Before 1840 Kororareka was the largest European settlement in New Zealand. Originally a watering base for the whaling ships which visited the Bay of Islands, it had developed by the 1820s into an important whaling, sealing, and mercantile centre. J. S. Polack, G. T. Clayton, W. D. Brind, and others had established trading posts there by the 1830s and supplied stores to visiting ships. Kororareka's grog shops were notorious, although their conditions were probably exaggerated by the missionaries. In 1830 a tribal fracas, now known to us as the “Girls' War”, was fought on Kororareka beach. Although the incident arose from a trifling matter, before long more than 1,400 Maoris were involved, and about 100 were killed by the time the missionaries restored order.
As there was little hope of legal redress for crimes committed in the town, for British Sovereignty had not yet been established, the inhabitants were obliged to enforce their rights in whatever way they could. On 23 May 1838 the Kororareka Association was formed, consisting of a president and committee of management elected by the local residents, with supervision over a well-defined portion of the Bay of Islands. From all accounts the association administered a summary justice on the principle that the worst of law was preferable to anarchy. Some indication of the character of its 14-article code may be drawn from the thirteenth, which ordered every member to provide himself with “a good musket, a bayonet, a brace of pistols, a cutlass, and at least sixty rounds of ball cartridge”. This, presumably, was a fair indication that the committee was prepared to back its authority to the limit.
On 29 January 1840 Hobson arrived at Kororareka. After he had negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi he established his seat of government a few miles away at Okiato, which he renamed Russell. A few months later when the seat of government was removed to Auckland, Russell was destroyed by fire, and, as Kororareka was part of the Port of Russell, it gradually assumed the latter's name. In January 1844 this change was ratified when Governor FitzRoy decreed that Kororareka should be a part of the town of Russell (see alsoBay of Islands).
In the early 1840s when the price of whale oil fell, Kororareka's prosperity declined. Fewer ships called and the local Maoris, influenced by settler malcontents, became convinced that the British Flag was responsible for all their troubles. Accordingly, on 5 June 1844, Heke cut down the flagstaff on Maiki Hill, near Kororareka. On 10 March 1845 his men sacked and burned most of Kororareka. After Heke's war a small garrison of regular troops was stationed at Russell. In 1857 when these were withdrawn, the town's population dropped to 40 and did not show any signs of significant increase until the First World War.
Modern Russell stands on the site of Kororareka, but is not the site of Russell (Okiato), Hobson's first capital.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
POPULATION: 1961 census, 569.
- Crown Colony Government in New Zealand, McLintock, A. H. (1958).