Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969



Mention was made in our last Journal of the departure of Captain James Cook from England in August 1768. Now, with the bi-centenary of his arrival in New Zealand this year, our thoughts turn to his visit to our own area. After his somewhat disappointing encounters further south it is pleasing to note that he records that he met with greater friendliness both in the Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel district, even though he noted the prevalence of "Forts" which betokened warfare.

The "Transit of Mercury" was due on the 9th November 1769, and Cook duly anchored in and named Mercury Bay. Remaining there for 11 days he carried out his observations, collected fresh food, wood and water and made a close study of the local Maoris with whom he was able to trade (mostly cloth), and converse through his interpreter, Tupaia, a Tahitian priest who accompanied him. Nothing escaped his keen observation as the following diary entry shows. -

"The principal fortress stood abrupt on a high promontory, in some places quite inaccessible, defended by double ditches (one 24 feet deep) and rows of picketing with fighting stages, intercommunicating outworks and a strong palisade of stakes right round the whole hill-topped village".

In his article in Journal 1, Mr. Isdale remarked on the graphic account of Cook's visit given by Hereta Te Taniwha who had been a small boy at the time and vividly remembered the great sailing ship in the Bay and the fact that his people had been given potatoes - the first to be grown in N.Z. Before departing Cook cut upon a tree near his watering place, the ship's name and the date, hoisted the English Colours and formally took possession for George III. We know this from his diary but at the moment there is considerable discussion concerning the actual site. Messrs Horace Harsant of Hahei and W.A. Hamilton of Whenuakite, supported by the Bicentenary Society believe that it is a spot near the foot of "Cook's Head" where traces have been found of what is thought to be an old flagpole site. The mystery certainly deserves scientific scrutiny.

Escorted by a large number of canoes Cook left Mercury Bay on November 15 and steered north. Rounding Cape Colville he sailed down the Hauraki Gulf and finding the water shoal (near Waiomu) anchored about 9 miles from the head of the Firth. On the morning of the 20th a small party including Captain Cook, Mr. Banks, Dr. Solander (a Swedish Botanist) and Tupaia set off in a pinnace [warship's double-banked (usually eight-oared) boat – E] to examine the country. Not far from the mouth of the Waihou River they were received with great hospitality, later rowing up beyond Turua , where there was another large Pa, to the vicinity of Netherton where they again landed being deeply interested in the great forests and swamps that then clothed the river banks. From Cook's description it appears that the trees were mostly Kahikatea and he recorded that one he measured was 89 feet from ground to branch and 18 foot 8 in. girth.

That afternoon the explorers returned down stream, but meeting a flood tide and a strong breeze as they came to the sea they were forced to anchor. They named both the river and Firth "Thames" on account of its bearing some resemblance to the Thames they knew so well in England, the banks being marshy where there were no trees. Also they had a vivid memory of the tide race rushing through the arches of old London Bridge - a danger spot to Thames water-men. (In Cook's day there were still waterwheels there to supply the city with water). In spite of bad weather their impression of the neighbouring country was favourable and they made further studies from the good anchorage they later found in Coromandel Harbour again being impressed by the trees - predominately kauri. Here we must leave them to continue their mapping of the N.Z.Coastlines.


Having the foregoing in mind as well as the fact that over the years our river has played an important part in the development of Ohinemuri, members of the Paeroa Historical Society decided to arrange a river excursion. By courtesy of our hosts, Mr. Jack Bennett and Mr. George Morrison and the kind lady hostesses who provided us with both morning and afternoon tea, the perfect day in February marked a memorable occasion. This was not merely a pleasant summer outing, but being actually "on" the river deepened our awareness of its historical significance.

