The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)
Capture of the Brig “Haweis” — A Story of Old Whakatane
A Hundred years ago the leagues of sun-glistening sands and the pumice cliffs of the Bay of Plenty hid as savage and treacherous an enemy as the jungle banks of some New Guinea rivers do to-day. No less than peace, trade has had its martyrs, and though the whalers or flax-traders manned their tops with armed men and cast their loaded carronades loose, yet there were times when the fierce New Zealanders swept the decks of some lonely ship, sometimes to avenge brutal ill-treatment, and sometimes to take the white men's goods by the rangatira way of arms. The taking of the “Boyd” in 1809 is one of the classic stories, but the drama was enacted often enough in other havens than Whangaroa. For example, here is the story of the capture of the brig Haweis off Whakatane in the month of March, 1829 told in the somewhat stilted words of John F. Atkins, second mate of the brig, and the sole survivor of those actually on the vessel at the time of its capture. To-day you can stand on the hemlock grown summit of Puketapu pa, where the wounded mate was held captive, and look out over the clustered roofs of Whakatane to Whale Island where the tragedy was staged 110 years ago. Now, of course, the scene is one of peace, but some echo of the haka of triumph and the boom of long burned powder still mingles with the whistle of the wind and the wash of the surf below.
The Haweis was four months out of Sydney when she came to anchor off Whale Island in fine, calm weather. She had traded for flax down the Bay of Plenty coast, and had repelled several attempts by the Maoris to seize the ship. After visiting Tauranga to buy pork for ship's stores the captain, by name James, had learnt that there were plenty of pigs at Whakatane and some days earlier he had sent Atkins off to “Walkeetanna” in a small boat. Atkins tells how he found the chief “Enarraro” (Te Ngarara) living in a pa situated “on a steep, lofty and conical hill, of great natural strength, fortified by an embankment of earth, approached by a narrow and circular pathway.” Te Ngarara, a tall, wellproportioned man heavily tattooed, promised to sell hogs, and Atkins, after bad weather foiled an attempt to reach the ship by boat, with a Maori guide walked the sixty miles to Tauranga, rejoining his mates after two days’ hard travelling.
“We bore away for Whakatane where we arrived the next night to the seeming joy of the natives, who came off in large canoes with a plentiful supply of hogs, which we purchased of them without bringing the ship to an anchor,” says Atkins. “‘Enarraro’ came on board, and welcomed us with much apparent cordiality, the same feeling seeming to actuate his people.” The Haweis then returned to Tauranga where the pigs were killed, but the quantity was insufficient, and on 1st March the brig returned to Whale Island. The Maori canoes were soon alongside and more pigs were bought. Early next morning the chief officer and eight hands landed on the island and killed and dressed the pigs near a boiling spring (which still exists). At mid-day the captain took a boat to recall the shore party to dinner, leaving Atkins in charge of the brig with three men. The captain obviously had little doubt of the good intentions of the Maoris, but Atkins, who knew a little Maori, had his suspicions.
“At the time ‘Enarraro’ was on board with about ten natives alongside,” he says. “I noticed them several times in earnest conversation about the ‘kebooke’ (or ship) and, suspecting some treachery, I desired the steward, who was an Otaheitian, to hand up the cutlasses, keeping a strict watch on the chief, who I saw cock his piece, and put it under his ‘kakahoo’ (cloak). His men at this signal sprang into the main chains, each having a musket which they had secreted in their canoes. We had no pistols on deck, and I was well aware that if but one of us went below for them they would take advantage of his absence… As our muskets were placed in the tops, not only as a security but as a precautionary measure in the event of an attack, I ordered one of the crew to go into the foretop and shoot the chief. They each positively refused, not being so convinced as I was of the designs of the savages, and seeing that not a moment was to be lost, I went up myself, giving strict orders to keep a sharp look-out, to which they paid little attention, telling me that I was meditating the life of an innocent man.”
The wounded men lay down in the foretop while the Maoris danced a haka “with the most hideous howlings,” which must have rung dismally in their ears. Three large war canoes, which had been ambushed behind the rocky end of the island then swept alongside, and the looting of the brig began, and Atkins tells how several Maoris, carried away with the lust of plunder and paying little attention to the authority of their chief, were speared through the body and died on the spot rather than relinquish their booty. At sunset, the mate continues, the natives dragged the wounded men down from the top and threw them into the canoes which were paddled swiftly through a tremendous surf over the bar of the Whakatane River and up to the settlement. “Some of the canoes more heavily laden, and containing the greater part of the arms, were swamped, the natives saving their lives with much difficulty with the loss of their canoes…. I behold it with exultation,” adds Atkins with pardonable pleasure.
