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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter II — Missionaries, Sealers, and Traders 1814–30

page 8

Chapter II
Missionaries, Sealers, and Traders 1814–30

The vessels which visited the harbours of north Auckland occasionally brought Maoris to Sydney. Some, such as Te Pahi and Ruatara, were influential chiefs from the Bay of Islands and they aroused the interest of Samuel Marsden, the senior chaplain of New South Wales. He was confident that missionaries would be safe among them although many thought the race to be 'more barbarous than any other savage nation.' Therefore he visited England, won the support of the Church Missionary Society, and returned in 1810 with two missionaries—Hall and King.

To his dismay he heard of the massacre of the Boyd in Whangaroa harbour and of the counterattack by the whalers then off the coast. The intelligent Te Pahi had been killed; and he was the rock upon which Marsden had hoped to found his church. The missionaries remained in New South Wales for three years simply because to New Zealand 'no master of a vessel would venture for fear of his ship page 9and crew falling a sacrifice to the natives.' Eventually Marsden purchased the brig Active and asked for permission to visit New Zealand. Governor Macquarie refused, but promised to have no objections if he sent the ship and she returned safely. Marsden, therefore, reminded the now pleasantly established missionaries of their duty and sent over Hall and Kendall to report on conditions at the Bay of Islands.

The Active arrived at the bay on 10 June 1814. The missionaries visited Ruatara, went fourteen miles inland, and slept a night among the Maoris. Altogether they spent six weeks in the district before returning with five natives. Among them were Hongi and Ruatara and it was under their protection that the mission was to be founded. Hall and Kendall had done their work well.

Marsden was now given permission to leave New South Wales. The Active left in November 1814 and after touching at various points on the coast reached the Bay of Islands where Marsden preached the first Christian sermon on Christmas Day. But he had to do more than found a mission station; Governor Macquarie had instructed him to explore as much of the coast and the interior as time would permit. Therefore he accepted Hongi's invitation to visit his pa which was about thirty-five miles inland. Nicholas, the chronicler of the voyage, volunteered to accompany him, and the party left early in 1815, going by canoe and then overland to page 10Waimate and the Okuratope pa. From here they visited Omapere lake and heard of a river flowing west into a fine harbour (Hokianga), which had a narrow entrance barred by heavy seas. Marsden, however, had to return to the ship. He had not crossed the peninsula, but he had made the longest inland journey yet undertaken by any European.

Within the next six weeks he visited the northwest of the Firth of Thames and called at different harbours between there and the Bay of Islands. He met Moehanga, the young man whom Savage had taken to England, and along the 200 miles of coast he made the chiefs conversant with the aims of the mission at the Bay of Islands. Small overland expeditions were made from the Bay of Islands, and for twelve axes he bought 200 acres of land at Rangihoua for the Church Missionary Society. In February 1815 Marsden left for Sydney and in due time a report appeared in the Church Missionary Society's Register. Quite apart from matters concerning the mission station, it contained a mass of information invaluable to anthropologists. Everything he saw or heard was of interest to him: the kauri forests seen on the way to Waimate, Hongi's secret sniping post and the excellent potatoes—'I have never seen finer potatoes under the best culture.'

The missionaries left behind gave little attention to exploration. They had to provide for their own existence, and, having frequent evidence of native page 11ferocity, did not venture far from the Bay of Islands. Consequently it was not until June 1819 that Kendall and King crossed to Hokianga to see whether it was fit for European settlement. They were impressed by the commodious harbour, the kauri trees, and the first-class land. The great disadvantage was, and still is, the bar at the harbour mouth.

A fortnight later Marsden arrived again at the Bay of Islands to settle some trouble between the missionaries. There were at Te Puna, as trophies of visitors, the heads of eleven chiefs. Hongi had had them cured and Marsden thought the countenances 'very natural excepting lips and teeth which had all a ghastly grin as if they had been freed by the last agonies of death.' They did not unsettle Marsden and with the Rev. John Butler and Messrs Hall and Puckey he visited Hokianga where Puckey took soundings of the bar. Apart from collecting more information about Maori history and customs, Marsden had time for no further exploration. He left in November, regretting that he could not visit the Waikato, from which he was told a river flowed to the west coast. According to some chiefs it was very long and drained a densely populated plain.

