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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter IV — The Company and its Settlements

page 43

Chapter IV
The Company and its Settlements

The Ship Tory brought Colonel Wakefield to Cook Strait in 1839. Knowing that hundreds of settlers were arriving in a very short time, he bought millions of acres with such haste that the history of the Cook Strait area is notable for the absence of exploration before settlement. This meant delayed surveys and much inconvenience to the settlers. The only work suggestive of exploration was Dr Dieffenbach's ascent of Mount Egmont. He had come out in the Tory in 1839 and had landed with Dicky Barrett at New Plymouth. While Barrett prepared the way for the purchase of Taranaki, Dieffenbach made his ascent of Egmont. He was not given much native assistance because the mountain was tapu. Crocodiles and moas existed on the slopes. However, he left Nga-Motu on 3 December 1839 with an old tohunga and Barrett's negro cook and went inland by Fitzroy and Puketotara and the banks of the Waiwakaiho. The weather was very bad and on the 12th page 44they turned back, having had enough of the wet bush with its slippery logs and sodden ground.

Dieffenbach returned to the attack on the 19th. This time he had with him a local chief and Heberley, a whaler. The route, which he does not describe, was not exactly the same until his previous halting place was reached. After that they followed the icy waters of the Waikakaiho and took to a ridge on its left bank. On 22 December they reached the snow-line and the two remaining natives 'squatted down, took out their books and began to pray' while the Europeans cut steps in the frozen snow, reached the summit, and surveyed the fertile country of Taranaki.

The following month—January 1840—the Cuba arrived at Wellington and ship followed ship until by the end of April there were over 1,000 settlers. Yet it was not until July that the chief surveyor, Captain Mein Smith, was proposing to exhibit the plan of Wellington. This delay was serious but more disturbing was the knowledge that the surrounding country was too broken for settlement. The stretch of country on the west coast from Porirua to Taranaki seemed more attractive and had already been visited by Europeans, other than traders and whalers. In February Octavius Hadfield had walked from Otaki to Cape Egmont and in March E. J. Wakefield had gone overland from Wanganui to Patea.

The latter's report had been very favourable, so in August Colonel Wakefield sent Messrs Park, page 45Stokes, and Heaphy to explore this region. They had to find areas for settlement and to make an accurate survey of the coast from Porirua to Taranaki. Accompanied by W. Deans, with six labourers to carry instruments and provisions, they covered 650 miles in 7–8 weeks, averaging 20 miles a day and carrying packs of 30–60 lb. Apparently Park had led the party in fine style, always choosing the most suitable route and always humouring the natives whom they met. The report was most encouraging. The route across the hills to Porirua was not difficult, the land in the Manawatu was excellent, and Wellington was its only available port.

Meanwhile the complicated country round Wellington itself was being explored by small parties, all looking for agricultural land. W. Deans went as far afield as anyone when, late in 1840, he accompanied Te Puni, the local chief, along the coast to Palliser Bay and the south edge of the Wairarapa. In his letter to his father he says, 'Would you believe it, no colonist but myself has been there.…' But in 1841 Europeans did make longer journeys. Richard Matthews, the catechist reader at the Wanganui mission station, made an amazing trip with his family up the river and its tributary, the Ohura. At its head he went by Maori track to the Mokau river which he followed until he could cross the watershed to the Waipa river, the Waikato, and eventually Auckland. So far as difficulty was concerned it is more worthy of page 46mention than Buller's trip from Kawhia to Port Nicholson, or Henry Williams's from Wanganui to Taupo and the Bay of Plenty. Meanwhile Dieffenbach made a scientific survey of north Auckland, Lake Taupo, and Lake Rotorua. Although his route from Kawhia to Taupo had been followed by both Ashwell and Buller in 1839, the expedition is important because Dieffenbach was the first scientist to describe the phenomena of the thermal regions.

The other explorers of 1841 had not such a free hand as this scientist. They had to find land for the proposed settlement of Nelson—and had to find it quickly. In June Captain Daniell and G. Duppa, with W. Deans, were sent to explore the land about Banks Peninsula. From the Port hills Duppa saw 'an immense plain containing millions of acres of the richest soil.' It was approached from Sumner, north of Banks Peninsula, and entered by river for about eight miles. The country between the peninsula and the Kaikouras attracted them, especially after a French whaler had told them of a huge inland plain entered from near the Lookers-On. Consequently their report was favourable and had Captain Hobson not objected, the Nelson settlers would have gone to the present Canterbury. As it was, they were landed in a region unexplored and disappointingly mountainous. Exploration was an absolute necessity and bulks so large in the early history of Nelson that it must be dealt with in a separate chapter.

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Even in November 1841 Wellington itself still needed habitable land and Mein Smith, the chief surveyor, directed R. Stokes and a few men to go from Petone to the Wairarapa. Late in the month they were on the crest of the Rimutakas and in sight of Lake Wairarapa. They followed a small stream to the lake and explored the surrounding country. Stokes obtained a good knowledge of all the main features, and in his report he adds interesting little facts such as those about the frequent flooding of the lake. According to the natives, it usually burst its way out 'at intervals of eight moons and three moons.' They also told him that it would be possible to ride to Hawke's Bay and that there was a route through the hills to the Manawatu. The return journey was through the country between the lake and the Rimutakas until they reached Palliser Bay and could go by the coast to Wellington. The report was heartening, but the Company had no title to the land and had, therefore, to explore most thoroughly that which it did have.

Fertile country in the immediate vicinity of Wellington was not found, so the Wairarapa was investigated once more. This time it was approached from the Manawatu, which the Company had bought and partially surveyed. The natives had made frequent use of the track through the Manawatu gorge and the early traders in their journeys up the rivers had heard of the open country beyond the mountains. page 48Thus it was natural for the survey parties to hear of the route and for the Company to send them to explore it.

