British and Australian regret over Cook’s treatment of Indigenous people would go a long way to enhancing understanding of the continent’s shared history
The British government has issued an oh-so-carefully worded expression of “regret” for the killing of Māori in Aotearoa, today’s New Zealand, at the point of first contact during Lieutenant James Cook’s “voyage of discovery” 250 years ago.
Regrets! The old empire certainly has had cause for a few when it comes to the violence it has meted out to the indigenes of the places it took during Britain’s colonial expansion.
For the deaths of a million Irish in the potato famine. For the Kenyans tortured and imprisoned during the Mau Mau insurgency. For the Indians killed in the Amritsar massacre. And, now, for the Māori, whose first contact with Cook’s HMS Bark Endeavour in 1769 was characterised by disastrous violence for the first Aotearoans.
After Endeavour anchored near the eastern bank of the Tūranganui River close to New Zealand’s present-day Gisborne, Te Maro, a senior man of the Ngāti Oneone group, was promptly shot and killed while leading a ceremonial challenge to the British sailors. At least eight more Māori were killed over the next few days in what British history has largely cast, based on the diaries of Cook and others on the Endeavour, as a misunderstanding.
As New Zealand counts down to next week’s 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival there, Britain’s high commissioner in the country, Laura Clarke, made a “statement of regret” about the violent first contact.
“Here on behalf of the four countries of the United Kingdom, on behalf of the people of those four countries … I acknowledge the pain of those first encounters,” she said.
The violence Clarke referred to was stemmed by Tupaia, a Tahitian priest and experienced seaman who joined the Endeavour in the Society Islands and helped Cook and his crew navigate to New Zealand and onwards to the east coast of Australia.