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

Rescue of Captive Sailors

Rescue of Captive Sailors

An interesting—perhaps, the true—version of the episode relating to the carrying away of some Waiapu natives to the Bay of Islands by the Elizabeth (Captain Black) in April, 1833, is supplied by Burns. According to the missionary records, a gale sprang up whilst the natives were visiting the vessel and they could not be landed. On the other hand, Burns says that it was on account of the tribe's action in harbouring three members of the crew who had run away that Captain Black made off with his fifteen native guests. [They were returned by the Rev. W. Williams in January, 1834.]

A party headed by Burns set off to ransom the captive sailors, who were held by “Cotahrow, one of the greatest tyrants in that part of New Zealand.” He threatened to slay them in retaliation for Captain Black's misdeed. Part of the bargain was that the ransom should be paid upon the safe delivery of the sailors at Tolaga Bay. Unhappily for Cotahrow, his canoe capsized on the bar of the Uawa River, with the result that he and his crew, together with his canoe, were seized as lawful prizes by the page 111 Uawa natives and no ransom was required to be paid! Burns adds that it was only on account of his personal intervention that Cotahrow obtained his liberty and got his canoe back. The sailors went on to Sydney on the brig Byron.

Prior to Burns's departure from Tolaga Bay, Amotawa had had two children. Both died in infancy. Subsequently, there was born a son, Hori Waiti (George White), who became a stalwart and familiar figure on the East Coast. Te Kani-a-Takirau, who already had at least one wife (Mariko), then made Amotawa an additional wife. When Ra Mackey lived at Te Kani's home at Whangara in the early 1850's, the great chief had three wives. Hori was born either late in 1834, or at the beginning of 1835. Te Kani scornfully refused to sanction the bestowal upon him of the name “Kingi Hori” (“King George”), which Burns had desired should be given to the child if it proved to be a boy. [William IV was then on the Throne.] It was Te Kani's opinion that it was far too aristocratic a name to be awarded a half-caste. Instead, he insisted that a boy born to his own sister should be called after the deceased British monarch.

Burns left Poverty Bay on the Bardaster (Captain Chalmers). The date is not given in his booklet. His friend Morgan, in a letter to the Home authorities (19/4/1836), fixes it as “at or about the end of October, 1834.” The Bardaster was on the East Coast about that time, and, resuming her voyage, via Cook Strait, she reached Sydney on 2 November, 1834, en route to England, where she arrived early in 1835. Burns says he left England in 1827 and returned after an absence of eight years.

Tattooed from head to foot—his face and thighs permanently ornamented in the Maori fashion, and his arms and chest decorated in the manner so dear to sailormen—Burns, like Rutherford, attracted widespread attention in England. He proved a first-class showman. The Hocken Library (Dunedin) has two specimens of the handbills which he used in connection with his entertainments. Upon the occasion of his appearances at Ward-wick, Derby, in April, 1842, he was described as being “beautifully tattooed,” and it was stated that he would be “dressed in the costume of New Zealand”; narrate “the various battles in which he was engaged”; exhibit “the head of a New Zealand chief, his opponent in battle”; and answer any questions. Burns's numerous descendants on the East Coast will be interested to learn that he was assisted by “Mrs. Burns,” who was billed to perform “several airs and waltzes on the musical glasses.” The charges for admittance were: Front seat, 1/-; children, 6d.; and back seats, 6d. A promise was given that the lecture-room would page 112 be well aired. In an 1849 handbill, Burns is described as “Pahe a Range” and Mrs. Burns as “Madame Pahe a Range.”

Some further information concerning Burns appears in correspondence filed in the Public Records Office in London. There is a copy in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Early in 1836, Burns was living at Southampton. On his behalf, a Thomas Morgan wrote to the Foreign Office (19/4/1836) requesting that an opportunity should be afforded him to place before H.M. Government a plan in respect of colonization either in New Zealand or in South Australia. The letter was referred to the Colonial Office.