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

Chapter XXI — “Beautiful Turanga” (Poverty Bay)

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Chapter XXI
“Beautiful Turanga” (Poverty Bay)

Donald McLean's Visit in 1851—Spies Out Its Fertile Lands—“A Paradise For Pastoralists”—Friendly Talks With Te Kani-a-Takirau.

When Mr. (later, Sir Donald) McLean paid his first visit to Poverty Bay in February, 1851, he was a Lands Purchase Commissioner. He had been sent to Napier in December, 1850, to buy as much land as possible in Hawke's Bay. In his journal (3 January, 1851) he states: “Turanga (Poverty Bay) is reported to me as being a fine, rich country, with 40,000 acres of deep, rich, alluvial soil.” [The Poverty Bay Flats contain 45,756 acres and are almost equally divided by the Waipaoa River.] So he decided to visit Poverty Bay and inspect what had been described to him as “A Veritable Paradise for Pastoralists.” Although he was not armed with authority to bargain with its chiefs for any of their lands, he was so greatly impressed by the fertility of the soil and the genial climate that he could not resist the temptation to put out “feelers.” When the Hawke's Bay chiefs learned of his intention, Te Moananui frankly expressed his fears that, if Poverty Bay lands were offered to the Crown, they might be considered earlier than those in Hawke's Bay which he was endeavouring to sell.

On 6 February, 1851, Mr. McLean reached Te Arai, via Wairoa, on horseback. The personnel of his party is not disclosed in his journal, nor is the identity of its principal host in Poverty Bay.

“In descending from the interior ranges, I had,” he reported to the Governor, “a splendid view of the country around Turanga Bay (it does not deserve the appellation given by the illustrious discoverer) which formed a pleasing contrast with the barren hills I had passed over. The land is rich and fertile and is intersected by three rivers, which strike their serpentine courses through handsome clumps of kahikatea and puriri forests and beside numerous wheat cultivations and groves of peach and other varieties of English fruit trees.
“We reached the first settlement on the banks of the Arai River about sunset, when the natives were returning from reaping their fields, some leading horses and others driving cattle and pet pigs before them. They gave us the usual welcome and presented us with fruit and also with honey just taken from a hive.
“The fat cattle, the large wheat stalks of last year's growth, fine alluvial soil, and contented appearance of the natives made an impression that this was certainly anything but a land of destitution or want. Nor was this impression deranged by what I subsequently saw of the beautiful Turanga Valley, which contains about 40,000 acres of splendid land covered with rich grasses and well supplied with wood and water.”
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Mr. McLean spent the day after his arrival with Te Waaka Perohuka (one of the principal chiefs), who lived close to Kaupapa. He “sounded” E'Waaka (his guide) as to the natives' views on the Government's land-purchasing policy. E'Waaka said that some of the natives wished to sell their land, but that others would not do so. Incidentally, he confessed to Mr. McLean that, without the knowledge of other interested parties, he had sold a tract of land in that locality to a European named Hatereti for “spades, pots and what he called ‘shells of paua’ (meaning some money).” Subsequently, Captain W. B. Rhodes had, he added, been allowed to purchase for two blankets and some other articles “the whole of Turanga.” [Rhodes never claimed to have made any such purchase.]

Next morning Mr. McLean went to Orakaiapu pa, where (he says) he inspected “the most elegantly carved native house in New Zealand.” [Lazarus's carved house, which is now in the Dominion Museum.] Attired in handsome dog-skin mats, the chiefs assembled and, in turn, addressed him. It soon became plain that they were convinced that the real object of his visit was to ascertain whether land might be obtained by the Crown for a European township. Some of the chiefs proved in a sarcastic vein. Lazarus, whom Mr. McLean describes as “a second-rate chief,” remarked that if, in the towns from which he had come, the natives could get goods for nothing, he would think over the advisability of Poverty Bay also having a town! On the other hand, the old men were “more favourable in their sentiments, welcoming us as strangers.” Mr. McLean explained that he had no authority to treat with them for any of their lands, but he was prepared to listen to their views on the subject. His only object in visiting them was to become acquainted with the place and its people.

