Boyd Massacre

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The following article was printed in The Edinburgh Magazine, and Literary Miscellany; a New Series of the Scots Magazine, Vol. II, January - June, May 1818, Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh, 1818:





“CERTAIN philosophers have asserted, that man in savage life presents an image of genuine innocence and simplicity and that all his powers and feelings are then most happily unfolded. Such theories have been confuted in the most decisive manner, by modern observation. Savage man has been found not only stained with all the crimes to which the most highly civilized society is incident, but abandoned to a fury and frenzy of passion, of which even its most depraved members are never guilty. Of this it now falls to our lot to record a dreadful instance. It may be known to some of our readers, that an English vessel, the Boyd, Captain Thompson, (George Brown, Esq., owner,) having sailed from the River Thames on the 10th March 1809, and arrived at Port Jackson on the 14th August, with convicts to New South Wales, - had proceeded to New Zealand for a cargo of timber, when it was suddenly attacked by a body of the natives, the ship taken, and the crew cut off in the most miserable manner. We have been favoured by the proprietor of the vessel with the letter which details to him the authentic particulars of this dismal transaction. It is accompanied with a portrait of the chief who commanded this savage horde, taken when at Port Jackson; and who is here represented in his native dress, and savage ornaments, among which that of tattooing, particularly in the face, is eminently conspicuous. Before proceeding, however to give this letter, with some details completing the account of the transaction, we shall premise a very short sketch of the singular country and nation, among whom this dreadful adventure took place.

“New Zealand was discovered, in 1642, by Abel Tasman, an eminent Dutch navigator, and its coasts were afterwards visited by Quiros, Roggewein, and several others, who all supposed it to form a portion of the great imaginary southern continent, or Terra Australis. Captain Cook, however, in his first voyage, sailed completely round it, and discovered that it consisted of two large islands, called by the uncouth names of Poenamoo and Esheinomanwee. A great part of both is composed of lofty and barren mountains; but many tracts are level and capable of cultivation, though at the present they are left entirely to nature. The inhabitants subsist by fishing, or upon fern roots and other spontaneous productions of the earth. They are, perhaps, the most savage race known in the world. The small tribes into which the territory is divided, carry on war with a ferocity which has no parallel. They reside in small hippahs, or fortified villages on the tops of hills, where they remain in a continual state of watchfulness and alarm. In their combats, the victorious party proceed invariably to that most dreadful consummation, the tearing to pieces and devouring the flesh of their unfortunate captives. In almost every cove where Captain Cook touched, he found human bones lying near large fires, which had been the scene of these execrable activities. Yet the same writer describes their domestic conduct, and that of the members of the tribe towards each other, in terms of the highest admiration. He even represents their deportment as peculiarly mild, placid, and gentle and says that they treat each other with the tenderest affection. The death of their friends and relations is bewailed with the most doleful cries, and they then inflict deep wounds on their faces, till the blood flows down and mixes with their tears. These mournings leave numerous scars, which, with various ornaments of bone or wood, serve, for life, as memorials of those whom they held dear. In their intercourse with Europeans, hostility seems the sentiment first excited, as they can with difficulty conceive any but a hostile motive for coming upon their shores. So soon, however, as they are satisfied that these strangers entertain no hostile intention, and are willing even to do them good offices, they change to a friendship and confidence almost unbounded. These dispositions were fully experienced by Captain Cook and several other navigators, by whom they have been visited. Unfortunately, in the present instance, circumstances occurred, which called forth all the fury of their vindictive nature. What these were will appear in the course of the narrative, which we shall now exhibit to our eaders, veginning with the letter already alluded to, which we copy from the original, addressed to Mr. Brown, the proprietor.

“Ship City of Edinburgh

“Lima, 20th Oct. 1810.

“SIR, - I am very sorry to have the painful task of introducing myself to you with an account of the loss of your ship Boyd, Captain Thompson.

“Towards the end of last year, I was employed at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, in procuring a cargo of spars for the Cape of Good Hope. About the middle of December, the natives brought me an account of the ship’s being taken at Wang Airooa, a harbour about fifty miles to the N.W. At first, we were disposed to doubt the truth of this report; but it every day became more probable from the variety of circumstances of which they informed us, and which were so connected as appeared impossible for them to invent.

“Accordingly, about the end of the month, when we had finished our cargo, although it was a business of some danger, I determined to go round.

