Tag Archives: History

Land Use and Settlement in the Upper Waitemata – Part Two

In this the second part of my small study of land use and settlement in the Upper Waitemata we are staying within the area defined in part one – from Island Bay to Kendall’s Bay, keeping within the coastal strip.  This part will take a look at the early colonial/settler history of the area, with the emphasis being on the early or pre-WWII.  After this point in time there is plenty of written records and several good books written on the history of Birkenhead and I have no desire to rehash already well-known information.

In 1769 Captain James Cook sailed through the Hauraki Gulf past Waiheke Island and made a note that there might be sheltered harbours to the west.  The only other Europeans around at the end of the eighteenth century were whalers and as of yet no records have been found of any exploration into the upper Waitemata.  It appears that it is not until 1820 that Europeans began to show an interest in this sheltered inland harbour. 

Reverend Samuel Marsden is often credited with being the first to explore the area, in his diaries he states that he left the HMS Coromandel at Waiheke and was guided by Te Morenga to Riverhead where he then travelled overland to the Kaipara River – a route travelled by Maori for centuries.

During the next twenty years there were undoubtedly forays by other Europeans into the Waitemata, perhaps looking for timber and other such opportunities however their stories are as yet unknown.  In 1840 the HMS Herald was the next major ship to visit the Waitemata, onboard was the Lieutenant Governor of NZ Hobson and the Surveyor General Felton Matthew.  They spent the next two weeks exploring the harbour – Herald Island is named after the ship and of course Hobsonville after the Governor who had initially favoured the place as the capital of New Zealand.

Slightly further afield from our area of study there are records from around this time which make a note of sailors rowing up Hellyers Creek to a place called The Lagoon to restock their freshwater supplies, however, “it has also been recorded that in 1841 a Mr Hellyer, lived on the bank of the creek which now bears his name.  He brewed beer which no doubt was a great incentive to those earlier seamen who rowed up the harbour…”

An early but seriously water worn pipe end found on the beach at Kendall’s Bay – it is easy to imagine the early sailor who dropped their pipe overboard as they sailed up the Waitemata.

In 1841 our area of study was part of a large land purchase called the Mahurangi Block, it extended from Takapuna/Devonport to Te Arai and encompassed the majority of the present-day North Shore. The first parcels of land to be auctioned in 1844 were between Northcote and Lake Pupuke. Much of the early purchases in the Birkenhead area were part of a land speculation trend without the land being settled or farmed.  Significant chunks of land sold were the area from Rangitira Rd/Beach Rd to Soldiers Bay which was sold to William Brown in 1845 and the area from Balmain and Domain Rds to the shore encompassing one hundred and ten acres being sold to a James Woolly also in 1845.  However, it does not seem that either of them actually lived here.  It was common practice for land to bought speculatively and sold on in smaller parcels to settlers fresh off the boat so to speak, such as the ‘Tramway Company’ a land development company who bought large tracts of land in what is now Birkenhead.

The earliest settlers of the Birkenhead area who are known were Henry Hawkins, Hugh McCrum, John Creamer, Joseph Hill, James Fitzpatrick and William Bradney.  All of whom appeared to have had a go at farming but little else is known about them.

Unfortunately, those early settlers who chose the Birkenhead area were in for a hard time, as mentioned in part one the soil was not conducive to farming in the traditional sense.  Settlement was a rather slow process particularly when compared to other parts of the North Shore and Auckland.  Not surprising when faced with the prospect of clearing the bush before they could even build themselves a dwelling.  Many of the early dwellings were simple one room nikau whares, constructed of sod walls with a raupo or nikau thatched roof.  As they cleared the bush often deposits of kauri gum would be found and sold ensuring a source of income. 

A reconstructed nikau/ raupo whare at Howick Historical Village – a living history museum in east Auckland.
Lumps of kauri gum found at Kendall’s Bay.

Even though most of these early farmers only managed a subsistence living, there were the occasional success story.  Birkenhead became quite well known for its fruit orchards, the first of which was established by Henry Hawkins.  There are two differing accounts as to where Hawkins had his orchard, some maintain it was near Soldiers Bay and others say it was on the ridge where Birkenhead Ave now runs.  It is of course possible that both are correct, one of the earliest estates to be subdivided and sold was the Balmain Estate (also known as the Balmain Township) which extended over a much wider area than just the Balmain Rd of today.  The steep sided valley of Soldiers Bay would appear to not be conducive to a fruit orchard, the thick kauri groves would have been quite a hindrance to say the least.  However, an advertisement in the local paper for 1855 has H J Hawkins selling 700 fruit trees from his farm at The Glen, Soldiers Bay. Later in 1870-71 Hawkins is recorded as owning allotment two and three in Birkenhead – this is situated on the ridge which is now Birkenhead Ave. 

Another early settler is mentioned in relation to a dwelling on a map dated to 1849, the house was owned by a John Crisp and was situated close to what is now Fitzpatrick Bay. Unfortunately, I have been unable to corroborate this.

According to a local history study of Island Bay and surroundings (Island Bay. A Brief History) there is an 1844 map which shows a dwelling occupied by a Mr George Skey. The bottom part of the block was developed into a small farm and sold as a going concern around 1849.  It had its own jetty and a farm boundary ditch, unfortunately I have been unable to track down this map to verify this information and the area where the farm is said to be (and relatively well preserved) is part of the Muriel Fisher Reserve which is currently closed due to kauri dieback.  Having said that, it is definitely something to consider and requires further investigation. 

Soldiers Bay at low tide – the tree covered area to the left is part of the Muriel Fisher Reserve and the probable site of allotment 148.

Whilst the 1880-81 electoral roll lists a small block (allotment 148 – a trapezoidal block which ran from what is now Rangitira Rd to the western edge of Soldiers Bay) of twenty-three acres owned by a Mr Clement Partridge who is described as a settler.  The area of Island Bay was one of those places where early land sales were of the speculative kind.  It wasn’t until the “Tramway Company”, a land development company, bought large tracts of land in the Birkenhead area including Island Bay, that small dwellings began to appear. Like many of the bays in the area, Island Bay was a summer place with the majority of dwellings being bach’s and only a handful were occupied all year round.  The road began as a dirt track mostly used by gumdiggers and was previously known as Victoria Rd West prior to 1913.

What’s in a Name?

Placenames often hold clues as to the early settlement of an area and its changing history.  In part one we already looked at some of the Maori names for places and how they relate to not only how the landscape was used but also how the people saw themselves within their world.  For Europeans the naming of places can be a lot more prosaic and, in some cases, the reason for the name is obvious such as Island Bay, so named for the small island at the end of the road which was once separated from the mainland and only accessed at low tide via stepping stones. 

