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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, October 1974

Tua Marina and Port Underwood

Tua Marina and Port Underwood

One of the most ambitious field trips ever organised by the Nelson Historical Society was that to Tua Marina and Port Underwood in October 1973. Members of the Marlborough Historical Society welcomed our party from Nelson at Tua Marina and Mr Frank W. Smith gave a very interesting talk on the affray which took place here between the Maori people and Captain Wakefield's party on 17th June, 1843. Later Mr Smith accompanied the party on the trip to Port Underwood and we are pleased to be able to present his notes here.

The brig Victoria anchored off the Wairau Bar on 11th June and the party rowed up the Wairau river and spent the night in the Big Bush at Grovetown. Next morning they rowed up and left their boats at the mouth of Blind Creek and then reached the fateful spot by walking along two of the tracks made by Barnicoat and Thompson's survey parties. At that time the hill reached right across to the creek edge. (This has now been cut back to allow for a railway and modern highway). The Maoris were camped on the west side of the creek near where a walnut tree now stands. The stream was deep and a canoe was put across just below the titoki tree for Captain Wakefield and party to cross. The trouble started on the other side towards the walnut tree. The party retreated up the hill firing as they went and stopped where the Monument now stands and that is where Te Rangihaieta did his dark deed.

The monument was erected in 1866.

The Rev. S. Ironside, 1814–1897

It was the Reverend Samuel Ironside and party who came and buried the victims and fortunately he has been remembered both in the church here and at Ngakuta Bay by tablets in his memory.

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The Titoki Tree

We are very proud of our titoki tree which we maintain was there in 1843. People have scoffed and asked 'How do you know it was there in 1843?' The answer is simple. After the south-east storm had died down Michael Aldridge the whaler brought Mr Ironside across the Bay and up the river to bury the dead. Michael was a young man of 23 years at that time and he came to know the place intimately. Tua Marina and Pukaka swamp swarmed with wild pigs and he used to have pig hunting expeditions to fill the pork barrels of the whaling ships when they were about to return to Europe. On one of these expeditions in December 1846 he found the body of Thomas Maling, the chief constable, under a cabbage tree at the junction of Blind and Schooner Creeks. Forty-six years later when Michael was getting old and Tua Marina was settled his son kept the hotel (situated where the house stands this side of the Hall). He used to come up from Ocean Bay and stay with his son and he told the local people that the two titoki trees were there in 1843 and he also pointed out where he found Maling's body.

Surveyors Fox and Stephens

Following 1843 the Wairau was a 'No-Man's-Land' for some time and then in March 1845 William Fox, who had taken Captain Wakefield's place in Nelson, accompanied by Samuel Stephens, the Chief Surveyor, and three others came by boat to where Picton now is and made their way through the bush and swamp to here, where they located the graves and climbed the hill to get a good view of the Plains. Being an artist, Fox made a sketch and later worked it up into a water colour painting, this possibly being the first picture ever taken of the Wairau Plain. It is now in the Museum in Dunedin. Fox's party made their way up the valley by the overland route back to Nelson. When about to cross the Wairau river at what later came to be known as Vickerman's ford he made another sketch which shows the Bounds and the mountains near Top House. Stephens kept a good diary and in November 1966 his great grandson visited the area and stood on the hill (Tua Marina) and there he read what his ancestor had written in 1845. He was visiting New Zealand with the idea of seeing the locality where his forebear had lived as he hopes to publish the diaries.

Settlement of the District

After Sir George Grey bought the Wairau district legally in March 1847 surveys started again and in Tua Marina 90 acres were reserved as a site for a village. This was later surveyed into 118 small sections and put up for sale in the Nelson Land Office on 13th August, 1859. Remembering the events of 1843 streets were named Wakefield, Thompson, Cotterell, Patchett, England, and Howard.

Thirteenth August, 1859, is taken as the date upon which the Tua Marina settlement started and one hundred years later on page 2513th August, 1959 a very successful Centennial function was held and a memorial made of local stone was erected in Pioneer Place. Survey Contract No. 1, April 1843

Some of the Tua Marina people are proud of the fact that the land from the Wairau Bar, north along the beach to Whitio Bay, and then west to Tua Marina on the north bank of the Wairau River, was in Survey No. 1, being the first survey contract let to the two young surveyors Barnicoat and Thompson. Certainly it was not their fault that the survey came to nothing. In honour of this survey one of the first proposals put before the Historic Places Trust when it was formed in 1956 was the request that this be suitably recognised. So far the proposal has not been successful.

