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Ship The discovery of New Zealand
Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne - France
1724 (approx.) - 1772
"Land having the appearance of a small island, where one could see two white patches"
Marion du Fresne
After having served in the Seven Years War, Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne, Sieur de Fresne, returned to France to take successive command of four ships from La Compagnie des Indes : "Le Comte d'Argenson", "Le Vengeur, "Comte d'Artois" and "Digue". This was between the years of 1761 and 1768.

However, when La Compagnie des Indes dissolved du Fresne found himself in the same position as that of Jean François Marie de Surville (mentioned above) - unemployed.

In search of employment and finance, du Fresne presented a project to Pierre Poivre, Civil Administrator of the Ile de France. One of the aims of the project was to explore the South Pacific, in the hope of locating Terra australis incognito. du Fresne's proposition was accepted, and two ships were prepared for the voyage : the "Mascarin", with du Fresne in command and Jules Crozet as 2nd Captain, and the "Marquis de Castries", a 16 gun ship with Ambroise-Bernard-Marie du Clesmeur in command.

In October 1771 the two ships set sail from France, arriving at the Cape of Good Hope on 2nd December. Here, supplies to last 18 months were taken onboard, and it was not before 28th December that the ships left the Cape.

Three months later, on 25th March 1772, the Frenchmen sighted New Zealand - and in particular a snow-covered peak rising out of the horizon, "land having the appearance of a small island where one could see two white patches". du Fresne named this mountain of New Zealand Le Pic Mascarin, quite unaware that Captain James Cook had already given it the name of Mount Egmont.

All along the coastline the French noticed signs of life. du Fresne decided to look for sheltered anchorage on the north coast of the mainland. A suitable bay was sighted on 15th April, a bay "which seemed very pretty, and is near a large headland we called Thumb Mountain on account of it's shape".

The two ships continued a northerly course, keeping as close to the coastline as possible, passing by Hokianga Harbor. Fresh water was in urgent need, but that which was found in the Thumb Mountain area was not particularly drinkable, so the two ships pulled in to another bay further north, which they named Cape Aeolus.

No water at all was to be found at Cape Aeolus, and the ships were obliged to turn back to the "Thumb Mountain" bay. The two bays where the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries anchored were Spirits Bay (known today as Anchor Cove, or Kapowairua, at the far northerly tip of New Zealand) and Tom Bowling Bay. Cape Aeolus was Cap Surville, known today as Kerr Point.

(click here for a map (25k) showing the position of Spirits Bay)

Suddenly, on the morning of the 17th April a strong gale commenced, placing the two ships in great peril. By the end of the day du Fresne gave orders to weigh anchor in order to save the ships. In the rush, five anchors had to be abandoned. On the 26th April the Mascarin returned to Spirits Bay to try and locate the five abandoned anchors. Only two could be found.

On 28th April 1772, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries set sail for the east. On 10th May, they arrived south of Moturua Island which they named Ile Marion, (also recorded as Port Marion) again not realising that Cook had already named the area The Bay of Islands. The two ships laid anchor near the present day town of Russell, in the Bay of Islands.

Repairs on the ships commenced, and extremely friendly relations with the Māori were established. During this time du Fresne made a number of visits inland, exploring, hunting, fishing, and making more and more friends with the Māori.

For some time the French remained in the Bay of Islands repairing their ships, replenishing supplies, tending to their scurvy victims and trading with the Māori. Relations with the Māori continued on a warm and friendly basis.

However the French, perhaps not fully understanding the consequences, committed the crime of desecrating a "tapu" (extremely prohibited, sacred, untouchable by human contact) area, situated at "Tacoury's Cove" (Te Hue, or today's Manawaora Bay). Some members of the local tribe had drowned here some time earlier, and their bodies had been washed up at Tacoury's Cove. It was in this area that du Fresne had been fishing one day, in spite of Māori warnings about the extreme "tapu" of the area.

