Memories of West Coast massacre

The British Government's expression of regret this week for the killing of about eight Maori by Captain James Cook 250 years ago has stirred memories of a little known massacre of an entire village in South Westland by sealers in the 1820s.

The British high commission said in a statement that Captain Cook had written in his dairy of 1769 of his regret over the deaths on the east coast, near present day Gisborne.

In South Westland, Bruce Bay-based Ngati Mahaki harbour a similar story of attack, when Australian sealers clashed with local Maori while plundering seal colonies in the Paringa and Haast areas.

West Coast Maori historian Paul Madgwick says at least 35 people were wiped out in two attacks by the Australians.

Relations began amicably when the sealers first arrived, landing at a pa at the mouth of the Paringa River, where they stockpiled seal pup carcases for skinning.

The only communication was by hand signals because of the language barrier, and as the sealers left to gather more pups they signalled to Maori that they could eat the seals if they skinned them.

However, this was misunderstood and they cooked them in traditional manner by singing the hair off. When the sealers returned they were so enraged they shot the chief Nukutihi, his wife Tihotiho and several children, and shot another man, Kahaki, breaking his arm, before leaving.

Maori responded by surprising another sealing party at Arnotts Point, killing two men, which was followed by a more vicious attack on the Arawhata pa, at Jackson Bay, where sealers took further revenge and killed about 30 men, women and children.

Ngati Mahaki kaumatua Helen Rasmussen said yesterday she did not want an apology as it would not alter the facts of what happened. Others may feel differently but some of their own people knew little of the tragedy.

"We can't hold people responsible for things that happened so many years ago. The important thing is to understand, or have it known."

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