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The History of the Jews in New Zealand

Chapter IV — The First of the Jewish Pioneers

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Chapter IV
The First of the Jewish Pioneers

The situation of the white traders in New Zealand was by no means secure. They were few in number. An estimate given in 1838 considered that no more than five hundred whites lived along the coastline and in the interior. They were a wild and reckless lot, and because most deemed themselves to be beyond the reach of English law, atrocious crimes were committed against white and native alike. Frequently, the native, proud and sensitive, would revenge himself for a wrong, real or imagined. Some Englishmen in the Bay of Islands, living at the settlement named Kororareka, a place much favoured by the whites on account of its "grogshops", built themselves homes on the hills behind the beach. They secured their homes with high fences and defended them with a cannon or two. However, the natives were dependent upon the traders for their guns and powder. They eagerly welcomed the man with the muskets, and in the course of time nearly two hundred whites were living Maori-fashion with the tribes. They often acted as agents for the merchants of Sydney who had no desire to live with the Maoris, or act as lonely sealers, or live in association with the unruly mob of traders, whalers and adventurers who flowed in and out of Kororareka. A Captain Wiseman traded around Banks Peninsula in the Canterbury area of the South Island. He acted, in 1829, as agent for a Sydney firm, Cooper and Levy. Before Port Lyttelton, which now serves Christchurch, received its name, it was known as Port Cooper and a port close by to the north, which was the largest native village in the area, numbering one hundred and thirty Maoris, was called Port Levy. It is said that Wiseman bought Port Cooper from the natives on behalf of his principals, but the transaction is hidden in obscurity owing to the untimely death of Wiseman by drowning in 1831.

Cooper and Levy could well have afforded to purchase large tracts of land, even if the price had been far greater than the amount Wiseman is alleged to have paid for the port. The partnership of Cooper and Levy owned extensive properties in and around Sydney. In 1825 Daniel Cooper, of the well-known business, Waterloo Stores, together with Solomon Levy, bought from Samuel Terry and others a large Sydney business which later became known as the Cooper and Levy Stores. Born in Whitechapel, London, Solomon Levy arrived in New South Wales in the early days of the nine- page 27 teenth century together with his brothers Barnett and Isaac. Barnett later became the first person to establish a permanent theatre in Australia. Solomon prospered exceedingly in business as an auctioneer, shipowner and general dealer. At that time there was no organized Jewish community in Sydney, but Levy, in his generosity, subscribed to all religious institutions in the city. He interested himself in several organizations working for the improvement of the poorer classes and was particularly active in his support of the Sydney Public Free Grammar School, being a member of its management committee. He died on 10 October, 1833, whilst on a visit to London, leaving large sums of money for educational and charitable institutions of Jewish and Christian denominations in England and in Australia. By a special Act of the New South Wales Parliament, the money left to the Sydney College for the benefit of orphan boys was later transferred to the Sydney University and became its initial benefaction.

An Australian Jewish squatter and mercantile pioneer, Joseph Barrow Montefiore, essayed to establish trading stations in New Zealand on his own account. He was a remarkable man who had a remarkable career. He possessed all the vigour and religious zeal of his world-renowned first cousin, Sir Moses Montefiore, in addition to an urge to travel and to become a landed mercantile prince. Born in London in June, 1803, he was taken by his father as a young lad to the West Indies where the Jews had established an influential community. There he gained a good knowledge of agriculture on the local plantations and also learned to handle men. On reaching his majority he returned to London, joining the big business activities of his renowned family connections—the Montefiores and the Rothschilds—by buying a seat on the Stock Exchange as one of the "twelve Jew brokers", for a sum of £1500. The enclosed life of a city office did not satisfy the man who had enjoyed an open-air existence in the West Indies, and when the British Government made it known that it was prepared to grant tracts of land to men of capital in order to open up the colony of New South Wales, Joseph Barrow Montefiore applied for such a grant. He stated that he possessed over £10,000 besides thousands of pounds held for him in trust. He was prepared to emigrate with his family and as an agriculturalist to specialize in the growing of medicinal herbs in which he had considerable experience, and to breed cattle and horses as well as Merino sheep. He arrived in New South Wales in 1829, purchasing large tracts of land in addition to the 5000 acres in the Wellington Valley, at the conflux of the Bell and Macquarie Rivers, received as a grant. The township built on the shores close by was called Montefiore.

