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

Northern Whalers Invade Mahia

Northern Whalers Invade Mahia

Whaling was first engaged upon at Mahia and Waikokopu in 1837, when an invasion by whalers from the Bay of Islands began. Writing to the Hawke's Bay Herald in June, 1868, “An Old Colonist” [probably F. W. C. Sturm] says that two whale-fisheries were established there in that year—one by Ward Brothers at Waikokopu, and the other by Captain Wm. Ellis at Te Mahia [probably on the southern side and opposite Waikokopu] and as a consequence, a number of pakehas collected there.

“Most of the whites,” he states, “had each a domestic establishment, with an aboriginal lady at the head of it, and the good old plan of page 147 having a pet chief who took you in charge and, whilst plundering you himself, preserved you from others was still in vogue. ‘Messieurs the Whites’ led a pretty considerable, careless, reckless. Godless kind of life, drinking and gambling, having, in these halcyon days, full liberty of action.”

Harris junior was under the erroneous impression (Harris Memoirs, p. 7) that whaling did not start at Waikokopu until 1838, and that Captain G. E. Clayton conducted the first station there. He also suggests that his father had an interest in the concern either at the beginning or shortly afterwards. If, however, Captain Harris ever did have any whaling interests in Northern Hawke's Bay, they were most likely in association with Captain Ellis. When Harris remarried, his second wife was a Miss Hargraves, and Ellis took one of her sisters for his second wife. These women were sisters of Edmund H. Hargraves, who on 12 February, 1851, soon after his return from the gold-rush in California, discovered gold at Bathurst (Aus.), receiving a reward of £5,000. Hargraves came out to New Zealand with his parents and other members of the family with the de Thierry expedition, which landed at Hokianga on 4 November, 1837. His brother Charles was the father of Mrs. W. E. Goffe, of Gisborne.

Dinwiddie, in Old Hawke's Bay, says that, after the first season the Wards retired and Ellis took over their station. Thomas Bateman, of the Bay of Islands, claimed that, in December, 1837, he bought land called “Waicocoboo” [Waikokopu] adjoining the station which was being carried on by William and James Ward, and that he fitted it out as a whaling station. It is stated in Brett's Early History of New Zealand, p. 176, that the whaling station which Clayton operated at Waikokopu had previously been owned by Greenaway and Batman [? Bateman], and that it was destroyed by fire in 1839, “Captain Clayton having only just taken possession.” Greenaway was, probably, George Greenaway, merchant, of the Bay of Islands, and his part in the enterprise would be that of a sleeping partner. Only Bateman put in a claim for a Crown Grant for the whaling-station site. In 1843, Perry, an American, bought out Ellis, who went on to Long Point, but, eventually, settled at Auckland.

Mahia became the principal whaling base on the mid-eastern section of the North Island coastline. In 1851 Mr. McLean estimated that one hundred and forty Europeans, together with about twice as many natives, lived there entirely by whaling. No difficulty was experienced in recruiting labour; the natives simply revelled in the thrilling sport. Many bad characters—human flotsam at its worst—drifted to Mahia. In 1850 The New Zealand Spectator, referring to a report that an escaped murderer was believed to be page 148 making for that district, remarked: “It seems to be the Alsatia of the colony, to which all the disorderly and desperate characters resort, so as to be out of reach of the law.”

When the U.S. brig Falco (Captain Moseley) was wrecked at Table Cape on 27 July, 1845, Europeans from the whaling stations assisted the natives to plunder her. The New Zealander (15/9/1845) states:

“These ruffians rushed on board and hemmed in the captain and the officers on the quarter-deck, threatened them with violence, broke open the hatches, got into the hold, and either destroyed or carried away much of the cargo. The mail bags and boxes were taken and allletters likely to contain enclosures, as well as the government dispatches, were opened. Some were seen in the hands of the natives, who were offering them for sale: a large one for ten figs of tobacco, and so on in proportion down to an ordinary-sized letter for one fig. What the plunderers thought was not worth taking they destroyed. The whites were even more eager than the natives, and seemed particularly pleased as they tore open the government dispatches…. They then began to strip the hull, and to remove the spars and standing rigging … and this was done to prevent the possibility of the vessel being got off. Had the whites held aloof, and been disposed to save the ship and the cargo, the natives would never have made an attack on the vessel.”

When Archdeacon W. Williams arrived on the scene he convened a meeting of the natives. Some members of the whaling fraternity also put in appearance and made uncalled-for reflections upon him. Many of the natives seemed desirous of giving up their booty, which, they said, they would not have taken had they not been urged on by the whites. However, for the articles which they returned they demanded as much as they were worth! Most of the stolen letters, which included correspondence for almost everybody of note in Auckland, were returned.

Friendly natives had to be called upon to protect Mr. Williams because some of the Europeans had threatened “to drink his blood.” Upon it becoming known that an attack might be made on Perry's store (where the U.S. Consul's treasures had been placed for safe keeping), a nightly guard of two hundred natives was set. “The fisheries,” it was added, “are now all broken up, as almost all the whalers have retired into the bush to enjoy their portions of the spoils.”

The native custom of regarding half-caste children as belonging to the mother's tribe was enforced in the case of a son of Sam Delamere (Teramere), who whaled with others at Whitianga (near the mouth of the Motu River), at Cape Runaway and at Wharariki in the 1840's. Delamere was an American, and he married Peti te Ha. Their children were: Ned (born at Whitianga) and Annie, Elizabeth and Isabel (born at Wharariki). He page 149 rejoined a whaler and revisited the United States. Upon his return to the Bay of Plenty he was advised not to go on to Whitianga, where his wife and family lived, as she had taken another husband.