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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 6 (September 1939)

Coromandel Peninsula … — and the Thames Coast — Interesting History

page 17

Coromandel Peninsula
and the Thames Coast
Interesting History

The Coromandel Peninsula and the Thames Coast offer two things to the interested visitor: superb scenic attractions and a fund of history and tradition.

The Peninsula, of course, is more than worth a visit for the sake of its magnificent scenery alone. Long after the nightmare memory of the roads has faded even from the nervous driver's mind, picture after picture of captured beauty remains. This, for instance:

A hill road with the warm sun thrown across it like a cloak. Far below, the shape of island upon island rising darkly from the blue quietude of the sea. Towards the horizon, a strip of light thrown like a bracelet of silver on the blue. Nearer at hand, the fingers of Coromandel Harbour stretching into the surrounding hills. Everywhere hills—those in the foreground lit with sun, those in the distance rising into thin blue mists from banks of milk-white fog. Over everything, silence so complete, a peace so profound, that one would think the hills had never suffered the imprint of a human foot or the sea been violated by a sail. Yet all over Thames and Coromandel the past has left its mark; the hills have been gashed for gold, and the sea known many a ship—Capt. Cook's amongst them.

He it was, indeed, who named Cape Colvill “in honour of the Right hon'ble the Lord Colvill.”

After a reference to Coromandel Harbour, his Journal says:—“The Natives residing about this River do not appear to be very numerous considering the great Extent of Country, at least not many came off to the Ship at one time. … They are a Strong, well-made active People as any we have seen yet, and all of them Paint their Bodys with Red Oker and Oil from Head to foot, a thing that we have not seen before. Their Canoes are large, well-built, and Ornamented with Carved work.”

Entries in the Journal also make clear the fact that “the Natives,” however active and well-made they might have been, did not have things all their own way, as shown by this incident:

“… While we lay under the land (four miles from Cape Colvill) 2 large Canoes came off to us; in one of them were 62 people; they staid about us some time, then began to throw stones into the Ship, upon which I fir'd a Musquet ball thro’ one of the Canoes. After this they retir'd ashore.”

Punitive measures were also applied in another instance. Capt. Cook relates the story:

“… A good many of the Natives were alongside and on board, Trafficking with our people for such Trifles as they do, and seem'd to behave as well as people could do, but one of them took the ½ hour glass out of the Bittacle, and was caught in the very fact, and for which Mr. Hicks, who was Commanding Officer, brought him to the Gangway and gave him a Dozen lashes with a Catt of nine Tails. The rest of the people seem'd not displeased at it when they came to know what it was for, and some old man beat the fellow after he had got into his Canoe.”

Evidently crime didn't pay, even in those days!

(Photo. Thelma R. Kent.) The Williams Memorial Church at Paihia, Bay of Islands.

(Photo. Thelma R. Kent.)
The Williams Memorial Church at Paihia, Bay of Islands.

Leaving human nature for Mother Nature for a while, one entry in Cook's Journal in regard to his sojourn in the “Frith of Thames” is particularly interesting—and saddening—to any New Zealander who looks with seeing eye upon the denuded bush all over the Dominion.

“After landing … we had not gone a hundred yards into the woods before we found a Tree that girted 19 ft. 8 ins, 6 ft. above the ground, and having a Quadrant with me, I found its length from the root to the first branch to be 89 feet; it was as Straight as an Arrow and Taper'd but very little in proportion to its length, so that I judged that there was 356 Solid feet of timber in this Tree, clear of the branches. We saw many others of the same sort, several of which were Taller than the one we measured, and all of them very stout.”

But it was gold, and not timber which was to lift Thames into such prominence later on. Going through Pollen Street on a Sunday now it is difficult, perhaps, to imagine the sight it presented in the days when Thames, as in 1870, had an officially-computed population of 15,000. Then, as stated by Mr. Fred. W. Weston, in his book on the Thames Goldfields, the thoroughfares, “on a fine Saturday night, were paraded by thousands of people—to such an extent, indeed, that the mere footpaths could not accommodate the throngs, and there was always a large overflow on to the main roadway.”

Even walking in those days had its page 18 perils, at least as far as ladies were concerned. In her “Thames Reminiscences,” Mrs. J. E. Macdonald relates how on one occasion, in 1867, she went up Tookey's Hill. The mud was so deep and her leg sank in it so far that it was impossible for her to pull it out, and she was forced to wait as patiently as she could until a miner came along and rendered assistance.

Still, there were compensations, and one of them must have been the sight of the dandies whom Mr. Weston describes:—

“To see the bachelor dandies of the Thames hills in their Sunday-best, consisting of a rich-coloured check shirt, moleskin trousers, and broad and tasselled sash, the whole surmounted by the ‘full-share’ broad-brimmed hat of soft felt, was to see a sight for the gods….”

