In 1839, the Tory pulled into the Sugar Loaves with Barrett and family aboard. For six years Barrett had been whaling at Te Awaiti at Queen Charlotte Sounds. Now he was employed by Edward Jerningham Wakefield of The New Zealand Company as interpreter to help negotiate the purchase of Maori land.
Together they had already bought land at Wellington - though not without sweat and tears - and while Barrett didn't always like the way Wakefield did business, he agreed to go with him to buy land at Ngamotu from his wife's Te Atiawa iwi.
When he first saw the land, Wakefield was not impressed. The place was practically deserted. The old pa had fallen down a long time ago, karaka and flax grew everywhere and even the cannon from the Otaka battle lay abandoned on the beach.
Leaving Barrett behind to do business, Wakefield sailed for the Hokianga to find more land up there. Barrett installed his family on Moturoa Island, safe from any danger.
A Paper War
It would not be an easy land sale. Almost before Barrett set up camp, William White, a disgraced Wesleyan minister, arrived with a deed, saying he had already bought most of Taranaki from Waikato and Maniopoto chiefs, who owned the land by historic conquest.
Next came the Reverend Whiteley, demanding land for his mission.
Te Atiawa, of course, argued the land was theirs. But they were told it was in their best interests to sell, 'in order that they may return to their native place without fear of the Waikato'.
Eventually Barrett convinced the iwi to sign over the land, though it's unlikely they knew they were about to lose all their rights to it. They had never 'sold' land before. Perhaps, like Te Wharepouri in Wellington before them, they thought they were simply giving permission for the Pakeha to live amongst them.
As Te Wharepouri had said:
'I thought you were telling lies, and that you had not so many followers. I thought you would have nine or ten, or perhaps as many as there are at Te Awaiti. I thought that I should get one placed at each pa, as a white man to barter with the people and keep us well supplied with arms and clothes; and that I would be able to keep the white man under my hand and regulate their trade myself. But I now see that each ship holds two hundred, and I believe, now, that you have more coming.'
Maori understanding of the purchasing process can not have been aided by Barrett's translation methods. In Wellington he'd turned a 1600 word document, written in English, into 115 meaningless Maori ones.
No Guns, no sale
As part payment, the chiefs demanded double-barrelled guns, which had been offered for payment elsewhere.
'No guns, no sale,' they said.
'I'll sail away,' Barrett warned.
'Sail,' the chiefs said.
But Barrett was not above a little blackmail. He threatened to take his children with him - the chiefs' mokopuna - and eventually all the chiefs signed.
Soon the Taranaki tribe would follow suit and sell their land as well.
The Land Changes Hands
The New Zealand Company now owned two huge tracts of land; from Mokau to Ngamotu, and from Cape Egmont to the top of the mountain and down to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River. All that was needed to seal the bargain were to deliver the goods worth 500 pounds. When hapu fought over how best to divide them, Barrett kept the peace.
The double-barrelled guns never eventuated. Te Atiawa would remind Barrett about them for the rest of his life.
The total land buy-up by the New Zealand Company had reached nearly 810,000 hectares (2,001,554 acres), to be on-sold to settlers. Trouble brewed unexpectedly when Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson decided to investigate the legal ramifications of such a major grab, decreeing any land sales made after 30 January 1840 to be null and void.
Because of a twist of fate the Ngamotu deal had been signed late. Wakefield's ship had struck a sandbank and he was late coming back. Barrett's land deal now hung by a legal thread.
A Town called New Plymouth
Barrett returned to Wellington and opened a hotel. But by 1841 he was back at Ngamotu with surveyor Frederic Alonzo Carrington, who had arrived to mark out the 4,451.54 hectares (11,000 acres) settlement of New Plymouth. Barrett and his entire household plus two whale boats sailed with him.
At first Carrington favoured Waitara, and then Moturoa, but Barrett decided to set up a whaling station there. Carrington called it 'a horrible nuisance' and changed site to further along the beach, between Huatoki and Te Henui streams. He wanted his town well away from whalers and whale remains.
The land was soon cleared by burning. Te Atiawa, trickling back from down south, were disgusted by the way it looked. Upset with the surveyors, as well as with their own relatives who had sold the land in their absence, they again demanded the double-barrelled guns they were promised.
Carrington wrote to Wakefield:
'...Mr Barrett tells me when this place was purchased from the Natives, that an agreement was made to make some few presents to the Chiefs ...if you will be so kind to send me guns that were promised them...I fear from what I have seen, unless the promise is fulfilled, we may have some little trouble...'
And then the Settlers came.
In 1841 the William Bryan arrived, bringing New Plymouth's first settlers. Barrett's men and boats unloaded the ship and Barrett became unofficial harbour master. Settlers dragged their baggage along 3kms of blackened wasteland but within a few weeks, a new town had taken shape.
Barrett had already built a long reed house next to the Maori village at Ngamotu and beside his whaling station. Missionaries lived alongside, and then the surveyors, and finally, on the slopes of town were the settlers, impatient for title to some land. With the New Zealand Company under investigation and constant rumours of attack from northern tribes, it was a nervous situation, but a colonist wrote in his journal, 'that Barrett has them all under control'.
Whaling, whalers and money woes
Whalers were an unruly bunch, despised for their rough habits and heavy drinking, and Barrett's were no exception. That year another whaler, Richard Brown, turned up to built a second station next to Huatoki stream.
Townspeople raised loud objections after Brown's first kill, and he decided to move his station to Moturoa, next to his friendly rival.
Though Barrett remained his usual good-humoured self and popular with everyone, his whaling business did not do well. He couldn't seem to catch the whales as easily as he had at Te Awaiti, and when he did they yielded less oil. He owed money on his boats and other equipment, and though he sold his hotel in Wellington for 1500 pounds to pay his debt, the money he made didn't cover it. His little house next to the hotel sold for 30 pounds and became Wellington Library.
