The European Discovery of New Zealand

Although the Maoris arrived from Polynesia around AD900, the first Europeans did not find New Zealand until 1642, when the Dutchman Abel Tasman sighted the new land on his voyage in the Pacific. He travelled up the west coast for over a month, attempting unsuccessfully, in the face of hostility from the native inhabitants, to land to obtain fresh water.

The first significant voyage of discovery and botanical exploration was undertaken between 1769 and 1770, led by Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook in the Endeavour.

Cook was accompanied by the botanists Joseph Banks and Dr Solander (a pupil of Linnaeus), the artist Sydney Parkinson and Richard Pickersgill, a hydrographer. It was during this voyage that Cook proved that New Zealand consisted of two islands, and Banks observed the 'vegetable sheep', later named Raoulia.

Within a few years of Cook and Banks' visit, New Zealand was visited by the French twice - in 1769 by Jean de Surville, and in 1773 by Marion du Fresne, who spent 3 months in the Bay of Islands in North Island and died there. By the 1790's, plants from New Zealand were in cultivation in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

The nineteenth century saw tremendous interest in New Zealand and its flora, with famous botanists like Hooker, Cunningham, Colenso, Lyall and Monro exploring and discovering more and more interesting plants. Two books - Choix des Plantes de la Nouvelle Zelande, by a ship's surgeon called Raoul, and Hooker's Handbook of the New Zealand Flora were to be the first major efforts at recording the plant-life from the islands.

Cook visited New Zealand twice after his first voyage: in 1773, with the Forsters, father and son, and later on his last voyage which lasted from 1776 until his assassination in Hawaii; in 1779. On this third voyage was the gardener David Nelson, who observed Phormium (New Zealand flax) and Cordyline (cabbage tree).

(Nelson died on the notorious and ill-fated voyage of the Bounty, after he was cast adrift with Captain Bligh by the mutineers.)

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