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Saturday
2nd August 2014

The Mercury Bay Museum
& Capt. Cook's Arrival

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The Mercury Bay Museum is located in the old dairy factory across from the Wharf (11A The Esplanade, Whitianga 3510). Its hours are 10:00AM through 4:00M every day (except Christmas; phone them directly at 866-0730 for questions) and admission is $7.50 (adult), $5.00 (seniors & students), $0.50 (children 5-16) anr $15.00 (families).

The Museum offers a book by Janet Riddle, a local resident, which is an authoritative book on the history of Mercury Bay entitled "Saltspray and Sawdust -- One Thousand Years of History in Mercury Bay, Te-Whanganui-a-Hei." Janet has very kindly given permission to quote passages from her book so ...

Endeavour of 1997

HMS Endeavour --
A 1990s replica sailing into Mercury Bay.
© Barbara Pearson -- used by permission.

"Captain Cook Sailed into History"

"Cook sailed with comprehensive, secret instructions, some of which stated: Whereas the making of Discoverys of Countries hitherto unknown. ... You are likewise to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any, and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them, making them presents of such Trifles as they may Value, inviting them to Traffick, and Shewing them every kind of Civility and Regard; taking Care however not to suffer yourself to be surprized by them, but to be always upon your guard against any Accident."(1)

"Under the orders of his country, Cook, with his crew and fellow travellers, found himself sailing up the coast of a strange new land in the southern Pacific ... on Friday morning the 3rd of November" of 1769.

"The wind began to switch to the nor-nor-west in the afternoon, and visibility became hazy, with rain setting in. At 1 p.m. three canoes were seen putting out from the main land toward them containing twenty one warriors, darker in complexion than those further south, and after parading about for a little while they darted two pikes at us, the first was at one of our men as he was going to give them a rope thinking that they were coming on board, but the second they throw'd into the ship, the fireing of one Musquet sent them away. Each of these Canoes were made out of one large tree and were without any sort of ornament, (2) in contrast to those he saw to the south, and the people in there were mostly quite naked." (3)

"Cook had a special reason for putting into the Bay. He was hoping to find a good harbour to observe the Transit of Mercury, which was due to occur on the 9th. He wrote, If we should be so fortunate as to Obtain this Observation the Longitude of this place and Country will thereby be very accurately determined." (4)

"Between five and six o'clock on the morning of the 4th, several canoes converged on the Endeavour from all parts of the Bay, containing some 130 to 140 warriors. Well armed with their weapons, it appeared at first that their intentions were hostile, but no attempt at attack was made. For three hours they paddled around the Endeavour sometimes trading with us and at other times tricking us. (5) Some of them came on board. Cook used every method to induce friendship, but all to no purpose. One of the warriors was so elated by his trickery that he, according to Banks, swaggered prodigiously having paddled the boat a few yards from the Ship accordingly a Musquet Ball was fired thro' the bottom of the Boat, & small shot at the offender, which struck him & another who sat next him, on which the Canoe was immediately paddled off & remained about 100 Yards from the Ship, but what was truely surprizing was that tho' the Men who were shot bled a good deal, not one of the other boats went near them, or enquired at all how much or in what manner they were hurt, they returned to the ship & renewed Trade ..." After another trick, "A Musquet was fired after him which fortunately struck the boat just at the Waters Edge, & consequently made 2 holes in her, the People in her & the rest of the Canoes paddled hard, as a finishing stroke to convince them of our superiority a round shot was fired over them & not a Boat stop'd till they got ashore. (6) Cook commented that the great gun was fired, not with any design to hurt any of them, but to shew them what sort of Weaphons we had and that we could revenge any insult they offer'd us." (7)

Cook's Anchorage
Shakespeare Head and Cook's Bay, Mercury Bay with HMS Endeavour
This engraving by an unknown artist appeared in "The Early History of New Zealand" by R.A.A. Sherrin & J.H. Wallace. Brett's historical series edited by T.W. Leys, 1890

The actual site in the picture is Maramaratotara Bay, commonly known today as Flaxmill Bay.

The next day, "before breakfast some canoes converged on the Endeavour, but no trading was done. Banks was interested in one old Man whose name was Toiava (Toiawa) [who] came on board, he seemed to be the chief both to Day & Yesterday but in all the transactions of Yesterday he was observed to behave sensibly & well laying in a small Canoe always near the Ship, & at all times speaking civily to those on board, with some persuation he ventured down into the Cabin & presents Cloth, Iron &c given him, he told us that the Indians now were very much afraid of us, we promis'd friendship if they would supply us with provisions at their own price." (8)

" Toi-awa informed them that they were often visited by raiding parties from the north and south, who stripped them of all that they could lay their hands on, and at times made captives of their wives and children, and that, being ignorant who the English were after their first arrival, the natives had been much alarmed, but were now satisfied of their good intentions. With his help successful trading was carried out ..." (9) and Cook and Banks made their astronomical observations of the Transit of Mercury -- hence Mercury Bay.


(1) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from Beaglehole, pp. cclxxxii, cclxxxiii, by special permission of the Hakluyt Society ©.

(2) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Sir Joseph Banks in New Zealand," edited by WP Morrell, p.68.

(3) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Cook's Journals," Beaglehole, p. 192, by special permission of the Hakluyt Society ©.

(4) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Cook's Journals," Beaglehole, p. 193, by special permission of the Hakluyt Society ©.

(5) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Cook's Journals," Beaglehole, p. 193, by special permission of the Hakluyt Society ©.

(6) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Sir Joseph Banks in New Zealand," edited by WP Morrell, p.69.

(7) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Cook's Journals," Beaglehole, p. 193, by special permission of the Hakluyt Society ©.

(8) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Sir Joseph Banks in New Zealand," edited by WP Morrell, p.70.

(9) Used by permission of Janet Riddle, bold-italic quote from "Whitianga," by A.L. Lee, p.16


"Saltspray and Sawdust" begins with a Maori history, finishes the description of Cook's first encounter with the "Natives," and brings you through the timber, mining and flax periods to modern times. It is a hardbound book, beautifully illustrated and well worth it's price. It can be purchased for NZ$59.95 at the Museum or write to:

Janet Riddle
% Gumtown Publishers
125 Hodges Road
Coroglen, RD 1
Whitianga, New Zealand