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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Chapter X — Trade Opens on the East Coast

page 80

Chapter X
Trade Opens on the East Coast

Flax Sold at Tolaga Bay in 1773—Whaler Lost in 1810 off “East Cape”—Potatoes Cheap at Mahia in 1813—Opening of the “Gun Period”—French Vessel Calls at Tolaga Bay in 1827.

When the Adventure (the sister ship to the Resolution) paid her double call at Tolaga Bay in November, 1773. William Bayly (in his journal) stated: “The natives behaved very friendly, bringing everything they had to sell except the greenstone Ads's and the greenstone Images hanging to their necks. Those they did not care to part with on any acc., notwithstanding that they were covetous of Iron to excess. We bought quantities of fine flax of them and great numbers of Ahooes, or mantles, made of fine flax exceedingly neat….”

None of the early convict vessels is known to have called in at the East Coast on her return journey from Botany Bay (N.S.W.) to England. Whalers began to appear off the northeast coast of the North Island in the early 1790's. If an anonymous account which appeared in the Weekly News (Auckland) in April, 1937, is authentic, a whaling brig named Mermaid made the East Coast in October, 1796. She is stated to have spent five days between Cape Palliser and East Cape, and to have sailed from the Bay of Islands on 14 March, 1797, “loaded to the scuppers.” No account of the voyage has been found elsewhere.

According to the narrator, the Mermaid, on her outward journey from England, fell in with the Bristol-owned barque England's Glory on 26 February, 1796, in the South Atlantic. The England's Glory had, it was stated, obtained 900 barrels of sperm oil and 7,800 sealskins off the coasts of New Zealand. It was further claimed that the Mermaid exchanged a boat-steerer suffering from scurvy for an Indian of New Zealand. The Maori was described as having a good knowledge not only of the coasts of New Zealand but also of the English language. It was even suggested that he had acted as a pilot for Cook during the visit of the Endeavour!

The New South Wales authorities were forced, as early as 26 May, 1805, to take steps to prevent captains of whalers—foreign as well as English—from “dumping” Maori sailors at Sydney if they found it inconvenient to return them to their homes. It was stated in the Order-in-Council that a number of New Zealanders had been left at that port by vessels “from the East Coast of New Zealand,” probably mainly from the Bay of page break
Barnet Burns. Mahia, 1831; Poverty Bay, 1832; Tolaga Bay, 1832–34.

Barnet Burns.
Mahia, 1831; Poverty Bay, 1832; Tolaga Bay, 1832–34.

John Rutherford (1816–26). Erroneously supposed to have been held captive in or near Poverty Bay.

John Rutherford (1816–26).
Erroneously supposed to have been held captive in or near Poverty Bay.

J. Williams Harris. Settled in Poverly Bay as a trader in May, 1831.

J. Williams Harris.
Settled in Poverly Bay as a trader in May, 1831.

Capt. G. E. Read. Poverty Bay's most enterprising pioneer, 1852–78.

Capt. G. E. Read.
Poverty Bay's most enterprising pioneer, 1852–78.

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Turanganui River, Gisborne, 1835. del. J. S. Polack.

Turanganui River, Gisborne, 1835.
del. J. S. Polack.

page 81 Islands area. Polack (New Zealand: Travels and Adventures, Vol. 2, p. 215) says that he had met Maori sailors in the whaling ports of North America.
“I saw a native of the East Cape aboard the U.S. frigate Macedonian at New York,” he adds, “previous to her sailing [in 1838] on her South Seas exploring and surveying expedition. This man stated himself to be a superior chief in his own country, but I knew his master and the tribe to which he was a slave. He begged I would be silent on the subject, as he did not wish to be lowered in the estimation of the white man.”

In 1810 the whaler Mary (Captain W. Simmons) foundered off “East Cape.” Her master and crew were saved by the timely appearance of the Inspector (Captain Walker). It would, of course, not be safe to assume that the mishap occurred off Cook's East Cape. In the old whaling days, the whole of the coast between Cape Rodney and East Cape was known as “the East Cape.” Polack, on the other hand, was acquainted with every feature of the coast between the Bay of Islands and Hawke's Bay, and his reference to East Cape would be specific.

Did Cook Leave Potatoes on the East Coast?

