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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 8 (November 1939)

The Story of … — Murdering Beach — A Pakeha-Maori Encounter Near Dunedin in 1817

page 45

The Story of …
Murdering Beach
A Pakeha-Maori Encounter Near Dunedin in 1817

Tales of stirring adventure among the Maoris in that romantic era of our early history, the sealing and whaling days, give us glimpses of tragic and picturesque scenes which are fast fading away.

Tradition handed down through generations of Maoris tells stories of massacres, battles, and tragedies on the Otago Coast. Some tell of fights with the pakeha many years ago. Much of this tradition is very scanty, but fortunately we sometimes find a full account of the event written down by the captain of a vessel in his log or elsewhere. Such is the case in the story of the dreadful encounter at Murdering Beach 122 years ago.

A few miles north of the Taiaroa Head at the entrance to Otago Harbour, and before one reaches Long Beach and the steep rocky cliffs that fall back westwards into Blueskin Bay, is a white sandy beach about half-a-mile in length. Bordered by precipitous cliffs, with steep slopes rising from the sandhills behind, it has a charm all of its own and seems to belie the terrible tragedy which once took place there. Rows of foaming breakers roll in from the ocean, and spread glistening fingers of silver over the wet sands. Whareakeake the Maoris call it, though it is better known to the holiday-maker and searcher after Maori relics, as Murdering Beach. Several cwts. of finished and unfinished greenstone implements have been found on this beach, which Maoris say was the chief greenstone manufacturing centre of pre-European times. Few people know the full story of the massacre which took place here in 1817 though they may tell you that “some sailors were murdered there.”

Te Paro, a chief of Murihiku in Southland, has given us a Maori version of the affair:—

“During a quarrel a white man was killed by Te Matahaere. Later on the Europeans came back and seized Korako or Karaka (an ancestor of Taiaroa). They took these captives on board the ship and the natives on shore considered how to rescue them. They feared the guns of the pakeha and so took the old leaves of the toi-toi and wove them into very thick pokeka (rough raincoats) to protect them from the bullets of the white men. Then they paddled out in their canoes to the ship, their leader being the chief, Tukarekare. Korako saw them and jumped overboard, and was picked up by one of the canoes. Not one of those in the canoes was killed by reason of their pokeka. I never heard the fate of the other natives who were taken on board.”

A European account of the affair was first given by the master of the vessel, Capt. James Kelly, a well-known seaman of his day, in the “Hobart Town Gazette” of 28th March, 1818. Later it was printed more fully in the “Hobart Town Courier” under the title, “Adventure at Otago Forty Years Ago,” from which paper it was gleaned for the “Otago Witness” of 21st August, 1858. Here is the full story of this tragic adventure —one of the most thrilling in the annals of Southern New Zealand:—

Port Daniel where the adventure is laid is now better known as the peaceful settlement of Otago. The name “Port Daniel” does not appear on charts of the time, the place being generally known as the “River.”

(R. K. McFarlane, photo.) A view of Murdering Beach, near Dunedin.

(R. K. McFarlane, photo.)
A view of Murdering Beach, near Dunedin.

The brig Sophia (Mr. James Kelly, master), sailed from Hobart Town on 12th November, 1817, on a sealing voyage, and anchored at Port Daniel on the S.E. side of the southern part of New Zealand on 11th December. This place was then known to Europeans only within the last seven years. At that time there was no European settlement here, for it was not until 1831 that the Weller Brothers established a whaling station at Otakau, near the Heads. The Maoris, however, were not entirely unfamiliar with the white man, as Captain Kelly later found out. Sealing vessels occasionally frequented the coast, and anchoring here bartered for potatoes which the natives grew.

An ebb-tide was running as the Sophia dropped anchor about two miles offshore, riding safely on a moderate swell. Gazing landward they saw stretches of white beach and surf, with bush-clad slopes rising from the cliff edges and gullies to the heights of Mihiwaka and Moponui. On the south side of the “River” entrance smoke could be seen rising from a native village. Captain Kelly decided to go on shore right away, and taking a boat's crew made for the beach where he met with a friendly reception from the natives. This was attributed to the fact that one of the crew, William Tucker, had been on the coast and had won their apparent friendship some years previously. They called him “Wioree.”

Next day Captain Kelly again went ashore with six men to Small Bay (Murdering Beach). Riding in on the page 46 page 47 surf they drew the boat up on the beach and left one man to look after it.

