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Early Days of the Bay of Islands

Until the founding of Auckland and Wellington, the Bay of Islands was the centre of European activity in New Zealand.

The first permanent European introduction of real consequence to the Bay of Islands was a type of potato, brought by Marion du Fresne's expedition of 1772 and called by the New Zealanders uwhi-the name of one of their own yams.

The uwhi potato and other early introduced varieties - known collectively today as "Maori potatoes" although each has its own distinctive name - are still found growing in some home gardens, more especially in the rural areas of the north.

Although the wild pig in this country has traditionally been known as a "Captain Cooker", the successful introduction of pigs into northern New Zealand may be attributed to Lieutenant-Governor King of Norfolk Island.

Early in 1793 two young New Zealanders, Tuki and Huru (Tuki¬tahua and Ngahuruhuru), were kidnapped at the Cavalli Islands and taken to Norfolk Island. It had been hoped that they would teach the convicts there how to dress flax, but as this was women's work the chiefs were of little use in the matter. Governor King was very taken with the young men and determined himself to return them to their homeland.

Among the useful presents given to them were ten sows and two boars, and these they promised to keep for breeding. By 1794, however, Tuki, who lived at Oruru in Doubtless Bay, had only one pig left. Whether Huru was more successful is not known, but it is of interest that he came from Te Rawhiti in the Bay of Islands, only a few miles from the scene of Marion's introduction of the uwhi over 20 years earlier.

On King's instructions, more breeding stock was sent to the Bay of Islands, to the chief Te Pahi, on three separate occasions, and from these several introductions pigs were successfully established in the northern districts.

Visiting Ships: Pork and potatoes, and fresh water, these were what brought European shipping to the Bay of Islands, largest and probably at that time the most populous of the harbours on New Zealand's north-eastern coast.

Whale¬men and sealing vessels, naval storeships in search of spars, colonial schooners in the flax trade, scientific expeditions of the maritime nations of the world-nearly all made the Bay of Islands a port of call. Not that there was ever a whaling station within its bounds. (In later years there was a station at Whangamumu, south of Cape Brett, but that is outside the Bay of Islands.)

Fur seals were not found there in paying numbers. The Bay's supply of accessible spars was soon worked out. It was not a significant flax-growing area. Refreshment and a safe anchorage, these were what first attracted shipping to the Bay of Islands; these remained its chief attractions.

Because the Bay of Islands was a principal European port of call in New Zealand, more New Zealanders from that area than from any other, shipped away in European vessels. Consequently it was men from the Bay of Islands who engaged the sympathies of philanthropists in Sydney and London; and it was therefore to the Bay of Islands that missionary attention was first directed.

In due course, as the presence of resident missionaries in the Bay of Islands gave a feeling of security to European shipping, the number of vessels calling there increased. Inevitably, secular establishments also were set up on shore, by the carpenters and coopers, the boatbuilders and ships' chandlers, the grog sellers and all the other middlemen who catered for the needs of shipping.

But what about the escaped convicts from New South Wales and the runaway sailors, the European scum who, as past generations of historians have written, brought drink and disease and demoralisation wherever they set foot on shore?

There is no doubt that there were men of this type in the Bay of Islands as in other Pacific ports of the time. Probably the first European resident of the Bay of Islands was an escapee of some sort. It is known that when his presence in the Bay was first reported in 1805 he had at least one New Zealand-born child, but it is not known who he was, nor when he came, nor what happened to him, for he shunned all contact with other Europeans.

For many years, former convicts and ships' deserters were an element in the European population of the Bay of Islands. Numerically they probably increased during the 1820s and 1830s, but their ratio to the total number of Europeans living there must have declined.

But it can be said without guesswork that not all such Europeans were a demoralising influence on the New Zealanders, nor were all of them a disruptive element in the society of their own compatriots. In an age when men and women and youths and girls could be transported ' for misdemeanours which today might bring a small fine, or perhaps none at all, neither the emancipist nor even the escapee was necessarily an undesirable character.

Drink, Muskets and Disease:

Alcohol will always be a scourge to some, yet missionaries were probably the first to introduce it to the New Zealanders. Marsden believed in the civilising properties of wine, especially for ailing chiefs. An "allowance of grog" was served to the boys at the first annual examinations of the Paihia mission school:- a practice which does not appear to have been continued.

The missionary-introduced tomahawk became a formidable fighting weapon and killed many men in tribal warfare, though perhaps not as many as the more obviously deadly musket of the trader. For that matter, the earliest mission settlers also, for a time, traded in muskets, trapped by the limitations of their own characters and the pressing demands of the situation in which they found themselves.