A Round of Calls

A visit was then paid by Mr. McLean to the mission station at Whakato, where, in the absence of the Rev. T. S. Grace in Auckland, he was very warmly received by Mrs. Grace. She told him that she had set aside a bedroom for him and that she would be delighted if he would stop there. This kind offer he declined. [It is not improbable that he and his party had established a camp.] Mrs. Grace mentioned that the settlers had accused Mr. Grace of having interfered in matters of trade with the natives and of having incited the natives to demand higher charges for the right to graze cattle and horses upon their lands, thus causing great confusion and discontent. Winding up his account of the interview, Mr. McLean wrote: “Mrs. Grace is a remarkably nice person, and is learning the native language rapidly.”

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As Te Kani-a-Takirau (the great East Coast chief) had sent word that he would come down from Tolaga Bay in a few days, Mr. McLean spent the interval moving about among the settlers. He went across to Makaraka to see “Yankee” Smith, the leading trader. “Smith,” he says, “received me kindly, and had some food prepared. He introduced me to a good-looking young wife—in appearance something like Lady Grey [the wife of Sir G. Grey]—whom he had brought from England.” In the evening he dined at Opou with Captain Harris, “who,” he noted, “has a nice garden and a tolerable house, has been twenty years in the country, knows a good deal about the natives, and is communicative.” At Harris's home he met Captain William Stewart (after whom Stewart Island was named), who was then in very frail health.

Next day Mr. McLean breakfasted with James Henry King, “who has his own cottage and a nice garden.” He then went on to see George Rich, concerning whose household he wrote: “They seem agreeable people.” Sunday was spent at the mission station, which he describes as “a comfortable place, with a good garden.” It was on the following day, after he had had lunch with James Dunlop, that he made the acquaintance of Te Kani-a-Takirau, who had been accompanied from Tolaga Bay by W. B. Baker, a son of the pioneer missionary there.

At Mr. McLean's request the leading chiefs were invited to meet to express their feelings on the question as to whether a township should be established in Poverty Bay. The proposition was opposed by Tahae (who claimed to be the owner of the entrance to the Turanganui River), and also by Rawiri te Eke and Lazarus. On the other hand, it found favour with E'Waaka, Hori Tiroa and Paratene Turangi, and also with a great majority of the young people. Mr. McLean considered that, on this occasion, Lazarus had spoken more fairly, but evasively. He described him as having “a bad countenance.” The impression he gained was that those who were opposed to the establishment of a township feared that they might be put in gaol for theft!

As the chiefs were so divided, Mr. McLean informed Te Kani that there was no urgency in connection with the purchase of land for a township. Te Kani told those present that the natives of Poverty Bay were not yet sufficiently honest to have Europeans among them. Nor were their chiefs decided, prepared or unanimous on the subject of a township. He reminded them that the whole of the island was now in the name of the Europeans. On account of their thoughts being insufficiently mature, he would request Mr. McLean to leave them for a day or so.

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Mr. McLean then paid another round of visits among the settlers. After dining at the mission station, he went out with Mr. Rich to see the country from a hill above the plain “that commanded a good view of 50,000 acres of fertile, flat land.” He had tea at Mr. Rich's home, and a dance followed. It seemed to him that his host was well acquainted with the district, and that he was well informed on farming matters. Concerning Mr. Dunlop, he noted in his journal that he was a nephew of Tennent, the great dry salter of Glasgow; that he was a sensible, well-read man, who had spent some years at a German university and had travelled a good deal; and that his ideas as to how the natives should be treated were very good and indicated a superior intellect.

