RUSSELL, George Frederick
Russell was present at the Sydney sale in January 1831 when McDonnell bought the Sir George Murray and the Horeke property where she had been built. He sailed immediately for Hokianga and took possession of the Horeke, McDonnell following two months later in Sir George Murray. Russell remained at Horeke for about eight years, either as McDonnell's partner or as his manager. During this period he bought eight blocks of land, mainly in the kauri-forested Waihou-Mangamuka area, disposing of most of them prior to his first Kohukohu purchase of June 1839. By that date he had parted company with McDonnell and was already trading at Kohukohu on his own account. With the shipment of cargoes of kauri spars and squared timber to London and other markets, Russell's business rapidly expanded, Kohukohu succeeding Horeke as the centre of the Hokianga timber trade.
He was a friend and business associate both of John Logan Campbell and of F. E. Maning, the latter writing of him in 1844: “I would have often been puzzled to get on only for my friend Russell who is a very good fellow and has lent me many a helping hand”. Russell's wife was a close relative of Nene, who is said to have left to Russell's family the goblet presented to him by Queen Victoria.
Russell did not actively campaign with Maning and Webster in 1845, but helped to supply the early Hokianga war parties opposing Heke, and was later instrumental in preventing the spread of hostilities to Hokianga. Kohukohu was in Ihutai territory, and the Ihutai, led by Te Wharepapa, was one of several Hokianga tribes which threw in their lot with Heke. At the beginning of January 1846 Heke and a small band of followers eluded Te Taonui, and it was at first feared they might attack Hokianga. A detachment of Maoris was accordingly sent by Te Taonui to protect the European settlers, and in addition HMS Osprey, Captain Patten, was ordered to Hokianga. On arrival off Kohukohu, Patten announced his intention of attacking the nearby Ihutai pa. Russell called the European settlers together and dissuaded Patten from an action which would have jeopardised European lives and property and ended neutrality in the Hokianga.
Being “small in size and quick in movement”, Russell was known to the Maoris as “Piwakawaka”. He died in June 1855, aged 46. A son, Frederick Nene Russell, was elected unopposed as the first Member of the House of Representatives for Northern Maori. The Kohukohu business was carried on by John Webster, who married Russell's eldest daughter.
by Ruth Miriam Ross, School Teacher and Authoress, North Auckland.
- O.L.C. files (MSS), National Archives
- J. Webster Letters (MSS) in Russell Family Papers (MSS), Auckland Public Library
- Reminiscences of an Old Settler, Webster, J. (1908)
- New Zealander, 18 Jul 1855 (Obit).