Sealers' War - Escalation


These tensions still existed when six lascars, Indian seamen, from the Matilda, Captain Fowler, absconded from her in a long boat somewhere on the south west coast in 1814. Encountering Māori, apparently at Dusky Sound three were killed and eaten and the others enslaved. The Matilda went on to Stewart Island and from there sent Robert Brown in an open boat to look for the missing men. He came up the east coast and touched at Cape Saunders before going on up the coast to a point some eight miles north of Moeraki. There he and his seven companions hauled the boat ashore and went to sleep under it but were seen by Māori and attacked. All but two were killed and eaten the others fleeing through the night to what is now Bobby's Head near the Pleasant Valley. Māori there first entertained them but when other Māori arrived who had taken part in the earlier attack, after a discussion, the two survivors were killed and eaten too. The mere, greenstone club, used to dispatch one of them was long remembered. Meanwhile Fowler brought the Matilda into Otago Harbour where he had a friendly reception which he later reported as a corrective to the view Māori were hostile to Europeans and unlikely candidates for conversion to Christianity.

The following year, 1815, William Tucker who had been in the Otago Harbour area as early as 1809, landed again from a Hobart sealer and settled at Whareakeake, later called Murdering Beach. He kept goats and sheep, had a Māori wife, but no children, built a house (or houses) and apparently set up an export trade in ornamental hei-tiki - jade neck pendants made from old adzes. He left but returned, apparently with other Europeans meaning to settle, on the Sophia, a Hobart sealer commanded by James Kelly. The Sophia anchored in Otago Harbour and Tucker - "Taka" to Māori - was well-received but the harbour chief Korako wouldn't ferry across other Māori from Whareakeake who wished to be first among those to receive the returning Tucker's gifts. This was late in 1817. Two or three days later Kelly went to visit Whareakeake in an open boat, with Tucker and five others, having been persuaded by Tucker not to take their firearms. At Whareakeake they had a friendly reception and encountered one of the Matilda's lascars, an Indian seaman who told them of his countrymen's fate.It seems Tucker had gone into his house but Kelly was attacked, at the instigation of the Whareakeake chief Te Matahaere. In the ensuing melee Veto Viole, John Griffiths and William Tucker were killed. (Griffiths was Kelly's brother-in-law.) The dead were eaten. Escaping by longboat Kelly returned to the Sophia in Otago Harbour but suspecting Māori there were planning an attack he attacked them first. Then, and over the next few days, he apparently killed several people, possibly including Korako, destroyed canoes and set fire to the harbourside village "the beautiful City of Otago."

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