The island after which Island Bay is so named…

Others, however, are much more difficult to ascertain – Kendall Bay is obviously a European name but at this point in time there are no records of anyone with the name of Kendall after whom the bay was so named.  One possibility is that Kendall may be the name of gumdigger or gum buyer situated at the bay – gumdigger camps were often situated at the head of sheltered gullies near fresh water and near to the coast.  Kendall Bay satisfies all of these requirements.  Interestingly, the bay is also known locally as Shark Bay, undoubtedly because of the shark fishing grounds exploited by Maori and later Europeans.

Kendall’s Bay or Shark Bay on a foggy morning.

Interestingly, Kauri Point is the one placename not to change and to be consistently included in the majority of maps dating back to 1842 and up to the present day.  It would be a fair guess to say the name came about as a result of the large kauri stands which would have been easily visible to the first people to sail up the harbour.

Names have also changed through time or have been forgotten.  The Upper Waitemata was once called Sandy Bay on a nautical chart from 1841; another early map refers to Pt Shortland (1842), the headland where the Naval Base currently is; on other maps the bay we know today as Onetaunga Bay was once called Quarryman’s Bay.  

Quarryman’s Bay, like Brick Bay further up the harbour, refer to the early industrial endeavours of the area’s inhabitants.  Both quarrying and brickmaking were popular industries in a land where traditional farming was problematic.  One of the occupations of a potential early settler in the area was brickmaker (see below).

Just a few of the many bricks found on the beach at Fitzpatrick’s Bay – possibly either as a result of a small brick making industry or as a result of the demolition of the house on the hill which may have had a brick chimney.

Soldiers Bay is an interesting case of a name that has been around for a long time but its origins are hazy.  The earliest mention that I have been able to track down is dated to a map of 1863.  Today the stream that runs down from the high ground and empties into Soldiers Bay would have been a lot less silted up and most likely navigable by waka or rowboat as far as the present-day carpark.  Today there is a causeway which joins the bottom of Balmain Rd to the reserve which would not have been there in the early days.  This causeway was most likely constructed in the early twentieth century when a caretakes lived at the end of the reserve above Fitzpatrick’s Bay.

The modern causeway which now links Kauri Point Domain to the bottom of Balmain Rd – there are oral histories which tell of access to the beaches being further up the valley.

None of which gives us any clue as to why Soldier’s Bay is so named…it has been suggested that the bay gained its name as a result of an encampment of militia during the unsettled times of the mid-1800s.  At the time, Hone Heke was ‘making life unpleasant’ for settlers in the north, particularly the Hokianga, and many had moved south to take up land in Birkenhead.  To allay the fears of the settlers a contingent of soldiers may have been positioned in various places…hence Soldiers Bay.  As mentioned before the stream would have been navigable to the bottom of present-day Balmain Rd, just before that though there is a flat spur which would have provided a good position for an encampment, with a clear view of the harbour and a fresh water supply.

The final placename to consider is that of Fitzpatrick’s Bay, this small sandy bay is today part of the Kauri Point Domain and is a popular recreational reserve for the local area.  There are two possible people responsible for naming of the Bay – Charles Fitzpatrick or James Fitzpatrick. 

An examination of Jury Lists and Electoral Rolls shows that a James Fitzpatrick arrived on the Jane Gifford in 1842 with his wife and daughter.  The Jury List of 1842-57 lists James as living on the North Shore as a brickmaker; in the 1850s and 1860s he was still living on the North Shore but was now a farmer and a freeholder.  Whether or not he was actually living in the Birkenhead area is difficult to say; Birkenhead itself was not so named until 1863 and up until that point there was very little distinction between areas.  In the 1870-71 electoral roll James was listed as residing in Takapuna, allotment 15 – a survey of the cadastral maps of 1868 shows that allotment 15 is in fact in Northcote (Takapuna refers to Takapuna Parish of which included todays Takapuna, Birkenhead, Northcote, Hillcrest, Birkdale, Beachhaven and so on).  In 1890, James was still in the Takapuna Parish but was now listed as a gumdigger.

Photo of gumdiggers outside a raupo whare on the Manukau Pennisula ca 1891 (from Auckland Libaries heritage Collections 07064)

Charles Fitzpatrick only appears twice in the lists; first in 1867 and as having a freehold land and house at Kauri Point however by 1890 he had moved to Morrinsville.  Whilst only Charles is listed specifically as living in our area of study and he would appear to be the best option for the naming of Fitzpatrick Bay it is still not possible to rule out James. 

Fun in the Sun

The study area today is made up of three different zones – residential (Island Bay), defence (Onetaunga Bay) and recreational (Fitzpatrick Bay, Soldiers Bay and Kendall Bay).  In 1888 Governor William Jervois permanently reserved for the purpose of recreation 133 acres of land (allotment 162 and 163) in the Parish of Takapuna.  It had been his hope that the area was turned into a national park, a place of tranquillity for Aucklanders. This was the area from Kendall Bay to the eastern end of Fitzpatrick Bay.  In 1913 the Harbour Board acquired a further forty-two acres which included Kauri Point (allotment 164) which had previously been owned by Sir John Logan Campbell until his death in 1912.  Further to this the area around Fitzpatrick and Soldiers Bay were then added to the park in 1916.  An article in the New Zeland Herald in 1916 stated that the reserve had a fine waterfront and had in the past had been much used as a camping and picnic ground.  It also mentions a ‘good five roomed house’, our first mention of what was to be known as the caretakers’ house.

Photo of the proposed plan for a park at Kauri Point dated to 1913.

 An article from 1900 also in the New Zealand Herald also mentions how the Kauri Point Domain board had agreed to allow campers for a small fee.  Interestingly they also denied a request for funds for a wharf.  Reading through multiple articles the request for a wharf in the area is one which is constantly brought up, eventually a wharf was constructed but not at Fitzpatrick’s or Soldiers Bay but at Onetaunga Bay and it was paid for and built without the help of the board or their funds.

The grassy area at Fitzpatrick’s used by campers since the 1900s if not earlier.

This marked a new era for this inner harbour landscape; each of the small bays were transformed in the summer months as families from the city side would spend the warmer days living under canvas. In the 1920s and 1930s there were seven or eight families holidaying at Kendall Bay, their camp was at the western end of the bay where there is a level space and a freshwater stream.  At Fitzpatrick’s the camp site was at the northern end of the bay on the grassy area above the beach.  Unlike elsewhere this part of the reserve was owned by the Birkenhead Borough Council from 1929 who improved it and put in place a caretaker. 

The only recorded caretaker was a William Henry Rickwood who lived in small house with his family on the hill above Fitzpatricks.  Oral histories record how Williams’ wife would keep a small store selling sweets, soft drinks and other useful supplies.  There was also a ‘ponga-house’ where Mrs Rickwood would provide hot water and often sold tea and scones to the visitors.  There is very little that remains of this house today, just a level area with an overgrown collection of European garden plants such as figs and a rambling rose.  However, there is evidence of both the campers and the caretakers in form of the rubbish they were throwing away.  Often along the bay sherds of old ceramics dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1930s can be found, undoubtedly there is a European midden that has eroded onto the beach. 

