Monday, 8 October 2018

The Bay’s First Foreign Settlers – Part One, The Tattooed Men

When Tauranga’s first ‘respectable’ pre-Treaty settlers arrived during the 1830s, they found the district already settled by Pakeha-Maori or ‘white men gone native.’ A mix of runaway sailors, fugitive convicts, adventurers and trader go-betweens, they were seen living among Maori in local pa tuwatawata (pallisaded fortresses) and kainga (unfortified villages). Predominantly Anglo-Irish with a scattering of continental Europeans, Americans, Asians and Negroes, these adventurous men (and a few women) had been welcomed by Maori or captured during clashes with ships’ crews. Integrated into Maori communities, often through marriage to local wahine rangatira (chieftainesses), they honoured Maori customs and were bilingual. Three of New Zealand’s 48 tattooed Pakeha-Maori lived in or had links with the Bay of Plenty.

Tauranga was an important pre-treaty reprovisioning port and our first European resident may well have been ‘Robson,’ a fugitive convict who fled ashore from the pirated brig Mercury. Aboard the Caroline, the whaling sailor James Heberley reported in 1826: ‘We touched at the Bay of Plenty. There we traded for pigs and potatoes. Our trade with [Maori] was muskets and lead. There was a man living among the natives… a convict… He went in the name of Robson. He got tattooed like the natives.’ [1] Robson’s eventual fate is unknown.

George White (Barnet Burns)
Image courtesy of Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin c/n E926/15
Barnet Burns, a Poverty Bay trader go-between and Ngati Kahungunu Pakeha-Maori, was captured by Ngaiterangi raiders from Tauranga when they clashed with his Maori trading party near the Motu River mouth in 1833. Burns survived by agreeing to be tattooed and to fight for his captors, but escaped back to his tribe where his half finished tattoo was completed.

Burns eventually returned to England and gave public lectures on his ‘Maori experiences.’ [2] Some tattooed Pakeha-Maori would not or could not rejoin the new colonial society. Evangelizing among Maori at Opotiki in 1843, the Catholic missionary J. Chouvet was surprised when approached by a Pakeha-Maori who lived out his life as a recluse among Te Whakatohea.
He is covered in moko, and lives like a real New Zealander. It is possible that he is a convict or sailor escaped from his ship, who wished by this method to remove himself from the cognizance and persecution of English justice... There he is then condemned for ever to a sort of imprisonment. He says himself he will never make himself known to the settlers. [3] 


[1] Bentley, Trevor,  Pakeha-Maori, Auckland, Penguin, 1999: pp 38-39.
[2] ibid, pp 165-9.
[3] ibid, p 32.

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