Mana Island, some 14 miles south-west of Kapiti and 2 miles off the coast of Titahi Bay, covers an area of about 2,000 acres. Sometimes known as Table Island because of its formation, the island is said to have got its name from Kupe who, to commemorate his safe crossing from Rarotonga to New Zealand, named it “Te Mana-o-Kupe-ki-Aotearoa” (the ability of Kupe to cross the ocean to Aotearoa). In early days the island was also called Warspite Island by the Pakeha, presumably after HMS Warspite, which passed through Cook Strait in 1827. Captain Cook noted the island but gave it no name in his Journal.
Mana was bought from the Ngati Toa in 1832 by Alexander Davidson, John Bell, and Archibald Mossman. In the same year George Ross was sent from Sydney to take possession of this property on behalf of the three partners. Bell arrived in person to live on the island in 1834 and died there some three to five years later. Under its three Pakeha owners, Mana was stocked and cultivated – there was even an attempt to grow tobacco. By this time certain whalers and traders seem also to have obtained access to the island and were staying there.
By deed dated 11 May 1841, Bell and Peterson transferred their interests to Henry Moreing and although his right was questioned by the Fraser brothers, he continued in possession until 1865 when the island was conveyed to the Wellington Provincial Government.
J. F. E. Wright obtained a 21-year lease of Mana in 1873 for an annual rental of £52 and, in 1886, the Vella family commenced a 70-year association when a sublease was granted Mariano Vella. For some years a lighthouse was maintained on the island. In 1893 Mana was first temporarily, and, later, permanently reserved for defence purposes, except for 10 acres which comprised the landing place reserve. In 1948 the island was declared Crown land and ceased to be a defence reserve. Five years later the Gault family purchased the lease.
by Judith Sidney Hornabrook, M.A., National Archives, Wellington.