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					My “The Fox Boy” Roadtrip

This piece was inspired by Peter Walker’s compelling 2002 book “The Fox Boy”
which weaves the stories of:
• The events of the Taranaki Māori land wars of the period 1868-82, and
• The life of Ngatau Omahuru (or ‘little William Fox’) who, at 5 years of age, was
   captured at Te Ngutu o Te Manu in September 1868 during Titokowaru's War
   and adopted by the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, William Fox, and
• Events from his own travels in New Zealand researching the book.

After reading and discussing the book with various acquaintances, I set out with a
friend on a modest, perhaps rather literal-minded expedition, to explore parts of NZ
where the activities and actions that Walker covered in The Fox Boy took place. This
journey had no great purpose but to ponder and reflect on these events of New
Zealand history.

The purpose of logging the trip is simply to provide possible markers for others -
similarly motivated - to follow.

In the material below, text sections emboldened in quotation marks are from “The Fox
Boy”, and other referenced material is hyperlinked to its source.
  Timeline of events relating to the life of the Fox Boy

                                                                              Fox becomes premier (4)

                                                                          Fox becomes premier (3)
                                      Fox arrives in NZ
                                                                Fox becomes premier (2)

            William Fox born                              Fox becomes premier (1)                          Fox dies
                                                                                    Fox's world tour

1800             1820          1840                       1860                        1880                         1900               1920

                                                                 Birth of Ngatau Omahuru

                                                                          Ngatau Omahuru adopted by Fox                              Death of WF Omahuru
                                                            Wastelands Act
                                                                  Confiscation laws passed
                                  Treaty of Waitangi                                      Attack on Parihaka              Death of Te Whiti

                                                                         Battle of Te Ngutu o Te Manu

                                                                                        Survey of Waimate Plains
First, “In the capital”
Naturally, a fair amount of the Book’s events take place “in the capital”, Wellington,
currently my hometown.

The Fox residence Wellington “set well back from the corner of Hill St and
Molesworth St … One day Sir William took an easel .. and painted the place … a
row of tall windows, a conservatory, a desponding shrub or two, a determined
gravel drive… ” In the Otago University Hocken digital collection, this (copyright
protected) watercolour appears to fit this description but has the tag [Crofton]. This
house does not look like the present day Fox’s Crofton house (qv); so perhaps (as
Walker asserts) this painting, done in 1850, was of Fox’s then “town” house.

“the house now gone, the site retains something of the mood … a little Greek
temple … serves as the catholic basilica”.

                          In the grounds of Parliament House, is the statue of
                          Ballance “looking like a stoat” (the blue bandage on the
                          left arm is a modern addition).

                          “There is still a …picket fence, a great tree or two… the
                          Gothic revival parliamentary library which a lunatic or
                          a committee has had painted pink.”
“The Native Hostelry, where William Fox was sent….no longer exists”. This
Thorndon in 1877 photograph by James Bragg, located for us by the helpful ladies at
the Turnbull, centres on the Princess Hotel, the triangular building at the intersection
of Murphy and Molesworth Street. To the right of the hotel are the Methodist Church
and the Native Hostelry.

The Princess Hotel is now an apartment block, and the Native Hostelry site is now
occupied by the Ministry of Health.

                                 Interestingly, the house in the foreground of the 1877
                                 photograph – Pendennis, 15 Burnell Ave - is still
                                 there and is now a hostel for young Māori women
                                 coming to the city for work or study.
                                                     Fox also owned a Wellington
                                                     “country” house (Crofton) at
                                                     what is now 21 Kenya St,
                                                     Ngaio (near Crofton Downs). It
                                                     has a plaque over the front door
                                                     to this effect dated 1857.

Fox sold the house in 1862, 6 years or so before Fox junior was adopted.

                                                Church of England Grammar School
                                                pupils standing in the fields in front
                                                of Crofton in the mid-1860s. (W.L.
                                                Travers, Nelson Provincial Museum)

                                                   By a strange coincidence (or
                                                   maybe not), the current owner,
                                                   George Domett, confirmed that he
                                                   was related to “the country’s
                                                   first noted English poet ….
                                                   premier in the 1860s… another
                                                   St John’s man” Alfred Domett
                                                   Mr Domett was happy to show us
                                                   the house, which he has restored
                                                   to its original use as a family
                                                   home. He seemed especially
                                                   pleased with the piano in the
                                                   entrance hall that he had obtained
                                                   from Mangaweka (from Westoe?),
                                                   that he believed had originally
                                                   belonged to Fox.
Then, the Taranaki Trip: to Te Ngutu o Te Manu and Parihaka

Here was the general idea:

