Feb 16, 2009

The Day That Canterbury History Began


The history of Canterbury began exactly 239 years ago with the first of a number of significant errors (among the more recent being that Polynesian folklore constitutes history).

On the 16th of February 1770, the crew of His Majesty's Barque Endeavour sighted what Lieutenant James Cook concluded to be an island, which was duly named after Joseph Banks, the expedition's wealthy Botanist.


Cook's mistake was realised in October 1809 when Captain Samuel Chase, of the sealing ship Pegasus out of Sydney, tried to sail between the alleged island and the mainland. To the far south, Stewart Island was named after the captured former Spanish brigantine's first officer William Stewart, who surveyed that island's principal harbour.

Solomon Levey (1794-1833), a discharged convict of Sydney, and his business partner Daniel Cooper (1785-1853) were regularly sending ships to Banks Peninsula by the mid 1820s. Their crews traded with the Maori at Puari in the bay that still bears the misspelled name of Port Levy. In 1829 Cooper and Levey established a trading post at Puari for purchasing sealskins, pork and flax and there were soon a dozen Europeans living among the more than three hundred Maori at the settlement.

Prior to the 1850 inauguration of the Canterbury Association's settlement there were more than a thousand Europeans living in the vicinity of Banks Peninsula. Among their descendants can be counted Solomon Levey's kin unto the ninth generation.

Comment

Jayne said...

That was a very beginner's sort of mistake Cook made, considering how accurate his maps were (and continue to be).

My theory is that he was having too many late nights, too many games of "I Spy" and was just as human as any one else - he was exhausted.



Canterbury Heritage said...

The fine wines and general standard of luxury enjoyed in Endeavour's wardroom as a consequence of Joseph Bank's wealth and generosity might have been contributory factors to the mistake. However, the opinion that it was an island would probably have come from a member of the crew in the crow's nest.

Bearing in mind that even at Cathedral Square the land is (currently) less than 7 metres above mean sea level, it's feasible that Endeavour passed Banks Peninsula on a low tide, without sailing far enough into Pegasus Bay to ascertain the lie of the land in the vicinity of New Brighton.


kuaka said...

From Cook's Journal:

"At 8 o’Clock we had run 11 Leagues since Noon, when the land extended from South-West by West to North by West, being distant from the nearest shore about 3 or 4 Leagues; in this situation had 50 fathoms, a fine sandy bottom. Soon after this it fell Calm, and continued so until 6 A.M., when a light breeze sprung up at North-West, which afterwards veer’d to North-East. At sun rise, being very Clear, we plainly discover’d that the last mentioned land was an Island by seeing part of the Land of Tovy-poenammu open to the Westward of it, extending as far as West by South.... This Island which I have named after Mr. Banks, lies about 5 Leagues from the Coast of Tovy poenammu..."

Captain Cook's Journal during his first voyage round the world made in H.M. Bark “Endeavour” 1768-71 (Link opens in a new window).



Canterbury Heritage said...

Cook's estimate would have placed Bank's 'island' 24 kilometres off the coast.



Image credits: detail from James Cook's map of the South Island (
nzhistory.net), Endeavour replica off the Lyttelton Heads on the 16th of February 1996.

5 comments:

Jayne said...

That was a very beginner's sort of mistake Cook made, considering how accurate his maps were (and continue to be).
My theory is that he was having too many late nights, too many games of "I Spy" and was just as human as any one else - he was exhausted.

Canterbury Heritage said...

The fine wines and general standard of luxury enjoyed in Endeavour's wardroom as a consequence of Joseph Bank's wealth and generosity might have been contributory factors to the mistake. However, the opinion that it was an island would probably have come from a member of the crew in the crow's nest.

Bearing in mind that even at Cathedral Square the land is (currently) less than 7 metres above mean sea level, it's feasible that Endeavour passed Banks Peninsula on a low tide, without sailing far enough into Pegasus Bay to ascertain the lie of the land in the vicinity of New Brighton.

Jayne said...

Ahhh, now I'm with you.
Yes, I can see how it would be an easy assumption to make.

kuaka said...

From Cook's Journal:

"At 8 o’Clock we had run 11 Leagues since Noon, when the land extended from South-West by West to North by West, being distant from the nearest shore about 3 or 4 Leagues; in this situation had 50 fathoms, a fine sandy bottom. Soon after this it fell Calm, and continued so until 6 A.M., when a light breeze sprung up at North-West, which afterwards veer’d to North-East. At sun rise, being very Clear, we plainly discover’d that the last mentioned land was an Island by seeing part of the Land of Tovy-poenammu open to the Westward of it, extending as far as West by South.... This Island which I have named after Mr. Banks, lies about 5 Leagues from the Coast of Tovy poenammu..."

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cook/james/c77j/

Canterbury Heritage said...

Cook's estimate would have placed Bank's 'island' 24 kilometres off the coast.