A visit to the War Memorial Museum in Auckland was long overdue when I ventured there last week. It has been years since I last visited. Within moments I regretted this. What an amazing place full of interesting items. It would have been easy to spend a whole day or even longer there, but the visit was limited to only hours.
My visit coincided with the exhibition “Voyage to Aotearoa: Tupaia and the Endeavour”. Most of the afternoon was spent moseying around this interesting exhibit. As expected by a visit to any museum, one learns new things. This was definitely the case on my visit.
I had heard of this man, but, like many Kiwis I’m sure, I didn’t understand the impact he had had on New Zealand’s history. He was a Tahitian navigator, high priest and artist, who befriended Joseph Banks when James Cook and the Endeavour visited Tahiti.
When the Endeavour left Tahiti, Tupaia sailed with them. He navigated the ship across much of the Pacific and helped create a map of the area, naming 74 islands and demonstrating Polynesian seafarers’ knowledge of the ocean. As the Endeavour headed toward New Zealand in search of the Great Southern Continent, Tupaia was less confident of his ability to help.
After a very rocky first meeting with Maori, Cook turned to Tupaia. He was able to intercede between the sailors and local Maoris. The Maori recognised Tupaia as a man of prestige and treated him with great respect. Tupaia became a valued interpreter and mediator for the Maori people, as well as for the Europeans. He travelled with Cook to numerous places around New Zealand and assisted in building a rapport on most occasions.
The War Memorial Museum had copies of paintings done by Tupaia all those years ago. While they may resemble childish drawings now, he showed an uncanny ability to depict the life of the day. Some of these paintings show details no longer found anywhere else.
As I neared the end of the exhibit, it saddened me to read the last item. Tupaia had died soon after Endeavour left New Zealand. His story had covered little over a year. The exhibit had told such a compelling story of a man who today would be hailed as all types of a hero. Its wonderful that his contribution to our history is out of the darkness and available for more of us to appreciate his worth.
My visit to Auckland’s War memorial museum has reminded me what a fantastic facility we have on our doorstep. My next visit will be a longer one to the second floor – where all the military items abound.
NZ Naval Women’s Book of Memories
Oh, I discovered the gift shop at the War memorial museum still have copies of my book “75 Years of Memories, Women in the Royal New Zealand Navy” available. I’m not sure if its still available elsewhere.