He goes on to say that at the pa the party was received with songs of triumph by the women who “with every demonstration of extravagant joy welcomed the return of their heroic lords … They conveyed me to a place where they had kindled large fires around which they collected, the glaring flames displaying with increased effect the horror of their distorted countenances…. I knew sufficient of their language to be fully aware that I was the subject of their deliberations.” Atkins considered his fate sealed, but help came from an unexpected quarter, for, in the best Boys’ Own Paper style, the chief who had guided him to Tauranga interceded for him, promising that if the captive was not ransomed by a certain date he would kill him, and pointing out that a musket would be of much more importance than the mate's life.
For two days and nights Atkins lay in agony in the pa. Nobody did any thing to alleviate the pain of his shattered arm, the only response to his groans coming when his preserver, unable to sleep for the noise, turned the wounded man out of his hut. At length Atkins says that he bound up the wound with a piece of leather and his stocking. On the second day he says he suffered a cruel blow when he saw a schooner approach the dismantled Haweis and tow her away, the natives refusing to allow him to go off and ransom himself.
On the third day he was given the cheering sight of the head of the native steward who had died on the morning after the capture of the brig. The head had been preserved and elaborately tattooed. Atkins, of course, shuddered at the thought that his own head might soon be treated similarly. However, his deliverance was in sight for on the fourth morning the natives told him that the people of Tauranga, attracted by the news of plunder, were coming to attack them.
“By this time the enemy were on the opposite bank of the river and commenced a brisk fire which was well returned. A native conducted me to the back of the settlement, my preservation appearing now an object of their solicitude. Shortly after I heard the report of one of our cannons, when a song of joy was raised by the defenders, for the enemy took to their heels with great precipitation. ‘Enarraro’ accompanied by several chiefs, then came to me … saying I was an ‘attoah’ (a god).”
Atkins’ head was now firmer on his shoulders than it had been and he continues, after a digression on the manners and customs of his captors, that on 9th March he was informed that the captain of the Haweis had escaped to Tauranga, whence he had despatched two chiefs overland to Whakatane with muskets to ransom his second mate. Atkins was then allowed to leave for Tauranga “amid expressions of esteem and regret at my departure.” His painful land journey took three days. His wound was still undressed, and though on 15th March they reached the Bay of Islands the Church of England missionary there, the Rev. Henry Williams, was not a medical man and could do little for him. Thus it was not until the wounded man arrived at Sydney on 25th March that he had proper attention. Three bullets and fragments of stones were extracted from his arm, but Atkins kept the limb though the doctors advised amputation. Later he returned to England.
Towards the end of his story he gives an account of the fortunes of the men on the island when the brig was taken. When Captain James landed, says Atkins, he saw a native running away with the knives of the shore party, and then he found that the hatchets and oars had also been stolen. They chased a native and recovered the oars, though other Maoris were firing briskly at them from behind the rocks. They saw that Te Ngarara had the Haweis and since they were unarmed the captain decided it was useless to attempt her recapture and therefore rowed off in the direction of Tauranga.
Te Ngarara, the villain of the piece, was the noted Ngati-awa chief of his day and is a well-remembered ancestor of the Whakatane people. From the pakeha point of view it is interesting to note that later, in 1829, while attempting to repeat his Haweis coup, he was shot dead in his canoe off Whale Island by a Ngapuhi gentleman who was evidently not so trusting as the credulous sailors of the Haweis.
Just as the Whangarei train left Auckland the other day the passenger in the corner heaved a sigh of relief, and sought pipe and pouch for a comfortable smoke. Pipe was forthcoming. Pouch had been left behind! Noting his annoyance, his neighbour politely proffered his pouch with a cheery “Have a fill of mine!” Offer gratefully accepted. Ten minutes later the owner of the missing pouch said: “Pardon me — but what tobacco is this?” “New Zealand,” was the reply. “Cut Plug No. 10. Like it?” The other man nodded. “It's fine,” he said, “don't know when I've enjoyed a smoke so much. Any other brands?” “Five altogether,” he was told. “Riverhead Gold, Desert Gold, Cavendish, Navy Cut No. 3, and Cut Plug No. 10. You can't beat them for flavour and bouquet, and as they contain next to no nicotine you can smoke them for hours on end and never tire of them Quite harmless, too.” The other made a note of the names of the brands, remarking: “They're worth remembering.” They are. *