Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Shore-whaling Begins in Poverty Bay in 1837—Sport Thrills the Natives—Mahia's Evil Reputation—Whalers and Natives Plunder U.S. Brig “Falco”—Incidents on the East Coast.
The “Father of Shore-whaling in Poverty Bay” was Captain J. W. Harris, who established his first whaling-station alongside his trading post within the Turanganui River in 1837. Previously, he had obtained some oil and bone from a cetacean cast up on shore. It is not unlikely they formed part of the cargo of the brig Martha, which reached Sydney from Poverty Bay, with Harris as a passenger, in January, 1837. She had on board twenty-three bundles of whalebone and two casks of oil, as well as four cases of hams, two cases of mats, 1,430 baskets of maize, thirty-seven pigs, thirty casks of pork and two casks of hams.
In March, 1837, Harris set out from Sydney on his homeward journey in the Currency Lass. During the previous month the Marion Watson had left Sydney for Poverty Bay with a cargo of two barrels of rum, one case of gin, five kegs of tobacco, three chests of tea, three bags and one hogshead of sugar, eight casks of pork, twelve of beef, two of salt, one of peas, 100 lance poles, twelve casks of bread, 100 tons of empty casks, and seven casks of flour. Doubtless, this cargo represented purchases made by Harris in connection with his projected whaling-station.
Whaling must have been in full swing in Poverty Bay during the winter of 1837, notwithstanding a statement in the Harris Memoirs that, in that year, “only whalebone was sought, as there were [?] no casks for oil.” Before a Select Committee of the House of Lords in 1838, J. B. Montefiore, of Sydney, gave evidence that his firm, “being the agent for parties … in Poverty Bay, had, during the previous year, received large quantities of … whalebone and oil….” As the site of the tryworks proved too far within the Turanganui River, a move was made, after the 1837 season, to Waikahua, on the other side of the river and adjacent to the spot where the Cook Memorial now stands. F. W. Williams (Through Ninety Years, p. 35) says that William Williams, together with Colenso, Matthews and Stack called at Waikahua on 26 January, 1838, and found that “here, J. W. Harris has an establishment for catching black whales, where 18 Europeans are employed.”
The station was shifted to Papawhariki (on the mainland opposite Tuamotu Island) in November, 1838. Robert Espie was, it page 146 seems, Harris's chief assistant at the start of operations. Tom Ralph, Bob Brown, Billy Brown and Thomas Halbert were, no doubt, also key men then. In 1838, when Espie went off to establish a whaling-station at Mawhai (E.C.), Halbert took his place. Ralph, Bob Brown and William Morris moved to Mahia in 1840, and in 1842 Harris retired from active participation in the industry and settled at Opou.
Returning to Papawhariki in 1843, Morris married Puihi, of Wahanui (Ormond), whose guardian was a chief named Te Mauhara. In 1844 he went whaling at Whakaari (H.B.). A trypot which he left there was retrieved in 1916 by Mr. Russell Duncan and a party from Napier. Morris's next station (1846) was at Cape Kidnappers, where, according to Wakefield's Handbook of New Zealand (1848), he had three boats and employed twenty men. In 1848 he moved back to Poverty Bay and, for a time, whaled at Waikahua.
Billy Brown was the last of the pioneer whalers to operate in and about Poverty Bay. Upon leaving Harris's employ, he whaled at Waikahua. His next station was at Whangara. Then he went on to Pokotakino (just to the south of Gable End Foreland). As late as 1852 he was whaling at Tuahine Point. One of the few remaining relics of the industry in this portion of the Dominion is a trypot at Pokotakino, but, as other whalers operated at that spot many years after Brown had retired, it might not have belonged to him.
Harris, it is stated by his son, had an interest at the start in the Mawhai station. Espie, however, claimed to have bought the site (100 acres) in 1838. It lay on the southern side of the peninsula and, being well sheltered, it was frequently used, in later years, by small craft when they were unable to land cargo at Tokomaru Bay. Probably, it was Espie who called the spot “St. Patrick's Cove”—he described it by that name in a letter which he sent to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales in December, 1840.