As well as the tent sites at Kendall Bay, there were other camping places, near the wharf at Onetaunga Bay and at Fitzpatricks bay which is the beach at the present Kauri Point Domain.  Pre-World War Two and back through the Depression years, tents appeared each summer for a back-to-nature holiday by bush and sea.  Much of the housework was left behind at home and there was no problem keeping the children amused. There were good sandy beaches and the harbour water was clear and clean in those days before the march of suburbia. (From a pamphlet of remembrances celebrating twenty years of Kauri Point Centennial Park, available in the Birkenhead Library).

Island Bay whilst listed as residential today was up until the construction of the Harbour Bridge mainly a summer town, full of bachs occupied only in the summer by families from across the water in the city. Unlike the other bays the land around Island Bay was owned by a land development company, being subsequently subdivided and sold off.  However, because of issues of transport and roads only a few of the blocks were permanently occupied.  Newspapers from the early 1900s often have articles describing summer outings by the Ponsonby Yacht Club to Soldiers Bay and area. 

Defence

A final chapter in the history of land use in our area is that of defence.  Just prior to the Second World War in 1935 ninety acres of the Kauri Point Domain was taken for defence purposes.  The area of Onetaunga Bay (once Quarryman’s Bay) was developed for a storage facility for naval armaments.  This unfortunately put paid to those carefree summer campers who no longer came in the large numbers, the caretaker at Fitzpatrick’s was still Mr Rickwood in 1938, as listed in the Wises Directory, but with the outbreak of WWII everything changed.

In 1942 the Americans had arrived in response to the Japanese threat in the South Pacific. Kauri Point Domain, Fitzpatrick’s bay included, were given over to the Americans and a large number of powder magazines were built.  There are several unusual features on the beach at Fitzpatrick’s Bay, which may relate to these days.

After the war the Domain reverted to being parkland but never again were campers allowed back to any of the bays.  Today the Naval depot forms a large wedge between Kauri Point Domain and Kauri Point Centennial Park.

The wedge of buildings and land is the naval depot – Kauri Point Domain is to the top and Kauri Point Centennial Park the dark area to bottom and along.

Sources

McClure M (1987) ‘The Story of Birkenhead’

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

‘Island Bay – A Brief History’ – unknown author.

‘Birkenhead The Kauri Suburb’

Papers Past – New Zealand

Electoral Rolls – Ancestry.com

‘Kauri Point Centennial Park Management Plan’ Birkenhead City Council 1989.

‘North Shore Heritage. A Thematic Review Report’ Auckland City Council 2011.

Two Days in napier

Just recently the husband and I had a child free weekend away, during this time we spend two days exploring the town of Napier in the Hawkes Bay.  Naturally I was drawn to the town’s heritage and as per usual my first stop was to the local museum – MTG Hawkes Bay.

The exterior of the museum.

Situated in the main part of town near the seafront, it is attached to the library and spread over three floors.  The ground floor gallery is taken up by two exhibitions – Tenei Tonu and Turuturu, Fingers, Feathers and Fibre. Tenei Tonu showcased the taonga, both historic and contemporary, alongside the stories of the local Iwi Ngati Kahunguru. Turuturu took up a space which joined the museum to the library and is a fascinating albeit brief look at the importance of weaving in Maori culture.

Turuturu are weaving pegs used to keep a garment off the ground when it is being made. The main peg is the right one and can be elaborately decorated. It represents the mana of Te Whare Pora – the knowledge-bank of the art-form. The peg itself upholds the mana of the growing garment and it spiritually connects the maker to the world of thought and concentration. The peg also grounds the maker so they do not get lost in their intellectual world. (quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)

On the second floor was three collections – one of an amazing display of heirloom silverware whilst the second was called Five Pakeha Painters – Perspectives on the Hawkes Bay.  This small exhibition of artwork acknowledged the importance of art as a form of dialogue between the artist, the land and the social norms of the time.  The third exhibition was titled The House of Webb – A Victorian Family’s Journey to Ormondsville.  This is a temporary exhibition (it finishes on the 3rd November) showcasing life in Victorian Napier through the belongings, diaries and letters of the Webb Family.  In 1884 the Webb family left their comfortable life in England and travelled to Napier and then further south to Ormondsville, this exhibition showed what life was like for these early settlers, some of their trials and how they survived those early days. 

The final gallery to be explored was in the basement of the museum – here the visitor is taken through that fateful day in 1931 when the Hawkes Bay was hit by a massive earthquake which destroyed almost all of Napier and killed over three hundred people.

At 10:47am on 3 February 1931, a devastating earthquake struck Hawke’s Bay. In that moment it seemed the end of the world had come. People were thrown off their feet; buildings shuddered and collapsed as the ground pitched violently. In central Napier, fires broke out within minutes and rushed through the city. Amidst the burning, falling buildings, the bright blue sky of a summer’s day was obscured by smoke and dust. People could only watch as their home was destroyed around them. In desperation the injured screamed for help, others ran for the safety of the beach, or home to find their families. (Quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)

As well as the thoughtful display of objects and stories, there is also a short film of ‘Survivor Stories’ which brings home how devasting the earthquake was to the people of the Hawkes Bay.  Time here will forever be divided between ‘before and after the earthquake’.

The second place to be visited was the Napier Prison…yes on purpose…and no not in shackles…

Napier Prison is New Zealand’s oldest prison, it was first opened in 1852 and was closed to inmates in 1993.  Situated on Bluff Hill and next to the quarry where early inmates were expected to do hard labour extracting the stone that would build walls which now surround the prison.  In 2002 the prison was restored to the state it is in by a local family who turned it into a back-packers (not my first choice of accommodation) but nowadays it is a tourist attraction and even on the cold wet day we visited there were a quite a few visitors.

The forbidding entrance of Napier Prison – visitors must knock…

As a visitor you can either go on a guided tour or do the self-guided audio tour which we did.  The facilities also host scare tours in the evenings and has an Escape Room Experience for those wanting something a bit different.  On two separate occasions and for quite different reasons, the prison has been the focus of a TV show – one looking to enhance the visitor experience from a heritage perspective and the other capitalising on the prison’s spookier stories. The prison has also through its time been used as a psychiatric unit, a lighthouse and a meeting place for Alcoholic Anonymous groups.

Above is a block called ‘The Pound’ – the padded cells and caged exercise area chilling reminders that once upon a time mental illness was treated with a lot less compassion.

Beside The Pound is ‘The Hole’ – use your imagination…

The above photos show a small selection of numerous information boards that provide a light moment amongst the many somber ones.

The above photos are of the main block and exercise yard, the bottom picture is of a well discovered a short while ago. The well room is in what was once the infirmary before being divided into other rooms during the prisons back packing days.

Above is a plaque about one of the prison’s most well known executioners. – the role of executioner would often fall to one of the inmates and Tom Long was no exception.