What is to be Seen Along the Road*

On leaving Tua Marina the land to the left which is now market gardening and dairying land was in heavy bush in 1843.

Across to the west is Mount Dobson named after Alfred Dobson our first provincial engineer and a member of the well known Dobson family. The gully coming down on the left from Mt Dobson is Battles Gully named such because James Battle who was killed by the Burgess-Kelly gang on the Maungatapu in 1866, lived there for some time previously. This bush land was taken up originally by Dr Vickerman and then passed into Henry Redwood's hands, both of whom were well known in early Nelson. The last patch of Redwoods bush was milled in 1906.

About a mile on, the lands on the left, in the original survey were allocated to the Hon. Lord Petre one of the directors of the New Zealand Company in 1840.

Further on at the foot of Strachans Peak stood the 'Half Way House' opened as an accommodation house by William Strachan in 1854. Strachan was one of our most capable and energetic settlers and if you look up the lengthy reports of Thomas Brunner in the Proceedings of the Nelson Provincial Council for 1857 you will find that Strachan was let the contract for constructing the southern and most difficult half of this road. Following the huge 1868 flood he got into financial difficulties and was sold up. At home I have his surveyor's chain used on the job.


A mile away to the left stood the two storey home of Captain Baillie the 2nd of the Superintendents of the Provincial Council days. It was demolished about five years ago.


On the right stood the home of Captain Dalton, a sea captain who had a large sawmill over by the railway.

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On the left notice the lovely little church 'St. John in the Wilderness' built 102 years ago. That name aptly describes it, as this area was dense milling bush and it was built in a little clearing in the heart of the bush. Its centennial was held two years ago conducted by Bishop Sutton.

Notice the Deer Park on the right, opened a few years ago, it attracts a lot of visitors.


Following the first attempt to settle the Wairau district which ended disastrously at Tua Marina on 17th June 1843, it was not until March 1847 that Sir George Grey the Governor bought the district legally from the Maoris and surveys and settlement started again. It was soon realised that a port to serve the district was necessary and that the mouth of the Wairau River exposed to the south-east gales was not very suitable. Port Underwood was examined and though a splendid harbour it was much too inaccessible so Waitohi Bay (where Picton is now) was decided on.

But there were difficulties, as there was a large Maori pa on the site. However after delicate negotiations, which took some time, the Maoris were shifted to a new settlement built for them in the next bay, Waikawa, which is still a Maori settlement.

The site of Picton was surveyed and the sections offered for sale on 1st July, 1850. But the place didn't go ahead very fast.

Even after Strachan got the road open it was only a muddy track for years and until the railway opened on 17th November 1875 most of the produce from the Plain went down the river and was lightered to ships anchored off shore or in Port Underwood. But the river trade didn't give up without a struggle. It was the coming of the Aramoana and the other roll-on ferries that finished it. The last trip of the scow Echo was on 21st August, 1965 and if you go down to the Bar you will see the memorial to the river trade that we have put up.

Mabel Island

Mabel Island in Picton Harbour is named after the eldest daughter of Colonel Gore Brown the first Governor to visit Picton (in 1856) and who was later responsible for the naming of Marlborough, Blenheim and Picton.


The chief Maori settlement since 1850 is now mainly a boating and holiday resort.

Karaka Point

Karaka Point, on which stood a strongly fortified pa, which was attacked by Te Rauparaha and his men armed with muskets, and overwhelmed during his raids in the early 1830s, is now very overgrown with manuka and rubbish, but when I first visited it, over 50 years ago it was grass and the wall and ditch on the landward side and many pits and house sites were visible. An page 27ill advised attempt with a bulldozer some years ago spoilt its historic features.

Whatamango Bay

Whatamango Bay was settled in the early days by members of the McCormick family. The mountain at its head is Mount McCormick. From this bay the road made in 1957 by the Marlborough County Council, over the range to Oyster Bay gave road access for the first time to the settlers in Port Underwood. It was made with a grant of back country access money and was just a matter of bulldozing wider the bridle track that had been there for many years.

