Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 2, October 1964


By N S Climie

Ohinemuri has reason to record the name of Mackay, but the stranger would never gauge its importance on noting the short central street leading to the Paeroa Domain gates, nor yet when he is told that he has passed "Mackaytown" on the Paeroa-Waihi Road. More significant is a tombstone in the Paeroa Cemetery, the inscription on which reads as follows:

JAMES MACKAY 1831 - 1912

Pioneer, Explorer and Friend of the Maori People.

Became Magistrate on the Collingwood Field: 1858.

Civil Commissioner at Thames 1864.

Warden and Resident Magistrate on Hauraki Goldfields 1868.

Throughout troubled times in the Thames Valley and the Waikato he was energetic, just, and A Maker of Peace.

Erected by the N.Z. Government.

It was as late as 1942 when this memorial tablet was unveiled by Mr James Thorn, M.P. for Thames, supported by the late Mr Edwin Edwards, Mayor of Paeroa, and the late Mr W H Taylor, a keen local historian. Mr Taylor had used every endeavour to have a suitable memorial erected to perpetuate the memory of James Mackay, who had made valiant efforts not only to serve his Government in many capacities, but also to see that the Maori people were treated fairly, and to bring peace and progress to a region already torn by tribal war and then roused to hostility by the intrusion of the Pakeha people.


James Mackay was the eldest son of a distinguished family, an outline of whose history aroused much interest when a practically unknown print of an old painting was published in a N. Z. newspaper in 1951. The lithograph had been discovered in England by Mr Rex Nankivell, a collector of early N.Z. pictures, and stencilled on a box was the inscription: J McK., Nelson, New Zealand. This led to the family being identified as that of James Mackay (senior), a descendant of whom Mr Brian Trolove of Kaikoura, holds the original painting, which is inscribed on the back "The Pioneers", painted by W Alsworth 1844. We are indebted to Mr Trolove for its story.

The Mackays had chartered a ship, the "Staines Castle", to bring their family with two nephews, and some servants from Scotland to Nelson in 1844. They brought also some sheep, cattle and dogs as well as farm implements, most of their furniture and the timber (already cut) for their future home. The picture shows the laird and his wife and family assembled with their animals, goods and chattels. The last drayload is seen on its way from the old homestead, and the wicker cages contained fowls and ducks, a pet bird, and plants and herbs. In the background is the ship which made the voyage with other ships bringing people for the main Nelson settlement. In the foreground is James the eldest son sitting on a chest of gold, which was brought out to defray expenses during the first years in the new land. Could this have been an omen for a Goldfield destiny?

The "Staines Castle" anchored off what is now known as Mackay's Bluff and liking the look of the country there, the Mackays decided to sail on to Nelson Haven (as the harbour was then called) to put in a claim for their new home, after landing their family and stock. In due course the ship sailed back to Mackay's Bluff where the timber, furniture and implements were discharged on to the ocean beach at the head of the boulder bank. These were hauled to the homestead site by bullocks. The house was built on a terrace overlooking the landing place and was called Drumduan after a Mackay home in the far north of Sunderlandshire in Scotland.

Mr Mackay had been brought up as a banker in Scotland and was afterwards connected with the firm of Lloyds in London. In new Zealand he not only farmed but took a keen interest in the affairs of both the new country and the local settlement. Representing Nelson City in the first Parliament in 1855, he was a member of both the General Assembly and the Provincial Council. He represented Lloyds in Nelson and was loved and respected not only by his neighbours, but by all with whom he came in contact. His sons and nephews, one of whom was Judge Alexander Mackay, were outstanding pioneer colonists, and the daughters married Captain Davidson of Collingwood, Mr William Turner of Wakapuaka, and Mr Arthur Collyns of Hillwood, whose wife was the "baby" of the picture, and the grandmother of Mr Brian Trolove. The prefabricated stables at Drumduan outlasted the original Nelson home which was destroyed by fire many years ago, the only goods saved being the family silver and the painting of the departure of the family from Scotland. Mr Mackay senior was 71 years of age when he died in 1875, a momentous year in the life of his son James, then busy with the opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfield.

