Matangi Āwhio


1. Early residents at Matangi Āwhio - Pohea and Tamangakau

Place Names
An old tradition recounted by kaumatua of Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Koata offers one explanation for the locality name “Matangi Āwhio” (Auckland Point), and the wider area name spelt as “Whakatū”.  The story tells of a group of manuhiri (visitors) asking locals where they can establish houses;  they are told:  “Whaka tu to kainga kei te wahi e rongo ai koe i matangi a whio”  i.e. Whaka – to cause, make happen, bring about, and tu – stand, stand up … whaka tu – build, erect:  i.e. “Build your homes where you can hear the cries (tangi) of the whio (blue duck)”.

Auckland Point c1846.jpg

Auckland Point, Nelson c 1846. Watercolour. Artist unknown. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Art Collection, 838 (Māori houses on left)

The identities of the residents and the visitors in this account have been lost in the mists of time, but the names and deeds of the earliest-known occupants of the locality, Pohea and his cousin Tamangakau and their supporters, who arrived in somewhat straitened circumstances, are recorded in the traditions of several iwi of Aotearoa.

Murder, Flight and Relocation
Pohea, a chief of the Whanganui district of the North Island, urgently relocated to Whakatū to escape inevitable utu (vengeance, revenge) after he was deemed responsible for the death of a rangatira of a neighbouring rival iwi.  Pohea was a great-great-grandson of Turi, rangatira of the Aotea waka from Hawaiki.  Five generations after Turi's arrival in about 1450AD, a group of Aotea people were living at Whanganui under the leadershop of Pohea and Tamangakau.  They departed south from Whanganui in some haste to avoid certain retribution for having killed Turere Ao, a chief of the Atihau, a people descended from the Kurahaupo waka from Hawaiki.  This killing was itself revenge for Atihau’s role in the death in battle of Aokehu, the brave chief who had killed Tutaeporoporo and rid the Whanganui River of a dreadful taniwha.

There were many exciting incidents as Pohea and Tamangakau travelled through sometimes hostile tribal territories along the Rangitikei, Manawatu and Kapiti coastal districts before they and their followers crossed to Te Waipounamu (South Island).  Eventually they reached Whakatū (Nelson) where they erected a large pa for which Pohea adopted the name Matangi Āwhio, now the site of Auckland Point School and environs, near the Port area of Nelson City.  It is not known how long Pohea occupied Matangi Awhio, nor is it clear how far his influence might have extended from there. 

Utu at Arapaoa (Arapawa Island)
On occasions Pohea and Tamangakau travelled to Arapaoa Island where relatives lived;  during one visit they emulated Kupe by battling an enormous cuttlefish which they eventually killed.  The fame of their deed spread far and wide, eventually reaching Turere Ao’s people;  Turere Ao’s sister, Kahupani, set out to exact utu, long overdue, for her brother’s murder.  She journeyed south from Whanganui to Arapaoa where she concealed her identity, and by feigning seduction was able to separate Pohea and Tamangakau.  Kahupani lured each in turn away from their relatives and despatched them with a well-aimed blow with a patu (stone club).  So ended their reign in Te Tau Ihu.

The Matangi Āwhio site
Pohea is important in Whakatū history because he and Tamangakau were the first residents of Nelson to whom individual names can be attached.  Names are indeed known of individuals who were earlier visitors – seasonal food-gatherers, travellers and/or explorers - who passed through the Whakatū district, but none are recorded as residing for more than a very short period.  And Pohea’s adoption of the name, Matangi Āwhio, for their pa site on the shore of Pareroroa (Whakatū Haven) has persisted for more than 550 years, to the present day. 

Over succeeding centuries many iwi have occupied the locality, at least as a seasonal fishing camp, and in colonial times, as a trading hub for Māori from outlying districts of the region. 

 2. The first Tenths Reserves - Matangi Āwhio

The New Zealand Company promised to set aside one-tenth of all the land they purchased for their settlements for the Māori vendor chiefs and their people.  In Nelson Town 100 acres was set aside as Tenths Reserves in April 1842.  The first five acres selected by Resident Magistrate Henry Thompson as Tenths Reserves were Sections 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66, all at Matangi Āwhio.

F.G. Moore’s account of Christmas in Nelson 1841 explains why these were the first choices.  The Company had invited Māori from Motueka and Riwaka to celebrate the feast. About 100 Māori dressed in their best kaitaka (flax cloaks) and wearing their most valuable ornaments arrived on Christmas Eve, and arranged their stores of provisions “in suitable heaps.”  After a happy Christmas Day involving a service, speeches and a feast, Boxing Day was more businesslike.  Moore was asked by Arthur Wakefield to explain to the chiefs that shiploads of settlers would arrive in the near future and that they would need land to cultivate in order to feed themselves as Māori did.  The Company hoped that the newcomers would be able to live in peace and friendship with the local tribes.  “To all this the chiefs assented, as did their chief women or wives.”  The chiefs offered part of the Motueka district “free to any of our people who would go over there to live and work the ground and live as friends and neighbours.”  Rather disingenuously Wakefield replied that there was enough land at Nelson for a good number, but “by and bye” some immigrants would probably go to Motueka.  He also sought assurance that “the Māoris would remain our allies if any other tribes should offer to molest us or dispute our possession of the land we were now marking off for settlement.”

