Tuia – Encounters 250: Cook’s place names around New Zealand - Cannibal Cove

Photo of Cannibal Cove
Photo Credit: 49544 - Lloyd Homer - GNS Science | Te Pū Ao - All rights reserved

The men onboard the HMB Endeavour had heard about the practice of cannibalism from their first stop in New Zealand at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay. Historian Dame Anne Salmond, in her book Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772, demonstrates there was a mix of reactions on board: while Cook was rather matter-of-fact, the naturalist Joseph Banks and Tahitian arioi Tupaia were horrified. According to European accounts, Tupaia tried to convince the local Māori to give up the practice.

After sailing around the North Island [Te Ika-a-Māui], the Endeavour was beached at Meretoto / Ship Cove in Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound. While the crew worked hard to clean and repair the hull of the ship, the officers and gentlemen explored the sound.

A group including Cook, Banks and Tupaia sailed around to the next bay in the pinnace (a small boat). This bay was possibly called Anahou. As they approached the shore, they saw a dead woman floating in the bay and a small group of people on the beach, cooking in a ground oven. Although these people ran away at first, they returned and spoke with the visitors. In the oven, a dog was being cooked and in a nearby food basket, the visitors found two bones that looked to be from a human forearm. Cook traded for one of the bones and asked for confirmation that it was human – which one of the local men said yes it was. When pushed, he indicated that they had eaten the flesh by pretending to chew on his own arm. The bones were from some enemies who had attacked the previous day; the woman in the bay was a relative of theirs, who they had buried by weighing her down with stones.

Salmond outlined the various reactions of the visitors. Tupaia was disgusted and the crew (seamen being a superstitious group) were equally so. Banks, as a natural scientist, ‘was gratified to have proof of the practice of cannibalism’. Cook was as matter-of-fact as he had been earlier. Many onboard the Endeavour obsessively discussed cannibalism during their stay at Tōtaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound.

The bay was labelled by Cook and several others as ‘Canibals Cove’ on their maps. 

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Last Updated: 15 February 2019