Here also the Maoris who crowded about them knew Tucker as “Wioree,” and seemed very friendly. Making his way into the village Kelly sought the house of the chief, where he was greatly surprised to be saluted by a Lascar who told him he had been left there by Captain Fowler of the brig Matilda some months previously. During a long talk Kelly inquired after a boat's crew which had been lost near Port Daniel and was told that they had all been killed and eaten by the Maoris. Kelly, unfortunatey in the light of later events, did not regard this as a bad omen.

Entering the house of the chief, Kelly made him a small present of iron and with the help of the Lascar, who knew the Maori tongue, began to bargain for potatoes. Round about them stood the boat's crew and also about 60 Maoris, while many more were peering in from outside trying to gain a glimpse of the curious white men. Bargaining was going ahead smoothly when “in an instant,” said Kelly, “a horrid yell was raised by the natives.” Kelly, Jim Griffiths and Veto Violi were thrown down by the mob. Tucker, Dutton and Wallon were also seized but got away and made a rush across the sand to the boat, where they found Robinson, the man left in charge, reeling at the water's edge from a bad wound in the head. Thinking it was impossible more could escape, the three launched the boat into the surf, while Tucker ran back onto the beach to help the others.

Meanwhile, Kelly, surrounded by yelling natives, was fighting for his life. Luckily he had a new billhook with him, and laying about him with this succeeded in getting away, though badly speared through one hand. Poor Veto was lying dead further up the beach with terrible wounds in the head, while Jim Griffiths was nowhere to be seen. Running into the water, Kelly pulled himself into the boat, calling on Tucker to follow. Tucker, however, was too late. A number of the savages rushed at him with spears and hatchets, knocking him down in the foaming surf and tearing him limb from limb. Only one piteous cry did he give: “Captain Kelly, for God's sake don't leave me.” Poor fellow, he no doubt thought since the natives knew him he could save the other two. As later evidence showed, however, he was himself the cause of this ghastly tragedy.

Captain Kelly and the three survivors rowed quickly back to the Sophia, where they found to their dismay some 150 natives from the other village on the deck, the yards, and in the rigging. Exhausted by his fight and wounds the Captain was ill-prepared for more fighting when Mr. Kirk, the first mate, suddenly shouted to him, “They are going to take the vessel from us!” Calling all the crew Kelly formed them into a solid square under the main boom. With a blood-curdling yell the head chief, Karaka, gave the war-cry and his warriors, armed with spears and adzes, rushed upon the crew. Kelly shouted to his men to use their sealing knives and cut away, and in his own words “the natives began to fall so fast that a great number jumped overboard and were drowned, or swept out to sea by the strong ebb-tide, which was then running.” Karaka, in a frenzy of rage at his defeat, rushed upon an unwary sailor with a tomahawk, but was over-powered and locked in the store-room below.

It was now late afternoon, and the long shadows of the hills crept out towards the vessel as the sun sank in a golden blaze behind Moponui.

Soon after dawn next morning the natives were seen to gather about their canoes and cry out for their chief. Karaka, his hands tied behind his back, was brought on deck. When the natives saw him there was great rejoicing. Karaka called on them to bring a large canoe load of potatoes alongside, as the Captain thought, for his liberation. A canoe with two men was launched and paddled out to the ship. As it neared the brig a keen-eyed sailor stationed aft, cried out, “The canoe is full of men!” The Maoris had used a very cunning piece of strategy; lying in the bottom of the canoe were three dozen Maoris covered with flax mats. A volley was fired into the canoe from the ship. The natives, who were all armed with short clubs and spears, jumped into the water and endeavoured to pull the canoe alongside the brig. Several were shot in trying to climb up the sides of the vessel. Karaka, without warning, made a rush and jumped into the sea. Two of his men very gallantly swam to him and took him ashore, where he died of his wounds next morning.

Again a good watch was kept all night. At daylight the Maoris were gathered in large numbers on the shore, “seemingly lamenting and crying because of the death of Karaka.” In a little while they began to launch the canoes. “We thought it better to stop them if possible,” says Captain Kelly. “We immediately manned two boats and taking arms and ammunition pulled in close to the beach where the canoes were lying, determined to destroy their navy to prevent them attacking the brig.” As they came near the beach the natives all ran away over the hill. One boat's crew jumped into the water and pulled the canoe up on the sand, while the other kept afloat to cover the men on the beach with their muskets. “We then commenced with two long cross-cut saws cutting the canoes up, each into three pieces.” Forty-two canoes altogether were destroyed in this manner, very ruthless it seems to us of a later generation. As they required firewood some were split up and taken on board. When all the canoes had been wrecked thus, the Maoris trying to catch the sailors off guard, rushed into the water up to their necks trying to get hold of the Sophia's boats, but did not wound any of the white men.

