Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 51, September 2007

(by Basil Thorp, Rotokohu)

Elysian (adj)—blissful, celestial.

This was an adjective used by early European explorers and/or surveyors for a clearing in the bush, comprising approximately five acres of flat land, five miles south of Paeroa.

Unlike other clearings in the Coromandel and Kaimai Ranges created by, and named after gold prospectors, this clearing has no name and yet it has possibly existed for several hundred years. It was cleared by early Maori for a specific purpose—to grow crops.

This was not the real reason for the clearing, as more fertile ground was to be had adjacent to the Waihou River, but was used as a retreat in times of war or invasion. Access for the Maori gardeners was via a narrow defile at the western end, which is now Leach's Quarry.

This clearing is an elevated basin with its own water within an hour's walk from canoes on the Waihou River. Elevated and hidden and surrounded by tawa and Puriri forest, it certainly gave the impression to early Europeans of being a "celestial" place hence the description "Elysian".

Evidence of cultivation was found by the early surveyors, who believed that because of its size, cereals were grown as well as the traditional root crops. But I surmise that this area had to be abandoned at some stage owing to its discovery by marauding enemies, because a further two clearings were made a further kilometre back into the ranges. These were much smaller, perhaps two acres each and were found to be cultivated up until about 1840 certainly after the arrival of the Europeans, for reason I will explain shortly.

The Elysian Site:

Owing to continual tribal warfare this site may have been used on and off over hundreds of years. Around 1800 a dramatic change in warfare took place—the arrival of the musket, which gave rise to the musket wars, or inter-tribal wars, of the 1800-1840, when upwards of 60,000 Maori were slaughtered. This, along with lack of immunity to Pakeha diseases, saw the Maori population decline to an all time low. So it was imperative that further sites were developed for emergency survival.

Maori History:

When the European arrived, Hauraki, that area from Moehau in the north to Te Aroha in the south, was "held" by tribes mainly of Tainui people known as Ngati Maru (Thames), Ngati Whanaunga (Coromandel) and Ngati Tamatera (Ohinemuri). I used the word "held" as their tenure was dependent on their defence strategies. These tribes were an early breakaway group from Waikato, who ousted the original Arawa tribes from the Hauraki-Coromandel.

Inter-tribal warfare was the norm for hundreds of years, and the Hauraki Maori were never left alone for long in peace, so their pa were heavily fortified. Principally the defences were against Arawa from the south and Ngapuhi from the Northland.

Hongi Hika, Bay of Islands, was the first to obtain a useful supply of muskets, so he set about settling old scores—utu. He ravaged the Coromandel Peninsula shores and finally sacked the Totara Pa at Thames in 1821, with approximately 1000 killed. Fortunately Ngati Maru had made pacts with some Tainui tribes and the survivors fled south and west into Waikato territory.

Not long after this some Tainui tribes decided that Ngati Maru had overstayed their welcome I,n particular, Chief Te Waharoa at Matamata. Despite earlier pacts and treaties Te Waharoa killed many of the Ngati Maru. Later Te Whararoa became concerned about the visitors increasing numbers, so he made a pre-emptive strike in 1831, sacked their stronghold and drove the survivors back into Hauraki territory. Other commitments by Te Waharoa into Arawa territory, in the south, saved Ngati Maru from complete annihilation or slavery.

We can see from history that Hauraki Maori were continuously under attack from north and south. These clearings, there could be others, away from settlements and waterways would have had some significance.

After all this, it was understandable that Hauraki Maori welcomed European settlement as they could live in peace. This facilitated the opening of the Hauraki goldfields and kept the subsequent Maori Wars or the "New Zealand" War out of the Hauraki district.

Today:

Today these three sites are within our farm boundaries and with farming operations over the years there has been no evidence of any settlement whatsoever, mainly because it was too far away from the river where Maori villages tended to be. The fortified Raupa Pa was one of the largest located a short distance downstream from these sites. We deduce from this that the Maori gardeners would have made day or overnight trips to tend their crops. These cultivation sites were for emergency use only.

The remains of the rock dam at the Elysian site.

The remains of the rock dam at the Elysian site.

An Elysian Place or The Hidden Basin
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 51, September 2007
The remains of the rock dam at the Elysian site.

Further use of the Elysian Site:

This site was to find further use after Europeans arrived. A local quarrying entrepreneur, Harry Leach, had a dam erected early in the 1900s to supply water for quarrying operations. This was built in the narrow defile the Maori gardeners used for access to their gardens.

This dam was unique in that it was not reinforced concrete. Considering it was hand built, it was a large structure. It was 80 feet long, built of bounders and hand hewn stone, carted to the site and cemented together with mortar mixed on the site. Professional rock masons and artisans would have been used as a high degree of skill was required, similar to any stone building.

Only two sections of the rock wall remains today, a testament to the craftsmanship of an earlier era (see photo). The dimensions of the dam would have been suitable for reinforced concrete, but the stone dam with only 2 feet thick walls was destined to fail.

The Elysian site 2007:

My family have farmed this area since 1945 and this site has changed little. Surrounding native bush remains, as do numerous large Puriri trees, frequented by native wood pigeons. Both Maori and Pakeha avoided cutting Puriri as the wood is extremely hard. Little known to the outside world it remains a "celestial" place. The dam remnants remain hidden in tall scrub.