“I set out with three armed boats; but we experienced very bad weather, and, after a narrow escape, were glad to return to the ship. As we arrived in a most miserable condition, I had then relinquished all idea of the enterprise; but, having recruited my strength and spirits, I was shocked at the idea of leaving any of my countrymen in the hands of these savages, and determined to make a second attempt. We had this time better weather, and reached the harbour without difficulty. Wang Arrooa is formed as follows: First, a large outer bay, with an island at its entrance; in the bottom of this bay is seen a narrow opening, which appears terminated at the distance of a quarter of a miles, but, upon entering it, it is seen to expand into two large basins, at least as secure as any of the docks on the Thames, and capable of containing (I think) the whole British Navy. We found the wreck of the Boyd in shoal water at the top of the harbour, a most melancholy picture of wanton mischief. The natives had cut her cables, and towed her up the harbour, till she had grounded, and then set her on fire, and burnt her to the water’s edge. In her hold were seen the remains of the cargo; coals, salted seal skins, and planks. Her guns, iron, standards, &c. were lying on the top, having fallen in when her decks were consumed.

“The cargo must have been very valuable; but it appears that the captain, anxious to make a better voyage, had come to that port for the purpose of filling up with spars for the Cape of Good Hope.

“Not to tire you with the minutiae of the business, I recovered from the natives, a woman, two children, and a boy of the name of Davies, * one of your apprentices [*Davies is still alive, and in the employment of Mr. Brown] - who were the only survivors. I found also the accompanying papers, * [*The Journal, &c. of the Voyage to Botany Bay, now in Mr Brown’s possession.] which I hope will prove of service to you. I did all this by gentle measures; and you will at least admit, that bloodshed and revenge would have answered no good purpose. The ship was taken the third morning after her arrival. The captain, it appears, had been rather too hasty in resenting some slight theft. Early in the morning, the ship was surrounded by a great number of canoes, and many of the natives gradually insinuated themselves on board. Tippahee, a chief of the Bay of Islands, and who had been twice to Port Jackson, also arrived. Tippahee went into the cabin, and, after paying his respects to the captain, begged a little bread for his men; but the captain received him rather slightingly, and desired him to go away, and not trouble him at present, as he was busy. The proud old savage (who had been a constant guest at the Governor’s table at Port Jackson) was highly offended at this treatment, immediately left the cabin, and, after stamping a few minutes on deck, went into his canoe. After breakfast, the captain went ashore, with four hands, and no other arms but a fowling-piece. From the account of the savages, as soon as he landed, they rushed upon him; he had only time to fire his piece, and it killed a child. As soon as the captain left the ship, Tippahee, who remained alongside in his canoe, came again on board. A number of the sailors were repairing sails upon the quarter-deck, and the remainder were carelessly dispersed about the decks, and fifty of the natives were sitting on the deck. In a moment, they all started up, and each knocked his man on the head. A few ran wounded below, and four or five escaped up the rigging, and in a few seconds the savages had possession of the ship. The boy Davies escaped into the hold, where he lay concealed for several days, till they were fairly glutted with human blood, when they spared his life. The woman says, that she was discovered by an old savage, and that she moved his heart with tears and embraces; that he (being a subordinate chief) carried her to Tippahee, who allowed him to spare her life. She says, that at this time the deck was covered with human bodies, which they were employed in cutting up; after which, they exhibited a most horrid song and dance, in honour of their victory, and concluded by a hymn of gratitude to their god.

Tippahee now took the speaking trumpet, and, hailing the poor wretches at the mast-head, told them that he was now captain, and that they must in future obey his orders. He then ordered them to unbend the sails, they readily complied; but when he ordered them to come down, they hesitated, but he enforced prompt obedience, by threatening to cut away the mast. When they came down, he received them with much civility, and told them he would take care of them; he immediately ordered them into a canoe, and sent them ashore. A few minutes after this the woman went ashore with her deliverer. The first object that struck her view, was the dead bodies of those men lying naked on the beach. As soon as she landed, a number of men started up, and marched towards her with their patoo patoos; a number of women ran screaming betwixt them, covered her with their clothes, and, by their tears and entreaties, saved her life. The horrid feasting upon human flesh which followed would be too shocking for description. The second mate begged his life at the time of the general massacre; they spared him for a fortnight, but afterwards killed and eat him.

“I think had the captain received Tippahee with a little more civility, that he would have informed him of his danger, and saved the ship; but that, from being treated in the manner I have mentioned, he entered into the plot along with the others.

“I think it is likely that I will receive little thanks for this ample detail of such a melancholy business; but I can assure you, it has been very unpleasant for me to write it; and I could only have been induced to do it, from a sense of duty, and a desire to give you all the information in my power, which, I suppose, may be of some use. I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant,               ALEX. BERRY.

“Mr George Brown, Owner

“of the Ship Boyd.

