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

“Billy” Brown: Kahutia's Pakeha

“Billy” Brown: Kahutia's Pakeha

With his hair reaching down to his waist, “Billy” Brown (Wiremu Paraone) was a conspicuous figure in the eyes of visitors to Early Gisborne. After the death of his wife (in the middle 1860's), he refrained from having his hair cut. His fellow-residents became accustomed to what they regarded as merely an eccentricity on his part. Members of his family had questioned the propriety of his decision; his reply was that he could not think of any better way of showing his respect for his late partner in life than by constituting himself a living monument to her in the way that he was doing.

Brown was born in England circa 1802. Writing to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales (30/11/1840), he said: “I have lived in this island for about four years.” It seems that he had slipped ashore from a whaler on the eve of her departure from Poverty Bay. Kahutia page 152 treated him as “his pakeha,” and gave him for wife his niece, Hine Whati-o-te-Rangi, who became an aunt to Heni Materoa (Lady Carroll). When the demand for flax declined, he was attracted to the whaling industry. During each off-season he kept a store, first at Ngawai-te-Rua, and then at Tapatahi and Turanganui. By the late 1850's whaling ceased to interest him.

Shortly after the death of his wife, Brown set off on an intended visit to England. He had wished to take two of his sons with him, but the elders of their mother's tribe would not acquiesce, fearing that he might not bring them back. When he got to Melbourne he began to miss his children, and he retraced his steps. One of the largest feasts ever held in Poverty Bay took place when Wiremu (his eldest son) married. An open invitation was extended to Maori and pakeha alike; every pakeha received a gift. Mereana, the bride, became prominent in connection with native land litigation, and one of the cases to which she was a party went on to the Privy Council. Brown's second son, Eruera (Edward) became a settler at Makauri. Paku, the other son, was slain by the Te Kooti rebels whilst carrying dispatches in 1868.

The elder of Brown's daughters, Mere Kingi—the other was Kato, mother of Henare Ruru, of Te Karaka—had the distinction of being the only resident of Poverty Bay who lived throughout practically the whole of the Centennial period (1840–1940). In May, 1940, she received from the Department of Internal Affairs a special Centennial ribbon bearing an inscription which stated that she was then 103 years old. Her birth date cannot now be traced, but, in view of the fact that Wiremu (the eldest member of the family) was not born until 1840, it may be assumed that she was born either in 1841 or 1842. Support for this contention lies in the fact that Kahutia testified in connection with Brown's land claim that no child had been born when he presented him with a property on 2 January, 1840.

Mere Kingi's first husband, Komere (a brother of Te Kooti), was slain during the revolt in 1868. With others, she was taken by the rebels to Ngatapa, but contrived to escape during a commotion caused by the circulation of a false report to the effect that Te Kooti had been slain. In turn, she married Ihimaera Tawha, who was prominent in native Good Templar circles. He died in April, 1884. Hemi Ratapu was her third husband. Mere died at Manutuke on 13 July, 1942, and it is not improbable that she had become a centenarian. She had six children, and her other descendants included thirty grandchildren, one hundred and one great-grandchildren and thirteen great-great-grandchildren. When the Parkers reached Poverty Bay in 1867, they became acquainted with her maternal grandmother, who appeared to them to be a centenarian. The old lady claimed to have seen Captain Cook whilst he was at Poverty Bay in 1769. What is more probable is that, at that time, she was an infant.