Historical Events

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Rich in a unique history that ties both Maori and non - Maori people together is the first region of New Zealand

© Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The many stories and myths that moulded this wonderful land are still being told. The silent story tellers of Russell cemetary, the battle of Kororareka and the legend of Cannibal Jack 130 years on…

The silent story tellers of Russell

Christ Church, Russell
Christ Church, Russell

The little church in present-day Russell, or Kororareka as it was then called, was where, on 30 January 1840, New Zealand was officially, if temporarily, absorbed into New South Wales. Today, the inscriptions in its graveyard reflect the life-and-death stories of those whose names and deeds are legend.

Ironically, the first resident to occupy the cemetery in 1835 was a grog-seller – his burial fee was applied to building the church he had opposed. Many stories are related to the sea. A 28-year-old whaler, George Sherman, had been left aboard as lookout while his ship, Lancaster, was fumigated for rats, and it is thought he may have been sleepwalking when overcome by smoke. Here also lies Thomas Garrighty, a whaling ship fourth mate, stabbed by his drunken crewmates on shore leave. Ernest and Maud Fuller, who began the shipping company that still bears their name, rest here. Captain Christie who died after a fall at sea is buried beside the six children of the surgeon who was unable to save him. Captain Bell of HMS Hazard, the ship involved in defending the famous flagpole, died after falling overboard while ill with malaria.

Children are part of the story, and you should stop at the moving poem inscribed by Janey Deery’s parents. You’ll pass Hannah Letheridge, the second white girl to be born in New Zealand. Visit 'Christ Church' in Russell for the full story...there's plenty more!

The Shipwrecks of Pouto

Shipwrecks on the beach
Shipwrecks on the beach

Driving south from Dargaville, the Pouto Peninsula is one of Northland’s best-kept secrets, a place of ever-shifting sands, petrified kauri, fossilized leaves and an eerie past full of mystery and intrigue. The Peninsula forms the northern side of the entrance to New Zealand’s largest and most treacherous harbour, the Kaipara.

Mysterious-names such as the Valley of the Wrecks and The Graveyard pay tribute to a history of seafaring disaster that has left 150 shipwrecks entombed – many without a trace - in the dunes and sandbars of Ripiro Beach and North Head. What is here today is hidden tomorrow, courtesy of the wind blown sands.

Kupe arrived in the Hokianga - 1000 years ago

Hokianga Harbour
Hokianga Harbour

Over a thousand years ago the great ocean-going waka Ngatokimatawhaorua arrived in New Zealand on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour. No mean feat, as the taniwha (sea monsters) who guard the entrance to the harbour still, to this day, stir up the waters with their lashing tails.

The stunning views over the harbour have changed little since those days. No gaudy houses line the shores; waka still traverse the waters, joined by game fishing enthusiasts, historical harbour cruises and a water taxi, ferrying the adventurous over for a thrilling sand toboggan ride down the giant 180m golden sand dunes.

The Battle of Kororareka

The most dramatic day in the history of Russell was 11 March 1845. In the early morning hours the forces of Heke and Kawiti in a three pronged manoeuvre took control of the town. The flagstaff on Maiki Hill, at the northern end of the town, flew the Union Jack; this symbol of British authority was felled for a fourth time and the town evacuated. This drastic action arose partly from Maori discontent at the moving of New Zealand's Capital to Auckland and the consequent economic decline of the Bay of Islands. Russell Museum has portraits of the Maori chiefs Heke, Kawiti and Nene, cannon balls, a musket and soldiers' medals.

Initially supportive of the Treaty of Waitangi, Hōne Heke became increasingly disenchanted with the effects of European colonisation. He expressed this through repeated assaults on the symbol of British power. This was his third attack on the flagstaff on the hill above Kororāreka (Russell).

Waitangi - Birthplace of a Nation

Meeting House, Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Meeting House, Waitangi Treaty Grounds

This story, with its drama, conflict and reconciliation, unfolds around the unique treaty that forged the relationship between Maori and the British colonists. It is the story of The Treaty of Waitangi. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a living history; a place where the past, present and future meet in a well-maintained natural landscape complete with guided walks, a historic precinct, an intricately-carved Maori meeting house and one of the world’s largest ceremonial war canoes. A tall naval flagstaff marks the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Let's not leave out...Cannibal Jack

And so the legend of Jacky Marmon - described in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography as "sailor, convict, Pakeha-Maori, interpreter, shopkeeper, sawyer, carpenter [he helped build Horeke Tavern which still stands], soldier" - survives, 130 years after his death. Marmon was one of many Europeans who jumped ship to live with Maori in the early days of contact. Valued primarily for their ability to facilitate the trade for guns, these Pakeha-Maori were given wives, provided with food and shelter, and generally given high status so long as they served the interests of their chiefly sponsors.

But Marmon was unique in the extent to which he embraced things Maori, becoming a powerful tohunga in his own right, fighting alongside the great Hongi Hika in his musket wars, joining in the ritual eating of slain enemies, remaining loyal to his Maori side even when power transferred to the settlers, and leaving behind a remarkably frank account of his adventures, devoid of the self-serving distortions of some contemporaries. (courtesy NZ Herald)

Read the full story: Cannibal Jack: The Life and Times of Jacky Marmon, a Pakeha-Maori by Trevor Bentley (Penguin $40).