Shortly after their arrival in New Zealand in the 1200s, Māori continued sailing over open seas, landing as far as the Kermadecs and the Chatham Islands. In 1777, two Māori sailed aboard James Cook’s Resolution. Seventeen-year-old Te Weherua and 12-year-old Koa, from Queen Charlotte Sound, volunteered to act as servants to the Tahitian, Omai, who Cook was returning to the island of Huahine. Te Weherua and Koa set off in the knowledge that they would never return. They were the first Māori to venture beyond New Zealand’s shores for hundreds of years. Others soon followed.
By 1795, chiefs were sailing to Sydney aboard trading ships, in search of bartering opportunities. Other Māori worked their passage on European and American vessels. Because early European ships often sailed into the Bay of Islands, many Māori crew came from the Ngāpuhi tribe, who lived in that region. Not all Māori went voluntarily. Some were kidnapped or taken on as crew, then maltreated and even abandoned to their own fate in Australia or on a Pacific island.
Two Māori in Vienna
Wiremu Toetoe and Hēmara Te Rerehau joined the crew of the Austrian frigate Novara in 1859, and sailed for Vienna. There, they met the Austrian emperor Franz Josef, and were intrigued by all that they saw. Te Rerehau wrote:
‘[Austria] is a very fine country, and the way people live is really excellent; the buildings are big and very tall. It is very beautiful inside the rooms, with lovely beds, excellent food and drink. And there are figures in the shape of lions and bears; their mouths are open so that water comes out’. 1
Māori in England and Australia
In 1806 a Ngāpuhi man, Moehanga, was the first Māori to visit England, where he met King George III. Hongi Hika, the Ngāpuhi chief, was among a group that arrived in England in 1820. He sought an audience with King George IV, worked on a Māori grammar in Cambridge, and obtained muskets in Sydney on his return trip.
Many Māori who visited England found it too cold. Preferring Australia’s warmer climate, a few made their way across the Tasman. By 1842 the Māori language could be heard spoken by workers on Sydney’s docks. And reports from the goldfields of Victoria in the 1850s put Māori among the multitude of people who were trying their luck.