Volume 4

Who was the Kennedy of Kennedy Bay?

Kae Lewis

The strange answer to this question involves the founding of the City of Adelaide in South Australia, the Royal Navy's need for stout spars for masts on sailing ships, a shipwreck, the rise and fall of an entrepreneur and even long-lost buried treasure.

The New Zealand Kauri tree was unequalled in the world for building ships masts and yard-arms. It grew tall, strong and knot-free, having no side branches until high up the main trunk.

The Royal Navy ship HMS Buffalo left England in July 1836 with a full load of passengers, free immigrants who were to found the colony of South Australia and the city of Adelaide. The ship was under the command of the newly appointed Governor of South Australia, Captain John Hindmarsh.

In March 1837, the Buffalo left Adelaide, and now under the command of Captain James Wood, went to New Zealand to collect Kauri spars. We know quite a bit about how they operated because a sea shanty composed by unknown sailors was later written in the Second Master's diary. Some of the verses describe a seemingly idyllic time for these old salts, cutting down Kauri trees.

Come all you jolly seamen bold, and listen to my song,
I'd have you pay attention, and I'll not detain you long,
Concerning of a voyage to New Zealand we did go,
For to cut some lofty spars, to load the Buffalo.

When at New Zealand we arrived, our hands were sent on shore,
Our tents were then all pitch'd well, and provided with good stores;
At six o'clock we all rouse out, then such a precious row,
Come quick and get your grog, my boys, unto the woods you go.

With saws and axes in our hands, then through the bush we steer,
And when we saw a lofty tree, unto it we draw near,
With saws and axes we begin to lay the tree quite low,
With cheerful heart strikes every man to load the Buffalo.

Now eight o'clock is drawing nigh, 'All Off! All off!' 's the sound,
All thro' the trees it echoes loud, and makes the woods resound,
Then every man lays down his axe, and thro' the bush we come,
To get their jolly breakfast, every man does nimbly run.

Our breakfast being over, then to work we do repair;
Our work is all pointed out, for every man his share.
There's roughters and refiners, and there's jolly sawyers too,
To lop and trim those lofty spars, to load the Buffalo.

When twelve o'clock is drawing nigh, 'All Off!' again's the cry,
Then every man lays down his axe, and through the wood does hie;
Our cook had got a dinner that will make all faces shine,
With pork and murphies* smoking hot on which we tars do dine.

'Grog ho!' is the next cheerful cry, we drink it up with glee;
We light our pipes when time is up and, smoking, go away
Unto the woods to finish well the spars that we began,
And when the afternoon's expired, then home comes every man.

And when we have our supper got, our barter we prepare,
With shirts and blankets in our hands, to the native's huts we steer;
For toki*, pigs and murphies* we exchange our traps, you know,
For to suit our rakish blades of the saucy Buffalo.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, at four o'clock we strike,
Each man to wash and mend his clothes, whilst he has got daylight;
We've extra grog on Saturdays, to cheer up every man;
There's happy day on board the Buff ashore in New Zealand.

Our ship she is well loaded, and for England we are bound;
Where plenty of good rum, my lads, and pretty girls abound;
Farewell to Tonga - Mowries* and Wyenas* also
They will oft times wish to see again the happy Buffalo.

*toki = a Maori adze (presumably in this case their spare axes.)
*murphies = an Irish word for potatoes (probably kumara).
*Mowries = Maoris (this is phonetically correct).
*Wyenas = wahines (Maori girls).

H.M.S. Buffalo
Drawn by Bingham Hutchinson, Emigrant Passenger 1836.
Reproduced with the permission of The Alexander Turnball Library.

Amongst these men was John Bond Kennedy, a well educated Scot sent by the British Admiralty to act as their agent, arranging a constant supply of Kauri spars. Later that year, when the Buffalo left for England with its load of spars, John stayed behind.

He settled at Harataunga, the original name of Kennedy Bay, where the giant Kauris grew in profusion all over the hills behind the Bay. The sheltered harbour had a good depth of water at low tide, ideal for the Navy's purposes. When John provided the Admiralty with an accurate position for the Bay, they named it Kennedy Bay on their new maps.

Kennedy Bay from the beach, showing the hills where the Kauri trees grew.
Photo by Evan Lewis.

Harataunga was then owned and occupied by the Ngati Tamatera under Chief Paora Te Putu who at about this time also offered the Ngati Porou shelter and land in the Bay.

In 1839, John Kennedy bought 242 acres of land at Harataunga from the Ngati Tamatera in exchange for a large collection of trade goods, including muskets and gunpowder. He took a Maori wife, Chieftainess Rangirauwaka/Katerina (Katie) Taurangi and built a house with a good garden on the edge of the bay. The entire coast was rich in fish and shellfish and no-one went hungry. Then John opened the first trading store at Kennedy Bay. He also employed Maori and European sawyers to fell Kauri for the Admiralty.

The anchorage at Kennedy Bay, taken from Tokatea. In 1837, these hills would have been covered in mature Kauri Trees that were subsequently harvested by the British Admiralty to provide spars for the masts and yards of Royal Navy Ships.
Photo by Evan Lewis.

With the help of a skilled Maori whaler named Ropata, John built a twelve ton schooner called 'The Three Bees' for his trading excursions all along the East Coast from Bay of Islands to Tauranga.

John built a whaling station on the shore at Kennedy Bay. During the season, from a lookout above the Bay, he watched through his spy-glass for migrating whales spouting in the ocean. At his signal, the fearless Ngati Porou whalers rowed out, speared the whales and dragged them ashore. They rendered the whale blubber, and John traded the valuable oil in Auckland.

The prized Kauri gum was found buried all over the hills at Kennedy Bay, and later, in 1868, they found gold up there too. It is not known if John Kennedy knew much earlier that there was gold here but likely as not he did. Slowly but surely, John accumulated wealth and kept his gold safely hidden away.

H.M.S. Buffalo made another trip to the Coromandel to collect Kauri spars in April, 1839. They had collected up a full load when, on the 26th July 1840 (or thereabouts), the ship was caught in a fierce gale, and wrecked on Buffalo Beach at Whitianga, a short sail from Kennedy Bay. All hands except two were saved.

James Wood was exonerate from blame for the wreck, and in 1842, arrived back in New Zealand in command of the H.M.S. Tortoise, still collecting Kauri spars. For greater safety of the ship in a gale, they anchored at Nagles Cove on Great Barrier Island.

On the road near Tairua, there is a grave marker which marks the death of a sailor:

The Sailor's grave historic reserve at Te Karo Bay.
The sailor's grave left by the men of H.M.S. Tortoise at Te Karo Bay in 1842.
The Sailor's grave replica Inscription at the site.

The sailor's grave left replica at Mercury Bay Museum. The following is an exact reproduction of the inscription on the
original Kauri Headstone placed on this grave in 1842. The original headstone was found to be beyond repair by 1987.
This plaque is provided by The Royal New Zealand Navy.

In Memory of
Seaman of H.M.S. Tortoise
Drowned in the surf opposite this spot
6th May 1842.


Built for the East Indies Trade and named SIR EDWARD HUGHES.
Purchased by Admiralty 1806 renamed and sent to NEW ZEALAND
to obtain Kauri Spars for Navy
Tonnage 960. Length 147 feet. Beam 39 feet.
Commanded by Captain WOOD ex H.M.S. BUFFALO
On her voyage to New Zealand she carried several hundred
convicts to Tasmania.
On return to U.K. she carried Mrs HOBSON and family.
In 1847 H.M.S. TORTOISE was acting as guard ship
when her cargo of coal caught fire.
She was so badly damaged as to be useless for further service.
May 6th 1842 a.m.
Sent Cutter and Launch to Timber Station with 59 bags of bread,
6 Kids, 6 Monkeys, blocks double 6'' 2 in No, 12'' 2 in No,
Ditto single 12'' 2 in No, Snatch 15'' 2 in No.
Mainsail 1, Brodie stove 1, Rope 3 1/2 '' 1 coil.
Employed filling tank with salt water as requisite.
Noon p.m.
Employed as at a.m. 5 boats returned. Mr Smith, Gunner,
reported the death of Wm Samson (A.B. having drowned by
the Jolly boats capsizing in landing provisions at Timber
Station. Lost from Jolly boat 1 cask of pease. Sunset up boats.
Deceased entered as Wm SAMSON A.B.
Joined ship Hobart Feb 1842
Born Davenport, England.
Marital status Single
Trade Fisherman

THE TIMBER STATION where the men from The Tortoise were cutting Kauri Spars.

Te Karo Bay, taken from the sailors grave.

The Alderman Islands, offshore from the timber station at Te Karo Bay.
Looking inland from Te Karo Bay where the Kauri Trees must have grown.

On the 30th August 1842, John Kennedy arrived at Great Barrier Island with 'The Three Bees', to help ship men and materials between the Tortoise and the timber station at Tairua. By early in 1843, the Tortoise was fully loaded with spars and set off for England. At that time, Kennedy also loaded another vessel, 'The Brothers' with spars bound for Sydney.

The Scow Excelsior loading logs at Kennedy Bay.

Kennedy then collected together the gold he was paid from these and other trading enterprises and set off for Auckland to bank his profits. Also on board were three timber workers from New South Wales. On the way to Auckland, these men mutinied, murdered Kennedy, scuttled 'The Three Bees' and went off to spend Kennedy's gold. Later they were caught, confessed to this and other murders and were hanged.

But that was the end of John Kennedy. He had spent six years in Kennedy Bay, from his arrival in about 1837 to his death in 1843. It is said he did not take all the gold he owned with him on the fateful trip in 'The Three Bees'. His sudden and unexpected death has led to the legend of Kennedy's buried treasure in gold, lost somewhere beneath the fern and scrub of the Bay. This is a secret he took with him to his watery grave.

The derelict remains of the original Kennedy house on the shore of Kennedy Bay lie in the centre of this vegetation. Photo courtesy of Jill Kemp.

John Kennedy and Katerina Taurangi had five children:
Johnathan (born about 1838)
Nathan (1839 - 1932)
Paku (born about 1840, died about 1862)
Joseph Bond Kennedy (1841 - 1913)
Katmairi (a daughter born 1842, died young.)

At the time of John's death, the Government had passed The Crown Land Act whereby those who had bought their land from natives previously were required to reconfirm their title in Court. But John was murdered before matters were settled, and the family subsequently lost title to all the land at Kennedy Bay.


1. Special thanks to Jill Kemp who provided Kennedy family details and some photographs of Kennedy Bay.
2. Sea Shanty in the Diary of T.F. Cheesman, 2nd Master of the H.M.S. Buffalo 1839 - 1840. (Alexander Turnball Library).


1. The Daily Southern Cross, 24 September 1863
2. The Bay of Islands Gazette, 13 August 1840
3. 'Thames and The Coromandel' by Zelma and John Williams 1994
4. 'Historic Gold Trails of the Coromandel' by Tony Nolan 1977
5. 'The Penguin History of New Zealand' by Michael King 2003.
6. 'Wreck of the 'BUFFALO' - Whitianga, 1840. Thames Star, 17 Aug 1949. Reproduced below:


From The Thames Star, 17 August 1949.


The visit of H.M.S. Bellons to Whitianga on Saturday next probably marks the first visit of a warship to the port in over 100 years.
The last recorded time that Mercury Bay was so honoured, the visiting vessel was wrecked on the long ocean beach near the township - Buffalo Beach, as it is now called, after H.M.S. Buffalo which came to destruction just to the north of the Whitianga River in the year 1840.
The Buffelo, a 589-ton vessel with three masts and billowing sails, was built of hard teak wood in India during 1813 and originally named Hindostan until purchased and commissioned by the British Admiralty. After the transaction, her name was changed and her designation became 'Timber Ship on Particular Service.' It was on such a mission - that of procuring a cargo of Kauri masts and spars for the Admiralty - that she was wrecked.
A handsome vessel, 120 feet in length with a beam of 33 feet 13 inches and a hull depth of 15 feet 8 inches, the Buffalo first carried 16 24-pounder guns, but later there were slight additions to her armament.
After conveying 176 emigrants to Australia and making two successful voyages to New Zealand (at one time carrying a detachment of troops to Russell, in the Bay of Islands), the Buffalo sailed to Whitianga for her third load of Kauri spars.
Historical records from South Australia show the wreck occurred on July 18, 1840, while an extract from 'The Times' of January 18, 1841 refers to the loss of H.M.S. Buffalo on July 26, 1840. Whenever the mishap occurred, there was certainly a severe storm raging, 'The Times' says it had already lasted three days.
Every precaution was made for it on the Buffalo by striking the lower yards, top mast, and letting go all anchors. 'But, notwithstanding all these precautions, the ship parted from them and, by the coolness and good management of her commander, Mr James Wood, she was run ashore and all crew were saved with the exception of one poor unfortunate seaman by the name of Moore and a boy named Cornes, both belonging to Chatham.' The ship itself, however, was a total wreck.
Apparently the commnder was absolved from all blame of the loss, for in May 1841, he was appointed master-commander of H.M.S. Tortoise, in which vessel he later returned to New Zealand and collected spars from the open Bay of Plenty Coast.

Much of the gear and cargo of spars were salvaged from the wrecked Buffalo but the hull was apparently abandoned. Until quite recently, in fact, portions of the wreck could still be seen when tides were exceptionally low.
Timber and planking which was washed ashore was used by the Maoris for palisading round a burial ground where one of the drowned sailors from the Buffalo was interred - after permission for this burial had been obtained from the native owners.
One of the boats from the Buffalo was raised and decked at the shipyard at Whitianga and used for some time by the Government as a revenue cutter. Several of the cannon were also rescued - one now stands by the cenotaph at Devonport; two more are on a farm at Mangatarata; for many years another stood in Fort Street, Auckland, while a fifth was taken to Tapu, where it lay for many years.
When a stranger arrived in Tapu he would be shown this old relic and invited to prove his strength by standing the old piece of artillery on its end. Every New Year's Eve the the residents of the Coast heralded the coming of the new year by firing the cannon.
On one occasion, however, an extra charge of powder was used and the old gun burst, showering pieces of metal in all directions. For some years a portion of the burst relic was used as a weight to keep open the front door of the old Royal Oak Hotel, when Mr Joe Robinson was the proprietor about 50 years ago.
As late as 1936, pieces of copper from the Buffalo were uncovered by workmen excavating a site for a dairy factory. The samples were clearly stamped with broad arrows, and one piece carried the date, 1833. A severe storm in February of the same year revealed a portion of the ship's stem, six feet long and sheathed with a band of heavy-gauged copper marked with the same broad arrows.
Today, the wreck of the Buffalo is almost forgotten. Buffalo Beach has become the centre of a favourite holiday and deep-sea fishing resort and the tragedy which gave the beach its name is little known by its many summer pleasure seekers.


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