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European Settlement in the Wairoa District

Early European contact with the Wairoa District can be divided into three categories: Exploration, Whaling and Missionary. These initial contacts eventually led to the Pākehā settlement of the area.

A Brief History of European Settlement in the Wairoa District

Captain James Cook recorded in his log that he entertained five Māori, on board the HMS Endeavour, between Waikawa Table Cape and (Portland) Island, in October 1769.¹ Oral tradition tells that Cook presented five chiefs of that island with axes and ‘strangely’ cabbage tree seeds. Credence is added to this story as one of the axes was later photographed with its then owner Tiemi Wirihana and mentioned specifically in his Will in 1908.² This artefact became a taonga (heirloom) of the Wirihana/Kaimoana family.

Whaling commenced on the Mahia Peninsula, including Waikawa Island, from 1837 and in the following year Captain G. E. Clayton established a station at Waikokōpu.³ An interesting account is told of a young Hindu whaler, nicknamed Black Harry, who offended Te Apatu, a local chief, by involving himself with a girl who was tapu (sacred). The whaler was condemned to death but, the girl’s cause was taken up by Te Apatu’s daughter Rawinia who successfully protected the young man by placing him in a whata (raised storehouse) and sitting in its doorway with a whale lance. Her high rank protected her and with the assistance of some women eventually smuggled the whaler to safety.⁴

Christianity chiefly arrived with missionaries most notably in the personage of the Reverend James Hamlin (1803-1865). Arriving at Tūranga (Gisborne) with his large family, on Christmas Eve 1844, Hamlin travelled overland with his eldest son James to Wairoa two days later. After a two day journey they arrived 28 December. The following day he conducted a service attended by approximately 300 local Māori. A Māori built chapel, constructed five years earlier, was still standing when Hamlin arrived, but by June 1845 his journal records that it ‘blew down at daylight’. Another ‘larger’ chapel was subsequently constructed by the Māori, although taking a protracted three years to complete. A house in disrepair, built for a Mr Dudley in 1842, also occupied the site. The mission, situated on the north-side bank of the Wairoa River, was considered a poor location by Hamlin.⁵

Māori ownership of much of the land occupied by, and surrounding, the townships of North Clyde and Wairoa (formerly Clyde) was lost during the land purchases during the 1860s. The acquisition and confiscation of Māori land, in the County of Wairoa, continued into the 20th Century. Negotiations for the purchase of land in the Hawke’s Bay Region commenced in December 1850 between Donald McLean (1820-1877), representing the Governor Sir George Grey, and Ngāti Kahungunu. Subsequently, McLean was appointed Chief Land Purchase Commissioner in 1853 with the establishment of the Land Purchase Department.⁶ However, it was not until the early 1860s that McLean successfully purchased land intended of the settlement of the Wairoa Township.⁷

A plan of the Clyde Township, printed by the Hawke’s Bay Herald Office in 1865, confirms that the current street layout of Wairoa has altered little since that year. The frequent naming of roads associated with the Indian Mutiny (1857-1859) is explained by the story that the surveyor Arthur Ralph Gardiner (1829-1927), formerly a sergeant in the Royal Engineers, is thought to have served in India prior to the war. A memorial, located in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Madras, commemorates the gallantry of Captain C. Scott, who was field engineer to General Sir James Hope Grant’s Column.⁸

Captain Scott was killed at the Fort of Kohlee, near Mahonah, 23 November 1858.⁹ The marble tablet also records that Scott had the approbation of General Sir James Outram.¹⁰ All three surnames are street names in Wairoa, including those of Clyde, Campbell and Colin named after Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde (1792-1863), Commander-in-Chief in India during the Indian Mutiny.¹¹

  Archives image2 Tiemi Wirihana   Archives image3 Rawinia Te Apatu  
  Tiemi Wirihana              Rawinia Te Apatu
  Archives image4 D McLean purchasing land  
  Donald McLean purchasing land at Wairoa  
  Archives image5 Memorial to Captain Scott  
  Memorial to Captain Scott  
  Archives image6 Sir Colin Campbell  
  Sir Colin Campbell - 1st Baron Clyde  


¹ Beaglehole, J. C., The discovery of New Zealand, Wellington, Oxford University Press, 1961, p. 30.

² Department of Justice, High Court, Gisborne, Gisborne action files, In the matter of the Estate and Will of Tiemi Wirihana, Series 5819, Box 1, Record No A1215.

³ Mackay, Joseph Angus, ‘Northern whalers invade Mahia’ in Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z., Gisborne, Joseph Angus Mackay, 1949, pp. 146-149.

⁴ Lambert, Thomas, ‘A Māori heroine’ in Pioneering reminiscences of old Wairoa, New Plymouth, Thomas Avery & Sons Ltd, 1936, pp. 88-91; Evening Star, A noted Māori dies in her 104th year, 29 October 1909. 

⁵ Ryburn, H. J., Te Hemara, James Hamlin 1803-1865: Friend of the Māori, 2nd edition, Dunedin, H. J. Ryburn, 1979, pp. 93-137; Hawkes Bay Herald, Death of the Rev. James Hamlin, 2 December 1865.

⁶ Cowan, James, ‘Pioneering Hawke’s Bay: The first land purchases’ in Sir Donald Maclean, Auckland, Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1940, pp. 58-66.

⁷ Wikipedia, Donald McLean (New Zealand politician).

⁸ Wikipedia, ‘Scott Memorial [image]’ in James Hope Grant.

The London Gazette, 22 February 1859, p. 701.

¹⁰ Wikipedia, Sir James Outram, 1st Baronet.

¹¹ Wikipedia, Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde.


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