Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
“Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit-Nose”
“Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit-Nose”
In Early Maoriland Adventures (Canon J. W. Stack), an early East Coast trader appears under the nickname “Rabbit-nose.” Stack was only a boy of nine years when he accompanied his father, in 1844, on an overland journey from Poverty Bay to Rangitukia mission station. When they reached Omaewa (just to the north of Port Awanui), it was found impossible to proceed until the tide fell. They rested at the home of “Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit-nose.” The “Rabbit-noses” had been settled on the spot for some years, and, two years before they were visited by the Stacks, the husband had fenced in the house and planted an orchard. That they were living in a considerable degree of comfort is shown by Stack's happy recollection, many years afterwards, of the savoury stew which “Mrs. Rabbit-nose” served up with the aid of a fowl which her husband, in honour of the occasion, had obtained from their poultry-yard.
According to Canon Stack, the trader was called “Rabbit-nose” by the natives on account of his habit of “twitching his nose like a rabbit.” In a footnote, Bishop H. W. Williams suggested that it was unlikely that any such name had been bestowed by the natives, seeing that there had never been, so far as he was aware, any rabbits in the Waiapu district. It was, seemingly, page 134 unknown to him that, when the ownership of the Pouhautea block was being investigated in May, 1886, Hemi Tapeka gave evidence that, in his parents' day, Te Paoku put pigs on Pouhautea and that one of Te Paoku's brothers liberated rabbits on the block. (Pouhautea lies just to the north of Omaewa and is on the southern bank of, and near the mouth of, the Waiapu River.) The name of the district from which the rabbits were obtained is not given, nor is it stated how it came about that they died out. No other reference to rabbits on the East Coast has been found.
“Mr. Rabbit-nose” was Thomas Atkins, many of whose descendants are to be found on the East Coast to-day. Reweti Kohere informed the writer that Atkins was known to his face by the natives as “Tame Akena” (Tommy Atkins), but, behind his back he was always referred to not as “Rabbit-nose” but as “Tame Huti,” or “Tommy the Sniffer,” a nickname which had its origin on account of his habit of twitching his nose in rabbit fashion.
When maize was first grown on Taumata-o-te-Whatiu No. 1 block, some of the crop was taken to Atkins. Kereama (one of the growers) took only a small quantity, and, as Atkins was not prepared to give him, in return, all the goods that he demanded, he helped himself to Atkins's stock-in-trade. A chief threw a spear at Kereama, and then both fired off guns, but neither was hit. Eventually, Kereama recompensed Atkins. Hemi Tapeka (Waiapu N.L. Court minute book No. 19) told the court that the crop was grown just before Whanau-a-Apanui's attack upon Ngati-Porou at Rangitukia and the return fight at Toko-a-Kuku (1834). Maize was grown there for two years to enable guns to be procured. Atkins was not the only pakeha buyer.
Whilst Atkins was engaged in cutting up trees on Pouhautea, he accidentally set fire to some kiekie (a species of fruit-bearing creeper). As compensation he was forced to part with a piece of calico, two blankets, three pieces of duck and a cask of tobacco. He had had to give a spade for a tawa tree and a piece of dress stuff, half a cask of tobacco and two red serge shirts for some rimu and kahikatea trees.
In the 1850's, Atkins went in for cattle-raising on Te Herenga. After the East Coast War (1865), the native owners demanded a cow from him for the right to graze his stock. When it was handed over to them, they mutually agreed upon the order in which her calves should be allocated to the various hapus. The natives then began to collect rent regularly from their tenants. It is believed that Major Ropata instigated the movement. Atkins's first wife was Horiana.