Learning & Research - Akoranga me Rangahau
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The Story of Richard (Dicky) Barrett

by Rhonda Bartle  

A salty dog: Dicky Barrett. Image: PHO2008-231
A salty dog: Dicky Barrett. Image: PHO2008-231

Tags for this Story

Family, whaler

Dicky Barrett was a man who caught everything life threw at him. To escape the slums of England, he signed on as sailor at fifteen to sail the South Seas, eventually becoming one of our earliest traders. When tribal war brought an end to trading, he turned his hand to whaling. As interpreter he acted for The New Zealand Company in the wholesale purchase of Maori land for new settlers, and yet he was also a soldier, policeman, peacemaker, gardener, farmer and an unpaid harbour master.


A Family Man

He married his Maori wife Rawinia twice, once in the Maori tradition and 13 years later in a church. We know he loved her, because once when she was ill, he wouldn't leave her until she was well again. Devastated by the loss of a middle daughter, who died at an early age, he wrote very affectionately of his remaining two. His family was immensely important to him - he took them everywhere he could - yet rumour would have it he fathered two illegitimate sons, both in the same month. 

A Jolly Whaler

Barrett was good natured and even-tempered, the epitome of a jolly whaler, yet at one stage he was too fat to go out in his own whaling boats! While other whaling bosses were brutes, Barrett always stayed mates with his crew. He was the perfect man to be a publican.  As Wakefield once remarked, 'a stranger was always welcome to share a meal, a drop of the grog and a seat on the stool'. And as far as history goes he only lost his temper once, and that was due to stress and illness.

Uneducated but worth his salt

Barrett took his place beside better-educated men and proved his worth to them, but he was not a good businessman and was nearly bankrupt when he died. And while he was basically candid and honest, he might not have been above lying and using blackmail when it suited him.

First among men

Barrett saw a lot of firsts. And often he was the one to make them!  For instance, did you know he brought the first horse to New Plymouth?  That he was part of the first team that drove cattle and sheep to Taranaki?  That his Wellington hotel was one of New Zealand's first prefabricated buildings? That he introduced a wide variety of new crops and vegetables to our region and grew the first peach trees?  That he missed meeting the first settlers who arrived on the William Bryan, because he was out the back of Waitara, picking peaches?

Barrett was also the first white man to fight beside Maori, using the first cannon, during Te Atiawa's struggle to defend their pa.  For the full story read Battle at Otaka Pa.

What did he look like?

There is only one image of Dicky Barrett, a lino cut by an unknown artist, but this wonderful word picture exists:
'How can I make you acquainted for instance with Dicky Barrett, who looks as if he had approached the shape of a small calf whale from long residence among them. He has been in New Zealand twelve years.  Has been a whaler, has a cutter of his own and dozens of whale boats, is a great man among the natives who adore him and is respected even by drunken whalers.  He has befriended many a white man in his district and has got the largest heart of any man I know in New Zealand.  His house is always full of castaway sailors and fat bellied Maoris who are sniffing the grateful smell from his great iron pot.'
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




Puke Ariki is not responsible for the content of these external websites.
The Changing Face of New Zealand's Whaling Policy - Essay by Martin W. Cawthorn, Marine Mammal Scientist
Whaling in Early New Zealand - overview of whaling history







The Story Of Dicky Barret - The Ngamotu Years



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