A breastwork for launches was built at Oyster Bay. Though Port Underwood is one of the first districts in New Zealand to have white settlers it had to wait a long time until 1957 to have road access. The island in the Sound visible from Whatamango is Allports Island named after a member of the Nelson family who was prominent in the life of Tua Marina, Koromiko and Picton in the early days.


From this 1400 ft high saddle on a clear day a lovely view of Port Underwood to as far away as Cape Campbell across Cloudy Bay can be seen. To the north some of Queen Charlotte Sound and to the east is a glimpse of the Electricity Department's road to Fighting Bay.

Port Underwood

Port Underwood is named after a Sydney ship owner James Underwood who very early in the 1800s had ships whaling in the area.


Hakahaka, where the road descends to the Port was the home from the very early days of an American negro who came ashore from an American whaling ship. He married a Maori wife and to my knowledge had a son and a daughter. In my young days the son was a highly respected figure of the community in Blenheim. A fine upstanding figure and when in his Salvation Army uniform and beating the big drum in the band he was a person to take notice of. He had a traction engine driver's ticket and many a thousand sacks of chaff he helped cut on our farm. After oat growing for chaff became a thing of the past he was employed by the Blenheim Borough Council for many years. He died in 1960 aged 95 at the home of his son in Raglan, the son being the postmaster there. The Davis daughter married and had a son who after holding a responsible position in the Works Department in Blenheim for many years, retired just recently.

On the site of the original Davis home at Hakahaka some old orchard and poplar trees are to be seen.

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Turning north and going up to the head of the Port the next bay is Whangataura.

The County Council had received a grant and were widening and forming the road on to this bay when the decision was made to go on with the power cable project. The bay was the home from very early times of members of the Baldick family, of which more later. It is now owned by a Christchurch businessman.

Opihi Bay

Opihi Bay, the next small bay was occupied by members of the Daken family and a number of their graves are there, and at the present time one member has a seaside cottage in the bay.

Crossing over the Tongue which divides the inner part of Port Underwood into two arms, and from where a good view can be had, the road descends to Whangakoko Bay which was early occupied by the Claverley family. A very fine white marble headstone over one of their graves is unfortunately smothered in a thicket of gorse, but a growth of arum lilies marks the site of the home.

Ngakuta Bay

A short climb and then the road descends to Ngakuta Bay. It is impossible in this short account to do justice to this bay. But briefly the Rev. Samuel Ironside established his mission station here at the end of 1840, it being the second mission station to be established in the South Island. It had been estimated that as well as the whalers there were 1500 Maoris in villages on the shores of Cook Strait. With his station situated here he was able to minister to the whalers and natives in the Port. After a short climb up Ironside Ridge and a descent down Missionary Ridge to Missionary Bay in Queen Charlotte Sound, where he kept a boat, he ministered to the Maoris in the Sound where 12 native chapels had been built. It is on record that in his boat he went as far away as Nelson, Motueka and Collingwood. The white cairn marks the site of the Rev. Ironside's large church, and was erected by Methodist Church people as their contribution to Marlborough Centennial in 1959. A sketch of the mission house came to light some years ago and is the only picture of any of the mission buildings that we have. When I visited the bay many years ago the mouldered remains of the mission house chimneys were to be seen, but ploughing operations removed them. However the site on the beach where he kept his boat is still to be seen.

Samuel Ironside will be remembered for interviewing Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata after 17th June 1843, then rowing across Cloudy Bay in stormy weather and up the Wairau River to Tua Marina to bury the 22 victims of the affray. The boat in which he travelled was rowed by men from Michael Aldridge's whaling station.

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The poplar trees on the west of the bay mark the site of Michael's home and the fine oaks to the east are where his brother Henry lived. After the trouble at Tua Marina most of the Maoris fled to the North Island and Ironside was transferred to Wellington. A layman named William Jenkins lived in the mission house for six years and was then transferred to Motueka and the station here abandoned. If you read your Motueka church history you will find Jenkins's name figures prominently. Several times we have had his descendants visiting this spot. Just recently I have received a copy of a map of 1842 showing the mission station in the bay. We are very fortunate in that Mr H. G. Bothwell who owned the bay and gave us permission to erect the cairn, very generously donated to the church the quarter acre on which it stands. It was surveyed off and is now church property.

