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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Monarch of All He Surveyed

Monarch of All He Surveyed

Shortly after Harris arrived, he moved his trading station from a spot at Awapuni near where the municipal abattoirs now stand to the western bank of the Turanganui River. In the Royal Geographical Society's Journal for 1832, p. 135, there is an item as under:

Hawke's Bay: At Turanga, in this bay, is a flax establishment, with five or six white men resident.”

This is, plainly, a reference to Harris's establishment at the side of the Turanganui River. Turanga is, of course, not in Hawke's Bay.

W. L. Williams (East Coast, N.Z. Historical Records, p. 5) says that Harris's occupation gave him great influence, and that he used to speak of himself as having been “monarch practically of all I surveyed.”

“The original building in which Harris lived and stored his goods,” he adds, “was of the same unsubstantial character as those which the natives occupied; but, notwithstanding the eager demand that there was on all sides for the articles which he had to dispose of, his rights of property were thoroughly respected. Nor had he ever any reason to complain of the treatment he received…. The natives fully recognised the privilege which they enjoyed in having a pakeha, and were exceedingly careful not to do anything that might have the effect of driving him away, even though he might have done what, under different circumstances, might have cost him his life.”

In June, 1841, when Captain Campbell, of the Minerva, came ashore to visit Harris, there was a six-roomed cottage and a two-storey trading store, besides other buildings in wood, on the property.

page 100

It was probably in 1832, or early in 1833, that Harris took unto himself for wife Tukura, a first cousin of Rawiri Te Eke, and, therefore, a woman of considerable rank. Hirini te Kani, a son of Rawiri by his principal wife, succeeded Te Kani-a-Takirau, the renowned East Coast chief. Giving evidence in a land case, Riparata Kahutia said that Harris also took a wife from among Paratene's relatives. This story lacks confirmation; in any event, it was only hearsay, for Riparata was not then born. Harris and Tukura had two sons, Edward Francis (born in 1834) and Henry (born in 1837). Tukura has a memorial in a street name on Kaiti, Gisborne.

An amusing incident, which indicates the amount of care that Harris required to exercise in his dealings with the natives, is thus described by W. L. Williams:

Paratene Turangi had a son about eight years old whom Harris saw one day beating his mother with a great stick. Shocked at such undutiful conduct, he gave the boy a slight blow to make him desist. Upon this, there arose an angry clamour from all sides in which no one joined more loudly than the boy's mother. He had struck a chief's son—an unpardonable offence! Harris listened to the volumes of wrath which were uttered by one and another, not knowing what his fate might be. After much steam had been blown off, Turangi himself stood up and commented for some time on the gravity of the offence, concluding with a reference to the ignorance of the pakeha of the respect which was due to the son of a great chief. ‘What else,’ he said, ‘could you expect from an ignorant pakeha?’ So the trouble ended.”

None of Harris's descendants ever suggested that he had witnessed an act of cannibalism. However, a story handed down states that, during one of his earliest visits to Opou, he came across a young woman's body. In the belief that the natives intended to eat it, he dragged it into the adjacent bush. When it was missed, he was suspected of having removed it. Paratene sent him home by canoe instead of allowing him to return overland. It is added that the chief also warned his wrathful kinsfolk that Harris would leave them if they molested him, and that it might not be possible to get as good a pakeha to take his place.

Some years after Harris had obtained his whaling station site at Papawhariki, complaint was made by some of the former owners that he had not paid enough for it. He explained that Rawiri and others had given the block to him in trust for his half-caste sons. According to the complainants, the consideration had been only a mare. When the matter came before a tribal meeting, Rawiri, it is stated, asked: “How many descendants have there been from the mare?” The progeny were enumerated. “Enough!” cried Rawiri. “If Bene [Harris] hears that she has page 101 had so many foals, he will say: ‘Give me all the horses, and you can have your land back!’” The complaint was then dropped.