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

Captain Duncan and His Coffin

Captain Duncan and His Coffin

Omanuka, that pretty little spot just to the north of Anaura Bay, was, in the 1860's, chosen for his home by a sterling old seafarer of Scottish descent named Captain Archibald Duncan. Born in 1802, he had served in the Liverpool-North American trade. Migrating to New Zealand, he had charge of various vessels on the Auckland-Napier run. With the consent of Pita, an Anaura chief, he built a very comfortable, wood-lined whare with a thatched roof. It also served as a lodging-house for benighted Maori and pakeha travellers. One end, which was used as living quarters by his wife and himself, resembled a ship's cabin. He was never to be seen without his pea jacket and sea cap. Unfailingly, also, he read a chapter of his Bible every night and, before retiring, had a tot of rum.

It was a sad day for the old sea salt when Jean, his devoted Scottish wife, passed on. In order that she might still be near him, he buried her in a coffin made with his own hands in his very tidy little garden at the back of his home. As the lonely years crawled by, the old chap became uneasy on account of a belief that when, in turn, his end came, he might be buried only in a flax mat. So he built himself a coffin and rested content when his native neighbours assured him that, when he died, they would put his body in it and inter it beside that of his wife.

But, after all, poor old Captain Duncan never occupied his home-made coffin and his remains were not interred in the picturesque spot at Anaura which he loved so much. In 1876 the superstitious natives of Anaura held that their white neighbour, by the exercise of witchcraft, had been responsible for the death of the old chief Pita, and they threatened to take his life. These were the people who had beggared him in bygone years by neglecting to pay him what they owed him. A subscription list went the rounds of Poverty Bay on behalf of the worthy old fellow and met with a ready response. When it was found that there was no accommodation available for him at the Indigents' Home at Auckland, W. L. Williams very kindly provided him with a suitable home, with a little garden, at Napier.