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The three islands which are called New Zealand, 2 are situated between the latitude of 34 deg. 22' and 47 deg. 25' south, and between the longitude of 166 deg. and 180 deg. east.
They were first visited, in 1642, by Abel Jansen Tasman, a Dutch navigator, who sailed from Batavia for the purpose of making discoveries in the Pacific Ocean. Arriving on the eastern side, on the 24th of November, he explored the north-eastern coast, and entered a strait or passage of about five leagues broad,
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(since called Cook's Straits) separating the two northern islands (to which he gave the name of New Zealand) from each other.
Being attacked by the natives almost immediately after he had anchored, and having three of his men killed, and a fourth mortally wounded, he did not attempt to land, but sailed away, after giving the designation of "Murderers' Bay" to the inhospitable harbour.
The islands were next visited by Captain Cook, in 1769 and 1770, who by sailing round the islands, ascertained their extent, and disproved the idea formerly entertained of the southern island forming part of a great continent. Captain Cook, in the Resolution, and Captain Furneaux, in the Adventure, again visited New Zealand in 1773, when they put on shore several animals likely to be useful to the inhabitants. The sheep and goats which were left, perished, but the pigs which were landed at different places on the coast rapidly increased. The present race of wild pigs, which furnish the natives with their principal subsistence, owes its origin to the benevolent navigators, 3 who
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also planted various useful vegetables, very few of which, owing to the ignorance of the natives, were preserved after their departure. The potatoe however escaped the general fate, and the natives have ever since cultivated it with great care, so that it forms a considerable article both of food and traffic between them and the vessels which frequent the coasts.
The following is Captain Cook's description of the climate and productions of New Zealand:--
"The temperature is very agreeable; for, (in February 1777, when he writes,) at this time, though answering to our month of August, the weather was never disagreeably warm, nor did it raise the thermometer higher than 66 deg. The winter, also, seems equally mild with respect to cold; for in June 1773, (which corresponds to our December,) the mercury never fell lower than 48 deg., and the trees at that time retained their verdure as if in the summer season: so that I believe their foliage is never shed till pushed off by the succeeding leaves in spring.
"The weather in general is good, but sometimes windy, with heavy rain; which however never lasts above a day, nor does it appear that it is ever excessive, for there are no marks of torrents rushing down the hills, and the brooks,
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if we may judge from their channels, seem never to be greatly increased. The winds from the south-eastward are commonly moderate, but attended with cloudy weather or rain. The south-west winds blow very strong, and are also attended with rain, but they seldom last long. The north-west winds are the most prevailing, and though often pretty strong, are almost constantly connected with fine weather. The land bordering on the sea-coast and all the islands are thickly clothed with wood, almost down to the water's edge. The trees are of various kinds, and are fit for the shipwright, house-carpenter, cabinet-maker, and many other uses. The most considerable for size, is the spruce tree, as we called it from the similarity of its foliage to the American spruce, though the wood is more ponderous, and bears a greater resemblance to the pitch pine. Many of these trees are from 6 to 8 and 10 feet in girth, and from 60 to 80 or 100 feet in height, large enough to make a mainmast for a fifty-gun ship."
This tree, called the Cowrie Pine, (Dammara Australis,) is now used for spars in the English navy, one or two cargoes being annually brought from New Zealand to Her Majesty's dock-yards. Round the base of the tree, there accumulate large masses of the gum resin, which it exudes;
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this is a very clear and transparent substance, which bums freely with a black smoke, and tastes very resinous. It has been employed as a varnish, and many tons have been carried to America and sold for large prices, being used, it is said, as a substitute for gum copal.
Captain Cook describes the coasts as abounding in fish, "of which article," he says, "the variety is almost equal to the plenty." He found five different kinds of ducks, some of which are as large as a Muscovy duck, with a very beautiful variegated plumage; and of land birds, he found many species, and was no less delighted with the beauty of their plumage, than with the sweetness of their notes. His ship lying at the distance of somewhat less than a quarter of a mile from the shore, he was (on the morning after their arrival on the coast) awakened by the singing of the birds, whose wild melody was infinitely superior to any thing he had ever heard, and seemed to be like small bells, most exquisitely tuned. Upon inquiry, he found that the birds always began to sing about two hours after midnight, and continuing their music till sunrise, they were silent the rest of the day.