“Mr Nicholas, * [*Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand. 2 vols. 8vo. 1817] during his residence in New Zealand received some particulars respecting the origin of this horrible massacre. A New Zealand chief, to whom the English gave the name George, had resided for some time at Port Jackson, in New South Wales. Wishing to return to his native country, he engaged to Captain Thompson, to work as a sailor, on condition of obtaing free passage. According to the account given by himself, he fell sick on the voyage, and was unable to work; but the captain, treating this illness as feigned, ordered him to be tied up to the gangway, and most severely flogged. George urged his character of chief as a claim to better treatment, which was treated by the captain with derision as an insolent and unfounded pretension. George muttered, with dreadful emphasis, they would find him to be a chief; but the import of his speech was not perceived; and he afterwards dissembled his resentment. It is suspected to have been at his suggestion that the captain ran his ship into Wang Arrooa, where George’s tribe resided. As soon as they arrived, the captain stripped George of every thing English which he had about him, and sent him on shore almost naked. The chief presented himself in this state before his tribe, and gave them a full detail of his wrongs; upon which a cry for vengeance was immediately raised, and the plan formed, which so fatally succeeded. It seems, the captain when he came on shore, was immediately knocked down by Tippouie, the brother of George; and the sailors accompanying him speedily shared his fate. Tippahee is here represented as having used every effort to save the sailors, whom he invited down from the mast head; and the whole of his conduct appears in more favourable colours than in Captain Berry’s narrative. In fact, though, from the general tenor of the letter, we might suppose that chief to have been a ringleader in the massacre, this does not appear to have been really the case, since Captain Berry, at the end, gives it as his opinion, that, had this chief been civilly treated, he might have informed of the danger, and not entered into the plot along with the others.

“ Captain Berry, in his letter, alludes to Tippahee having twice been at Port Jackson. Mr Nicholas gives some particulars of his deportment at that settlement, which appear worthy of being extracted.

“ ‘Among the different New Zealanders thus brought to Port Jackson, some were chiefs or kings, supposed to have considerable influence with their countrymen, who yielded a ready obedience to their authority. The most remarkable of these was Tippahee, who came to the colony during the time of Governor King, from the Bay of Islands, where, by the account he gave of himself, he was a ruler of great power and extensive possessions. Both the Governor and the gentlemen of the colony were particularly attentive to him, nor were they a little surprised to find in a man totally unacquainted with any one rule of civilized comportment, an acute shrewdness of remark, and nicety of discrimination, which they had never before thought compatible with a state of rude barbarianism. The colonists still hold in remembrance many of his remarks, which equally shew the solidity of his understanding and the justness of his conceptions. On our remonstrating with him on the absurdity and inconvenience of his customs, he immediately censured some of our own as far more ridiculous, and many of his arguments were both rational and convincing. Like most of the New Zealand chiefs, he was highly tattooed, a mode of disfiguring the face which is generally practised by all the savage tribes in the Pacific Ocean. The barbarous process consists in pricking on the face with a sharp instrument, a variety of semicircular and other figures, and rubbing into the punctures a kind of blue paint, or sometimes charcoal, which gives to the countenance a most disgusting appearance, and makes it truly hideous to the eye of an European. On being laughed at one day by a gentleman for having disfigured his face in so unnatural a manner, the sagacious chief immediately retorted with pointed sarcasm; telling him he quite as much an object of derision himself for having put powder and grease in his hair, a practice which he thought was much more absurd than the tattooing.

“ ‘He could not reconcile the rigour of our penal code with his own ideas of justice, which were certainly regulated by strong feelings of humanity. A person who had been sent out to the colony as a convict, having stolen some pigs during the time the chief happened to be there, was condemned to death, and Tippahee, on being made acquainted with the crime and the punishment, inveighed against the latter as unnecessarily cruel and unjustly severe. Reasoning on the subject with a great deal of natural logic, he said, if a man had stolen an axe or anything else of essential utility, he ought to suffer death, but not for stealing a pig, to which he was prompted most probably by hunger. He interested himself very warmly in favour of the culprit, and earnestly pressed the Governor for his pardon, while dining one day with a large party at his Excellency’s table; but he was told it was impossible it could be granted, as the man had acted in direct violation of the laws of his country, which secured to each individual the safe possession of his property, and punished with death all those who would deprive him of it by theft or robbery. ‘Then,’ said Tippahee, ‘why you not hang Captain _____ ?’ pointing to the commander of a vessel, whose name I do not immediately recollect, but who was then sitting at table; - ‘Captain, he come to New Zealand, he come ashore, and tihi (stole) all my potatoes - you hang up Captain _____ .’ The company were much pleased with this strong and pointed reasoning of Tippahee, and the Captain appeared quite abashed at so sudden an exposure of his conduct, for he had in reality acted as the chief represented; having sent a boat’s crew on shore with orders to dig up his potatoes, which they did, without offering to make the least remuneration for them.

