Home' Greymouth Star : January 4th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Wednesday, January 4, 2017
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uLetters to the editor
1885 - Dr William Grant of Davenport,
Iowa, performs what is believed to be the first
1923 - Lenin dictates a postscript to his
“L enin’s Testament ” in which he suggests Stalin
is too rude to be secretary-general
and should be replaced.
1930 - Douglas Mawson
discovers what became known as
MacRobertson Land in Antarctica.
1936 - Billboard magazine in US
prints first popular music chart.
1944 - Allied forces launch attack
east of Cassino, Italy, in World War Two.
1951 - North Korean and Communist
Chinese forces take Seoul, Korea.
1958 - Sputnik I, world’s first artificial satellite
launched in October 1957 by the Soviet Union,
falls to earth.
1965 - Death of T S Eliot, American-born
poet, playwright and Nobel Prize winner.
1967 - Donald Campbell, British car and
speedboat racer, is killed on Coniston Water in
England during attempt to break world water
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
James Usher, Irish churchman-scholar
(1581-1656); Jacob Grimm, German author
(1785-1863); Louis Braille, French inventor of
reading system for the blind (1809-
1852); Sir Isaac Pitman, shorthand
inventor (1813-1897); “General
Tom Thumb” (Charles Sher wood
Stratton), US circus midget (1838-
1883); Floyd Patterson, US world
boxing champion (1934-2006);
Dyan Cannon, US actress (1937-);
Michael Stipe, US rock musician (1960-); Julia
Ormond, British actor (1965-).
“O ur civilisation is still in a middle stage,
no longer wholly guided by instinct, not yet
wholly guided by reason.” — Theodore Dreiser,
American author (1871-1945)
“Sing to Him a new song; play skilfully, and
shout for joy. ” — (Psalm 33:3).
Mr Robert Craig
Thomson, a Tainui
Street chemist, was
badly injured at the
Eight-Mile Creek in the Upper Buller Gorge
on Saturday. His car left the road and plunged
150 feet into a gully. He was alone in the car
which was extensively damaged in the plunge
and had the driver’s door ripped from it. He is
believed to have been saved even worse injury
through his use of a seatbelt which kept him
strapped in the vehicle.
Mr Thomson was admitted to the Nelson
Hospital in a serious condition but is now
recovering and reported to be satisfactory.
“I am naturally very pleased but I would not
have received the award had it not been for the
help and co-operation I have had from all the
people who worked with me.”
This was the sentiment of the only woman
hospital board chairman in New Zealand, Mrs
D M Parfitt of Greymouth, when she was asked
this morning about the award of the MBE
which she received in the New Year honours.
The Ahaura-born woman has devoted most of
her life to public activity of one sort or another
apart from her unique and distinguished
position in the work of hospital boards.
Hokitika won the 1967 West Coast ‘baby
stakes’ when a bouncing 8lb 10oz boy was born
to Mr and Mrs J Engel. The delivery occurred
at 6.20pm on Sunday — a little more than 24
hours before Greymouth’s first-born.
At 7pm on Monday, Mrs Doreen Allan,
of Riccarton, Christchurch, became the
proud mother of a baby girl. Two hours later,
Greymouth’s second New Year baby, also a girl,
was born to Mrs Eleanor Baldwin, of Cobden.
uFood for thought
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T S Eliot
ho it was who chose
to publish the article
on the front page of
the December 14,
1863, edition of the Invercargill Times will
probably never be known.
That individual’s decision, however, has
had repercussions that are still being felt
“The profitable nature of the infamous
practice of kidnapping the natives of the
South Sea Islands, and carrying them
as slaves to Peru, has at length proven
sufficiently tempting to induce a British
subject, an Irishman, sailing from an
Australian colony — Tasmania — to dare
the dangers associated with the traffic.”
Australian-born whaler Thomas McGrath
tried to hide out on Stewart Island after he
and his New Zealand crew kidnapped and
sold into slavery many of the inhabitants
of tiny Tongan island ‘Ata. This was the
dramatic first sentence of the front-page
story printed in the Southland newspaper
almost exactly 153 years ago.
“This we learn from a seaman, John
Turner, now in this port, who, along with
eight others, left the vessel in which he
shipped on the understanding that she
was going on a whaling voyage, as soon as
they learned that it was the purpose of the
captain to take part in the Peruvian slave
“Instead of directing his attention to
whaling, the captain proceeded to the
South Sea Islands. On May 17 he proposed
to the crew they should enter upon the
slave trade as being more profitable.”