Tuckett town plan1

Plan of the town of Nelson [cartographic material] / approved by Frederick Tuckett, chief surveyor, 28th April 1842.

At this point “Aprahama” [probably Aperahama Panakenake, Ngāti Rārua of Motueka] said “Show us what you are marking off and we will help you to keep possession of all we have as yet seen.  No other Māoris have any right to occupy it, as they have not cultivated any part of it for years past.”  He then said to Moore “If you and Wakefield will set a portion of this new pah, or township, for our people to build some whares when we come over to visit you, or to trade with the pakehas, we will keep to that, and not interfere with you.”  Wakefield agreed to the request and suggested that the chiefs go with Moore and the surveyors straight away to “choose a convenient place for you[r] canoes and dwellings, and stores for your produce.  The white people will be glad to see you, and to trade fairly with you for that which you have to sell.”

Moore continued his recollection of the event:

“At this point all the elder Maoris promptly made ready, and as the tide was well up in the harbour their canoes were paddled up, by men and women, round the port hills to the north, and they soon selected a suitable place and a moderate portion of necessary land close up under the shelter of the hills, and about 60 yards from the sheltered channel, where their canoes could lay safe and not too far from either the shipping port or the proposed new township.  The pegs or boundary marks of this future native resort were soon in their places, and all went well with this friendly bargain.”

Moore’s account certainly explains why Thompson’s first five choices as Town Tenths Reserves were at Matangi Āwhio , the site chosen by Motueka Māori on Boxing Day 1841 for a landing place, accommodation and trading post. 

It is possible that the chiefs also pointed out Poiwhai (Sec 50), Punawai (Sec 5) and Manuka Is (Sec 1099), other early choices by Thompson, as the party paddled along the Nelson Haven coastline.

3. The first immigrants arrive

The all-male New Zealand Company advance party had been in the Nelson area from late October 1841.  They had been exploring the land, surveying, and preparing for the arrival of the shiploads of immigrants already on their way from England.

The first immigrant ship, the Fifeshire, arrived in Nelson on 1 February 1842.  Māori who had gathered to watch the ship dock are said to have exclaimed: “… Kapai Kapai te Wahine” on seeing European women landing.  But the first meeting between the settlers and Māori was almost a serious misunderstanding. Alfred Saunders, the first settler to step ashore in Nelson, describes the incident:

“We strolled on between the hills and the salt water until we reached the spot on which now stands the ‘Salt Water Bridge’, at which we saw some forty or fifty Maoris with eight canoes loaded with ripe tutu berries. We were taking cautious steps towards them when they sent off a woman to meet and to welcome us; but our deaf friend, Mr Trower, unfortunately pulled out an old-fashioned telescope to its full length and levelled it at the woman, upon which she instantly dropped to the ground as if she had been shot, and, for a moment, there was a great commotion among the Maoris. However, after Mr Trower had been duly lectured and his telescope pitched into the high fern, peace and confidence were soon restored, and the woman made as happy as need be. But we soon gave the Maoris another and more real cause for uneasiness by our eagerness to taste their nice-looking tutu berries. They knocked them out of our hands as we lifted them to our lips. They took a handful of the seeds, and turned up their eyes with an expression of horror. They squeezed out some juice through a suspicious looking cloth, and offered us a drink, which was really delicious, at the same time holding the seeds in one hand and fencing us off with the other, which we understood to mean that we must not eat or touch the seeds. We thought that their actions were most likely based on some superstitious reason. We little knew, as we left them, how much real anxiety we had given them, or that we owed our lives to their extreme vigilance”. 

Two weeks earlier Māori had given evidence of the effects of swallowing tutu berries as being stupefying and bringing on convulsions at the inquest of William Staith, one of the Company’s advance party, who was declared to have ‘… Died by the visitation of God’ after eating tutu berries.

4. Matangi Āwhio - The Marketplace and Māori houses

When Bishop Selwyn, a Government-appointed Trustee of the New Zealand Company’s Native Reserves, visited Nelson in August-September 1842 he congratulated Henry Thompson, Resident Magistrate, who had chosen the Tenths Reserves on his “very judicious selection”, and set out the terms under which the Tenths were to be leased.