Viruses such as measles and influenza could as rapidly be caught from the morally upright as from the corrupt. Epidemics of these infections and the changing habits of dress and diet and habitation (some of which were missionary-inspired) had an equally drastic effect on the Maori population as the venereal diseases spread by promiscuous sinners.

The ethical and moral uprightness of individual Europeans could not neutralise the fatal impact of an alien culture upon the native population. Christianity itself, as introduced into New Zealand by the institutional churches of the early 19th century, was a major disrupter of native moral values and social structure.

The principal European settlement in the Bay of Islands, indeed in the whole of New Zealand until the founding of regular colonies at Wellington and Auckland, was Kororareka. But it was by no means the only site of European settlement at the Bay of Islands. All around its indented coastline and on a few of the islands in its waters the Europeans settled, some in groups of families, others singly.

The first of these little settlements was that established in 1815 at Oihi (also called Rangihoua) by the Rev. Samuel Marsden, senior chaplain of the convict colony of New South Wales.

The Mission Stations:

Few Australians have any doubts about Marsden. To them he is one of the villains of history, the flogging magistrate of Parramatta. In New Zealand he has enjoyed a very different reputation, as a folk hero, though today's visitors to Oihi, where the Marsden Cross marks the site of the first mission station that he founded in the Bay of Islands, may legitimately wonder why.

For how could any man of conscience deliberately choose that barren inhospitable hillside for a settlement which had to be largely self-supporting? Arid choose it, more¬over, in the teeth of opposition from the settlers themselves and despite the willingness of chiefs in the more favourably situated south-eastern shore of the Bay to welcome the Europeans into their tribal territories?

With wives and children and convict servants, this first mission settlement in the Bay of Islands numbered over a dozen souls. It was doomed from the outset, by its situation, by the calibre of its settlers, perhaps also by the character of its founding father. After a 17-year struggle, the Oihi site was abandoned.

Other stations were established at Kerikeri (in 1819), at Paihia (in 1823) and inland at Te Waimate (in 1830). These sites were also of Marsden's choosing. Kerikeri, at the head of a long and winding tidal inlet, suffered severely during its early years from being also the principal port of embarkation and return of Ngapuhi war expeditions against the southern tribes. Once the wars were over, the station was redundant; its Maori population had moved elsewhere.

Paihia, centrally situated on the shores of the Bay of Islands itself, was known for a time as Marsden's Vale. Despite the name, it was not Marsden's missionary philosophy which guided the Paihia mission, but that of the Williams brothers: Henry, formerly a naval officer; William, the scholar and later a bishop, father and grandfather of scholars and bishops.

The inland mission of Te Waimate was perhaps the most successful of all the Anglican Church Mission settlements in the Bay of Islands, with its triple role of proselytising centre, mission farm and educational establishment for the sons of missionaries.

It was subsequently the first site of Bishop Selwyn's St. John's College. Wesleyan missionaries came to the Bay of Islands only as guests in Anglican households. The scene of their labours after an ill-fated beginning at Whangaroa-was mainly at Hokianga and other west coast harbours in the North Island.

The French Catholic Bishop Pomp allier made the Bay of Islands his headquarters when, in July 1839, he bought a property on Kororareka beach, a move which greatly incensed the Protestant missionaries at Paihia.

Relations between the Church Mission families and the secular European population seldom thawed into cordiality. The desire of the missionaries to keep their women and children and converts away from the roistering life of the beachcombers was natural enough. But the holier-than-thou atmosphere of some missionary homes must have been galling indeed to the more respectable of the secular settlers, and perhaps no less galling to those who were not so respectable.

Some Bay residents, of similar social background to the mission families and, at least in their own estimation, of equally exemplary personal conduct, nursed a conviction that the missionaries had come to New Zealand to better themselves.

However unjust the imputation that this was their motive in coming to the country, there seems little doubt that in the long run the Church Mission families did not suffer economically or socially from leaving their homes.

Other Communities:

The Anglican mission stations were by no means the only scenes of well ordered industry about the Bay. James Reddy Clendon's establishment at Okiato and that of Gilbert Mail' at Wahapu, each with its own home¬stead and garden, its workmen's cottages, its smithy and boatbuilder's yard, its well-stocked store and jetty running out to deep water, were independent communities.

Mail', a ship's carpenter by trade, had originally been employed by Henry Williams to build the mission schooner Herald at Paihia. He later left the mission's employ and set up in business for himself at Te Wahapu.

