On the 17th of December 1642. Abel and his crew saw land in the far distance; it was Te Tai Poutini — the west coast of the South Island of NZ. As the Dutch mariner approached the unknown land, he saw a succession of fires burning upon the coastline.
The days that followed saw the first meeting of European and Maori people. It was not a peaceful encounter.
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Hosted by Jessica Rust
Written and edited by Sirius Rust
Music sourced from:
“Arcadia”, “Chanter”, “Errigal”, “Seven Off”, “Sunset at Glengorm”, “Winter Reflections”
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0
The podcast version is the intended way to consume this story but I make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.
HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS
When Christianity was still in its relative infancy, the death of Jesus Christ was the only holiday celebrated. Sometime in the fourth century, between the years 301-400 Roman church officials decided to institute a celebration to mark the birth of Christ. The problem was the Bible did not mention the date of his birth.
It is widely believed that Pope Julius chose the date of December 25th to mark the birth of Jesus to adopt and absorb the traditions of the Pagan Saturnalia festival.
The Saturnalia festival was a celebration of Saturn; the Roman god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. The festival consisted of a formal ceremony in the Temple of Saturn followed by a public banquet, private gift-giving and continual partying.
Many of these traditions were folded into the new Christian festival dubbed: The Feast of the Nativity. The celebrations were a hit; spreading concurrently with Christianity throughout much of Europe over the next five centuries and eventually taking on its modern moniker: Christmas.
Abel Tasman was born sometime in 1603 in the tiny Dutch village of Lutjegast. Some time in his youth Abel relocated to Amsterdam and lived in the lower class neighbourhood of Teerketelsteeg; a place so impoverished no taxes were levied upon it. It was here Abel met Claesgie Meyndrix, the twosome married and had a daughter together.
Abel had received sufficient education to follow his dream of becoming a ship’s navigator; a mariner. Using these skills Abel worked his way up the sailing ranks. During this time, Abel’s wife Claesgie passed away from reasons unknown. Abel married once more in January 1632 to Joanna Tiercx.
DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY
That same year, Abel Tasman was employed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The Dutch East India Company is often labelled as a trading company or a shipping company, but in reality, it was a government-directed proto-conglomerate. A company with multiple commercial and industrial interests; principally the company dealt in trade and production of spices, sugarcane and wine — but had fingers in other pies such as shipbuilding and colonialism.
By the early 1600s, the VOC was issuing bonds and shares to the general public; becoming the world’s first publicly-traded company and laid the foundations for the rise of modern global corporations and today’s current economic model of capital markets.
The VOC was so large they had a quasi-absolute commercial worldwide monopoly; it was the world’s first ‘megacorporation’. How the company maintained that success was more controversial. The VOC was widely criticised for their use of slavery and their dealing in slavery, use of violence and warfare. Quoting VOC’s chief executive in 1614, “Your Honours know by experience that trade in Asia must be driven and maintained under the protection and favour of Your Honours’ own weapons, and that the weapons must be paid for by the profits from the trade; so that we cannot carry on trade without war nor war without trade.”
Initially, Abel worked as a first mate, or second in charge of the ship for the VOC. Then in 1634, Abel was promoted to skipper or captain for the East Indies. That same year, during a minor exploration mission into the pacific; several of Abel’s crew were massacred when they landed incautiously on the island of Ceram. It is possible this was a slave gathering mission, as many of the VOC’s slave workforce came from the ‘Dutch East Indies’, now known today as Indonesia.
Over the next decade, Abel Tasman showed he was one of the most reliable skippers available to the Dutch East India Company. In 1642, Abel Tasman was ordered to explore the “still unexplored South- and East-land”. The company was attempting to discover if there was a safe route across the Pacific Ocean to Chile. Abel was given two small ships for the expedition; his flagship, Heemskerck, and an armed transport ship, Zeehaen.
Abel and his flotilla departed from the Dutch East Indies city of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) in August 1642. After travelling southeast for many months, the crew spotted some mountains on an undiscovered land. Abel named it Van Diemen’s Land after the governor-general of Batavia. The land was what we know today was the southernmost island of Australia: Tasmania.
On the 17th of December 1642. Abel and his crew saw land in the far distance; it was Te Tai Poutini — the west coast of the South Island. As the Dutch mariner approached the unknown land, he saw a succession of fires burning upon the coastline.
The next morning, 18th of December 1642, the two Dutch ships anchored in the bay at the top of the South Island, near what’s now known as Wainui Inlet. Abel sent a flotilla of small boats out to look for a better anchorage and to scout a watering hole.