Woman Who Saw Captain Cook

Whilst Mr. McLean was at Turanganui, Rawiri, “who seemed a sensible, well-behaved man,” had a long conversation with him on various subjects, including the methods of punishment which Europeans meted out in cases of theft and other crimes. He also met there Hine Kapu, “an old deformed woman, shrunken with age.” She told him that she remembered seeing Captain Cook, and gave an account of the slaying of Te Rakau and of the wounding of another native. If, as she claimed, she was 16 years old in 1769, her age in 1851 was 98 years. Mr. McLean says that her intellect was quite clear, and that she was able to describe minutely every small circumstance connected with Cook's visit.

As Te Kani was anxious that another korero should be held, Mr. McLean spent another day with him at Turanganui. He found that the great Uawa chief knew that New Zealand was only an insignificant part of the Queen's possessions. Te Kani told him that he had always been fond of Europeans; that he made whalers and others welcome at his pa; and that any that were in want were supplied with clothes as well as food. Mr. McLean told him that his kindnesses to Europeans would not be forgotten by the Government.

It was made plain to Te Kani by Mr. McLean that his main object in wishing to meet him was to explain the land transactions that he had in view in Hawke's Bay and the Wairarapa. Te Kani advised him that purchases of blocks in those districts should precede any purchases in Poverty Bay. Quite frankly, he told him that Turanga had too many chiefs; that they were inclined to be childish; and that they required a lot of time in which to consider any matter. He assured him that, when they were agreed, he would regard the purchase of a township site as a good move. [Probably, Mr. McLean had not previously been page 181 aware of the saying: “Turanga rite tangata” (“All the chiefs at Turanga are of equal standing.”)]

On the day before his departure, Mr. McLean bought from “Yankee” Smith a saddle as a gift for Te Kani. Payment was made by means of a cheque for £4 drawn on Bethune and Hunter, of Wellington. This firm had opened in 1840 and is still (1949) in business. Te Kani was immensely pleased when Mr. McLean remarked that he would like to have a horse as good as his black mount. “Then you shall,” was his reply. He sent for the horse, which was named “Tokorakau,” and, with some degree of graceful action, placed the animal, saddled up, before the visitor. The price was fixed at £30. Being without funds, Mr. McLean had to appeal to Smith, who gave Te Kani £10 in cash on account, and promised to make up the difference with goods.

Upon farewelling Mr. McLean in the morning, Te Kani made “a nice speech.” He advised him that, in any future dealings with the chiefs of Turanga, he should take his time before assenting to any offer that they might make. Mr. McLean then presented him with the saddle, explaining that it was not a private gift, but a token of the regard in which the Queen and the Governor held him on account of his extreme kindness to all the Europeans whom he had befriended. Te Kani mentioned that he would prefer to have the balance of the purchase money for the horse in cash, adding that Mr. McLean could take his time in making the payment. As a parting indication of the high esteem in which he held Te Kani, Mr. McLean gave him some wine and beer for his homeward journey!

First Land Purchase by the Crown

It was not until 1857—six years after Mr. McLean's visit—that a move was made to acquire a block of land in Poverty Bay for Government purposes. When Mr. Wardell had arrived in 1855 he had had to be content with a small cottage at Makaraka for a home and for his official quarters as magistrate. After protracted negotiations with Kahutia and other members of Whanau-o-Iwi hapu, he obtained for the Crown, at a cost of £85, a property at Makaraka containing 57 acres. It was backed by the Taruheru River and comprised the areas subsequently used for the Makaraka Cemetery and the Makaraka Domain.

The agreement was signed on 29 January, 1857, by Mr. Wardell (for the Crown) and by Kahutia, his wife, his brother Manahi, his daughters (Kataraina and Riparata) and their husbands (Petera and Mikaera) and a grandson, together with some other relatives. Kuhutia gave his assent by affixing a cross. page 182 Quaint and picturesque language similar to that which was adopted in earlier deeds made in Hawke's Bay—e.g., that in respect of Hapuku block (4/11/1851)—appears in the recital. Rightly or wrongly, Mr. McLean is credited with being the author. A translation appears in Maori Deeds and Purchases: North Island, Vol. 1 (Auckland, 1877). The deed mentions that the vendors also included “our relations and our descendants, who shall be born after us.” The Taruheru River is described as “Te Awa-o-Turanganui.”

