Signs of the Pakeha

Dusky Sound, with the Seal Islands in the foreground and Anchor Island behind. Dusky Sound was...
Dusky Sound, with the Seal Islands in the foreground and Anchor Island behind. Dusky Sound was the site of the earliest Pakeha settlements in New Zealand. Photo: Andris Apse
The archaeological record of early Pakeha settlement in New Zealand offers vivid glimpses of a world undergoing turbulent change as two vastly different cultures learned to inhabit the same country. The following are extracts from Prof Ian Smith’s new, illustrated book on the subject, Pakeha Settlements in a Maori World: New Zealand Archaeology 1769-1860.


The only Pakeha settlements established in New Zealand before the end of the 18th century were in Dusky Sound. While today this is one of the most remote parts of New Zealand's coast, it was then one of the better-known localities, having been described and charted by Cook. It must also have seemed comparatively safe: at Queen Charlotte Sound and the Bay of Islands, the only other well-known harbours, there had been European deaths at Maori hands. Dusky Sound was also out of sight of the colonial authorities in New South Wales and beyond the direct control of any European authority. This remoteness was one of its primary attractions.


The first commercial venture to New Zealand was undertaken by Captain William Raven of the Britannia. His ship had departed England in February 1792, with a cargo of food, clothing and other supplies for Port Jackson, and a licence from the East India Company to go sealing in southern waters. Raven's plan was to hunt seals in Dusky Sound for the China market, where he hoped to exchange them for spices, teas and silks for sale in Britain. Before leaving Port Jackson, Raven was contracted by a group of military and civil officers to proceed to the Cape of Good Hope to procure a cargo of cattle, clothing and other supplies. To accommodate these two commercial objectives, the Britannia departed Port Jackson for Dusky Sound, where, on 1 December 1792, a gang of men were left to hunt seals while the ship sailed on to South Africa for supplies.

James Heberley began whaling at Te Awaiti, tory Channel, Marlborough, in 1830, and married Te Wai...
James Heberley began whaling at Te Awaiti, tory Channel, Marlborough, in 1830, and married Te Wai Nahi of Te Ati Awa. This photograph dates to the 1870s. James and Te Wai had six children, and there are numerous descendants. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library
There were 12 men in this first group of Pakeha settlers, under the leadership of William Leith, second mate of the Britannia. One of these was Thomas Moore, an Englishman and carpenter on the Britannia, but nothing is known of the others. Two buildings were constructed: "a dwellinghouse, 40 feet long, 18 broad and 15 high", and a "drying house", presumably used to prepare the dried fur-seal pelts that were preferred in China. Provisions and stores for 12 months were unloaded, along with "ironwork, cordage and sails, etc, for the building and rigging of a small vessel". The latter was ostensibly a precaution in case the Britannia was unable to return for the men, but was probably also a clandestine attempt to construct a trading vessel. When Raven returned to collect his gang 10 months later, they had procured only 4500 fur-seal skins but had nearly completed the construction of a 53-foot (about 16-metre) schooner, estimated at 60-70 tons (60.9671.1 tonnes), and clearly larger than necessary for an escape across the Tasman. Raven's contractual arrangements did not allow time for immediate completion of the vessel, which was left on stocks when the Britannia departed with Leith and his gang on 21 October 1793. The unfinished ship would figure again in the early settlement history of Dusky Sound.

The Britannia settlement was located in Luncheon Cove on Anchor Island. Visited and named by Cook in 1773, this is a tiny, almost landlocked harbour, well protected from ocean swells by a surrounding cluster of small islets, and close to the Seal Islands on which there are breeding colonies of fur seals. Evidence of the settlement was discovered in 1897 by conservationist Richard Henry, who dug with a spade in several places there, locating a clay floor, two pits and a midden of charcoal, cinders and scrap iron. It was another 100 years before these were subject to systematic archaeological excavation.

While the presence of William Leith's sealing gang in Dusky Sound has been well known in the historical record since the late 19th century, the significance of this site as the first Pakeha settlement has largely been overlooked. Archaeological evidence located here - the forge and its by-products, a crude arrangement for steam-bending of planks and a stone keel support - provides a link to the first ship built in New Zealand, and also the first in Australasia constructed in local timbers. The domestic remains, slight as they are, constitute the earliest pottery and glass artefacts yet to be recovered in this country. They are the only surviving links with the first Pakeha to have lived on New Zealand's shores.