On a personal note, it was a fascinating place, however the sense of relief when I walked back out the front gates was immense. The heavy sense of foreboding made for an uncomfortable visit, there were places I simply could not enter.  I took no photos of the ‘hanging yard’ or the graveyard (where only three burials are had), the feelings of deep sadness were enough to stop me pressing the shutter. The ‘hanging yard’ in particular had an effect on me…but having said that I am glad I went, it was educational and an eye-opener to life behind bars in New Zealand’s oldest prison.

The remaining photos are just a few from around a city well known for its art deco architecture and seafront gardens.

The view of Napier Port from the lookout on Bluff Hill.

Please note that all photos are my own – the MTG Hawkes Bay do not allow photography in many of their galleries, hence the paucity of photos from this lovely museum.

Symonds St CEMETERY

Last week was New Zealand Archaeology Week and as part of this I joined a group of like minded people with the aim of learning a bit more about Auckland’s early history via the evidence provided with one of our earliest cemeteries – the Symonds St Cemetery. The commentary was provided by Dr Heather Battles and our hosts were the Auckland Archaeological Society/NZAA.

The above shows an aerial view of the cemetery as it is today and its divisions based on the religious affiliations of the interred.

The cemetery is one of New Zealand’s oldest urban cemeteries and was established in 1841, the same year Auckland became the capital of this fledgling colonial country. Although today it is part of the inner city back in the mid 1800s it was some distance from the colonial township.

This was unusual for the time – burials were usually found within a churchyard setting whilst in this case the churches for the various denominations were some distance from the cemetery itself. It has been suggested that concerns over public health were what prompted this new urban model but also it “reflected the influence of broader Enlightenment ideas on the new colony, which stressed the seperation between church and state” (from NZ Heritage listing summary).

Enlightenment values could also be seen in the idea of a cemetery for all – here religious affiliations became less important – to an extent…whilst the cemetery is the last resting place of a diverse range of religions, they are segregated within the cemetery itself. One of my earliest pieces of fieldwork as an undergrad student at Auckland University was to do a comparative study of two of the areas within the cemetery looking at the monuments and asking what can they tell us about colonial society. Unfortunately it has been quite some time since then and I do not remember much but what did stand out to me was how elaborate the Wesleyan monuments were when compared to the other parts of the cemetery which is in direct contrast to their sermons on humility and modesty.

The earliest phase of the cemetery was probably about 3.75 hectares but by 1842 it had expanded to around 7.5 hectares. This part of Auckland is one of many ups and downs and today you can see many of the monuments are beginning to tumble down the gully (if they haven’t already). The cemetery was divided into the four main denominations (Anglican, Catholic, Jewish and Wesleyan/non-conformist) on either side of the main route south out of Auckland. This ridgeway later became known as Symonds Street. The land size that each group received was based upon the census of the time.

The 1860s and 1870s saw a change in attitude towards the cemetery and some beautification occured, with trees being planted (some are still there today) and paths being laid. In turn the monuments start to become more elaborate. Eventually, space became an issue and the cemetery was closed to new burials in 1886 unless you already had family members interred there. At the same time a new urban cemetery was created at Waikumete. By 1909 Symonds Street Cemetery became a public reserve suffering from various modifications when the Grafton Bridge was built to span the steep sided gully. Much later in the mid 1960s further damage was done to the cemetery with the southern motorway was constructed. During this time some 4100 bodies were removed and reinterred in two memorial sites within the cemetery.

Today the cemetery is around 5.8 hectares with approximately 10,000 individuals interred there, however it is estimated only around a quarter of those have any kind of visible monuments. Even so it is still an important repository of information on early colonial Auckland and New Zealand.

Below are some images from the Catholic part of the cemetery.

The following images are also from the Catholic part of the cemetery, the first shows the Catholic church some distance away and separated by the southern motorway. The second photo shows the memorial plaque for those whose bodies were re-interred as a result of the motorway construction.

The pictures below are from the Anglican part of the cemetery and show some of the disrepair the monuments are in. The third photo along is of a very distinctive memorial in the shape of a church.

There are several well known New Zealanders buried in the cemetery such as William Hobson, New Zealand’s first Governor who signed the Treaty of Waitangi and died in 1842. The first picture is his memorial whilst the remaining two pictures are of Frederick Manning’s burial, another well known New Zealander.

The construction of Grafton Bridge caused some modifications to the cemetery below.
Last but no least is the walled Jewish cemetery, perhaps the most well kept area of the whole cemetery…

Further information

The construction of the motorway and its impact on the cemetery.

Timespanner

Symonds Street Cemetery – Our Auckland Stuff

Friends of Symonds St Cemetery

Myths and Colonisation of the Pacific.

This article was originally written several years ago for the ‘Mythology Magazine’ which is now defunct. My intention when writing this was to look at some of the myths and legends associated with the colonisation of the Pacific so please do bear in mind this is not an academic treatise on this subject (that is a far too large a subject for a simple blog…).

The islands of the Pacific Ocean were one of the last places in the world to be colonised by people.  The how, when and why has occupied archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historian for decades.  For the European scientist these questions need to be answered with solid evidence backing them.  For the indigenous populations tradition told them all they needed to know, the myths and legends providing all that was needed by the way of explanation. 

Map of Oceania

New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island were the last landmasses to be colonised in the Pacific.  These first peoples were at the end of a long line of ancestors whose collective knowledge fuelled their ability and desire to travel across vast tracts of ocean.  The Pacific region is made up of three distinct areas – Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.  The first area to have been settled by people was Melanesia; it consists of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago and New Caledonia.  Dates for the first colonisation range between some 50-30,000 years ago their ancestors originating from South East Asia.  Micronesia is situated north of the Melanesian group and is made up of groups of islands including Kiribati, Nauru, Marshall Islands (to name a few) and the US territories of Guam, Northern Mariana Island and Wake Island.  Evidence for the settlement of this region is difficult to pin down; the earliest archaeological evidence comes from the island of Saipan and is dated to around 3500 years ago.  The third group of islands is Polynesia which covers a wide part of the Pacific.  Generally speaking New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island form the corners of a triangle within which all other islands sit and are referred to as Polynesia.

The ancestors of the Polynesians migrated from South East Asia a little later than the settlers of Micronesia, passing through some parts of Micronesia and Melanesia, but rarely settling for long.  Fiji is an interesting case, as in many ways it straddles the line between Melanesia and Polynesia.  When the ancestors of the Polynesians arrived in Fiji there was already a decent sized population and had been for millennia.  Yet today the visitor to Fiji will see a multitude of faces, some are distinctly Melanesian looking (mainly in the eastern islands) and others look more Polynesian.  Fiji in many ways was a jumping off point for the exploration further west, the next islands to be settled were Samoa and Tonga, both of which are not a great distance from Fiji.  These early explorers are known as Lapita people based on a distinctive type of pottery found on the archaeological sites.

