Home' Greymouth Star : February 11th 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
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In 1865, Poutini Ngai Tahu barely numbered 100, living
mainly in eight small villages along the coastline between
Arawhata (Neils Beach) and Kawatiri (Westport). Daily life
was a subsistence pattern of fishing (eels, whitebait and inshore
fish), snaring and preserving birds, collecting shellfish, tending
gardens, repairing fishing nets, and preparing the next hangi. In
between all this, pounamu was always on the polish, requiring
the patience of Job, and the young men were often away digging
for gold. Indeed, Poutini Maori were the rightful discoverers of
gold on the West Coast — including the likes of Ihaia Tainui,
Epapara, Henare Meihana, Haimona Tuangau and Iwikau te Aika.
They were the first to find gold at Waimangaroa and Lyell, and at
Hohonu or Greenstone, and then once the goldfield was declared
in 1864 Maori diggers still led the field as the unsung discoverers
of the Totara-Ross, Okarito, Kaniere and Waimea goldfields — but
that's another story, as yet untold.
The pioneer European diggers of the early 1860s were
certainly not the first white feet to tread the West Coast, though
they were few and far between. Thomas Brunner was here in
1846–48, but he wasn't the first either. Thirty-five years before him
the first crew of Australian sealers had sailed across the ocean to
plunder the seal rookeries of South Westland. These sealers did
not come peacefully but were armed for their violent pursuit,
and this inevitably brought them into collision with the tangata
whenua, with disastrous consequences for both sides.
Paringa, Arawhata, Whakapoai (near Knights Point) and
Karamea are all scenes of bloody clashes that cost a handful of
sealer lives but dozens of Maori, of all ages.
The next pakeha on the West Coast had more peaceful
motives. Explorers Thomas Brunner and Charles Heaphy tramped
from Golden Bay to Arahura in 1846. They were shown the way
and accompanied by Maori guides, and they received a warm
welcome wherever they went. So what had changed in the 20 years
since the murderous visits of the sealers? Christianity. Only four or
five years before Brunner arrived, the Poutini people — including
the old cannibal Tutoko — had embraced the new religion,
walking in family groups all the way to the Wesleyan mission at
Cloudy Bay, near Blenheim, to receive baptism, and then walking
home to practise their unique form of self-taught religion. Their
mishmash of religion eventually morphed into Anglicanism when
a missionary finally came to the Coast many years later.
As for Charles Heaphy, as he walked down the beach from
Punakaiki towards the Kararoa pa — situated just above the beach
at Kararoa Creek on a site today with the Coast Road running
right through the middle of it — he was greeted with wide-eyed
curiosity: "The natives here had never before seen a white man in
their settlement," Heaphy wrote, "and they noticed our approach
with no slight symptom of surprise. A woman and some children,
engaged collecting mussels on the rocks, first observed us, and
away they immediately scampered, as fast as their legs would carry
them, to the pa to announce our coming, never casting a look
behind them after they first saw us. The whole population of the
village, consisting of one man, seven women, and a tail of about
20 children, now ran down to the beach, hailing us with shouts of
Naumai, naumai! (Welcome! Welcome!) while Etau, the ragged
rascal, strutted along before us with his tomahawk in his hand,
as proud as any two peacocks at having conducted the first white
men to the Araura (Arahura, or West Coast)."
A day's walk southwards brought Heaphy and Brunner to
the Mawhera pa, arriving there on a "bleak, wintry day, cold and
miserable". Here they found only two inhabitants, an old man and
old woman — this was the great fighting chief Tuhuru and his wife
Papakura — who simultaneously began their tangi and cooking to
welcome their unexpected guests. Tuhuru and Papakura then were
too infirm to leave Mawhera, or to join their relatives at the nearby
Heaphy, a draughtsman for the New Zealand Company, was
using the expedition to scout for potential settlements but he also
left us with the best impression we have of a Poutini Ngai Tahu pa,
at Taramakau. Heaphy surmised that the architecture had been
influenced by whalers, with the addition of doors and chimneys
to traditional whare, but in fact only the odd whaling party had
ever strayed this way, so it is more likely the style was copied from
visits overland to Ngai Tahu relatives in Canterbury. Taramakau
Pa was not nearly so lively when gold prospector William Smart
arrived there in January 1863: "An old Maori pah on the south
side of the Teramakau and a few miserable huts on the north side,
their occupants a few very old women and some children half
eaten with sandflies, who were somewhat fearful." The site of this
Taramakau Pa, on the south bank near the river mouth, was later
washed away and a smaller village on the opposite side was also
swept away by a big flood in 1887.
