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The Past and Present Of New Zealand With Its Prospects for the Future

Baron De Thierry

Baron De Thierry.

July 8th, 1864, died Charles Baron de Thierry at Auckland, aged 71. This singular individual must not be allowed to pass away without a brief notice. He was a resident in New Zealand several years before it became a British colony, and landed on its shores with the title of Sovereign Chief.

Originally a French emigrant, or rather the son of one born in England, he taught music, and availing himself of the opportunity that gave him of gaining the affections of Archdeacon Rudge’s daughter, persuaded her to elope with him. They were married, and an effort was made to get him ordained. He was presented to the Bishop of Norwich as a candidate, and though every disposition existed to receive him, both by the Bishop and his Examining Chaplain, Mr. Valpy, he was rejected.

In 1825 he met with Mr. Kendall and the chiefs Hongi and Waikato, who were then in England, and gave some trifle to Mr. Kendall to buy a piece of land for him at Hokianga; this he afterwards represented as being a very large sum. A dozen axes were obtained, and with them the purchase was made. On the strength of this investment, about twelve years later, he shipped himself and family to New South Wales; and in 1837 sailed from that colony to New Zealand, having first tried in vain to win over good Mr. page 264 Marsden to his views; whilst at Sydney he assumed the title of Sovereign Chief of New Zealand, and had a kind of proclamation printed to that effect, also styling himself King of Nukuhiva! How he got that dignity I could never learn. The title, however, was valid in the eyes of France, which became the purchaser of it from him; and, acting upon it, seized that island, with the entire group, as forming part of the same kingdom. Nor did the French intend to have stopped there, but to have added the Sovereign Chieftainship of New Zealand to it as well,—fortunately they were just a day too late.

At Sydney the Sovereign Chief appointed his Secretary of State, his Master of Stores, and other officers, with whom he came to Hokianga. His claims there were laughed at by all; the chief, Tamati Waka, in pity, gave him a small piece of land, on which he might be seen himself in the saw-pit, in the humble capacity of a sawyer. In 1840 I accompanied Captain Hobson to his house, which was made of bark, where he introduced us to the Baroness.

When it was reported that the British Government intended to take possession of New Zealand, the Baron wrote to the Missionary body at the Waimate, advising them to establish themselves as an independent State, with some European at their head, at the same time modestly recommending himself, if a more suitable person could not be found, but offering to accept any one they might agree to appoint; the letter was read in our committee, and smiled at. Previously to this he had written to the French Government, evidently making a transfer of his Chieftainship, and they promptly acted upon it. A company was formed, called the “Bourdelaise Compagnie”; two vessels, under Commodore Laborde, were fitted out with all expedition, and filled with emigrants, they reached the Bay of Islands only a few days after the treaty of Waitangi was signed. There can be little doubt that the first intention was to have founded a colony at the Bay, and to have taken possession of all New Zealand; but finding they were too late for that, they directed their attention to the Middle Island; in page 265 that also they were frustrated by the foresight of Captain Stanley. The result was, the French Company left its subjects under the English Government, which behaved kindly to the little colony, and the French were afterwards satisfied with seizing New Caledonia, as a substitute, and some compensation for their disappointment, whilst New Zealand became the noble appendage of the British Crown. On such little things do great events often hang.*

Baron de Thierry afterwards removed to Auckland, where he again resumed the teaching of French and music; when gold was discovered in California, he and one or more of his sons went to try their fortune there, but met with no success in that auriferous region. During his absence his only and beloved daughter’s (Mrs. Matson) death occurred. A singular story connected with that melancholy event was in every one’s mouth. One morning, on the voyage, when the Baron appeared at the breakfast table, he declared his conviction that his daughter was dead, and stated he had seen her in her shroud, which he described as being a very peculiar one, covered with lace. His description, on reaching New Zealand, proved to be correct; at the very time mentioned the poor young lady had died.

Governor Fitzroy ordered a grant of 3000 acres to be made in his favor, but afterwards disallowed it on account of some technical terms. The Baron claimed what he thought was a great district, but when his claim was allowed and the land surveyed according to the boundaries he gave, it turned out to be little more than a hundred acres. It is evident the French Government thought it politic to support his claims, he was offered a passage to France as the country’s guest; it appeared strange that he did not accept it.

The Baron often, though in polite terms, threatened the Government that if his claims were not allowed, he should appeal to the Emperor; in fact, it appears singular what an amount of attention was conceded to him.

The Baron is reported to have told the French Government that he had spent some £40,000 in New Zealand.

page 266

The French vessels which have at various times touched at Auckland have always, it is said, had orders to treat the Baron with the greatest respect.

In 1857 he tried to form a company to work flax, professing to have discovered the right way of doing it. He succeeded in raising large subscriptions; extensive buildings were erected, but the undertaking came to nothing.

When he died he was in very reduced circumstances; still his Will was drawn out as if he had a principality to dispose of, appointing the Bishop of New Zealand, Sir William Martin, and Mr. Whitaker, his trustees. His executors, however, declined to act, and his sons had to obtain £50, advanced on their salaries from the Government, to defray the expences of his burial.

* See page 219.