Home' Greymouth Star : January 7th 2017 Contents Saturday AAfternoon
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When a pirate came to Hokitika
he flags were flying over
every hotel, and there were 20
brigantines, cutters, skippers and
schooners moored at the busy
Hokitika wharf in the summer sun
when pirate Bully Hayes sailed across the bar
just after Christmas in 1866.
The town was busy preparing for the horse
races, and boats direct from Australia were
William Henry ‘Bully’ Hayes was a notorious
American-born ship’s captain who engaged in
blackbirding — tricking or kidnapping people
to work as labourers — in the 1860s and 1870s.
His arrival on any Pacific Island was enough to
cause islanders to hide.
Hayes operated across the breadth of the
Pacific in the 1850s until he was murdered in
1877 by his cook Peter Radeck.
When he sailed the Rona into Hokitika in
1866 he was carrying a cargo of pigs, pineapples
and limes from Fiji.
Shipping records in the West Coast Times
newspaper show the Rona arriving on December
28, towed into port by the paddle steamer
The paper recorded that Hayes brought with
him “South Sea curiosities”.
But from there, the record gets murkier and
becomes the stuff of legend and tall tale.
Greymouth historian Edward Iveagh Lord, in
his 1930s book Old Westland, claims that Bully
Hayes stepped ashore wearing white trousers
with a sash around his waist in lieu of braces, a
silk shirt and ‘wide-awake hat ’.
“It is a matter of history that he sat in with a
sky-the-limit poker school when in Hokitika
and got cleaned up in no time. The Rona sailed
the next day,” Lord wrote.
The pirate left port on New Year’s Day,
although other accounts have it that he stayed,
possibly as late as January 4, 1867 because he
had lent some of his flags for the Hokitika races.
Some say that with word the authorities were
coming for him, he weighed anchor and sailed
into the sunset.
The book Captain Bully Hayes, by Frank
Clune, says Hayes felt safe in the new town of
Hokitika because then without telegraphs, the
only communication with Christchurch was by
stagecoach once a week.
Clune believes Hayes’ curios were a godsend for
weary diggers looking for excitement, although
he claims they were cleared at absurdly high
He also asserts the cargo included “laughing
South Sea maidens”, who were not for sale. The
auction finished late in the afternoon and several
wise purchasers took their goods away. Others
were not so lucky.
Hayes was over the Hokitika River bar and out
of sight by breakfast time, goods and money with
him. “Such was life on the diggings of Hokitika,”
He records Hayes as well dressed, neat, and
with a diamond ring.
A Hokitika hotelkeeper — possibly from
the Red Lion Hotel on Gibson Quay — was
preparing his liquor booth for the first races to
be held in Hokitika and borrowed the flags from
the visiting pirate.
The races were held the following day on the
south side of the river and thousands attended.
By 4 o’clock on raceday, according to this
account, the Romna was being towed to sea by
the Lioness, minus the flags. The Rona was kept
off port, and the flags were sent out on the next
day ’s tide.
Another account has it that he left just as the
authorities arrived to seize the Rona.
And that was the last of the notorious Bully
Hayes in Hokitika.
Hokitika Museum photographs curator Sue
Asplin — whose husband is the modern day
‘pirate’ the Red Moki from Hoki — cautions
against some of these accounts, which are hard
One story has it that Hayes had gunpowder
on board to sell to rebel Maori fighting the land
wars in the North Island, but again there is no
evidence to prove it.
Bully Hayes next turns up on January 16,
when the New Zealand Herald recorded that
the “notorious” Captain Hayes had moored off
Rangitoto Reef, Auckland.
He hoisted no number, and had come from
Hokitika. The vessel was searched but nothing
untoward was found on board; the ship’s papers
were examined and found to be all correct.
Before the customs authorities left the brig
they turned out eight able-bodied seamen,
stowed away forward.
“This time he has again got off scot free,
there being no infringement of the customs’
regulations, the clearance and register being all
correct,” the Herald says.
Hayes the legend
Hayes has been described as a South Sea pirate
and “the last of the buccaneers”, though it is
impossible to separate fact from legend in his
Some historians maintain there is no evidence
that Hayes ever took a ship by force in the
tradition of a pirate.
After facing bankruptcy in Australia in the late
1850s, he sailed to Otago in 1862 and joined a
travelling company of vaudeville artists on a tour
of New Zealand. He acquired a ship in Australia,
the Black Diamond, which he hid in Croixelles
Harbour, near Nelson. In 1864 the boat capsized,
drowning his wife Rosie, her baby, her brother,
and a nurse. Only Hayes sur vived. He then
moved to Christchurch, where he married Emily
Hayes acquired the brig Rona and operated in
the Pacific, having bases in Apia, Samoa, and in
Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
He made money blackbirding and purchased
the brigantine Samoa. By coincidence he lost
both ships off Manihiki, in the Cook Islands, in
He then purchased the schooner Atlantic,
although soon after he was arrested in February
1870 by the Consul Williams in Apia on charges
related to his blackbirding activities. Hayes
escaped and continued to trade in coconut oil,
copra and in the lucrative blackbirding trade.
“Somehow, Bully Hayes has gone down in
history as a famous buccaneer,” author Jean
Druett writes on her website,
“No book about the Pacific is complete without
him. Documentaries include far-fetched yarns
attributed to his name, and fiction writers revel
in bloodcurdling tales.
“No one is even sure what he looked like, and
yet Hayes stars in a number of swashbuckling
films. His name is used to promote shirts, pubs,
restaurants, and exotic holiday destinations.”
It is further claimed the cook who killed Bully
Hayes threw the body overboard.
New Year 150 years ago, real life pirate Bully Hayes sailed into
Hokitika. He left soon after; some say he was fleeing with diggers’
cash, others that he was escaping the authorities. Yet another
account has it that he left after being whipped at poker. Hokitika
modern day ‘pirate’ Don Neale, who role plays as the ‘Red Moki
from Hoki’ for children’s events, and his wife researched the town’s
first buccaneer. LAURA MILLS tried to piece together the story,
which is clouded by myth and tall tales.
Hollywood starTommy Lee Jones as Bully Hayes in the 1983 movie Nate and Hayes.
The only known photo of Buly Hayes.
‘Pirate’ Don Neale celebrated 150 years since Bully Hayes visited Hokitika, with a children’s treasure hunt last weekend.
An old book cover.
Hokitika wharf and Gibson Quay in 1866-67. The Red Lion Hotel is to the left of centre.
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