Heaphy also made some useful observations on life at these
little pa: "They appear more healthy generally than the natives
elsewhere, and the comparative number of children is also greater.
The absence of the blanket undoubtedly tends to their health and
there are no cases of pulmonary disease, which is so prevalent
elsewhere. The absence of tobacco may also have a sanitary
Sadly, the Tai Poutini didn't stay smoke-free or even booze-
free for long. Nine years after Heaphy, when Leonard Harper
walked over in 1857, this time under the patronage of the young
Ihaia Tainui, he delivered bundles of tobacco and a pipe to the
Taramakau Pa, and then in 1864 when the old chief Tarapuhi died
at Mawhera, Buller Maori brought down with them kegs of sherry
for what must surely have been the very first party in Greymouth!
Leonard Harper — whom Ihaia Tainui guided over the very
well-trodden Maori trail across the mountain pass between the
Hurunui and Taramakau rivers and known by the ancient name
of Rakimanikura — wasn't at all ashamed to rename it for himself,
Harper's Pass. He then canoed down the Taramakau to the river
mouth, where he found the little pa in the sandhills and a "hearty
welcome" from Tarapuhi. Harper writes: "I had a letter from
Tainui, which caused us to be received with great honour, not to
mention the gift of a clay pipe and a waistcoat, which delighted
him immensely, as there was no sign of a European garment
Two years later, in 1859, James Mackay made his way to the
Coast, having been authorised to negotiate with Poutini Ngai
Tahu for the purchase of their lands, a feat he achieved a year later
for the lousy sum of £300 paid in gold sovereigns for 3 million
acres — or a penny an acre. Like the explorers before him, Mackay
also enjoyed the warmth of hospitality — the manaakitanga — of
the people of the Mawhera Pa, by now lively again and led by the
late Tuhuru's eldest son, Tarapuhi. Mackay befriended Tarapuhi,
who presented him with a valuable mere pounamu, and Mackay
reciprocated by giving the old chief a £5 note.
It was a cunning move on behalf of the Scotsman, for he
and his machinations were viewed with suspicion by many of
the Poutini people, and several times Tarapuhi had to step in to
protect the visitor. Nonetheless, after idling away two months
at the Mawhera pa, Tarapuhi must surely have been pleased to
see the rear end of Mackay too as he finally got moving, having
more than likely worn out his welcome! Eventually reaching his
southern-most point of Mahitahi, Bruce Bay, the bedraggled
Mackay was of great curiosity to the young women of the pa, who
had not laid eyes on a white man before. Five years later, when
Gerhard Mueller arrived there to survey the reserves he met the
old-school chief Kinihi te Kaoho whose only utterance in English
was, "Roasted Mauri very good kai kai!"
Travelling further south, at Whakatipuwaitai or Martins
Bay, the government geologist Dr James Hector was exploring
the southern coastline in 1863 when he noticed a group of Maori
standing on the beach beckoning them ashore. It was the old
sealers' arch enemy Tutoko together with his family. As he got
closer to the shore, Hector distinguished them as, "a decrepid
old Man and Woman and two daughters in semee nudity". These
teenage girls were obviously happy enough with their 'semi-
nudity' — although what they made of the clouds of sandflies that
infest that part of the world is not recorded — but Hector and
crew were offended and in their Christian charity they hastened to
clothe them with a couple of towels: They wrote: "We had a towel
each ... that was pinned on their loins by a nail here and there, and
they seem quite proud of being thus clothed." Then the crew set
about cutting up a couple of tents to make skirts for the girls and
their mother: "We returned in the evening and found the family
clothed; the young ladies wore a tent each marked 6 x 8 and the
mother 8 x 10 all in front."
