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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 5, 1993

William Deakin: American and Port Underwood Whaler

William Deakin: American and Port Underwood Whaler

page 19

The Captain of the 'General Williams' was not a happy man. It was near the end of the New Zealand whaling season and his crew was restless. His first mate had broken a shoulder bone at sea, which had resulted in an enforced month in port, and now two men had deserted. The Captain decided to cut his losses and return to America. The two deserters, holed up at Wakapuaka, watched with mixed feelings as the 'General Williams' sailed out of Tasman Bay. Both were experienced whalers and knew that the shore-based stations in Tory Channel and Port Underwood would work until October. After that it would be every man for himself. They loaded up the ship's boat, stolen when they deserted, with their few trade goods and rowed the 80 miles to Cloudy Bay in search of work.

In 1839 there were eight whaling stations operating in the Cook Strait area. One of the deserters, William Deakin (pronounced Daken), found work at Kakapo Bay in Port Underwood. A rope-maker by trade, he had been whaling out of New London, Connecticut, since his arrival in America in 1832. Born in Warwickshire, England, in 1811, he had married Mary Jones, a Welsh girl, in Birmingham in 1831. Shortly after their marriage they emigrated to Long Island, New York, where their first son, William Price, was born. In 1833 they were living at New London, a prominent whaling and ship building port, when John was born, and they were still there for the birth of Robert in 1836. William Deakin then left on a whaling voyage, which took him ten years to complete.

Working at both the Tory Channel and Port Underwood whaling stations, he lived at Tom Cane's Bay, where he met Mary Ann Baldick, nee Sherwood, the widow of George Baldick. She had arrived in June 1840 on the barque Hope from Sydney, with her husband who had been employed by Frederick Unwin Wright. Wright, a solicitor of Sydney, had purchased land in the Wairau in March 1840, and intended to build a house there and stock the farm with cattle. With this in mind he sent several Sydney labourers, their wives and children, building equipment and thirty two head of cattle to Cloudy Bay.

At Tom Cane's Bay, Port Underwood, they were met by James Wynen who was in charge of the land. He settled the families in old whaler's whares and the men began work at the Wairau, returning each fortnight for provisions. In September, six of the men drowned while trying to cross the Wairau Bar in a leaky square bottomed boat, laden with provisions, on a squally day. Mary Ann Baldick was left a widow with four young children, and was not yet 26 years old. As the Hope had returned to Sydney, she could do nothing but stay at Tom Cane's Bay. Being a resourceful woman, she made the most of her difficult situation.

On 27 December 1840, after banns were called, William Deakin and Mary Ann Baldick were married. They set up home at Tory Channel where their first son, Thomas, was born in November 1841. By August 1844 they were back at Tom Cane's Bay for the birth of Matthew. Whalers in the Wellington and Port Underwood areas frequently treated the Maori with scant respect, abusing the woman and threatening the men, and relations between the two peoples were often strained. In addition, a dispute over the land allegedly owned by Unwin resulted in the conflict of Tuamarina in June 1843 and made the area bounding Cook Strait a dangerous place to live.

According to one report, three Englishmen fled to Port Underwood in 1846, after threats page 20were made on their lives by Wellington Maoris. William Deakin hid them and then, apparently in fear of his own life, deserted his wife and family and returned to America. This act becomes slightly less callous if a story about Mary Ann is true. While living at Port Underwood she is said to have saved a young Maori girl from rape and, in return, been given land. Under European law, as a married woman, she could not own land in her own right but, as a deserted wife, she would have the use of it and the protection of the tribe. In addition, she possibly knew that her marriage was bigamous before Deakin left, and his 'desertion' may have been a joint agreement.

When he arrived in New London, Deakin discovered that his first family had returned to Wales. He followed them and brought them back to America, where they became Mormons in 1852 and moved to Utah in 1861. After the death of his first wife, William Deakin thought of returning to New Zealand, but finally became too old to travel. Before his father's death in 1893, John Deakin promised to try and find Mary Ann's two sons. In 1916 he made contact with Mary Mills, eldest daughter of Thomas and Esther Daken, and it is from their letters that much of the Deakin information comes.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc. Utah.

National Archives, Wellington. Reporting proceedings at Cloudy Bay:41/54 National Archives, Wellington. Copy of Wairau land claim No 235 (b)

National Library, Wellington. Wesley Methodist Church marriage register 1840–43. MS papers 1185.

May Gemmell. Letter from John Deakin, Logan, USA to Mary Mills, New Zealand, 1916.