Morbid Curiosity (morbid_curious) wrote,
Morbid Curiosity

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This is where my family's story in New Zealand starts.

In the 1830s, the first of my New Zealand ancestors arrived. William Paine Brown was an apprentice boat builder and ship's carpenter from Kent, who jumped ship off a whaler at Tauranga Bay in the far north. With the help of the local Maori, he and William Gardner made their way to Kororareka (Russell) and served on a Church Mission Society boat for a few years. In 1838 he purchased land at Te Wahapu, an inlet just across the bay from Waitangi.

1840 was a big year for him. The founding of Gardner and Brown, a pioneering ship-building firm, and being present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. When the Land Wars broke out in 1845, the local Maori tribe with whom he had friendship urged him not to leave, and promised his property would be respected. Out of concern for his family's safety during the conflict, he evacuated to Australia with other settlers and returned home later to find his yard had been plundered and burnt. He rebuilt, and prospered.

From what's recorded about him and his own personal journals, one can tell that he cared a great deal about his community, both European and Maori. Among other things, he donated time, money, materials and expertise to the erection of a wooden church in Paihia in 1853. His house at Te Wahapu burned to the ground in 1874 and they built a new one over the next three months. He died there in 1896, having lived in the Bay of Islands for over fifty years, and is buried at Paihia. A challenging life, but as best I can tell a good one.

We've had a pretty checquered history of race relations in this country over the last 180-odd years; better than some, but still more than enough problems. But I can't help that think that, if not for the generosity shown by the Maori people of Northland in aiding a pair of young runaways all those years ago, I might not be here today. I'm thankful for that.

Happy Waitangi Day.
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