Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 24, July 1980


(Annotated by Miss M.J. Thorp.

presented with some abbreviations by Miss Jessie Thorp).

Feb. 23rd 1839. On board the brig "Himrod" 174 tons. Weighed anchor in the forenoon and sailed down Port Jackson; in the evening got clear of the heads).

The shores of Port Jackson are now ornamented with a number of pretty cottages and good stone houses in various styles of architecture, the most striking of which in point of elegance, are those of Mr. McLeay and Capt. Piper. With all the prettiness of the buildings however, the shores present a sterile repulsiveness of aspect; the low scrubby trees and sand rocks with dry sandy patches between, rendering it almost hopeless to preserve what has been attempted by the hand of cultivation.

Feb.24th. Wind N.E. Heavy seas all night washing over the bows - passengers sick - There is generally a swell at the heads of Port Jackson. Our course to the North Cape of New Zealand, is due east. Brig leaky; pumping during the night. Have on board 10 passengers including the Rev. Mr. Taylor (a missionary) and his two children. The rest, Mr. W. Wilson, Mr. Jas. Wilson, Mr. Sampson, Mr. Prout, Mr. Leggit, Mr. Milne are going on account of commerce except 2 or 3 of us for lands. Our cargo consists of 3 cows, 1 horse, tobacco, gunpowder, ironmongery, blankets, and other notions - as the Americans say -. Made this day 130 miles. Saw several flying fish which flew 50 or 60 yards, but from the size of one which came on deck they are not so large as in the tropics.

Feb. 26th Wind S.W. We suppose this day to make half our voyage - the whole distance being 1150 miles. Lat. 34.36; Long. 100.20.

Mar. 5th Wind N.E. and E. At noon of this day came in sight of the islands off the North Cape of N.Z. called the Three Kings (on which are living a few natives - 2 families. The remnant of a conquered tribe which went there in a canoe 10 years ago.) Also the North Cape which is a low broken ridge with patches of white sand.

Mar. 6th, 7th, 8th. Becalmed - weather hot. Harpooned a shark which got off attended as usual by little striped pilot fish. Drifted within 8 miles of the coast. Clear mild days, sea smooth as silk, sea luminous. Sunset 6.20.

Mar. 9th. Fair wind. Passed Mount Camel - coast precipitous with ridges of peaked hills; few trees. Saw a whale and 5 ships. We anchored at night in the Bay of Islands (off Kororarika [also spelt Kororareka – E]).

Mar. 10th. Looked about us. An American Capt. came on board to see if we had any of his runaway sailors; 7 or 8 ships lying along side of us; and about 30 in the Bay. This Bay is about ten miles long and three or four wide, full of promontories and with several islands all of which are precipitous like the coast. There are some flats and beaches with houses along. Kororarika, the principal beach having deep water has 40 or 50 pretty good weather boarded cottages - chiefly inhabited by publicans who need no sign, nor licence either, in this land. Close to these houses is a native village of like magnitude and like population - barring the colour - as all derive their chief subsistence from the sailors).

We saw several old grey-headed men sitting and lolling under the projecting roofs of their huts; children paddling on the beach and old women fetching loads of firewood on their backs. These huts are made of bull-rushes and reeds, the interior neat and very warm, with a small door to creep through and one window. They had several boxes inside and the floor covered with matting but there was rarely any person in them. A few of the men were reading missionary tracts. On the beach are a lot of canoes perhaps 40 feet to 60 feet long.

We have been on shore to see about a passage to the Thames. One little vessel went off this morning and another is going near there, but we must have our luggage with us to Mr Fairburn's. The "Himrod" will not go for 8 or 10 days. Mr Taylor introduced us to Mr Williams the missionary, a jolly-looking man.

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Extract from letter to Mrs Thorp in Sydney. J.T.

Mar. 15th. On board the Thames schooner; 9 tons, waiting to go to the Thames.

Mar. 16th. Sailed at 5 a.m. for the Thames. Had a fair wind all day. Passed the Piercy Isles, in one of which at the base of a cliff is an arched passage large enough to admit a boat. Passed the Poor Knights, steep and rocky, and 4 peaked islands detached. Sighted Bream Head in evening.

Mar. 17th. Sunday morn. - Becalmed all night. Lay off Bream Head, a peaked, wild rock. The coast is lower from Cape Brett to Bream Head is lower in appearance and contains several small harbours. As the wind arose passed the islands called Hen and Chickens. The coast of New Zealand opposite is low with some sandy strips along the shore. Passed Old Head on the left and Schooner Head on the right; the former a wild fantastic rocky island; the latter like a schooner in full sail. In rounding it we saw two profiles one the contour of an old man & the other like William Pitt with a sharp clear outline. The coast after this was a succession of green slopes till we entered the Firth of the Thames which we did at night between some islands.

