The Boyd Massacre occurred in December 1809 when Māori residents of Whangaroa Harbour in northern New Zealand killed and ate between 66 and 70 Europeans. This was reputedly the highest number of Europeans killed by Māori in a single event, and the incident is also one of the bloodiest instances of cannibalism on record. The massacre was probably as revenge for the whipping of a young Māori chief by the crew of the sailing ship Boyd.
In retribution, European whalers attacked the island pa of chief Te Pahi about 60 km south-east, in the possibly mistaken belief that he ordered the killings. Between 16 and 60 Maori and one European died in the clash. News of the events delayed the first missionary visits to the country, and caused the number of shipping visits to fall to "almost nothing" over the next few years.
The Boyd was a 395 ton brigantine convict ship that sailed in October 1809 from Australia's Sydney Cove to Whangaroa on the east coast of New Zealand's Northland Peninsula to pick up kauri spars. She was under the command of Captain John Thompson and carried about 70 people.
The ship carried several passengers, including convicts who had completed their transportation sentences and four or five New Zealanders who were returning to their homeland. Among the latter was Te Ara, or Tarrah, known to the crew as George, the son of a Māori chief from Whangaroa. Te Ara had spent more than a year on board different vessels that included a sealing expedition to islands in the Southern Ocean.
On the Boyd journey, he was expected to work his passage on the ship. Some accounts state that he declined to do so because he was ill or because of his status as a chief's son. Another account states that the ship's cook accidentally threw some pewter spoons overboard and accused Te Ara of stealing them to avoid being flogged himself. Alexander Berry, in a letter describing the events, said: "The captain had been rather too hasty in resenting some slight theft."
This treatment of Te Ara prompted him to seek utu, or revenge. Te Ara regained the confidence of the captain and persuaded him to put into Whangaroa Bay, assuring him that it was the best place to secure the timber he desired.
Upon reaching Whangaroa, Te Ara reported his indignities to his tribe and displayed the whip marks on his back. In accordance with Māori customs, they formed a plan for utu. Under British law, whipping was the common punishment for minor crimes. A British person could be legally hanged for stealing goods to the value of 5 shillings. In Māori culture the son of a chief was a privileged figure who did not bow to an outsider's authority. Physical punishment of a chief's son, though justified by British law, caused the chief to suffer a loss of face (or "mana"), and to Māori this warranted a violent retribution.
Three days after the Boyd's arrival, the Māori invited Captain Thompson to follow their canoes to find suitable kauri trees. Thompson, his chief officer and three others followed the canoes to the entrance of the Kaeo River. The remaining crew stayed aboard with the passengers, preparing the vessel for the voyage to England.
When the boats were beyond the Boyd's sight the Māori attacked the pākehā (foreigners), killing all with clubs and axes. The Māori stripped the western clothes from the victims and a group donned them as disguise. Another group carried the bodies to their pā (village) to be eaten.
At dusk the disguised group manned the longboat, and at nightfall they slipped alongside the Boyd and were greeted by the crew. Other Māori canoes awaited the signal to attack. The first to die was a ship's officer: the attackers then crept around the deck, stealthily killing all the crew. The passengers were called to the deck and then killed. Five people hid up the mast among the rigging, where they witnessed the dismembering of their friends and colleagues' bodies below.
The next morning the survivors saw a large canoe carrying chief Te Pahi from the Bay of Islands enter the harbour. The chief had come to the area to trade with the Whangaroa Māori. The Europeans called out to Te Pahi's canoe for help. After Te Pahi had gathered the survivors from the Boyd, they headed for shore. But two Whangaroa canoes pursued them. As the survivors fled along the beach, Te Pahi watched as all but one were caught and killed by the pursuers.
Five people were spared in the massacre: Ann Morley and her baby, in a cabin; apprentice Thomas Davis (or Davison), hidden in the hold; the second mate; and two-year-old Betsy Broughton, taken by a local chief who put a feather in her hair and kept her for three weeks before rescue. The second mate was killed and eaten when his usefulness in making fish-hooks was exhausted.
