Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
The story of early European settlement in and around Gisborne is quite unlike that which is attached to the founding of any of the Dominion's main centres. In Poverty Bay there was an entire lack of systematic planning. Its pioneers were, indeed, regarded by the natives as mere “squatters on sufferance.” Nor was the official attitude helpful. Governor Gore Browne, who paid a visit in January, 1860, was the first Vice-Regal representative to set foot in the district. The natives gave him a cold reception. In a dispatch to the Duke of Newcastle, he stated:
“What we saw at Turanga (Poverty Bay) provided an example of the effect of unauthorised settlement by Europeans in districts where it is not possible to protect them, unless at enormous expense of men and money…. Our visit afforded one of many proofs that the demands for the acquisition of native lands [he was referring to the fact that the Europeans in Auckland had long coveted the Turanga Flats] are often made in utter ignorance of all the circumstances of the case, and are too often based on the single idea that the Government is bound to furnish an adequate supply of land which is specially coveted without reference to the views or the inclinations of the natives, whose claims are entirely disregarded…. The residents of the district have, with one or two exceptions, settled there in defiance of Sir G. Gipps's proclamation and complain loudly of the neglect of the Government to extend its protection to them.”
In strict fact, no substantial advantage had, up till then, been gained by the traders and settlers from the establishment of British sovereignty. They were but few in numbers and far removed from the seat of government. Conditions might have been very different had the authorities not proved dilatory in bringing about a settlement of the disputes which had arisen between natives and Europeans in connection with a number of small land claims. Prior to 1855, when the first magistrate was stationed in Poverty Bay, an occasional call by a small warship or a revenue cutter had been the only reminder its residents had received that the country was under British rule. In turn, little benefit had been derived from the magistrate's activities, for he found himself powerless to enforce decisions which he gave against natives. Even at the time of Governor Gore Browne's visit, the bulk of the natives denied that they owed allegiance to Queen Victoria.
The earliest pakehas—” strangers” to the Maoris—who made their homes in Poverty Bay or on the East Coast were runaway seamen. Those among them who could build boats found favour native chiefs. More welcome were the shore traders who came to barter firearms, clothes, tools, etc., for flax and produce. page xvi Other pakehas were attracted by the establishment of whaling stations. When, some years later, the missionaries appeared, organized settlement still lay far in the distance. Unhappily, it was not achieved without a grim struggle in which the settlers and loyal natives had to be assisted by contingents of colonists and friendly natives from Hawke's Bay and elsewhere. Fitting it is, therefore, that future generations should be told when and how the great inheritance which they will enjoy was founded.
The disparaging name “Poverty Bay” was given by Captain Cook only to the inlet adjacent to Gisborne. Its survival as the designation of the district was due solely to official neglect in the early days to bestow upon it a suitable name. Mr. (later Sir Donald) McLean was, apparently, free from blame. In his reports to the Government, he invariably referred to the district as the “Turanga Plain” or “Turanga,” and to the bay as the “Bay of Turanga.” Perhaps the native name “Turanga” was not officially adopted because it so closely resembles “Tauranga.”
That the similarity between these two place-names was apt to occasion confusion, even in official circles, is suggested in a story of an amusing—and, for Poverty Bay, a costly—mistake which is stated to have occurred in 1874. According to the Tauranga Golden Jubilee Souvenir Booklet (1932), requests were made both by Turanga and Tauranga for Government buildings, and Parliament voted £2,400 to provide “a courthouse, gaol and police quarters at Turanga.” On account of a blunder, however, the building was erected at Tauranga! It was of two storeys and was held to be the second largest wooden building in New Zealand. On 16 November, 1902, it was destroyed by fire, together with practically the whole of Tauranga's town records.
Only in recent years were steps taken by the Government which tended to indicate that the name “Poverty Bay” was not officially recognized as being applicable to any portion of the mainland. A “Gisborne Land District” was established, but, as it was not confined to the area which has so long been known as the “Poverty Bay District,” the injustice was not remedied. The seaboard of the Land District extends from Ohiwa around the East Coast down to Paritu, and within its western boundary lies Lake Waikaremoana. Even to-day, therefore, the designation “Poverty Bay” still requires to be used in the case of that portion of the Land District of which Gisborne is the port and chief commercial centre.
The residents have been just as much to blame as the authorities in Wellington for the continued use of the appellation “Poverty Bay” for the district. For over seventy years, the odious place-name has been, and still is, perpetuated in the title of “The page xvii Poverty Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Association.” “Poverty Bay” was also retained for nearly as great a period in the title of the district's evening newspaper, which, only in recent years, became the Gisborne Herald. A number of sports bodies and a few public institutions and business firms still make use of “Poverty Bay” in their titles.
It is, however, certain that the residents were not consulted prior to the naming of “The Poverty Bay Electric Power Board” and “The Poverty Bay Catchment Board,” the latest local bodies to be established in the district. Mr. Townley was, probably, the author of the idea that the local body which controls the harbour should be named” The Gisborne Harbour Board.” In 1876, when he found that the Government intended that the county which it was about to establish adjacent to the shores of Poverty Bay should be known as “Poverty Bay County,” he obtained the support of S. Locke, M.H.R., to a proposal that the title should be changed to “Cook County” and, happily, the authorities made the desired alteration.
“Poverty Bay,” he wrote, “is, historically speaking, almost the most important place in New Zealand. Capt Cook named it on the spur of the moment ‘Poverty Bay’—a name which it still holds, because its residents take a delight in the irony of the appellation.” [Or, in other words, that the residents feel that the district can afford to wear the name “Poverty Bay” with as little concern as a rich man ned display if he should appear in public in a shabby coat!]
