Volume 10

Thames Before the Gold

Carol Fielding
Few other areas, in the Pacific region at least, had 10,000 Europeans planted into the midst of an almost exclusive indigenous community in a period of less than a year.’ (J. Hutton)

The present–day town of Thames was preceded by centuries of Maori occupation. In this account, the land use from about 1830 is described firstly by Ngati Maru writers, and then by the eye-witness accounts of various Europeans through to 1869. The pictorl record of this area before photography became common, does not show enough detail to add to the word-pictures that follow.

The following quotes are taken from the work of John McEnteer and Taimoana Turoa:

[At the southern end of the present-day town of Thames], ‘..Kauaeranga Pa was located between Shortland Wharf, Willoughby Street, Baillie Street and Fenton Street at Te Hape Stream. It was the major Pa in the area, occupied . . . by the tribes of Marutuahu, particularly Ngati Maru and Ngati Whanaunga. There was a defined and ordered system of housing areas. Each area within the Pa had its own name and was for various hapu of Ngati Maru and the other main tribes of Ngati Whanaunga and Ngati Paoa. There were two main burial grounds associated with this Pa . . . [and an] area on the seashore [near the present-day boat ramp], reserved for the hauling out and storage of canoes . . . a Tauranga Waka.’

There were two other Pa on the alluvial flat to the north:

‘The Tarakonaiti Pa was located on the banks of the Karaka Stream, along the foreshore to the School of Mines site at Cochrane Street. It was a nohanga Pa (houses and settlement for everyday use) with carved palisaded posts along the foreshore. The ground was slightly elevated (around Amy, Queen and Cochrane Streets) and raupo huts were built on this part. The surrounding area was cultivated in kumara, potatoes and maize. The Pa was shown in sketches by Charles Heaphy.’
Map of Thames Goldfields by Charles Heaphy 1867, showing Shortland and the old pa site of Te Rakonaite (Tarakonaite). The map was re-drawn in 1951 by W.G. Harding.
Reproduced by SYC - Totara Vineyards

‘The Koronae Pa was located between the Waiotahe Stream and Williamson St. It was a small nohanga Pa and belonged to Te Uringahau hapu of Ngati Maru.' (from John McEnteer and Taimoana Turoa)

In the same account, gardens and cultivation are described as extending to about Baillie Street from the defensive Pa of Pukerahui on today’s Shortland Cemetery hill. The foreshore and mudflats were busy areas for several reasons.

‘There were hauling, storage and marshalling areas for canoes and for the general business of 'shipping' or waka transport and loading . . . tauranga waka’

‘The mudflats from high watermark to low water mark formed part of the tribe’s traditional fishing grounds.'

Here would be abundant patiki (flounder) and shellfish. They were also bird-snaring areas. In the fast-flowing streams issuing from the hills, eels, koura and trout (adult whitebait) were plentiful. There were associated seasonal camps.

‘They were situated at the Kauaeranga Pa, at the mouth of the Karaka Stream, and near the end of Williamson Street/Victoria Park.’

All the above quotes are taken from John McEnteer and Taimoana Turoa.

Inter-tribal fighting of the 1820s had led to Hauraki Maori withdrawing from this area until, during the 1830s, when threats from other iwi had reduced, Ngati Maru gradually moved back from the inland Waihou River area. By 1835 ‘… large plantations of Potatoes, Kumara, Maize, Melons, etc., etc., all over the Kauaeranga flats, both sides of the river’ were noted by a member of the missionary family Fairburn.

In 1837, the Church Missionary Society moved its settlement from Puriri to Parawai, one reason being that it was ’situated within three quarters of a mile of the great Pa [i.e. Kauaeranga Pa], is watered by a fine fresh water stream and is well wooded. This last place belongs to the natives we are now living with [at Puriri] and they are all willing to let us have it.’ (J. Preece)

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840, gave impetus to the settlement of Auckland, with settlers relying on Maori for much of their food supply. Fleets of waka were able to deliver from the Hauraki area, produce as varied as fish and pigs, potatoes and wheat, peaches, cabbages, maize and melons. G.S Cooper, visiting in 1849, remarked on the land-use between Tararu and Kauaeranga:

‘Our walk was about three miles in length, nearly the whole of it over a beautifully cultivated flat, inhabited by a great number of natives, whose houses are scattered about in all directions in the midst of the cultivations.’

In 1841, Ernst Dieffenbach described the Parawai to Kauaeranga area:

‘Not far from the entrance into the Thames is a station of the Church Missionary Society, occupying a most picturesque position on the slope of the eastern mountains, which are crowned by a forest of lofty trees. An arm of the sea, which is joined by a creek, the Wawakaurunga [ Kauaeranga] , bathes the foot of the hills where the buildings are placed; a fertile alluvial flat spreads along its left shore, on which stands a large native fortification, Kaueranga, often containing nearly 2000 inhabitants.’