The sports attire of modern males, which 1939 masculinity thinks so dashing, pales into insignificance beside this ancient splendour, but they had imagination in those old days, as the names of the mines prove. Listen to some of them: Flying Cloud, Golden Spur, Ladybird, All Nations, Hand of Friendship, Queen of Beauty, Candle-light No. 1, Sink-to-Rise, Pride of the West, Morning Star, Bright Smile, the May Queen.

Isn't there a richness in those very names that matched the splendour of the dandies’ attire? Yet there was more than a richness of name—there was a richness of yield, too. The printed record of the “Thames Gold-fields Jubilee 1867–1917” gives details of the approximate yields of some of the leading mines. Here are two or three of the many:—Caledonian £2,000,000, Waiotahi £700,000, Kuranui £500,000, Queen of Beauty £375,000, and so on—amazing figures from amazingly prolific mines.

But let us end on another note—history not of the white man's making, but of the Maori's. This tale of the Thames Coast (given in the “Jubilee of Thames Goldfields, 1867–1917 Historical Record”) is one which would colour the pages of any country's history book. Hongi the Ubiquitous enters into it. During his famous visit to England, one of his people was killed by a member of the Ngatimaru tribe of the Thames district. The enraged Hongi, who had guns while his enemy had only stone, wood or bone weapons, warned the Ngatimaru of his intention to retaliate, and prepared to attack. Their stronghold was Totara Pa—which occupied a strategically-perfect position, for any invading fleet could be seen in the Hauraki Gulf, twenty miles away.

It was in October, 1821, on a glorious spring morning, that the attacking war canoes, each manned by 50 or 60 warriors (800 in all) came in sight.

Hongi, however, had the perspicacity to realise that his arms would be futile in view of the enemy's impregnability of position. He therefore made a so-called peace, embarked his men in their canoes, and disappeared behind Tararu Point. Once out of sight, the fleet drew the canoes up on the beach, and leaving them protected by a guard, returned on foot to Totara in the darkness. In the early morning a man of the Ngatimaru noticed them, and they shot him dead. Then followed the thunder of Hongi's guns—and here arises an incident which should surely never die.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Hon. D. G. Sullivan, Minister of Railways (centre), with the General Manager of Railways and members of the Parliamentary Party at the Railway Workshops at Woburn, Wellington, on 27th July, 1939.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Hon. D. G. Sullivan, Minister of Railways (centre), with the General Manager of Railways and members of the Parliamentary Party at the Railway Workshops at Woburn, Wellington, on 27th July, 1939.

Among the prisoners whom Hongi took were two young men of high rank, Tukehu and Wetea. They were bound, and a haangi (oven) made ready.

“While the Ngapuhi leader stood with poised spear ready to slay the bound and defenceless youths, the elder brother Wetea asked not to be killed at once, but to be permitted to utter a last farewell to his people ere he departed.”

He then composed a chant which he sang with a steady voice in the very face of death.

“Hongi, suddenly recollecting that his son-in-law, Tete, had been slain, rushed upon the defenceless Wetea, and with a sword hacked off a portion of his breast, throwing it upon the fire.

With blood streaming from his body, the noble youth, as though unconscious of his enemies, and insensitive to the pain, continued his song without a pause.

As he finished, he taunted Hongi with his treachery and was immediately slain by his outraged captor. His fellow prisoner Tukehu was also slain and their bodies consigned to the haangi.

The sequel came when the Ngapuhi (Hongi's people) returned to their home at the Bay of Islands. Hongi's daughter, on learning of her husband's death, was so demented that she seized Hongi's sword and rushed to the water's edge where a canoe containing sixteen female prisoners lay. These she slaughtered, and “as their life-blood reddened the waters of the bay she ascended the hill, and in view of all her tribe killed herself.”

Thus ended in the Bay of Islands a drama begun on the Thames Coast.

George Robey, the famous London comedian, relates in his amusing reminiscences, that he smoked his first cigarette when he was 14 and enjoyed it so much that he annexed one of his father's pipes “and had a go at that.” He sums up that experience in two words—“Oh my!” He left tobacco severely alone after that for a long time. Then he tried again, “and ever since has preferred a pipe to any other way of smoking.” Well, there's nothing like a pipe—unless it's a cigarette, but make sure your tobacco's right. It should be pure, have flavour and aroma, and be as free as possible from nicotine. So those who smoke “toasted” can't go far wrong! For it's wonderfully pure, there's next to no nicotine in it, because it's toasted, consequently harmless. And so for flavour and bouquet where can you find its equal? Five brands only of the genuine toasted: Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. They vary in strength, but the quality's the same—unapproachable.*