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Life in Early Poverty Bay

Dawn of Settlement in Poverty Bay — Incidents In The Career Of The First European Resident Of Gisborne — Capt. J. W. Harris: Trader, Whaler & Grazier

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Dawn of Settlement in Poverty Bay
Incidents In The Career Of The First European Resident Of Gisborne

Capt. J. W. Harris: Trader, Whaler & Grazier

The interesting historical information contained in this article is taken from a valuable record belonging to Mr. F. Harris, of this town. It was compiled by his father, the late Mr. E. F. Harris, from a diary kept by his own father, the late Captain John Williams Harris, known by the Maoris as Pene Hareti, Pene being short for Kapene (Captain), who arrived in Poverty Bay from Sydney in May, 1831, in a trading vessel, and six years later started on the Turanganui River, Gisborne, the first whaling station established on the East Coast.

Natives Friendly, But Afraid of Enemy Neighbors

Born in Cornwall, England, in 1808, Captain John W. Harris emigrated to Sydney in his youth. He entered the employ of one De Mestre, a merchant, and his first duties were in a counting-house. Later on he went to employment on a station in the Wellington (N.S.W.) district, retiring as manager. In 1831 he came over to New Zealand to represent Montefiore and Company, and settled in Poverty Bay. He made the journey in a vessel commanded by Capt. James Stewart, who in 1809 made the discovery that what was afterwards, and still is, known as Stewart Island did not form part of the South Island. Towards the end of 1849, or the beginning of 1850, Capt. Stewart came to stay with Capt. Harris, but died in 1851 and was buried at the south-east end of the old garden at Tapatahi. Capt. Harris brought over with him from Sydney two subordinates—White, father of Hori Waiti—and Tom Ralph. For a while he stationed White as a trader at Wangawehi (Mahia), and Ralph at what is now called Muriwai, but then always spoken of as Wherowhero. (Note: This is not in accord with the narrative of White, otherwise Barnet Burns, who claimed to have arrived before Capt. Harris and to have been an independent agent for Montefiore, of Sydney). The chief articles of trade at these places were flax and potatoes. Shortly afterwards a branch was also started at Uawa, where one Ferris had lived for some years before Capt. Harris came to Poverty Bay. At the time of Capt. Harris's arrival the natives here were friendly, but lived in dread of probable attacks at the hands of their adjacent enemies. Trade with the natives at that time was restriced to flax, and the need to acquire firearms to repel possible raiders gave a big impetus to business. In the early '30's the natives here were fairly well supplied with firearms—a state of affairs which caused their enemies to hesitate about launching an attack upon them. Capt. Harris lived. first of all, near the mouth of the Big River, and later on removed to Turanga (Gisborne). The name of the mouth of the Big River at that time was Hikaronga, and that of the second mouth Kopututea. To the third and present mouth the same name was given. It was cut by the natives after the flood of 1841. as the previous ridge cutting off the sea was very narrow, and in consequence of an extreme bend there had been great liability to very considerable flooding.

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Capt. J. W. Harris, First Whaler and Trader in Poverty Bay—1831.

Capt. J. W. Harris,
First Whaler and Trader in Poverty Bay—1831.

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How Capt. Sturley Taught Two Chiefs a Lesson.

Visits of vessels to Poverty Bay in the early days were, of course, not very frequent. Most of the strangers hailed from Sydney, and the pioneers in the trade took away principally flax. One of Capt. Harris's firmest friends was Capt. Sturley, who first visited New Zealand in the whaler Essex in 1821, and made a second cruise in 1829. In 1837 he was in the Sydney-East Coast trade as master of the Trent and Mr E. F. Harris went from Sydney to the Bay of Islands with Capt. Sturley in that year, and came on to Gisborne. But two years later he had to return to Sydney to attend the Normal Institution, in Elizabeth Street, of which Mr H. Gordon was the proprietor and master. It was not until the vacation at the close of 1845 that Mr E. F. Harris came back to New Zealand. Amongst many stirring incidents connected with Capt. Sturley's adventurous career was his running away from Wangawehi with the chiefs Hapuku and Puhara, in the Trent. Hapuku used to terrorise all traders and masters of vessels excepting Capt. Harris. Capt. Sturley, having been paid a visit by Hapuku and Puhara took the opportunity of holding them and carrying them off to teach them a lesson. Towards the close of 1840 Capt. Sturley retired from sea life and took up his residence at Te Ariau-hai, Tuparoa, where Mr E. F. Harris stayed with him for a few days in May, 1849.

Whaling Station at Gisborne in 1837.

