Tuia - Encounters 250: Cook's place names around New Zealand - Cape Runaway

Photo Credit: 83716 Lloyd Homer – GNS Science | Te Pū Ao – All rights reserved

From the very first day Europeans set foot in New Zealand, the advantage that firearms gave them resulted in injury and death of Māori.

The Europeans knew this was going to be a problem before they even set out. Lieutenant Cook’s instructions from the Royal Society had included advice that local people ‘may naturally and justly attempt to repel intruders’. Even if the local people killed some Europeans ‘this would hardly justify firing among them, ‘till every other gentle method had been tried’. Cook reflected in his diary that men who had not experienced such events may not know how they would act in these situations. He commented ‘I was not to stand still and suffer either my self or those that were with me to be knocked on the head’. He (and naturalist Joseph Banks) did express sorrow at the first few violent days at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay.

Unfortunately, Māori did not immediately grasp the damage firearms could do. The Europeans attempted to demonstrate their power, for example shooting through the bottom of canoes, but were not always successful. One instance where they were successful was in the north-east of the Bay of Plenty.

On 31 October 1769, Cook reports that five canoes approached the HMB Endeavour, with 40 men and ‘no friendly intention’. He ordered that grapeshot (small balls) be fired from one of the cannon a little wide of them. When the canoes paused, he then ordered a ‘round shot’ (cannon ball) to be fired over their heads. The canoes retreated to shore and Cook named the nearby headland ‘Cape Runaway’.

Local Māori call the peninsula Tihirau (sometimes spelt Tikirau, including on maps) which marks the eastern limit of the territory of the Mataatua sub-tribe.

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Last Updated: 15 February 2019