By 1845-46, according to local historian Alistair Isdale:

‘the port of Thames’ was a Cabbage tree by a bend in the Kauaeranga River where it turned to run along beside the hills.’

Reverend Thomas Lanfear was living at Parawai Mission Station at this time and wrote in about 1850 that the local tribe was ‘continually going to Auckland to dispose of their produce.’

However, economic conditions were changing by 1856.(Monin) On the previously lucrative Australian market, the prices for produce slumped and, according to Donald McLean who visited in 1857, ‘the soils of the Kauaeranga flats, the region’s most productive agricultural area, were close to exhaustion as a result of constant cultivation and minimal crop rotation.’(McLean) Despite this opinion, the Maori communities at the mouth of the Waihou continued to supply Auckland with cargoes of potatoes, pigs and wheat. Lanfear noted in an 1861 report that the [Kauaeranga] communities moved to new cultivation areas up the river.

When Maori were feeding only themselves, they practised shifting cultivation, gardening in one place for two or three years, then moving to another part of their land.

’Along the Waihou, the narrow cultivable strips must have meant frequent shifting, which gives an economic value to the system of ahi kaa.’ (C. Phillips)

This was the reoccupying of land to continue the right of a particular group to be there. The agreement below makes clear the continuing importance of the ‘Kauaeranga flats’ as a living and therefore gardening place for Ngati Maru.

From early in 1864, James Mackay, then Civil Commissioner for Hauraki, was aware of gold being found south of Thames at Ohinemuri, but it wasn’t until July 1867 that he succeeded in ‘...making an agreement with Te Hoterene Taipari, W.H. Taipari, Raika Whakarongotai and Rapana Maungaroa to allow mining over their land . . . the natives were very particular that lands required for their own use for residence and cultivation should be reserved from gold-mining, and the sacred places and burial grounds were also carefully excluded from the agreements.’

The Proclamation

’All that block of land commencing at the sea-coast at the mouth of the river Kauaeranga, thence by that river to the junction of the Kakaramata Stream [at the southern end of Heale St], thence by that stream to its source on the ridge of the hills, thence along the said ridge to the source of the Hape, Karaka, Waiotahi, Moanataiari and Kuranui Streams, thence turning down the Kurunui stream to the sea-coast, thence by the sea-coast to the mouth of the Moanataiari stream, thence inland to the base of the hills, thence crossing the Waiotahi stream and by the base of the hills to the Parareka spur, thence ascending the said spur [immediately south of Waiotahi Valley], thence descending a spur to the Karaka stream, thence by that stream to the sea-coast, thence by the sea-coast to the point of commencement. Given under my hand this 30th day of July, 1867 Daniel Pollen, Deputy Superintendent.’ Auckland Provincial Gazette 17 August 1867
Map of Thames Goldfields by Charles Heaphy 1867, showing the South-eastern boundary of the goldfield proclaimed 30th July 1867. The Kakaramata Stream is no longer visible.

By the 3rd September 1867, James Mackay, now Warden of the Goldfield, had the opportunity to arrange for the Waiotahi Block to be added to the mining area. He described the circumstances leading to this in his account of 1896 and went on to say that Aperehama te Reiroa agreed to having miners’ rights available on the Waiotahi Block ‘... provided a line was cut along the base of the hills, and the flat land left as a cultivation reserve... That afternoon the line of demarcation was laid off on the ground, and the Waiotahi was rushed by the miners.’ (James Mackay)

'On the 4th September, I arranged the boundaries of cultivation reserves . . . for Taipari and his people at Te Hape, within the town of Shortland. For the Ngati Naunau at Tararu Point; this included five acres belonging to the Ngati Paoa tribe ..' (James Mackay)

From this time, Kauaeranga turned rapidly into Shortland, followed by the laying out of Grahamstown where formerly had been the pas of Tarakonaiti and Koronae. On the land where mining was allowed, the chiefs agreed only to leases, not outright sales.

Several writers refer to the many peach trees that grew on the flat. Edward Clarke was the sub-editor of the ‘Daily Southern Cross’ and published in 1868 ‘The Thames Miners Guide’. In 1867, before the Goldfield agreement, he noted ‘peach groves in full bearing.’ A year later he said the peach trees had been cut for firewood. However, many must have remained in the vicinity because both W. G. Hammond and Reverend Vicesimus Lush mentioned the selling of peaches, by Maori:

‘At that time [1869] a great part of the township was still owned by the Maori. In the peach season they would camp on the sea-front, plaiting flax baskets to hawk the peaches round for sale, and cooking their meals in a big iron pot or perhaps a haangi.’ (Hammond)

In February 1877, Reverend Lush recorded in his diary

‘This is the first year we have hardly bought a kit of peaches, our own garden has yielded a good crop. This morning . . . we bought a kit full from a native – 48 magnificent peaches for one shilling.’