Selwyn devised a plan to build five hostelries for Māori visiting Nelson and a chapel, “on an acre of their own land”; he ordered “… a low wall with a flat top, for the exposure of goods for sale, viz. potatoes, Indian corn, leeks, kumera (sweet potatoes), fire-wood, and pork; for all which articles the English are almost entirely dependent upon the native supplies.” Selwyn provided a sketch of his ideas, and selected Sec. 50 (Poiwhai, at the corner of Russell Street and Haven Road) as the site for this plan.  At least three Māori houses were built in the 1840s, the first on Section 50 (Green Point) and two at Auckland Point;  the chapel did not eventuate. 

Matangi Āwhio quickly became a lively marketplace.  In March 1842, not long after the first colonists arrived, John Barnicoat described the barter system operating:

“The natives are daily gathering around us and bring large quantities of very fine and excellent potatoes, pigs, melons, pumpkins, cabbages etc. These they sell but without any view of amassing money as [sic] exchange the produce of their sales for all kinds of clothing, boxes, printed calicos etc. Blankets are being superseded by European dresses but are still in great demand particularly if large and stout. If the size is small or the fabric light it is immediately pronounced “no good”. Shoes are also very much sought after by them and here they are particularly desirable as the ground produces an abundance of long prickly shrub.”

William Stanton, a little later when hereni (shillings) and ihipene (sixpences) had become the terms of exchange, described the scene:

“Auckland Point with its convenient smooth dry “flat” was the camping ground of curiously interested Maori visitors, men, women and children with their poakas (pigs) tethered awaiting Pakeha’s purchases, their piles of kits or flax leaved baskets of potatoes maize or mussels a new and attractive source of income in bright “Hereni” and “Ihipene”,[1] their bright red and well appointed canoes frequently by dozens moored by the tideway, near to the newly made wall embankment of big boulder stones, was a scene of interest to both races meeting for the first time with conversation essayed under blank difficulties in gesture and pantomime with much amusement and interest.”

Matangi Awhio1 Selwyn sketch

Bishop Selwyn's original sketch for the Māori houses. Image supplied by author

The Matangi Āwhio marketplace continued to be the centre of trade for Nelson until European immigrants cleared their land, broke it in and came to terms with the district’s soils and climate.  Self-sufficiency took some years to establish.

The Māori Houses
Selwyn proposed five hostels for Māori, allocating them to the geographic location from which Māori came to trade – Rangitoto (D'Urville Island), Motueka, Tai Tapu (Golden Bay), Wakapouaka and Hoi-ere (Pelorus) – rather than for iwi.  The hostels were to be built and maintained by Native Tenths Reserves' income after an initial loan from the New Zealand Company.  Barnicoat left sketches of the original Māori houses, at least three of which were built in the 1840s;  over more than a century the houses at Auckland Point were replaced, rebuilt and refurbished, but they were never very large. 

Auckland Point.jpg

Auckland Point October 1, 1843. J.W. Barnicoat, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Bett Collection, 286. (Māori houses bottom centre)

Edwin Hodder recorded his dismissive impression as he was on his way to the Aorere (Collingwood) goldfield in the late 1850s: 

“On our way to the town, we notice two brick houses of very unarchitectural appearance, surrounded by a motley group of natives, some busily employed in dressing flax, others sitting listlessly on the ground smoking, and all dressed in a curious combination of European costume. … There are rarely more than fifty or sixty natives in Nelson at a time; these two houses are their head-quarters, and they use them as general places of accommodation when on their travels. Sometimes they will settle here for a month or two, for the purpose of fishing and carrying on trade with the settlers, vending their fish and articles of manufacture at extortionate prices, which none but very raw young colonists ever think of paying.

Māori used the houses initially for trade and for important events such as William Spain’s 1844 Enquiry into the validity of the New Zealand Company’s claim to ownership of the lands for its Nelson settlement.  Later they were used for visits to town for other reasons, including a need for medical assistance and hearings of the Native Land Court (from 1883). 

An unfortunate development was health authorities’ attitude that the Māori houses were a quasi-hospital.  This sometimes resulted in refusals to admit Māori to Nelson Hospital, even in critical situations;  there was no nursing care at the Māori houses, and frequent overcrowding meant that infections spread rapidly.

In 1906, when there was only one Māori house available, Dr. Hudson, who attended Māori in Nelson, raised his concerns with the Public Trustee, at that time in charge of the Tenths Reserves Fund:

“At present there is a family in every room of the Cottage, with one or more members sick in it – And the Healthy are mixed up with the Sick in a most unhealthy manner”.

The doctor proposed one house for the sick and one for the healthy.  There was a second Māori house, let to a European;  the Public Trustee’s District Agent was not prepared to inconvenience the tenant and anyway “… the place in question is far too good for the class of Natives that mostly uses the Hostelry …”

It is not known how many became ill or died unnecessarily through lack of care at the Māori houses.  The Health Department closed the final house in 1949.

Matangi Āwhio today
Most of Tenths Reserves Sections 62-65 are today owned by Wakatū Incorporation, except for the land taken for Māori Road.  The area above Māori Road is undeveloped. Auckland Point School occupies, under lease, the flat land below Māori Road.

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