The Monday Excerpt: Tupaia, Banks, and an unnamed Māori trading a crayfish in 1769

The story of the illustration of an unnamed Māori trading a crayfish with Joseph Banks, drawn by the Endeavour‘s onboard navigator Tupaia, is told in a beautifully produced book on Cook’s three voyages to New Zealand.

Tupaia’s only known drawing of New Zealand may have been made during or soon after the visit to Tolaga Bay. On November 1, 1769, as the Endeavour stood offshore, Banks wrote that “at sun rise we counted 45 Canoes who were coming towards us from different parts of the shore; 7 soon came up with us and after some conversation with Tupia began to sell Muscles and lobsters of which they had great plenty”.

The drawing is believed to be the one that Banks described in his letter to Dawson Turner: “He drew me with a nail in my hand delivering it to an Indian who sold me a Lobster but with my other hand I had a firm fist on the Lobster determined not to Quit the nail till I had Livery and Seizin of the article purchased.” (The article of trade shown is not a nail, but probably a piece of cloth.)

Both participants in the exchange appear wary of each other. While Banks keeps a firm grip on his cloth the Māori has the lobster on a string, possibly to avoid it being snatched away from him. The drawing captures a sense of the drama of individual transactions where agreed rules for trade do not exist.

Tupaia’s role as intermediary between Māori and British was critical in the early weeks in New Zealand. During the peacemaking at Tūranganui-o-Kiwa, Monkhouse wrote that “Topia’s name was now ecchoed incessantly”.

At Tolaga Bay, Banks wrote of Tupaia’s conversation with a priest: “they seemed to agree very well in their notions of religion only Tupia was much more learned than the other and all his discourse was heard with much attention”.

Tupaia’s knowledge of Hawaiki, the ancestral homeland of Māori, made his visit a unique event. Oral histories record that Tupaia preached to crowds during his stay, including using a nearby cave (now known as Tupaia’s Cave) during rainstorms. When one of Cook’s ships visited Tolaga Bay in 1773, the people there mourned the news of Tupaia’s death, singing “Aue, mate aue Tupaia” – “Departed, dead, alas! Tupaia”.


James Cook: The Voyages, by William Frame and Laura Walker (Bateman, $49.99) is available at Unity Books.

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