“ ‘Tippahee, however tenacious at first of his own manners and customs, becoming, during his short residence, more habituated to ours, and acquiring a clearer knowledge of their convenience and utility, gave them a decided preference. He also evinced an anxious desire to profit by them as much as possible; while he held the habits in which he had been educated himself, in the most sovereign contempt. Being taken one day to see a rope-walk, and shewn the method of making small twine, some of which was spun before him and the process explained, he was so affected by the contrast of our enlightened knowledge, with the barbarous ignorance of his own countrymen, that he burst into tears, and exclaimed in the bitterness of his regret, ‘New Zealand no good !’ This fine instance of sensibility can only be appreciated by the man whose soul is equally susceptible to noble impressions, and who being blessed himself with the light of civilization and refinement, can feel for the mind that, wrapped in the darkness of barbarism, is still but too conscious of the gloom that surrounds it. Had this chief made a longer stay at Port Jackson, and been properly instructed in agriculture, there is no doubt that he would on his return have made considerable improvements among his people, and give them a turn for habits of industry and laudable exertion, which are the first and most necessary steps towards a state of humanized culture. Gratitude is the prominent feature in the character of the New Zealander; and Tippahee, on his return to his own country, did not fail to evince it, for he rendered essential services to the different ships that afterwards touched at the Bay of Islands.’ “ 

The following account appeared in Polynesia: A History of the South Sea Islands, including New Zealand: with narrative of the introduction of Christianity, Right Rev. M. Russell, LL.D. and D.C.L., Thomas Nelson, London, 1849 :

“The favourable opinion which began to be entertained in regard to the people of New Zealand received a material check in the year 1809, when an atrocious murder was perpetrated on the crew of the Boyd, a ship of five hundred tons burden, which, with seventy persons on board, called at the Bay of Wangaroa, to land some natives who had been resident in Australia. Among these last was an individual named Tarra, though he bore among the sailors the more familiar appellation of George, who, having been punished for neglect of duty, resolved to have his revenge when the vessel should come to anchor in the neighbourhood of his tribe. He first attacked the captain and a party of men in the woods, whither they had gone to cut timber, and with the aid of his associates murdered them all. Elated with their success, the infuriated savages next proceeded to the Boyd. It was now dusk, and as they went alongside in the boats belonging to the ship, dressed in the clothes of the seamen whom they had slain, they were hailed by the second officer, who, in reply, was informed by them that the captain, intending to remain ashore all night, had ordered them to take on board the spars which were already cut down. Under this pretext, they were allowed to go on deck, when they instantly commenced an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children, leaving none alive except one female, two children, and the cabin-boy.* [See Foot Note]

“The fearful atrocity now described had the effect of reviving the impression, already beginning to subside among navigators, as to the ferocious character of the natives. Vessels, no doubt, continued occasionally to visit the islands, and engage in the wonted traffic, but confidence had in a great measure ceased, and the hope that they would soon ascend to a respectable place among civilized nations, was not any where cherished with the same ardour. Even the means which had been devised by certain benevolent individuals to accomplish that good end were for a time suspended.

“* See ‘Particulars of the Destruction of a British Vessel on the Coast of New Zealand.’ - Constable’s Miscellany, vol iv. p. 323. The anthor [sic] of these ‘Particulars,’ Captain Berry of the ship City of Edinburgh, says, ‘we found the wreck of the Boyd in shoal water at the top of the harbour, a most melancholy picture of wanton mischief. The natives had cnt [sic] her cables, and towed her up the harbour till she had grounded, and then set her on fire and burnt her to the water’s edge.’ Mr Berry’s statement differs from that more commonly given as to the proximate cause of the massacre. Tippahee, he observes, who happened to be at Wangaroa, went into the cabin, and after paying his respects to the captain, begged a little bread for his men; but the other received him very slightingly, and desired him to go away, and not trouble him at present, as he was busy. The prond [sic] old savage, who had been a constant guest at the governor’s table at Port Jackson, being highly offended at this treatment, immediately left the cabin, and after stamping a few minutes on the deck, went into his canoe. But as soon as the captain left the ship, Tippahee, who remained alongside in his canoe, came again on board, soon after which the massacre began. In short, Mr Berry ascribes the catastrophe to the resentment of this chief; whereas other authors trace it, with greater probability, to the vindictive feelings of George, the native sailor. His narrative, however, is extremely interesting.

“The account given in the Library of Entertaining Knowledge (New Zealanders) corresponds, we are assnred [sic], with that which first appeared in the Sydney Gazette of 1st September 1810, and which has been reprinted in the Journal of Captain Cruise. It was derived originally from the report of a native of Otaheite who was on the spot at the time.”


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