Coromandel History

Isdale on Tapu part 3

Alistair Isdale: Early European Contacts.

In November, 1769, Captain Cook had come like a visitor from outer space, into which his ship disappeared again, a strange looking flying saucer of a vessel. It no doubt drew some excited comment from our area, as it passed out on the Firth to anchor approximately off Waiomu as low tide depth became too shallow, further explorations southward being carried out in ship's boats. In due course it came past again on the way out, and was not seen again.

In 1795 the first of several timber ships appeared at what would be called Coromandel, but was then called Brampton Harbour, after the master or navigator of Admiralty storeship Fancy, and stayed some time with felling of kauri trees and the local inhabitants helping with hauling to shipboard. No doubt the people of Tapu-Te Mata heard all about it, and quite likely visited.

One ship, the Royal Admiral, came past like Cook, looking for an anchor­age to go up the main river, which Cook had named the Thames after a resemblance at a certain place, on the trail of big trees Cook had seen and measured upriver.  There were no harbours on the eastern side of the Firth, which was a lee shore for the prevailing westerly winds. So the Royal Admiral went to the other shore, in the vicinity of present day Miranda, with at least some protection from the wind from a range of hills, and not the danger of being embayed. The shell bottom kept cutting their cables instead, while the ship's boats went upriver and brought back not kauri but white pine, which ruined a trade which had been growing with Chinese merchants.

Fortunately preserved logs show whalers looking at Great Barrier around 1795, and likely others whose logs were not preserved by mere chance.

There was a growing awareness of European presence by the time Samuel Marsden looked in on Hauraki at the end of 1814, to a good welcome which made him write of "fields white unto the harvest." But by the following year, "all was blacked and devastated."  The musket raids had begun, with massacres, and a general movement of the Marutuahu people began to the head of the Thames Valley.

With the timber ships from 1795, Hauraki had advantages from European contacts before the Bay of Islands, and for helping the locals acquired such matters as European axes, and the skills to use them.

Therefore it proved possible to block the "Thames" and Piako by using European axes to fell bordering great trees to form "snags" of such matters as logs 80 feet or so long.  During the period 1815-on, the people of Tapu-Te Mata would have taken part in this heke or migration, hastened by successive massacres, and an unsuccessful siege of Totara pa in the summer of 1818-19, after which the people therein took the hint and quickly packed up and left.            

When Marsden came again in 1820, with the timber ship which gave its name to Coromandel and her two consorts, he found Coromandel Harbour already deserted, but some of the people came back on a temporary basis while under the protection of Admiralty storeship Coromandel, and eager to learn what they could from the Europeans, including carefully protecting a pea plant from seed from the Coromandel.  Marsden also met people at a pa at the confluence of the Waihou and the Ohinemuri, near present day Paeroa.

There he met Ngati-Tamatera people, who had been at Kati Kati for two or three centuries following a quarrel between the two sons of Marutuahu, Whanaunga and Tamatera, over a marriage of which the former disapproved, being a marriage of Tamatera with one of Marutuahu's widows, one of the two sisters, Tamatera's aunt. With the gun raids that started around 1815, Kat Kati was too exposed, and the Ngati-Tamatera came round to Hauraki to be among their Marutuahu brethren, old brotherly quarrels dead history.

This would be important for our area.

When Marsden met the Ngati-Tamatera at Te Haupa pa, he was not told whether they had set up the pa there in the last few years, or taken over an existing one. Recent archeological investigation might or might not have found some indication.  In any case it seems to have been set up as a gun pa, or adapted thereto from an already existing kaianga or position at the conflu­ence. To complicate investigation, it was in this vicinity that a local quarrel in 1877 resulted in a pa with trenches, and to European eyes from nearby infant Paeroa and from Thames, "flimsy''wooden works serving the purpose of barbed wire of later times, and occupied for several months during 1877.

The occupants of the confluence pa that Marsden visited, seem to have decided their advance position, as occupied by Nagti-Tamatera, who were noted warriors, was too exposed after the fall of already deserted Totara pa, where a number who had come to cultivate the fertile flats around for European trade, either wisely fled upriver, or bolted into the deserted stronghold on the approach of the Grand Fleet of the Ngapuhi with Hongi and and overwhelming armament of muskets.  Again Totara Pa held off the invaders being practically bullet proof, for three days, till taken by stratagem.

Between 1821 and 1830, Hauraki was deserted by the Marutuahu people. Over the range, the Ngati-Hei remained, inspite of massacres that left ‘human driftwood’ on the Whitianga estuary.

The Ngati-Hei had a central stronghold at Coroglen, earlier Gumtown, in the shape of Oturu Bluff, later called Kareena's Rock, after some connection of several versions with Italian Thomas Carini, 1867 Whitianga hotelkeeper.

The flat summit can only be reached by a tortuous steep razorback,  On one occasion the men had gone off to fight off raiders, who eluded them and came up the winding razorback.  An old man had been left with a gun, which he kept firing from place to place, while the women hit percussion caps with rocks and lit little heaps of exploding gunpowder, wreathing all with smoke.  The raiders panicked and fled down the razorback, to be caught in disarray by the men, who had come back on hearing all the noise, and annihilated the raiders.


In 1830 the two day indecisive battle of Taumatawiwi served a strong hint to the Marutuahu people, who could muster 5,000 warriors at that time, and had been doing some raiding on their own account, that their presence at the head of the Thames valley had become unwelcome.  Te Waharoa of the Ngati-Hauar, with his couple of hundred or so trained musketeers, backed by several thousand neighbours taking a more passive part, pre-empted a more massive strike from the Waikato, where resentment had been growing. He also provided hostages (or escort) to provide a safe passage home.

Whoever had been occupying our area before the heke, from 1830 it was predominantly the Ngati-Tamatera, one of whose principal warrior chiefs, the fierce Tarais Ngkuti, had a dwelling place on high ground overlooking the mouth of the Puru stream.

Europeans at that time and thereafter called the place and the stream Puru  and left it at that, and that place was called Puru when it later became settled and used by Europeans for a good 80 years, as in many newspaper references, till in recent years the Geographic Board decided it should be Te Puru on the strength of two or three of the several maps in which it otherwise featured as just Puru.

(Attempts to get back to the original Maori names can lead to some strange namings. Thus Peel's Creek near Hikutaia had to be replaced by Hiakarahi Stream, which is a Maori version of Peel's Creek,).

As for Tapu, in 1830 it was known as Waipatakakahu, or the water where the flax cloaks were beaten. This seems to have applied to the hill pa or fortress in our Tapu-Te Mata area. Wai-water patu - a clubbing weapon or beater kakaku - flax cloak, which could stand up to enthusiastic wett­ing and beating after the style of an Indian dhobi.

The then deep and placid Tapu stream, with its name then Waipatukakahu, or Waipatukaka for short - flax feathered cloaks could have kaka feathers, flowed below and not far from the hill fort, which may have shared the name.  It not only commanded the entrance to the valley, but also the ridge track inland between the two streams.  It was in a strategic position and quite important, however, it appears there were several in the area.

When the people came back to Hauraki in 1830, they did not all necessarily make new lowland entrenchments, but in many cases reoccupied old strongholds on high places. We can gather this, because in 1864 British gunboats shelled occupied pa sites on the heights above Tararu. And on two occasions Totara Pa had shown that strongholds built in the right place in the right way could prove to be practically bullet proof.

Therefore it is not impossible that around the hill strongholds in our area there could be found evidence of reoccupation from around 1830, with European and adapted tools and artifacts, carrying on more strongly then up to 18?.  Adaptations could include carved wooden tomahawk handles and gunstocks.

On a certain day around 1831, not long after the return and a fresh apportionment of lands (Coromandel Harbour, pre 1820 all Ngati-Whanaunga, was divided into three between Ngati-Whanaunga, Ngati-Tamatera and Ngati-Paoa), the men left Waipatukahu, possibly in connection with Taraia settling in at the mouth of the Puru, leaving the women, who might well have been getting the Tapu flat to the south of our area into Maori and European garden crops both for food and for trade with Europeans, particularly valuable for munitions of war. As early as 1803, Hauraki was producing large crops of potatoes for trade with Europeans, according to Murray McCaskill.

It is likely that what the people were doing was being watched.  Just over the other side of the range was the main centre of the Ngati-Hei, now very much thinned in numbers.  The equivalent of the Roman raid on the Sabine women could be the answer to that.

The Ngati-Tamatera women, to the number of 47, were surrounded, herded together, and had their hair plaited together in pairs - at least 46 of them, to prevent escape.  The Ngati-Tamatera men meanwhile got wind of what was happening - through women slipping away or children - and, as Mr.T.W. Hammond was told, the women being in pairs with their hair plaited together slowed the raiders, who were mostly killed in battle, and the rest chased.

Three made it to the looming heights of Maumaupaki or Camel's Back, by way of the ridge between the Tapu, as it came to be named because of the slaughter at the battle at Te Mata. There was a way round, also a shortcut.  The last three survivors tried up the shortcutiright up and over Maumaupaki, by means of vines, which broke, so the three fell to their deaths. (This suggests a made short cut with vines, as set up by the original Marutuahu people of Waipatukakahu, but let go without maintenance and renewals during the decade of absence), or by the Ngati-Hei.

The annoyed Ngati-Tamatera then went round by a pass and over the range to deal out utu. Some of the Ngati-Hei took refuge on top of Oturu, other; went south along the coast.  Some kind of modus Vivendi or mode of living together seems to have become established, and some Ngati-Hei descendants can still be found around Whitianga.

The scene of the battle seems to have been on the sea strand of our little area, where there is a small cemetery, giving a suitable tapu place to do so - not one to be visited by tribespeople at night.

Long before the cemetery was established, as on a suitable tapu area, the name Tapu was given to the Tapu flat and any settlement in the area, ar to the stream.

As to whether the post 1830 inhabitants were all Ngati-Tamatera or not, the heathen Taraia and his followers also had by the Puru mouth a small Christian congregation. Horeta, who as a leading chief of the Ngati-Whan-aunga had much influence, was a Christian, and it is not unlikely that this now humble little Christian congregation was of the original occupiers, A similar situation could well have existed at what was now Tapu.

Logan Campbell, as recounted in his Poenamo, went past by water on a sunny July day in 1840, and gives us a good idea of the pattern of living that was established during 1830-40, after the return.

All along the coast there were little settlements, with cultivations wherever there was suitable flat or not too steep land. Potatoes were an important crop, for trade as well as food, tending to supplement kumaras and break down their long mounds, while pumpkins tended to supplant gourds.  Other European vegetables were grown, and fruit trees, particularly apples and peaches - most of the Thames flat was given over to peach groves.

The Tapu flat would have been a garden, for which there was less scope on the narrow sea strand of the Tapu-Te Mata area.

European contacts were constant, and valued for trade. During the worst of what might be called the Years of the Musket, 1815 to end of 1820s, they could be a matter of life and death, and a tribal pakeha was a most valued possession, as Maning found around 1820.

While the Marutuahu people were in the vicinity of present day Cambridge with 13 fortified strongholds according to a Court deposition at Thames, a trader was working through the Piako and beyond from 1823, hence the cap­acity to do some raiding themselves.  The Piako had fewer snags than the main river.

Immediately on the return to Hauraki, traders came on a settled basis, from 1830. In 1832, those at a trading station at the mouth of the Kauaeranga, at the southern end of present day Thames, went over to the western shore of the Firth about the return of a boat, and found already built and established houses belonging to Sydney traders.

From the mid 1830s there were shore pitsawings, (Webster at Coromandel) and even circular sawmilling (Browne at Whitianga) stations, and young men from the general area around ‘Kauaeranga’ went to these places for employment.  From 1836, there was much land buying, arranged by Webster of Coromandel Harbour.  In and around which many of the lands were sold, and the settlers were able to remain largely on a trading basis with the local ‘natives’. Extensive timberlands were purchased around Whitianga.  Settlers lik the Thorps and McCaskills, buying near the end around 1839, established themselves up the Thames near present day Hikutaia and Paeroa at the beginning of the 1840s.

During the decade 1830-40, the Maori inhabitants of the Thames area and Thames Coast would have been growing largely the more prolific European crops and keeping pigs for meat, on a largely subsistence basis, but with some trade for European items that became ever more desirable and necessary.

‘Acculturation’ was powerfully helped by missionaries, established at Puriri at the end of 1837, and up on a rise by the Kauaeranga in present day Thames in 1837.

Remains of this period would be as likely to be almost shapeless rusted remains of garden hoes and spades, as stone adzes etc., which became rare.

Besides the traders at ‘Kauaeranga,’ along the coast northward from Thames-to-be, according to Logan Campbell, there was boatbuilder Palmer at Waiomu, and two or three more settlers, as noted by ‘Ensign’ Best in 1841.Top