Establishing the trading station at Ngamotu, 1828

Updated 25 July 2019

As noted in the blog post about Dicky and Rawinia, in 1828 Dicky and John Agar (Jacky) Love started a trading business between Sydney, Australia, and what was to become New Zealand (Aotearoa). After being intercepted off the coast of Taranaki by a party of Te Atiawa, lead by Te Wharepouri and Te Puni, the traders were persuaded to go ashore at Nga Motu (now Ngamotu) to inspect flax and pigs in exchange for muskets, iron tools and woollen blankets with the view to establishing a trading station there. Barrett, who had previously interacted with visiting Māori while in Sydney, understood the substance of Te Wharepouri’s invitation.

Te Atiawa were motivated to have traders set up a trading station on their territory where they could gain regular access to European goods. However, Te Atiawa wanted to do so under their own terms, thereby maintaining (and enhancing) tribal mana, and obtain muskets and other weapons to enhance their defence against attacks from other tribes – particularly the Waikato and Taranaki.

Pressing for a permanent trading post to be set up, Te Atiawa presented both men with high-born women as wives, and they went on with life based at the small fishing kainga (village) of Mataipu, adjacent to Otaka Pā. Hapū that lived in the area at the time were collectively known as the Ngāmotu hapu (including Ngāti Te Whiti, Ngāti Tawhiri-kura and Ngāti Tupari-kino). At the time there were an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 people living in the area in over 30 pā along the coastline (Caughey, page 27). In what is now known as New Plymouth there were many Te Ātiawa kāinga along the Te Henui and Huatoki streams, the Waiwakaiho River, at Puke Ariki, Ngamotu, Paritutu and other places. Those rivers, streams and lands, along with the coastal reefs, provided an abundance of fresh water, food and other resources.

Barrett was at heart an entrepreneur. He persuaded Te Atiawa to plant and cultivate new crops, including melons, maize, cucumbers, pumpkins and wheat, and to raise extra pigs for the export market. Barrett travelled far and wide to negotiate extra supplies for the trading station such as flax from north of Mokau, east to the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay, and south to the Taranaki iwi, using the established network of Māori tracks.

According to the Taranaki Herald’s article published after Caroline’s death in 1899:

“Ngamotu … had from the earliest times been a favourite position for Maori occupation. The surrounding country was fertile and well sheltered from the prevailing winds, the sea in its neighbourhood abounded in fish, and the almost inaccessible peaks and sea-grit rocks of the Sugar Loaves presented unrivalled positions for defence and refuge in times of war. These rocky islands and peaks, known to the natives by the name of Ngamotu, or The Islands, were given their present name by Captain James Cook, who was the first European of whom we have record to sight them. This he did at noon on the 12th January, 1770.”

Barrett saw the potential of what was on offer. He went on to build a raupo warehouse, supervised the development of crop farming and extended the flax plantations. Barrett and Love’s vessel, the Adventure, was renamed the Tohora (Albatross in Maori) and the men commenced to engage in trade with the Sydney market, importing farm implements and whaling gear.

Some of the Te Atiawa chiefs, including Te Wharepouri and Te Puni, accompanied the traders on the first trip to Sydney.

Soon after the return from Sydney, the vessel was driven onto the beach during an unexpected gale.  After making minor repairs, the dilemma of how to relaunch the vessel soon became apparent, as described by the Taranaki Herald in 1899:

“… but now to launch her as she lay at high water with no ways or proper appliances to move her. A bright idea struck one of the traders, and the natives, who had gathered in great numbers from every direction, were set to collect seaweed, and this was placed beneath the ship’s keel and laid on the track by which they intended to draw her seaward. Then towing ropes were made fast all over the ship, and by the united efforts of the hundreds gathered, whose pull was regulated and worked up to the utmost power by the wild dance and shouts of encouragement of their chiefs, Tohora moves [and was] guided carefully seaward and successfully floated”.

Unfortunately, after the Tohora’s re-floating, an incident occurred which led to a disastrous end for the vessel. A cask of pork slipped from its sling on the point of being lowered in the hold of the vessel, and the ship was scuttled.

Trading continued though, firstly via another brig plying the trans-Tasman trade, the Elizabeth, and subsequently by other vessels arranged by the traders principals in Sydney.

Barrett discovered he had an entrepreneurial flair and became the business manager of the trading post, which in time became very profitable. According to the same Taranaki Herald article:

“… it has been stated by reliable natives who lived at Ngamotu at the time that for the first lot of muskets bartered a price of one hundred big pigs for each musket (flintlock) was demanded and obtained.”

Although Te Atiawa had extensive gardens planted, Barrett introduced new seeds from Australia, ‘… and persuaded Ati Awa [sic] to prepare, sow, tend and harvest considerable areas of melons, maize, cucumbers, pumpkins and wheat in their cultivations, and around his home, and to raise extra numbers of pigs for the export market (Caughey, page 36).

Barrett travelled extensively, going as far north as Mokau, east to the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay, and to southern Taranaki and Wanganui, all the while expanding on trade networks and supplies for the trading station. No doubt accompanied by Te Atiawa guides, Barrett’s ‘… friendly personality would have gone far to assure him of an enthusiastic welcome at most of the villages he visited’ (Caughey, page 38).

With their day-to-day life being co-existent with Māori culture and society, Barrett, Love and their fellow traders would have experienced a considerably different culture, while at the same time ushered in considerable economic and social change for Te Atiawa.

Māori society was hapū-based,  comprising members of the same whanau (family). Each hapū survived on seasonal horticulture along with the harvesting of natural resources from the land and sea. Stones were used as their primary tool for such diverse purposes as chopping wood, cutting and slicing food, hangi stones, as anchors for waka and fishing nets, and stone clubs (as weapons).

Both Te Atiawa and the traders adapted to their changed circumstances of living together. For example, Te Atiawa added bartering in addition to their cultural practice of gift-exchange. That meant directing resources away from horticulture and harvesting to the production of dressed flax and other products to trade.

Barrett and the other Pākehā in turn adopted some Māori customs. They were given Māori names, lived with their wife’s hapū and spoke pidgin Māori. They became known as Pākehā-Māori.

It was this practice of accommodation that led Ron McLean to conclude that, ‘Both parties were changed by the contact and to a greater or lesser extent they both compromised and moved away from acting according to their cultural norms (page 12).

However, many aspects of their respective cultural norms remained in place. McLean went on to state that ‘Te Ati Awa [sic] were selective in what they adopted from the European world. New crops, new goods and new ideas were introduced, which had significant ramifications for Te Ati Awa society. Yet in many ways, their lifestyle remained unchanged. Those cultural elements that were adopted by Te Ati Awa from Barrett were primarily economic in nature’ (page 12).

Similarly with the traders, in that their ‘decision to adapt to a Māori lifestyle was a tactical one, aimed at facilitating trade. They retained European dress and European ideas, values and attitudes’ (page 16).

3 thoughts on “Establishing the trading station at Ngamotu, 1828

  1. Pingback: Te Atiawa – Barrett Honeyfield Ancestry

  2. Pingback: Ngati Te Whiti – Barrett Honeyfield Ancestry

  3. Pingback: Tribal conflict lay behind Te Atiawa invitation to establish a trading station at Ngamotu – Barrett Honeyfield Tupuna / Ancestry: their lives, the times and their legacy

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