The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)
The … — Tragic Story of the Boyd — Treasure in a Mangrove Swamp
One bright morning in the early summer of 1809—just 130 years ago—a ship came to anchor in the harbour of Whangaroa. The ship was the Boyd, soon to become famous in one of the most dramatic and tragic episodes in early New Zealand history. The harbours of the Far North, so supremely blessed by Nature, have dark pages of which the visitor of today knows little. A tourist will see in the Hokianga Harbour, for instance, only a magnificent waterway stretching inland for 25 miles, and he leaves its bush-denuded hillsides with a fond memory of the glittering water that gave Rawene its name.
A visitor to Mangonui to-day will note the outline of the parapets and escarpments of the big pa that crowned the high hill standing, Gibraltar-like, at the entrance to the harbour, but he will see little to suggest that at times half a hundred sailing ships would be lying in the harbour waiting for their cargoes of timber.
Russell, on the Bay of Islands, is another place that has mellowed after its riotous early years. It is redolent of history, but who that has slept in Russell will ever forget hearing on the still evening air that rhythmical swish, swish, as the waters of the famous bay lap the pebbly beach? One may grow careless in remembering much of Russell's history, but one will never forget how that sound lulled one to sleep on one's first night in Kororareka.
And Whangaroa, almost land-locked and perhaps the most beautiful of all the harbours of the Far North, must have been a gloriously lovely place a century ago when the bush grew down to the water's edge and the stately kauris towered aloft.
It was in such a setting that the tragedy of the Boyd was enacted. Surrounding that tragedy is a fog of mystery that no coroner's inquiry at this late date could ever clear away. There are numerous accounts of the affair, each with important differences. This is not surprising as rarely do two witnesses give the same account of an event that has happened before their own eyes.
Whangaroa is an ideal place for daydreaming, and if you have the right companion it is easy to call back other days. Recently, while on a tour of the North, I met an old settler of the Whangaroa district and we fell to talking about the times of long ago. Like many other pioneers, his memory was remarkably clear. He was full of reminiscences.
“The ship was inadequately guarded,” he went on. “Those on watch were soon killed, and most of those below, passengers as well as crew, suffered the same fate as they appeared on deck. Four or five seamen took refuge high up in the rigging and remained there all night….
“The poor fellows up the masts must have spent an anxious night, wondering what the morrow had in store for them. They were safe in the rigging, for the Maoris were afraid to climb so high and could not shoot straight enough to hit them. Next morning, Te Pahi assured the men of his protection if they could reach his canoe. This they did, and though hotly pursued he landed them on the nearest shore. Then he was forcibly detained while the sailors were run down and killed. They were more at home climbing the rigging than running on the beach.
“Te Pahi and his hapu bore the brunt of the reprisals for the massacre. He seems to have arrived the day after the affair and he did his best to save the seamen left alive, but unfortunately for him he accepted some of the loot from the ship. When the whalers in port at the Bay of Islands discovered this they set out on a punitive expedition against his pa (in the Bay of Islands) and emulated the massacre on the Boyd, except for the cannibal feast.
“The Boyd was a fine prize for the Maoris. The sight of the axes carried by the sailors on the three boats would alone have aroused their cupidity, quite apart from the firearms. But there is little doubt that the spirit of revenge for the treatment accorded some Maori members of the crew of the Boyd was the prime reason for the attack. The captain of the ship played right into their hands, too, in dividing his forces as he did.
“I have traversed the route taken by the boats’ crews. My guide was a Maori woman and we landed on the Whangaroa side of the Kaeo township and proceeded up a small valley to the left. I know the place where the men were unexpectedly attacked before they had a chance to use their axes in self-defence.
“There were 72 people killed in the massacre. The survivors were a Mrs. Morley, her little child, an apprentice named Thomas Davis (15) and a very young child named Broughton. The boy saved himself by remaining hidden till the savages had finished their ghastly work, and I remember hearing an account of how the woman and her child were saved. It was told to me by an old Maori who was a young man at the time of the Boyd affair. His father was a chief and took an active part in the attack.
“As I was talking to the Maori he pointed to a fair-haired child, and said: ‘She reminds me of the child taken from the Boyd.’ When I questioned him about the matter he said that during the massacre on the deck of the Boyd a Maori had lifted up his mere to kill a child but the woman page 22 rushed up, bent over her and protected her. The Maori stayed his hand, then lifted it again to strike the woman. At that moment a chief (the father of the man relating the story) placed his mere against the woman's arm and said, ‘She's mine.’ He then took the woman and child to the bulwarks, placed his shoulder mat around the woman, and the two were safe.”