The distinctive pottery of the Lapita Culture – this is a plaster reproduction photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“All island groups in island Melanesia and West Polynesia that lie in a south-east direction have Lapita settlements.  None of these settlements have been found on other islands.” (G. Irwin. Pacific Migrations – ancient voyaging in Near Oceania. Te Ara: The Encylcopedia of New Zealand.) 

These people were exploring the region from as early as 3500 years ago (evidence found at the Bismarcks) and by 3000 years ago were already as far as Samoa and Tonga.  The archaeology tells us these were small groups who travelled fast and light, they established only a few permanent villages on each major island group and then they moved on.  At this time the distinctive Polynesian culture began to emerge in the west and by 2000 years ago people had begun to move into the eastern part of the region.  By 700AD the majority of Polynesia had been settled with the last migrations being to New Zealand, Hawaii, Easter Island and South America (the only evidence for South America is the presence of the ‘kumara’ or sweet potato, radiocarbon dates from kumara found in the Cook Islands indicate that Polynesians had reached South America and returned by 1000AD at the latest).

Kumara (or sweet potato) a staple food source.

All well and good you might say, but what has this to do with the mythology of the region?  To study the past of this region it is important to not only use all those scientific tools we have at our disposal but also use the traditional knowledge, stories and myths to provide a greater depth of understanding.  In Polynesia there are many stories which have a commonality suggesting a shared ancestry.

In much of eastern Polynesia Hawaiki (the Maori name) does not refer to the islands we know as Hawaii but to a mythical land where the ancestors journeyed from – an ancient homeland.  In New Zealand nearly all the Maori have traditions of such a voyage, in the Marquesas it called Havai’i, in the Tuamotus it is Havaiki and in the Cook Islands the ancient homeland is referred to as Avaiki.  Not only is Hawaiki the ancient homeland but it is also a place where a persons spirit would go after death.  The main island of the Hawaii group is so named because it is the site of two volcanoes which were regarded as a place of great supernatural importance and the home of the gods.  Similarly the island of Ra’iatea in the Society Islands was previously known as Havai’i and it too has a volcano on it (albeit a extinct one) believed to be the entrance to the underworld and the home of the gods.

In Maori myth Hawaiki is in the east – the direction of the rising sun and the stars which bring the changing seasons.  Thus it is not surprising that Hawaiki was associated with life, fertility and success.  It is said that the first human life was created from the soil of Hawaiki by Tane (or sometimes Tiki).  It is the place of highly valued resources such as the kumara which is said to grow wild there – this is interesting in itself because if you travel directly eastwards from New Zealand you will (eventually) land in South America, the homeland of the sweet potato.

“When the ancestors arrived in their waka, they brought with them many treasured plants and birds, also important atua and ritual objects such as mauri.  In one way and another, Hawaiki was the ultimate source of the mana of all these.  The crops flourished, the gods exerted their powers, the mauri ensured continuing fertility of the resources they protected, because of their origin in Hawaiki.” (M.Orbell 1995 Maori Myth and Legend)

The veneration of the east – many rituals are conducted facing east – is unusual for Polynesia and has led some to make the dubious suggestion that New Zealand was settled by people from South America.  More recent studies have demonstrated that the first voyagers would have taken a south-west trajectory from either the Cook Islands or the Society Islands in order to land on the east coast of New Zealand.  Over time it would seem this navigational knowledge was amalgamated with the traditions of an ancient homeland.

In other parts of eastern Polynesia Hawaiki is in the west or sometimes even in the sky and in western Polynesia it is called by another name – Pulotu, a word that can be linguistically traced into Micronesia.  It is interesting to note that the largest island that forms part of Samoa (western Polynesia) is called Savai’i and is a land associated in tradition with many supernatural goings on.  Hawaiki was not only the land where the ancestors came from but also a place of spirits, a place where the myths came into being.

As time went on many of these stories would become absorb into local tradition with familiar places becoming the setting to the story.  Thus the story of Maui who fished up the islands can be found everywhere in Polynesia.  In New Zealand it is said that the North Island was a giant stingray fished up out of the sea by Maui using his magic hook (the hills and valleys of the land are a result of his brothers greed when they hacked at the fish). On the tiny atolls of Manikihi and Rakahanga it is believed that these islands are all that remains of a single land which broke apart when Maui leapt from it into the heavens.  In Hawaii tradition tells of the islands being a shoal of fish and how Maui enlists the help of Hina-the-bailer to bring the shoal together with his magic hook to form one mass.  Maui hauled on the line, instructing his brothers to row without looking back, which of course they did, this resulted in the line breaking and the islands become separated for all time.   In the Tuamotaus Maui and his brothers are once more fishing far from land, once more he has a magic hook and once more he pulls up an island but because his brothers did not listen to Maui the giant fish/island broke apart and became the land the Tuamotua people refer to as Havaiki, where Maui and his family reside.

Fish hooks represented more than just a means of procuring fish, they also had a symbolic meaning and it is possible that some of the larger more ornate types were representative of the ancestral stories.

Maui is one of the most well known of Polynesian deities, found in the stories throughout the region he is often known as a trickster, part god and part human.  He was of a time when the world was still new and there much to do to make it bearable for people.  Maui is said to be responsible for raising the skies, snaring the sun, fishing up lands, stealing fire, controlling the winds and arranging the stars.  On the island of Yap in Micronesia a demi-god figure called Mathikethik went fishing with his two elder brothers, he also had a magic hook and on his first cast brought up all sorts of crops, in particular taro, an island staple.  On his second cast he brought up the island of Fais.  The similarities here with Polynesian Maui are obvious and once again we can get a tantalising glimpse of past movements of people.

Other characters common to the stories of the Polynesia from Samoa in the west to Hawaii in the east include Hina, said to be both the first woman and a goddess who is the guardian of the land of the dead; Tinirau whose pet whale was murdered by Kae; Tawhaki who visited the sky and Rata whose canoe was built by the little people of the forest and was a great voyager and Whakatau the great warrior. 

“…on every island the poets, priests and narrators drew from the same deep well of mythological past which the Polynesians themselves call the The Night of Tradition.  For when their ancestors moved out from the Polynesian nucleus they carried with them the the knowledge of the same great mythological events, the names of their gods and of their many demi-gods and heroes.  As time passed the Polynesian imagination elaborated and adapted old themes to suit fresh settings, and new characters and events were absorbed into the mythological system.” (R. Poignant 1985 Oceanic and Australasian Mythology).

Of course none of this addresses the question of why.  Why did the first people leave their homelands and explore into the vast ocean, particularly to places like New Zealand, South America, Easter Island and Hawaii?  What motivated them?  The myths do in some way suggest possible reasons, these are stories people would have heard over and over again as they grew into adulthood.  Stories of great adventurers, of those who dared to do the impossible and it does seem that much of the early migration was a result of simple human curiosity.  Prestige and mana could be gained by person willing to find new lands.  In the places they originally came from there was no food shortage and in some instances even once they had discovered a new island, they would move on leaving but only a small population behind.  In the traditions there are also stories told of people being banished and having to find new places to live, in addition there are stories of battles lost and people fleeing retribution.  These too could well be another window into the motivation behind Oceanic migration. 

