SYDNEY (Reuters) - Britain's envoy told New Zealand's indigenous Māori on Wednesday that Britain regretted the killings of nine of their number immediately after explorer James Cook landed in the territory 250 years ago.
At a ceremony marking the delivery in person of a "statement of regret" to local Māori tribal leaders ahead of the anniversary of Cook's arrival, High Commissioner Laura Clarke said Britain understood that the pain of that arrival had not gone away, but did not offer a formal apology.
"Here on behalf of the four countries of the United Kingdom, on behalf of the people of those four countries ... I acknowledge the pain of those first encounters," she told reporters in Gisborne, on the eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island. She was expected to present a formal statement to local tribes privately.
Cook's ship, the Endeavour, landed on the east side of the Turanganui River, near present-day Gisborne, on Oct. 8, 1769.
The expedition got off to a disastrous start when a tribal leader, Te Maro, was shot and killed by one of Cook's men. Historians say the Māori may have been performing a ceremonial challenge that the Europeans took to be an attack.
"I acknowledge the deaths of nine of your ancestors including Te Maro who were killed by the crew of the Endeavour," Clarke said, in remarks shown on New Zealand television.
"That was greatly regretted by the crew of the Endeavour at the time ... and it is regretted here today. It is deeply sad that the first encounter happened in the way that it did and to you as the descendants of those killed, I offer my every sympathy, for I understand that pain does not diminish with time."
New Zealand is due to mark the anniversary of Cook's arrival with events that will feature a replica of the Endeavour.
(Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Kevin Liffey)