The story, which had first appeared in the
Melbourne Age at the end of November,
was a devastating blow to Captain
McGrath, who had only recently been
arrested in nearby Bluff on tax evasion
charges, says historian Dr Scott Hamilton.
And the article’s significance has endured,
drawing attention to New Zealand’s oft-
neglected involvement in the Pacific Islands
slave trade, known as blackbirding, as well
as setting the record straight for people
who have carried a burden of shame for
Dr Hamilton has been chasing the story
of the slavery raid on the tiny Polynesian
island, ‘Ata, in 1863, since first stumbling
across it in a remote Tongan village three
years ago. Now, he has published The
Stolen Island: Searching for ‘Ata, detailing
his research into this terrible and tragic
The pivotal figure is Captain McGrath,
Dr Hamilton says.
“McGrath almost haunted me; a sort of
satanic figure who in some ways took over
the book,” Dr Hamilton says.
Historian Dr Scott Hamilton has brought
to light a dark incident in Pacific history,
in which New Zealanders played a leading
“ What an extraordinary life. A son of
a British deportee, and then McGrath
himself was deported to Tasmania at the
age of 16. So, he knows what it is like to
suffer deportation, to be ripped away from
his home. Yet he goes on to do it himself.
How could he do that?
“And then, when he is confronted with
clear evidence (in the newspaper article)
of what he has done, he shamelessly paints
himself in the most self-pitying terms. So,
for me he was a grotesque character but
also a completely compelling character ... a
victim who becomes a victimiser.”
Dr Hamilton got on the trail of Captain
McGrath in 2013 after hearing tantalising
details of what happened a century and
a-half ago on forgotten ‘Ata island, 150km
south of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu,
and 2000km north of New Zealand. While
leading a field trip to ‘Eua Island, near
Tongatapu, Dr Hamilton was approached
by a young local woman who said her
parents refused to talk about the island her
people had come from but that schoolmates
had teased her and claimed her ancestors
had sold their own people to palangi,
The allegation was that Paula Vehi, the
Tupouata, or chief, of ‘Ata, had colluded
with McGrath to lure his people aboard the
There were also whispers that some of
the ‘Atans, after being sold into slavery, had
sur vived and flourished in South America.
Dr Hamilton says he became obsessed
with ‘Ata, McGrath and the challenge of
finding out what really happened. The next
couple of years were spent on repeated
trips to Tongatapu and ‘Eua, sitting in kava
circles listening to people retelling oral
histories, spending days leafing through
old texts in New Zealand libraries and on-
line mining the rich resource of digitised
archives such as Papers Past.
What resulted — and was in no
small part aided by the discovery of the
December 14, 1863, newspaper article
— wa s The Stolen Island; a clear evidence-
based picture of the lead-up to, and
aftermath of, a shameful moment in time.
Drawing on his research, Dr Hamilton also
reconstructed the events as they played out
on ‘Ata when Captain McGrath and his
crew, mostly from the Chatham Islands,
turned up intent on kidnapping for profit.
McGrath and his crewmates could see
waves falling on the stones of ‘Ata’s little
beach, and boulders stacked at either end
of that beach, and cliffs that separated
the beach from ‘Ata’s plateau. Dozens of
caves opened in the cliffs. They were long
and narrow, like the mouths of whales.
People appeared on the cliffs, and began
to descend them. Men and women and
children stepped through shrubs and slid
over rocks on their way down to the beach.
An American whaler who had visited
‘Ata in 1840 had been impressed by the
ease with which the locals navigated their
cliffs. In the account of ‘Ata he published
in the Massachusetts newspaper the Daily
Mercury, he described how islanders
would leap from rock to rock and slide
down the loamy steeps, even while they
carried loads on their shoulders. It was as
though each had a pair of wings in reser ve
in case their foothold should fail.
The American was also impressed by
the riches the ‘Atans could wring from
their island. The plateau where they kept
their village and gardens seemed not
much larger than the deck of a whaling
ship, but it contained a field of sugarcane,
a plantation of bananas, and a beautiful
grove of waving coconut trees, along with
many small patches of potatoes, yams, and
‘Atans hurried through the water towards
the Grecian. Some of them may have
paddled canoes, but many would have
swum. Even the island’s small children
were strong swimmers. Their elders had
taught them about the rhythm of the sea
that broke against their beach. It would
throw two or three big waves at the stones
in quick succession, then level out for a
few seconds, before offering a new series
‘Atans would climb onto the boulders at
the edge of their beach, wait until the sea
was briefly calm, then dive under the water
and swim beyond the surf line before the
big waves had returned ...
Altogether at least 144 men, women and
children boarded the Grecian to trade
with Thomas McGrath. They would have
outnumbered the ship’s crew by almost 10
to one. Many probably arrived with trade
goods — baskets of yams, or suckling pigs,
or chickens — dripping under their arms.
McGrath told them that, before they
traded with him, they should have
something to eat. The Grecian’s cook, a
man named John Bryan, had prepared a
feast, and it waited for them below the
deck. McGrath’s crew opened several
heavy trapdoors, and the islanders
descended steep and narrow staircases
to the ship’s hold. The ‘Atans were soon
busy with their meals, though we do not
know what they ate ... With the ‘Atans
below deck and distracted by their meals,
McGrath and his crew went to work. They
pulled down and locked the trapdoors on
the deck. The ‘Atans heard the trapdoors
slam down, then the locks slam shut. They
leaped up from their meals. The daylight
that had been falling through the hatches
had gone, and the islanders stumbled
and pushed against each other as they
rushed the dark steps that ended at locked
doors. They smashed their fists and their
shoulders and their heads against the
wood and iron of the doors, and against
the walls and floor of the Grecian’s hold.
They shouted. They cried. They prayed.
They heard the anchor of the Grecian
splash out of the sea and slide up the side
of the ship.
McGrath then sailed west and north
trying to kidnap more people. The ship’s
cook, Mr Bryan, demanded to be allowed
to leave. He then travelled to Samoa,
where he gave Mr Turner his eyewitness
account of the ‘Ata slave raid, which
was later relayed to the Melbourne Age
Still in the Tongan island group, Captain
McGrath tricked 30 young men from
Niuafo’ou Island into coming aboard,
bringing the number of hostages crammed
in the ship’s dark hold to at least 174.
The entire human cargo was sold to a
more experienced slave trade ship, the
General Prim, which set sail for Peru.
A few months later, Captain McGrath
and the remaining crew of the Grecian
turned up at Rakiura, Stewart Island. He
probably hoped it was still a lawless place,
which would have been “the perfect place
for him”, Dr Hamilton says. But it was not
long before Captain McGrath came to
the notice of officials, and then was placed
directly in the spotlight by the Invercargill
Times article. That put paid to Captain
McGrath’s plans, but there is no evidence
he was ever tried for slave trading.
“ We find records of him again in the
newspaper shipping lists ... There is a
death certificate from Tahiti which says he
died there ... It is frustrating that he was
never brought to justice for what he did.”
The General Prim took its cargo of
slaves to Peru. In the meantime, however,
Abraham Lincoln and the French
Government had pressured the Peruvians
to outlaw slavery.
Hundreds of Polynesian slaves, including
the ‘Atans, were held in a dank warehouse
at the port. There was an outbreak of
smallpox. The Government gave slavers
the job of returning the people to their
homelands, “an appalling idea”, Dr
The slave traders took 429 Pacific
Islanders north and dumped them on
an island off the coast of Costa Rica.
Many more died of disease and star vation
before a Peruvian naval vessel took the 38
sur vivors to the northern port of Paita.
“That is where they disappear from
history,” Dr Hamilton says.
“One of the great mysteries of this story
is what happened to these people. There
are legends on ‘Eua (where those not
captured in the ‘Ata raid were repatriated)
that they founded a society in South
America. It is possible that they inter-
married and had descendants.”
For some of those ‘Ata descendants
on ‘Eua, Dr Hamilton’s research, and
particularly the 1863 newspaper article, is
having a profound effect. On visits to ‘Eua,
he has distributed many copies of the
article for people to read and keep.
“ Traditionally it was a bad thing to come
from this island (‘Ata),” he says.
“The Vehi family, whose ancestor was the
leader of the community, he was blamed
for conspiring with the slavers. Using this
article, and other texts, it is possible to cast
a lot of doubt on those accusations.
“So these old articles can actually have
quite a radical, liberating effect on people
today. It is already having that effect
. . . There is suddenly a sense of pride
emerging in being ‘Atan. ”
Dr Hamilton hopes his book, and the
article that has been so foundational, will
also transform minds in New Zealand.
“ When you combine this incident with
the evidence of blackbirding by boats
like the (Dunedin-funded) Wainui, what
we see is that New Zealand had a really
significant role in the 19th-century slave
In the late 1860s, at least 16 New
Zealand ships were engaged in
blackbirding in the Fiji islands alone. But
New Zealanders often prefer to think
their country has not been involved in
large-scale slavery or gross mistreatment
of others, an exception compared with
historic practices in countries such as the
United States and Australia, Dr Hamilton
“There are cryptic notes, but very little
frontal treatment of it.
“ It ’s a dark chapter in New Zealand’s
history that has not really been explored
and discussed at length.
“ I just hope other researchers will fill the
breach and start doing some of this stuff.”
Sold into slavery
A treacherous affair during the little-known 19th-century Pacific Island slave trade has a southern
New Zealand link, historian Dr Scott Hamilton tells BRUCE MUNRO of the Otago Daily Times.
PICTURES: Otago Daily Times
The Tongan island of Ata.
Captain Thomas McGrath
The screams of a dozen Syrian and
Palestinian children pierce the air of a
community centre in Lebanon’s Shatila
Yet the children are not hurt. They are
yelling to express the anger and fear they
feel as victims of conflict in special “peace
education” c lasses.
“ We don’t hit each other. We don’t say
bad things about each other. Boys don’t hit
girls,” said 11-year-old Hala, who asked
not to be identified for security reasons.
Hala fled Deir el Zor in Syria and has
been living in Lebanon for less than
two years. She said one of her favourite
activities is “playback”, where each child
will tell a story or describe a situation that
is bothering them and will have the other
children act it out.
Organised by Basmeh and Zeitooneh, a
local charity, the classes in a chaotic fifth
floor room were set up to help children
voice their opinions, release the stress
caused by war and displacement and
rediscover their imaginations, staff say.
They hope by providing children with
activities such as painting, dram and
storytelling, they will be less vulnerable to
recruitment by militant groups preying on
children and teenagers who may be out of
school with little to occupy them.
“These kids have been through a lot.
They ’re traumatised in many different
ways,” said “peace education” project
manager Elio Gharios.
“They ’re agitated, maybe introverted,
aggressive at times,” he told the Thomson
Lebanon is home to more than one
million Syrian refugees, half of them
In 1949, it opened the Shatila camp in
Beirut to host Palestinian refugees fleeing
Israel’s founding in 1948.
As a new wave of Syrian refugees joined
the ranks of the displaced, Shatila has
grown upwards, with some buildings now
six floors high. Houses are damp and
overcrowded, and the tangled electricity
wires that hang across the streets cause
multiple deaths a year.
More of an urban slum than a traditional
refugee camp, Shatila which covers one
square kilometre is home to as many as
42,000 people, according to Rasha Shukr,
the Beirut area manager for Basma and
Gharios, a charismatic 24-year-old
Lebanese psychology graduate, said
children aged between seven and 14
attend the classes with up to 20 children
in each session.
Each class starts with the children
deciding on rules for how they can and
can not treat each other.
“They need to know that finding
peaceful ways to resolve conflicts is a very
important matter ... They are reminded
every time that violence is not the
solution, it’s not the way,” Gharios said.
“They ’re young, it is the teenagers who
are easiest to brainwash. Many children
know how to roll a joint, say, and they’re
12 or 11. Many have witnessed things
happen in here where someone would
hold a gun against someone else’s head.”
Young Syrian refugees are at particular
risk of being recruited by extremist groups
in Lebanon and elsewhere because their
recent displacement often fuels a sense of
hopelessness, says United Kingdom-based
charity International Alert, which funds
projects in Shatila camp, including the
Palestinian groups including Hamas
militants and Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement are
active inside Shatila, according to charities
Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,
another extremist group, have also been
known to target young refugees on-line,
International Alert says these classes
make children less vulnerable to
recruitment because they provide them
with a safe environment to discuss
problems, learn conflict resolution skills
and to rebuild a sense of purpose.
Caroline Brooks, Syria projects manager
at International Alert, which supports
similar programmes throughout Lebanon,
Syria and Turkey, said there were many
reasons why children may join an
Often there is a need for a sense of
significance, purpose, and belonging, and
sometimes there is a desire for revenge, she
told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A lack of alternatives and the need to
make a living are also strong pull factors,
Conflict and displacement tend to fuel
the abuse and exploitation of children,
refugee experts say.
For example, many children are forced to
work or beg to feed themselves and their
families, young girls face greater risk of
being married off and domestic violence
increases, they say.
“Peace education” classes, which started
this year, have already had some impact,
Brooks said citing a 17-year-old in the
programme who was approached by an
Islamic State recruiter through Facebook.
The teenager immediately reported it to
a member of staff involved in the classes.
For Hala, the classes which she has been
attending for eight months have made a
huge difference to her and her younger
“ My brothers changed. They became
much happier,” she said.
— Thomson Reuters
Syrian child refugees taught to release stress
Syrian child refugees leave a classroom at a refugee camp.
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