About that ‘rubbish’. Yeah Nah. The Portuguese or Spanish probably voyaged to New Zealand pre Tasman.

It’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish. No way did the Portuguese or Spanish voyage to New Zealand pre Abel Tasman.

Rubbish? Really?

The theory that the Portuguese and / or Spanish voyaged to New Zealand pre-Tasman is considered a possibility (and in some cases a probability) by three different government organisations in three different countries – Spain, Portugal and New Zealand.

New Zealand:

New Zealand’s venerable and forward thinking national encyclopedia, Te Ara, have a high threshold for making changes to the encylopedia and seek to avoid the inclusion of content that is speculative or highly contentious. Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief historian Neill Atkinson recently stated: “after considering Winston Cowie’s recently published research, we felt that small changes to the text would improve the European discovery entry.”

The Ministry also stated:

“Te Ara has raised the possibility of Spanish or Portuguese encounters for the last 10 years, and as far as I know that hasn’t been used by people that we might label conspiracy theorists to make any outrageous claims.”

Te Ara’s position is that they consider Portuguese or Spanish voyages to New Zealand a possibility, with no firm evidence, yet….

The Spanish:

 “Well-structured and impeccably researched, this important work [Conquistador Puzzle Trail] will have a strong impact on the academic representation of conquistadors as well as a wide array of consequences for the future understanding of New Zealand history. We feel incredibly fortunate to witness such a thorough investigation into the history of New Zealand in which we can really appreciate the links shared with Portuguese and Spanish explorers. In our case, the confirmation of these ties between Spain and New Zealand will undoubtedly strengthen the positive relationship that our two countries already share and cherish. At the same time, we would like to acknowledge all of the time and energy devoted to the research that has gone into this investigative work. Throughout the pages, we discover new elements of New Zealand culture and history that invite us to truly believe that Mr Winston Cowie´s theory is correct. Congratulations on the completion of this excellent work.”

Pablo Mateu García, Educational Advisor of the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand.

The Portuguese:

 “A fascinating book and an important contribution for the investigation about the Portuguese having been the first Europeans to reach Australia and New Zealand almost 500 years ago.”

Paulo Cunha Alves, Ambassador of Portugal to Australia and New Zealand.


Both the Spanish and Portuguese embassies to Australia and New Zealand also kindly gave permission for their logos to be included on Conquistador Puzzle Trail as a sign of the cooperation and collaboration shared whilst researching. I am incredibly grateful to both entities for their ongoing support of my research on this important genre.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail - Back Cover Reviews

Conquistador Puzzle Trail – Back Cover Reviews

Case study – ‘About that rubbish’ – ‘New claims that Portuguese and Spanish explorers discovered NZ rubbished’

So, ‘about that rubbish.’ I query whether the person who made that analogy in the recent media article of 10 May 2016 was on top of the detail on this genre – to ‘rubbish’ a theory considered a possibility by three different government organisations in three different countries is a brave move. Was that view informed?

This is a perfect case study for how this conversation has played out over the past 30 years. The conversation begins with a claim in respect of the Portuguese or Spanish discovering New Zealand or Australia followed by that claim being ‘rubbished’ by a New Zealand or Australian history academic. And this is exactly how this played out on 10 May 2016. Please click here for the article if interested.

Let’s consider this rubbish with a wider lens – a historical lens. For 228 years some of the top historians and cartographers of their day have supported the Portuguese and Spanish theories. I am not sure what gives the likes of the opinion of the historian in this case study, Paul Moon, credence over those learned historians. His view isn’t that of the likes of the informed, late Dr Helen Wallis – the president of every cartography organisation imaginable – and who considered an early Iberian discovery to Australia a probability – nor is it that of the British Admiralty in the early 19th century who also considered that the Portuguese probably discovered New Zealand. 

And I am not the first New Zealander to explore (excuse the pun) the theory. In 1894, over 120 years ago, two of New Zealand’s most gifted historians, Dr Thomas Hocken and Dr Robert McNab, theorised that further research might reveal that the true story of the discovery of New Zealand had yet to be told, writing:

“Doubtless before Tasman, there were voyagers who had visited New Zealand … We are justified in thinking that there are buried in the old archives of Portugal and of Spain journals which, if found, would give an earlier account of New Zealand than those which we consider our earliest … The iron-bound chests of Portugal and of Spain are the probable repositories of these treasures, or they may have been emptied into the Papal and monkish libraries … and may lie covered with the accumulated dust of centuries.”

What the likes of Wallis, the British Admiralty, and Hocken and McNab’s views tell you, and they are just examples, is that across multiple generations people have reviewed some of the evidence of Portuguese or Spanish exploration to New Zealand and Australia – the likes of the sixteenth century Dieppe Maps – and seen the same thing and drawn the same conclusion – that being that the Portuguese probably discovered Australia and New Zealand, and the Spanish may have also voyaged to New Zealand pre-Tasman.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Australians’ Kenneth McIntyre, Robert Langdon, and, more recently, Peter Trickett have had similar views.

I include some of the sixteenth century Dieppe Maps below for your assessment.

Desliens Map 1566

Desliens Map 1566


Jean Rotz Map 1542

Jean Rotz Map 1542


Vallard Map 1547 - the eastern coast of Australia

Vallard Map 1547 – with portolan realigned –  the eastern coast of Australia?