Destruction of the Boyd
The Whangaroa Māori towed the Boyd towards their village until it grounded on mudflats near Motu Wai (Red Island). They spent several days ransacking the ship, tossing flour, salt pork, and bottled wine overboard. The Māori were interested in a large cache of muskets and gunpowder.
About 20 Māori smashed barrels of gunpowder and attempted to make the muskets functional. Chief Piopio sparked a flint, igniting the gunpowder causing a massive explosion that killed him and nine other Māori instantly. A fire then swept the ship igniting its cargo of whale oil. Soon all that was left of the Boyd was a burnt-out sunken hull. Māori declared the hull tapu, sacred or prohibited.
When news of the massacre reached European settlements, Captain Alexander Berry undertook a rescue mission aboard The City of Edinburgh. Berry rescued the four survivors, Ann Morley, her baby, Thomas Davis (or Davison) and Betsy Broughton.
The City of Edinburgh crew found piles of human bones on the shoreline, with many evincing cannibalism.
Captain Berry captured two Māori chiefs responsible for the massacre, at first holding them for ransom for the return of survivors. Subsequently, after the survivors were returned Berry threatened them that they would be taken to Europe in order to answer for their crimes unless they released the Boyd's papers. After the papers were given to him, he released the chiefs. He made it a condition of their release that they would be "degraded from their rank, and received among the number of his slaves", although he never expected this condition to be complied with. They expressed gratitude for the mercy. Berry's gesture avoided further bloodshed — an inevitability had the chiefs been executed.
The four people rescued were taken on board Berry's ship bound for the Cape of Good Hope. However, the ship encountered storms and was damaged, and after repairs arrived in Lima, Peru. Mrs. Morley died while in Lima. The boy, called Davis or Davidson, went from Lima to England aboard the Archduke Charles, and later worked for Berry in New South Wales. He drowned while exploring the entrance to the Shoalhaven River with Berry in 1822. The child of Mrs. Morley and Betsy Broughton were taken onwards by Berry to Rio de Janeiro, from where they returned to Sydney in May 1812 aboard the Atalanta. Betsy Broughton married Charles Throsby, nephew of the explorer Charles Throsby, and died in 1891.
In March 1810, sailors from five whaling ships launched a revenge attack. Their target was the island pa belonging to Te Pahi, the chief who apparently tried to rescue the Boyd survivors and then saw them killed. Te Pahi had later accepted one of the Boyd's small boats and some other booty, and his name was confused with that of Te Puhi, who was one of the architects of the massacre. This was the belief of Samuel Marsden, the prominent early missionary who said it was Te Ara (George) and his brother Te Puhi who took the Boyd as revenge. In the attack between 16 and 60 Māori and one sailor were killed. Te Pahi, who was wounded in the neck and chest, realised that the sailors had attacked him because of the actions of the Whangaroa Maori. He gathered his remaining warriors and attacked Whangaroa, where he was killed by a spear thrust some time before April 28.
News of the Boyd Massacre reached Australia and Europe, delaying a planned visit of missionaries until 1814. A notice was printed and circulated in Europe advising against visiting "that cursed shore" of New Zealand, at the risk of being eaten by cannibals.
Shipping to New Zealand "fell away to almost nothing" during the next three years.
Details of the massacre have featured in numerous non-fiction publications. One of the most comprehensive was Wade Doak's The Burning of the 'Boyd' - A Saga of Culture Clash (1984), which is out of print.
The massacre was the subject of a 2010 New Zealand children's book, The Shadow of the Boyd, by Diana Menefy, and a 2005 historical fiction novel, The Boyd Massacre, by Ian Macdonald. The latter author, an Australian, claims to be a descendant of Boyd survivor Betsey Broughton.
The massacre has also featured in paintings by Louis Auguste Sainson (The Boyd Incident ), Louis John Steele (The Blowing Up of the Boyd ), and Walter Wright (The Burning of the Boyd ).
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- Depiction of the capture of the Boyd in Whangaroa Harbour, Louis Auguste Sainson, 1840s?.
- The Burning of the Boyd, oil painting by Walter Wright, 1908.