These artefacts from Luncheon Cove, in Dusky Sound, Fiordland, are among the earliest ceramic...
These artefacts from Luncheon Cove, in Dusky Sound, Fiordland, are among the earliest ceramic fragments found in New Zealand. they are a tin-glazed earthenware jar (top left), a piece from a coarse earthenware vessel (bottom left) and an iron boom or mast fitting made in a forge at Luncheon Cove to fit a spar with a diameter of about 175mm (right). Photo: Martin Fisher, Southland Museum and Art Gallery collection

Living in New Zealand presented a range of challenges for early Pakeha. Significant amongst these was the fact that they had come to a place where the prevailing rules of social and economic interaction were not those of their homeland. Pakeha access to land and the use of resources for economic activities, whether hunting seals or whales, harvesting timber or grazing sheep, required Maori consent and, usually, payment for use-rights. When Pakeha failed to seek permission or refused to pay, Maori sanctions such as taua muru were imposed. Failure to observe strictures of tapu could have fatal consequences, as Marion du Fresne's fate revealed. The Maori world was often buffeted by competition between the leaders of hapu and iwi, in which early Pakeha visitors and settlers were often unwittingly caught up. They were nearly always reliant upon the patronage of particular rangatira for their protection, and on local hapu for initial supplies of food and shelter. Even as these relationships began to fade, toward the middle of the century, Pakeha settlements and towns remained dependent to a significant degree on Maori food production. Only in Wellington, where George Grey's aggressive use of military force had, by 1848, dispossessed local Maori of their most productive land, did this reliance diminish before the late 1850s.

This timber causeway constructed across a boggy stream bed in the late-1840s or 1850s was...
This timber causeway constructed across a boggy stream bed in the late-1840s or 1850s was discovered in 2008 during development of the Wall Street mall in Dunedin. Photo: Peter Petchey
From late 1799, some visitors left their ships or sealing gangs and began living within Maori communities. Many formed relationships with Maori women: for instance, Thomas Taylor, who lived at Kakaramea Pa, Hauraki, from 1799 to 1802; James Cavanagh in the Bay of Islands from 1804; and Thomas Fink at "the Bluff" from about 1805. Although often referred to as "temporary marriages", because most of these men did not stay more than a few years in New Zealand, these relationships were typically "monogamous in character and affectionate in nature", and served to bind the men tightly into their host communities. Pakeha-Maori men rapidly adopted the language and many of the cultural practices of their hosts, becoming more fully assimilated into the Maori world than any other early Pakeha. This placed them at the leading edge of the cultural entanglements that shaped many aspects of both Maori and Pakeha life in the early decades of the 19th century. Their survival on this cultural frontier depended upon the patronage of their rangatira, in return for which they provided services as interpreters and intermediaries in trade with visiting ships, explaining European customs and deciphering new technologies for their communities. Because they resided within Maori communities, this group of early Pakeha left little trace in the archaeological record.

Cross-cultural marriage also played a crucial part in the "mixed-race" settlements that emerged in New Zealand from the 1820s. Pakeha men and their Maori partners predominated in communities such as those at Sealers Bay on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, the early ship-building settlements in Port Pegasus and the Hokianga Harbour, Browne's spar station at Mahurangi, and at most of the shore-whaling stations of the 1830s, 1840s and beyond. In many cases, especially at whaling and timber settlements, marriage between the station manager and a female relative of the rangatira was arranged as part of negotiating rights to occupy land and harvest resources. Such marriages followed traditional Maori practice, involving gift exchange; use-rights for land were typically exchanged for imported goods. At one level these were strategic alliances for both parties, securing access to resources and protection for Pakeha and control over the supply of imported goods for Maori, but for the most part they were "a combination of love, comfort, politics and pragmatic need". Men of lower rank on the whaling and timber stations typically married Maori women of lower rank within their society, in ceremonies that generally followed secular British common-law traditions.

Princes St, Dunedin in 1860. By this time the centres of Pakeha towns were beginning to change....
Princes St, Dunedin in 1860. By this time the centres of Pakeha towns were beginning to change. The first generation of wooden buildings were replaced by larger stone or brick structures; streets were levelled and surfaced; and drainage was installed, burying artefacts and vestiges of older buildings. Photo: Willian Melhuish, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Critical to all the early Pakeha towns was the provision of basic infrastructure, such as roading, water supply, waste disposal and facilities for civic purposes. Plans drawn up for early towns did not always fit comfortably with the realities of the landscape they were imposed upon. Felton Mathew's "cobweb" design for the ridge east of Queen St in Auckland proved impractical, never coming to fruition, and his two public squares on the ridge to the west were abandoned by the time buildings were constructed there in the 1850s.

