The fate of the 'Boyd'

Condensed from various sources.
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The 'Boyd' is one of those horror stories of early pioneering. She was a ship contracted to carry convicts and free settlers from England to Port Jackson (now Sydney) in the year 1810. By that date the colony was 22 years old, and Tasmania was just being settled, partly with successful settlers from the penal colony on Norfolk Island.

It was by this time a fairly straightforward process for the migrant ships; the route was known, and the methods for shipping people on long sea voyages without an undue number of deaths were well known and generally followed. Certainly the 'Boyd' had had no particular troubles, except for the fact that her contract was only one-way. If she was to return to England with something of value, or with paying passengers, everyone would be happy, especially as it appears the East India Company jealously controlled the ships in the China and India trade routes.

Shortly beforehand, New Zealand had begun to open up. Every naval vessel sent to Port Jackson on escort duties was also instructed to try and obtain spars for masts and other above-decks hardware, and it was known that the NZ Kauri was particularly suited to the purpose. Unfortunately, New Zealand was inhabited by a war-like people called the Maori, and it was certainly not a case of strolling in and chopping down a tree or two...

Since a number of Maori chiefs had been to the new Australian settlements, and indeed were regularly travelling there, some possibilities existed of negotiating a trade of sorts. Generally the Maori wanted guns with which they could overwhelm their enemies, but of course the British were somewhat reluctant to permit such deals, as they could foresee that they may in turn be subjected to those same guns one day.

An additional problem was that the chiefs who travelled to Australia and beyond were not actually the people who controlled or owned the land and resources of their homeland. They were chiefs by descent, not in practice. This meant that they could not make promises without the approval of their peers or their high chief, back in New Zealand.

It was therefore quite feasible to travel to NZ and negotiate with whoever was in the immediate area of the resources required, and a number of entrepeneurs did so. The 'Boyd' was a vessel on exactly such a mission. She discharged her load of convicts and settlers at at Port Jackson and obtained what cargo she could, plus accepted passengers for the long voyage back to England. From Port Jackson she sailed over the Tasman Sea, around the tip of New Zealand, and down the East coast, entering the harbour of Whangaroa (or 'Wangaroa', as it was commonly called at the time).

It appears that one of her passengers was a Maori named TeAara, or George, as he liked to be called., whose home village was at Whangaroa. Presumably Captain John Thompson had hopes of using this man for negotiating over the kauri spars he wanted, but although TeAara had arranged to work his voyage home, when the time came to do his share with the other sailors, he refused to do so, stating that his health was poor and that in any case, the son of a chief should not do such work. He was ordered before the Captain on two occasions, who directed the boatswain that he be flogged and was to also forfeit his food on those occasions.

Being subject to 'Pakeha' discipline in this way must have caused TeAara to seethe inwardly, but it appears he concealed the deep resentment he felt at having to suffer these punishments and indignities, and when the ship arrived off the coast of New Zealand, he readily pointed out to Captain Thompson the best course to steer to enter the harbour of Whangaroa and where to anchor to secure the best cargo.

The anchor hit bottom just inside the entrance, near the island called Ohaururu, later to be called Peach Island, on which a substantial Pah (fortified ridgetop) and village was established. There were many other Pahs dotted around, usually in commanding positions, such as the large one on the rock Hopekako (St. Peters), and TeAara's own home Pah, which was situated some distance up the long harbour where the main river drained into the harbour proper.

As soon as the ship was anchored, TeAara went ashore and set about detailing his misfortunes and degredation to his father Piopio and other members of his tribe, showing them the ugly weals made by the whip on his back and the marks and bruises on his wrists where he had been tied to the capstan. His wounds bore evidence of the treatment he had received aboard the Boyd, and he demanded utu, or revenge.

Utu, retaliation and revenge for these indignities to a Maori chief was to come swiftly and without warning.

The Pakehas on the vessel had no idea of what was brewing. Their relationship with the Maori appeared cordial, and after three days Captain Thompson was invited to follow some Maori canoes from the up-harbour Pah (presumably TeAara's) up the harbour and into the forest to search for some suitable kauri trees to fell. To be useful as spars, they needed to be poles which were perfectly straight, some 80ft long by 20 inches wide, and due to their size and weight, they would need to be close to the water so they could be floated down to the ship and hauled aboard with the windlass. With his chief officer and three men, Captain Thompson set off down the harbour, closely following the Maori canoes to the entrance of the Kamimi River, where it drained out of the Kaeo valley. The remainder of the seventy or so Pakehas stayed aboard the ship, making the ship ready for the long journey ahead to England.

The Maori's retaliation plan, led by Tipahee, began almost as soon as the canoes and longboats had lost sight of the ship lying at anchor in the distance, and once ashore on the banks of the river, the natives suddenly drew out their weapons from beneath their cloaks and attacked the Captain and his crew members, cutting them down savagely with their clubs and axes until not one remained alive. Their clothes were stripped from their still-warm bodies, the Maori attackers putting on jackets, trousers, shoes and frock coats. While one group carried the bodies back to the village for a tribal feast where they were to be devoured, the others, in their various disguises, waited till dusk before they manned the longboat.