After determining from Tutoko the overland route to inland
Otago, Hector set off exploring, and returned from Queenstown
weeks later, bearing gifts: The diary of this visit records: "The
Maori family had not been forgotten by the Dr he bought them
a half dozen of hand kerchiefs with all sorts of devises such as
horses, cattle, pigs, wild beast which the young Wahinas had never
heard or seen. They were surprised to see a man sitting on a horse,
and cows in a yard, they wondered that the pakehas had not been
eaten by these monsters."
Exotic animals and tent dresses were not all that Hector
gave this erstwhile contented, albeit isolated, whanau. Having
decided it was his duty to civilise the savages, Hector also deemed
it necessary to substitute their birth names, Kawaipatiere and
Ruaakeake, with plain English monikers, Sarah and May, which he
then fixed to the hills at either end of the bay, while also applying
their father's name to the nearby high peak, Mount Tutoko.
About the same time in 1863, at the other end of the Coast,
two prospecting parties, lured by rumours of Maori gold,
followed in Leonard Harper's footsteps through the mountains.
Unconditionally, Poutini Ngai Tahu embraced these strangers in
their midst, for they could not have imagined that the trickle of
Pakeha visitors would soon become a torrent of tens of thousands,
and that their quiet, hidden world soon would be no more.
William Smart and party first walked into the Mawhera Pa in
January 1863: He says in his diary: "We crossed a creek running
from a beach lagoon into the Grey, and following a track through
the bush and scrub. Reached the Grey pah, which is a clearing
on the south bank of the Grey of, I suppose, about four acres in
extent. There are five or six huts built of timber and grass and
toitoi, and a number of stands for drying eels and other fish,
some futtahs for storing provisions, about one acre of ground
is wheat stubble, and also patches of potatoes, taro and maize.
Several canoes, tools, nets etc. Old Terapuhi, a very hospitable old
Maori and the Grey chief, gave us everything he had. He made
us welcome, gave us the use of a nearly new whare to stay in, and
plenty of eels and potatoes. We had a long talk round a large fire
outside at night, burning some coal which the Maoris had brought
down from a few miles up the river where they had been for eels
Another early visitor tao the pa estimated they had four acres
in wheat and one acre in potatoes — pretty much covering the
whole of the present day Greymouth CBD. Wheat and potatoes
were relatively new commodities on the Tai Poutini, the wheat and
a small mill for grinding it into flour having earlier been carried
down to Mawhera Pa by Buller Maori, who already had limited
contact with Pakeha. As well as being adept agriculturalists, the
Mawhera Maori were also active hunters and gatherers in the bush
that surrounded their pa, as Richard Sherrin records: "In the scrub
surrounding the clear ground at the pa any number of pigeons
are to be found. The Natives have several large trees with ladders
attached to them, for the double purpose of snaring kakas and
When Arthur Dobson stepped into the Mawhera Pa later in
1863 he said it consisted of "some 40 low huts of various sizes".
Downriver from the pa on the bank of the lagoon stood the
new government store, built to supply the increasing number of
prospectors and to save them from continually leaning on the
hospitality of the tangata whenua.
Dobson writes: "Several parties of men had occasionally got
through to the coast, and had been saved from starvation by the
Mawhera Maoris, who had little to spare from their own supply, so
the (government) store was intended to replace native charity."
Every one of these explorers and prospectors survived care
of the generosity of the Poutini people for every step of their
journey. Maori not only showed them the way but they kept them
fed with fresh fish and birds when their provisions ran low, they
lit their fires when their matches were wet and wove them flax
sandals when their boots wore through. They carried their swags,
kept them clear of known dangers, steered their canoes skilfully,
and taught them the old and proven Maori method of safe river
crossing, known as tuwhana, without which many more explorers
would surely have drowned. It was for these qualities that most
early travellers on the Coast engaged only Maori help. At least
some of those that didn't, such as Whitcombe and Howitt, paid
the ultimate price.
By 1864, though, the curious explorations were over. The
white men who ventured westwards now — slowly but steadily
in greater numbers — were more interested in testing for gold
and surveying the land for the inevitability of Pakeha settlement.
