Friday, 9 August 2019

Early European Vessels and Visitors to Tauranga

The New Zealander, Captain Clarke and Captain Rapsey, 1829, 1832

Based at Port Jackson (Sydney), the schooner New Zealander (Captain Clarke), regularly whaled and traded with Maori around the New Zealand coast during the late 1820s and 1830s. The New Zealander was trading with Ngai Te Rangi hapu in Tauranga Harbour in March 1829, when Captain James and eight sailors drew alongside in a ship’s boat. They reported that their trading vessel Haweis had been attacked and seized by the chief Te Ngarara and the Ngati Awa people at Whakatane. Equipped with eight cannon and two swivel guns - the standard armament carried by vessels in the New Zealand trade – Captain Clarke immediately sailed the New Zealander to Whakatane, where his crew retook the Haweis and towed it back to Tauranga for repair.[1]

The Sydney schooner New Zealander
Frontspiece, A.H. Messenger, A Trader in Cannibal Land by James Cowan, Reed, Dunedin, 1935
When Captain Clarke returned to the Bay of Plenty later that year, the New Zealander carried the Ngapuhi rangatira and assassain Te Hana. At the Bay of Islands, some resident traders and Ngapuhi rangatira decided that Te Ngarara had to be punished for attacking the Haweis and jeopardizing trade along the New Zealand coast. At Whakatane, Te Ngarara was lured aboard the New Zealander and when he entered his canoe later that day, was shot dead by Te Hana.[2]

The records show the New Zealander at again at Tauranga under Captain Rapsey in February 1832, when a grand Ngapuhi amphibious artillery taua (expedition) under Titore Takiri and allied chiefs, entered the harbour. Having sailed in stages from the Bay of Islands, the taua comprised 70 waka and whaleboats, which transported 800 warriors and a siege train of ten purepo (ships’ cannon and carronades). The invaders were seeking utu (redress,) as Ngai Te Rangi had attacked and annihilated a combined Ngati Kuri and Ngapuhi predatory expedition on Motiti Island the previous year.[3]

At Tauranga, the invaders commenced a two week siege of Otumoetai Pa which, according the missionary Henry Williams, commenced with a remarkable daylong artillery bombardment. During the siege, the Maketu based trader Phillip Tapsell, whose wife Karuhi was Ngapuhi, entered the harbour on his cutter Fairy to supply the beseigers with six additional cannon, shot and powder. On Otumoetai Pa, the Tamarawaho hapu, who possessed at least two cannon of their own, bombarded Tapsell’s cutter, but were unable to strike it.[4]

On 31st March, Captain Rapsey who had continued trading with Ngai Te Rangi, sailed the New Zealander through the Mt. Maunganui entrance at first light and bombarded the Ngapuhi encampment located near modern day Fergusson Park. The Ngapuhi musketeers returned fire but without effect. As the schooner left the harbour, a  fleet of six waka, each with one of Phillip Tapsell’s cannon mounted in the bows, pursued and exchanged fire with the New Zealander in this country’s only Anglo-Maori naval battle.[5] After unsuccessful sieges at both Otumoetai and Maungatapu Pa, in mid April, the Ngapuhi expedition exited the harbour and returned home.

In 1834, the New Zealander’s new skipper Captain Cole, transported missionaries from the Bay of Islands to Tonga and continued trading and whaling on the New Zealand coast for the remainder of that decade.[6]

The Hokianga brigantine New Zealander
Vintage Transport – Sailing Ships, New Zealand Post, 1975
Captain Clarke and Captain Rapsey’s Sydney-based New Zealander is easily confused with the  locally built New Zealander skippered by a Captain David Clark, both vessels being active in New Zealand waters in the same period. The Sydney-based New Zealander was a large, schooner rigged trader-whaler. The Hokianga-built and based New Zealander, was a smaller, faster, 150 tonne, square rigged brigantine. Designed mainly for the trans-Tasman trade and described by the trader Joel Polack as ‘beautifully modelled for sailing’,[7] it made one crossing in a record six days, and another in nine days. Not surprisingly, some  residents of New South Wales were soon describing the brig as one of theirs.[8]

End Notes

[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 28 March, 1829: 3.
[2] Wilson, J. A. The Story of Te Waharoa: A Chapter in Early New Zealand History Together With Sketches of Ancient Maori Life and History, Wellington, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1909: 32.
[3] Bentley, Trevor, Tribal Guns and Tribal Gunners, Wilsonscott, Dunedin, 2013. 69-85.
[4] Williams, Henry, The Early Journals of Henry Williams, 1826 1840, L. M. Rogers (ed.), Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1961: 235.
[5] Ibid: 238.
[6] Early New Zealand Shipping Index,
[7] Polack, Joel, New Zealand: Being a Narrative of Travels and Adventures, Vol II, 1838, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1974: 196.
[8] Ibid.

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