James Mackay, junior, celebrated his 13th birthday on the high seas, the "Staines Castle" having left England in October 1844 and arrived in Nelson on 26th January, 1845. He was naturally robust, and quickly developed - strong, active, and shrewd. This was fortunate for the period was one of great distress for the settlers, food being extremely scarce. It was necessary for all members of the family to work hard, and the boys were soon initiated into the mysteries of farming, bush work, sheep and cattle management, stock riding, etc.

On coming of age in 1852 James received some money and procured a Depasturage Licence of a sheep and cattle run at Cape Farewell. He subsequently bought 1500 acres of land at 10/- an acre, which had a frontage of about four miles to Massacre Bay. Being interested in the Maori people he soon learned much about them and became a good linguist. By the time he was 25 he was able to supply the Provincial Government with a number of carefully drawn maps and valuable information. This led to his being entrusted with the task of exploration further south. With two Maoris he travelled down the west coast to the Grey river, took soundings of bars, and reported that coastal vessels could negotiate.

Mackay returned to Nelson to find that a gold rush had sat in, with 1300 whites and 600 Maoris in the field. By virtue of his knowledge of Maori lore, he had been made Assistant Native Secretary, and was soon appointed Warden of the new Collingwood Goldfield, thus becoming the first gold Warden in New Zealand. This was in 1857. In 1859 he received another assignment, being instructed by the Government to return to the West Coast to complete the purchase of 7,500,000 acres of land from the Maoris. This entailed several rough and gruelling journeys on foot before the transaction was successfully completed. Mackay was then transferred to the Auckland Office of the Governor's Land Purchase Commissioner, Sir Donald McLean, and from that time was destined to play a very prominent part in the progress of the Coromandel Peninsula, where he spent much of the remainder of his life. In 1863 he married Miss Eliza Sophia Braithwaite of Nelson and they lived for many years in Thames and later in Paeroa.


Immediately before the Waikato campaign of the Maori War (1863-5), during 1860-2, rumours of gold had brought a number of would-be diggers to the Coromandel district, and trouble was brewing on the boundary of the small area over which the Europeans had legal jurisdiction. Governor Grey succeeded in having the coveted ground near Coromandel opened in 1862, and goldmining continued there in a restricted area. It was not till 1864 that further areas were opened in that district.

When in 1864 hostilities were nearing an end in the Waikato, and the Hauraki Maori Contingent returned home after the fall of Rangiriri, Mackay was sent to the Peninsula to receive the surrender. He was then 30 years of age, and showed utter fearlessness and supreme confidence, many times risking his life in order to conclude a successful mission. Arriving at Thames to meet the Ngatimaru he made it plain that if they did not desist in helping the Waikatos their lands would be confiscated. Also they must surrender their arms. His patient but firm stand paved the way for great future development.

On his return to Auckland Sir George Grey instructed him to return to Hauraki and go on to Ohinemuri. The tribe Ngatitamatera, surrendered their arms at Opukeko (later Mr J W Thorp's residence and farm) and peace was made with them. Later Mackay returned to that place and took the surrender of the arms of the Ngatipaoa tribe and then of others further afield. This ended the peace making of the Hauraki tribes, which in Mackay's words, "has never been broken since".

It must be remembered that in the early 1860's - about 100 years ago - the Auckland Province was suffering an acute depression. The withdrawal of the Imperial Troops, followed by the removal of the seat of Government to Wellington in 1865, had caused a stagnation of business and many commercial failures. Numbers of labouring men were starving for lack of employment and many went south to the then flourishing goldfields. In his report to the Government in 1864 Mackay states, "My work necessitated my visiting the various settlements in the Hauraki district, and among others, Ohinemuri. At that place I found Nepia Te Ngarara, whom I had formerly known as a goldminer at Collingwood. He informed me that he had found gold in the alluvial deposit near Ohinemuri. I also received information from Hauauru Taipari (since named Willoughby Shortland) that gold had been obtained near Kauaeranga".