While waiting for our party to assemble below the new Puke Bridge, it was interesting to visualise the dipping paddles of many canoes in pre-European days, to recollect that Samuel Marsden passed this way in 1820 and that in 1842 Joshua Thorp, our first European settler steered his boat to this very vicinity to build his home "Belmont" on the knoll we had just passed. We had arranged to meet at the remnants of the now dis-used Ngahina Wharf which had replaced the older Puke Wharf after the first bridge was built below it in 1912. The mention of these wharves recalls thoughts of the many boats that plied between Thames or Auckland and Paeroa when the river was the only highway and gold seekers came in hundreds. Other settlers followed, more commodities were needed, and the river and shipping provided the first link in the chain of distribution. There was for instance the fine service run by the Northern Steamship Coy. whose manager for many years was Mr. J. Silcock, now Paeroa's "Grand old man". We greatly regretted that ill-health prevented his accompanying us. Boats such as the "Waimerie" and the "Taniwha" will always be associated with him. (His River Story was featured in Journal 3). It is reported that a man named Harry Walton ran the first service - by whaleboat (tide willing). It was always important to sail "with the tide" and in later days this was accomplished at night if practicable, thus giving travellers a free day on shore.

We embarked on the two excellent launches (which however could not be overloaded because of snags and shallows) and then with the ebbing tide we slipped away downstream towards our anchorage at Turua. Under the helpful guidance of our hosts coupled with that of Mrs Neta Brown and Mr. Pat Murdock our attention was drawn to historic land marks, or rather water-marks, for the very necessary "Stop-banks" often obscured views that pleased early travellers. But this did not apply to the outlets of contributing streams which marked old "ports of call". At Komata we visualised the "Pa" of the powerful Chief Chief Tukukino whose canoes would assemble at the mouth of the creek as others did at the Hikutaia Creek further down. There also came the McCaskill Brothers in 1839 and then early gold seekers, timber men and farmers for the fertile Thames Valley lies in the hinterland of this right bank and beyond that, the majesty of the Coromandel Range completes a picture of great beauty.

In the vicinity of Netherton the left bank particularly interested us primarily because of "Cook's Tree". For many years this was regarded by the Maoris as "Tapu", hence it survived as a living memento of the famous explorer. Eventually milling interests had it cut down, but the stump remained for many more years and was photographed by the late Mr. Courtenay Kenny. The site is now the property of Mr. Hayward who farms at the end of Captain Cook Road. Netherton was an early European settlement of people who milled forests in order to make farms long before there were either roads or drains on the low-lying Hauraki Plains. The late Mr. Dave McKee related that before a School was built there, older children attended at Paeroa, it being necessary for them to row a canoe up the river and then make their way via Junction Road to Wood Street. A Ferry service once connected Ferry Road at Hikutaia with the left bank.

It was interesting to see Water-skiing in progress where the river widens considerably and soon the view was less obscured by Stopbanks. Looking ahead on our right we noted the location of Puriri and linked this with the first Mission Station established there in 1833. Our destination was Turua once the site of a Maori Pa sacked by Hongi. Much later it became a European settlement of importance because of Bagnall's famous Timber Mills which exported Kahikatea even before the turn of the century. Old buildings still stand in contrast to a modern Casein Factory and there are remnants of the once busy wharf. Our launches were here tied together so that we were able to compare notes while lunch was in progress.

Then came the return journey with a somewhat different view, for now from a distance we were facing the hills of home and visualising their aspect long ago when noble forests dominated the scene. I was reminded of a paragraph in Alan Mulgan's book "The making of a New Zealander", with reference to his voyaging via the river and Paeroa to Katikati.

"No memory of my boyhood is clearer than an early summer morning on that river - looking out into the mysterious world of bush and swamp, with an occasional light in a lonely farmhouse as its occupants stirred for the day, and the barking of a dog breaking the silence of the dawn. The stream of smoke streaming far astern, the rhythm of the engines, and the glare of the opened furnace seen through the engine-room skylight, followed by the clink of the fireman's shovel - all this turned the tiny ship into a creature of power and beauty. She was not making a prosaic morning run, but raising new horizons, uncovering strange lands. In my day this was the edge of civilization where history was being made".

RE RIVER TRIP. (Our Contributor, MR. TONY BARKER, B.A. is a South Islander educated at Canterbury University, his main subject being History (in the wide sense), and this is also the subject which he teaches at Paeroa College, this being his third year on the staff. It is encouraging to us that a younger member of our community, although a new comer, takes such a lively interest in our local history. Ed.)

Bibliography; Mr. Barker's Article: Captain Cooks Journal - Edited by Dr.J.C. Beaglehole; The Discovery of New Zealand - Dr. J.C. Beaglehole; The Making of a New Zealander - Alan Mulgan.