POHUTUKAWA TRUST NEW ZEALAND
To rehabilitate the native flora and
fauna of Kawau Island
To promote the conservation
of indigenous species in New Zealand
To achieve sustainable land use on Kawau Island
HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THE KAWAU ISLAND SETTLEMENT
Located in the inner Hauraki Gulf Kawau Island has a long history
associated with human activity. Kawau has been used as a base for
centuries during fishing expeditions in the surrounding waters.
present settlement originated in January 1840 when Mr W.T. Fairburn
arranged to buy the island of Kawau on behalf of Mr Henry Tayler, an
arrangement that led to sale of Kawau Island to Mr James Forbes
Beattie, who was acting on behalf of the North British Australian Loan
and Investment Company. The purchase cost 197 pounds nine shillings.
There was a delay in confirmation of the purchase due to a
proclamation issued by Sir George Gipps, then Governor of New South
Wales just three days after Mr Fairburn made the arrangements, but a
Crown Grant in favour eventually resulted.
1842 another of Mr Beattie’s agents Mr John Aberdein was sent to Kawau
Island to assess possibilities for a settlement based on pastoral
farming and agriculture. Mr Aberdein reported favourably and early in
1843 Mr Beattie chartered the ship Georgiana in Sydney. The
ship’s master was Thompson and the Georgiana cleared
Sydney Heads, and headed for Newcastle in New South Wales under
Newcastle the Georgiana was loaded with cattle, sheep, farming
implements, and stores before setting sail for Kawau. The total cost
was one thousand and three pounds nineteen shillings and fourpence,
inclusive of the freight. Mr John Aberdein, who had made preparations
at Kawau received the shipment.
Meanwhile on nearby Great Barrier Island extraction of manganese and
copper ore had commenced under the direction of Mr Alexander
Kinghorne. A shipping service established and the Brig Tryphena
of 136 tons was making regular trips between Auckland and Sydney under
the command of Captain Horn. Mr Kinghorne was given approval to
prospect for manganese on Kawau, and before very long news was
received that radically changed the direction of the little Kawau
settlement, although some farming was to continue.
Brig Tryphena was in Auckland on one of her regular visits at
the time, and it appears that Henry Tayler was also in Auckland when
he received news that copper had been discovered on Kawau Island.
Henry Tayler wrote the following letter (with postmarks “New Zealand.
12 Apr 1844” “Ship letter Sydney. May 5 1844”) to Mr Beattie in
Auckland 12 April 1844
My Dear sir,
I have scarcely a minute left to write a few lines by the
I am quite delighted and I am sure you will be too, to
hear that Kawau abounds in copper.
I have just seen a specimen brought up here by Mr
Kinghorne who has been
superintending the copper mine at the
It is a very rich specimen of grey copper ore, the
locality is exceedingly convenient for working, and to cut the
matter short, the place is worth, at least, from 20 to 80 thousand
Accept my warmest congratulations.
I am too overjoyed to write more if I had time at present.
(signed) Henry Tayler
Tryphena sailed from Auckland on 14 April 1844 with the letter
and passengers, a Mrs Wright and two children, and Messrs Joseph,
Bradbury, and Keen on board, and a cargo of manganese ore. She arrived
in Sydney on 5 May 1844.
Kawau Company, formed by Mr Beattie, instructed another of their
agents Mr John Taylor to engage a professional copper miner in Sydney.
Taylor came to Auckland with instructions to employ miners and open
the Kawau mine. He inspected the workings in November 1844, shortly
after the mine had opened and then returned to Sydney, reporting to Mr
Beattie that the copper prospects were good. His advice was passed on
to the investment company back in Scotland where it was well received,
and capital was increased to 50,000 pounds. A mining Captain (Ninnis),
carpenter, and miners from Cornwall were engaged, and these men sailed
from Falmouth in June 1845.
The start of mining
Kawau company built a village for the miners and their families in the
bay they called Garlick Bay (later Mansion House Bay), spending about
23,000 pounds. Included was a house for the mine manager
(Ninnis) and a street with houses on either side for the workers
and their families, and a jetty. Some of the families built houses at
other nearby locations. By 1848 there were about 220 people on the
A traditional Cornish Pumphouse was erected to house a
50 horsepower steam engine, driving a Cornish mine pump, after a
smaller engine was found insufficient for dewatering as the workings
copper lode ran roughly north-south, outcropping on a steep spur on
the coast where the main mine adit and Cornish Pumphouse was located.
Some land was reclaimed at the end of the spur to provide a platform
area for working and for stockpiling ore prior to shipment from a
jetty at the mine location.
