the captain of the Jean Bart and his crew. How the French came to think that the natives meant to attack them no one now can tell. It is quite certain the Maoris were in the possession of no arms whatever beyond the few cartridges in Matioro's pocket. In all probability the cause of alarm was the large number assembled on board, and, as Arapata says, their disputes among themselves as to which tribe should supply the potatoes required by the ship. Having sent all their canoes on shore, had they tried to take the vessel by surprise and been unsuccessful they would have had no chance of escape whatever.7 The treacherous behaviour of the American captain was most unjustifiable in handing over an unsuspecting man who trusted in him as a friend. The action of Captain Cécille was most foolish, to say the least of it, for no steps whatever were taken by him to ascertain the facts of the case before he proceeded to bombard and destroy all the places he could find within reach. By what means he arrived at the conclusion that “E Mare's” people were the offenders, and not “E Tuna's,” as quoted in Sir James Ross's notice of the affair, is a marvel, unless the information was given by Coffee, who, having married into the Ngatitama tribe, was likely to accuse the opponents of his wife's relations. Captain Cécille appears to have taken Ngatuna away under the feeling that, right or wrong, some one must suffer for the catastrophe—a somewhat strange mode of administering justice for a civilised race. It was said by one of the natives that Captain Cécille at one time proposed to hang Coffee, as a participator in the affair, but altered his mind after conference with Captain Ray. Everyone appears to have come to the conclusion that the Maoris were the culprits, without making any inquiry into the truth.

In Brett's “History of New Zealand” it is stated that a certain Captain Robertson, who had served with Lord Cochrane in Chili, called at Chatham Island and obtained “hands” there, but, failing to return them to their homes as promised, the Maoris in revenge massacred the crew of the Jean Bart. From enquiries made I find there was a Captain Robertson who was engaged in whaling in 1831 or 1832 about Cloudy Bay and elsewhere, and that he commanded the Brig Bee, of which Arapata was one of the crew (known at that time under the name of Jack Guard). Captain Robertson subsequntly commanded the barque Caroline, which visited the Chatham Islands, and did ship some “hands” from there—no doubt those referred to—and did not return them, but this never troubled the other Maoris as far as I know. The rest of the story is apparently a fabrication.

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The number of Maoris killed on board the Jean Bart was in all probability about forty.8 Arapata says fifty. At this distance of time it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain the truth, there being so very few now living who can remember the names, of which I have thirty-two on record. It is therefore almost perfectly certain that not less than thirty-five, but more probably forty, were killed by the crew of the Jean Bart. The names are known of thirteen of the Ngatitama, all men of rank, among them—Rangatira kau—and it was this loss of their best men and leaders, coupled with Ngatuna's being taken to France with his companions, which weakened them, and induced the Ngatimutunga to attack and drive them out of Waitangi. An additional cause was jealously on the part of Te Kaea, a younger brother of Ngatuna's, who was afraid that Meremere, owing to his having taken the wife of one Tapiri (deceased) to be his wife, would rise to supreme influence at Waitangi. Te Kaea told Wi Piti Tatua, a distant connection of his, “to take Waitangi as his land.” Weakened, therefore, as above stated, the Ngatimutunga men, ever full of envy, seized the opportunity to attack and drive them out, together with the Kekerewai people living among them.

[To be continued.]


As Sir James Ross's “Antarctic Voyage” is rare, and not easily accessible, it has been deemed advisable to extract from it the following account of the taking of the Jean Bart, as Sir James learnt it when at the Bay of Islands, N.Z.—EDITORS.

He says:—“On the 24th October, 1841, the French corvette Héroine anchored off Korararika, and I had the pleasure of a visit from Captain L'Eveque.… He very kindly supplied me with a more accurate chart of the Chatham Islands than I was supplied with. This valuable survey we owe to the diligence of his predecessor in command of the Héroine, Captain Cécille, while employed in the protection of the French whalers.… Captain Cécille had been induced to visit the islands by hearing from the master of an American whaler, who had recently been there, that a French vessel, the Jean Bart, had been captured and destroyed by the natives and the crew inhumanly murdered. His chief object therefore in going there was, in his own words, ‘to take revenge on the islanders for the massacre of his countrymen,’ and also to afford relief to any of the crew who might be saved. On his arrival at the great western bay of the island he found the accounts he had received were too true; the remains of the burnt ship were still to be seen and one of her boats was recovered, but he could not hear anything of the crew, nor whether any of them had escaped in the boats of the ship. Although his arrangements appear to have been made with great judgment, yet he did not succeed in securing the principal actors in this dreadful tragedy. He, how- - 210 ever, landed a large force, and totally destroyed their pas or forts, and burnt as many of their boats as he could find, thus depriving them of the power of attacking other vessels. He succeeded also in decoying one of their principal chiefs named E Tuna (Ngatuna) and two of his people on board whom he kept as prisoners, and from whom he learnt the following information respecting the circumstances which led to the unfortunate collision with the New Zealanders:—