It was nightfall by the time the longboat returned alongside the 'Boyd' when they were greeted by the crew members aboard. Lights would have been shining from the cabins as passengers relaxed while their evening meal was being prepared, yet unseen in the shadows of the surrounding darkness, many canoes were filled with natives were awaiting the signal to attack.

The longboat pulled in and the attackers swarmed up the ladder, their tattooed faces hidden by the disguises. The first death blow was struck by an axe upon the head of the unsuspecting officer waiting for them to come aboard, then the attackers crept around the deck, striking down anyone found to silence them. One of the Maori called the passengers on deck from the main cabin. A woman passenger, climbing the companionway to the deck was the first of many to die. In the carnage that followed, five people climbed into the ships rigging to hide among the shrouds, where they remained until daybreak the next day, while forced to witness the attackers dismembering the bodies below, ready to be taken ashore and eaten.

In the early morning light the people in the rigging spotted a large canoe entering the harbour and coming towards them. It was Chief TePahi from the Bay of Islands, who had come up the coast to trade. Drawing alongside the 'Boyd', he was astounded to witness the scene of bloodshed and carnage that lay before him on the decks, while high in the ship's rigging, English voices cried out for help and to be saved.

TePahi would have been in a quandary. It was not his people who lived in the Whangaroa, and he could not justifiably intervene without risking utu on his own people, plus his party was small compared to the hordes of local warriors already filled with blood lust. It is to his credit that he nevertheless immediately approached the ship. The Whangaroa Maori showed some reluctance to allow this chief aboard the 'Boyd', but knowing that he had some authority in the district they silently watched as he gathered the remaining white pakeha survivors aboard his canoe. Then the situation became tense and uncertain as TePahi ordered his canoe to pull swiftly for the shore, but it was pursued by two other canoes belonging to the previous night's attackers, intent on slaughtering the last few crew members left. The men fled for their lives along the beach after scrambling ashore. Unable to intercede, TePahi watched helplessly as they were all caught, except one, and swiftly dispatched by the Whangaroa natives.

It should be remembered that the attackers were not from those pahs where the ship had been anchored, and no doubt these locals would have been in turmoil as they were torn between the obvious attractions of booty, particularly firearms, and the all too likely prospect of retaliation in the future. It was not their utu, but would these all powerful white people see it that way? Meanwhile Ann Morley was found hiding in a cabin with her baby by TeAara,and was spared and taken ashore. Thomas Davis, the ship's cabin boy, who had a deformed foot, who had run and hidden in the hold during the attack, was also spared. The second mate managed to buy his life for two weeks by making fish hooks from barrel hoops but was then thought to be of no further use and was killed and eaten. Betsy Broughton, the young two year old child of Anne (who was killed during the attack), was taken by a local chief, who put a feather in the frightened girl's hair and kept her for three weeks before rescue came.

TeAara and his people then towed the 'Boyd' up the harbour towards their own pah until she became grounded in the shallow mudflats near Motu Wai [Red Island] and heeled over on one side when the tide went out. Over several days the ship was pillaged of her cargo, while articles such as flour, barrels of salt pork and bottles of wine were thrown overboard, the Maori seeming to have no use for them. TeAara and his men were after the muskets and gunpowder.

Nobody knows exactly what happened next, but it seems likely that TeAara and his father Piopio were the principals getting the firearms and barrels of gunpowder out of the hold and up to the deck where they could be stoved in and accessed. Muskets of the day were fired by the action of a flintlock which ejected a spark onto a pan, thus firing the powder charge in the gun. It appears Chief Piopio was investigating this mechanism of a musket when the spark ignited a nearby barrel of powder.

The resulting blast levelled the decks and killed most of the Maori, including Piopio. Others would have been hurt by the crashing down of the spars and masts, and the ship immediately caught fire. With nobody able to attend it, the fire spread and in due course spread to the hold where there were barrels of whale oil. Soon all that was left of the Boyd was a burnt out hull above the waterline down to her copper sheathing.

A Maori customary 'tapu' was declared on the ship by the marauding tribe.

The feasting and distribution of the spoils from the hold of the 'Boyd' had continued for several days at Whangaroa, while presumably TePahi returned home, for news of the massacre reached the Bay of Islands where the ship 'City of Edinburgh' was loading cargo for her Australian owners under the direction of Alexander Berry, supercargo.

Gathering together arms and men, the vessel made haste for Whangaroa, entering the harbour three weeks later. Loaded with men and muskets, three heavily armed longboats were launched for the journey up-harbour to the pah, which indicates they knew perfectly well who was responsible. The remains of the burnt out hull were examined on the way, then as they approached the landing, Berry handed over command of the rescue expedition to a trusted maori chief named Metenangha from the Bay of Islands tribes, who had agreed to accompany him on the expedition.