In the distance, coming towards the Dutch vessels, four canoes paddled out filled with men of unknown origin; they were from the Maori tribe of Ngati Tumatakokiri. The Maori warriors challenged the fair-skinned Dutch believed they were encountering patupaiarehe.
Patupaiarehe are mystical people who live deep in the forests or high on the misty mountains. They are described by Maori historian Maggie Papakura as “supernatural children of the mist … seen in indistinct form in the passing mist. … They are fair, and are clothed in flimsy white like the web of the pūngāwerewere [spider].”
The Maori believed the patupaiarehe motives were sinister and would put their ‘beautiful women’ under a spell, before kidnapping and raping them producing light-skinned offspring called urukehu. This is how Maori explained genetic abnormalities such as ‘albino Maori’, or children born with blonde or red hair.
The belief was the patupaiarehe disliked strong smells, so Maori would paint themselves with ‘smelly mixtures’, or cook food to discourage the beings. It was also believed the patupaiarehe would only attack at night as they were afraid of light.
As the curious and nervous Maori warriors closed in on the equally tense Dutch sailors, one Maori warrior blew a trumpet to scare off the mystical beings. Abel Tasman recorded this moment in his diary, “… After our people had been on board about one glass, people in the two canoes began to call out to us in gruff, hollow voices. We could not in the least understand any of it; however, when they called out again several times we called back to them as a token answer. But they did not come nearer than a stone’s shot. They also blew many times on an instrument, which produced a sound like the moors’ trumpets. We had one of our sailors (who could play somewhat on the trumpet) play some tunes to them in answer.”
Soon after, the Dutch sailors fired a cannon. The resulting explosion scared the Maori warriors off. The four waka fled and returned to shore.
The next day, the 19th of December 1642, a waka containing 13 men returned to confront the Dutch ships. The Maori warriors inhabiting the waka stood and performed what the Dutch described as a “rough loud call”. It was probable that this was a haka, a ceremonial war dance intended to intimidate the enemy.
Abel and his crew misunderstood the intent of the haka and attempted to encourage the Maori closer, “We waved to them many times indicating that they should come to the ships. We displayed white cloth and some knives from what were given to us as cargo but they did not come nearer”.
Eventually, the waka returned to the shore. Abel detailed the encounter in his diary and his understanding of what transpired, “I then summoned the council and we have resolved at the meeting to run with the ships as near the shore as we can come because there is a good anchoring ground, and the people (as it seems) are seeking friendship.”
Before the ships could relocate Abel observed two more waka paddling out to the ships. The Dutch continued to encourage the Maori to board. During this time, a small Dutch boat was launched from the Heemskerck. It travelled to the Zeehaen to warn its crew to be on guard.
As the small Dutch boat returned to the flagship it was rammed by the waka. Maori warriors stormed the boat; attacking its seven occupants, “they struck the Zeehaen’s cockboat with the stem of the canoe so that it lurched violently on the side. Whereupon the foremost in this canoe of rogues, struck the quartermaster, Cornelis Joppen in the neck several times with a long, blunt pike, so fiercely that he fell overboard. Whereupon the rest of them set to with short, thick pieces of wood and their paddles, overpowering the people in the cockboat and in their violence killed three men from the Zeehaen. The fourth man, through the heavy blows was mortally injured. The quartermaster and two other sailors swam towards the Heemskerck and we sent our pinnace for them into which they got alive. After this monstrous deed and detestable thing, the murderers let the cockboat drift; they have dragged one of the dead into their canoe and thrown another into the sea. From both the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, seeing this, we shot hard with muskets and cannon but although we did not indeed hit them, they nevertheless hastened back, and paddled for the land out of shooting range.”
Abel Tasman and his crew retrieved the bodies and boat, before deciding to flee, “since we could not hope to enter into friendly relations with these people, or to be able to get water or refreshments here.”
As Abel and his crew sailed for open waters, eleven waka paddled towards them. As the waka came closer, the Dutch crew observed one Maori standing holding a white flag, possibly a peace sign.
As the waka drew closer, Abel’s men took aim with their muskets — firing on the flag wielder; killing him. With that, the first encounter between European and Maori had concluded. As the ships sailed to safety, Abel reflected on the event, summing up the experience, “We made a resolution the main points of which follow; namely, that the detestable deed of these inhabitants shown to four of the Zeehaen’s crew this morning, is a lesson to us to hold this land’s inhabitants as enemies. Therefore we shall run east along the shore, following the trend of the land, to see whether somewhere we may find convenient places where there should be some supplies and water to obtain, as is more fully explained in the resolution… In this murderers’ spot (which we have also given the name of Murderer’s Bay), we lay anchored in the position we estimated as 40o 50′ S, 191o 30′ E.” Today the area is known as Golden Bay.
