Tuia - Encounters 250: Cook’s place names around New Zealand - Doubtless Bay

Photo of Doubtless Bay
Photo Credit: Bernard Spragg

On 9 December 1769, the HMB Endeavour sailed past a bay near the top of the North Island. Cook named it ‘Doubtless Bay’, without giving any reasons for doing so. Because of the wind direction, they could not enter the bay and could only just see its end. After passing the bay, the Endeavour headed north and rounded North Cape (Otou) and Cape Reinga / Te Rerenga Wairua in a storm.

Unknown to those onboard the Endeavour, they passed within 30-40km of another European ship: the French Saint Jean Baptiste, captained by Jean François Marie de Surville.

Surville was, in association with the French administrators of the Indian cities of Chandernagore and Pondicherry, exploring the South Pacific. Unlike Cook’s crew, who only suffered lightly from scurvy (as Cook insisted on them eating anti-scorbutic foods), Surville’s crew suffered greatly and one of the reasons to stop at New Zealand was to stock up on fresh greens. They anchored in Doubtless Bay for two weeks. Although relationships were friendly at first, after a ship’s boat had drifted ashore, Surville accused the local Ngāti Kahu of stealing it. He set fire to several whare (houses) and kidnapped the Ngāti Kahu leader, Ranginui. With Ranginui still on board, Surville left the bay, naming it ‘Baie de Lauriston’ after one of his financiers Jean Law de Lauriston.

Surville’s name, however, did not last. Even fellow Frenchman Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville did not use it on his map of 1831. Instead he wrote ‘Baie Oudou-Oudou’, although he kept Point Surville for the southern head of the bay. ‘Oudou-Oudou’ may be a transliteration of ‘Ōruru’, a possible Māori name for the bay.

Other possible Māori names are Tokerau (which now applies to the long beach along one side of the bay) or Taipā (although this was likely limited to the small bay that has that name in the south of the larger bay).


Last Updated: 15 February 2019