The leader, Charles Kettle, and his associate, Alfred Wills, were both very young men and to assist them they had five Europeans and seven Maoris. Their first trouble came when they had to bargain for canoes with the Maoris up the river. At Rewa-Rewa, to supply a demand for ten shirts and two pairs of trousers, Kettle and Wills had to give up the very shirts they were wearing. The gorge was entered on 3 August 1842 and on the 19th they reached a large pa between Ruamahanga river and its tributary, the Waipoua. From here they went south, skirting the eastern slopes of the Tararuas and looking down upon the thousands of acres of almost uninhabited land. No doubt the sight was encouraging, but the travelling conditions were bad. The men were always cold and always wet. Twice they went up side streams from the Rimutakas, in the hope of connecting with some tributaries of the Hutt river. Each time they had to turn back, so before making a third attempt, they killed some wild pigs and went well supplied with pork. This time they succeeded, and on 7 June they reached the house of the most remote settler. They were miserable and bedraggled, having slept every night on damp ground and lived on wild cabbage and pork ever since they left the Wairarapa. The trip had taken page 49thirty-two days and Kettle had done well to bring through his unwieldy party. In the future, particularly in the survey of Otago, he was to do more important work, but he was never again to rise to such heights as an explorer.

His reports agreed with that of Stokes. There were few natives and the fertile country was timbered 'like an English park.' The Manawatu gorge was suitable for road construction and a way had been discovered across the Rimutakas. The next problem was to be the construction of a road so that the plain could be linked to Wellington. Early in February 1843 S. C. Brees with eight Europeans and five natives went up the Hutt valley and crossed the Rimutakas to Lake Wairarapa. They were back in Wellington in eight days and Brees was convinced that a road was practicable. It was needed, although the land was not purchased for many years. Enterprising settlers went over, made arrangements with the natives, and developed the first big sheep runs in New Zealand.

The other unpurchased region attracting attention in 1842 was the east coast of the South Island. Traders and whalers, always the advance guard, talked of huge plains and of a diminishing Maori population. Therefore Captain Mein Smith went down the coast in September and November 1842 to report on the harbours with a view to settlement. Akaroa was his first choice; Otago harbour had its faults; the Bluff page 50and the Oreti river were examined rather cursorily. However, he made a good report and would have written a much better one if he had not lost his notes and sketches when his cutter on its return capsized in Akaroa harbour.

In the North Island other surveyors were venturing into regions unpurchased by the Company. In 1843 R. Harrison and Robinson, wishing to see the country, went up the Wanganui river to Taupo and thence to the upper Mokau river, and so to Kawhia. Unlike scientists and missionaries, they carried their own packs and did without guides. Consequently the Maoris thought them very low caste whites and treated them as such. In April 1844 Harrison crossed from the Manawatu and descended the Mataikona river to the east coast; later in the year he went with J. Thomas from Wellington to Lake Wairarapa and across the hills to the east coast. They then trudged from whaling station to whaling station and did not turn back until they reached Table Cape, 300 miles from Wellington. In the early spring of the same year J. Grindell ('Maori Jim'), Sturgeon, and Smith went up the Tokomaru and over the Tararuas to the Wairarapa.

On the west coast of the Island the Wesleyan missionaries had covered the strip from Kawhia to New Plymouth and gone far up the Mokau river in the direction of Taupo. The Anglicans were just as active, their explorer being the Rev. Richard page 51Taylor of Wanganui. In 1844 he went to New Plymouth and returned by the Maori track which went up the Waitara river to Purangi and across forty miles of broken country to above Pipiriki on the Wanganui river. He was 'the first European who ever trod this road.' In 1845 he entered even more interesting country at the head of the Rangitikei river. Visitors were rare, and when his party approached the remote village of inland Patea,* they were met by an anxious Maori with a great horse-pistol in his hand. When his fears were allayed, the party went down ladders and poles to a stream bed, 600 ft. above which was the village. The view from there was panoramic, range after range appearing in succession with Tongariro towering over all. The climate was severe but the natives were inured to it. They told him that in winter the snow was as high as his tent and that for weeks they had no water but that from melted snow. Nothing could be done 'but blow their finger ends.' After baptising some children, Taylor went west to the Wanganui, across another block of unexplored country.

Such long journeys by Maori tracks were becoming quite frequent. In 1844 Donald Maclean received a post under the Chief Protector of Aborigines and took up residence in New Plymouth. In April 1845 he made a long journey in order to visit those parts of his district which he had not yet seen. He went page 52north to Kawhia and, turning into the interior, passed through 'a wild marshy forest country' to Taupo. He returned to the coast by the Wanganui river. Later in the year he made an even longer and more strenuous journey. The whole of the North Island was in a state of great excitement at the time. At Wanganui both settlers and Maoris feared an attack from the interior and appealed to Maclean. Arriving in Wanganui in November, he was joined by Richard Taylor and then commenced an 'ambassadorial' tour. Leading Maori chiefs were visited at Taupo, Rotorua, and the Waikato. After descending the Mokau river in canoes, they followed the coast to New Plymouth. In 1849 Sir George Grey went from Taupo to Kawhia and south to Taranaki. This trip received much publicity but J. J. Symonds who went with him and returned to Auckland in 1850 by the Mokau and Waipa rivers said 'The Governor fancies himself a great bushman but fails most miserably in his New Zealand bush ideas.' Yet the fact that Grey could so move about in the North Island shows that by 1850 Europeans had used Maori experience and had mastered the main features of the topography of the North Island.

* Not to be confused with Patea in Taranaki.