The ships slowly followed the eastern shore of the South Island in the coming days, battling high winds and stormy weather. Eventually anchoring east of D’Urville Island on the 20th of December, unable to move forward due to the uneasy weather.
The ships remained anchored while the storm continued; five days passed.
On the 25th of December 1642, the crew feasted on a meal of freshly killed pork and wine. With this, Abel Tasman and his crew became the first inhabitants to celebrate Christmas on the land that would become New Zealand 198 years later.
The next Christmas celebration in the Land of the Long White Cloud would not be for another 127 years. When the Endeavour’s Captain James Cook and his crew celebrated the 25th of December in 1769 battling seas off the tip of the North Island.
The Endeavour feasted on a classic from Captain Cook’s home of Yorkshire, England — ‘Goose Pye’. The Endeavour’s botanist Joseph Banks improvised the main ingredient and used gannet instead of goose obtained off Aotearoa’s northern coast.
Joseph recorded the meal in his journal, “25. Christmas day: Our goose pye was eat with great approbation and in the Evening all hands were as Drunk as our forefathers used to be upon the like occasion.”
The next Christmas would come 47 years later when the first Christian missionary came to the newly discovered land in the ‘deep south’. On the 25th of December 1814, Samuel Marsden preached to a mostly Maori congregation at Hohi Bay in the Bay of Islands. The occasion became the first Christmas service held in the still unborn NZ.
With plentiful European settlers migrating to NZ in the 19th century, they brought with them the customs of their motherland; including the traditional hot roasted ‘Christmas meal’.
As NZ grew, traditions evolved. Roasts were more suited to a northern winter Christmas, many in the NZers in the 20th century began opting for Christmas picnics as a summer alternative. 9-year-old Brian Mytton wrote about his family’s traditional picnic in the children’s section of the Press in 1938:
Today in the 21st century, almost 380 years after the first documented ‘Christmas’ in NZ; many traditions have come and gone in the past four centuries but Christmas Day is still recognised as a day of non-working. A day in which most NZ families and communities get together, share moments and gifts together and participate in a ‘Christmas meal’.
Christmas means many different things to many different people in the Land of the Long White Cloud, but to us here at True Crime NZ it is about spending time with those you love and letting them know how much you care.
With that being said, it has been a pleasure spending 2019 with all you wonderful people. In the last six months, this podcast has existed True Crime NZ has become a little community to us and we would like to take this time to wish every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. With special love sent out to anyone who has had a rough 2019; hang in there, the darkest hour is just before the dawn.
Until next year my friends, peace.
NZ History, Gannet pie for Christmas, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/gannets-at-cape-kidnappers
Te Ara, Story: Patupaiarehe, https://teara.govt.nz/en/patupaiarehe
Te Ara, Urukehu, https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/11075/urukehu
Wikipedia, Saturnalia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia
Wikipedia, Saturn (mythology), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_(mythology)
Museum of New Zealand, The history of Christmas dinner, https://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2016/12/21/the-history-of-christmas-dinner-in-new-zealand/
NZ History, Abel Tasman, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/abel-tasman
NZ History, First known encounter between Māori and Europeans, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/first-contact-between-maori-and-europeans
The Prow, The first meeting – Abel Tasman and Māori in Golden Bay, http://www.theprow.org.nz/events/the-first-meeting-abel-tasman-and-maori-in-golden-bay/#.Xf5c_0czY2w
Wikipedia, Dutch East India Company, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_East_India_Company
NZ History, First Christian mission established, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/samuel-marsden-conducts-nzs-first-christian-service
NZ History, Samuel Marsden’s first service, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/samuel-marsdens-first-service
Wikipedia, Abel Tasman, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abel_Tasman
AbelTasman.org, Abel Tasman’s Journal of his voyage of discovery 1642-1643, https://web.archive.org/web/20160829063757/http://www.abeltasman.org/journal-tasman.html
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Tasman, Abel Janszoon (1603–1659), http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tasman-abel-janszoon-2716
Genealogie Online, Abel Janszoon Tasman (1603-1659), https://www.genealogieonline.nl/stamboom-helmantel/I25050.php
History Channel, History of Christmas, https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas