A big thank you to Alistar Isdale who was the most authoritative and expert historian on the history of the Coromandel Peninsula, a subject he was passionate about. He was the oldest member of Mensa and wrote a book called 'The River Thames'. Sadly, he died before I could meet him. Most of the early records of this area have been lost, gone in fires and shipwrecks, what remains is precious.
1795 There is great excitement with the arrival of a big ship of the white-faced strangers, who will give wonderful gifts for cutting down kauri trees and hauling them to their ships. It will be remembered that twenty-six years ago some of our men were using fire and precious adze, “The Eye of Greenstone”, to cut down a great kauri on the heights looking to Whitianga, when they saw such a a ship. They were so excited that they lost the adze, but the wonderful things on the ship made up for it. As has already been noted at the time, visitors came from as far as the Waikato. A few more ships have since been seen.
1795 Brampton Harbour, River Thames, On board the ‘Fancy’. Never have we seen such magnificent timber trees. Captain Cook measured huge trees up the fresh water river. We could not go up there on account of the shallowing of the seaward arm of the River Thames. However, we have found for ourselves and our consort the ‘Active’, a very convenient harbour, which Cook had passed by. This affords us every convenience, including friendly natives, who are only too eager to help us by hauling trees to the water’s edge. Their chanteys exceed even those of our sailors in measured vociferousness. Both the Admiralty and the Chinese merchants in Canton, for which latter this cargo is destined, will afford a ready market for such timber, which our carpenter assures us is of superb quality. We can therefore expect other ships to use this most convenient haven.
April 1795 Sydney. This summer the Fancy, Captain Dell, went to New Zealand to obtain some of the great trees said by Captain Cook to be easily reached in the River Thames area. Captain Dell found a sheltered harbour he has named Brampton Harbour, where the natives have proved most friendly and helpful. They already have pigs and potatoes, said to have been obtained from Captain Cook over a quarter of a century ago at Mercury Bay. They say they will provide pork and grow potatoes for as many ships as want to come for this most desirable timber.
1798 The scow ‘Hunter’, Captain James Fearn, sailed from the Thames with a load of spars for China, the natives assisting the crew of the vessel in transporting the spars to the waters edge. In 1801 several other vessels loaded with spars at the same place. (Datus by George Finn).
1799 On board the ‘Hunter’. On this our second visit, we picked up two of the three men we had left with the natives to cut timber. The third has taken to himself a wife and chooses to remain. He has not been found.
1801 On board the ‘Plumier’. The timber here is all that could be desired. We have been squaring great logs 87 feet long, to lever into a great hole we have cut in the bow of the ship. Thus squared, the will remain snug and safe in the severest of storms. The recent one was severe indeed, and we had to be rescued by the Royal Admiral, which we directed further south.
1801 The River Thames, on board the Royal Admiral. It seems our mission to the heathen in the South Seas had come to a stay while our worthy captain assured himself of a worldly recompense by taking aboard a cargo of timer. But already, it seems, our prayers could be answered, as there are natives here, assuredly in the darkness of heathendom, but of a friendly disposition. Meanwhile we will continue to hold our regular services and pray earnestly that a way will open. It is from the elements that we have frequent tribulation, on a shallow anchorage open to storms, while the shelly bottom cuts our anchor cables, threatening to cast us on shore like St Paul. The timber cutters go up the fresh water river and the ships boats tow back rafts of great logs. The place was specially recommended to us by a ship at Brampton Harbour, a the very place where Captain Cook made his measurements.
1802 On board H.M.S. Victory. The peace of Amiens has given the British Admiralty the opportunity to refit the Navy with spars of a size and quality we can no longer obtain from Baltic pine. Should that Corsican Ogre, Napoleon Bonaparte, again break out, and have designs of our island nations, we shall have a sure shield.
1802 Intelligence as reached us which suggests an end, at least for some time, to the taking of timber from the River Thames, New Zealand. The signing of the Treaty of Amiens in March has ended Admiralty demands, while the Chinese merchants will take no more. They say that the last cargo brought by the Royal Admiral from a new situation, up the fresh water river, is of a soft white wood without durability. The Plumier, which had recommended this situation, some 20 miles south of Brampton Harbour, lost all her own cargo and the ship went too, taken by the Spaniards of Manila in the Philippines. Originally a prize of war taken from the Spaniards, the ship was claimed and recaptured. Not only the leader Palmer, who died vainly seeking help and redress, but also the whole ship’s company, consisted of political prisoners, freed for good behavior, who had been sent from their native Scotland to our Australian Colony of New South Wales. A particularly grave view was taken of their mischievous political utterances, as they had advocated votes for women!!