Although the lode could not be described as an extensive mineral
deposit it was a rich sulphide orebody. However, an inappropriate
grant of land (below high water mark) adjacent to the Kawau Company’s
workings to Lawyer Mr Frederick Whittaker and Mr Theophilus Heale of
Auckland caused considerable trouble. These persons proceeded to also
mine the same copper lode, using the Kawau Company’s reclaimed land to
enable their operations to be conducted. Briefly, the Grant was in
exchange for a land allotment (No 16) in Auckland Town, wanted by the
Surveyor General to commence a defence plan on Albert Hill. The
landward boundary was defined as high water mark, so the Grant
included the Kawau Company’s reclaimed land.
reclaimed land at Kawau was essential to the Kawau Company’s
operations and without doubt they also intended mining the part of the
copper lode now possessed by Whitaker and Heal as a result of the
Grant. Protracted litigation and communications went all the way to Mr
Gladstone in London as the Kawau Company desperately tried to get a
just resolution while Whittaker and Heale continued mining. Up to 17
November 1846, according to customs returns, Whitaker and Heale had
already exported 469 tons of copper ore valued at 7,840 pounds.
However there was a turn for the better when the new
George Grey arrived at the end of November 1845 for his first term
in New Zealand. The Kawau Company petitioned him upon the subject and
at the same time also petitioned Mr Gladstone on the injustices they
had sustained through their agent in London. Mr Gladstone forwarded a
copy of the Kawau Company’s complaint to Governor Grey and indicated
the view that if the statements were true the Kawau Company had every
reason to complain.
Governor Grey agreed and after taking advice from the
Attorney-General, an application was made to the Supreme Court
successfully repealing the Grant to Whitaker and Heale. The Court
(Lord Grey) recommended that the land between high and low water be
included in the grant to the Kawau Company and that was done, defining
the title boundary of Kawau Island as mean low water mark.
Whittaker and Heale not only mined copper ore from below high water
mark but tunnelled toward the Kawau Company’s landward workings on the
same lode, and because their shaft was to seaward and only protected
from the sea by a timber collar at the surface the Kawau Company’s
mine was already exposed to risk of flooding. John Taylor directed his
miners to dig toward the sea, in the direction of the rival mine to
confirm his suspicions and they reached the workings of Whittaker and
Heal on the Kawau Company land, about 12 feet to landward of high
water mark. Captain Ninnis, the Kawau Company’s mining engineer
knocked down the partition of ore between the two mines and caught
Whittaker and Heale’s men in the act. The connecting of the two mine
workings directly to the sea through Whittaker’s Shaft led to flooding
of both mines several years later when the timber collar inevitably
Mine working and ore smelting
Kawau copper lode is contained in silicified greywacke and dips
downward at a high angle. Above ground water level the sulphide is
well weathered and oxidised to sulphate, the
blue copper sulphate
being easily seen in the exposure on the spur. Lower down in the
lode there is a transition through an enriched zone where copper from
the weathered ore above has been transported and re-deposited, and
below that again is the relatively unaltered primary ore of lower
grade. Workings commenced in the enriched zone which about at the top
of the permanent ground water region, and mine development then
proceeded on three levels. As the mining progressed toward the
unaltered primary ore the Kawau Company found in January 1847 that the
sulphides underwent an exothermic reaction aboard ship. The shipments
of ore, released from the underground pressure and exposed to the air
heated and swelled dangerously on the way to smelting works in Wales.
As a result some Kawau ore shipments were stockpiled in Australia and
others disposed of at sea to save the vessel.
overcome the difficulties a decision to build a smelting works was
made in November 1848 with construction proceeding during 1849 in a
bay on the north side of Bon Accord Harbour. Both the Cornish
pumphouse at the mine and the smelting works building were made from
sandstone blocks quarried at Matakana on the mainland.
party of smelters was engaged in Swansea in Wales and sent out to
Sydney where they worked for six months at Port Jackson, experimenting
with Kawau ore stockpiled there before continuing on to Kawau. At the
Kawau works the sulphide ore was smelted and cast into copper regulus
blocks and the slag was also cast into blocks. The casting was done in
pits in the floor of the smelting house building. The copper regulus
blocks of about two cubic feet in volume were then shipped overseas
for further refining. Some of the slag blocks were later used to
construct pillars at the landward end of the Mansion House Bay jetty
in Bon Accord Harbour, and for foreshore retaining structures. It is
thought that others may have been dispersed as ships ballast.
Operations at the smelting works produced quantities of sulphur
dioxide fumes as the sulphide ore was smelted and to avoid the acrid
fumes the Welsh workers and their families moved further down the
harbour to a place they nostalgically named Swansea Bay.
After the mine closed about 1855 Mr Alexander Harris continued to stay
on as caretaker and to run a store and post office. He was there when
Sir George Grey purchased Kawau in 1862 and his daughter Elsie became
housekeeper for Sir George Grey.
Sir George Grey and Kawau
George Grey was already familiar with Kawau from experience with
litigation relating to the copper mining when he returned to New
Zealand a second time after being appointed Governor of New Zealand in
1861. He purchased Kawau in 1862.
Even before copper was mined some land had been cleared and put in
pasture for farming, and during the mining days native forest timber
was used both for construction and for fuel.
the 1850’s most of the land south of Bon Accord Harbour and out to the
east coast had been clear felled and was in pasture. Local totara was
used for timbers in the mine, kauri for building construction, and
kanuka as a fuel. The house built in 1845-46 for Captain Ninnis,
manager of the copper mine was enlarged by Grey not long after he
purchased Kawau, and included distinctive kauri panelling and turned
columns. It later became important nationally as
Sir George Grey’s
historic home and a well known heritage building in New Zealand.
