French presence mapped in time for 250th anniversary

Kerikeri heritage stalwart Grainger Brown has done it again. The Heritage Northland Inc. volunteer has combined his charting and navigation skills with a love of history to develop a map that accurately records the position of French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne and his two ships – the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries – during the five weeks they were in the Bay of Islands in 1772.


Grainger and Bill hold the du Fresne map between them.
Grainger Brown (left) and Bill Edwards with the Marion du Fresne chart. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

Grainger’s latest historical chart is the ‘sequel’ to a similar map he developed recording the position of James Cook’s ship Endeavour which he developed for the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival in New Zealand.

The timing of the map’s completion couldn’t be better according to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager Bill Edwards.

“May 4 marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Marion du Fresne and the two ships into the Bay of Islands – which is a really significant moment in New Zealand’s history,” says Bill.

“The map enables us to pinpoint with a high degree of accuracy the location of Marion du Fresne and his men while they were here – whether they were on the two ships, or at the temporary hospital that was set up for scurvy victims on Moturua Island, or the camp where Kauri logs were being felled for use as spars.”

Detailed analysis of the ships’ positions recorded in logs, together with journal entries by ships’ personnel has enabled the map to be constructed.

“Grainger’s interpretation of data relating to Marion du Fresne’s time in the Bay has resulted in a great resource for historians and others wanting to understand more about the chronology and location of events during that time,” says Bill.

“We’re also grateful to New Zealand naturalist, politician, and historian Mike Lee who shared the map with a couple of contacts who were former senior officers in the French Navy. They confirmed the accuracy of the map and expressed their delight that this work has been done – which is a real reflection on the quality of Grainger’s work.”

Although Marion du Fresne initially established good relationships with Māori in the Bay, misunderstandings came – as they did with Cook’s voyages – resulting in violence, which included the masscare of over 200 Māori by Marion du Fresne’s crew in retaliation for his death.

“It’s fair to say, however, that there has been under-representation of the French side in the telling of our history, and indeed the Māori perspective of the French. The anniversary of Marion du Fresne’s arrival this year represents an opportunity for us to begin to look at this little-understood part of our history,” says Bill.

- John O'Hare