Usefulness of the land
The first European observers of the New Zealand landscape, in 1769–70, were the British navigator James Cook and his crew, including the naturalist Joseph Banks and the artist Sydney Parkinson. They had been instructed ‘carefully to observe the Nature of the Soil, and the Products thereof,’ 1 so they wanted to record the new land’s potential usefulness for Europeans. They brought attitudes of observation and science developed in the 18th-century Enlightenment.
A new Eden?
Sydney Parkinson, the artist on Cook’s first voyage, decided that the land around Anaura Bay, with its flowering shrubs and fruitful valleys, was ‘agreeable beyond description, and, with proper cultivation, might be rendered a kind of second Paradise’. 2
Travelling up the east coast of the North Island, Cook noted that the country was green and pleasant, and had good soil. Banks found the Thames area pleasing because the timber could be used to build defences, houses and boats, the river would provide fish, and European vegetables could be grown.
Cook reacted differently to the West Coast of the South Island. He saw the mountains as ‘nothing but barren rocks’, so that ‘no country upon earth can appear with a more rugged and barren aspect’. 3 For him, New Zealand was only beautiful if it could meet European needs.
Eighteenth-century Britain encouraged scientific exploration – but emotional responses to the landscape were also fashionable. When Cook’s ship the Endeavour stopped for water at Cook’s Cove, near Tolaga Bay on the North Island’s east coast, Parkinson thought a natural rock arch was very romantic. Banks described it as an ‘extraordinary natural curiosity’ – ‘so much is pure nature superior to art.’ 4 He later observed the ‘truly romantic’ sight of a pā on top of a rock and a natural grotto in Mercury Bay.
In 1773, on his second voyage to New Zealand, Cook travelled again in the Fiordland area. Astronomer William Wales thought a waterfall in Dusky Sound was ‘one of Nature’s most romantic scenes,’ 5 and the artist William Hodges painted it in this spirit.
These two perspectives – the utilitarian and the romantic – were to be the two main literary perceptions of the New Zealand landscape for the next century.