Although James Cook produced the first outline of New Zealand, it was the French who produced most of the coastal surveys before 1840. At least six charts of the Bay of Islands were produced by French explorers.
In December 1769, when Cook was sailing around the north of New Zealand, the Frenchman Jean François Marie de Surville was exploring the same area. De Surville made two charts from this voyage – one of the coastline between Cape Maria van Diemen and North Cape, and the second of Doubtless Bay, which he named Lauriston Bay. Ironically, his Lauriston Bay chart was the first official New Zealand chart to be published by the British Admiralty, in 1781.
Marion du Fresne and d’Entrecasteaux
In 1772, Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne visited northern New Zealand. Ambroise-Bernard-Marie du Clesmeur, in charge of his supply ship Marquis de Castries, produced two charts. One showed their track north, with a very clear depiction of Mt Taranaki and an outline of the coast from around Kaipara Harbour to the Bay of Islands. The second was a ‘Plan du Port Marion’ (the Bay of Islands) which showed pā sites and the area where Marion du Fresne and 24 of his men were killed by Māori in June.
In 1791 Antoine d’Entrecasteaux sailed from France in search of the lost navigator La Pérouse. He passed the northern coast of New Zealand in 1793. C. F. Beautemps-Beaupré, his surveyor, charted the coastline from Cape Maria van Diemen to the Surville Cliffs (which he mistook for North Cape), and included the Three King Islands.
Further French expeditions came to New Zealand during the early 1800s. Louis Isidore Duperrey visited the Bay of Islands in the Coquille in 1824. A midshipman, Jules de Blosseville, drew a chart of New Zealand that was published by the French Admiralty. In part this relied on charts of Foveaux Strait and other southern bays drawn by the flax trader Captain W. L. Edwardson of the Snapper in 1822.
A chart from Duperrey’s 1824 voyage included a large bay named Port de Tarranarki, south of Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont). No such bay existed – it was based on information from English missionaries at the Bay of Islands, none of whom had visited the area. Such a harbour on the North Island’s west coast would have been very alluring to colonists.
Jules Sébastien César Dumont D’Urville, who served under Duperrey in 1824, returned in the Astrolabe (Duperrey’s Coquille renamed) in 1827. His charts filled in the gaps left by Cook, and he discovered and charted French Pass. D’Urville’s first expedition led to the publication of 14 detailed charts.
Dumont D’Urville returned again in 1840 and charted the Auckland Islands, including a detailed plan of the harbour there. His voyage produced two maps. One showed the east coast of the South Island with Banks Peninsula in almost correct form for the first time. The second was an overall chart of New Zealand with 21 detailed charts of harbours and bays.
There had been French whalers in New Zealand waters since the 1830s. The corvette Héroine, under Captain Cécille, was sent to New Zealand to look after France’s whaling interests. Her navigating officer, Lieutenant J. M. Fourmier, produced a number of charts of Banks Peninsula including Port Cooper (Lyttelton Harbour) and Port Levy, as well as Akaroa.