Grey used Kawau as a retreat from a very busy life as Governor of New
Zealand, entertaining many guests and proudly showing his house and
gardens to the visiting public. As with the house, Grey made an early
start on establishing extensive gardens of exotic plants. While the
gardens were a magnificent creation his actions in introducing exotic
animals and plants to Kawau Island were in time to have a profound
negative impact on the Island’s native flora and fauna. Many of the
animals Grey introduced did not acclimatise to Kawau and some such as
deer were eventually hunted to extinction about 1960 but the
marsupials possum and wallaby Grey imported from Australia in 1868-69
survived and the numbers of these animals eventually became governed
simply by the vegetation they were dependent upon for a food supply.
Grey no doubt thought he was creating a paradise for himself on Kawau,
but made the mistake of not properly recognising what was already
there. Even the British scientific journal Nature warned at the time
that it was not appropriate to introduce animals to places where they
did not belong. Grey's actions initiated a process which has almost
destroyed the native flora and fauna of Kawau Island, the stability of
the soils, and compromised the surrounding marine ecology as well with
the silt released from the almost bare land surface.
During Grey's time people associated with him lived on Kawau with
their families, and as was the case during the copper mine days there
was a fair measure of goodwill so far as occupation of land and the
building of dwellings is concerned. Geologist James Hector recorded
that there was a house in North Cove, on the south side, in the
Further development of the settlement.
with the transition from the Kawau Company’s days, some of Grey's
people remained on the Island when he sold it in 1888 to Mrs Eliza
Thompson from Australia. Between 1892 and 1904 several people had an
interest in Kawau. Names included James Thompson (Mrs Thompson’s
husband), William Holgate, Mrs Fanny Buxton, and William Skeates.
During that time others living on the Island included Mr and Mrs
Burness, Miss Workman, Mr Doyle, Members of the Harris family
including Elsie Harris, Mr Hicks-Ross, Mrs Halverson,
T Xeira in North Cove, and the Lysaghts, who worked 80 acres of
cleared land at the head of Bon Accord Harbour.
Eliza Thompson had the verandah added to the Mansion House, in a style
completely in keeping with the earlier architecture. The verandah is
so distinctive and appropriate that many assume it to be part of the
original building. William Holgate, a mine Captain took an interest in
the mine and lived on the Island for several years, and James
Thompson, Mrs Thompson’s husband engaged the engineering firm of A and
G Price from the Thames to dewater it in 1900. However, no production
took place and the mine has been flooded ever since. The rusting
Price fire-tube boiler remains at the mine site.
Andrew Joseph Farmer who was a former Mayor of Te Aroha purchased the
Island in 1904, and it should be said that at that time the whole of
Kawau was on one Certificate of Title. The landward boundary was Mean
Low Water. The sum paid is not known but the Island was on the market
for 16,000 pounds at the time.
A large annexe
built by Farmer to the left of Mansion House burnt down about 1908.
There were many visitors to Kawau during the period and Farmer ran
Mansion House as a boarding house, but it was not successful
financially. The cost of the trip from Auckland on the
(a Logan built steamer owned by the Coastal Shipping Company) and two
nights stay was seventeen shillings and sixpence. The Northern
Steamship Company also ran popular excursions with the steamers
Ngapuhi and the smaller Clansman.
this stage the design of future development of the settlement was
dramatically influenced when Farmer was compelled to subdivide the
Island for financial reasons after a disastrous fire destroyed the
grand annexe he had built only two years before. The basic essential
need of every community is transport and access and on Kawau this is
met by using boats and wharves rather than roads and motor vehicles.
Under the laws of New Zealand every allotment must have access to a
road or private road, or a navigable river or lake, or upon the
seashore. In Farmer’s subdivision the design was to provide access to
individual lots from the sea. At the time Farmer’s subdivision plans
were deposited the land between low and high water was taken so that
the seaward boundary of the new Certificates of Title was Mean High
Water, which is the case today, except where further subdivision has
taken place since.
Some farming struggled on, Kanuka for firewood was harvested for the
Auckland market, and boat building of small wooden vessels was
a notable industry. The number of jetties slowly increased as
dwellings were erected on allotments created in the Farmer
Wallabies, eating the pasture intended for cattle and sheep finally
drove the farmers out. In a last desperate attempt to control the
wallabies 13,000 were shot on the pasture in one year, but they
quickly increased again and farming was over three years later. With
the pasture now no more than acres of scotch thistle and bare ground
the owner Gerald Clark subdivided 127 acres at South Cove. The
rest of the pasture land reverted to a monoculture of kanuka, one of
very few native plants that the wallabies do not eat.
Attempts to establish small orchards and vineyards have since failed
because of the wallabies and possums.
little Kawau Island settlement now has about 260 dwellings, mostly
close to the sea and their jetty access. There are approximately 60
permanent residents, the majority of the dwellings being holiday and
Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand
24 Umere Crescent
Copyright 1951-2005 E.R. Weaver
Trust New Zealand
Pohutukawa Trust Pohutukawa Trust
Kawau Island Settlement
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