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

Poverty Bay's First Bushfeller

Poverty Bay's First Bushfeller

Burns tells his readers that, three weeks afterwards, he established himself twelve miles farther inland. Light on this point is shed by W. L. Williams in a letter (31/12/1859) to Lands Commissioner Bell:

page 109
“I think I mentioned to you the circumstances of Mr. Harris having located a man named Burns on portion of the land in question [Pouparae, which lies a few miles to the north-west of Gisborne] and that this man Burns took possession of the ground and cleared off a quantity of the bush growing on it without any molestation, and without even the slightest objection being raised by any of the natives to his residing there without their leave. Mr. Harris, I understand, is prepared to make a statement on oath to this effect. [No trace of earlier systematic bushfelling in Poverty Bay has been found. The year was 1832.]

It is stated by Burns that there was a white man at Wherowhero (Muriwai) whom he wished to visit, but he was prevented from doing so on account of an unsettling report to the effect that an outside tribe consisting of six hundred men had entered the district, and was about twenty miles off. [These intruders were Whakatohea and were dislodged from Muhunga, near Ormond, by T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki in 1832.] Burns avers that he went with the force which routed them. An intended ambush, he says, was spoilt by a dog, which had wandered away. He adds that only four slaves were taken, and that they were “killed and devoured.”

His next venture was a flax-buying trip in company with some of the tribe to which he was attached [T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki] to a place twenty-eight miles distant named Mutu. [Elsdon Best thought that Burns meant Motu, but that locality is fifty miles inland, and was then in heavy bush. Above Puha, which is only twenty-five miles inland, flax was not plentiful.] Burns says that he and his companions were attacked by a party of Knightarangy [Ngai-te-Rangi] and that all of them were slain and eaten excepting himself. [The Ngai-te-Rangi had been in the habit of making incursions into Poverty Bay, but had desisted prior to Burns's day.] His life hung in the balance until he agreed to be tattooed and to live with, and to fight for, his captors. When the tattooing was about a quarter finished, he contrived to escape.

Soon afterwards, according to Burns, the Poverty Bay tribes, together with some allies, assembled with the object of wiping out the Walkathowas [Whakatohea], who had remained in the district. He claims that he had charge of one hundred and fifty of the six hundred attackers who surrounded the invaders. This is, plainly, a reference to the Siege of Kekeparaoa, which took place in 1832. It is not unlikely that he was “Mahuika's pakeha,” who, it was held by Wi Pere, was present, in addition to Harris, at the siege. Some of Burns's information lends colour to the belief that it was gained first-hand, for he mentions that the site of the enemy's pa was adjacent to a river, that the besieged consisted principally of Whakatohea, that the pa was taken by a sudden mass effort, and that the prisoners were divided among page 110 the attackers. His further suggestion that sixty prisoners were slain and eaten must be regarded as a fantastic exaggeration.

Burns next recounts the circumstances in which he moved to Onawa [Uawa, or Tolaga Bay]. He says that he went there to act as agent for a firm—name not disclosed—which had the Prince of Denmark—on the Sydney-New Zealand run. However, it would seem that it was Harris who sent him there. In the Harris Memoirs, p. 5, it is stated that a trading branch was started by Harris at Tolaga Bay shortly after his arrival at Poverty Bay. Burns mentions that he found at Tolaga Bay a trader who was acting for Captain Kent [this would be Ferris], and that he established his station on the opposite side of the river to that on which his rival resided. It is not open to doubt that the year was 1832.

During his stay of “nearly three years” at Tolaga Bay, Burns became (so he claims) the chief of a tribe numbering six hundred. He adds:

“This part was the place where I enjoyed happiness. It was the place where I was tattooed—at least where the remaining part of my face was marked—and not only my face but my body. I do not mean to say that I was tattooed altogether against my will, as I submitted to have the latter part done. In fact, I thought within myself that, as one part of my face was disfigured, I might as well have it done completely, particularly as it would be of service to me.” [Native accounts state that Burns was tattooed at Loisel's Beach (near Tolaga Bay) and that he gave a musket to Te Aperahama, of Tokomaru Bay, for performing the work.]