The earliest season in which natives belonging to the Poverty Bay-East Coast area planted potatoes has not been traced. During the investigation to determine the ownership of the Tawhiti block—which lies between Tokomaru Bay and Waipiro Bay—a witness in the Native Land Court (Waiapu minute book, No. 10B) stated: “When Captain Cook introduced potatoes, my ancestors planted them on both sides of the Kahika stream.” No mention of any such gift appears in Cook's Journal. Strangely enough, too, potatoes are not on the list of vegetables which Cook left at Pourerere (H.B.) on 21 October, 1773. The Mahia natives have a tradition similar to that which has been mentioned. If potatoes had been growing at Tolaga Bay in November, 1773, when the Adventure was there, they would have been in flower, and would not easily have been overlooked. Furneaux's journal is silent on the matter. Potatoes were available at Mahia in 1813.

No record as to how or when the natives of Poverty Bay or those of the East Coast first obtained pigs has been found. It is certain that Cook did not leave any in 1769. As he had sailed to the south from Tahiti, many of those which he had procured at Ulietea had died from cold. If he had not required for breeding purposes all that had survived, he would probably have made gifts of some to the native friends whom he made at Anaura Bay and at Tolaga Bay. Evidence is also lacking that Furneaux made a present of such a character at Tolaga Bay in 1773.

The earliest “Captain Cookers” that found their way into page 82 Poverty Bay and on to the East Coast might have been descendants of the two boars and the two sows which Cook left with the natives at Pourerere in 1773. If so, they could not have wandered overland; the intervening rivers would have proved insuperable barriers. They would have had to be conveyed on canoes. As the captain of the Sydney-owned vessel Perseverance was not offered any whilst she was off Mahia in 1813, none might have reached that district by that date.

Search for large areas of flax on the East Coast was to have begun in 1810, but the mission was a failure. In March of that year, Lord, Williams and Thompson sent a party from Sydney, under William Leith, by the Experiment to the Bay of Islands, where its members were to have transferred to the Governor Bligh and to have proceeded to East Cape to trade before the Experiment went on to England. Writing from the Bay of Islands to his principals, Leith (Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 303) says: “… I find by masters of whalers who have been at the East Cape this season that mats and flax are to be procured there of good quality.” On account of the delay in the arrival of the Governor Bligh, Leith's party became discontented and returned to Sydney.

Child Offered for Tomahawk

Much more definite information concerning the availability of flax in large quantities at, and to the north of, Mahia was obtained, about the end of May, 1813, by a party aboard the Perseverance, which had been chartered by Sydney merchants to take its representatives to inspect the flax areas about Foveaux Strait and which, en route back to Australia, passed along the East Coast. In his report on the trip (Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 463) Robert Williams, who had rope works in Sydney, said:

“Found ourselves close in with Table Cape (Mahia). Ran 7 or 8 miles into the bay; fired off a gun. Fires were lighted on shore. Saw the natives. Mr. Jones became timid… and we stood out of the bay. Mr. Murray, having some knowledge of Table Cape, stood close round it. Saw large tribes of natives on shore, launching their canoes. Hove the vessel to.
“The natives brought potatoes and mats for trade. A spike nail would buy 1 cwt. of potatoes and a woman offered to sell her little boy for a tomahawk, but, the child crying, we could not take him, though the mother would part with him. I saw no hemp. The natives gave me to understand that they had plenty of that article ashore and went for it, but we waited not for their return, Mr. Jones thinking it not safe, but made sail along the shore. The canoes continued coming after us, trading as before…. We had every opportunity of visiting every mile of the coast as we sailed along, and I had no doubt of our being able to have collected some tons of hemp….”
page 83

As Mr. Jones (who was the representative of one of the charterers of the vessel) was anxious to return to Sydney, no landing was made on the East Coast. Attention to that locality as a plentiful source of supply in respect of flax is, however, likely to have resulted from the information disclosed in Williams's report.

Trade with the East Coast natives by masters of vessels calling in for supplies of provisions was halted in 1818, when Ngapuhi began a series of raids which covered about six years. What may be described as “The Gun Period” then opened in earnest. Doubtless, the Ngapuhi warrior Te Wera, who had, by invitation, settled on Mahia, encouraged the neighbouring tribes, as well as his adopted tribe, to obtain firearms. In any event, Australian schooners began to call regularly, and the bartering of produce, and later, flax, for guns soon reached considerable proportions.

