a tragic story of carnage, looting and burning

by Anthony G. Flude ©2001.

The ill-fated ship, the brigantine BOYD, left Port Jackson [Sydney Cove] Australia in October 1809, bound for Whangaroa, which is New Zealand's northern-most harbour. On its outward passage from London Docks, the convict ship had safely delivered its human cargo secured below decks in irons. Each prisoner had received a sentence from the Court ordering their transportation to Port Jackson, in the British colony of Australia.

Cleansed and  re-provisioned for her return passage to England, the 395 ton vessel, with a length of 106ft by 30ft beam, had a total of seventy persons on board, including some New Zealander's, who were returning to their own country from Australia, among these was the son of of one of the maori Chiefs of the Kaeo tribe, Whangaroa, who was named Te Ara, or George.
Other paying passengers aboard who were bound for England, were listed as Catherine Bourke, Anne Glossop and her two year old child Betsy Broughton, Mordica Marks, Captain Burnsides, Ann Morley and her baby, James Moore, R.Wrather, John Budden, R & J Thomas, Thomas Martin, William Allen, William Mahoney , Dennis Desmond and John Petty.

Captain John Thompson had never been to this harbour before and it was believed that only two other ships had entered the region. This was his first visit to the Southern Ocean and his first encounter with the native Maori of New Zealand whom he regarded as savages with a basic smattering of English manners and customs.
It was his intention to load the cargo hold with ships spars from the extensive stands of kauri timber which had been noted by Captain Cook during his explorations of the coast of New Zealand some thirty-two years earlier.
Whangaroa Harbour

After the Boyd had put to sea, George, who had asked to work his passage, was ordered to take his turn and work with the other sailors in running the ship. He refused to do so, stating that his health was poor and that the son of a chief should not do such work. He was ordered before the Captain on two occasions, who directed the boatswain that he be flogged and was to also forfeit his food on those occasions.  George concealed the deep resentment he felt at having to suffer these punishments and indignaties, but never-the -less, when arriving off the coast of New Zealand, pointed out to Captain Thompson the best course to steer to enter the harbour of Whangaroa and where to anchor to secure the best cargo.

The anchor hit bottom near Peach Island[St. Peters], a regular shaped flat-topped mountain, close to the entrance of the harbour. It was some distance from the entrance to the head of this long harbour, where the main tribal pa, or village, was situated. George went ashore and set about detailing his misfortune's and degredation to his father Piopio and other members of his tribe, showing them the ugly wheals made by the whip on his back and the marks and bruises on his wrists where he had been tied to the capstan. His wounds bore evidence of the treatment he had received aboard the Boyd.
Utu, retaliation and revenge for these indignities to a Maori chief was to come swiftly and without warning. The vessel had seventy Pakehas aboard, as well as muskets, gunpowder, axes, knives and iron nails.

Three days later Captain Thompson was invited to follow some Maori canoes from the pa or village up the harbour and into the forrest to search for some suitable kauri trees to fell. They needed to be poles which were perfectly straight, some 80ft long by 20 inches wide. Due to their size and weight, they would need to be close to the water so they could be floated down to the ship and hauled aboard with the windlass. With his chief officer and three men, Captain Thompson set off down the harbour, closely following the Maori canoes to the entrance of the Kaeo River, while just a few crew members stayed aboard the ship with the passengers, making the ship ready for the long journey ahead to England.

The Maori's retaliation plan, led by Tipahee, began almost as soon as the canoes and longboats had lost sight of the ship lying at anchor in the distance.
Once ashore on the banks of the river, the natives suddenly drew out their weapons from beneath their cloaks and attacked the Captain and his crew members, cutting them down savagely with their clubs and axes until not one remained alive.
Their clothes were stripped off from their still-warm bodies, the Maori attackers putting on jackets, trousers, shoes and frock coats. While one group carried the bodies back to the village for a tribal feast where they were to be devoured, the others, in their various disguises, waited till dusk before they manned the longboat.