Besides farming and breeding livestock, Joseph Barrow set himself up as a merchant in Sydney, trading under the name of Montefiore Brothers, his brother, Jacob, living in London, being the other partner. Jacob later added page 28 to his colonial interests when appointed by King William IV as one of the Colonial Commissioners administering the Colony of South Australia under the Wakefield Scheme. He accomplished his task from London, not coming out to Australia until 1853, when he came to Melbourne for about two years in order to expand his business in Victoria in connection with the buying of gold, wool and tallow. He came to a country where the name of Montefiore was already well known for reliability and trustworthiness. Joseph Barrow Montefiore had established the firm in a number of places as soon as he had arrived in Australia, travelling for this purpose through New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, as Tasmania was then called, setting up agencies and viewing business prospects.

With the purpose of becoming acquainted with New Zealand, its products and its general character, as well as with the habits, manners and general disposition of the natives, and with the intention of forming extensive mercantile establishments, Joseph Barrow Montefiore chartered a barque in August, 1830, sailed for New Zealand, and coasted for four months around the islands. He had previously appointed Barnet Burns as his agent at Mahia to buy flax from the natives, and intended to visit him and another agent at Poverty Bay. In order to understand the natives better he had hired two Maoris who were visiting Sydney to teach him to speak the Maori language, in which he became fluent enough to make himself understood.

Travelling southwards along the west coast of the North Island, Joseph Barrow Montefiore alighted at Kawhia where the local Maori chief, Hapuka, begged him to establish a trading station. To induce Montefiore to accept, Hapuka gave him a parcel of land, about two acres in extent, beside the harbour. Two white men lived native-fashion in the area, whom Montefiore suspected to be runaway convicts. He added another white man to their number, appointing one of his men as a trader and leaving with him a considerable amount of merchandise to barter with the natives. The Maoris, extremely intelligent and quick in perception, treated Montefiore with the utmost courtesy and the most open-handed hospitality. They recognized a gentleman and easily distinguished him from the ordinary white men with whom they usually came in contact and for whom they had lost all respect on account of their outrageous behaviour and conduct.

Only very few "gentlemen" had visited New Zealand before Montefiore. Although he considered Maoris indolent according to western standards, he admired their courage and their inordinate love of bargaining. They not only welcomed the trader for the goods he had to dispose of but also gladly received him for the sake of striking a bargain. Wherever he went Montefiore put his trust in the Maoris, placing his guns in their charge. They would lead him into the interior where he surveyed prospects for the future. He felt secure enough, yet never forgot that treachery was possible. The Maoris page 29 possessed a sense of honour, and through his handing over his weapons, they probably considered Montefiore as a person under their special protection. At one village to which he and his men did not carry any arms, he overheard a Maori girl say that the natives intended to kill him and his companions on the following day. Montefiore and his party left immediately. They returned next day fully armed, and the natives, noticing the whites on guard, did not attempt to molest them and proceeded to carry out their barter in the usual fashion.

Montefiore was deeply impressed with the beauty of New Zealand and the prospects it held for the pioneer. He once stated that although he had been in the Brazils, Van Diemen's Land, New South Wales and on the Continent, he had never seen a country to equal it for scenery, climate and productiveness. "It is a perfect paradise," he said. "I think so highly of the country that, although when I went out to New South Wales, His Majesty George IV granted me 5000 acres of land, I would readily have changed it for 1000 in New Zealand." He was the first to call New Zealand the "Britain of the South".

Montefiore, however, did not settle in the new country which fascinated him so profoundly. Sailing southwards to Entry Island, called by the natives Kapiti, he found the Maoris in the area in a wild, truculent state. Heavily armed and puffed with pride over a recent victory against a South Island tribe, they persistently threatened to kill every white man in their land. Their increasingly hostile and belligerent attitude persuaded Montefiore to abandon his original intention of establishing a large trading station at Cloudy Bay, in the South Island, and to terminate his exploratory voyage and visit to his agents in the Poverty Bay district. He sent his barque on, and he himself, with some anxiety and concern, boarded the brig Elizabeth, under the master Captain John Stewart, which then lay off the shores of Kapiti. The Elizabeth carried eight guns including two swivels, two kegs of gunpowder, two kegs of flints and bullets, besides an adequate supply of small arms. Once on board the Elizabeth, Montefiore soon discovered the source of the aggressive unrest amongst the natives.

