Tuesday, June 2, 2009

William Hook and the Sophia Affair

21 May 1833

Otago, New Zealand.

To Mr James Kelly.


This is to certify that the Natives of Otago have threatened to take your ship from Capt. Lovett, stating you had formerly killed or wounded several years ago some of their people and that they would have revenge. Most of the crew also deserted the vessel at the above port.

I have the honour to be,

Your obedient Servt.

J.B. Weller.

Murdering Beach, 1817.

The becalmed cutter, Sophia, crawled with men fortifying her against the boarding of two hundred warriors. who did not want to sell them potatoes. They wanted to avenge the killings of one year before.

Wiremu Tucker, the Australian who’d escaped being eaten a year ago, had managed to ingratiate himself to Chief Korako and taken a local wife. It was Tucker who’d been negotiating between the ruddy captain of the Sophia, James Kelly and the Chief, when things went awry in the meeting house.

The boy Hook remembered Wiremu Tucker and the day he was no longer considered an honorary Otakau. He heard him, on the beach, screaming, “Captain Kelly, for God’s sake don’t leave me!” as the crew fled to the ship, fighting off the toa who chased them in war canoes. He saw Tucker hatchetted, piece by piece and carried away to the cooking fires.

Hook’s own father’s submission still pained him. So much mana obliterated the next morning James Kelly and the Australians stormed back into the village, armed with rifles and cross saws. Chief Korako, dead to a bullet through the neck, was not present to see forty two of Hook’s father’s canoes sawn in half. Even as the Australians laboured over the cross saws, covered by rifle guard, their country man was lowered into the earth oven a hundred metres away.

The Australians took flaming torches to the end of the village where the warm nor-easter began and razed the village of three hundred houses. Within four hours scarcely a single dwelling was left standing.

Hook’s father was suddenly smaller, older, his power as master artisan leaching from him, as he shivered and bled on the beach.

That battle was won, as so many others, by gun powder.

Eight days later, one hundred warriors washed onto the beaches from the battle aboard the Sophia. The bodies caught in brothy corners of the harbour, snagged on trees, bloated in that strange manner of drowned men. Knees bent, legs and arms spread, their bodies plump with water and gases, bullet wounds and cutlass splits marring the faultless etchings on their warrior skins.

No one fished the harbour for a long time. His mother repeated the mantra of tapu waters to him, weeks later when he realised they’d not harvested the eels yet.

“He kete kai nga moana katoa.”

All the oceans are a food basket.

“Na reira I te wa ke mate tatou, e tika ana kia hoki atu o tatou Tinana ki a Papatuanuku.”

We are all born of Rangi and Papa, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. So when we die it is right that our bodies return to Papa.

It was a thin year.

James Kelly was a marked man, and any ship that sailed under his name, entering the quiet stretches beyond Aramoana, past the sand spit where the octopus traps lay, did so knowing this. Kelly grew fat in Sydney on the proceeds of flax, potatoes and whales but never felt the need to return to their source again.

For Hook the boy, Kelly’s Irish blood spilled would have rehabilitated his broken, useless father but James Kelly never returned. Hook’s sisters cooked for – and married – the relentless tide of whalers that moved into the town. And Hook, son of the master boat builder, went to sea as soon as he was old enough. He wanted to walk the streets of Sydney.


  1. Read it three times now, fuck me!!! No wonder there's some animosity across the ditch.

    another "outrageous Toa hook" has me off surfing the Sealer's War, lucky it's a rainy day...

    and so i am not the only one wandering..


  2. Cheers CQ. It was funny being an only Aussie in Dunedin and hearing that story told to me by a Maori tour guide. I will check that sealer's war out ...

  3. I just did and you know a funny thing, well maybe not funny by the way this world works - but I'm convinced Edward Thomlins (Neddy) was here with William Hook in 1826.

  4. the wiki sealer's war link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sealers'_War

    Strangely my verification is "broloss" which won't mean much until i get on with it and post something today.