KENT, John Rodolphus
Explorer and trader.
A new biography of Kent, John Rodolphus appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
No ship's captain better knew the New Zealand coasts in the 1820s and early 1830s, or was better known on those coasts, than John Rodolphus Kent. From 1820 to 1825 he was employed by the New South Wales Government as master of the vessels Prince Regent (schooner), Mermaid (cutter), and Elizabeth Henrietta (brig). When Prince Regent was attached as tender to HM Storeships Dromedary and Coromandel during their New Zealand cruise in 1820, Kent examined many harbours in the kauri-growing area, his crossing of the Hokianga bar in late March marking the opening of that harbour to European shipping and trade. In the first half of 1821 he assisted in establishing the New South Wales settlement of Port Macquarie, and in October left Port Jackson in Mermaid, Prince Regent sailing in company under his command. In the course of a 15 months' voyage he visited Tahiti, Honolulu – where he delivered Prince Regent to the Hawaiian king – and Fanning Island. In 1823 and 1824 he made several exploratory flax-gathering cruises round the New Zealand coasts for the New South Wales Government in Mermaid and Elizabeth Henrietta, retaining command of the latter vessel until the end of 1825.
He then left the colonial Government service. As master of the brig Elizabeth and then of the Emma Kemp, cutter, and Governor Macquarie, brig, he traded between Port Jackson and New Zealand with the occasional speculative voyage to the Pacific Islands. Seal skins from the southern coasts, spars from Hokianga, flax and pork and potatoes wherever a few tons were offering, Kent shipped them all across the Tasman for his Sydney employer, Francis Mitchell. He had a shore base at Koutu Point, Hokianga (where early in 1828 he was joined by some of the first New Zealand Company settlers), under the protection of the Ngati Korokoro chief Moetara, with whose sister he formed an alliance. But at the end of the decade Kawhia supplanted Hokianga as his principal New Zealand port of call. Assisted by a group of flax agents whom he established in the area, Kent was the chief supplier of arms to the Waikato tribes, who congregated at Kawhia to trade with him.
His domestic arrangements at Kawhia, as well as his commercial activites, brought Kent into close personal contact with Te Wherowhero, and in 1831 his wife Tiria (sometimes called Amohia) and her kinsman Te Wherowhero accompanied him on a visit to Manukau in the Tranmere, Captain Smith. He later took over command of the Lord Liverpool, trading between Port Jackson and New Zealand as before, and in late 1833 was engaged as trading master for HMS Buffalo's New Zealand cruise.
Following Te Wherowhero's return to his own tribal territories, Ngaruawahia became the centre of Kent's flax-trading activities until his death at Kahawai, on the Manukau, on 1 January 1837. His adoptive tribe, who remember him as Amukete, buried him in a wahi tapu on Te Toro promontory at the mouth of the Waiuku channel.
by Ruth Miriam Ross, School Teacher and Authoress, North Auckland.
- O.L.C. files (MSS), Native Land Court Minute Books (m/fm), National Archives
- James Hamlin Journal (MS), Hocken Library
- Ten Months' Residence in New Zealand, Cruise, R. A. (1957)
- Nine Months' Residence in New Zealand, Earle, A. (1909)
- Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden, Elder, J. R. (1932)
- Historical Records of Australia, Watson, F. (1914–25).