Te Hiko, the Maori chief in the Kapiti area, had thirsted for revenge against Te Mai Haranui, the native headman on Banks Peninsula. Soon after Te Hiko's father, Te Pehi, had returned from England where he had been presented to King George IV, Haranui had killed Te Pehi in battle. Allying himself with Te Rauparaha, Te Hiko and his partner persuaded Captain Stewart to sail to Banks Peninsula, Captain Stewart being promised fifty tons of New Zealand flax in exchange for this service and some muskets. Close on three hundred armed natives clambered aboard the Elizabeth whose crew stowed the Maoris under the hatches below deck on approaching Banks Peninsula so as to make it appear that no natives were on board. As usual, the page 30 Banks Peninsula Maoris crowded the deck of the Elizabeth in order to trade with the master and men, but Haranui became suspicious and hastily returned ashore, leaving some of his slaves behind him.

Quickly the hatches were uncovered. Te Rauparaha and Te Hiko and their companions rushed on deck, slaughtered the unfortunate slaves and prepared for battle with Haranui. He had no hope. Overwhelmed by superior weapons, his village was soon taken. Fifty men fell to the enemy's muskets whilst another fifty were captured and taken on board, Te Hiko himself capturing Haranui, his wife and twelve-year-old daughter. Fearful of the violence which would certainly have been done to her daughter, the wife of Haranui strangled her child with her own hands and threw her overboard. Ghoulish orgies took place on board the ship amongst the Maoris, who annihilated most of their victims and devoured them without a restraining hand or voice from the crew of the Elizabeth. Captain Stewart, however, when he sailed back to Kapiti, kept Haranui in his own charge. He chained him below deck and held him as a security against the receipt of the flax which had been promised to him. Te Hiko and Te Rauparaha reluctantly set two thousand slaves to collect it, but, flushed with victory, still thirsted for Haranui's blood. A spark would have set the Maoris aflame.

When Montefiore went on board the Elizabeth for his own safety, he remonstrated with Captain Stewart for the ignominious part he had played in the unhappy affair. He pleaded with the master of the brig to return immediately to Sydney and to take Haranui back with him. He considered that the Maoris would not hand over the flax. The Captain, however, would not take Montefiore's advice, stating that although he recognized the folly of sailing to Banks Peninsula, he now had to go through with the project. Moreover, he alleged that Haranui had killed white men and had, five years previously, taken off the crew of H.M.S. Warspite, slaughtered them and then eaten them. By chance, Montefiore was given a cabin next to Haranui, and through the thin wooden partition was able to converse with the unfortunate Maori chief in his native tongue. The warrior, reconciled to his fate, denied that he had anything to do with the Warspite incident. He did not ask for mercy, nor did he expect it, but Montefiore did persuade the Captain to unshackle the luckless man, although he still kept him under lock and key.

For three or four weeks the Elizabeth lay off Kapiti Island waiting to load the expected consignment of flax. Occasionally, Montefiore, accompanied by a number of heavily armed companions, would venture into one of the native villages in the vicinity. They usually avoided remaining overnight, for fear of sudden attack. One day, however, he went with a Maori chief to Otaki, ten miles from the ship, and the following morning came to Te Hiko's settlement. To his surprise he saw Haranui brought in in a canoe.

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Fearful of reprisals against him, Captain Stewart had handed the Maori chief over to his enemies. Te Hiko and Te Rauparaha displayed their captured opponent to the villages along the shore, where the women derided and mocked him and laughed at the incapacity of the fierce warrior. That was the last Montefiore saw of Haranui. When he went ashore the next morning, the natives pointed out the widow of Te Pehi wearing a necklace of the entrails of the Maori chief. During the night, after wild and macabre scenes of frenzied, triumphant victory, Haranui's enemies had stuck a knife into his throat and killed him. With the customary ceremonies they cut up his body and ate him, his heart being divided into several portions and sent as a token of respect to the villages in the neighbourhood. Haranui's wife also, after she had been cruelly maltreated and abused, received similar treatment to that which had befallen her husband.

Montefiore, horribly shocked at the wilful delivery of the chief and his wife to certain death, entreated Captain Stewart to return to Sydney, convinced of the danger from the Maoris in their flushed, exultant mood and certain that they would not hand over the coveted flax. Captain Stewart still waited about another ten days and then, convinced of the futility of waiting any longer, set sail for Sydney, where he arrived on 14 January, 1831.

