While we were at Kerikeri I was keen to make another visit to the site of New Zealand’s first European settlement at the mission station established by Rev Samuel Marsden. This was in December 1814, at Oihi Bay way round at what is effectively the north head of the Bay of Islands. We made the first journey back in the winter of 2009. I guess I wanted to see what was a crucial link in the European settlement of New Zealand. We were surprised then by how obscure the location was, and by how little information was available at the site. There was a track and the big memorial cross and that was it. We wondered what recognition would be made of it 200 years on in December 2014 – the first 200-year milestone for European history in New Zealand.
It turns out there was a considerable awakening to the significance of the site. The location has had a big makeover, with a huge amount of information and interpretation available. It is a slow walk down to the site from the big welcoming building if you read much of the information offered. There have been archaeological digs to gain more information on what life was like at the time of the settlement. There is now much greater recognition of the pa that the settlement was a very small part of; the mission occupied only 4000 sq. metres.
It was a nice day for the walk down the valley.
It is a nice location but it turned out it wasn’t a good place for a settlement and it was finally moved one kilometre around the corner and other mission settlements became more strategically important. Nevertheless this was the first European settlement in the country with children born and dying and chapels and schools built and used. There is a sense in the information that this was a turning point for New Zealand – the first tiny toe-hold for eventual British takeover of the country. the Rangihoua Heritage Park makeover was funded by what looks like big money from Auckland; it is probably not a milestone that Maori wish to celebrate – the small end of a very big wedge.
This first mission settlement was a sign of troubles to come. Samuel Marsden probably thought he was buying the freehold of the acre of land for the mission settlement – albeit cheaply. Meanwhile the local chief probably thought he was just granting him a right to occupy the land along with some protection, in return for insight into the European ways and some education. Even the name of the bay was taken wrongly – it is now transitioning from Oihi to Hohi. The first mission settlement history provides a portent of all the misunderstandings and troubles that were to shape the next two hundred years.