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

William Morris: Whaler and Trader

William Morris: Whaler and Trader

Known to the natives as “Morete,” William Morris was born at Black Rock, Cork, in 1815. He was the only son of Captain William Morris, of the Coastguards. That he left his homeland at an early age is shown by a letter which is held by his descendants. It is dated “Black Rock, 1 May 1841,” and was written to him by a sister, Jemima, in reply to the first letter which any member of the family had received from him since his departure. She writes of her delight in hearing from him “after such a lapse of years.” A warm invitation was extended to Morris (11/9/1843) by another sister, Maria, to return “to tread once more Irish soil and taste the native sweets that only your native air can afford, for we have enough for ourselves and our families and to spare.”

Whilst Morris was whaling in Hawke's Bay, he had a very firm friend in William Colenso, the missionary. On his way to Colenso's home at page 151 Waitangi one day, he came across a kotuku (white heron) and, being under the impression that Colenso would value the specimen, he shot it. As he went on his journey, he ran into the chief Tareha, who claimed the bird on the ground that it had been shot on his property. In order to save his gun, Morris had to give up the bird. Next day, Tareha, after plucking off all the much-prized feathers, took it to Colenso and demanded a sovereign for it, but had to be content with 4/-. In the belief that it belonged to an unknown species, Colenso preserved the skin, head and feet and sent them to Professor Owen at Home.

Writing to Morris from Waitangi in June, 1849, Colenso said: “Since you left our neighbourhood I have very often, indeed, had you in my thoughts … for I proved you to be a good neighbour, and am still indebted to you for many acts of kindness.” Again, in October, 1852, Colenso wrote: “I scarcely ever walk on my verandah and look towards the Cape [Cape Kidnappers] without thinking of you. That cape and yourself seem linked together in my mind. Perhaps, it is owing to your having been our nearest neighbour during the first year of our residence here.”

In 1852, when Morris had a store at Wherowhero, he was again lured by the old cry: “There she Blows!” and took up whaling at Waikokopu. He remained there until 1856, when he returned to Poverty Bay with his wife, who was at death's door. To mark her grave he imported a tombstone which is believed to have been the first stone memorial to be erected in the district. Shortly afterwards, he bought J. G. Steddy's store at Mahia. He is reputed to have made a lot of money during the Waikato War by shipping salted pork to Auckland for the troops. Mahia was at that time overrun by pigs. When urgent business called him to Napier, he preferred to make the journey on his white horse, “Copenhagen,” which became as well-known as himself. He left Mahia to take up a property at Tangoio, and later went into business at “The Spit,” Napier, where he died in July, 1882.

Among the stories which were narrated to the writer by Thomas Bartlett (born at sea between Wherowhero and Mahia in 1848) was one which indicated that Morris's acumen was well matched by his obstinacy. On one occasion, whilst search was being made for a dead whale off Waikokopu, Morris, who was blind in one eye, espied a dark object under the surface. He called upon his harpooner (Nepia Tokitahi) to strike. Nepia told him that it was only a rock, but, being unwilling to disobey, he projected his harpoon. The rock was afterwards known as “Tokitia,” and Morris was unmercifully chaffed over his mistake.