Suspicions grew. Arthur Dobson's surveying was interrupted in
January 1864 with a firm instruction from the Poutini chiefs,
writing from the Taramakau Pa: "Do not go up the Arahura,
because Arahura all belong to Maoris, from it's source to it's
mouth, this river belong to the Maoris. Mr Mackay agreed to
this, and noted it on our map. For this reason we forbid you to go
surveying up the Arahura. This is all we have to say to you Arthur
Dudley, from our council." Signed Wereta Tainui, Tarapuhi,
Hakiaha, Makarini, Arapata, Purua, Papara, Inia, Ihaia Tainui.
Regardless of this, successive governments continued to overlook
the historical fact of Mackay's promise, before finally putting right
the wrong in 1975, when the title to the bed of the Arahura River
was finally vested back into Maori hands.
This insular world in which Poutini Ngai Tahu had lived
so contentedly, apart from the odd stray Pakeha explorer or
vagabond, was changed irrevocably in a matter of months. Less
than a year before a payable goldfield was to be discovered at
Hohonu, or Greenstone, the amiable old Tarapuhi had breathed
his last, and less than a year after this the entire river flat below
the pa that they had formerly cropped with potatoes, wheat
and corn, now spouted a brand new town filled with pubs and
stores, and loud and boisterous miners and merchants who knew
nothing of the manaakitanga that the Poutini people had given
unconditionally to save those first Pakeha on this coast from
starvation and certain death.
Instead, the people of the pa were treated rather badly,
especially in the new Greymouth, with a colonial attitude borne
out of resentment at having to pay the Maori owners rent for a
plot within the 500-acre Mawhera Reserve, which perchance, was
right alongside the riverbank and hence covered the site of the
future port and town. These first businessmen sneered that they
had to pay rentals, "while the Tainui family live in clover up on the
hill". The Pakeha businessmen and Mawhera Maori made uneasy
neighbours, and relations never improved.
Squeezed further and further up the hillside behind their
ancestral pa, they tolerated it only until the old chief Werita
Tainui died, in 1880. By then the authorities had blasted away the
limestone hills closest to the river, leaving only the area around
the old burial caves. Whether out of respect or cunning, they
respected Tainui's wish to not let the blasting encroach on their
cave cemetery — at least, for as long as he was alive. Old Tainui
got his final wish, to be laid in the burial cave alongside his father
and mother, Tuhuru and Papakura, and other deceased family
members — but he was not cold in his grave before the blasting
recommenced. A tohunga was brought in from the North Island
and the caves were cleared out.
Tainui and the other bones were loaded on to a dray and
taken to another old cemetery at the head of Nga Moana e Rua
(the Blaketown Lagoon) for reinterment — and the burial caves at
the foot of the current Cobden Bridge were blasted into oblivion.
But even there the relics were not safe. As Blaketown expanded,
this urupa was enveloped by suburbia to the point where the
sacred graveyard ended up in someone's backyard in Swift Street.
So the bones were moved again last century and reinterred finally
*This is abridged from an address given to the Hokitika History
Seminar, at the Hokitika Regent Theatre in November 2016.
When the West Coast goldrushes sparked up in 1865 the Maori Wars were in full swing in
the North Island. That contrasted with the bottom of the South Island, where Otago and
Southland Maori were not only trading and living peacefully with the early whalers and
sealers but a large number had assimilated with mixed marriages, some of these two and three
generations old. But on the West Coast it was a very different story. This was truly the last
frontier, and its indigenous people of Poutini Ngai Tahu were a people apart, their stone-age
lifestyle preserved by isolation and the same mountain barrier that even today gives the West
Coast its unique identity. Poutini Ngai Tahu historian PAUL MADGWICK takes a look at
some of those first encounters with Europeans.
“We had a towel each ... that was
pinned on their loins by a nail here
and there, and they seem quite
proud of being thus clothed.”
some of those first encounters with Euro
Te Koeti Turanga, of Makaawhio.
Mawhera Pa, sketched by pioneer gold prospector William Smart, 1963, looking across the Grey River.
The village was on the site of the Greymouth Railway Station and The Warehouse.
Werita Tainui, of Mawhera.
Tutoko, of Whakatipu Waitai (Martins Bay).
Taramakau Pa, sketched by Charles Heaphy in 1846.
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