The Boyd was a 395 ton brigantine convict ship which sailed from Sydney Cove to Whangaroa on the east coast of Northland Peninsula in New Zealand in October 1809, under the command of a Captain John Thompson and carrying about 70 passengers. Aboard the ship was George, the son of a Māori chief from Whangaroa. He asked to work his passage on the boat, but once on board he refused to obey certain orders claiming he had bad health and that he was the son of a chief. He was flogged twice as a punishment, and on reaching Whangaroa, where the Boyd was to pick up kauri spars, George reported the indignities he had been subjected to and showed the marks on his back where he had been whipped. The Māori formed a plan for utu (revenge).
Three days after their arrival, the Maori invited Captain Thompson to follow their canoes up the harbour and into a forest to find kauri trees that could be used as spars. Thompson set off with his chief officer and three men, following the Maori canoes to the entrance of the Kaeo River. The remaining crew members stayed aboard the ship with the passengers, preparing the vessel for an intended journey to England. The Maori utu plan began when canoes and longboats were out of sight of the Boyd. When the boats reached the river banks, the Maori suddenly pulled weapons from their cloaks and attacked the Pakeha (foreigners), killing all of them with clubs and axes. The Maori stripped clothes from the bodies and put on the unfamiliar jackets, trousers, shoes and frock coats. One group carried the bodies to their village to be cooked and eaten. The other group waited till dusk before manning the longboat. At nightfall, the longboat slipped alongside the Boyd where it was greeted by the remaining crew members. Secretly, many other canoes filled with Maori were awaiting the signal to attack. The first blow was an axe to the head of an officer. The attackers then crept around the deck, killing crew quietly. One of the Maori then called the passengers to the deck. A woman was the first of the passengers to be killed. In the ensuing carnage, five survivors hid among the rigging up the mast, where they remained until daybreak the next day. They witnessed the dismembering of bodies below.
Next morning, the survivors saw a large canoe enter the harbour. It belonged to Chief Te Pahi from the Bay of Islands, who had come to trade. The survivors called out to be saved. The Whangaroa Maori silently watched as Te Pahi gathered the survivors aboard his canoe. The chief ordered his canoe to head for shore, but two canoes belonging to the attackers followed. The survivors fled along the beach after scrambling ashore. Te Pahi watched helplessly as all but one were caught and killed by the Whangaroa natives.
However, some people were spared, at least initially. They included Ann Morley and her baby, who were found in a cabin, Thomas Davis, the ship's cabin boy, who had hidden in the hold, the second mate, and Betsy Broughton, a two-year-old girl. Betsy was taken by a local chief, who put a feather in her hair and kept her for three weeks before rescue came. The mate was killed when his usefulness in making fish-hooks ran out.
Maori towed The Boyd towards their pa (village) until it became grounded in mudflats near Motu Wai[Red Island]. They spent several days ransacking the ship, tossing flour, salted pork and bottles of wine overboard. The Maori were, however, interested in a large cache of muskets and gunpowder. About 20 Maori smashed open barrels of gunpowder and tried to get the muskets working. Chief Piopio tried one of the flints, which caused a flash and explosion which rocked the ship, as the nearby gunpowder was ignited by the spark.
Piopio and nine other Maori were killed instantly. The fire swept through the ship and lit its cargo of whaleoil; soon all that was left of the Boyd was a burnt-out hull. A Maori 'tapu' (declaration of a place as sacred or taboo) was placed on the ship.
The remaining Pakeha were saved by the arrival of the ship The City of Edinburgh, which went to Whangaroa under Alexander Berry, after news of the massacre filtered through to areas settled by Pakeha. Berry rescued four survivors, including Morley, her daughter, Betsy and an apprentice named Davies. Crew members found piles of human bones on the shoreline, with many clearly showing teeth marks.
Berry also captured two Māori chiefs responsible for the massacre but, after threatening them with death and securing the Boyd's ship papers, released them as slaves rather than chiefs. His clemency did avoid a bloodshed, which would have been inevitable if he had executed the men. The former chiefs themselves expressed to him gratitude for his clemency.