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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Amazing Maori Goldmining Expedition

Back in Riverton, Otago, New Zealand, in 1848, a schooner of 180 tons was launched.  Champagne being short, she was christened with a bottle of rum, and named Amazon, to the shouts of many Maori spectators.  She was the first vessel to be built there, and her owner and builder, Captain Howell, was properly proud of her. And her first voyage must be one of the strangest on record.

Her crew, except for a couple of mates, was entirely Maori.  They sailed her to Akaroa, the site of a failed attempt to make New Zealand French, where a party of the disappointed Gallic settlers hired Howell to carry them to Tahiti.

Howell and his Maori crew successfully landed the Frenchmen at Matavai Bay, but then found that the island was buzzing with the news of the discovery of gold up the Sacramento River, in California.  Captain Howell wasn't interested, but the Maori seamen wanted to sail there, to see some of this "gold" stuff that they had never heard of before.  There were men on the wharves of Papeete clamoring to buy passage to San Francisco, too, so Captain Howell gave in, and with a crew so eager to see what California was like, they made a very swift passage.

They sailed up the river, and set to digging for gold themselves.  And they were successful.  They struck it so rich that their camp attracted every ruffian in the valley.  The Maoris seemed easy game -- which they were most emphatically not.  In the melee, however, one of the ship's mates was killed.  So Captain Howell decided to go back to the schooner, and sail her home to New Zealand.

The Maoris made no objection.  In fact, they had been highly disappointed when they first saw what gold looked like.  They wondered why they had sailed so far, they said, when there was plenty of that stuff back in Otago, New Zealand.  Howell, as he said later, was struck dumb by this.  But then when they got back to Riverton his Maori seamen refused to take him to the areas where gold could be found.

They had seen too many of the bad things gold could do to men, they said.

From an item in the Evening Post of Wellington, 18 December 1937.

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