Most colourful among the passages is the following:

“Now we have fully considered wept over and bidden farewell to and entirely given up the land bequeathed to us by our ancestors with its streams lakes waters timber minerals pasture plains and forests with its fertile spots and barren places and all above and all below the surface of the said land and everything thereunto pertaining we have entirely given up under the shining sun of this day as a lasting possession to Victoria the Queen of England and to the Kings or Queens who may succeed her for ever …”

The property became known as “The Government Paddock,” and upon it was erected Poverty Bay's first courthouse and the magistrate's residence. No further transfer of native land for public purposes took place in the Poverty Bay-East Coast area until 22 February, 1862, when Tukino and others disposed of 88 acres at Port Awanui as a site for a Resident Magistrate's station for the Waiapu district. Next in order came the purchase of the site for the township of Gisborne in 1868.

Poverty Bay's First European Census

The earliest detailed statistics concerning the European population of Poverty Bay (including the names of half-castes), together with particulars of the district's exports, its wooden buildings, its stock and the amount of land in cultivation by pakehas in February, 1851, appear in lists among the McLean papers in the Alexander Turnbull Library at Wellington. Probably they were compiled by W. B. Baker, of Tolaga Bay, but some of the particulars are in Mr. McLean's handwriting. Where the wife was a native, her name is not shown. The return enumerates 44 adults (including 14 women), 35 children and 25 half-caste children ranging in age from 1 year to 17 years. Additions and corrections made by the author appear in parentheses.

  • Thomas Albert (Halbert), a trader for (W.) Morris.

  • Peter Simpson, a trader for (W.) Morris, and Mrs. Simpson.

  • Peter Pullman (? Poulgrain), trader, his wife and six children.

  • Rev. T. S. Grace (who was relieving Archdeacon Williams), Mrs. Grace and three children.

  • (George) Rich, settler, Mrs. Rich and the Misses Rich (2).

  • (Andrew) Arthur, shoemaker.

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  • “Carrots,” or Stapleton, sawyer.

  • “Shoemaker Dick,” or Bourke, shoemaker.

  • “French Peter,” or Gerron, sailor.

  • “Scotch Jock,” or Gemmell, sawyer.

  • “Old Con” (Cornelius) Ryan, sawyer.

  • W. B. Cooper, carpenter, Mrs. Cooper and four children.

  • (J. H.) King, settler, Mrs. King and four children.

  • William Tarr, settler, Mrs. Tarr and eight children.

  • Mr. (J. W.) Harris, settler (and trader).

  • Edward Deacon, trader.

  • A Frenchman (name untraced).

  • Thomas Norcross, bullock driver.

  • William McMillan, settler.

  • John Hervey, trader.

  • “Old McKay” (James Mackey), sawyer.

  • William Brown, trader.

  • (Robert) Espie, carpenter.

  • “Old Browne” (J. G. Browne), blacksmith.

  • “Bob,” or Robert Newnham, ship's carpenter.

  • “Jock,” or John Baxter, labourer.

  • “Jack the Shoemaker,” or John Burton, shoemaker.

  • (Thomas) U'Ren, stonemason, Mrs. U'Ren and eight children.

  • (James) Dunlop, settler, Mrs. Dunlop and two children.

  • (A.) Smith (“Yankee” Smith), trader, and Mrs. Smith.

  • Misses Williams (2) (daughters of Archdeacon W. Williams).

The half-caste children are listed with only the father's surname: Simpson (1 boy), Harris (3 boys), Halbert (2 boys and 3 girls), Mackey (2 boys), Arthur (1 boy and 2 girls), Jones* (1 boy and 2 girls), Smith (1 girl), Campbell* (1 girl and I boy), Brown (1 girl and 2 boys), Espie (2 girls). In the cases marked with an asterisk the fathers were, apparently, out of the district. Several of the early residents bore the surname “Smith,” although “Yankee” Smith is the only one enumerated in the census.