The country, at the time of Captain Cook's voyage, was covered with various species of ferns, entirely peculiar to the place. From
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the roots of one of these ferns, the natives obtain food, by preparing it in the following manner.
They dress the root and part of the stalk in a great hole, dug for that purpose, which serves as an oven; after which, they split it, and find within a fine gelatinous substance like boiled sago powder, but firmer. They also use another smaller fern root, which they dry and carry about with them in great quantities, with dried fish, when they go far from home. They beat it with a stick till it becomes pretty soft, when they chew it sufficiently, and spit out the hard fibrous part, the other having a sweetish mealy taste not at all disagreeable.
The plant which is of the greatest value to the New Zealanders, is the flax, (Phormium tenax,) of which they make their garments. It grows every where near the sea, and in some places a considerable way up the hills, in bunches or tufts, with sedgelike leaves, bearing, on a long stalk, yellowish flowers, which are succeeded by a long roundish pod, filled with very thin, shining, black seeds. Its fibre has been found to sustain a greater weight than is sustained by an equal bulk of Russian hemp, and a preference is given to it by nautical men, over any other material used in the manufacture of whale lines or running rigging.
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Before the arrival of Captain Cook, who supplied them with a few iron tools and nails, the only material used by the natives in carving or in forming weapons of defence or attack, was the green jasper, or serpent stone, a species of Jade, which is susceptible of a very high polish, and of which they make axes and pointed spears, which are very formidable.
This stone is esteemed very precious, and is now becoming very scarce. 4
It may be interesting to state here a few of the tenets which the natives held, previous to the introduction of Christianity, as affording an additional proof of the wide extension of the great truths of religion, though corrupted by
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and mingled with superstition and idolatry. They believed the first man to have been created by three gods, and they also believed that the first woman was made of one of the man's ribs, and to add still more to this strange coincidence, their general term for bone is Hevee, which may be a corruption of the name of our first parent. Again, they made it an invariable practice on the birth of a child, to take it to the Tohunga, or priest, who sprinkled it on the face with water, and they believed not only that this ceremony was beneficial to the infant, but that the neglect of it would be attended with the most baneful consequences.
On many occasions, the native mode of expression is emphatically significant. One of the chiefs who visited Port Jackson, and was eventually the means of introducing the first missionaries into New Zealand, speaking of a thief, said, that it was impossible for him to escape punishment there, for if not detected by man, the all-seeing vigilance of the Deity was sure to discover him; adding, "The Etua (God) rises upon him like a full moon, rushes upon him with the velocity of a falling star, and passes by him like a shot from a cannon's mouth."
The language of the New Zealanders is one of the different dialects spoken by the natives of the Pacific Ocean, which all belong to the
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same source. It is soft and harmonious to the ear, from the alternation which it employs of the vowels and consonants, and there are rarely perceptible in it any harsh or discordant sounds.
The natives of New Zealand are superior to most savage tribes in some of the qualities they possess, such as their personal courage, their high degree of intelligence, and their sense of justice. Yet these qualities were clouded and debased by many gross superstitions, and by many of those revolting practices which have rendered them abhorrent to civilized nations. Divided as a nation by the form of their government, they were split into rival associations; who were taught from their infancy to cherish a spirit of ferocious hostility against each other; and implacable vengeance became a necessary duty, to which they were reconciled by habit, while they indulged it without remorse. In his peaceful pursuits, however, the New Zealander, even before the introduction of Christianity, appeared social, cheerful, friendly, and hospitable, disposed to kind offices and faithful to his engagements; but war effected a total transformation in the man, and he then became a cruel, furious, and untameable savage.
The ferocious appearance of the natives was formerly much increased by the practice of
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tattooing, which painful operation they performed with small pieces of bone worked down to an extremely acute point, and fastened at right angles to short pieces of wood. The instrument being struck with a piece of wood, small punctures were made in the skin; but the pain being very great, they could only bear to have a small part done at a time, which generally took up two months to heal, when the process was resumed and continued at stated intervals till the whole was finished. They had also a custom of smearing their bodies with red and yellow ochre, but both these practices are gradually falling into disuse under the influence of civilization.