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


Did Ferris Lead the Way?—John Hayes and His Obscure Partner—Identification of “Mr. Rabbit-Nose”—Enterprising Hemi Petiti.

It has not been found possible to set down the exact order in which the earliest shore-traders made their appearance on the East Coast. The first at the southern end seems to have been Wherihi (Ferris), who, according to the Harris Memoirs, made his home at Tolaga Bay prior to the arrival of Captain Harris at Poverty Bay in May, 1831. When Barnet Burns went to Tolaga Bay in 1832, Ferris was Captain J. R. Kent's trader. If a trader had been living there when L'Astrolabe called in 1827, there would have been some reference to the fact in the account of her stay. Moana Tautau (who was born at Tolaga Bay in the 1850's) informed the writer in 1928 that his elders had told him that Ferris was the first trader; that he lived on Hauiti; and that he bartered muskets, cast-off clothing, etc., for pigs, potatoes and flax, and, later, for corn. Ferris left no descendants.

When Polack paid his first visit to Tolaga Bay (1835), Te Kani-a-Takirau told him that he had [in or about 1832] invited the Whanau-a-Rua and the Urungawera, of Tokomaru Bay, to assist to scrape flax at Tolaga Bay. He also explained that two white traders unconnected with each other [one would be Ferris and the other Barnet Burns] settled there and that, to prevent jealousy arising, one [Ferris] was placed on one side [the south] of the river and the other [Burns] on the other side. Prior to Polack's visit, however, Burns had returned to England, and his son had been adopted by the Urungawera people and taken to Tokomaru Bay.

It is practically certain that Ferris's business rival in 1835 was Robert Espie, and that he was sent there by Harris. According to Mrs. Lockwood senior (Espie's elder half-caste daughter), the natives built for her father a large storeroom. This would be the storeroom which is described by Polack in his work. Consequent upon a quarrel, the natives burnt it down, and Espie lost a lot of flax and goods. Polack does not identify Ralph as one of the two traders he met at Tolaga Bay in 1835, but he makes it plain that he was there in 1836. Evidently, he was Espie's successor.

John Hayes (Hone Heihi) first came into prominence when he took up his abode at Omaewa (near Port Awanui) with another pakeha known to the natives as “Ropiha.” During the page 131 hearing of the Omaewa case in 1874, the evidence satisfied Judge Heale that the year of their arrival was 1834. Tamati Porourangi built a store for them in return for two casks of powder and one cask of tobacco. All the timber was adzed. Their house was provided with the first stone chimney erected in the Waiapu district. They were welcomed by both sets of claimants to the block. “Europeans were thought much of in those days,” a witness said, “for they sold us guns and powder as well as other goods.” Some natives built whares (native homes) close to their store.

Many guesses have been ventured as to the identity of Hayes's mate “Ropiha.” Quite a number of families bearing that surname are to be found in the North Island. T. T. Ropiha (who in 1948 became the first Maori to be appointed Under-Secretary for Maori Affairs) informed the writer that the Rev. J. Hobbs (the Methodist missionary) was called “Ropiha” by the natives. As Governor Hobson had been known as “Hopihana,” he would have expected that, in accordance with the usual phonetic usage by the Maoris in the early days, Mr. Hobbs would have been called “Hoopi.” He had made inquiries as far north as Whangarei, but nobody had been able to assist him in settling that “Ropiha” was intended to distinguish only one particular English surname.

When the Omaewa case came before the Native Land Court, Judge Heale, in his notes, gave “Robson” as an alternative for “Ropiha,” although it would seem that the correct Maori form for “Robson” should be “Ropihana.” The Rev. Mohi Turei told the court that there was a native song about a house which had been built for Ropiha at Te (Port) Awanui. Ropiha had secured one of the principal women for wife. “I don't know,” he added, “whether it was at that time that he lost his life.”