In an address which Dr. R. McNab prepared for the Poverty Bay branch of the Royal Colonial Institute on the occasion of the Cook anniversary commemoration service in Gisborne in October, 1915, he wrote:
“Cook called the place ‘Poverty Bay’ ‘because,’ said he, ‘it afforded us no one thing we wanted.’ This was not his first idea, however. He had intended calling it ‘Endeavour Bay,’ and had actually written that name down. The thought of his failure to secure provisions and of his empty water-casks then triumphed, and he gave to the richest portion of New Zealand the singularly inappropriate name ‘Poverty Bay.’”
A violent outburst against the retention of the name “Poverty Bay” marked a speech which the then Premier (Rt. Hon. R. J. Seddon) made upon being handed an address of welcome from the residents of the district on 28 March, 1902. He startled those present by stating: “There is one discordant note in this address, and to me it sounds very harsh!” As he rivetted his attention on the illuminated scroll, there was an awkward pause. Its authors glanced at one another, wondering what statement in it had caused page xviii annoyance to their distinguished guest. Proceeding, Mr. Seddon said:
” I refer to the name ‘Poverty Bay.’ I detest the name. I don't see why a place should be branded with such an odious title—all through a little disappointment on the part of Captain Cook over one hundred years ago. It is a libel on the place, and its residents should try to have it removed. Indeed, I would almost be prepared to carry through an Act of Parliament to blot it out—stamp it out of existence—so much do I abhor it… Strike it out! At any rate, strike it out of the address which you have been kind enough to present to me!”
On the other hand, the name “Poverty Bay” did not savour of disparagement to an ex-sailor named David Hatt. He discovered an extensive gold-bearing reef in the heart of the Tarnagulla district in Victoria, and named it “The Poverty Bay Reef.” Some years earlier, Hatt, whilst following his original calling, had been saved from drowning in Poverty Bay by a party of Maoris, which included some women. He married one of his rescuers and they settled in Victoria, where he turned his attention to gold prospecting. In a review of the gold-mining activities at Tarnagulla, the Argus (Melbourne) explained, in 1933, that Hatt, lacking financial means to exploit his find, sold out to Thomas King and others. Near the surface, the reef was only 20 feet through, but it proved to be much thicker at lower levels. Within seven years, various companies won, in all, fourteen tons of gold from the reef and it was then (1933) still being profitably worked at a depth of 400 feet.
Several attempts have been made to arouse widespread public interest with the object of securing for the district an appropriate title. On the occasion of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887, the Gisborne Harbour Board, on the motion of J. Townley, agreed (T. J. Dickson dissenting) that a change in the name was desirable. With the exception of E. P. Joyce and W. H. Tucker, the members of Gisborne Borough Council supported the proposal. The dissentients felt that a change in name would deprive Poverty Bay of the historic identity which attaches to it on account of the fact that it was the first place in New Zealand upon which Captain Cook set foot. In turn, members of Cook County Council were hostile to the suggestion. “What,” asked the chairman (G. L. Sunderland) “has the adjacent district gained by its name ‘Bay of Plenty’? In what way has the name ‘Poverty Bay’ impoverished the great riches of our own district?”
Delighted with his large takings at Gisborne in August, 1887, Johnny Hall, of the “Fun on the Bristol Company,” expressed a wish to reciprocate by assisting the residents to obtain an appropriate title for their sadly misnamed district. He offered a handsome prize to the person who submitted what proved, by page xix popular vote, the most favoured new name. A committee reduced the names put forward to four: “Read's Bay,” “Bright's Bay,” “Cook's Bay” and “Endeavour Bay.” By a large majority, his audience chose “Endeavour Bay.”
When the question was revived at a meeting of the Gisborne Borough Council on 18 October, 1887, it was decided, by five votes to four, that it should be referred to a public meeting. About one-hundred residents turned up. Mr. Townley, who moved that a change in the name of the district was desirable, stressed the point that the authorities had never given an official name to the district. A strong volume of opposition was led by E. F. Harris (the earliest-born resident of European as well as of native blood). According to a press report, the motion was negatived, amid applause, by “three or four to one.”
Shortly after the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January, 1901, Mr. Townley, at a meeting of the Gisborne Harbour Board, proposed that representations should be made to the Government, urging that the name “Poverty Bay” should be abandoned and that, in its place, “Victoria Bay” should be adopted. A fellow-member pointed out that, if “Victoria Bay” was adopted, confusion would be liable to arise on the Home market between Victorian produce and locally-grown produce. No seconder came forward and the matter was dropped.
In May, 1947, the Gisborne Chamber of Commerce invited the Gisborne Borough Council to support a change in the name of the district. The borough authorities inquired from the Department of Internal Affairs whether Poverty Bay could be constituted a province and be awarded an appropriate provincial designation. It was pionted out that “Eastland” was among the names that had been suggested. A reply was received stating that, when the provincial system of government was abolished in 1876, the provinces ceased to exist officially, and, consequently, a new province could not now be established anywhere in New Zealand.
On the occasion, members of Cook County Council proved divided on the issue. The executive of the Poverty Bay A. and P. Association decided, by the slender margin of one vote, not to Press for a change. Members of Uawa County Council were of the opinion that the name “Poverty Bay” should stand. It was Intimated by Waiapu County Council that it would not be represented at any conference that might be held on the subject. On the other hand, Waikohu County Council was prepared to send a delegate. Gisborne Harbour Board did not again deal with the matter.
The “Poverty Bay District” embraces Cook County and Waikohu County, together with the town of Gisborne.page break