                                                       1. Head         North        from
                                                       2. After about 140km, cross
                                                           the Rangitikei river, turn left
                                                           off SH1 at Bulls, to
                                                           Parewanui, location of the
                                                           1866 (52) land sales;
                                                       1. Continue to Scott’s Ferry,
                                                           site of the river crossing
                                                           service (ferry) of the 1860s
                                                       2. Back to Bulls, up SH1 a few
                                                           km, past Greatford, turn
                                                           right down Karariki Road to
                                                           Westoe, the Fox country
                                                       3. Then, cross country, via
                                                           Marton, to join SH3, thence
                                                           to Whanganui, take the air,
                                                           and     look      out    John
                                                           Ballance’s grave at the Head
                                                           Rd cemetery
4. Next, to Nukumaru near the location of Tauranga Ika (140),
5. Further west, to Hawera, to maybe indulge the culinary delights of the, possibly
    pseudonymous, Bonanza Burger Bar, and the White Hart Hotel (22),
6. The Tawhiti Museum, universally recommended.
7. Then Turuturu Mokai Pa (24),
8. Mawhitiwhiti Pa (43)
9. Te Ngutu o Te Manu Battlesite (29)
10. Parihaka Pa (229)
11. Cape Egmont lighthouse (Ref: “Parihaka Album” by Rachael Buchanan)
12. Hawera (Dairyland) (21)
13. Patea (159,160) Bryce’s grave, Canoe, and Canoe cafe
14. Then effectively retrace the route Fox Junior originally took to Wellington (91)

Well, that was the general plan, scheduled for three days. How did we get on?

At the small country town of Bulls, Doug at the Information Centre offered contact
phone numbers and advice, and gently disputed our findings on the etymology of
Tutaenui (renamed Marton in 1869, after James Cook’s birthplace).

Helen, the on-duty Bulls Museum custodian, welcomed us with singular enthusiasm,
and piled her counter with books and papers relating to the land sales of the 1860’s.
We concluded we’ll need a return visit. Her response: “You’d be welcome to stay at
my place”, giving us directions to our next journey point.


A few kilometres south-west from Bulls to Parewanui, we came to the site of the
signing of the agreements of the 1866 land sales. Marked now by a tiny church –
Wherico – under a huge sky in the midst of dead quiet, almost featureless, flat
landscape. Extremely difficult to envision the scene there of December 1866, as
“described by a British MP Sir Charles Dilke” (52).

                                                     A few more kilometres further
                                                     south-west, we found Scott’s
                                                     Ferry, restored to its original
                                                     working location.

Our next stop was Whanganui, intending to visit the burial place of John Ballance, at
the Head Rd cemetery “row 54 near central path”. Despite these helpful directions,
row numbers proved elusive, and we managed only (incidentally) to locate the grave
of his wife Fanny. However, the fine new statue of Ballance outside Council
buildings and the portrait of Renata Kawepo (103) among the Lindauers in the
museum (gratutuitously officious - no photography permitted) provided compensatory
points of interest.
Tauranga Ika

Then West on SH3 to Nukumaru, and the Titahi Church, thought to be on the site of
the Marae of Titokowaru’s Tauranga Ika Pa.

The grounds of the church housed an
elaborate memorial extolling the
accomplishments of Dalvanius Maui
Carlyle Prime, a singer and songwriter.

No mention of Titokowaru or Tauranga Ika. Next door to the church we explained to
a bemused Olive that we were looking for the site of the Pa. She was clearly sceptical
“you and about two million others”, and suggested that “no-one knew”, and by her
reckoning the Pa would have been nearer the coast.

                                                    Behind the church, inland, to the
                                                    North, we could see an
                                                    escarpment which may have had
                                                    defensive value. I had thought
                                                    that a Pa of such dimensions and
                                                    extensive earthworks would
                                                    show evidence on Google Earth.
                                                    Nothing conclusive.

Where else would we stay in Hawera but the White Hart Hotel (22).

Also staying at the hotel was a mid-aged couple, both schoolteachers, from
Whanganui, taking their first break from their whanau for 25 years, and gleefully
celebrating this with a late supper in the TV lounge “We just took off, to the North”.
Over their meal, they described their family lives, their upbringing – including some
astonishing damaging events that took place while in “care” in Wairoa in the 1970’s –
and their aspirations for their children.

Tawhiti Museum.

Recommended by all, but closed on the days we were there. Schedule a revisit.
Te Ngutu o Te Manu Battlesite

                                           The battlesite is now a family camping
                                           ground, well maintained, complete with
                                           storyboards, and a monument to the British
                                           troop members who died there in 1868.

The farmer who lived opposite – Maurice –
was happy to take a break from repairing a
tractor to exchange theories as to the actual
site of the battle, while we contemplated his
fantastic view of Mount Taranaki,
unfortunately shrouded at the time.
Maurice was impressed that we were
staying in “one of the old country inns”, and
recommended one in Stratford, owned by a

That night we stayed at the inn in Stratford recommended by Maurice. His mate was
affable: “One room, two beds, eh, friends of Maurice – special deal $70”.
Downstairs, the barmaid checked us in: “Room 3, that’ll be $65 thanks.”

