Volume 5

Richard Ruffin and his Family in the Coromandel

John E. Ruffin

This is a brief history of the Ruffin family and their lives in the Coromandel area in New Zealand.

People living in the area will be familiar with Ruffin’s Bay, Ruffins Rock, Ruffin Peninsula and Ruffins Road named after the family who came to the Coromandel in 1856.

Ruffins Bay is synonymous with Pata Pata. There is a pa site on the headland. Pata Pata is the bay where Lieutenant-Governor Wynyard met with native chiefs of Ngati Maru tribe to negotiate the opening up of tribal land for gold mining in November 1852.

How these places came to be named after the family is not clear. A Coromandel Survey District map of 1907 shows Wyuna Peninsula as Ruffins Peninsula. It may be that the naming followed no formal process but evolved from the common practice of assigning family names to areas in which they lived.

The family is an interesting example of typical early white settlers and the many adaptions they made to forge a life in the early days of white settlement in the Coromandel. Many other early settlers in the Coromandel would have lived similar lives and faced the same kinds of challenges. The records of the lives of families such as this one are not extensive though they do enable us to understand the life of typical settler families of that time. The very brevity of the record points us to the texture of their lives and contributes to our understanding of small settler families, with few resources, living on land long held by others. How did the different peoples of the area 'work' together? The gaps are telling.

Richard Winchester Ruffin was born on August 20th 1827 in Norfolk Plains, Van Diemens Land. His parents were Richard Winchester Ruffin (1798 -1863) and Mary Stevens (1809-1850).
Richard Winchester Ruffin Snr had been transported as a convict and left Portsmouth, England on the 'Hibernia' on 20th November 1818 arriving in Van Diemens Land – now Tasmania, Australia on 10 May 1819. He had been indicted and found guilty in the Old Bailey on the 9th September 1818 of stealing one handkerchief, value 5 shillings the property of the Rev. Charles Cecil Bates, clerk from his person in Covent Garden. He was sentenced to transportation for life. This was to be later reduced to 7 years.

Richard prospered in Australia and on the 13th of November 1826 he married Mary Stevens’ daughter of the ex-convicts Thomas Stevens, born 1763 and Mary Phillips born 1768. Mary Phillips had been transported on the first fleet to Australia and Thomas on the third. The Stevens and Ruffin families owned property in the New Norfolk plains area of Tasmania.

They had four children:
Richard Winchester Ruffin Jnr. was born in 1826 and baptised on the 20th August 1827. It is his life that we follow in this article.
Agnes Ruffin was baptised on the 27th of March 1831.
Joseph Ruffin was born on the 27 of July 1833.
John Ruffin was born on December 23rd 1836.
All four children were baptised in Christ Church Longford, in Norfolk Plains, Van Diemens Land.

On the 6th of September 1849 aged 23, the younger Richard Winchester Ruffin travelled on the 'RAVEN' from Launceston, Tasmania to Port Phillip in Victoria Australia.

On the 6th of July 1856 he left Melbourne on the sealing ship the 'GRAFTON' (1) as a passenger. His occupation was given as – digger or possibly rigger.

Richard’s brother Joseph Ruffin (1833-1926) also migrated to New Zealand. He went to the Auckland area and has descendants there today. Richard’s sister, Agnes Ruffin, born in 1831 in Longford Tasmania, migrated to Wellington New Zealand on MARCHIONESS in March 1858 with her husband Victor Albert Oldman and their two children.

Richard Winchester Ruffin married Maria Downing in 1859, shortly after settling in the Coromandel area around 1856. Mary Downing was born in New Zealand. In a letter written by Henry Downing (2) of Pata Pata, Mary’s father, in 1861 Richard Ruffin is mentioned in connection with the building of a house. Mary Downing is referred to as Mrs. Ruffin.

The small population and loose structure of an early settlement often required that settlers adopt many roles. Richard lent his hand to several related trades. He seems to have been a carpenter and miner who ran a few sheep at Puta Puta and at times a sailor and shipwright. The Thames Electoral Roll reveals that in August 1876 to September 1877 has Richard dwelling at Puta Puta, Coromandel. In the 1885 Electoral Roll Richard Ruffin is listed as having 50 acres at Puta Puta.
The 1893 Electoral Roll lists Richard Ruffin as a carpenter.
The 1899 death certificate of his son Charles Phillip Ruffin stated that Richard was a shipwright.

Richard Winchester Ruffin and Mary Downing had seven children:

Their first child, Richard Henry Ruffin was born in 1864. Richard Henry Ruffin lived in the Coromandel area and in the Electoral Roll of 1893 Richard Henry Ruffin was listed as a settler in Puta Puta, Coromandel.

Ann Jane Ruffin was born in 1866 and in 1892 Ann Jane Ruffin married Fredrick Shrimpton (1867-1945). I believe Ann lived in Tiki Coromandel.

Agnes Mary Ruffin was born in 1868 and died aged 15 in 1884.

Alfred John Ruffin was born in 1871. In the 1893 Electoral Roll Alfred John Ruffin was listed as a miner. Alfred died in 1920. He was 49 years old.

Frederick James Ruffin was born in 1873 and died in 1894 aged 20.

Alice Isabell Ruffin was born in 1877 and married Edward William Legge in 1911. Edward William Legge was probably related to George Hart Legge (1849-1902) discoverer of the renowned 'Legge’s reef' in 1894.