In 1820 two Admiralty ships—the Dromedary and the Coromandel—went to New Zealand for spars. To prevent trouble with the Maoris, Marsden sailed in the Dromedary, and, when suitable timber could not be obtained at the Bay of Islands, he suggested page 12Hokianga. He went over with a party of inspection and was no doubt pleased when it was decided to send the Dromedary to the harbour. When it did get there the bar was too shallow and back it was sailed to the bay. Marsden meanwhile spent some time going to places such as Taiamai and Whangaroa. At the latter he discussed kauri spars and the ship was sent there to collect a supply.

The Coromandel arrived in June 1820 and Marsden, having prepared the way at Whangaroa, went south with her to the Firth of Thames. While the ship's company searched for timber he went up the Thames river to its junction with the Ohinemuri. He planned a trip to the promised land—the Waikato—and messengers were sent ahead to herald his approach. Flooded rivers, however, prevented the trip and heavy storms kept him to the east of the Firth when he wanted to cross and go overland to Kaipara. Therefore he went east with Te Morenga, up the Ohinemuri river and over the hills to Tauranga. From the crest he had seen White Island miles away 'sending up immense columns of smoke.' Te Morenga gave a detailed account of his successful raid on Tauranga in January and February of that very same year, and Marsden managed to persuade him to make a peace with Te Waru which lasted until 1831.

Marsden then returned to the Coromandel, and when a party left in the ship's whale-boat to obtain spars from the Waitemata, he went too, hoping to page 13visit Kaipara. With Te Kawau and a Mr Ewels he went up the Kumeu river and overland to the sandhills on the west side of the peninsula. Kaipara was not far away but they had to turn back because they knew that the whale-boat would soon be returning to the ship.

However, when he reached the Coromandel, he found that if he was to get back to the Bay of Islands he would have to make his own arrangements. Therefore he planned to go by canoe from Mokoia to the bay, and when bad weather made the Maoris suggest a month's postponement, he decided to walk. Thus, without planning it beforehand, he began one of the long journeys which gave him a place among the greater men of New Zealand exploration.

Preparations were made immediately. Marsden could not swim, so it was arranged that he should be carried across dangerous rivers in a hammock 'as they carried the wounded from the field of battle.' Food was collected for the party—700 lb. of potatoes and 300 lb. of pork. Then they went up the Waitemata river to the Kaipara to reach Te Kawau, four miles from the harbour mouth, on 22 August. The bar was sounded for the benefit of future navigators and then Marsden was guided up the Wairoa river and across the peninsula to Whangarei harbour. He went on to the Bay of Islands by canoe and on 4 September was aboard the whaler Catherine finding civil life 'much sweeter than at any former time.' page 14Such a remark about conditions on a whaler is unusual for a missionary, but Marsden, farmer and magistrate as well as clergyman, was more a man of the world than the average missionary. Another reason why he would appreciate such simple conveniences was the extreme discomfort of native life. After one journey 'his clothes were in rags, covered with mud and red ochre, from his near contact with the natives, who were then constantly smeared with it and shark's oil; and with an old dirty nightcap on his head, he made his appearance before the astonished missionaries.'

While at the bay he learned that he could sail to Sydney in the Prince Regent which was then at Whangaroa. He walked overland and left with some trepidation, for the decks of the timber-laden ship were not five inches above the water-line. The weather became exceptionally rough, Marsden was violently sea-sick, and glad when the vessel returned to the Bay of Islands. He disembarked and, although he was long since due in Sydney, he decided to wait six weeks for the Dromedary to sail from Whangaroa.

This time could well be spent exploring the northern peninsula. With Butler, Puckey, and Shepherd he went by whale-boat to the Hauraki Gulf and on 3 November reached Mokoia, on the site of the present Panmure. This was his fourth visit, but the first in which he had any time to make a close study of the district. The local chief Te Hinaki page 15took Butler to the summit of Mount Wellington and he thought that the view was 'grand and nobly pleasing. I observed twenty villages in the valley below, and with a single glance beheld the largest portion of cultivated land I had met with in one place in New Zealand.'

After Marsden paid a visit to the Coromandel, the party set out to visit Manukau harbour which they reached at 5 p.m. on 9 September by way of Epsom and Onehunga. Marsden took a canoe to the heads and regretted that he could not examine the bar. However, being a practical man, he noticed the abundance of fine kauris awaiting any seaman who would venture into the harbour. Butler, more single-minded, thought only of a mission station—'No European had ever been there before and everyone, young and old, was eager, if possible, to touch the hem of our garments. The natives were numerous, the soil good, the timber fine, and the little naked children ran about like rabbits in a warren.'