Without delay, Montefiore, on his arrival, reported the remarkable affair to the authorities. He then learned that Captain Stewart had acquired an evil reputation for dealing in the shrunken, shrivelled, preserved heads of murdered Maoris. The Governor, Sir Ralph Darling, insisted that Stewart come up for trial, but the Captain had considerable influence, and whilst he was out on bail he spirited some of the witnesses away. He also had Dr Wardell, the editor of the Australian, to defend him. The latter made good use of his columns, claiming that the law in Australia did not extend to any savage brawls in New Zealand. When Stewart came up for trial in May, 1831, the Crown was not ready to proceed, but charged him with another misdemeanour, for which he was allowed bail of £2000 for an indefinite period. The following month he was discharged on his own recognizance in the sum of £1000. Stewart never came up for trial before a human judge. His final reckoning came to him by other means not long after. He sailed for America and, whilst rounding Cape Horn, suddenly dropped dead reeking of rum. Unceremoniously his men cast his body into the sea.

Te Mai Haranui's nephew and other chiefs around Banks Peninsula sought protection from Governor Darling as the representative of England. The Governor did intend to send Captain Sturt as Resident to New Zealand, but a notification of his recall to the home country induced him to abandon this scheme.

Although Montefiore did not return to New Zealand, he still retained page 32 a connection with the country. On behalf of his firm he appointed Thomas Ralph, a young man respectably connected in Sydney, as his agent and trader along the banks of the River Mokau on the west coast. Ralph married a native chief's daughter with whom he lived happily. Internecine strife broke out amongst the Maori villages and though Ralph himself was on good terms with everyone, his father-in-law's enemies expected "utu" from all relatives and associates. They surrounded the hut where Ralph slept with his native spouse and informed him that they intended to kill him or keep him as a slave. Stripping Ralph of all his possessions and clothes, they separated him from his wife and carried him away into the bush, burning the village to the ground, together with twenty-two tons of flax which Ralph had collected for Montefiore Brothers. Ralph's wife was probably eaten. His savage tormentors showed him no mercy. Footsore and starved and undergoing indescribable indignities, he finally decided to escape. Unluckily he lost his way. Caught once again, his foes determined to kill him. Whilst in the act of lifting their spears for the fatal thrust, one of the young stalwarts threw him to the ground and placing his body over Ralph's back, prevented the others from carrying out their foul intention. Probably the young stalwart wanted Ralph as a slave. A slave in the hand was worth more than a dead pakeha. A fierce debate took place amongst the men as to Ralph's ultimate fate and finally his death was resolved upon. They concluded their deliberations with a feast around a campfire, throwing to Ralph morsels of food left over from their meal. Whilst the poor, starved man fearfully and hungrily ate the scraps thrown to him, a native crept up behind him and, at point-blank range, fired a musket at his head. It misfired. The maddened native was endeavouring to fire again when a chief snatched the musket from his hand. Arriving at one of the villages, the chiefs allowed Ralph to send a message to Captain Kent, who arranged for his satisfactory ransom.

Ralph's terrifying experience did not deter him from continuing to live in native fashion amongst the Maoris. He moved to Uawa River, Tolaga Bay, still working as a flax agent for Montefiore Brothers. As he was married to the daughters of a number of chiefs, they resorted to a novel method of dealing with Ralph whenever they started to battle amongst themselves. They locked him up in order that he should remain neutral, and released him when the battle was over.

Joseph Barrow Montefiore continued his mercantile connections with New Zealand for a number of years, trading mostly in flax and later adding whale oil as a commodity for export to England and Australia.

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Joseph Barrow Montefiore, who visited New Zealand in 1830 and for a number of years afterwards traded in flax and whale oil. Though he did not settle in the country it was he who first named New Zealand "Britain of the South". John Israel Montefiore, who came to the Bay of Islands in 1831, and later achieved respect and prominence in the mercantile and civic affairs of early Auckland.

Joseph Barrow Montefiore, who visited New Zealand in 1830 and for a number of years afterwards traded in flax and whale oil. Though he did not settle in the country it was he who first named New Zealand "Britain of the South".
John Israel Montefiore, who came to the Bay of Islands in 1831, and later achieved respect and prominence in the mercantile and civic affairs of early Auckland.

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A drawing by Joel Samuel Polack of Kororareka in 1836. Polack's substantial trading store is the building in the foreground.

A drawing by Joel Samuel Polack of Kororareka in 1836. Polack's substantial trading store is the building in the foreground.

The title page of J. S. Polack's Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders, published in 1838. This book, and others he wrote on New Zealand, stamped Polack as a versatile scholar and knowledgeable writer and artist.

The title page of J. S. Polack's Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders, published in 1838. This book, and others he wrote on New Zealand, stamped Polack as a versatile scholar and knowledgeable writer and artist.