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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The Boyd was an English vessel of 500 to 600 tons owned by George Brown and under the command of a Captain John Thompson. Sailing from London on 10 March 1809 with convicts bound for New South Wales, the ship arrived at Port Jackson (Sydney) the following August and then, under charter to Samuel Lord of that port, set sail for New Zealand. Although the ship already had a profitable cargo, the intention was to take on spars for the Cape of Good Hope, Whangaroa being selected as the port of call.

Included in the 70 or so persons on board the Boyd were a number of Maoris, among them being a young Maori chief, Tara (otherwise known as George), who came from Whangaroa. Tara had travelled overseas and served as a seaman more than once on European vessels. He spoke English well. J. L. Nicholas, who accompanied Samuel Marsden on his visit to the area in 1814, describes Tara thus: “The face of the man bespoke him capable of committing so atrocious an act. His features were not unsightly, but they appeared to veil a dark and subtle malignity of intention and the lurking treachery of a depraved heart was perfectly legible in every one of them …”. Tara is also said to have been fond of alcohol which had rather drastic effects upon his character.

Apparently Tara and his fellow countrymen arrived at Whangaroa displeased with the treatment they had received. Whether he had been sick and was accused of malingering or whether he was suspected of stealing is a matter of conjecture. But Tara was flogged and apparently divested of his possessions. This grave indignity was aggravated when his claims that he was a chief were ridiculed.

There are differing versions of the story of the Boyd – what is certain is the fate of the ship and its crew two or three days after their arrival at Whangaroa. On that day when Thompson and a party went ashore in search of spars, they were set upon and killed and eaten by the Maoris who returned to the ship to slaughter all but four of its complement.

One account of the tragedy is given by Alexander Berry, supercargo of the City of Edinburgh and leader of the first party to reach Whangaroa after the massacre. According to Berry, the captain had only four men with him, all unarmed apart from his fowling piece. Before being overpowered Thompson had but time to fire one shot, which killed a child. Meanwhile other Maoris pulled alongside the barque, took its men off guard and butchered the crew.

Later, Captain S. R. Chace of the King George obtained a different account from a Tahitian living with the Maoris. According to this story, the captain and a larger party than that mentioned by Berry, all armed with muskets, were decoyed ashore in search of spars. No effort was made to molest them until their boats had been left high enough by the tide to prevent an escape. The Maoris then reviled the sailors and eventually slaughtered them, returning to the Boyd after dark in the victims' clothing to complete the massacre. Chace reported that the chief Tippahee, or Te Pahi, arrived next morning and attempted to save one or two survivors – he had to be forcibly held back while they were murdered. Berry's story, however, had been unfavourable to Tippahee, with the result that seven armed whale boats raided the chief's village in revenge and slaughtered many of his people. Tippahee subsequently died of wounds received on that occasion.

When Berry reached the scene of the tragedy in the following December, he found the wreck of the ill-fated vessel in shoal water at the top of the harbour, near the present Kaeo. Her cables had been cut and she had been towed until she had grounded. The ship was burnt to the water's edge and in the wreck of the hold could be seen the remains of her cargo of coals, salted seal skins, and planks. On the top lay the ship's guns, iron work, standards, and such like equipment which had fallen in when the decks collapsed. According to Chace, the fire was the result of an accident – Tara's father, Pepio, had ignited some gunpowder when trying a flint, thereby killing himself and four others and setting fire to the ship.

The City of Edinburgh party rescued four survivors – an apprentice named Davies, and a woman with two children. Davies, who was later to be lost at sea, had taken refuge in the hold and when he emerged some days later was spared by the Maoris – now well sated with blood presumably, although one report says that the deformity of a club foot might have saved him. The woman, Mrs Morley, had placed herself under the protection of one of the chiefs, but even so she would have been in grave danger from the excited people had not the Maori women come to her rescue. Mrs Morley died at sea on the way home. Her baby and the other child, the little girl Broughton, were eventually returned to Australia. The Boyd's longboat was subsequently sent back to Australia and was refurbished as a colonial vessel, but its service was short – it was lost in 1812 near the Hunter River.

by Judith Sidney Hornabrook, M.A., National Archives, Wellington.

  • From Tasman to Marsden, McNab, R. (1914)
  • Shipwrecks – New Zealand Disasters, Ingram, C. W. N., and Wheatley, P. O. (1961)
  • Adventures of British Seamen in the Southern Ocean, Murray, H. (ed.), (1827).


Judith Sidney Hornabrook, M.A., National Archives, Wellington.