There were 20 weather-boarded houses in the district, besides barns, stores, sheds, stables, etc. Captain Harris was credited with owning five wooden buildings, of which two were dwellings, and at the mission station there was a wooden dwelling, together with two wooden outbuildings. Europeans who had land in cultivation were:—J. W. Harris, 27 acres; W. B. Cooper, 8; R. Espie, 24; T. Norcross, 10; J. H. King, 14; W. Williams, 6; T. Halbert, 13; G. Rich, 1; P. Simpson, 2; a total of 105 acres. No information is given as to the amount of land under cultivation by natives.

The only classes of stock being grazed were cattle, horses and goats. J. W. Harris owned 43 head of cattle; T.U'Ren, 19; R. Espie, 20; T. Norcross, 8; J. H. King, 33; —— (name illegible), 50; W. Williams, 20; W. B. Cooper, 3; P. Simpson, 9; T. Halbert, 5; a total of 210, although Mr. McLean showed a total of only 202. The 20 horses were owned as follow:—Harris, 4; Espie, 1; King, 2; Arthur, 2; Williams, 8; Simpson, 1; and W. Morris, 2. There was no enumeration as to the ownership of 300 goats. The natives on the north side of the Waipaoa River owned 28 “cattle and horses,” and those residing at Makaraka and Turanganui 25.

During 1850 produce had been exported from Poverty Bay as under:—Wheat, 10,902 bushels; salt pork, 27½ tons; maize, 3,220 bushels; bacon and hams, 2 tons; onions, 10 tons; potatoes, 16 tons; barley, 80 bushels. page 184 “Yankee” Smith's exports for that year comprised:—5,000 bushels of wheat, 20 tons of salt pork, 3,000 bushels of maize, and 2 tons of bacon and hams. It was expected by Mr. McLean that Smith's exports for 1851 would be three times as great. He had then in hand £4,000 worth of produce. Salt pork was worth £23 per ton, maize 2/- per bushel, and wheat 3/- per bushel.

Some statistics concerning the Tolaga Bay district were also gathered by Mr. McLean. The native population between Puatai and Waimahuru (as per a census taken in 1846) was:—Males 752 and females 559, total 1,311, but he was given to understand that the aggregate was probably 1,500. “Wm. B.” [this would be W. B. Baker] had 33 cattle, 6 horses, 7 sheep and 220 goats at Tolaga Bay. The item “sheep” is of especial interest, seeing that Mr. McLean had been unable to trace any in Poverty Bay. Robert Waddy had 9 cattle, 1 horse and 25 goats, whilst there were 20 goats at a whaling station. The Puatai natives had 11 cattle and 8 horses, and the natives in the Uawa district owned 11 cattle and 45 horses.

Production in the Tolaga Bay-Tokomaru Bay area in 1850 is shown as under:—Puatai—400 bushels of wheat, 200 bushels of maize, and 6 tons of onions; Uawa—600, 250 and 1 respectively; Kaiaua—200, 95 and¼; Anaura—250, 200 and ½; Marahea—150, 125 and 1; Tokomaru Bay—600, 200 and 1½. Totals—Wheat, 2,200 bushels; maize, 1,070 bushels; and onions, 10¼ tons. Salt pork to the extent of 8 tons was also produced.