March 18th. Anchored off Maraitai, pronounced Ma—ry—ty, a missionary station on the west end of the Firth. Mr. Fairburn has been stationed here not yet two years but has got several buildings up. The Frith [Firth – E] here is 5 or 6 miles wide and the beaches low so that as the tide recedes it leaves them dry for half a mile. Not long after anchoring, and we had landed two of our passengers, who had letters for Mr. Fairburn we were obliged to up anchor and bear off on account of the wind. We cast anchor near a large island, sheltered by several smaller islands. As it still blew hard we remained two days. The natives came in canoes, fishing, while we went ashore in a small boat. In one canoe a native was pulling up fish very quickly with a bent nail, and presently he pulled up a shark 5 feet long which he hauled on deck, and then lay down on it till he had killed it; 2000 are caught yearly. The fish are chiefly snappers, also kawhai [Kahawai – E].

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There was a chief on shore called Koukut [name not clear; meant to be Kaukuti or Kahukoti? – E] chief of Maraetai, died June 22, 1841. (See Fairburn's Journal Vol.20 "Missionary Register".) "Our excellent chief Kahukoti the main instrument in keeping the Thames from becoming the seat of war". He was a well-made middle aged man with his face tatooed blue. I asked him to sell me some land. He pointed to the bay where he was and offered it, but I told him there was too much hill behind. He then offered Wakatiwai, a large flat of land belonging to his tribe up the Firth. When I told him by the interpreter that perhaps he had sold it before, he said No! and if I bought it he would shoot any man that interfered. He asked if I wanted any land that had kauri pine on it, - which is here an article of commerce - I agreed to buy the flat land if on inspection it suited. We appointed a meeting later.

The shores of the Frith abound with hard gravilly beaches on which boats and canoes are always drawn up from the water. A boat of another schooner had landed near us and while we were talking it floated off and was drifted by the wind before it was perceived. One of the natives without being asked swam after it but the boat drifted faster than he could swim. He was therefore obliged to return a distance more than half a mile, perhaps in all, a mile and a half. I observed he asked for no payment after returning it, but merely took and rolled his blanket round him. Their notions of payment are generally very strong but for a thing given or done freely no thanks are expected.

A native woman who came in the other schooner sat down on the beach at a little distance from the tribe of Kaukuti as she was a stranger. Presently a woman came up to her and rubbed nose against nose. Then came one or two more and did the like; after which one brought a basket of potatoes and laid it before her - but all this greeting and gift passed without a word from either party.

March 19th. The wind yesterday was S.W. with heavy rain at night. Today the wind is N.W. and blowing fresher. Went up the Frith 10 or 12 miles and landed at Mr Graham's house at a small bay, Orapua, where we were kindly entertained for the two days we stopped. Mr. Graham has not been here long, but his little house is very comfortable and he has a small garden adjoining, and half a dozen fat pigs running about. While we stayed several canoes put in with 5 or 11 natives in each. Some of the canoes are quite plain, but the rest are ornamented with carved work at the head and stern. They are rowed with neat light paddles shaped like a butter knife. With these they seem to dig the water, each stroke being to the chorus of a song. One canoe put in to breakfast on the beach, and after they had got a little firewood together, a man took a piece of pine and rubbed it with the point of a stick to produce fire. While he was chafing away the wood and it smoked, I brought him a fire stick but he shook his head and went on with the operation till he got the dust of the wood to burn.

The New Zealanders are generally strictly devout in their religion. Fire is on many occasions sacred. Once, since this, a person was laid sick or dead covered over near a fire, and as I was going to light my cigar there, a cry was set up to stop me, and a man ran to another fire and brought me a light. While a person is tapued he is not allowed to touch any food or use his hands. I observed a great big man fed by a boy who took a handful of Krakka [Karaka – E] nuts and crammed them into his mouth as fast as he could swallow them. Water or the calabash it is drunk out of is also sacred in such cases as in the East Indies.

The natives brought for sale, potatoes, pigs, pumpkins, and shallots which they bartered for a price scarcely remunerative to the grower. - Pork at about a penny a pound, potatoes at 3d per cwt. or less.

The Frith of the Thames where there are no islands is from 5 to 10 miles wide. It is generally hilly with a few small alluvial flats and sandy or gravelly beaches. The substrata of these hills are primative concrete clay of a blue colour with reddish brown stone with horizontal and vertical beds easily broken into square bits. The upper stratum is a loose clay friable on exposure to the air, with a strong loam on the surface. It is what we term a good wheat soil where it grows fine fern. Potatoes and corn are planted on these hills by the natives.