Ocean going craft as suggested in “The History of Mankind” (1896)

On their own the mythologies of the Pacific cannot provide us with more than a unique insight into the mindset of the peoples considered to be some of the greatest explorers of the past but when combined with genetics, linguistics and archaeology it gives us the ability to answer those questions of how, when and why.

Sources

Irwin G (2012) ‘Pacific Migrations – Ancient Voyaging in Near Oceania’ Te Ara: The Enclyclopedia of New Zealand.

Ratzel F & Butler A J (1869) History of Mankind

Poignant R (1985) Oceanic and Australasian Mythology

Orbell M (1996) Maori Myth and Legend

The First Archaeologists

People have always been interested in the past, as far back as Nabonidus who ruled Babylon from 555 – 539BC who had a keen interest in antiquities to such an extent he even excavated down into a temple to recover the foundation stone which had been laid some 2200 years prior.  Nabonidus also had a museum of sorts where he stored his collection.  During the Renaissance those with the wealth to travel and collect began to keep cabinets of curios.  In these you would find ancient artefacts displayed alongside minerals and natural history pieces. 

“…the Renaissance attitude to the examination of the past…involved travel, the study of buildings and the collection of works of art and manuscripts.” (K. Greene 1983).

Initially it was classical antiquity which grabbed the attention of the well-to-do but after awhile eyes began to turn towards relics of their own past. The great stone monuments of North-western Europe became the immediate focus, places such as Carnac in Brittany and Stonehenge in Britain.  Some of these gentlemen scholars would make systematic and accurate surveys of the monuments, which are still useful today, even if there were the less scrupulous who dressed up treasure hunting as scholarly research.  These antiquarians were in essence the first archaeologists and their contributions can still be useful today.

In Britain several antiquarians stood out between the 16th and 18th centuries.  John Leland (1503-1552) held the post of Keeper of the Kings Library and such travelled extensively throughout Britain.  Even though his main interest was in genealogy and historical documents he also recorded non-literary evidence as part of his wider researches, one of the first to do so. 

William Camden (1551-1623) learnt not only Latin but also Welsh and Anglo-Saxon in order to study place-names.  At the age of 35 he published ‘Britannia’ a general guide to the antiquities of Britain.  His descriptions of the ancient monuments are very detailed and he was one of the first to make a note of cropmarks and their possible links to sites no longer visible – an important part of aerial photography today.  Camden was also interested in other forms of material culture such as pottery as a source of information on the past, a concept regarded eccentric at the time.

William Camden (portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger)

In the mid 17th century John Aubrey was one of the earliest writers to assign a pre-Roman date to sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill.  His belief that such places were built and used by the Celts and Druids was so revolutionary there are still some who won’t let it go.  Following in Aubrey’s footsteps was William Stukeley (1687-1765) who although trained as a physician spent a great deal of time conducting extensive fieldwork in Wessex during the 1720s.  His highly accurate and detailed surveys of Avebury, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill are still used today.  Stukeley’s recording of the avenue of stones (now destroyed) leading from Stonehenge to the Avon aided present day archaeologists in their search for them.  However, in 1729 he was ordained and then attempted to use his fieldwork to establish a theological connection between the Druids and Christianity.

William Stukeley’s drawing of the Kennet Avenue – sensible and accurate fieldwork…
And then there is the more fantastical of Stukeley’s drawings – his interpretation of the Avebury landscape and it’s Druidical temple…

“Just as Dr Stukeley may be said to be the patron saint of fieldwork in archaeology, so can the Rev. William be held to be the evil genius who presides over all crack-brained amateurs whose excess of enthusiasm is only balanced by their ignorance of method.” (K. Greene 1983)

At the same time, across Britain, lesser well known antiquarians were busy studying and recording their own local areas.  In the county of Cornwall this was no different.  The earliest known antiquarian was Richard Carew (1555-1620) of East Antony, he was a member of the “The Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries” and in 1602 published his county history, “Survey of Cornwall”.  Perhaps the most well known and often cited antiquarian was William Borlase (1695-1772) who like so many began collecting natural rocks and fossils found in the local copper works in Ludgvan where he was the local pastor.  In 1750 he was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society and by 1754 he had published “Antiquities of Cornwall” which he then followed with “Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly and their importance to the Trade of Great Britain” in 1756. 

Zennor Quoit as drawn by William Borlase (1769)
Zennor Quoit as seen today (photo from wikicommons – geography.co.uk – 902) This highlights why early antiquarian researchers should be dismissed immediately as having nothing to contribute to our understanding of the past.

Borlase’s great great grandson – William Copeland Borlase (1848-1899) – continued with the tradition of antiquarianism conducting some of the first excavations in Cornwall at Carn Euny in 1863.  Copeland Borlase published many articles and books on the antiquities of Cornwall, including a two volume book titled “Ancient Cornwall” in 1871 and a year later “Naenia Cornubiae: a decscriptive essay, illustrative of the sepulchres and funereal customs of the early inhabitants of the county of Cornwall”.  There were also a lecture on the tin trade and a monography on the Saints of Cornwall, not to mention a piece on the dolmens of Ireland and one on the mythologies of the Japanese.

William Copeland Borlase (1848-1899)

William Copeland Borlase also spent a great deal of time getting his hands dirty excavating large numbers of barrows in Cornwall.  He has been criticised for poor archaeological practice in only writing up a small percentage of those he excavated.  Nothing makes an archaeologist bury their face in their hands then the lack of a written record for an excavation.  Copeland Borlase often employed the services of John Thomas Blight (1835-1911) as an archaeological illustrator, although Blight was a well known antiquarian in his own right.  He published two books regarding the crosses and antiquities of Cornwall, one for the west and the other for the east of the county. 

Blight’s drawings of Carwynnen Quoit were recently rediscovered by the lead archaeologist, Jacky Nowakowski, during her researches prior to the excavation and restoration of the quoit.  In particular, the pencil drawing which had actual measurements was very useful in the interpretation of a stone pavement discovered during the excavation when combined with modern techniques.  The archaeologists were able to get a better understanding of the positioning of the quoit within the Neolithic landscape.

Throughout the country there have been numerous societies which promoted the work of antiquarians beginning with the prestigious Royal Society.  Even Cornwall had its own Royal Institute of Cornwall which is still operating today and currently manages the Royal Cornwall Museum as well as the Courtney Library which holds all manner of documents dating back into the 1700s.  These early scholarly societies however, did not focus on one aspect of research, natural history, geology, botany and other gentlemanly pursuits were all encouraged.  This attitude of open discourse across a variety of disciplines is one of the hallmarks of good archaeological research today. 

