Banks Peninsula Gets Its First Look At An European War Ship – 8th June 1838

 It is quite a thought that, upon the arrival of the French corvette naval ship ‘Heroine’ at Akaroa on 8th June 1838, 16 French whaling ships were carrying out their barbaric trade on Waitaha (Canterbury) waters.  They weren’t the only ones out on the water: American, Australian and British whalers also fought for their position – with the wild east coast of the South Island serving as their historic, and awe inspiring, backdrop.

The ‘Heroine’, a fairly newly designed war ship (designed in 1827 and launched in 1830), had been sent to New Zealand to oversee all French interests at that time. Captained by J.B. Cecille, he instructed that maps be drawn up by Lt. Joseph Fournier, particularly of Port Cooper (Lyttelton) and Port Lev[e]y where the French ships usually sat an anchor.  Little Port Cooper, the first bay on the left upon arrival at Whangaraupo (Lyttelton Harbour) by sea, appeared as ‘Heroine Cove’ on these early maps.

One of the French whaling ships at Akaroa during the Heroine’s visit was the ‘Cachalot’.  Captain Jean Langlois and Akaroa blacksmith (and ex-whaler), Francois LeLievre, would, on 2nd August 1838, purchase the entire Banks Peninsula from 11 Ngai Tahu Chiefs.  Believing this purchase to be secure, the two men returned to France to promote their new colony to interested would-be settlers.  Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (making all land purchases from the local Maori null and void) with the intervention of the British, the French and German settlers had a nasty surprise upon their return on 18th August 1840.  Godley Heads would be known as Cachalot Heads until the arrival of the Canterbury Association in 1848.

Other than putting on a great display of the Heroine’s mighty fire power (armed with 32 cannons) during the celebration of French Independence 1838 at Akaroa, the Heroine was kept busy while looking for French deserters – which also meant the removal of these offenders from the decks of other country’s whaling ships and, at times, leaving these crews dangerously short of men.

Before being renamed to ‘Plougastel’ in 1861, the ‘Heroine’ returned to Canterbury once more around October/November 1841.  It was during this visit that Auguste Jagerschmidt made his well known drawings of early life in New Zealand.  His drawings of Akaroa brought on comments about the little town looking very ‘…Irish…’

Attached is an image of a ship model, a French Corvette, the ‘La Creole’ built the same year as the Herione – in 1827.

*Image courtesy of Finemodels .com –*


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