Berry's journal of the event, tells how Metenangha went ashore into the bush near the pah and later returned with two of the principal Whangaroa chiefs and several natives who had obviously engaged in the 'Boyd' massacre. They were dressed in canvas and clothes plundered from the ship and approached the party with great confidence.
"Why did you attack the Boyd?" Metenangha asked the chiefs.
"Because the Captain was a bad man."
"Were there any survivors?"
They mentioned a woman, her small baby and a cabin boy. When asked where they were being held, the armed boat-party were beckoned to go up to the main village, where a great crowd had gathered. Several women were walking around dressed in European dress, taken from the ill-fated passengers aboard the ship. Next morning the natives brought up a young woman and her young baby, accompanied by a boy about 15 years old. This was Ann Morley, her baby girl and Thomas Davis, the cabin boy. A Maori woman spoke of the second mate, saying she had not seen him for about a week, unaware of his slaughter. She also told of a small infant she had seen, no more than 2 or 3 years old. Alexander Berry knew this must be the infant named Betsy.

Berry and Metenangha demanded that she be brought to them immediately but were told that the child was being held by another chief who lived nearer the entrance to the harbour. They lost no time in putting the survivors aboard and with the Whangaroa chiefs held as hostages in the leading boat, set off down the long stretch of the harbour. Holding short of the sandy beach, Berry directed the chiefs to send a man ashore with orders to deliver the child directly to them. After a short delay, she was finally brought to the boat, crying in a feeble voice for her Mamma. Her hair was combed and ornamented with a white feather in the Maori fashion; she was reasonably clean and clad only in a white shirt which had once belonged to Captain Thompson of the 'Boyd'.

Having handed over all the survivors from the 'Boyd'' the two chiefs held hostage now demanded their release. In an postscript to his journal of events, written some years later, Alexander Berry related how he refused to release the chiefs until the ship's papers were returned to him. He had placed the two hostage chiefs in irons aboard his ship and spoke to them, through Metenangha, in no uncertain terms.

"If an Englishman committed a single murder, he would be hanged. You have massacred the whole crew and passengers of a ship, therefore you should be shown no mercy. As you are chiefs you will not be hanged, instead you will both be shot!"

Berry sent them below to consider his words, while Chief Metenangha pleaded with him for their lives to be spared. He finally agreed. Calling them before him again, still held in irons with their feather cloak's wrapped around them, they stood awaiting their fate.

"You are no longer worthy to be chiefs" stated Berry,"however, I am not going to shoot you both but will degrade you to the position of slaves."

The frightened chiefs gladly accepted this as an alternative to an execution aboard his ship. Berry related how the two chiefs were handed over to Metenanagh, when they were finally put ashore at Kororareka (Russell, in the Bay of Islands). He was to learn a few days later that the two chiefs had sent word to thank him for his clemency. They thought that he had acted very wisely, for had they both been shot, then their people would have taken full revenge (utu)on the Pakeha.

Five years later, in the year 1814, the Rev. Samual Marsden came to establish a mission in the Bay of Islands. He took with him three prominent Maori chiefs, Ruatara, Hongi Hiki and Korokoro as he had been told of continued conflict between the Whangaroa and Bay of Island tribes which stemmed from the time of the 'Boyd' incident. Marsden had intended stopping off at Whangaroa to ascertain the truth of the matter, for he was worried that TePahi had had something to do with it, and this would impact on plans to set up the mission in the Bay of Islands, TePahi's home ground.

In the event he was unable to sail into Whangaroa, but was fortunate to make safe harbour at the Cavalli Islands, some distance off the coast. He was doubly fortunate, for at that time there was a great tangi (funeral) in progress, and all the main participants in the Whangaroa affair were there, including TeAara himself, who had survived the explosion on the 'Boyd'. For his own part, TeAara was able to explain what had led to the attack, and confirmed that Europeans were not particularly at risk at this time.

This satisfied Marsden that his own plans could proceed, and he continued on to the Bay of Islands. At a later time Marsden invited all the chiefs of both Whangaroa and the Bay of Islands aboard his ship, the 'Active'.

He gave them all presents, and asked them to undertake to have no more wars between the tribes and to live in peace.
"Each chief saluted the other", Marsden wrote, "and then went around to each one pressing their noses together."
They assured him that they would never harm another European in the future."

This sad and gruesome event in the very early history of New Zealand, nearly two hundred years ago, is a reminderof the strong cultural differences that existed between the Maori and the white European whalers and settlers in those times. Today we live in harmony, each doing our utmost to understand and honour the differences between the two races.

Condensed and adapted (with permission) from Anthony Flude's excellent account at his page about NZ history, along with material from Gwyneth Frear and others.