Sunday, 07 June 2020


A book with the stories of Te Whanganui o Hei

The Mercury 250th Anniversary Trust commissioned the writing of a number of stories representing 18th century Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay as part of this year’s commemorations of the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain James Cook in Mercury Bay in 1769.  

Historians Richard Gates and John Steele, together with Joe Davis of Ngati Hei, were responsible for compiling the stories. The stories will be published in book form. “The stories are an updated or slightly revised version of previous more ‘Eurocentric’ histories with their corresponding European perspective,” says John.

Ngati Hei oral tradition and history contributed to the content of the stories.

Copies of the book will be available to purchase from May this year. In the meantime, the website contains a “taster” of the stories.

Th idea of the book was first suggested in 2016. The aim of the book is to provide readers with a factually accurate and culturally unbiased account of the events that occurred when Cook visited Mercury Bay 250 years ago. “Many stories have been told over the years through scenic boat operators, shops and libraries, but not all of the details are correct,” says John. “We wanted to put together one authoritative set of texts that would give some expression to Ngati Hei’s oral history and not be so focused on the European perspective.

“This will help to balance colonial settler history and ensure that everyone in the Mercury Bay region has the same understanding of what went on during those 12 days of Cook’s visit to Mercury Bay.”

Richard says it was important for them to focus on the shared experiences between Cook and the Maori community. They conducted many interviews with Ngati Hei and extensively researched available records and other information. “We wanted to emphasize this amazing ‘meeting of the minds’ that occurred and how a relationship understanding of each other was formed, ending with a special powhiri at Wharetaewa Pa at Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach.”

For accurate representation and out of respect for Maori culture, early Maori names have been used throughout the stories. As Cook was unfamiliar with the Maori language, the records of his time in Mercury Bay predominantly consist of English names chosen by him for the locations he visited.

The stories also amend errors or inconsistencies between dates and other important information. John says one such example is the contradiction of dates and times in Cook and botanist, Joseph Banks’ journals. Cook used nautical (ship) time where he began each new day from 12 midday, while Banks considered 12 midnight as the start of a new day. This caused many disputes, especially regarding major events such as when the transit of Mercury occurred.

Richard, John and Joe hope that the stories contained in the book will lay a groundwork for the next generation. “It would be fantastic if schools end up using the book as an educational tool when learning about the history of Mercury Bay,” says John. “We will also look at getting the book translated into te reo Maori as well.”

“It will be a wonderful commemoration item for both tourists and locals.”

Caption - Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach, where a special powhiri at Wharetaewa Pa was held at the end of Cook’s visit to Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay in 1769. Photo by Alex Kennedy.


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