According to evidence tendered in the Native Land Court (Waiapu minute book No. 5) Pomare, on the occasion of his friendly visit to Kawakawa (Te Araroa) in 1823, made a gift of a gun in return for some potatoes grown on Rangikohua block. In minute book No. 8B, there is an account of the purchase of a gun by Waipiro Bay natives from the vessel of Amokete, or Hamukete (Captain J. R. Kent), whilst it was lying off Tokomaru Bay [probably 1827–28]. Payment was made for it with potatoes grown on Matuapotanga. A brother of Potae Aute was named after a pakeha on the schooner. The witness said he was then too young to remember the transaction, but he did remember when, subsequently, the tribe bought guns from Polack at Tolaga Bay [1835 or 1836].

French Vessel at Tolaga Bay in 1827

Whilst the French corvette L'Astrolabe was at Tolaga Bay in 1827, her commander (Captain D'Urville) saw, in the offing, a schooner which, at first, ran along the coast and then suddenly put out to sea and disappeared. This manœuvre he could account for only by supposing “that the vessel viewed our visit as not being quite an agreeable one.” She might have been the Elizabeth (Captain Kent). D'Urville says that he obtained “much phormium fibre at a reasonable price.” Perhaps, this supply had been got ready in anticipation of the arrival of the vessel which took to her sails!

D'Urville received a very warm welcome to Tolaga Bay. Two canoe-loads of natives at once went alongside, “without any fear and as though accustomed to seeing Europeans,” and began to trade. It was pleasing to the visitors to learn that pigs, potatoes and other provisions were plentiful there. Forty-five days had page 84 gone by since they had left New Holland [Australia], and their supplies of fresh provisions had long since become exhausted. They had doubled Young Nick's Head—described by D'Urville as “Cape Young Nicks”—and had quietly passed the opening to Poverty Bay, presumably on account of the evil reputation attaching to its inhabitants in consequence of Cook's unhappy experiences in 1769. “Turbulent and noisy in their bargaining, the natives showed much good faith, and we could only felicitate ourselves on the nature of our exchanges,” is how D'Urville describes the bartering at Tolaga Bay. A large hatchet had to be given for a large pig, and a tomahawk for a small one.

By 1827, a few firearms must have come into the possession of the Tolaga Bay natives, otherwise it is hardly likely that Te Kani-a-Takirau and his companions would have sought—unavailingly, of course—weapons from D'Urville to frighten away from the ship some older chiefs. These newcomers turned out to be relatives of theirs, and not enemies as D'Urville had at first thought. Two natives—Tohinui and Kohihore—who had joined the vessel at Palliser Bay, were, at first, unwilling to be landed at Tolaga Bay. What clinched the matter was a gift to them of a cartridge of powder, which they desired to give to a chief who had promised them a canoe to enable them to return home. D'Urville commented: “After muskets, more precious than gold and diamonds among us, powder is the object most essential in their eyes.” Colenso learned in 1896 that the Palliser Bay natives reached their home safely.

A few weeks before the brig Hawes was attacked at Whakatane on 2 March, 1829, she paid a visit to East Cape. John F. Atkins (Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 687 et seq.) says that a great many natives came off to her in large canoes, but could not be induced to trade. The ship's interpreter—an Englishman belonging to the Bay of Islands—warned the captain that they were preparing an attack. It is added: “We instantly flew to arms, removed the caps and aprons from our cannon, and determined upon a vigorous resistance; but the savages, whose success depends upon surprising their victims, as soon as they perceived that we were aware of their intentions, fled with the greatest precipitation.”

Polack's Noisy Reception at Tolaga Bay

The most important account of a trading expedition to Tolaga Bay during the flax boom is that given by Polack in New Zealand: Travels and Adventures, Vol. 2, p. 117 et seq. He says that, on the occasion of his first visit [June, 1835], his cutter was page 85 so badly gale-battered that she was in need of repairs and he had to arrange with the natives to tow her into Uawa River.

“Our European friends [two shore traders] bade us to beware of surprise, for treachery might be intended,” says Polack, “as during the preceding evening it had been strongly debated among the natives whether or not our vessel and ourselves should be taken as a prize, the most greedy and adverse party stating as a reason that we had, doubtless, arrived from Port Jackson (Sydney) [in strict fact, Polack was trading out of the Bay of Islands] and that it could not possibly become known in that colony (New South Wales) whether we had perished at sea or had been lost on an inhospitable coast and that nobody being left alive to tell the tale it would not militate against the place….
“But our good fortune prevailed, as it was urged that the principal chief of the district [Te Kani-a-Takirau] who was then absent at Turunga [Turanga, or Poverty Bay] would be greatly enraged at the circumstance of any vessel being despoiled during his absence, also that his conduct hitherto had favoured the visits of shipping and that knowledge of such an act would spread abroad through the European residents and, in consequence of all other vessels avoiding the place in the future, the traders would also leave, and they would be wholly without European trade. These arguments prevailed.”