“The Jean Bart arrived at the Chatham Islands early in May, 1839, and before she gained the anchorage several canoes belonging to two tribes of New Zealanders who had possessed themselves of the island, went alongside. It was about 2 p.m. when the ship anchored in the small bay of Waitangi, upon the shores of which the tribe of E Tuna were established. The captain, frightened at seeing so many savages on board, desired the chiefs to send them ashore. E Tuna gave orders for his people to leave, and many obeyed; others remained to bargain. All the people of E Mare (Pomare), the chief of the other tribe, also remained on board, so that there were still 70 or 75 savages left in the ship. The captain, not thinking himself safe, prepared immediately to quit the bay, and refused to sign some certificate that E Tuna presented to him.

“E Tuna and many others were in the cabin of the Jean Bart when suddenly they heard a great tumult on deck. They immediately attempted to make their way up the ladder, but a number of New Zealanders fell from the deck amongst them, and they then returned to the cabin to conceal themselves, when the skylight was immediately removed; and E Tuna said they tried to kill them with lances and spades, which they thrust into all parts of the cabin. Many of those in the cabin were wounded, and some were killed. They looked about for some means to defend themselves, and found a double-barrelled gun and some pistols in the captain's cabin, but these being percussion, and having no caps, were useless to them. At length they found some muskets and cartridges, with which they killed two of the seamen. The skylight was instantly put on again, and fastened down by the people on deck, and soon afterwards all was silent. E Tuna supposes the captain and crew were alarmed when they found the New Zealanders in possession of fire arms, and had barricaded all the hatchways to gain time to get out their boats and make their escape. He stated that twenty-eight of their men, and one woman were killed, and twenty wounded. He believed that the attack was provoked by the people of E Mare's pa, who wished to get possession of the articles, which the seamen endeavoured to prevent. He said, also, that had it not been for the firearms the Frenchmen would have put them all to death. The fight lasted from two hours after sunset till two in the morning.

“Captain Cécille had learned at the Bay of Islands that the pas of the Chatham Island were placed beyond the reach of the guns of a vessel at anchor. He made his dispositions accordingly, and landed a large force the day after his arrival. The party met with no resistance—all the pas were abandoned. They saw a few of the New Zealanders, who fled to the woods, where it was neither prudent nor possible to follow them. The fortifications were entirely destroyed by fire, as well as some large canoes. They also found several articles belonging to the French whaler, and one of the boats, which was launched and taken on board the Héroine. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon there remained of all their extensive establishments, of a quarter of a league in extent, and which was pallisaded throughout, nothing but a heap of ashes.

“In the meantime E Tuna had been a prisoner on board two days in the greatest uneasiness. He enquired frequently when they would put him to death, but, willing9 to prolong his mental torture Captain Cécille told him that he and his two companions should remain prisoners in his vessel, and be taken to France, where the King would decide their lot.

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“They soon became reconciled, and Captain Cécille, having satisfied himself that E Mare and his people were the aggressors, he contrived to open communications with the people of E Tuna's tribe, and succeeded so far in assurring them of their safety from any further punishment that several of them came on board to take leave of their chief.

“After having landed in another part of the island and destroyed some more pas and canoes belonging to E Mare's tribe, he visited Pitt Island, under the impression that, as only one of the boats of the Jean Bart was to be found, it was very probable that those which were missing had been taken by the survivors of the crew, in which case they might have sought a place of refuge upon the contiguous island.

“E Tuna seemed to be of the same opinion, but as all their searches after them proved unavailing, it is most likely that those who escaped the assault of the New Zealanders perished in their attempt to reach New South Wales, or were murdered by the savages of Pitt Island.”

1  The month is proved by the fact of the karaka berries being red at the time.
2  It is said that Ngatuna, the Waitangi chief (called in the European accounts E Tuna), offered a letter to the captain to read, which he refused to do. It was the custom for captains of whalers visiting the islands to leave with the chiefs commendatory letters for the benefit of the next comer.
3  It is also said that the woman Riha was killed. The second woman on board was Pahi, Toenga's wife; she was saved.
4  Although Arapata has become old and forgetful, in telling the story he denies that a woman named Riha was killed, although well known to others to have been so.
5  Nothing was ever heard of these boats; the probability is that they perished in the stormy seas between Chatham Island and New Zealand.
6  It does not however appear quite clear how the Maoris heard of this part of the occurrence, unless it was through those who returned to New Zealand.
7  It may, however, be urged as a reason for the dread the French had of the Maoris that they doubtless had been informed of the capture of the Rodney, and of her captain having been compelled by force to bring them to the island.
8  Captain Cécille's story to Sir James Ross was twenty-eight men and women killed, twenty wounded.
9   Query: Unwilling.—Editors.