The story of James Caddell, who was taken prisoner by Maori on Stewart Island in 1810 and then grew up among his captors, is an extraordinary one.
James Caddell is said to have been a lad of only 16 when he arrived off South Cape, Stewart Island, in the sealer Sydney Cove. Five sailors and the boy Caddell set off in a sealing boat for the island. As soon as they landed they were attacked by a party of Maori led by Honekai, chief of Oue. The five men were slain, but Caddell was saved by Tokitoki, the chief's niece, who claimed his life by throwing a cloak over him. Caddell soon adapted to the ways of his captors. Tokitoki became his wife, he submitted to being tattooed, and by his marriage and his fighting abilities he acquired the status of a chief.
Caddell is next heard of in 1822 when Captain W. L. Edwardson put in to South Port, Chalky Inlet, in the Snapper in a quest for flax. To Edwardson's surprise, among the Maori who came aboard the Snapper was a tattooed European. Caddell stayed on board ship as pilot and interpreter, guiding the Snapper into Bluff Harbour, and the harbour at Ruapuke Island, where he lived. Captain Edwardson's chart of Port Snapper, as he named the island's harbour, marks the 'Residence of James Caddell' on the northern shore.
Returning across Foveaux Strait Edwardson landed at the chief Paihi's village. During their visit Caddell warned Edwardson of an impending Maori attack and hurried him back to the boat, thereby saving his life. Calling again at Bluff, Edwardson picked up a cargo of flax from the village of the chief Te Wera and then sailed for Sydney with Caddell and Tokitoki as passengers. In Sydney Caddell's fair tattooed countenance attracted much attention. The visit was brief: two months later, on 8 May 1823, the Caddells sailed for home on the Mermaid with Captain John Kent, who was bound for Foveaux Strait to pick up a cargo of flax.
Kent landed Caddell and his wife on Ruapuke Island, but they sailed with him again to Bluff, where he purchased 404 pounds of flax. He then persuaded the Caddells to go with him to Sydney once more to demonstrate the art of preparing flax. Four months later Kent returned the Caddells to Ruapuke in the Elizabeth Henrietta. After that nothing is known of Caddell until 1826, when he was interviewed by Thomas Shepherd, who was agricultural superintendent on Captain J. Herd's New Zealand Company expedition. Shepherd described Caddell as being very much tattooed but otherwise very fair. In the course of a long conversation Caddell told him of the signs to look for when Maori were about to attack, explained social customs and recounted the Maori method of dressing flax.
This is the last that is heard of Caddell in New Zealand; thereafter he simply fades from the scene.