On learning of the presence of du Fresne fishing in the "tapu" bay, the simmering anger of the Māori exploded. An act of desecration would not only incur the wrath of the gods on the local tribe, but would also infuriate neighbouring tribes, bringing the possibility of war. An angered group of warriors set on Marion du Fresne, who had unsuspectingly arrived in his favourite fishing area in a small "gig" accompanied by twelve men.

There were actually other theories as to exactly why the Māori suddenly turned against du Fresne, and these will be included here in due course.

Along with Marion, the ill-fated fishing party was made up this day of : de Vaudricourt and Lehoux, Pierre - a volunteer, Thomas Ballu of Vannes, Pierre Mauclair - the second pilot, from St Malo, Louis Menager - the steersman from Lorient, Vincent Kerneur of Port-Louis and Marc Le Garff, from Lorient, Marc Le Corre of Auray, Jean Mestique of Pluvigner, Pierre Cailloche of Languidic and Mathurin Daumalin of Hillion.

Several hundred Māori attacked the French, killing Marion and the 26 members of the fishing party.


When du Fresne did not return to the Mascarin, Lieutenant Crozet went with a small party in search. On discovering the murder, and sensing the hostility of the growing numbers of Māori gathering along the beach, Crozet hastily returned to the Mascarin.

The Māori made signs of attacking, but their clubs were no match for Crozet's firearms. After burning a village named Paeroa, from which the inhabitants had fled after attack by the French, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries weighed anchor. Before leaving, they named the bay "Ance des Assasinats" (Assasination Cove). 250 Māori were massacred by the French in retaliation for du Fresne's murder.

On the day of leaving, 12th July 1772, the French buried a bottle at Waipoa, on Moturua. Within the bottle were enclosed the arms of France and a formal statement taking possession of the whole country; with the name of "France Australe".

The Act of Possession translated into English is as follows :

"In the Year of Grace one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two, the eleventh of July, we Captains and Officers of the King's ships "Le Mascarin" and the "Marquis de Castries", have taken possession in the name of His Majesty Louis XV, our King, of the Continent to the Eastward of New Zealand, named by M. Marion du Fresne, our Commander, France Australe, being in a harbour to which he gave his name, situated on 35° 21 South Latitude; and one hundred and seventy one degrees of longitude observed to the East of the Paris Meridian; the Castries lying on 164°.

We arrived and anchored in this harbour on the fifth of May, and we intend to depart therefrom on 13 July of the same year, have lost in the said harbour through assassination by the Natives of the country, Mr Marion, two officers and twenty four men of the Crew, forming the complement of the long-boat of the Castries and of our gig which we have not seen since.

The bottle in which is enclosed the said Act is buried on the left bank of a stream where we obtained our Water, at fifty seven paces from the place where the sea comes up at the new and full moons, in rising, and at ten paces' distance from the said Stream, at four feet depth.

Du Clesmeur - Crozet - Chevillard de Montesson - Le Goüardun cadet - Haumont - Barré - Le Corre - Esnée - Roux - Ledez."

(original text translated by Armand Gaze : "Marion du Fresne at the Bay of Islands" Leslie G. Kelly)

Officers on board the "Mascarin"
Marion du Fresne Commander
Crozet 2nd Captain
Gourdin 1st Lieutenant
Haumont de Kerbrillant 2nd Lieutenant
Lehoux 2nd Lieutenant (killed on 12th June 1772)
Enée 2nd Lieutenant
Chevillard de Montaison Midshipman, Secretary
Roux Midshipman
Thirion Surgeon major
De Vaudricourt 2nd Lieutenant of the Legion commanding the troops (killed the 12th June 1772)
Officers on board the "Marquis de Castries"
du Clesmeur Garde de la Marine
Le Corre 2nd Captain
Barre 1st Lieutenant
Le Dez 2nd Lieutenant
Peigné 2nd Lieutenant
Haumont Midshipman and Secretary
Saint Ouze Midshipman
Duvay Surgeon

Extra Officer

Main source of research :
"French explorers in the Pacific" - John Dunmore
"Marion du Fresne at the Bay of Islands" - Leslie G. Kelly

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