Charles Phillip Ruffin was born in on March 29 1875. Charles died of cardiac disease in 1899 in Coromandel in New Zealand and was buried on the 16 October 1899 in Coromandel Cemetery. He was 24 years old.

A probable descendant of Richard Winchester Ruffin is the John Ruffin of Coromandel who sought permission to pick oysters for his wife in 1906.

For people in the Coromandel area ships were a main means of transport and employment. On 27 March 1861, Richard Ruffin is mentioned in a Coroner’s Reports, on the drowning of Robert Austin who fell out of a punt. The inquest was held at the Coromandel Hotel before James Preece, Coroner. Richard found the body and served as a juror as did Henry Downing.

In another inquest, this time on Frederick Leggett on 27 January 1863 Richard describes himself as a shipwright.

Richard Ruffin also turned his hand to being a sailor. For a period Richard Ruffin captained a schooner on the Auckland run. Various dates – 1868, 1869 reports the arrival of the 22 ton Schooner 'Victoria' in Auckland captained by Ruffin with various cargos, and sailing from Coromandel or Thames (one trip – cattle, 6000 shingles and 5 passengers.

Source: Jim Sharp, who lives at Ruffin’s Bay Coromandel.

On June 14th 1869, the ALBERT, a cutter of 16 tons arrived in Auckland with timber and sundries, and again with 10,000 shingles, 2 cases of bottles carried by Ruffin from Coromandel.

Richard also tried his luck as a gold miner in the 1860s and later in the 1880s. On June 1st 1885, Richard Ruffin was granted a Gold Miner's Licence in the Hauraki Gold Mining District near Manaia a town and locality on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Ruffin’s Bay, Coromandel, New Zealand the bay in 2010 - showing the rebuilt jetty (smashed by a storm is 2008 and then demolished 2009 by another storm which bought a tree down on top of it!) Source: Jim Sharp

The area was already occupied. It would be interesting to have information on how the Ruffin family got along with their neighbours, the Ngati Whanaunga and Ngati Pukenga. The name comes from a Maori Chief called Hukunui Manaia.

Richard Ruffin’s partner in the mine at Manaia was, I believe, Philip Henry Blackmore a miner of Parakiri, who is on the 1885 Coromandel Electoral Roll. It was reported in the Te Aroha News of 24th January 1885 page 3 that the reef they worked produced in some places up to 2oz per pound. The Auckland Star in 1895 stated that the earlier Ruffin Blackmore mine had yielded at the rate of 50 pounds sterling per ton.

In 1889 at the Melbourne Exhibition, a load of quartz from the Manaia mines and others in the area was on display. The parcel from the Blackmore and Ruffin claim at Manaia produced 11oz 18dwts of rich looking gold valued at 3 pounds 5 shillings per oz. I could not find evidence of how the mining of gold influenced the way the family lived.

Jim Sharp who lives in the area adds interesting details:

'Local legend has it that the Ruffins planted a large orchard of pears, fig, walnuts and peach trees. These, along with vegetables, fish and oysters were sold to the Coromandel miners. Delivery was by row boat across the harbour.

There is little remaining from the time of Richard Ruffin – an old stone lined well on our property and a smoke box dug into the bank at the end of the bay. The well definitely dates from Richard’s time and it is probable that he used the smoke box to smoke fish for sale to the miners. There are also steps cut into the rock platform – used for accessing boats and for a time wheel barrow tracks were evident in the soft rock – I presume caused by barrowing vegetables etc to the boat for transport across the harbour.

The road from the causeway was put in in the late 1940’s to Wyuna Bay and the link to Ruffins Bay was completed in the early ‘50’s. The road from the causeway was a private road until subdivision of the peninsula in the early 1960’s and the road from Wyuna Bay to Ruffins Bay is still a private Road.'

Jim has heard that in 1928 all that still stood was the remains of a house and ancient pear trees.

Richard Winchester Ruffin died in 1908 and was buried 9 April 1908 aged 82 years.
Maria Ruffin Maria died in 1912 and was buried on 17 January 1912 age 71 years.
They were both buried in the Buffalo Cemetery, Buffalo Road Coromandel.

Ruffins Bay showing the Maori Pa site and Ruffins Rocks - it was taken in the late 40's before the jetty was built. The Smoke box is in the hill behind the boatshed.
Source: Jim Sharp

Researching the Ruffin family has given me an appreciation and understanding of the difficulties, challenges and adaptability of this settler family. I’m sure many other families in the Coromandel area shared similar histories.

I would like to thank the many people who gave ideas and information and helped uncover the story of this part of the Ruffin family. It gladdens the heart to meet so many wonderful, friendly people willing to find information and share in the construction of this brief history of the lives of Richard Winchester Ruffin and his family.


(1) Years later on January 3 1864, the GRAFTON was wrecked in the Auckland Islands. Though marooned for two years the crew survived. Richard was not with the ship at that time.

(2) Henry Downing was a trader, originally employed by William Webster, on Whanganui Island. There is a map (Patapata Block - 24 OCT 1857) which shows the Ruffins Peninsula as Downing’s Claim and a further map - undated showing H Downing as the owner of Pata Pata.


Thanks to Althea Barker, Geraldine Dunwoodie, Kae Lewis, Liz Oliver and Jim Sharp for their information and assistance.


  • Inward letters - Henry Downing, Reference Number MS-Papers-0032-0248
  • Archives New Zealand Auckland, Regional Office


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