It appears that a European first saw New Zealand when two ships under the command of Abel Janszoon Tasman sighted the west coast of South Island, perhaps just south of Hokitika, in 1642. Tasman was a practical and efficient seaman and his voyage was one of commercial exploration from Batavia for Governor Anton Van Diemen who was actively interested in finding new fields of exploitation for the already fabulous Dutch East India Company. Seventeenth-century science was, however, ably represented on the voyage by the geographer, Francoys Jacobzoon Visscher, whose writings (especially Memoir Concerning the Discovery of the Southland which according to Beaglehole was produced in January 1642) and speculations may have prompted the venture.
Tasman skirted the west coast of South Island from his landfall to Golden Bay where an attempt to land a boat's crew ended in the killing of four men by the occupants of a Maori war canoe. Known as Massacre Bay, or as Tasman named it, Moordenaer's Bay, it was the effete taste of a recent generation that caused it to be renamed Golden Bay. Although Tasman tacked about in the wide western expanse of Cook Strait to the north, he missed the strait and mapped it as a bay. Tasman and Visscher then sailed up the west coast of North Island and on to discover the Tongan group, although no member of the expedition set foot on New Zealand soil. Hocken, one of New Zealand's great early historians, aptly suggested that the Netherlanders be credited with a "descry" rather than a "discovery."
To that part of the New Zealand coast which he saw, Visscher gave the name of Staedte Landt. Its possible extent and content excited the imagination of cartographers, explorers, and chancelleries for the next century and a third. In various imagined contours it appeared in productions of the Dutch schools of cartography and was copied thus into dozens of contemporary European atlases. Most spectacularly it was inlaid with a world map on the pavement of Amsterdam's new Town Hall in 1648. Few Europeans doubted that Tasman had indeed skirted the western shores of a vast continent in the southern Pacific, Terra Australis incognita, apparently confirming the earlier representations of Ortelius.
When the British Admiralty dispatched James Cook and his party in the bark Endeavour to observe the transit of Venus of June 3, 1768, at King George's Island (Tahiti) in the eastern Pacific, it gave him sealed orders to be opened and followed when that enterprise was concluded. These orders indicated that there still existed in Europe a conviction of the existence of a great southern continent despite lack of corroboration since Tasman's time. The legendary continent was now known as New Zealand; its presumed eastern extension off South America, when proved insular, had kept the name of Staten Land (now preserved in the name of Staten Island, off Tierra del Fuego).
The orders enjoined Cook to proceed southward "in order to make discovery of the continent above-mentioned, until you arrive in the latitude of 40°, unless you sooner fall in with it; but not having discovered it, or any evident signs of it, in that run you are to proceed in search of it between the latitude before mentioned and the latitude of 35°, until you discover it or fall in with . . . land discovered by Tasman and now called New Zealand." 8 The instructions continued in elaborate detail. Following them in his famous painstaking manner, Cook sighted the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand on October 7, 1769.
While Tasman was content with a "descry," Cook was intent on discovery and some exploration; quite probably he was concerned with the possibility of adding to the dominions of his sovereign. After three months spent in exploring the coasts of North Islands, the bark finally swung around Cape Egmont from the north and into Tasman's "bay," sighting the north coast of South Island on January 15, 1770. On the following day the anchor was dropped in the lovely harborage of Ship's Cove near the mouth of Queen Charlotte Sound. The first Europeans set foot on South Island that day, and three weeks were spent in careening and scrubbing the bark and replenishing supplies.
On February 6 the Endeavour sailed through Cook Strait and proved the insularity of South Island by circumnavigating it, though without again putting a boat ashore. Contrary winds which kept the ship well offshore caused some curious inaccuracies in an otherwise remarkably careful chart of the coast (Banks Peninsula was rated an island and Stewart Island a peninsula). After sighting Farewell Spit again, Cook was off to New Holland and the homeward journey. He made several subsequent visits to Ship's Cove, and in 1772 rested in and charted Dusky Sound, one of the larger fiords at the southwestern extremity of the island. We are interested in these visits from the point of view of any cultural introductions which resulted from them. As for Cook himself, however, New Zealand was to figure in his plans only as a refreshing and refitting station en route to further Pacific voyages.
The vast publicity attending Cook's discoveries and the wide circulation of published accounts, together with the reports of the voyages of de Surville and Marion du Fresne, brought New Zealand to the attention of the world. The climate was described with particular favor and several schemes for colonization were tentatively launched; Benjamin Franklin was associated with one such plan as early as 1771. Yet permanent settlement was slow to develop. The experience of Marion du Fresne and a number of his crew, who were killed and eaten after landing on the North Auckland peninsula, added to the already unsavory reputation of the antipodean area in general in the popular European mind. This reputation had already a connotation of "convict settlements" engendered by the dumping of convicts at Botany Bay (near the present city of Sydney, Australia) in 1788. The European situation from 1770 to 1830, which needs no retelling here, did not allow for much energy to be expended on overseas migration; after the American Revolution, ardor for colonization had cooled with particular rapidity.