European settlement in Poverty Bay grew very slowly at the outset, but soon after the arrival of Capt. Harris and the Europeans in his employ. T. Halbert took up his residence here, and a little later on R. Espie and A. Arthur settled in this district. It is narrated that Bishop W. Williams first visited the East Cape and vicinity in 1834, and subsequently his brother, Archdeacon H. Williams, was a visitor to these parts in 1838. On the latter occasion arrangements were made for the location of Native teachers and carried out the same year—three being stationed at Waiapu and four at Gisborne. Another visit was paid by Bishop Williams in 1839 and in January, 1840, he with his family, settled at Turanga. Archdeacon H. Williams landed in New Zealand in 1823, and Bishop W. Williams in 1825; the former made his home at the Bay of Islands, and the latter became first Bishop of Waiapu. Richard Poulgrain settled in Gisborne—then Turanga—in 1840. In the following year Mr and Mrs U'Ren and family (who had reached Wellington in 1840 by the Duke of Roxburgh) came on to Gisborne. Tom U'Ren was born in Poverty Bay on October 12, 1841, being the first European child born here. (Note: Archdeacon H. W. Williams says that one of Bishop Williams' daughters was born at Kaupapa, near Manutuke, six months before Mr T. U'Ren and is of opinion another of the U'Ren family was born before Thomas.) Mr and Mrs Tarr and family settled in Poverty Bay in 1845, and John Harvey changed his place of residence from Wellington to Poverty Bay in 1846. Mr Joseph Carroll (father of Sir James Carroll), who was born in Sydney about 1815, came to the Bay of Islands in 1841, and on to Wairoa in 1842. Although he did well out of his transactions in flax, Capt. Harris turned his attention in 1837 also to the whaling industry, being the first to establish a whaling station on the East Coast, the site being the mouth of the Turanganui River—or, to be more precise, within the river near where the wharves now stand. He began operations in the winter, but his task was restricted to securing whalebone, because no casks were available for oil-storing purposes. During the following season, whaling was in full swing. The station was shifted to the opposite side of the river, where the freezing works now stand, but afterwards to Papawhariki. Another station was started at the Mawhai (Tokomaru Bay) by Mr R. Espie, in conjunction, Mr E. F. Harris thought, with his father, Capt. Harris. Capt. Clayton, in 1838, started whaling at Waikokopu, and page 52 Captain Harris had an interest in the business then, or very shortly afterwards. In 1840 whaling was also begun at Mahia by W. Morris, Tom Ralph and Bob Brown. Capt. Harris dropped out of the whaling business about this time.

How the Primary Industries Were Started

To Capt. Harris also beionged the credit of having done most in the inauguration of the primary industries in this portion of the Dominion. It was he who introduced fruit trees to Poverty Bay, for on his arrival in 1831 he brought with him some peach and apricot trees from Sydney. Other trees planted by him at the same time were upright and weeping willows. Later on Capt. Harris also introduced apple, pear and cherry trees. An oak was planted at Tapa-tahi (Opou) by Capt. Harris on the date of his son Henry's birth, in June, 1837. In 1886 it was believed to be the lar gest oak in New Zealand, the next in size being one at the Mission Station, Bay of Islands. The famous oak planted by Capt. Harris was blown down in the early '90's Capt. Harris also imported the first cattle and horses to this district in 1839, the consignment including three working mares which he purchased at the Bay of Islands from a vessel from Valparaiso. The next were brought a year later by the Rev. W. Williams (first Bishop of Waiapu). Kerry cattle were imported by Moses Yule, a merchant at Makaraka, in 1848. To Mr Yule the district was also indebted for the introduction of good breeds of pigs. The first sheep were introduced by Anaru Matete in 1850, consisting of a few Leicesters, a dozen or so. (Other accounts state that the first sheep were brought to Gisborne in the '40's by Bishop Williams and were shorn at Patutahi by the late Mr J. N. Williams and Capt. Harris.) In 1856 Capt. Harris, together with Capt. Read, began the first sheep station here, its location being on the Kaiti. with sheep imported from Sydney. According to Mr E. F. Harris, no wheat was grown in Poverty Bay when he went over to Sydney for his schooling, in 1839. It was believed by his father that Peruhuka introduced the first parcel. (According to Archbishop H. W. Williams, the chief, Waaka Peruhuka, lived near Kaupapa and was at one time owner of the famous canoe Te Toki a Tapiri, which is now in the Auckland museum. Peruhaka presented the canoe to the famous Ngapuhi chief, Tamati Waaka Nene, receiving in return a piebald stallion named Taika (Tiger) and this would appear to have been the first stallion in the district). From another source Mr. E. F. Harris says that he learned that Andrew Arthur introduced one of the earliest parcels, but the date could not be ascertained. Mr Tarr cropped wheat in 1846, also Mr King, Capt. Harris, and probably others. The natives prepared the ground with spades, and the Europeans with ploughs. Up to 1846 wheat-growing had not become general. Wheat was introduced into the Waiapu by the Rev. Stack after 1840. Mr Tarr grew the first crop of wheat at Makaraka for Mr R. Espie.