Vallard Map 1547 The North island of New Zealand?

Vallard Map 1547. The North island of New Zealand?

In the place of modern-day Australia there is a landmass called Big Java, and similarly, in the place of New Zealand – an island called Illa do magna.

These maps date to between 1542 and 1566 (over 100 years before Tasman); and the most detailed map (from 1547) includes over 120 Portuguese place names which are descriptive of physical features, features which are in those very places today. As an example, at Fraser Island in Australia where there are pumice deposits, the word pomezita (pumice) is written; similarly where the word camronron appears, which means prawns, there is a modern day prawn fishery today. Where the Great Barrier Reef is: Costa Dangeroza – Dangerous Coast. The list goes on. The coastline of the continent is also similar to that of Australia and New Zealand. On the basis of these maps of the sixteenth century Dieppe school of cartographers, and a number of other artefacts within Australia and New Zealand, with all due respect to the person who ‘rubbished’ these theories, on the contrary, the serious and very tenable theory can be made, that the Portuguese discovered Australia and New Zealand.

I ask: Would a 16th-century cartographer make up the coastlines and creatively name more than 120 places? And if they did, isn’t it too much of a coincidence they guessed what the coastline may look like and knew that pumice and prawns and the Great Barrier Reef were in the exact place they imagined?

If interested, for more detail, please read the recent article in the Northern Advocate, entitled: Conquistador Trail From Portugal to Pouto. Click here.

For additional detail, please read my original open letter to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Click here.

For all the detail, have a read of Conquistador Puzzle Trail, assess each puzzle piece on its own merit and form your own view. I think you’ll be as surprised as I was….

It is available at all good independent bookstores and Paper Plus Stores. For those based overseas, please contact Susan Holmes at Bookreps.


Back to our media case study. After nearly 200 years of some of the top historians and cartographers taking the theory seriously, around 30 years ago something changed and it is difficult to put a finger on what that was in historical circles. It is a shame that there seems to have been a generation of historians (some – I am not saying all) in New Zealand and Australia who have largely ignored what is a fascinating area of research, the ramifications being that we most probably have our discovery history wrong. Apart from the likes of Langdon, McIntyre and Trickett, many historians have taken the ‘safe option,’ either ‘rubbishing’ the Iberian theories of this triumvirate, or ignoring them completely. I think fear of being criticised is probably the answer.

Thankfully, society is changing – people are information and knowledge hungry – they want to know the arguments for and against a topic and make up their own mind – as opposed to not having the discussion at all because of fear of being criticised.

On this point, in the case of Conquistador Puzzle Trail, I have asked people’s views, put mine forward – for what is worth – and without fear of criticism. How on earth could one be fearful of criticism when all they are doing is putting information in front of people and asking them to make up their own mind? I’ll stand up and be counted on this one.

Looking ahead, my challenge to New Zealand and Australia, is to forget about the negative stigma that for whatever reason has been associated with the Iberian theory, especially for the past 30 years, and take the time to digest what the Conquistador Puzzle means for New Zealand and Australia. Assess each puzzle piece on its merit and come up with your own conclusions.

And my conclusion, as yours may be, is that the Portuguese nobleman Christopher Mendonça most likely and on the balance of probabilities discovered New Zealand and Australia circa 1520-24. And the Spanish captain Juan Fernandez may have voyaged to New Zealand in 1576-78.

What happens next in this case study?

Historically, if the past 30 years is anything to go by, nothing usually. The Portuguese or Spanish claim is made. It is rubbished. And so the cycle goes on. It’s rubbish, rubbish and rubbish. Don’t talk about it. Don’t discuss it. It’s rubbish.

Yeah, Nah.

The good thing about the present is that it’s in our hands and we don’t have to go down the same route that has been played out time and again over the past 30 years.

My feeling is that this time, this case study is different.

Anyone can make a theory on anything. The theory then sits in the public domain to be assessed and debated. If the majority believe that the theory is true, then it stands the test of time, until new material comes to light either proving it or disproving it. Shouldn’t that be how our history is considered – as a dynamic evolution of ideas? History is, after all, only the bits we know.

On the Portuguese and Spanish discovery question, there is a real opportunity for it to be explored more widely – there just needs to be the interest from society, students and teachers.

In this respect, I have been in contact with the Head of the New Zealand History Teachers Association, Mr Graeme Ball. Like Te Ara, the Association have been open and transparent and professional with their communication, also posting information on Conquistador Puzzle Trail on their website. A history teacher is also currently being sought to review Conquistador Puzzle Trail but to date there have been no volunteers….

A fun challenge: Is there a history teacher in New Zealand or Australia who would like to review Conquistador Puzzle Trail and assess its suitability for teaching in schools?

The first history teacher to get in touch and volunteer for the review, I will send you a free copy.

Looking ahead, at this end, I’ll review the updated text in Te Ara in the Portuguese and Spanish section and with good intentions, try and add some value and additional knowledge.

And ‘About that rubbish.’

Perhaps making the ‘rubbish’ call in respect of the Portuguese or Spanish voyages is now the new ‘rubbish call’.

But that is up to you and what your view is. What is it by the way?

It is your view that is the most important in this korero.