In Dunedin, surveyor Charles Kettle laid out a grid pattern of streets that paid no heed to the hills, streams, lagoons and low-lying boggy ground that confronted early settlers there. Some of the accommodations they made to cope with this have been revealed through recent excavations.

During construction of the Wall Street shopping mall in Dunedin in 2008, a timber causeway was discovered more than a metre below the ground surface on which buildings of the late 19th century had stood. It was constructed of axe-cut timbers, mostly kanuka and mapou, along with other woods that had been common on the lower slopes of the hills surrounding Dunedin when the first Pakeha settlers arrived. There were two main layers of timbers: an upper course of smaller branches and limbs, laid horizontally across three sets of longitudinal runners. Where the underlying mud was deepest, there were also several large cross-members beneath the runners. Flax leaves under the logs indicated that the causeway had been laid over flax-covered ground, and its orientation at a diagonal to the section boundaries, along with the scarcity of artefacts found in direct association, indicate that it was one of the first constructions in the vicinity, placing it in the late 1840s or early 1850s. The causeway had clearly been laid across a muddy swale or stream course to provide a dry pathway for pedestrians crossing the edge of the North Dunedin flat. It provides a stark reminder of the conditions that prompted many locals to call their town "Mud-edin".

A man's waistcoat, originally a deep maroon colour, was recovered from the edge of a former...
A man's waistcoat, originally a deep maroon colour, was recovered from the edge of a former stream bed at 232-242 George St, Dunedin. Photo: Naomi Woods
Further evidence of activity on the shore of the lagoon was found during expansion of the Countdown Dunedin Central supermarket, where a set of heavy-duty beams was discovered, stacked on top of each other and bolted together, making the bulkhead of a small wharf. This must date to the 1850s, because by 1861 access from the wharf to the harbour had been cut off by construction of a causeway along the line of Cumberland St, initiating the process of reclaiming the lagoon and raising the level of the low-lying boggy ground to make it more suitable for urban development. This was achieved by dumping clay, perhaps excavated from road cuttings elsewhere in the town, to depths of a metre or more over the lagoon and adjacent stream beds. More extensive reclamation of the harbour was to follow from the 1860s onwards.

The book, by Associate Prof Ian Smith, published today by BWB, RRP $59.99
The book, by Associate Prof Ian Smith, published today by BWB, RRP $59.99

Pakeha colonisation of New Zealand was a drawn-out process that changed in character as it took place. It began through scientific curiosity and speculative commercial ventures, rather than political intent to exert control or promote settlement. Although James Cook "took possession" of the country for the British Crown in 1769, there was no attempt to act on this before the 1830s. But migrants from the Anglo world trickled into New Zealand and began living there, alongside tangata whenua, for almost 50 years before the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. These early Pakeha lived in a world framed and dominated by Maori. This situation began to change soon after 1840 with assertions of Pakeha political and military power, and disquiet and resistance from Maori. However, until the end of the 1850s early Pakeha towns remained economically dependent on Maori food production, and armed conflicts between Maori and colonists or the British Army ended in stand-offs, rather than decisive victories.

After 1860 the onset of a more brutal phase of colonisation by military force and confiscation of Maori land and resources changed the balance of power. The Maori population continued to fall, mostly due to disease and deprivation, while Pakeha numbers increased fivefold, through immigration and "hyper-reproduction" (a very high rate of natural increase) as settlers produced families that were larger and healthier than those in Britain.

Ian Smith. Photo: Supplied
Ian Smith. Photo: Supplied
Ian Smith, author of Pakeha Settlements in a Maori World, is honorary associate professor of archaeology at the University of Otago. Prof Smith has recently retired after four decades of researching and teaching New Zealand archaeology. His work spans the life of the earliest Maori inhabitants, to the sealing camps, whaling stations and missionary settlements of the 18th and 19th centuries. He pioneered the teaching of historical archaeology in New Zealand, and has a particular interest in the archaeology of interaction between indigenous and immigrant cultures, both locally and globally.


The talk

Ian smith talks about his book at Otago Museum, today (Saturday, Nov 23) at 5pm. 

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter