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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter VII — South Island: the East Coast

page 75

Chapter VII
South Island: the East Coast

The few Europeans who lived in the South Island before 1839 were usually interested in whaling and were disinclined to make unnecessary journeys inland. The Maori population along the coast had almost as little interest in the interior. The introduction of potatoes had reduced the number of expeditions to catch eels and wekas. At the whaling stations they learnt the value of mobile and seaworthy whale-boats, which unlike tribal canoes could be owned and operated by a few individuals. They became the chief means of Maori transport; the inland tracks were neglected and known only to a few of the older generation.

But in 1839–40 land began to have a value, for it was obvious that Britain was going to colonise New Zealand. At Waikouaiti the shrewd John Jones became a farmer as well as a whaler; at Port Molyneux the agents of several Sydney firms endeavoured to found a settlement; at Riccarton a Sydney firm employed Heriot and others to grow wheat. By page 761843 the Deans brothers were at Riccarton, the Hays and the Sinclairs were on Banks Peninsula, and the New Zealand Company had sent two expeditions* to report upon the country.

At the moment the land, by the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, belonged to the natives, and any sales made to whalers, traders, and speculators were being investigated. The land commissioner for the South Island was Colonel Godfrey, who went on tour in 1843 with his interpreter Edward Shortland, Protector of Aborigines. After they had settled claims at Otago heads in September and October, Shortland was free to study the state of the southern Maoris. He went to Waikouaiti and when approaching the house of John Jones he heard the sounds of a piano and met a graduate of Cambridge complete with riding whip and black cutaway coat. It is too often forgotten that there were signs of civilisation in Otago before the arrival of the 'Early Settlers'. Shortland was hoping to go north to Akaroa, but the weather was bad and he decided to stay and collect facts about native life and the whaling stations.

He began by visiting Purakanui and Moeraki. Accompanying him to the latter place was Mr Earle, a collector of birds and specimens valuable to naturalists. When they returned to Waikouaiti they were shown some moa bones collected from the beach

* See Chapter iv. Duppa and Daniell 1841; Mein Smith in 1842.

The whaling station was at Karitane, not at the modern Waikouaiti.

page 77by a whaler. Seeing they were saleable in Sydney and Wellington, the whalers had dug them up with pickaxes, and Earle went post-haste to find some more. Shortland went south with Jones to study native life at Ruapuke and to see corn and potato patches at Riverton.

After he returned to Waikouaiti, he wished to explore the huge block of country between Otago harbour and Foveaux Strait. The two avenues into its interior were the Taieri river and the Molyneux river and to reach the former he went with Earle to the head of Otago harbour, across by the present St. Kilda to the beach, and so by the coast to Taieri mouth. From here they went upstream to a native village and ate eels, turnip tops, and fern roots. From the chief, Te Raki Raki, Shortland learnt that the old tracks to the Molyneux river were obliterated and that no natives would guide him there. He had to change his plans and return by a short route to Otago harbour. The party was taken upstream to Scroggs Creek, which they followed to the hills overlooking the Taieri plain. They skirted the hill slopes between it and Saddle Hill and went on to the present Dunedin suburb of Mornington and so back to the whale-boats and to Waikouaiti.

Shortland decided to return overland to Banks Peninsula. To get a guide he had to offer a blanket before anyone would think of walking 200 weary miles. He left early in 1844 when the beach was page 78inches deep in dead whale feed, a sign of a good season's whaling; Earle remained adding to his collection, which was afterwards sold to British and Continental museums. At the Waitaki river Shortland met a chief, Huru Huru, who took him over in a moki. The chief gave him quite an accurate description of the interior and illustrated it with most interesting pencil drawings. He knew the lake sources of the Waitaki, the route over the Lindis pass from the Waitaki basin to Lake Hawea, and all the stages of the route from Lake Wanaka over the Haast pass to the West Coast. Shortland reproduced the map in his Southern Districts (1851), and for many years the official map ot Otago and Canterbury showed in the interior the great lakes as drawn by Huru Huru. Shortland then followed the coast and just south of Timaru he met Bishop Selwyn on his way to Moeraki from Banks Peninsula. They exchanged notes of the country each was to traverse, and went on to their respective destinations.

Later in the year 1844 Frederick Tuckett of Nelson, accompanied by Dr Monro, R. Nicholson, and J. W. Barnicoat, went exploring in search of suitable land for the New Edinburgh settlement. The promoter, George Rennie, being sensible, wanted the area for settlement to be well chosen, well explored, and well surveyed before the settlers even arrived in New Zealand. Tuckett pointed out that no one had been in the interior of either Canterbury page 79or Southland and proposed to traverse them both. Canterbury was the popular choice, but Tuckett had leanings towards Otago having heard of it from some unknown person before he left England in 1841.

By April he was visiting the Deans brothers at Riccarton, arriving wet to the skin after an unpleasant night out on the plain. He went north to the Waimakariri which he thought 'an angry and ugly river'. The country pleased him; the absence of timber and the presence of hills between the plain and its port did not. His plan to traverse Canterbury was abandoned because no natives were available. Therefore he sailed to Moeraki and went overland to Waikouaiti and thence to Otago harbour. His insistence on overland routes amused the natives.

