Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

The Burning of the Boyd

Louis John Steele ; The Blowing Up of the Boyd

The Boyd Massacre occurred in December 1809 when Maori residents of Whangaroa Harbour in northern New Zealand killed and ate between 66 and 70 Europeans, probably as revenge for the whipping of a young Maori chief by the crew of the sailing ship Boyd. This was reputedly the highest number of Europeans killed by Maori in a single event, and the incident is also one of the bloodiest instances of cannibalism on record. 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.Te Ara, the son of a Maori chief from Whangaroa, asked to work his passage on the ship. An incident occurred which resulted in him being flogged. One source states that he refused orders, claiming poor health and noble birth. Another states that the ship's cook accidentally threw some pewter spoons overboard and falsely 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." Upon reaching Whangaroa, Te Ara reported his indignities to his tribe and displayed the whip marks on his back. In accordance with Maori customs, they formed a plan for utu (revenge). Under British law the master's word was law and whipping was the common punishment for all minor crimes at that time. A British person could be legally hanged for stealing goods to the value of 5 shillings; there were 160 crimes for which the punishment was hanging. Under Maori lore the son of a chief was a privileged figure who did not bow to anyone's authority. Physical punishment of a chief's son, though justified by British common law, caused the chief to suffer a loss of face (or "mana"); this warranted a violent retribution.

Three days after the Boyd's arrival, the Maori 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 Maori attacked the pakeha (foreigners), killing all with clubs and axes. The Maori stripped the western clothes from the victims and a group donned them as disguise. Another group carried the bodies to their pa (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 Maori 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 Maori. 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. The Whangaroa Maori 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 Maori were interested in a large cache of muskets and gunpowder.

About 20 Maori 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 Maori 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 hull. Maori 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 Maori 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 Rangihoua Pa, belonging to Chief 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 may have been confused with that of Te Puhi, who was one of the architects of the massacre. In the attack between 16 and 60 Maori 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.


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