Archaeology is defined as the “study of the past through the systematic recovery and analysis of material culture” (The Penguin Archaeology Guide).  It is the recovery, description and analyse of material culture with the purpose of understanding the behaviour of past societies.  Material culture is defined as anything which has been altered or used by humans – it can be as small as shark tooth with a hole drilled into it for a pendant or as large as a European cathedral.  To study archaeology in general is to be a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ – as a subject it borrows from history, anthropology, geology, chemistry, physics, biology, environmental sciences, ethnography to name but a few.  Archaeologists have never been afraid of pilfering theories, methodologies and techniques from other disciplines.

The value of the early antiquarians does not necessarily lie in the outdated interpretations but in the production of often accurate and highly descriptive illustrations, field surveys and texts that are the basis of many manuscripts.  Some of these ancient sites are now lost and/or destroyed, and the antiquarian illustrations are all we have as a record.  Fieldwork will always be a fundamental part of archaeological work and the antiquarians of the past where the very first fieldworkers and the societies they belonged to provided the basis for the discipline of archaeology.

Green K. (1985) Archaeology – an Introduction. Routledge.

http://www.giantsquoit.org   A website detailing the excavations and restoration of Carwynnen Quoit.

St Breaca – A Saintly Conundrum.

Amidst the chaos of house building I have been researching early medieval Cornwall as the backdrop to the new Sarah Tremayne novel.  One question which arose was – exactly how Christian were the locals?  At what point did Christianity take a firm hold?  And how were those who did not adhere to the new religion treated?  As a result I have been investigating early medieval Christianity with a great deal of frustration…the following blog serves to highlight a few of the issues using one of the more obscure Saints as an example.

In the small parish of Germoe partway between the Penwith peninsula and the Lizard is the village of Breage. It is an easy village to miss, the main road skirts its edges and unless you have done your research any ordinary person might just drive on by. However, there are several good reasons to stop and visit. The church is the focal point of the village and it is here you will find a number of medieval scenes painted on the walls of the church, a Roman waymarker dedicated to the Emperor Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus dated to between 258-268AD. (see an earlier post ‘The Frescoes of Breage’)

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The Church in Breage.

There are also several interesting stone crosses within the walls of the churchyard. The earliest is situated near to the front door and is likely to date between the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Carved from red sandstone it would have been highly decorated when first erected. Today only a little of this elaborate carving can be seen furthermore it is not in its original position, the cross was found buried in the churchyard and placed where it currently stands. The use of sandstone is very unusual, as the majority of Cornish crosses are carved from local granite. The cross has been described as a “four holed wheel cross with Hiberno-Saxon decoration” (N. Pevsner 1951 The Buildings of England: Cornwall).

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The early sandstone cross.

The church yard is also of interest, it is easy to discern its round shape, a feature often regarded as an indication of antiquity. Early Celtic missions would construct an enclosure around their settlement and in Cornish the prefix “Lan” is often found in conjunction with such sites.
Meaning church enclosure, it normally described an Early Christian foundation of the Celtic Church within a round or oval earthwork, usually a re-used prehistoric site. Parish churches still occupy many of these sites…” (C. Weatherhill 1998 Cornish Placenames and Language).
The church you see today was dedicated to St Breaca on the 26th December 1456 completely replacing the earlier Norman church. The earliest mention of Breage in documents is just prior to 1066 when the village was called “Eglosbrek” or “Eglospenbro” (the latter refers to the farm of Penbro) and was part of the large manor of Winnianton. By 1264 the church was being referred to St Breaca’s.

St Breaca is one of the many saints’ names which litter the Cornish landscape, however very little is known about her. A hagiography written in the late fourteenth century and which is now lost, recorded the lives of many Cornish saints. John Leland during his itinerary of 1540 did record parts of this lost hagiography as was pertinent to his travels.
According to Leland Breaca was born in the region of Lagonia and Ultonia in Ireland and she became a nun at the oratory founded by St Brigid of Kildare. At around the 460AD she travelled to Cornwall with seven other Irish saints – Germoe, Senanus (Sithney), Mavuanus (Mawgan), Elwen, Crowan, Helena and Tecia. They settled at Revyar on the River Hayle but some were killed by the tyrant king Tewdwr Mawr of Penwith. Breaca then travelled onwards visiting Castle Pencaire and establishing a church at Chynoweth. When she died the church was moved to its present location and many miracles occurred at her tomb.

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A view of the harbour at Hayle – one of only a few safe anchorages on the north coast of Cornwall. (from wikicommons -geograph.co.uk 179114)

On the face of it this is a good story but closer inspection reveals that a number of the story elements can be found elsewhere in other local saintly stories. Conflict with a local pagan tyrant, establishment of a hermitage in a remote part of the land, an Irish origin and connection with a more well known Saint. Simply read and compare the stories of St Ia or St Gwinear and you begin to get a feel for the standard hagiography, many of which were written some thousand years after the Saint concerned had lived and died. It is not surprising that the more obscure saints such at Breaca ended up with a mash up story for her life.

So is there any hope in finding out the real story behind St Breaca? Possibly. But first we need to look at the much wider picture.

Cornwall during the Roman period appears to be semi autonomous and although the Romans were in complete control of trade, life in Cornwall went on much as it had during the Iron Age. The impact of the Roman Legions leaving Britain in 410AD would have had a minimal effect on Cornwall even if the repercussions in other parts of the country were felt keenly for several decades. Political manoeuvring (and warfare) in the mid fifth century resulted in Cornwall becoming part of the kingdom of Dumnonia which spread from the far west of Cornwall up into south Somerset. Into this seemingly unsettled time the Irish missionaries appear.

There is some conflict on how many Irish came to Cornwall, some accounts say few as seven others seven hundred and seventy seven. In 1899 Sabine Baring-Gould wrote about the Cornish saints, he believe that it was a much greater number which arrived on the Cornish shores but with a less than peaceful mission. For Baring-Gould this was an invasion, hence the bloody reaction from Tewdwr in slaughtering, thus martyring, a number of the Irish (St Ia being the most well known). Interestingly St Germoe who was said to be one of St Breaca’s companions was according to legend a king in Ireland – a claim not yet substantiated.

The invasion theory may sound a little far-fetched but given that the Cornish as a rule over the centuries were more than amicable with all their neighbours along the Atlantic seaboard an outright slaughter of a peaceful mission of Christians seems also far-fetched. Tewdwr is often portrayed as a pagan tyrant and this comes to us from a time when our pagan past was seen as a dark time, he becomes the demon which our Christian saints have to triumph over. Afterall, who triumphed in the end? Who wrote the hagiographies?

It is believed that later Tudor era writers used Tewdwr (who was not a king, more a local chief/lord) to lampoon and criticise Henry VII in the wake of his crushing defeat of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497. If this is the case it is perhaps necessary to take much of what is said about the “tyrant” with a grain of salt.