It was nightfall by the time the longboat returned alongside the Boyd when they were greeted by the crew members aboard. Lights shone from the cabins and the tall masts as passengers relaxed while their evening meal was being prepared. Unseen, in the shadows of the surrounding darkness, many other canoes filled with natives were awaiting the signal to attack.

Swarming up the ladder, their tattooed faces hidden by the disguises, the first death blow was struck by an axe upon the head of the unsuspecting officer waiting for them to come aboard. The attackers crept around the deck, striking down anyone found to silence them. One of the Maori called the passengers on deck from the great cabin. A woman passenger, climbing the companionway to the deck was the first of many to die at the hands of the fury of the attackers.
In the carnage that followed, five people climbed into the ships rigging to hide among the shrouds, where they remained until daybreak the next day, while forced to witness the attackers dismembering the bodies below, ready to be taken ashore and eaten.
Te Pahi
In the early morning light the people in the rigging spotted a large canoe entering the harbour and coming towards them. Chief Te Pahi from the Bay of Islands had come down to trade. Drawing alongside the Boyd, he was astounded to witness the scene of bloodshed and carnage that lay before him on the decks.
High in the ship's rigging, English voices cried out for help and to be saved.

The Whangaroa Maori  showed some reluctance to allow this chief aboard the Boyd, but knowing that he had some authority in the district,  silently watched as he gathered the remaining white pakeha survivors aboard his canoe. The situation became tense and uncertain. He ordered his canoe to pull swiftly for the shore but was persued by two other canoes belonging to the previous night's attackers, intent on slaughtering the last few crew members left.
The men fled for their lives along the beach after scrambling ashore. Unable to intercede, Te Pahi watched helplessly as they were all caught, except one, and swiftly dispatched by the Whangaroa natives.

Ann Morley and her baby, who was found hiding in a cabin was spared by Te Ara and taken ashore. Thomas Davis, the ship's cabin boy, who had a deformed foot, who had run and hidden in the hold during the attack,  was also spared. The second mate managed to buy his life for two weeks by making fish hooks from barrel hoops but was then thought to be of no further use and was killed and eaten. Betsy Broughton, the young two year old child of Anne who was killed during the attack, was taken by a local chief, who put a feather in the frightened girl's hair and kept her for three weeks before rescue came.

The Boyd was towed up the harbour towards the Maori pa or village until she became grounded in the shallow mudflats near Motu Wai[Red Island] and heeled over on one side. Over several days the ship was pillaged of her cargo, while articles such as flour, barrells of salt pork and bottles of wine were thrown overboard, the maori seeming to have no use for them. Te Ara and his men were after the muskets and gunpowder.

Aboard the Boyd during the time of this looting were Te Ara, his father Piopio and twenty or so other members of the tribe. In the hold, they had discovered several barrells of gunpowder which they had brought up on deck and stove in the lids of these.
Chief Piopio had also found several muskets and was trying one of the flints to get it to fire. Without warning there was a blinding flash and explosion which rocked the ship, as the nearby gunpowder was ignited by the spark. Piopio and nine other maori closeby were killed instantly, while spars and masts, caught in the blast, crashed down onto the deck.

 The fire which followed the explosion spread rapidly through the ship igniting her cargo of whaleoil. Soon all that was left of the Boyd was a burnt out hull above the waterline down to her copper sheathing. A Maori customary 'tapu' was declared on the ship.

The Boyd burns

The feasting and distribution of the spoils from the hold of the Boyd continued for several days at Whangaroa.  News of the massacre reached the Bay of Islands where the ship The City of Edinburgh was loading cargo for her Australian owners under the direction of Alexander Berry, supercargo.
Gathering together arms and men, the vessel made haste for Whangaroa, entering the harbour three weeks later. Loaded with men and muskets, three heavily armed longboats were launched for the journey to the pa. As they approached the village, Berry handed over command of the rescue expedition to a trusted maori chief named Metenangha from the Bay of Islands tribes, who had agreed to accompany him on the expedition.