Hakana Bay

Continuing round we come to Hakana Bay where reside Mr and Mrs G. S. Yorke and Mr and Mrs C. H. E. Harris and then at the end of a narrow road constructed by the Marlborough County Council we come to Whataroa Bay where for many years lived members of the Daken family but now owned by Mr G. D. Russell.

Fighting Bay

From Hakana Bay the very steep road constructed by the Electricity Deparmtent goes up and over to Fighting Bay, where the power lines from Benmore join the cable to cross the Strait.

Fighting Bay gets its name from an event in the early 1830s when Te Rauparaha's party armed with muskets all but exterminated the local Maoris on this side of the Strait. Assistance for the local Maoris came from their friends of Foveaux Strait when the chief Tuhawaiki with several canoe loads of warriors arrived and a naval battle took place in the bay.

Oyster Bay

Returning to Hakahaka, the next bay is Oyster Bay where the settlers put up breastwork for their launches when the road was constructed over from Whatamonga. In this bay stands the cottage in which John Guard the younger spent his married life, and his nephew Walter Guard also. Walter died last year and, his son and daughter living in Blenheim, Mrs Guard has been in a quandary and it is possible the bay is to be sold.

In this bay was the large camp of the Electricity Department when the power lines were being erected.

On past Coles Bay and then Tom Canes Bay, named after a very early whaler. Documents in the Archives record that for the right to start a whaling station in this bay the price paid to the Maoris was a barrel of gunpowder and a barrel of tobacco. A descendant of Tom Cane came from Wanganui to attend the unveiling of the Ironside Cairn at Ngakuta.

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Kakapo Bay

Kakapo Bay comes next, the home of the Guard family since it was occupied by the ancestor Captain John Guard in 1827. In 1963 the Historic Places Trust erected one of their standard markers here to record the establishment of the first whaling station on the Port. Since then our Marlborough Historical Society has put one of the Guard's trypots and also mounted nearby a historic gun, which had been lying in the grass for many years.

A visit to the Guard family cemetery is worthwhile. It has recently been tidied up and a stone put over the grave of Kuika the wife of James Wynen who was murdered here in December 1842 and which event, and the allowing of Richard Cook the murderer to go free, was partly the cause of the trouble at Tua Marina the following year.

The Rev. Samuel Ironside landed here on 20th December 1840 and on Christmas Day he conducted the first Christian service in the Port, in the home of the storekeeper James Wynen. On 20th December 1965, exactly 125 years later a church service was held on the site of Wynens home and the clergyman, the Rev. C. B. Oldfield, used the same text as Ironside had used.

James Wynen later is moved to the Wairau Bar and Blenheim and the site of his first store in Blenheim is marked by an Historic Places Trust marker. (Incidentally James Wynen died on 13th April 1866 in an accommodation house known at 'The Fleece' in Waimea Road, Nelson, aged 60 years, and was buried in St. Paul's Churchyard Brightwater. If any of you Nelson people can locate the site of his grave I would be pleased to hear of it).

Horahora Kakahu Island

Shortly after leaving Kakapo Bay an AA marker points across to Horahora Kakahu Island where on 17th June 1840 the flag was hoisted and the South Island taken possession of following the obtaining of the signatures of the South Island Maoris to the Treaty of Waitangi. If the day is clear it is possible to see the white Historic Places Trust marker which was unveiled on 3rd October 1964. Admiral Washbourn, in command of two naval vessels, came across from Wellington and unveiled the marker and re-enacted the ceremony of 1840. It was a fine day and the ceremony went off well. The dark tree on the island is a macrocarpa and it stands on the exact spot where the flagstaff stood in 1840. At that time the island was a strongly fortified pa.

Ocean Bay

Continuing on, the next bay is Ocean Bay, so named because from here the first view of the ocean can be seen. For many years after 1850 it was the home of Michael Aldridge who in one of his whale boats took the Rev. Ironside to Tua Marina to bury the dead in 1843. He is buried in the bay. For a number of years after 1905 the Rev. John Crump, a retired missionary, owned the bay and conducted a very successful boarding school for boys.

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At the present time some of the old pupils are trying to organise a re-union. It was in this bay that Messrs Clifford and Weld in August 1847, unloaded their shipments of sheep from Australia and then drove them to start their huge Flaxbourne sheep station.

