As a terrible storm raged over the North Island coast in December 1769 the ships of Captain Cook and the French explorer Jean-François-Marie de Surville unknowingly passed within a relatively short distance of each other. Both the British and the French governments on behalf of their respective monarchies were engaged in a progressive programme of expansion of their foreign assets and hence these captains were exploring the region.
New Zealand’s isolation from the rest of the world was over.
It was only a matter of time before Europeans began to arrive, drawn by the commercial gains of flax, timber, whaling and sealing. By 1830 the European population was at approximately 2,000 over a thousand ships had visited New Zealand waters and it became a common sight to see inlets and harbours up and down the North and South Island coastlines dotted with whaling or sealing stations and ships at anchor.
Subsequently, in 1832 a whaler by the name of John (Jacky) Guard determined to relocate his whaling station from Te Awaiti in the Tory Channel, down the coast to Kakapo Bay at Port Underwood, following in the footsteps of sealers and whalers who had been using Port Underwood off and on since 1826. The man with whom Jacky had to treat with in order to gain a permanent foothold in the bay was Nohorua, the brother of that feared cannibal chief Te Rauparaha. Te Rauparaha had been in the area since the 1820s, cutting a swathe though the landscape as he conquered, butchered and often ate the iwi associated with the Kurahaupo waka (Ngati Kuia, Ngati Apa, Rangitane and Ngai Tahu among others) usurping their customary rights and taking ownership of every blade of grass as far as his beady eye could see. Guard was given leave to ‘buy’ all of land in Kakapo Bay at Port Underwood, and all of the land to the north of this bay and it was here that Guard set up his second whaling station.
Port Underwood was close in proximity to the whales in Cloudy Bay and the Cook Strait and once it was selected by Guard as his base of operations, the expansion of the permanent whaling community in the harbour and it’s bays began a pace so that by 1840 it was the thriving nexus of several whaling crews and at times had up to ten whaling ships operating from around its bays.
Kakapo Bay was also the location of a thriving trading post and grog supply depot, run by the affable and popular Dutchman James Wynen. Not a lot was known about this quiet unassuming man while he lived other than he had arrived in Port Underwood from Sydney in 1839. He was obviously well educated as reflected in his ‘gentlemanly ways’ and manner of speech, and while he laboured in Port Underwood at his store at Kakapo Bay he was well respected among the tough and sometimes low whaling men who made up the community at large. Wynen also found favour with the local iwi gaining the name ‘Waiana’ when he was married to the charming Kuika Rangiawa (a Ngati Toa woman of high status who was also the niece of Te Rangihaeata, the cohort of the gruesome Te Rauparaha) by one of New Zealand’s more endearing missionaries, the Reverend Ironsides in the year 1841. The happy couple ran their store and provided a much need haven of civility for the wider community, the various visiting dignitaries and ships captains who often made call at Port Underwood. Kuika had by disposition a sunny nature with an infectious high-pitched laugh earning for herself the nickname among the inhabitants at Port Underwood of ‘Squeaky’ and by late 1842 this idyllic union soon produced two healthy children, a son and a daughter. It was by virtue of this seemingly charmed existence that the ‘scumbuggery’ that was done unto him rocked the very foundations of peace in the area.
As Port Underwood was on the route that Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata used to visit their scattered outposts and iwi, they often called in. Stopping at either Jacky Guard’s station or to the Kakapo Bay store to sit a while, dangle their kin Kuika’s children off their knees and sip on a tot of rum which more often than not, as the months went by, evolved into a rant as to the ‘doings’ of the incoming settlers and New Zealand Land Company. The whaling communities that fell within the broad jurisdiction of these chiefs both feared and disliked these two men. However to their credit, despite their bloodthirsty contributions to history thus far both of these chiefs when tested with a heinous crime against one of their own that was just ahead of them, were persuaded by the Reverend Ironsides to disregard their traditional right for revenge and seek out the newly established colonial justice of the Queens Courts.
It was in the summer of 1843, while Te Rauparaha’s and Te Rangihaeata’s kin by marriage, James Wynen was away in Nelson attending to business that the shocking news flew around the bays of Port Underwood that a most horrendous and foul deed had occurred, the lovely Kuika had been, in her husband’s absence, attacked, raped, mutilated and murdered, her small son killed while her baby daughter was so severely injured she died a few days later.
