By the first decade of the 19th century Australia was an established British colony, but New Zealand remained a distant land ruled by Maori chiefs. Nonetheless, the place had resources – notably kauri trees ideal for ships’ masts and spars – and trade possibilities were inviting. But it was a risky business, as those aboard the brigantine Boyd discovered to their cost.
The Boyd had transported convicts to Australia in 1809 and left Sydney Cove in October on the return voyage to Britain, sailing to Whangaroa on New Zealand’s northern peninsula to pick up kauri spars. Commanded by Captain John Thompson, she carried home one TeAara (known as George) who was the son of a Maori chief. George was supposed to work his passage, but refused menial tasks and was flogged. Accepting punishment meekly, George directed Boyd to safe anchorage at Whangaroa, where he lived. Inwardly, he was seething with resentment at the way alien pakeha (Europeans) had treated him and complained to his father, demanding utu (revenge).
It wasn’t long in coming. Led by helpful Maoris in canoes, Captain Thompson, his first officer and three men set off in their longboat to find suitable kauri trees. As they came ashore the Maoris fell on them with clubs and axes. Bodies were stripped and carried back to the Maori village to be prepared for a great cannibal feast. Some warriors disguised themselves in stolen clothes and returned to Boyd as night fell. Supported by others in canoes, they swarmed aboard and engaged in prolonged and bloody slaughter.
Five crew members – later killed – climbed into the rigging for a temporary reprieve, watching in horror as bodies were dismembered below in preparation for the forthcoming feast. Four people survived – two babies and two adults, who lived to tell the terrible tale of the Boyd massacre.
When: late 1809 (exact date unknown)
Where: Whangaroa, Northland, New Zealand
Death toll: Precise figure unrecorded, but around 70 of Boyd’s passengers and crew were killed.
You should know: After being beached near the Maori village, Boyd was destroyed by explosion and fire, killing one culpable Maori chief and nine of his men who inadvertently ignited gunpowder they were trying to loot. A rescue mission recovered the four lucky survivors, but in 1810 whalers attacked a Maori village in reprisal for the massacre, killing 60 inhabitants. Sadly, it was the wrong village.