Robin Hood Bay

Robin Hood Bay is the next bay, so named for its similarity to the bay of the same name in Yorkshire near Whitby where Captain Cook first went to sea. This bay is historic in that immediately after the fight at Tua Marina on 17th June 1843 the Maoris packed up their belongings, put Te Rongo's body in a canoe and paddled round to Robin Hood Bay, arriving there after dark, and that Te Rongo was buried on the flat above the beach.

The whalers and settlers in Port Underwood knew of the grave and soon after the incident Captain George Jackson of the schooner 'Shepherdess' (who was trading in the port at the time) settled in Robin Hood Bay, and kept the grave in order and did so until his death in 1884. Mr H. J. Stace the new owner of the property cared for the grave until he left the bay in 1918. Thus for over 70 years the grave was looked after but since then it has been neglected and I understand the new road goes over it.

For many years Mr Stace and family conducted a boarding school there for boys.

At the head of the land in the bay stands Mt Robertson, 3397 ft high, and visible from well out in the Strait, and the eastern cape at the entrance to the Port is Robertson Point. The reason for the names is unknown but they probably date from very early in the whaling days.

There are several hundred acres of very good land in Robin Hood and a small stand of good native timber trees at its head. The Deer Park that you saw this morning is named the 'Collins Deer Park' after two brothers of that name who were killed in the bush nearby.

Continuing on along a high road with wonderful views from its highest point it is possible to see in a north easterly direction a group of rocks beyond Robertson Point. These are the Coombe Rocks named after Captain Coombe, the captain of the Hope, a sailing ship which in June 1840 was sent over from Sydney by Unwin & Co. with a cargo of cattle and other equipment to found a settlement on the Wairau Plain. These rocks are interesting as they were used by early American whalers as a lookout to spot the movement of whales through the Strait. It has been suggested lately that the rocks should be examined as we have heard that there are ships' names and dates chiselled into the rock.

The story of the Hope and her crew is a most interesting one, but much too long to record here. But descendants of the party who were to start the settlement and were in charge of the cattle and cargo are very numerous in our district in all walks of life.

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Around the turn of the century our M.P. the Hon. C. H. Mills, Minister of Marine was a resident of Pelorus Sound and he had bridle tracks formed to serve the settlers in most of the bays. Since leaving Waikawa Bay this morning the whole of the road we have travelled over has been just the old track widened out to road width. Such was the good engineering of the surveyors who laid them out originally. From now on down to Whites Bay and over to Rarangi the old line was not suitable and a completely new line was formed.

Whites Bay

This name dates from before the days of organised settlement. The Rev. Ironside mentions it in his reports and J. W. Barnicoat on his two journeys to survey the Tua Marina country early in 1843 went ashore in the bay and mentions it by name. The bay is named after an American negro slave boy who came ashore from an American whaling ship in 1828 and lived there for a number of years. Commonly called Black Jack White, after an adventurous life during the Maori War, for which he was granted a pension, he spent the last 20 years of his life as handyman for Captain Baillie at Para.

He died on 3rd July, 1894 just two days short of his 82nd birthday and his obituary notice (of 297 words) in the Picton paper ends with 'One who knew him well says he was a trustworthy and faithful old man, and those in the valley who knew him well have nothing but kind words to say of him.' It was also recorded that he had been '66 years in New Zealand' which dates his arrival to 1828.

Whites Bay is the site of the South Island end of the first telegraph cable laid across the Strait and brought into use on 26th August 1866. The original cable station building still stands and on 26th August 1966 a Centennial function was held and a little museum opened in which are on view photos of samples of the early cables that came ashore as well as a sample of the power cable. No cable comes ashore here now; the present shore end is at Blind River south of Seddon.

The bay is now a Reserve administered by a Reserve Board. The beach—the only sandy beach within easy reach of Blenheim —is very popular, but vandalism is the problem.

Over the last hill from which fine views of the Wairau Plain can be seen, with snow capped Mt Tapuaenuku in the distance, we arrive at Rarangi a seaside resort on the Cloudy Bay Beach. The beach front is vested in the Harbour Board and they have been letting sections on which some fine homes have been built.

* This is an edited version of Mr Smith's address. Mr F. W. Smith was brought up and later lived at Tua Marina. He is an authority on the history of this area and neighbouring districts and cost of the Marlborough Sounds and has written historical books and articles. He is now retired and living in Blenheim.