Within hours of the discovery of this horrific crime, the culprit was named as Dick Cook, a whaler and ex-convict who coincidentally had been joined in union to a Maori woman the same day as the Wynen’s had been married by Reverend Ironsides. Cook’s motives were speculation for the community as it was known that Cook had been aware of the considerable cache of money that Wynen always had on hand in the store, which had subsequently disappeared. But was it also a crime of passion and desire for the lovely Kuika who would not have him and was happy with another? (In the heady heyday of whaling in New Zealand Maori women came and went as temporary wives for the whalers while they were whaling in the vicinity of New Zealand waters and making landfall at the many stations in order to process their catches. When the season was over the men would leave the women and any children behind them as they returned to the north and home, the women would go back to their tribes to be absorbed back into their communities with their half caste offspring and any trinkets, tools and implements that may have been ‘gifted’ by their departing ‘husbands’) Cook’s Maori wife was quick to point the finger at Cook, telling all who would listen that he had done the dastardly deed and damning among the circumstantial evidence collected was the fact that Cook’s clothes were found to be stained with blood.
The news when it reached Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata had both men inflamed with raging anger and the desire to exact revenge against the man who had done this terrible thing, however under the calming influence of the good Reverend Ironsides, both men elected to send this deed to the Queen’s Court for justice, and let the Queen exact her revenge. Ironsides firm belief in the common law system swayed both chiefs to trust this man and his words, and so a schooner was dispatched with all haste for Wellington. Within days the arrival of the Queen’s magistrate, Mr Murphy was observed by almost the entire community of Port Underwood, who watched the schooner tack about within the harbour to make landfall at Kakapo Bay. Magistrate Murphy was extremely diligent in his enquiries, interrogating practically every able bodied person who had a tongue in their head or claimed to have knowledge that would throw light on the murders in order to ensure a correct accounting of this shocking crime. Thus giving the chiefs who were watching from afar some semblance of reassurance that right would be done by Kuika. In due course Dick Cook was duly arrested, taken to Wellington and committed to the Supreme Court to await his trial.
Passions were running high while these warriors waited for the Supreme Court to preside over Kuika’s murder trial, added to which they had also grudgingly committed themselves to abide by a resolution to an ongoing land dispute with the New Zealand Company that was to be handed down by the new Land Commissioner William Spain. The restraint being displayed by these traditionally violent men was most admirable in this important situation, however the same restraint was not being implemented by the other party. The New Zealand Company led by Arthur Wakefield, the brother of Edward Gibbon, the brain behind the company, who began actively moving into the Wairau Plains area from Nelson, staking pegs and generally acting as if they ‘owned ‘ the place.
Matters then took a tragic turn for history when the Queen’s justice was denied for Kuika. The diligence and painstaking evidence collecting of Magistrate Murphy was lost as he was replaced at the Queen’s bench by Magistrate McDonagh. He had not cared to acquaint himself with the background to Kuika’s murder. He refused to allow circumstantial evidence to be brought from Cloudy Bay ‘Because of the uncertainty of repayment of the passage money to Wellington the native witnesses could not procure a passage to this port” reported the ‘Colonist’ (4 April 1843), and who would not allow the testimony of Cook’s wife to be heard that Cook had in fact committed the murders, so the case against Cook collapsed under the handling by Magistrate MacDonagh, and Cook was freed to flee the country.
The Queen’s justice as promoted by the earnest Reverend Ironsides had failed to materialise to appease the horrible murder and loss of their kin Kuika and her children, and so Chief Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata were now, with vile hatred in their hearts, on a bloody collision course with the determined men of the New Zealand Company. It was to be the first serious clash between Maori and the Europeans since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and it was notable for its savagery. The trespass on the land of the chiefs by the company men entered New Zealand history books as the ‘Wairau Affray’ and the 12 company men who had surrendered when challenged by the chiefs, died personally at the hands of Te Rauparaha who clubbed each from behind to death, one by one when he could have shown mercy, had that day in court but gone the other way and Cook had received the Queen’s justice as promised by Ironsides.
You can visit Kakapo Bay at Port Underwood today and still see the headstone that marks the resting place of Kuika and her little son and daughter, it sits on a gentle slope overlooking the bay and is fenced by wrought iron railings, it is but all that is left from the heady whaling days of the 1830s & 1840s and of the settlement that existed and thrived here in Kakapo Bay.