Hence it is not surprising that James Mackay was appointed Civil Commissioner for the Waihou and Hauraki District, and played a prominent part in land negotiations. He and Hauauru Taipari persuaded the Ngatimaru people to allow European prospectors to test a limited area at Thames, resulting in the opening of that field in 1867. It was agreed that land required for residence and cultivation should be reserved from goldmining and the sacred places and burial grounds were also to be excluded. The opening of the Ohinemuri Block however, proved a much more difficult problem and years of negotiations were necessary. Meanwhile, the Commissioner made his home at Thames and was instrumental in the laying out of the Shortland end of the town. A street there commemorates his name.

The following is an extract from one of his reports: "The principal native owners in the Thames district are the tribes Ngatipoa, Ngatiwhanaunga, Ngatitamatera, and the Ngatimaru. The claims of these people extend over the country on the East and West shores of the Hauraki Gulf and as far south as Katikati on the East Coast, and the Te Aroha Mountain and Waitoa in the Valley of the Thames. Their lands are very much intermixed and there is hardly a tribal boundary which has not been subject of dispute for some generations past.

In addition to the tribes above mentioned there are the Ngatiporou who own land in Harataunga, (Kennedy's Bay) and Mataora, ceded to them by the Ngatimaru for assistance in war, and the Ngatitai who reside at Maraetai and the Wairoa, but own no auriferous lands".

Another extract gives some idea of the scope of Mackay's work and the amount of travelling he did in the days when this was most arduous.

1867. "After returning from Coromandel on the 4th of September, I was engaged in various goldmining and native questions until the 18th of September, when I left Auckland for Wellington on business connected with compensation for confiscated lands at Waikato. I returned to Auckland on 2nd October till 11th October when I went to Shortland calling at Taupo on the way to arrange the settlement of a dispute between the Waikaraka and Ngatihura hapus of Ngatipara. I found that considerable progress had been made on the Thames Goldfield. . . . . There was some excitement among the miners about the Ohinemuri District, and I endeavoured to ascertain from Te Moananui the probabilities of obtaining the rights to mine for gold over that country. As I expected the answer was that Te Hira was a most obstinate man and that there was not the slightest chance of his yielding. He and all the other Hauhau portion of the tribe were opposed to either the sale or lease of any lands to Europeans".

Later a temporary depression on the Thames field created a stronger pressure and James Mackay was recalled from other duties to again apply his talents to the task of opening other fields. There were still many difficulties, although large blocks of land were purchased at 3/- an acre. Finally the prolonged negotiations bore fruit and Ohinemuri was declared a Goldfield in 1875. It was opened to prospectors in circumstances as colourful as any of the stirring migrations of the earlier fields.

On the 17th of February 1875, Dr Daniel Pollen, then acting as both Premier and Colonial Secretary, supported by his Native Minister, Sir Donald McLean, and by James Mackay, who had already paved the way, met the Ohinemuri Chiefs before an audience that included both prospectors and Maoris. This was really an opportunity for speech-making after the issue had been settled, and finally the agreement was signed, but a fortnight elapsed before licences were issued. The rush that followed is the genesis of the story of "Mackaytown", named in honour of the man who had striven to this end, - the opening of the fields of Ohinemuri.


A report in the Thames Star 23/2/78, issued an ominous note of warning that all was not well between the Government and James Mackay. His position had been rendered difficult by jealousies of Provincial and General Government and he tendered his resignation. There had been considerable delay in completing the purchase of lands negotiated for and partially settled by him, and this occasioned trouble amongst the Maoris because they were being importuned on all hands to sell their lands privately. The difficulty appeared to be a monetary one which the Government did not wish to face.