The next business was to visit Kaipara and return to the whale-boat at Mokoia. To use a water route where possible they walked back to Waitemata, going over Mount Albert and viewing the country from Manukau in the west to the Hauraki Gulf in the east. A Sunday was spent at a village, hitherto unvisited by Europeans, on the Waitemata harbour. The younger of both sexes were full of wonder and page 16astonishment especially when Butler pulled off his hairy cap which they had thought was part of his head.

The following days saw them going up the Waitemata river, overland to the Muriwai river, and down to the Rangatira beach. Along it they had a twenty-mile trudge on a boiling hot day with no water and in clouds of swirling sand. At night they sought shelter in the scrub adjoining the beach. Marsden was very weary, Butler was almost too tired to rest and Puckey, suffering from rheumatism, had, the next day, to be carried by the natives. However they reached Kaipara and met Te Tinana the local chief, 'an aged man, but of an amazing size and full of flesh; his head was extraordinarily large, which gave him a Hon like appearance. Mr Marsden said he would give twenty guineas for his likeness.…' With his assistance Marsden explored the district and Puckey was able to sound the bar and chart the harbour.

This seems to have been the main object of the visit, for Marsden then considered how he would return to civilisation. The plans were changed. Butler and Puckey returned to Mokoia for the whale-boat, while Marsden with Shepherd went overland to the Bay of Islands. The latter had the more wearisome route but it meant a more punctual arrival at their destination. So, with one of Te Tinana's sons and two 'cookeys' (slaves) they went page 17along the coast to Hokianga, crossing the Maunganui bluff on their hands and knees with the sea booming below and the precipice making 'every nerve tremble.' At Hokianga they met the local chiefs who had been absent when Marsden was there eight months before. They had been away with Te Rauparaha ravaging the tribes of Taranaki and Wellington. Marsden must have listened to a wonderful story.

The missionaries now separated, Shepherd going to Kerikeri, Marsden to Whangaroa, where he embarked on the Dromedary. On this second journey he had spent five weeks and one day covering 600 miles across an unmapped country of undrained swamps and unbridged rivers. In his journeys between February and October 1820 he had gone overland from the Thames to Tauranga, he had discovered Manukau harbour, he had twice gone overland from Waitemata to Kaipara and the Bay of Islands. The essential features of the northern peninsula were, in due time, described to the world in reports far more interesting than those of any other missionary.

Soon after Marsden's return to Sydney, conditions in New Zealand changed for the worse. Hongi on his way back from England called in at Sydney and took to New Zealand a store of muskets and powder. In 1821 the populous country around Mokoia and Te Totara was raided and hundreds of captives were page 18taken back to the Bay of Islands. The missionaries, Kemp and Hall, saw cannibalism at its worst. Human heads were thrown up to view as the canoes approached the shore, the widowed women of the victors beat four of the captives to death, and nine prisoners were eaten that evening. Next morning Kemp was offered some human flesh which had been freshly roasted. The missionaries observed a human head being rolled down the hillside and the natives playfully dashing it to pieces with large stones. Cooking was done at the back of Kemp's house; on a board was to be seen the tattooed skin of a man's thigh being dried to cover a cartridge box.

Such incidents were to occur again and again. In 1822 Hongi and over 3,000 men dragged canoes from the Waitemata to the Manukau and raided the Waikato natives who had assisted the inhabitants of Mokoia and Te Totara. This lovely country, which Marsden had often wished to visit, was laid waste for years to come. Two thousand of its inhabitants had been killed, some were taken into slavery, and others had fled into more remote districts. The following year, to punish the Arawa tribe for assisting the Waikato natives, Hongi took fire and death to the country about Lake Rotorua.

While Hongi was absent on this expedition Marsden paid his fourth visit to the Bay of Islands. He brought with him the Rev. Henry Williams, he arranged for a new station at Paihia, and he page 19dismissed Kendall for immoral conduct and for trading muskets and powder. This unpleasant task was inevitable but regrettable, for Kendall was the only one of the resident missionaries interested in the Maori language and customs. Marsden then embarked for Sydney only to be wrecked between Moturoa and the Waitangi river. While he was waiting for another ship, Hongi came back from Rotorua.

They met on 4 October 1823, and Marsden obtained a first-hand account of the expedition. He heard how the war canoes were dragged to the lake, he learned of the slaughter of those natives who had imagined themselves safe upon the island of Mokoia. Hongi described how his wounded lay all night in the hot springs with the temperature regulated by water flowing from the cold pools. They were sulphurous and excellent for the cure of skin diseases. The whole story confirmed what Marsden had just heard from some other widely travelled natives. There were 'high lands covered with snow, and internal lakes, and hot springs situated to the southwards, and a great population. All their fine mats and carvings were made at the southward which as yet remains unknown to Europeans.'

However, with conditions so barbarous, the missionaries could not dare to venture into the unknown interior. They maintained their position and waited for a lull in the storm of tribal warfare. Henry Williams, now the driving force of the page 20mission, had scrapped Marsden's plan of settlement and self-support by agriculture. If the natives were to be converted, there had to be a church before a farm, arduous travel instead of laborious agriculture. The Herald was built and Williams, an ex-naval officer, traded with Sydney and visited the Bay of Plenty. In 1826–27 he reported to the Church Missionary Society that the natives were becoming more sympathetic to the mission. Yet in 1827 a straggling section of Hongi's northern war party destroyed the Wesleyan mission station at Whangaroa. Marsden, hearing of the disaster, came over in H.M.S. Rainbow (Captain Rous) but left almost immediately when he saw that the mission as a whole was not threatened.

In the following year, 1828, Williams was able to save the lives of several Rotorua natives whom he took back to the Bay of Plenty when he went as far as Whakatane and Opotiki seeking for a possible mission station. At Tauranga they saw the usual signs of war and massacre—dead dogs and pigs, burnt houses, and human remains. However, the missionaries were not molested and Williams thought that conditions had improved. He may have qualified his statement when next month the Herald was wrecked on Hokianga bar and plundered by natives as thorough as Cornish wreckers.

While the north, between 1821 and 1827, had been the scene of constant warfare with an inverse pro-page 21portion of European initiative, the south was being steadily explored. Sealers and flax-traders were acquiring an intimate knowledge of its coastline, and this was given to the world by Jules de Blosseville of the Coquille, a French expeditionary ship, which called at Sydney in 1824. He wrote two fine articles for the Annales des Voyages in 1826 from material given by sealing captains in general and Captain Edwardson of the Snapper in particular. Edwardson, in 1822–3, had been sent by the New South Wales government to report upon the flax on the east coast of the South Island. In search of it he had attempted to go inland from Chalky Inlet; he had rescued American sealers abandoned by their captain; and he had taken back to Sydney one, James Caddell, who had been leading some very successful Maori attacks on visiting sealers and whalers. The Foveaux Strait natives were intelligendy observed and the description of their manners and customs was a valuable contribution to New Zealand ethnology.

The country was well described. Facts were given about sounds and bays which were not shown on any official map until well after 1840. Milford Sound had been 'recently discovered' by the sealers and the west coast to the north of it was 'one long solitude, with a forbidding sky, frequent tempests, and impenetrable forests/ In the interior of the South Island was Lake Wakatipu—a source of greenstone—page 22and, on the map of the North Island, Lake Rotorua was shown with Mokoia island snugly placed in its centre. Altogether the visit of the sloop Snapper is one of the very important events in Foveaux Strait history.

Shortly afterwards, in 1826, Captain Stewart established his timber and shipbuilding yards at Port Pegasus, the first organised settlement south of the Bay of Islands. In the same year Captain Herd called at Port Pegasus and corrected Stewart's charts. He admired the man who could be so accurate with only a quadrant and a boat compass. Herd then mapped part of Otago harbour, called at Port Underwood, charted Port Nicholson, entered Hokianga, but left without founding the settlement which the first New Zealand Company had sent him out to establish.

A far greater navigator, Dumont d'Urville, arrived in 1827 with the Astrolabe to chart the north-west of the South Island and to explore the shores of Cook Strait. He sailed north and entered Waitemata harbour from which some of his men went up the Tamaki to Otahuhu and overland to Manukau harbour. The records of the expedition were so magnificently published and widely read that the French are often credited with its discovery. The botanical section will always be remembered because it contained the first attempt to describe New Zealand flora as a whole.

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This fact reminds us that the wealth of literature relating to the missionaries has led many students to under-estimate the work of scientists and traders. In 1825 Charles Fitzroy of the Sydney botanical gardens had spent a day at the Bay of Islands collecting plants some of which were the first introduced into European gardens. Then in 1826 Allan Cunningham, the famous botanist and explorer, came over from Sydney and spent four months in north Auckland. Augustus Earle, a clever artist with a taste for travel, visited Hokianga and the Bay of Islands in 1827–28. The result was an interesting and informative book published in 1832.