According to Polack, his was the first vessel ever to enter Uawa River. He describes the scene as she was being towed to her anchorage:

“The motley assemblage that greeted our arrival was one not easily to be forgotten: it followed us with … shouts, acclamations, dancing, songs made for the occasion, cries of ‘aeremai!’ [“Haeremai!” or “Come Hither!”] waving of native garments, blowing of the conch with the most discordant din, some of the natives jumping high in the air and others rushing into the water and throwing small sticks at us (a native form of welcome), not a few swimming alongside the vessel, and many other feats, accompanied by a deafening noise, until we dropped anchor.”

Rangiuia in a Rage

Polack goes on to say that the natives filled his casks with water, and, after chopping all night, brought him enough wood to supply a ship of 500 tons for twelve months. He went on shore with a carpet bag containing a variety of trifles much in repute among natives, together with some tobacco, tomahawks, hoes, etc., which were much more highly prized. Several large pigs were bought by him “at a reasonable rate.” Meantime, the repairs to the cutter proceeded. Her anchorage lay between two native settlements—one on the north bank and the other on the south bank of the river. Much jealousy prevailed between their respective occupiers.

On the fourth day of Polack's visit, the deck was crowded with natives from the northern village, who were selling nets, fishing lines and flax garments, for nails, fish-hooks, tobacco, lead, page 86 musket flints, etc. Without any warning, a chief belonging to the southern settlement fired a musket loaded with ball.

“Rangihuia [Rangiuia] a chief of the south side, who was residing with his friends in the north village, being in disgrace with his relatives … instantly threw off his garments, tightened his belt, and, with the most ferocious gestures, vehemently demanded that his friends and all on board should leave the vessel. Seizing a rope, and indifferent to rank, age or sex, he soon cleared her. With horrid distortion of features, he then commenced a war speech, vociferating with all his might and defying the southern tribe with language and gestures equally obscene and disgusting. He then hastened on shore to the northern village, and was met by the chiefs and slaves, who were entirely naked and all armed with muskets; his fury appeared to be augmented by finding himself once again on terra firma. A war dance was commenced on either side of the river and each party, during its continuance, brandished their muskets, making further gesticulations and shouting towards each other curses of defiance.
“Rangihuia flew up and down the beach—a representation of an infuriated demon. His tongue was thrust out to its utmost length, his eyes glared with the frenzy of a ruthless fiend. No horrible grimace was omitted that could strike terror into the enemy. The muskets, which had been hastily loaded with ball, were now discharged by either party against the other; but, instead of the butt being placed against the shoulder, the pieces were hastily levelled without aim, the stock being lodged against the hip. The parties were out of reach of the flying balls; otherwise, destructive work might have ensued. However, we, being within reach of either side, suffered not a little damage to our sails. Suddenly, within ten minutes of the first gun being fired, a cessation of war took place…. Dancing, gaiety and indiscriminate intercourse followed on either side, as if nothing had happened, each boasting of his valorous exploits.”

Polack says that, had any accident happened by mere chance to any of the parties during the mad contest, he and his crew would have had to bear the brunt: the vessel would, probably, have been plundered and destroyed, and they would have been slain.


Colenso (Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 1877, p. 146) says that Tainui (an ancestor of Henare Matua, of Porangahau) was the chief to whom Cook made the gifts of pigs and seeds at Pourerere (H.B.) in 1773.

“Cook's Cabbage” was a far from despised item of food at Tolaga Bay during the partial famine which followed the great flood in 1876. Portland Island was another locality in which it remained prolific for many years. Stock were responsible for its disappearance.

McNab (Tasman to Marsden, p. 94) says that, at the Thames, the natives were cultivating potatoes when ships went there for spars in 1801, and, at p. 102, that, at the Bay of Islands, potatoes were being cultivated in 1805 in immense quantities to supply the whalers. “Old Hook Nose” told C. W. Ligar in 1852 that Cook gave the natives of Mercury Bay a double handful of potatoes in 1769, and that none of the produce was used until the fourth season, when a great feast was held.