Berry's journal of the event, tells how Metenangha went ashore into the bush near the pa and later returned with two of the principal Whangaroa chiefs and several natives who had obviously engaged in the Boyd massacre.  They were dressed in canvas and clothes plundered from the ship and approached the party with great confidence.
"Why did you attack the Boyd?" Metenangha asked the chiefs.
"Because the Captain was a bad man."
"Were there any survivors?"
They mentioned a woman, her small baby and a cabin boy. When asked where they were being held, the armed boat-party were beckoned to go up to the main village.

Berry's journal continued to relate that a great crowd had gathered at the village. Several women were walking around dressed in European dress, taken from the ill-fated passengers aboard the ship. The remains of the burnt out hull were examined, while nearby at the landing place lay the mangled remains of flesh and human bones, with the teeth marks still upon them.
Next morning the natives brought up a young woman and her young baby, accompanied by a boy about 15 years old. This was Ann Morley, her baby girl and Thomas Davis, the cabin boy. A maori woman spoke of the second mate, saying she had not seen him for about a week, unaware of his slaughter. She also told of a small infant she had seen, no more than 2 or 3 years old. Alexander Berry knew this must be the infant named Betsy.
Berry and Metenangha demanded that she be brought to them immediately but were told that the child was being held by another chief who lived nearer the entrance to the harbour. They lost no time in putting the survivors aboard and with the Whangaroa chiefs held as hostages in the leading boat, set off down the long stretch of the harbour.
Holding short of the sandy beach, Berry directed the chiefs to send a man ashore with orders to deliver the child directly to them. After a short delay, she was finally brought to the boat, crying in a feeble voice for her Mamma. Her hair was combed and ornamented with a white feather in the maori fashion; she was reasonably clean and clad only in a white shirt which had once belonged to Captain Thompson of the Boyd.

Having handed over all the survivors from the Boyd, the two chiefs held hostage now demanded their release. In an postscript to his journal of events, written some years later, Alexander Berry related how he refused to release the chiefs until the ship's papers were returned to him. He had placed the two hostage chiefs in irons aboard his ship and spoke to them, through  Metenangha,  in no uncertain terms.
"If an Englishman committed a single murder, he would be hanged. You have massacred the whole crew and passengers of a ship, therefore you should be shown no mercy. As you are chiefs you will not be hanged, instead you will both be shot!"

Berry sent them below to consider his words, while Chief Metenangha pleaded with him for their lives to be spared. He finally agreed.
Calling them before him again, still held in irons with their feather cloak's wrapped around them, they stood awaiting their fate.
"You are no longer worthy to be chiefs" stated Berry,"however, I am not going to shoot you both but will degrade you to the position of slaves."
The frightened chiefs gladly accepted this as an alternative to an execution aboard his ship.

Berry related how  the two chiefs were handed over to Metenanagh, when they were finally put ashore at Kororareka.  He was to learn a few days later that the two chiefs had sent word to thank him for his clemency. They  thought that he had acted very wisely, for had they both been shot, then their people would have taken full revenge on the Pakeha.

Five years later, in the year 1814,  the Rev. Samual Marsden came to establish a mission in the Bay of Islands. He took with him three prominent maori chiefs, Ruatara, Hongi Hiki and Korokoro as he had been told of continued conflict between the Whangaroa and Bay of Island tribes which stemmed from the time of the Boyd  incident. At a later time, he invited all the chiefs of both Whangaroa and the Bay of Islands aboard his ship, the Active.
He gave them all presents, and asked them to undertake to have no more wars between the tribes and to live in peace.
"Each chief saluted the other", Marsden wrote, "and then went around to each one pressing their noses together."
They assured him that they would never harm another European in the future."

 This sad and gruesome event in the very early history of New Zealand, nearly two hundred years ago, is a reminderof the strong cultural differences that existed between the Maori and the white European whalers and settlers in those times. 
Today we live in harmony, each doing our utmost to understand and honour the differences between the two races.