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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970

Early Colonists

Early Colonists

In 1839 Colonel Wakefield had come to New Zealand with a preliminary expedition of the New Zealand Company, and, before leaving London, had arranged January 10th, 1840, as the date for his rendezvous with the first emigrant ships. The place was Port Hardy. Wakefield did not reach the island until January 11th, but no signs of the ships were to be seen. The Colonel lit a fire on top of the highest peaks, but received no answering signal.

In a bay on the eastern shore, the Colonel saw from his hilltop a Maori village, and decided to call there. The chief was Te Whatu, who had recently, with his followers, become a Christian. He was ill with lung trouble, which since the advent of the white man, had become very prevalent among the Maoris. At this time the tribe was fairly prosperous, having cleared a sloping piece of land where they grew potatoes, selling the surplus to the whalers at Te Awaite.

Near the native settlement lived a whaler named James McKenzie McLaren. He had a native wife, and is the first permanent white settler of whom there is any record in the Nelson Province. Colonel Wakefield was anxious to return to Port Nicholson, so he asked McLaren to keep watch for the ships from England, and direct them to that place on their arrival at the rendezvous. McLaren agreed to do this, but did not put himself out very much. A passenger in the ship "Oriental" describes the arrival at Port Hardy and says that they were waiting there almost a week before McLaren appeared with the Colonel's message. It was February 1st when the settlers finally reached Port Nicholson.

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McLaren lived on the Island until 1846, and then moved to Croisilles Harbour. Just before leaving D'Urville Island he built a small coaster of about twenty-five tons, the "Ocean Queen". The Nelson Examiner describes her as "a smart little craft". In spite of the far from easy conditions of living he had a long and busy life. The report of his death appeared in the "Examiner" in December 19th, 1894. He was in his eighty-fifth year. His grave is still to be seen in Croisilles Harbour, and his name is pereptuated in peak and bay.

Since the days of McLaren large areas of the Island have been cleared of bush or scrub, and have been turned into good sheep farms. Families named Hope, Woodman, King-Turner, Leov and Moleta have at various times taken up land there. The older members of the last named family, two brothers, came from the island of Stromboli, and had interesting stories to tell of their life there. On D'Urville Island the homesteads were far apart, and were sometimes isolated by bad weather, but at least there was no danger of red-hot volcanic rocks being hurled into the back yard.

The bush on the island is very extensive and very beautiful. The best way to see it is to climb one of the peaks, thus seeing the changes that take place in the bush itself as higher levels are reached. Mount Ears gives an interesting climb, with a splendid outlook from the top. Crossing the stream on the northern boundary of Whareatea Bay, where Captain Cook filled his water barrels, one climbs up the steep slope to the top of Simmonds Point. Now the climb becomes a scramble up the hillside, through bush consisting of a great variety of trees, bushes, and climbing plants, the kind we usually think of as "New Zealand Bush", the kind that gets its photograph in the papers. The soil is rich and loose under foot, the nursery of ferns and little orchids, and, under the thrust-up roots of trees, patches of scarlet toadstools. The tree-ferns at this level are the pungas. When this tree has finished with its old fronds, it hangs them, brown and dry, down the tree trunk in the untidiest fashion. Higher still we go, across a small hollow where sawyers were working once. As we climb, we find another variety of tree-fern making its appearance. This one nips off the unwanted fronds as soon as it has had enough of them, leaving only a neat horse-shoe scar on the trunk.

Now the mixed bush is giving way to birch trees, and whereas the vegetation lower down the slope was full of wild life, noisy with constant movement of birds and small creatures, in the birch bush silence reigns. The light is not so good here, either, and the dimness adds to the eerieness.

As we climb above twelve hundred feet, the large trees give way to smaller growths, red beech and manuka, and once having pushed page 21our way through that we come out up a gentler slope with the top of the hill in sight. Here once grew stunted manuka, but it has been caught in a fire, and only the white rain-washed skeletons of the bushes remain. The shrubs appear to have grown fairly straight for a height of about two feet and then the wind, fairly constant at that altitude, caused the branch to grow at right angles to the trunk, all pointing up hill. White as they are, growing in that particular fashion, they give the impression of a frozen wind. Having pushed our way through this strange Lilliputian grove, past pools of brown spring water, we come to the top of the hill, fifteen hundred feet above the sea, carpeted with short grass, adorned with flat rosettes of rock plants, clinging for dear life in the face of the wind.

As we stand on the top of Mount Ears, much of the island can be seen. To the north is the long ridge that ends, miles away, in Cape Stephens. Off the Cape, surrounded by rocks, lies that "round, high islet" that Tasman saw, and which Cook named Stephen's Island. Now it has a light-house on it, and four families live there. There is no easy way up to those houses on the top, and every piece of equipment, every mouthful of food, has to be taken up on a hoist. During the last war Stephen's Island was an important signal station, guarding the western entrance to Cook Strait.

The northern end of D'Urville Island has been cleared, and is good sheep country for the hard breed that runs there. Over to the west, fifteen hundred feet below, lie the shelly bays, the yellow cliffs of Port Hardy. To the east the waters of Admiralty Bay lie strewn with rocks and islands, where the sea leaves a white fringe. The depths of the green water, the deep purples and blue, are stained here and there with yellow where a hillside has slipped some of its clay banks into the sea.

To the south of our outlook lie tier upon tier of bush-covered hills. Beyond the bush there is more cleared sheep country, but it is out of sight, round Greville Harbour and the other coast that looks across Golden Bay. The rocks fringe that side of the island too, and the cliffs are very high and sheer.

And so there lies this green island, the scene of important landmarks in New Zealand history, clothed with the pleasant green of the bush, and swept perpetually around its shore by the enriched green of the sea.