In the hope that the natives might sell the Poverty Bay Flats to the Crown, George Rich (25/2/1851) bespoke four sheepruns for himself and his sons. The blocks which he desired were Maraetaha, Ko te Kuri (including Young Nick's Head), others extending to the Waipaoa River, and strips on both sides of the river as far as Waerenga-a-Hika! According to his journal (History of Hawke's Bay, p. 223), he set off on horseback with an unnamed companion in quest of southern runs on 10 November, 1851. Although the signatures to the deeds of purchase of the Ahuriri and Mohaka blocks were barely dry when they halted at Napier, he found that all the runs on both had been applied for. Upon Mr. McLean's advice he inspected the Ruataniwha Plains whilst en route to Wellington, where he arrived on Christmas Eve. Eventually, he obtained a grazing license over a large portion of Ruataniwha, and sent his son Alfred to Sydney to buy 2,000 ewes. He allowed his license to lapse, probably on account of the gazetting of new regulations reducing the tenure in respect of such licenses from 14 years to a license terminable at any time. “Rich,” Mr. McLean noted in his journal, “seems an exceedingly agreeable man, but extravagant in his speculative ideas on sheep-grazing, etc. He thinks of making a fortune all at once.” F. W. Williams, of Napier, informed the writer that Rich lived in a cottage near the Whakato mission station, and that Mrs. Rich, for a time, instructed Bishop W. Williams's younger daughters in sewing. Rich was manager of the Matamata Land Co.'s estate at Morrinsville in the 1880's.


Nothing authentic has been traced that throws any light on the earlier, or subsequent, career of “Yankee” Smith. A number of early colonists named Smith bore the label “Yankee.” One of them was a prominent Wanganui pioneer. Downes (Old Whanganui, p. 217) says this Smith figured in some serious trouble over a section which had been sold by the New Zealand Land Co. A sketch of an hotel which was kept by a “Yankee” Smith is in the Wanganui Museum. The name “Alvah page 185 Smith” was on the petition which prayed that the name of the town should be changed from Petre to Wanganui. It may be only a coincidence, but the forename of the “Yankee” Smith who lived in Poverty Bay is believed to have started with the letter “A.” A “Yankee” Smith was also prominent in connection with the early coaching days in Otago.

James Dunlop (born in Glasgow in 1820) was educated at Glasgow University and then attended the military college at Metz (Germany). He was trained in business by Tennent and Co., wholesale chemists, Glasgow. To the members of this firm he was related on his mother's side. Lady Asquith belonged to this family of Tennents. On his father's side he was descended from Mrs. Dunlop, the friend of the poet Burns. He migrated to New Zealand in 1849 and settled in Poverty Bay in 1850, first at Makaraka and then at Te Arai. His death took place on 21 June, 1901. All but one of his thirteen children survived him, and there were over 100 descendants. Mrs. Emily Dean Pitt, the last member of the family, died at Gisborne in her eighty-first year on 30 April, 1947.

Thomas U'Ren (born in Cornwall in 1812) reached Wellington with his wife and two children (Robert and Gertrude) on 7 February, 1840. He settled at Makaraka in June, 1841, bringing with him a tradition that his forbears had fled from France in Huguenot times. His son Thomas (born on 12 October, 1841; died on 17 October, 1912) was the first white boy—not the first white child—to be born in Poverty Bay. U'Ren senior died on 25 July, 1860. His grave in Makaraka Cemetery might have been the first, for his tombstone bears the earliest date.

Richard John Byrne (born in 1812) came out to Auckland in 1845 with the 58th Regiment. In 1865 he set up in business as a shoemaker at Makaraka, and was afterwards employed by Captain Read. His wife and children, with the exception of the eldest (Thomas), were sent to Napier on the day of the Massacre. He died on 24 September, 1900. A daughter (Mary, the widow of Thomas Finucane) attained her 90th birthday in June, 1949.

Robert Colebrook took charge of Captain Read's drapery department in 1870. Two years later he became the licensee of the Waerenga-a-Hika Hotel, but relinquished the license in 1873. He kept a store there until 1910, when he went to reside in Auckland.

George Guise Mill migrated with his wife from Scotland to Onehunga in 1857. Three years later he moved to Poverty Bay to act as business overseer for Captain Read. He was the first resident of the district to own a camera. During the Hauhau and Te Kooti rebellions he saw active service, and Mrs. Mill assisted to nurse the wounded. On 5 September, 1875, he lost his life by drowning in the Taruheru River. Jimmy Mill, the 1924 All Black, is a grandson.