“It is said there was a lot of treasure on the Boyd,” I remarked, for I had heard it mentioned by the hotelkeeper in Kaeo, and hotelkeepers are a fund of information.
“There is a very interesting story about the chest that the Maoris took out of the Boyd,” was the reply. “It lies buried in the mangrove swamp up Pupuke way, but what treasure it contains will probably never be known. I will tell you the story. It comes within my own knowledge, as it were. At least, it is only second-hand.
“This happened a long while ago. I used frequently to pass a very old Maori at Waihapa. He was always sitting outside his old whare, hunched up and smoking a pipe. He had bloodshot eyes and was so crippled up that he could hardly walk. Alongside him on a rock were two skulls. They aroused my curiosity. I looked at them and examined them on several occasions. The larger of them had a deep mark, evidently from a mere blow, on one side of it. The other, which was of much lighter bone, and was possibly a woman's, I thought, had an injury at the back. I was very curious to find out about those skulls, and I asked the old Maori on several occasions, but all he would do was to glower at me.
“At last one day when I was passing I noticed that he was fiddling with his pipe and not smoking.
“‘No tobacco?’ I asked.
“That morning I had found a sailor's pouch with some tobacco and a knife in it. I gave him the tobacco and he began to break it up with his fingers. ‘Here, use the knife,’ I said, and he grunted with satisfaction.
“‘You'd better take the lot,’ I said, handing over the pouch as well.
“‘I got no money,’ said the Maori, who thought I wanted him to pay. When I had made it clear that I was giving him the things he began to unbend. I must say the Maoris of the old school never expected anything for nothing.
“‘You have asked about those,’ he said, indicating the skulls.’ Well, I will tell you now. You have heard about the Boyd?'
“And this is the story the old Maori related about the Boyd massacre, the tribal fight that followed, and the mystery of the two skulls:
“The ship had been looted, even some of the cannons taken ashore. A number of Maoris, including John King, the treatment of whom aboard the Boyd was primarily the cause of the massacre, knew how to work ropes and tackle, and there was plenty of man-power to do all the hauling necessary. Among the things taken off was the ship's chest. The old Maori spread out his arms to indicate that it was five to six feet long, two to three feet deep, and about four feet wide. It was of black wood, had iron bands around it, iron clamped corners, and two ring bolts on either side and at each end.
“‘Was it heavy?’
“‘Yes, heavier than a cannon,’ the Maori replied:
“The chest was placed across a canoe and the Maoris set off with it for Pupuke, hauling and pushing it up the creeks and through the swamps.
“The Maoris with the canoe had reached a certain place when a runner dashed up to say that a war party from another tribe was coming, evidently attracted by the prospect of sharing in the spoils from the Boyd.
‘We beat them,’ said the old Maori, ‘and this man’—indicating the larger skull—‘was the best fighter of the lot.’ The Maori then described how the fight had taken place at Tera-tera and they had driven the enemy right back to the edge of a precipice. At last there were only two left—the big Maori and a white woman, his white wife. The man was putting up a great fight when suddenly the woman, with the intention of protecting him, threw her arms around him. Taken at a disadvantage, before he could free himself, a mere crashed on his temple and he and his white wife hurtled down the cliff. The woman was found to have been killed in the fall ‘and we left their bodies to the pigs,’ said the old man.
“‘What did you do about the box on the canoe?’
“The old Maori said that after the fight, which was a very severe one, they had not been able to go back to the canoe for a long time, and when they did they found the craft upset, with the chest on its side in the mud. Only part of it was to be seen.
“‘Did you try to get it out?’
“‘No,’ said the Maori.
“‘You know where it is?’
“‘Will you show it to me?’
“‘I can't walk that far,’ replied the old man, who was nearly doubled in two.
“‘I'll get you a horse.'
“‘I could not ride one. I have never ridden.’
“‘I'll give you £5 if you will show me the place.’
“‘What's the good of £5 to me?’
asked the Maori.
“So the chest, which undoubtedly contains all the valuables of the ship Boyd, lies in a swampy arm of Whangaroa Harbour on the way to Pupuke.”