1805 Spit Head. We are reliably informed that our glorious Admiral, Lord Horatio Nelson, who has gone to seek the combined French and Spanish fleets, proposes some new maneuver, made possible by the superior sailing qualities afforded by masts and spars obtained from New Zealand.
1820 Rev Samuel Marsden on board H.M.S. Coromandel. The natives here were once numerous when we saw them at the end of 1814, but from 1815, the Ngapuhi have been getting more and more guns and soon "all was blackened and devasted." Some fugitives are now back from the south, in safety while we remain, led by one Horeta Te Taniwha and are growing a pea plant from a seed found in our hold, fencing it carefully.
13 June 1820 Cape Colville. On board H.M.S. Coromandel. We spent the day looking into coves in which a number of the inhabitants had lately resided, but found none. Their pahs were all in ruins, and had lately been burnt or destroyed in their wars. We could still see the slain, and we hear that the beaches were covered with dead bodies like a butcher’s shop just a few months before. One tribe was wholly cut off, only one or two individuals making their escape.
23 June 1820 Coromandel Harbour. In hope of reaching the trees measured by Captain Cook, our Captain Downie took the ‘Coromandel’ as far south as the shallowing water of the seaward arm of the river Thames would let her. He then sent the Rev. Samuel Marsden up the fresh water river in a ship’s boat to report on the big trees. He said they were “more fit for planks than masts” (for readers, the trees were most likely Kahikatea, not kauri). However, he met some fugitives. The chief Horeta te Taniwha told him of the hidden harbour where timber ships used to come twenty years ago, and said he and the remnant of his people would come and help us as before. So here we are at what we have named Coromandel Harbour, which Captain Downie remarks is “perfectly safe for ships of any burden, being completely sheltered from the sea,” while the natives are “on most friendly terms with the Europeans”. Our ships carpenter has approved of the trees here, and Captain Downie has just reported that “arrangements were made with the natives and part of the ship’s company for cutting some of them down and preparing them for shipment”. Already the axes ring.
1820 Coromandel Harbour. Au-ee, the prosperous times have gone, when the big ships came for the great trees. For their gifts we hauled the great trees to the ships, our chiefs chanting. We gave them poaka-pork and grew far stretching fields of potatoes for them. The Ngapuhi, our old foes, have been getting guns, and thunder sticks off the pakehas. The white faces came first to us with their ships for timber. But then they began to go to the bay of many islands, in the ships that hunt whales. Many have been killed by the thunder of the Ngapuhi their bones whiten in the bays, the rest have fled far south. Only now can we come back for a time, with two big ships back for timber.
1830 We have been driven back here by the people of Matamata, by the battle of Taumatawiwi, back to our old homes. Hongi is dead, so it is now safer for us to remain.
1832 European traders are coming amongst us, we can trade for guns, powder and shot. to be safer from our enemies.
1834 A mission settlement was commenced by Messrs Fairburn and Preece at Puriri on the river Thames. Because of the extreme dampness of the ground this station was abandoned in 1837 but two other settlements, Maraetai and Kaweranga, were established in it’s place. (The Coming of the Pakeha, John Horsman).
1835 Coromandel Harbour. William Webster, an American, who it is rumoured slipped ship by night with his carpenter’s tools, has set about forming a shore timber establishment, making his headquarters on the island at the mouth of Coromandel Harbour. It is expected land purchases from the natives will be finalised next year.
1835 Coromandel Harbour Now the timber men do not just visit in their ships, they stay among us. Wipeka (Webster), their chief, has taken a wife, the niece, the adopted daughter, of our great chief Horeta te Taniwha. That is proper, that is good; chiefs should marry into families of chiefs.
1836 Mercury Bay. While the land-buying that started this year has mainly been around Coromandel Harbour, Gordon Browne, of Mahurangi, has bought land and is setting up a timber establishment where the river runs into the bay, known to the natives as Whitianga.
1840 The Treaty of Waitangi has been signed at Mercury Bay, with it's considerable timber enterprise and Coromandel which in addition has quite a village and several landowners in residence.