The hollows of the hills are ornamented with Krakka trees and other dark shady evergreens. Under these trees is a scene of rank vegetation; long fern and fern trees 10 to 12 feet high; ivy fern, mangi-mangi, or climbing fern, twining round the trunks of the trees and bamboo vines, kare-ao, or supple-jack, crossing in every direction like ropes. These fern trees reach 40 or 50 feet in some places, and the fern plant, 16 feet. Woe to the pilgrim therein! The hills except the highest are mostly bare of trees; covered with fern only, longer or shorter according to the quality of the soil; yet on this fern, and on herbs and shrubs, cattle get fat. Rape or a sort of wild cabbage, radishes and parsley grow everywhere along the coast as in the Bay of Islands.

In the morning, birds make a pleasing concert, especially the tui, which in colour and note resembles the black-bird only that on its breast are two white feathers. At night a bird sings kuku like the English cuckoo.

Mar. 21st. Went to Maraitai, Mr. Fairburn has 25 head of cattle in middling order as the feed about there is not very abundant. He also has some sheep but the lambs were destroyed by the native's dogs. He therefore, shot 40 which exasperated them and they threatened to burn his house, but an English Man of War visiting the Thames made them all quiet.

(Pages of Journal and dates from Mar. 22nd till April 18, missing. Probable dates given).

Mar. 22nd. With Mr. Fairburn, Jun., and others I went up the Thames Frith in a boat (canoe) rowed by 6 Maori. We went on shore near the mouth of the Thames River, where there is flat land for boats. We met the chief Taipari of the Kauranga [Kauaeranga? –E] tribe, Thames and talked to him Mr. Fairburn interpreting. He, like all the old chiefs is tatooed all over his face. A half-circle of men and women reclined on the ground while he stood in front as president of the republic. When he had finished speaking some of them stood up and spoke, shaking their rough mats and foaming at the mouth with talking hard - and then laughed. One native came up to repel a falsehood (about some trees). He used violent gestures and then walked backwards 3 or 4 yards to regain his breath.

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(Random notes of Maori customs and lore follow).

Mar. 24th. Sunday Morning - Pitched our tent on the banks of a creek just below Mr. Preece's mission house. Attended service at the raupo chapel. Mr. Preece spoke fluently and with energy.

Mar. 25th. At Mr. Preece's, I went to see land 3 or 4 miles off. Mr. Preece went to Kirikiri and returning late sent men up to Kopu to look for me, but they missed me as I had gone up the wrong hill. I got home about six long after dark. On the way I met six natives, one with a bell and another with a musket, coming to meet me with bread and pork - quite delighted - rang the bell, shouted, shook hands, and cried. And the girls came down from the mission house to meet me, shook hands, and cried as usual.

Mar. 26th. Writing out Mission returns for Mr. Preece all day. He told us of the Great Barrier fight. Some of the Thames party were believers and when the battle was over they refused to join in eating the slain; so after some altercation, the bodies were left just as they lay on the ground. This is said to be the first time they have foregone the national useage they are so justly reproached with. I gave Mr. Preece a list of goods I wished to leave with him. Then we made out lists of articles suitable for the mission store. (Examples: "shirting calico, wide, 20 or 30 yard pieces". "30 yd. red gingham (12d. or 13d. a yard)" "2 pieces print - flashy colours".) which I would procure for him in Sydney; and a memo of goods for myself.

(Between May 27th and April 14th there are no dated entries. In this period Mr. Preece was visited by the Rev. J.A. Wilson of the Tauranga Mission. There are notes of Maori lore and customs and others made in conversation with him. Reference:- Rev. J.A. Wilson, "Missionary Life and Work, 1832-62". The journey by sea to the Coromandel Harbour would have taken place in this period. A sketch of Te Kouma harbour was made in the note book, and a corrected version is given here:

April 14 Sunday. At Mr. Preece's. Cold S.W. wind; the taro, kumera, and some corn, frost bitten -.Said to be as cold as all last winter.

April 18th. Thursday. Last evening, wind N.W., this afternoon rainy at night strong wind, N. and N.E. with heavy rain.

April 19th. East wind, strong. "Columbine" Mission Schooner riding safely at the mouth of the river Thames, Showers and sunshine at noon. Have bought some land of Kawhero at Oruaiti at Te Kouma Harbour, 50 acres. Gave him a double barrelled gun and an order on Mr. Preece for goods left with him. Returned to Bay of Is. per "Himrod".

May 1st. Sailed for Sydney.