From the head of the harbour he went over the hills to north Taieri, across the plain, down the Taieri river to its mouth, to begin a long journey by the coast to the Molyneux river. He saw nothing of importance along the rocky coast until coal was discovered near the river mouth. He then planned to go overland to Foveaux Strait and engaged Maoris to guide him to the inland settlement at Tuturau, near the Mataura falls. Unfortunately the weather drove the ship out to sea and south to Foveaux Strait. This misfortune cost Tuckett the honour of being the first European to traverse Southland, and it is quite possible that the continued bad weather prevented Southland being the site of the New page 80Edinburgh settlement. The interior is just the type of country Tuckett wanted, but the wind and rain blowing in from Foveaux Strait discouraged him.

On his way back he landed at the Molyneux river, took a whale-boat past the present town of Kaitangata, and then walked overland. This took him over the Tokomairiro plain, and past Lake Waihola to the Taieri river. He again canoed to the mouth and returned to Otago harbour by the coast. The weather had been very cold—shoes were frozen, the grass was brittle with hoar frost, and marsh fog hung over the plains. But after such frosts Otago weather can be glorious, with a bright sun and blue sky. Tuckett was convinced that Otago had all the features necessary for the settlement—good land if drained, a good climate, and a good harbour.

Little time was wasted. The authorities came south from Wellington and on 31 July 1844 the Otago block was sold by the Maoris to the New Zealand Company. Tuckett had not gone far inland, so it was a very small portion of Otago, from the Otago harbour to Port Molyneux and inland to the level of west Taieri. But members of his party collected from the Maoris some information about central Otago. The Foveaux Strait natives talked of Lake Te Anau and of ferocious Maoris entirely hairy except on their foreheads; Te Raki Raki of Taieri mouth drew a good map of the lakes; at Wanaka there page 81were animals which made floating houses and murmuring noises.

Settlement should have taken place almost immediately but the Company was in financial difficulties. The surveys were hurriedly postponed and only William Davison remained to guard the Company's property at Port Chalmers. He amused himself charting the harbour and visiting Foveaux Strait.

Another person who did not sail to Wellington was W. Heaphy.* In November 1844 he started to walk from Otago to Nelson. Tuckett gave him a map, a compass, and introductions to the Deans at Riccarton and to Dr Monro in Nelson. Nothing more was heard of him until February 1845 when W. Deans wrote to Monro telling him that Heaphy had arrived safely and had trudged forward into north Canterbury. There he had found rugged hills barring his way to Nelson and had been injured after a dangerous fall. This forced him to construct a moki and float down the Waiau river. After it was overturned he went on foot, living on wild cabbage and cowthistle until he collapsed and thought he was going to die. After dozing for a few hours he recovered enough strength to crawl to the whaling station at Motunau island. He had failed, but he accomplished a good deal. He had been the first European to explore Canterbury north of Kaiapoi,

* Not to be confused with Charles Heaphy, the artist and explorer.

page 82and he had learned that the best route from the plain to Nelson was along the coast.

No other exploration was done until 1846 when Charles Kettle arrived to direct the survey of the Otago block. He had little chance of going outside its boundaries but in 1847 he did ascend Maungatua, a hill separating the Taieri plain from central Otago, to see 'an immense extent of country stretching away into the interior of the island… 700,000 acres of low undulating grassy downs… offering every inducement for the depasturing of sheep and cattle. I believe that few have any conception of the extent to which this part of New Zealand is adapted for grazing purposes.' This was quite true, for he saw the eastern edge of central Otago running away to the Strath-Taieri plain. For the first time a European had seen and described a portion of central Otago.

The following year, 1848, the first settlers were arriving in Otago and giving all their attention to the land within the block. The only exploration in the South Island was conducted north of Otago. The Canterbury Association proposed to found a settlement, and the present Canterbury being a likely spot, Tacy Kemp arrived to buy that huge area of country between Nelson and the Molyneux river. For £2,000 he bought twenty million acres and left undecided the boundaries of the native reserves.

W. B. D. Mantell was sent to settle this question in page 83August. He visited Kaiapoi and discussed the route across the mountains to the West Coast with Tainui who often went over. From Kaiapoi he went overland to Dunedin, breaking his journey at the Waitaki to go much farther inland than any other European. Apart from this, there would have been nothing original in the trip had Mantell not been a first-class scientist. He was excited by the limestone caves at Otatara, and collected sharks' teeth resembling those he collected when a boy in England. They were 'old familiar faces greeting me from the rocks of the antipodes.' He studied the Moeraki boulders and remarked that the whalers called them 'Ninepins' and the spot itself Vulcan's Foundry. At Waikouaiti he naturally collected moa bones and sent them to his father, Gideon Mantell, the noted geologist.

He returned from Dunedin to Akaroa and there completed the land purchase. His instructions were severe and Mantell, following them to the letter, was, for so generous a man, extremely hard on the Maoris. At the moment no European worried about such minor details; the main point was that the South Island must be available for the Canterbury settlement. In fact, before Mantell returned from Dunedin, Captain Thomas and William Fox of the New Zealand Company were wandering inland from Port Cooper, inspecting the strip between the coast and the foothills. Several parties went out, and the map showing their respective routes across the plain page 84is quite complicated. The advantages of the plain seemed to be so great that Captain Thomas did not bother to inspect other parts of New Zealand. He left early in 1849 to obtain the consent of Sir George Grey to the selection of this site and left C. O. Torlesse to enter south Canterbury. This was an interesting expedition of no great difficulty, but it was one which went well inland. Meanwhile Thomas and Fox were in Auckland approaching Sir George Grey. He waited until Bishop Selwyn gave his rather reserved consent and until a report came from Captain Stokes of the H.M.S. Acheron. The latter with J. W. Hamilton had been exploring north of the Waimakariri*, and his favourable opinion decided the matter.