In 1867 and for some time afterwards, the sea-front was present day Queen St, the earlier names being Beach Rd and Eyre St.

F. W. Hutton, geologist and biologist, in a report in November 1867 estimated the alluvial area of Tararu as 150 acres ‘one third of which is in Maori cultivation.’

Of the Shortland and Grahamstown area he said,

’The largest quantity of alluvium in the district is that between the Kauaeranga and Kuranui streams. This I estimate to cover an area of 700 acres out of which 100 acres must be deducted for the township of Shortland, and 200 more for tapu burial grounds leaving 400 available for diggers. This tract may be considered as an incline sloping up from the sea to a height of 40 feet at the foot of the hills.’

It is probable that the 200 acres also included the tauranga waka, and the cultivation and residential reserves referred to in the Schedules to the Proclamation.

An early photo of the Thames Goldfields, possibly 1867, looking up the Karaka Gully, showing an example of Kirk's 'dense thickets'.
Source: The Treasury Collection.

The botanist Thomas Kirk made a list of plants he found growing in 1869, and made this general observation:

‘From the Kawaeranga northward to Kuranui, a gradually-narrowing strip of alluvial land, much of which is now occupied by Shortland and Grahamstown, still exhibits dense thickets [of various native shrubs] ‘with a close undergrowth of sedges . . . often found covering large spaces. The mud-flats and margins of the creeks are occupied by the Mangrove which is here abundant and attains a large size,’ [and various rushes and sea-meadow plants.] ‘Naturalised plants [i.e. non-native] are to be found in great abundance. The former extent of native cultivations is attested by the common occurrence of the Taro and several of the cultivated fruits of Europe, peach, cherry, fig, vine, raspberry, strawberry . . .’

Photographs of early Thames show much industrial, commercial and residential occupation but it is obvious from the preceding word-pictures that some of the previous land use and settlement remained.


  1. Hutton, J.: 1995 ‘Troublesome Specimens’ MA Thesis University of Auckland.
  2. McEnteer, John and Turoa, Taimoana: 1993 ‘Nga Taonga o te Kauaeranga : Maori Heritage of Thames, Report for Thames Community Board, Thames.
  3. Edwin Fairburn quoted in Drummond, Alison : 1975 ‘The Thames Journals of Vicesimus Lush 1868-1882’ Pegasus Press Christchurch.
  4. Preece, J.: 1830 Letters, report to Church Missionary Society CN/0 71 University of Auckland Library Microfilm 79-342.
  5. Cooper, G.S. : 1851 ‘Journal of an Expedition Overland from Auckland’ Auckland
  6. Dieffenbach, Ernst: 1843 ‘Travels in New Zealand’ London.
  7. Isdale, A.M.: 1967 ‘History of the River Thames’ Manurewa.
  8. Lanfear, Thomas: October 1850 Letters, Church Missionary Society CN/0 57 Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL).
  9. Monin, Paul: 2001 ‘This Is My Place : Hauraki Contested 1769-1875 Bridget Williams Books Wellington.
  10. McLean, Donald : 1857 ‘Journals, Donald McLean Papers MS - Papers - 0032 Alexander Turnbull Library.
  11. Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives 1862 E – 5A p5.
  12. Lanfear, Thomas: 1861 Report Church Missionary Society CN/0-57 (ATL).
  13. Phillips, Caroline: 2000 ‘Waihou Journeys : The Archaeology of 400 Years of Maori Settlement’ Auckland University Press Auckland.
  14. Mackay, James: 1896 ‘Narrative of the Opening of the Goldfield’ No 29 in Thames Goldfield Information Series published by David Arbury, Thames
  15. Auckland Provincial Gazette 17 August 1867.
  16. Clarke, Edward: 1868 ‘The Thames Miners’ Guide’ Reprinted by Capper Press 1975 Christchurch.
  17. Lush, Vicesimus : 1877 in ‘The Thames Journals of Vicesimus Lush 1868-1882’ Ed. Drummond, A. Pegasus Press Christchurch 1975.
  18. Hutton, F.W.: Report published in ‘New Zealand Herald’ 5 November 1867, p5.
  19. Kirk, Thomas: 1869 ‘On the Botany of the Thames Goldfields’ Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, 1869.


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