The second part of Whangārei maritime historian Don Armitage's article about events in the Pacific and Canada during early European settlement. The British Royal Navy ship HMS Buffalo, which gave its name to Coromandel beach, played its role.
Last week I started unwinding threads binding together the British navy's huge expansion, early New Zealand, the HMS Buffalo, kauri and events in other British colonies such as Canada and Australia.
James Wood, the master-commander of HMS Buffalo, left Plymouth in 1839 and went to Quebec where he loaded 141 rebels who had been at the centre of an uprising against Ontario's corrupt government.
Eighty-three of the rebels were offloaded at Hobart, and a few days later another 58 offloaded at Sydney. Included was the ancestor of McKenzie-King, Canadian Prime Minister in the 1920s-40s.
The Buffalo then came to New Zealand but was wrecked at the place now called Buffalo Beach before it could load any of the kauri spars it was supposed to take back to England.
The British Government had dispatched Lord Durham, whose name was also John Lampton, to Canada to report on the rebellion of Upper Canada. Durham took Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who would later work with him in the New Zealand Association scheme, and a man called Charles Buller to assist him.
Durham removed Governor George Arthur straight away. The ensuring report led to all England's colonies raising their game as far as representative and responsible government went. This had a beneficial effect on the fledgling New Zealand administration.
The rebels who were taken from Ontario to Australia weren't held long and most returned to North America. Several ended up writing journals of their time away and on the Buffalo. Elvira Lount, a Canadian descendant of rebel leader Samuel Lount, who was hanged for his part, made a film about him in the 1980s.
At the 175th commemoration in 2015 of the HMS Buffalo wreck at what became Buffalo Beach at Whitianga, Pierre De Lorme, from the Canadian High Commission, and a British naval representative were in attendance.
The Buffalo's wrecking was a matter of misfortune, but not the return about a year and a half later of James Wood - this time as commander, rather than master-commander, of the 150ft long barque, HMS Tortoise.
Because of Britain's urgent need to top up reserves of topmasts, his return came after surviving a court martial into the loss of the Buffalo. Several of the Buffalo's 1840 crew also returned with him. They arrived off Te Karo Bay, just north of Tairua, in mid-April 1842, where the 22 spars the Buffalo was meant to collect two years earlier remained.
A young crewman, William Samson, was drowned when landing at Te Karo Bay and his grave is still there. As well as his name being spelled incorrectly in some accounts, a story of his kauri plaque being vandalised in the late 1960s is also wrong. The plaque and parts of the wooden grave site were burnt when an adjacent tree was hit by lightning.
It took the Tortoise crew a year to get a full load of spars out of the forest, with a lot of Māori help. After the ship arrived back in England in October 1843, the Royal Navy decided to have private merchants supply topmasts. No more Royal Navy ships came to NZ for them.
In the 1860s the Tortoise, the last store ship or transporter left in the Royal Navy fleet, was scuttled near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, where its remains can be seen by divers to this day.
James Wood, former master of the Buffalo and the Tortoise's master-commander for that final NZ voyage, was born in 1783. He had followed his father into the Merchant Navy in 1797 and worked at sea for the East India Company until 1808, during which time he visited New Zealand. He was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1809 and in 1813 promoted to master of the HMS Undaunted which transported Napoleon into exile at Elbe.
Wood retired in 1846 and died in 1857, aged 74. He had married Sarah Clegg and they had two sons and one daughter. One son, James, accompanied his father to New Zealand on the Tortoise, and died aged 30.
For years there was anecdotal evidence that Wood had fathered a daughter with a high-born Māori woman, Matarena Waitangi, in the late 1830s. From this union came Ngahiraka who left many descendants. In 2017, DNA testing of descendants of both Ngahiraka and James Wood confirmed the relationship.
James Wood's English daughter, Mary Anne (1825-62), married the composer Sir William Sterndale-Bennett who was a great friend of fellow composer Felix Mendelssohn. As soon as the Tortoise had returned from New Zealand in 1843, Sterndale-Bennett boarded the vessel to ask for James Wood's daughter's hand in marriage.
Not long after, an orchestra in Whangārei played some of Sterndale-Bennett's compositions without knowing of his indirect, tenuous connection to New Zealand.
Another connection to James Wood is that on an earlier voyage to these far southern seas, the Buffalo was in Northland waters and collected kauri spars just north of Whangārei Heads.