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

“Blind Charlie”

Blind Charlie

Among the pioneer pakehas at Tolaga Bay was Nathaniel Goodhue Gilman, who became known to Europeans as “Blind Charlie” and to the natives as “Kirimana.” He reached Tolaga Bay in 1847 and married, in native fashion, Riripeta, a sister of Hirini Taurewa. After two children had been born, Archdeacon W. Williams came along and invited him to regularize the union by being married in accordance with the formula of the Church of England. Gilman talked the matter over with Robert Waddy, who was also living with a native woman, and they both got married on the same day. Riripeta died in 1862.

Second youngest of the Gilman family of ten, Mrs. Hall (previously Mrs. W. F. Hale) of Mangatuna, who was born in 1860, told the writer that her father was born in Kent on 25 April, 1814. When he was six years old, his parents migrated to Maine (U.S.A.). He became an apprentice in his father's furniture factory. As there were other Nathaniels among relatives who had also migrated, he was called “Charles.” Some years later, his Uncle Goodhue took him to Boston, where he was taught navigation. In 1835 his uncle put him on board a schooner which was sent “blackbirding” off the African coast. The vessel was captured by a British man-o'-war and sunk.

In 1836 Gilman came out to New Zealand in a whaler of page 123 which his brother was the master. Upon arrival at the Bay of Islands, he went ashore to have “a night-out” at a grog-shop. Trouble arose, the lights were extinguished, and, in a “free-for-all,” he was struck over the shoulder with a three-legged pot and incapacitated. His brother had to continue his whaling cruise without him. Deciding to remain in New Zealand, Gilman engaged in building work at Russell. Then he went to sea again, and, whilst his vessel was at Tolaga Bay, Te Kani-a-Takirau persuaded him to settle there, as he would be useful as a boat-builder.

During a visit to Auckland in 1864, Gilman remarried, his second wife being a half-caste Hindu, whose father was an officer in an Imperial regiment stationed there. When she arrived at Tolaga Bay she was presented with a number of petticoats by neighbours. Mrs. Hall remembered the occasion well, because the donors insisted that her stepmother should put on all the garments one on top of the other! Her father, in 1866, built for Captain Glover Tolaga Bay's first hotel. In 1868, he took over the ferry at Turanganui, but his principal occupation was boat-building. Some moa footprints—not the first to be found there—were uncovered by him on the north bank of the Waikanae Creek in the middle 1870's. When the supply became exhausted, he made some with a pocketknife and sold them to unsuspecting visitors. He died at Tolaga Bay on 29 September, 1895.