New Zealand Listener


Fish, salted meat, perhaps some crayfish, probably some fur seal. The first Christmas dinner in the first Pākehā settlement in New Zealand would have been high in protein but low in trimmings. Just weeks after being dropped off on Anchor Island in Dusky Sound on December 1, 1792, the gang of 12 sealers had to make do with what they could forage or catch.

Still, it was a banquet in comparison to the festive fare that Captain James Cook and his Endeavour crew downed in a storm near the top of the North Island on Christmas Day, 1769. The gannet pie on offer tasted “somewhere between rotten leather and fishy beef” washed down with lashings of alcohol – launching an enduring Kiwi tradition of over-indulging on Christmas Day and nursing hangovers on Boxing Day.

Twenty-three years on, the 12 hardy sealers in Dusky Sound continued to live off the land and sea for 10 long months before being picked up by the Britannia and sailing out of our history books.

Today, their story is told only by the few artefacts left behind: a simple forge, a hand-wrought iron nail, a fitting for a mast or spar and fragments of a ceramic vessel with

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