Anyone who has ever wondered who gave their name to Fairburn, the very rural valley between Rangitihi (Pamapuria) and Peria, south-east of Kaitaia, might well find out at Waitangi on Sunday week (August 11), one day short of the 200th anniversary of the arrival in the Bay of Islands of the Fairburn family on August 12, 1819.

The anniversary will be celebrated with the presentation of 'The Catechist Carpenter — William Thomas Fairburn,' at Te Kohangu Museum of Waitangi, starting at 2pm, admission free for Friends of Waitangi and those with day passes to the Treaty Grounds.

The first speaker will be Fairburn descendant Don Mandeno, who lives in Paihia, who will provide an introduction and a time line, followed by Heritage New Zealand property manager Liz Bigwood (Rangihoua Mission to Kerikeri Mission), and Fairburn/Colenso descendant Gillian Bell (The Fairburn Lives).

Mr Mandeno said the family name made it all the way to the very Far North courtesy of William Fairburn's sons, Richard, the first child born at the Kerikeri Mission (in 1820), and his brother Edwin, born at the Paihia Mission in 1827. Richard practised as a listed surveyor in the Auckland Province before 1857, was appointed district surveyor for the Bay of Islands in 1862, and in 1865 was licensed under the Native Land Act.


In 1880, licensed under the Land Transfer Act , he and Edwin set out to survey what would be known as the Great North Rd, still used today, starting in Devonport and working their way north until the budget ran out (which it appeared to have done south-east of Kaitaia). And they displayed a strong conservationist streak.

"If you ever wondered why the road at Waiwera, for example, is so windy, it's because they did their best to avoid cutting particularly nice stands of native trees," Mr Mandeno said.

"They camped for quite a while with local Māori as they worked, and, born in New Zealand and bilingual, they were liked and trusted. And they might have been known to some of the Māori through their early years at the missions."

Fairburn Snr arrived in New Zealand under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society, but was not an ordained minister. He was a carpenter by trade, whose contribution to the fledgling European community in the Bay of Islands included working on the construction of Kemp House.