April 1840 Mrs Felton Matthew accompanying her husband on his second survey (the first had happened earlier in the year with Captain Hobson), for the possible site of the new capital of Auckland wrote: In the afternoon a new and interesting object was descried in the Bay (Waitemata Harbour), a large boat filled with people bearing down upon us. Amid these dreary solitudes such an object is quite an event, and I watched it approaching very anxiously. As it came along we perceived that it contained several white men and a number of natives. One of the former came upon deck and asked for the ‘Surveyor-General’, who of course, made his appearance. The object of these gentlemen seemed to be to find out where the new settlement was to be, but as nothing is as yet decided they did not obtain the information they sought. They were a strange set of beings, settlers from Thames and Coromandel Harbour – and such specimens of settlers; many degrees below those of New South Wales in apparent respectability. Truly the early settlers in a new colony do become the most extraordinary beings, somewhat, I imagine, of the Kentucky style, ‘half horse, half alligator, with a touch of earthquake’. They were not welcomed with much cordiality, so they soon pushed off again and we saw their smoke from their camping place some miles off, where they stayed the night and departed next morning.
18 May 1840 Journal of Mrs Felton Matthew on Coromandel Harbour. The mountainous appearance of the mainland, and the numerous rocky islets scattered around, formed a romantic and picturesque scene.
30 May 1840 Journal of Mrs Felton Matthew. It is difficult to imagine a more extraordinary assemblage of characters than this hut contained that day when we sat down to dinner as to a table d’hote, no individual gaining acquaintance with his neighbour. Thus there were adventures of all kinds, from the Honourable (quasi) Dudley Sinclair, member of the Port Nicholson (Wellington) legislative assembly, to the half piratical master of several vessels, strongly suspected of being concerned in the slave trade. I felt I must say, that I was in a very strange position, but I found amusement and entertainment in observing the motley throng. There were a few natives about: one of them, a fine looking old man, was pointed out to me, as having seen our great navigator Captain Cook. (Horeta te Taniwah, then around eighty). This old fellow is very elaborately tattooed. The young women are some of the rather good-looking, and some of the half-castes are like very lovely gypsies, perfectly beautiful.
31 May 1840 Journal of Mrs Felton Matthew. We entered the harbour by small boat and went to a large Pa on the bank of a small creek. They had just finished their evening prayer, for this practice was universal. Felton went ashore to be presented to the chief, while 80 to 100 natives clustered around to see the visitors in the boat – especially the white lady.
July 1840 John Logan Campbell, on a fine July day, made a boat voyage from Coromandel Harbour along the coast southward to Waiomu. We could see them at work in their fields. The shore was well studded with native villages and the cultivations around them bespoke an industrious people. While passionately fond of tobacco, they have a complete abhorrence of liquor, very possibly owing to missionary influence.
1840 John Logan Campbell visits the Waitemata Harbour and wrote about it in his book ‘Poenamo’. ( It is rumoured that Webster told Campbell about the harbour, saying, “ Wait! till you see the Waitemata”).
30 May 1841 Several settlers reside here, trading timber and such other articles of traffic as New Zealand affords. I was hospitably received at the house of Henry Downing, originally employed by William Webster.
Early 1850's The gold discoveries of California in 1848 which drew 80,000 'forty-niners' and of Australia in 1851, which drew more thousands, posed a serious threat for the infant colony of New Zealand. Out of a population of under 30,000, 1,000 went to California and 1,500 to Australia. And they were the strongest and most enterprising. Efforts were made to find a gold field in New Zealand.
4th Dec 1852 Commissioner Heaphy's reports from the Coromandel goldfield give us the names of many diggers, plus others comprised in the words "and party". It would appear that there were about 70 diggers at the Wynyard or Kapanga and the Tiki diggings respectively making a total of 140 or more.
11th Dec 1852 Public auction of gold from the Wynyard diggings, Coromandel, about 6oz of gold dust and 10 oz of curiferous quartz dug by McCoolahan's party.
1853 A fresh reinforcement of Australian diggers early in 1853 soon faded away and before the middle of the year there was only six or so left on the field which soon became deserted.
18 March 1858 Everybodies going south. It is hoped that people would pay more serious attention to the advice of Charles Heaphy regarding the revival of interest.
25 Sept 1861 Yesterday morning, towards 10'oclock, we observed many parties wending their way, swag on back, evidently intending passengers for the 'Phoenix', which is leaving for Coromandel.