The Final Inter-Tribal Wars in Poverty Bay.

Brief reference is made to intertribal troubles shortly before and after Capt. Harris's arrival here. Hongi Hika, who had returned from England to Sydney in December, 1820, made raids on the East Coast at Awatere and in the Waiapu between 1822 and 1824. The Ngapuhi, under Hongi, invaded as far south as Nukutaurua, and took prisoners both there and here. The upshot was that Te Wera, a leading Ngapuhi chief, returned with a prominent chief of Nukutaurua (who had been taken prisoner) and visited Turanga. He finally settled at Nukutaurua, where land was given him. and he settled down quietly with the people of that place. Next came an invasion by the Ngatimaru of Hauraki under Te Rohu, who came through from Heretaunga to Wairoa. Turanga and up the coast into the Waiapu. There was a further invasion by the Tuwahetoas, Taupos and Waikatos under Heuheu. The Ngatikahungunus page 53 from Heretaunga and from past Wairarapa had left their districts and had come to Wangawehi to secure the protection of Te Wera and his Ngapuhis. They, together with Te Wera and the local people, were besieged by the Tuharetoas at a pah on the river near what afterwards became known as Ormond's homestead, at Mahia. It was known as Te Pukenui, from the hill on which the fort was built, and also at Kaiuku, because the besieged were reduced to eating clay and the children became very sickly. Some sections of the natives of Turanga went to the assistance of their besieged friends, but failed to effect a junction as they were attacked and defeated. It was at this time that Taraeo Rini, and Hirini te Kani (a babe in his mother's arms) were captured. Hirini and his mother, at the request of Rawiri, were given up. Rawiri told some of his people to go into slavery or worse as payment. Wi Ngana was (at the time Mr E. F. Harris made the notes) the sole survivor of these men. He is buried in the Kaiti cemetery. The struggle ended with the retirement of the invaders. Te Waru, with some Ngai-te-Rangi, were put to flight subsequently at a battle at Muriwai, and later were defeated at Te Pakake, near Napier, Later on the Ngai te Rangi under Mauri fought in Turanga, attacking isolated pahs. While camping at Turihaua they were attacked by the combined forces of the Rangiwhakaata and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki (Rangiwhakaata retiring at an early stage of the fight), and severely defeated. The next incident relates to the defeat of Waikato raiders at Wairoa, and it was in this fight that Kopu, who afterwards gave loyal support to the Crown in the Hauhau trouble, so ably distinguished himself. There were return fights by our people at Makaukau, Taupo, Aotea, and at the Big Barrier. Kekeparaoa and Tokuakuku were the last of the fights. Wi Pere said that Kekeparaoa started in 1833 and finished in 1834.

Native Version of Captain Cook's Visit.

Not the least interesting feature of the diary is the recounting of incidents gathered from the natives with reference to Captain Cook's landing at Poverty Bay. Land was first sighted by Nicholas Young on October 6, 1769, and Te Kuri was re-named Young Nick's Head. On the 8th, the Endeavour anchored off the Turanganui River, and a party landed in the evening on the east side at the boat harbour or in the creek. There was a pah on a small peninsula on the west side of the river. The party crossed on to the west side and found huts about 200 or 300 yards from the water's edge. Four natives with lances rushed out of the bush to out off the boat's party. Other members of the party who had remained in a pinnace on the east side called out to their comrades to drop down, and one of the natives was shot dead from the pinnace. This was Te Maro, who had one side of his face tattooed. Subsequently another native was killed—Te Rakau, according to the natives. Cook's party then proceeded on a tour of the Bay in search of water. There was a heavy surf and some native fishing canoes were returning home at the time. In a fight another native was killed. In his account, Polack says that Ratu headed the attack and was the first native killed. This is evidently meant for Te Rakau, the second native who lost his life. Shortly after the arrival of Captain Harris he was shown portion of a garment left by Captain Cook on the body of Te Rakau. It was of red serge made into a cloak. Captain Harris tried to buy the cloak, but did not ever succeed in even seeing it again. It was called by the natives Te Makura (Archdeacon Williams says “Te Hinu o Tuhura”) and was worn by high chiefs when going into battle. If it shone, then victory; if dull, defeat or severe loss.

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Holy Trinity Church (showing the Wayside Cross).

Holy Trinity Church (showing the Wayside Cross).