Those who escaped the battle (irrespective of who started it) would have fled to remoter parts of Cornwall perhaps seeking protection from local and more sympathetic chiefs.
This may be where St Breaca’s story has a ring of truth about it. She is said to have visited Castle Pencaire before setting up home at Chynoweth on the lower slopes of Tregonning Hill. Castle Pencaire is situated on the summit of Tregonning Hill and was originally an Iron Age hillfort. Although there is no current evidence (much later mining works have almost completely destroyed the inside of the hillfort) for its reoccupation during St Breaca’s time it is strong possibility. Other Iron Age hillforts were temporarily reoccupied at this time, such as Chun Castle in West Penwith, and why would Breaca visit an ‘abandoned’ antiquity? If Breaca wished to establish a mission in the local area she would have realised the importance of asking permission from the local chieftain/lord, his goodwill would have been important to the success of her mission.

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An ordnance survey map of the area around Breage (bottom right) from the late 1800s.  Tregonning Hill (Castle Pencaire) is the area of open moorland above and to the left of Breage.

The question does remain when did she arrive and was she actually Irish? The date of her arrival will never be satisfactorily agreed upon, it will have to be enough to say she arrived sometime in the late fifth but not later than the early sixth centuries AD. Was she with that first flux of Irish? This we will never know, the later successes of Irish saints would suggest there were several voyages to the Cornish coast.

The presence of the early cross with its “Hiberno-Saxon” decoration might point towards a later commemoration of an Irish saint, the use of sandstone rather than granite could be explained by one of two ways. Either the stone was carved elsewhere and then brought to Breage or the stonemason was not from Cornwall and did not have the skills needed to carve in granite.

Breaca is occasionally mentioned in writings from other parts of the county. In 1478 William Worcester refers to her feast day as being May 1st even though in later times her feast day is celebrated on June 4th and is appears to be quite an important festival. An idiom recorded in the village of Germoe in the 18th century refers to their patron saint – Germoe – as a king but Breaca was a midwife. The 19th century residents of St Leven believed Breaca to be the sister to the villages’ patron saint – Selevan or Salaman.
In all likelihood we will never know the truth of St Breaca but it has been fun trying to find out…

 

 

North Head Historic Reserve

One of the features of the Auckland landscape is the profusion of volcanic cones, all of which have been altered in some way by the people who have lived here – North Head is no exception.  Situated at the entrance of the harbour it has over time been used as a part of Aucklands strategic defences during times of unrest.

 

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Looking across Torpedo Bay from Duders Beach to North Head.  Photo taken by William A Price 1909-1910.  Source – By National Library NZ on The Commons – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nationallibrarynz_commons/21281084976/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45247808

The Volcanic Story

Long before people walked the land there were volcanoes – a distinctive feature of Aucklands skyline – and although North Head is just one of many, it is one of the oldest and was formed over 50,000 years ago.  The following photos demonstrate the ancient geology of the headland – the different layers of scoria, ash and mud clearly visible.

The Maori Story

The story of Maori in the Devonport penninsula begins with the tradition of the arrival of the Tanui waka having put ashore at Torpedo Bay (a stretch of beach below the headland facing the inner harbour). Excavations were carried out in 2010 in the bay as part of the redevelopement of the Naval Museum and surrounding areas.  During this time a great deal was discovered about the use of Torpedo Bay during the colonial era but it was the unexpected prehistoric Maori finds which had the archaeologists most excited.

“Unexpected nationally significant prehistoric Maori archaeology was also found near the end of the investigation, including cooking ovens, moa bones and an adze.

Three species of Moa and at least five individuals have been identified from the lower two settlement layers. All of the species are known North Island Species of Coastal bush Moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis, Pachyornis geranoides and Euryapteryx curtus). As the only site in the Auckland, Coromandel Northland region with definitive evidence of hunted Moa rather than industrial Moa usage by Maori, the dating of this site will potentially answer long held questions concerning moa extinction in the North Island. It may dismiss the general belief that the Auckland Coromandel area was not associated with Moa hunting and is not a primary area of archaic settlement by early Polynesians and was therefore occupied later than other areas of settlement.

A small rectangular adze (hand tool) made from Motutapu greywacke was found in the prehistoric site. The Hauraki Gulf was a centre of adze production and the evidence found suggests that occupation of Torpedo Bay, at least during the Archaic period, was extensive, and that the people who inhabited the Bay played an active role in Motutapu greywacke adze production.

The preliminary radiocarbon dates indicate settlement at the site ranged between the early 15th century and the late 17th century. It could be one of the earliest sites discovered in Auckland.”  (from http://www.wasteminz.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/1b.Strong.pdf).

 

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An eroding shell midden on the north side of Maungauika.

 

Early photographs show the lower slopes of North Head (Maungauika) as being used by Maori  for gardens and early Europeans describe a Maori settlement at the foot of the hill with gardens and fish drying racks. Tradition also tells us that the Ngati Paoa settled Maungauika until the 1700s when Nga Puhi attacked and beseiged the pa.  The later European story of North Head has all but wiped clean the Maori history of the headland although it is still possible to see the occasional evidence of Maori occupation such as middens eroding out of paths and the occasional unexplainable terrace.

The Colonial Story

The first part of the colonial story begins with North Head being used as a pilot station from 1836 to guide ships into the newly established European settlement of Auckland.  In 1878 it was made into a public reserve with the stipulation that should it be necessary North Head would be re-appropiated for defence purposes.  By 1885 this became a reality as fears of a Russian invasion began to sweep New Zealand.

North Head became one of several defence forts that were set up to protect Aucklands harbour.  On the headland itself there were three defences – the North Battery, the South Battery and Fort Cautley on the summitt.  Each had there own heavy guns, an observation post and high earth ramparts with bullet proof gates and barbed wire.  In addition each had the very latest in military technology – an 8 inch disappearing gun. In addition to these defences a minefield was in place across the inner harbour to Bastion Point.

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The above are photos of the North Battery.

Over the next twenty-five years these first fortifications were expanded and strengthened by convict labour who lived in a prison on the summit.  They dug out many of the tunnels and underground storerooms which are so popular with young explorers today.  With the threat of war once more looming in the early twentieth century new engines were put into the engine rooms, more searchlights were added, new barracks were built.

 

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The prison/barracks used to house the convict labour.

 

In all three instances (the Russian scare, WWI & WWII) not once were any of the guns fired in anger.  During WWII the headland became the regimental headquarters and main administrative centre for the Auckland’s coastal defences. Many of the guns were moved to Whangaparoa although North Head did become the site of the anti-submarine boom (a wire netting barrier covered by two guns at sea level) which protected the harbour from attack by submarine.

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The South Battery and its disappearing gun.

By the end of the 1950s the army had left the headland although the navy still ran a training school on the summit.  In 1996 the navy had also left and now the area is administered by the Department of Conservation.

Observation posts and tunnels associated with the North and South Batteries.

The Engine Room – an independent source of electricity for the search lights etc.

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One of the features for the defence of the Auckland Harbour was the minefield which went from North Head to Bastion Point.

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So much to explore all around the headland…

 

For more information –

A History of NZ Coastal Defences

The Russian Scare

The Department of Conservation  A PDF can found here for a self guided walk around the headland.