Mr Mackay had carried on negotiations for the purchase of immense tracts of land in the course of which he had incurred considerable liabilities, and had become entitled to commission amounting to a large sum. His connection with the Government as Land Purchase Commissioner being about to terminate, he naturally wished for settlement of his claims and this was not forthcoming. Finally a claim amounting to several thousand pounds was submitted to arbitration, and after evidence had been taken an award was made, but was not honoured. He therefore declined to hand over his papers containing valuable securities, and no one could proceed to complete purchases. It is possible that there was disapproval in some quarters of the perhaps over enterprising methods Mackay had used to induce the Maoris to cede land for gold mining purposes. It is frankly disclosed in his report that he sometimes deemed it expedient to advance sums up to £500, which was to be refunded from Miner's Rights, but at no time did he scheme for personal profit.

A later report in the "Thames Star" indicates that Mr Mackay made a final effort to help to settle land matters in Ohinemuri before resigning. It states on 19 September, 1878: "Messrs Mackay, Grace, Wilkinson (Government land agents) and Dearle (clerk) will leave for Ohinemuri this morning for the purpose of continuing the negotiations for the purchase of the freehold of the Ohinemuri Block of 100,000 acres which was commenced with so much success on Saturday last. The negotiations entered into by the late Mr Preece and Mr Mackay for the purchase of large blocks of land on the Hauraki Peninsula have nearly all been completed. The deeds for 28,997 acres have been finished and 20,180 acres will be completed in a few days besides the 130,000 acres vested in the Crown at the late sitting of the Land Court. The Land Purchase Department have on hand in various stages of completion a total area of 756,000 acres which includes the Piako and Paterere Blocks of 442,000 acres.


A banquet was tendered to "James Mackay Esq.", at Thames on the eve of his departure. The repast was spread in the long room of the Governor Bowen Hotel, when Mr Ehrenfried presided over a very large attendance of both Maori and Pakeha people, representing the whole of the Peninsula. Reference was made to the great courage and heroism displayed by Mr Mackay in the early days of the Goldfields and to the fact that his services had been widespread, his knowledge and experience being sought throughout New Zealand. As a private citizen his generosity had been unsurpassed, as was that of Mrs Mackay who had always shown great readiness to help the poor and needy. He was then presented with an address as a memento of sincere regard and acknowledgement of the great services rendered to the district.

At that time Mackay had not yet reached his 50th year and one might have expected him to continue to play a large part in public affairs, for it was well known that he never spared himself in any way. But he was hot headed at times and made enemies, particularly in Government circles. Also his health was no longer robust, as he suffered from rheumatism after much exposure and hard living. After leaving Thames on his retirement, he resided in Auckland for some years, acting as Maori Agent and Interpreter, but never at any time did he live in luxury nor profit by his endeavours.

In 1896 James Mackay published in both Maori and in English "A Narrative of the Opening of the Hauraki District for Gold Mining". The pamphlet was written for the information of the younger Maoris but was dedicated to his old friend Wirope Hoterene Taipari, principal Chief of the Ngatimaru Tribe, who had rendered him great assistance. As he had acquired the status of a Maori Chief among these people the story commenced with greetings and lamentations indulged in on the meeting of old friends. It is a most explicit document.

The latter 14 or so years of James Mackay's life were spent in Paeroa. He and his wife lived in a small cottage on the Puke Road farm of their daughter, Mrs Brunskill. He was the first President of the Paeroa A & P Association, from 1898 -1902, and took an interest generally in the affairs of Paeroa, but the younger generation little realized what a prominent part this old man with the long white beard had played in the days of his youth, before bush-clad Ohinemuri was shared by both Maori and European. He died in Paeroa in 1912 at the age of 81 and now his story is "History".


James Mackay - Reports and Narratives

Alexander Turnbull Library - Helpful Notes

Mr W Hammond - Manuscripts

The Thames Advertiser -Relevant News

Mr Brian Trolove - Personal Letters and Cuttings

Rex Nan Kivell Collection - Australian National Library, Canberra, Australia. Permission to reproduce Lithograph.