The Second Ship arrives and brings more troubles with her
Things were not too good for the settlers either. It had rained for weeks, rations were short and there was no flour left. Te Atiawa were hungry, too. Though they had planted extra crops to feed the Europeans, many more than expected had turned up and eaten more than they'd planned.
The Amelia Thompson sat out to sea for seven weeks, waiting for clement weather so the next batch of immigrants might get to shore.
Despite his knowledge and volunteer help, Barrett was passed over for the job of official harbour master. The health of his crew declined. A plague of rats ate everything they could scavenge. One man was said to have killed 500 rodents in two months, before they disappeared along the beach, paw prints all pointing the same way.
In Wellington, hearings began to decide if Barrett's Ngamotu land purchase was legal. Because of the increasing unrest between Pakeha and Maori, lawyer William Spain was sent by the British Government as Land Claims Commissioner to examine the New Zealand Company deals.
Another tough year
By 1843, Barrett's fortunes had not improved. He had not built a big house as he had in Te Awaiti, but lived in a simple whare-type dwelling on 5.67 hectares (14 acres) of disputed land. He gave up plans for a hotel in New Plymouth and turned his hand to farming. When grasshoppers ate his root crops and worms invaded his wheat, he began to think that cattle and sheep might be better options.
More settlers arrived on Blenheim and Essex until the head count in town was 900, more than twice that of the Maori population. Rumours of Waikato invading continued. Though no war party appeared, large numbers of settlers were sworn in as special constables, just in case. Te Atiawa grew sullen and wary, thinking it was just another plot to snatch their land, especially the much sought-after fertile soil of Waitara.
Quietly, they removed fences and let out the stock. When double-barrelled guns finally arrived, they refused to take them in fear the white man might want even more land in return. When nearly 200 unarmed Maori sat on the Waitara Road so it couldn't be surveyed, angry townspeople responded with a letter to authorities, insisting Maori were trying to thwart their peaceful farming attempts.
Debate over ownership begins
In May 1844, Commissioner Spain arrived to settle ownership. He promptly declared Maori had lost all their rights through historic conquest when they became slaves to the Waikato, and that the Governor had since bought those rights from their conquerors! Te Ati Awa iwi were understandably upset.
Spain said he would hold an investigation but only present residents of the land would have their rights considered, and no one could claim rights to two places at once.
Barrett took the stand but he was looking out for himself. The questions flew back and forth with Barrett swinging from truth to evasion. He explained the buying process he'd used and stated he felt he had truly bought the land, but he had to admit the final deal had taken place without all the necessary tribe members present.
Spain closed the court after just one week, declaring Te Ati Awa had no rights to their land at all, because they had not properly presented their case. He awarded the New Zealand Company 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres), Wesleyan missionaries 40 hectares (99 acres), and Barrett 73 hectares (180 acres) at Ngamotu, which left Te Atiawa with less than a tenth of the company's share. Now Te Atiawa grew justifiably angry.
Somehow Spain decided the land had been taken and colonised for Maoridom's own good. He told Te Atiawa they were already benefiting from the European: no more wars, good clothes, money and religion which would certainly ensure their happiness in the future. Finally, he ordered Governor Fitz-Roy to 'enforce obedience of the laws' and said any further argument was futile.
It was an arrogant decision, yet Te Atiawa were calm and gentle in their protest. They sat down and wrote to Fitz-Roy that they did not want the settlers to leave, just not to settle in certain places, particularly Waitara. Did he not love England the way they loved Waitara? they asked.
They vowed Waitara land would not be given up. Without waiting for a reply, they moved in quietly and quietly removed the settler's possessions.
This was the very beginning of conflict that resulted in the 1845 New Zealand wars.
The Fallout is Catastrophic
Fitz-Roy was sympathetic. He did not like the ruling and said it was like British prisoners-of-war returning home to find all their estates gone. But he couldn't do anything about it, except to blame Barrett, calling him 'an interpreter incapable of translation'.
Barrett's fall from grace was swift and harsh. Suddenly, he went from a man of mana to being known as Dirty Dick as he became something of a scapegoat for the whole affair. People in the street ignored him. No one needed his help. Te Atiawa turned their backs, realising he had contributed to their plight.
As the district filled with arms and unsettled politics, Barrett took sick but recovered well enough to see a last whaling season.
He died at Moturoa on 23 February 1847. A note was sent to Wakefield which read, '...the old whaler, Barrett, died yesterday...' Barrett was only forty.
When this account of his death appeared in Taranaki Herald almost a hundred years later, it sounded like one of his own tall stories:
'...The whale was spouting blood in a vortex of spume when Dicky Barrett ran in to put the finishing lance into its 'life'. Suddenly the cry went up: 'There she's fluked - by Jove - she's done for Barrett.' The great tail appeared to fall on the boat, which, for the moment was lost to view in the churning cauldron worked up by the dying whale. Soon, however, Dicky Barrett was lifted from her bottom, insensible, and carried ashore. He lay on the warm sand for some time above high-water mark. Then he was half-carried and half walked between two strong supporters to Mr Richard Brown's...'
As with the details of his birth, no one knows for sure if it's true or not. Some say Barrett died of apoplexy, some say of a heart attack. But one thing is certain - he lived and played an active role in New Plymouth's turbulent history, and his name still survives: Barrett Lagoon, Barrett Reef, Barrett Domain, Barrett Road, Barrett Street.
First published 12 November 2004
Cannon used to defend Otaka Pa. On display in the Te Takapou Whariki o Taranaki Gallery. A57.553
Try-pots from Barrett's Moturoa whaling station. On display on Level 2, North Wing. A61.932
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