                                                            We arrived in Parihaka in
                                                            the early afternoon, to find
                                                            the area around Te Whiti’s
                                                            memorial and grave quiet
                                                            and almost deserted.

A couple of friendly youths playing snooker in a garage directed us to “our
granddad”, “you can call me Milton”, who was happy to discuss his opinion of “The
Fox Boy” book with us. Before heading off on business he introduced us to Maata.
She viewed us with justifiable scepticism, while we regarded this formidable lady -
green moko and sporting the Parihaka tri-feather - with some apprehension. Then,
neither of we Roadtrippers having been in a Marae before, we got the culture shock.

Firstly, Maata sang a welcome song (waiata?), shepherded us into the Marae (shoes
off), and instructed us to “hongi” the members of the Pa that had gathered to greet us
(including a mid-aged, peripatetic Swiss gentleman – Romeo - who was staying at
Parihaka “discovering himself” and developing an organic vegetable garden as quid
pro quo). Then Maata delivered a welcome in Māori (pōhiri?) which we sort of got
the gist of. We responded to this, simply introducing ourselves and the purpose of our
travels. Then we were admonished in English – which we fully understood – for being
shallow gawping tourists who had an expectation that they would be able to absorb
the spirit of Parihaka in a simple short visit. Cripes, I thought, things are starting to
look grim; I guess that’s it: poetry and invective.

Then Maata suddenly announced that she was departing
to bake us some scones and we would have a cup of tea
together. When these were baked, we were invited into
the Marae refectory where we sat around a huge table and
took tea, with some very nice scones and jam. I don’t
know what happened, but somehow, in the conversations
that ensued, we must have convinced our hostess that we
were not “shallow gawping tourists”. As we left, Maata
was beaming at us, almost, it seemed, approval.
Mawhitiwhiti Pa

A few map errors led us astray in our search for Ngatau Omahuru’s birthplace. But
we were quickly sorted by the locals, and some helpful road signs. The sprawling
building on the corner of Hastings Road and Omahuru Road (good clue) turned out to
be Mawhitiwhiti Pa. Located between Te Ngutu o Te Manu and the Waingongoro
River, unsurprisingly, being on the advance (and retreat) path of the battle of 7
September 1868.

There, a very cheerful and helpful Daisy – a great grand niece of Ngatau – invited us
into the Marae, where she explained lots of stuff about Māoridom and the Fox Boy,
among them the prospect that the book might be about to be made into a film.

                                              Daisy left the best “the gem” till last.
                                              On one wall of the Marae were a
                                              number of photographs: Ngatau
                                              Omaruru’s father Te Karere, his
                                              siblings, the “Fox Boy” book cover
                                              photograph, and, amazingly we
                                              thought, a photograph of William Fox
                                              Omahuru himself at the age of 28.
While at Mawhitiwhiti, we thought to look out Miri’s place, hoping to identify it by
the plaster ducks (44) in the garden - didn’t succeed in finding them. We made an
inquiry of a couple (Chris and Trish) in their vehicle exiting a nearby house. “We’re
on a Fox Boy Road Trip” I offered by way of introduction, waving my copy. “I’ve
got that book” was the reply. “Come inside for a coffee, and we can talk about it.”

Turuturu Mokai Pa

This location has its own gruesome history, but the purpose of our visit was to recall
the events of Titokowaru’s warriors’ foray on 12 July 1868, attacking the British
redoubt located there; it was the British attempt at retribution that led to their defeat
on 7 September at the battle of Te Ngutu o Te Manu.

It would be an understatement to say that we were quite dismayed at the decrepit and
rundown state of this site of historical significance. Don at the Hawera Visitor
Information Centre explained that this neglect will continue until the ownership
disputes, relating to the history of the site, are resolved.

Our visit to Westoe, Sir William Fox’s country seat, was rescheduled to the return trip
south, and it was late afternoon when we drove into the grounds of the House. We
pulled up to greet the gardener by the drive as we entered, and I intoned my, by now
well-worn, opener “We’re on a Fox Boy Road Trip”. “Great” she replied, “Welcome
to Westoe. I’m Kate …. the owner. I’ll show you around, and then we can have a cup
of tea.”

After a tour of the extensive grounds, and tea, discussion turned to the difficulties of
living in and maintaining a building of historical importance, and, on departure, to the
subject of that other related building of historical importance - Wellington’s Crofton,
and the piano we encountered there. “The packing for that piano is still upstairs.”

On this oddly satisfying note, we departed.

On the way home we pondered the events of our journey. No doubt about it, we
concluded: the Road Trip is a great concept with a long and colourful track record;
this modest excursion of ours tracing the events of “The Fox Boy”, spanning a
fragment of New Zealand, has been a revelation, and a lot of fun: the meetings of our
two cultures, the landscapes and histories, the encounters, and the hospitality.

John Kliem April 2010

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Description: A brief journey into NZ's history, inspired by Peter Walker's 2002 book