First contact between Southern Māori and Captain Cook to be depicted in latest He Waka Tuia exhibition Tamatea

He Waka Tuia’s latest exhibition will commemorate the 250th anniversary of first contact between Southern Māori and explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook.

Tamatea, which starts on 26 March, marks the time between the same date in 1773 and 11 May 1773, when the crew of the Resolution sheltered in Tamatea and began to explore the area – coming into contact with Māori.

The exhibition is named after Tamatea, the first name associated with the area known today as Dusky Sound.  Tamatea was the captain of the Takitimu which landed ashore in Te Rua-o-te-Moko (Fiordland) marking the start of the first human interaction in the landscape.

The exhibition will include many different pieces of art, including William Hodges Māori by a waterfall, 1773, the earliest painterly depiction of Māori in Murihiku,

The Hodges painting was purchased by the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Trust Board in 1998 to commemorate the 225th anniversary of first Southern contact.

Manager Museum and Heritage Services Wayne Marriott said the exhibition was the chance to tell an important story that wasn’t necessarily widely known.

“Everyone knows that Captain Cook landed in Dusky, but something I think isn’t well known is the story of the people he met. Unusually for European explorers of the period, the engagement between Tangata Whenua and Cook was completely civil.”

Cook’s first charted the coastline three years earlier, on 14 March, 1770, when he named a potential anchorage as Dusky Bay.  Uncertain if he and his crew would be able to find shelter that night, the Endeavour continued on towards the West Coast, Marriott said.

It was three years later that Cook returned on the Resolution, and entered Tamatea (Dusky Bay) for the first time.

“While there, Cook and his officers spend six weeks surveying and documenting their encounters with flora, fauna and most importantly, the people living in what is now known as Dusky Sound.”

Cook did not acknowledge the local names, instead he renamed all parts of Tamatea after wildlife (Duck Cove), eating (Luncheon Cove), depth of water (Nine Fathoms Passage), or after fellow officers and crew (Mt Sparrman, Pickersgill Harbour, Mt Hodges and Cooper Island for example).

“Unlike other first contacts between Māori and Cook, Tamatea was unique with no loss of life and several reciprocal visits and exchanges being made between both parties.

“However, within 20 years, the impact of Cook’s cartography was apparent with the arrival of the Britannia in 1792 and the beginning of the decimation of the seal population, as well as other natural resources.

“Within the same period, conflict did erupt between Southern Māori and sealers, and later whalers as competition for food sources vs exploitable resources began.

“It is really important to share this history, our collective history – that people understand what occurred during that first contact, and what it progressed into. This first contact marked the start of a new set of stories that set us on the path to the region we are today.  This shouldn’t be forgotten.”

The exhibition runs between 26 March and 7 May at He Waka Tuia.