Clendon, a Kentishman, was the first American consul. In 1840 Okiato became New Zealand's first capital¬-renamed Russell in honour of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Clendon family home, a substantial and well appointed residence, became the first Government House. Wahapu also was later to have an official role: for a period of 10 years after Heke's war it was the chief military post north of Auckland.

The needs of shipping in the 1830s were also supplied by George Green¬way, brewer and storekeeper of Koutiti, and by Captain Wright's farm and garden at Ornata. And at Orari on the Waikare there was the boat¬building yard of William Cook, veteran of the wars against Napoleon, founder, with his wife Tiraha, of a whaling family known throughout the Pacific.

These were only the better-known of the many settlers about the Bay of Islands in the 1830s. Some achieved a measure of prosperity; some eked out a precarious living of one sort or another; some merely existed, for a month, for a year, before shipping away to another shore or dying, unregretted and perhaps unrecorded also, on this one.

Some brought European wives with them; others, probably the majority, especially during the 1820s and early 1830s, did not. Some formed regular unions with Maori women (with and without the benefit of clergy) and reared families of whom they and their country could be proud. Others left behind only children who knew neither the face nor the name of their father and were perhaps better off in their ignorance.

In the later 1830s, the more rafferty of the Bay of Island's European denizens tended to congregate at Porn are's pa, at the mouth of the Kawakawa, where they felt themselves less restricted than in Kororareka with its rapidly growing population and its increasingly respectable atmosphere.

Only the loss of human life or property brought this lowest stratum of European society into the limelight. Then the British Resident at Waitangi would be called upon to try to sort the matter out, to wind up the deceased's estate, to recover the stolen property, to adjudicate on the disputed boundary, to mollify the injured party and to remonstrate with the aggressor.

Busby Arrives: James Busby came to the Bay of Islands as British Resident in 1833. His name, with that of Marsden, is probably the most often remembered of all Europeans associated with the Bay of Islands in the precolonial period. But whereas the missionary remains an enigma, the debate about the Resident centres not so much on the man as on his function, and it is virtually impossible not to quote yet again the catch-phrase of his own time, that he was a man-of-war without guns.

Reading Busby's official correspondence today, one feels he was at times a pompous ass. Yet however ineffectual his office, no one would deny that he was conscientious, although by today's standards the extent of his land buying, while still holding an official position, would be a matter for censure.

But apart from his initial Waitangi purchase, the vast acreage he subsequently claimed was purchased mainly in his last 12 months in office, when it was becoming increasingly apparent he would be superseded, and brought him only 30 years embittered dispute.

Busby's declaration of Maori independence was one of the hooks on which the British Government hung the constitutional processes involved in the acquisition of sovereignty. It could be argued that his concept of the united tribes of New Zealand is still the philosophical basis of Maori nationalism.

But although Waitangi now is a national shrine, today's Treaty House has little in common with the modest British Residency of the 1830s, nor have the annual celebrations there done much to put Busby, or the "Treaty" of Waitangi, into historical perspective.

Bay of Islands Today

The Bay of Islands is now a world renouned tourism destination. Situated approx. 250 klm's north of Auckland, New Zealand, the Bay of Islands was named by Captain James Cook who sailed into it's semi-tropical waters onboard the HM Endeavour around 1769.

The region has 144 Islands and secluded bays, which offer a smorgasboard of marine activities, such as: diving, cruises, fishing and para-gliding, just to name a few. The Bay of Islands teems with an abundance of marine life, including whales, marlin, dolphins, gannets and many other species.

The major towns in the Bay of Islands include: Paihia, Kerikeri, Kawakawa, Russell, Opua and Waitangi, where the New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed back in 1840.

The Bay of Islands is ranked by the National Geographic magazine, the top 12 out of 115 worldwide travel destinations. It's an aquatic paradise with hundreds of miles of unspoilt coastline, which need a few weeks to soak in it's natural wonders and numerous fun activities.

Paihia is the Bay of Island's main visitor centre. Many sightseeing cruises leave from here, including the very popular diving and swimming with the dolphin excursions.

The Bay of Islands obviously has some excellent history attractions, which include "Waitangi" at the northern end of Paihia township. Waitangi is where the "Treaty of Waitangi" was signed in 1840, with it's supposed purpose of bringing together Maori and British settlers in one nation.

Bay of Islands Information Centre: For more information on the sunny Bay of Islands, contact: Bay of Islands Information Centre, Maritime Building, Paihia. Ph +64 9 402 7345 Email:

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