What was the reason for the Maoris’ sudden attack on the white men on Murdering Beach, and the three ghastly murders they committed? It was ascertained that the unfortunate Tucker had, in 1811, stolen a preserved head from the natives at Riverton, and had only saved his life from utu or reprisal by the vessel sailing before the theft was discovered. Incidentally this was the first baked head offered for sale in Sydney.

Whether Tucker thought that the theft had been forgotten or his offence condoned does not appear, as he had the hardihood to return and claim the friendship of the natives whose kindness and confidence he had outraged on a former occasion.

page 48 page 49
Crisp from the oven at Bycroft's.

Crisp from the oven at Bycroft's.

Buy New Zealand Goods.

(Continued from page 15)

bubbling masses, for this room is simply a gargantuan kitchen on jam day. My own cooking knowledge was improved here by the statement that “quick boiling” was the art of jam and conserve making. Here are efficient devices for ensuring speed in boiling.

Mechanical ingenuity has reached heights in many parts of Whittome Stevenson's factory. The onion machine is a good example. This is a revolving cylinder holding gas and air, turning at twelve revolutions a minute. It is fluted so as to harass the outer skins, and eventually only the white, clear globe of each onion remains. The tops and tails are removed rather like those of the old-fashioned gooseberry, a task most of us remember with misgivings.

I also observed the expert bottle smeller whose nose detected any taint of flavour in any bottle. By way of exact opposite to the many mechanical devices, there were many busy women cutting up cauliflowers and other vegetables. No substitute for skilful hands has yet been able to cope with this task.

One of the wonders of this factory is the cool-room for vegetables. Differing strengths of brine are employed and I learned of the interesting discovery of the “open vat.”

Light is the deadly enemy of the fungus, which is the danger in cool storage. There was real comfort to me in the huge collections of poor-man oranges, tomatoes and other products of the New Zealand soil. I found that Whittome Stevenson use all local products, most of it coming from Pukekohe and the district. Our season, which lasts from January to May, accounts for the need for storage in such ample fashion.

It is, of course, obvious that it is of great importance that such firms as Whittome Stevenson should expand and that New Zealanders should use their own products, in this case, sauces, pickles and conserve. We know that these products are pure when the ingredients come from our own gardens and are grown by our own fellow-countrymen under proper State supervision.

One fact is worth mentioning—we can't grow gherkins, although plenty of encouragement has been given by Whittome Stevenson. Ours have a hard, little spine, so that the first local Burbank who grows a real gherkin has a fortune awaiting him.

Cooling and stamping biscuits at Bycroft's.

Cooling and stamping biscuits at Bycroft's.

I am looking forward to the day when many thousands of New Zealanders will be needed to supply, from their own gardens, all the ingredients for such products as pickles, sauces, and their like.

There is no excuse for bringing these things from overseas.

The common ingredient of these four industrial establishments is the fact that they are all four of great age, of great experience of local needs, and all have a continuity of family management. They are wholly and purely New Zealand institutions, and we should be all the more proud of their efficiency and modernity as manufacturing units for that good, golden reason.

Result “Puzzle Pie” No. 315.

In this contest five competitors submitted correct solutions, and therefore share the Prize of £200 in Cash. Each will receive £40. Their names are.—

Mr. J. Coggins, Rose-Bank Road, Avondale, Auckland.

Mr. H. E. Bell, 28 Queen Street, Auckland.

Mrs. D. McKenzie, 3 Royal Terrace, Sandringham. Auckland.

Mr. A. J. Church, 20 Normanby Street, Newtown, Wellington.

Mrs. E. F. Church, 20 Normanby Street, Newtown, Wellington.

Prize-money will be posted on Monday, 20th November.

Solution to “Puzzle Pie” No. 315.

Paragraph from the “N.Z. Sporting and Dramatic Review,” 14th November, 1935:—

“Melbourne Cup day proved fine and, as usual, there was an enormous attendance at Flemington to witness the seventy-fifth contest for the most valuable two-mile handicap in the Southern Hemisphere.”