Thursday, February 19, 2009

Elihu Shaw: a saga from Sussex to Northland to Cabbage Tree Swamp

I first cottoned onto Elihu (pronounced e-LIE-hew, a Biblical name said to mean “My God is Yahweh”) Shaw when doing some digging for information to give to the Mt Albert Historical Society, in terms of the “Shawville” estate. Elihu himself had a fairly ordinary colonial-era career. What happened around him and on his journey from Sussex to Cabbage Tree Swamp, however, was a tad out of the ordinary.

He was the fourth child out of eleven, born 7 June 1806, to Richard and Hetty Shaw of South Malling, in Sussex, England. South Malling is a parish in the district of Lewes, located on the River Ouse. In 1830, Elihu was employed by a distant relative, Squire John Shaw of West Heathley, as a gardener. He ended up marrying the squire’s daughter, Mary, after eloping with her to Lewes, in May 1831.

After making an effort to make ends meet, the couple decided to emigrate. They boarded the Coromandel 14 June 1838 – possibly with the intention of settling in Sydney, the ship’s destination. This was a ship bearing assisted immigrants sponsored by various agents. One was John Marshall (associated by the Shaw family historian with Elihu and his family). Another was a Mr. Beanard, who was presented with a silver snuff box on the ship’s arrival at Sydney by the grateful passengers under his name. Amongst the non-assisted passengers was a trader and timber merchant named Thomas Spencer Forsaith, who apparently accompanied a cargo of trade goods and lumber making machinery on the ship. His business, it seemed, was the provision of kauri spars for the Government, and the source of these was the Hokianga in New Zealand. A partner in this enterprise may have been Rev. William White, who was also on board, with his wife, and bound for the Hokianga with the same spar-provision business in mind.

The Coromandel arrived at Sydney on 2 October 1838. While the family history states that there was a delay due to crew desertion before the ship continued, chartered by Forsaith, to New Zealand, I found by looking at the early Sydney newspapers online that the delay was likely for other reasons, one major reason being Captain Thomas Neale’s declining health. He had consumption, and was too ill to captain the vessel until 16 November when it finally left. (He died at the Hokianga 6 February 1839, and was buried at the Wesleyan Mission Burial Ground).

Along with this, there was a small desertion of crew members (two) who stole one of the ship’s boats while they were at it; Neale, operating the Coromandel on “the Temperance System”, had a shipload of crew who had not had a drop of liquor to drink from June until October, and so ran riot more than a tad once they reached Sydney ("the day after the ship cast anchor, nearly the whole crew abandoned the ship and gave way to the utmost excesses" said the Sydney Gazette); silverware was reported stolen from the Coromandel, ending up in a local hotel called the "Rum Puncheon"; and Capt. Neale warned the Sydnersiders, by public notice, that he would not be responsible for debts run up by the crew. Perhaps, tied in with the captain’s ill-health, it took a while for Neale to find enough sober crew members again to take the ship across the Tasman for Forsaith and White.

The Shaw family history says that Elihu Shaw spent the brief few weeks in New South Wales working as a sawyer. He and his family sailed on the Coromandel finally to the Hokianga on 16 November, arriving 2 December 1838. Once there, they stayed nine months at the Wesleyan Mangungu Mission Station (again, pointing to a possibly Rev. White connection with Forsaith’s business dealings). Rev. White had been recalled to England in 1836, stripped of his mission in Northland, and had been accused of business trading and adultery. Still, he returned to New Zealand regardless. From Murray Gittos’ biography on White:
“The Wesleyan authorities decided in March 1838 to dismiss White from both the ministry and the mission, on the grounds of excessive commercial activity and misapplication of mission property. These activities, although not strictly in accordance with his standing instructions, were probably those least open to criticism if regard was had to Maori interests. Criticisms of his personal temperament were endorsed; on the adultery charges the evidence was persuasive in some cases, though inconclusive.

"While in England awaiting a decision on his future, White was taken up by the New Zealand Company as an expert on emigration prospects. He warmly supported the company until he perceived what he believed was Edward Gibbon Wakefield's hidden agenda of self-aggrandisement and separation of the Maori from their land. On his return to New Zealand in December 1838 White did all he could to discourage the sale of land to the company, including an unsuccessful attempt to forestall the Taranaki purchase.

"Back at Hokianga, White took up residence next to the mission, continued to preach, and remained a figure of considerable consequence to the Maori at Hokianga and Kaipara as both consultant and trader.”
So, it is possible that Rev. White fostered Forsaith’s business, providing accommodation for the Shaw family until Forsaith and Shaw had established a trading post at Mangawhare, Northern Wairoa by 1841. A mill was erected there to produce the spars, and by 1841 Elihu had cleared and fenced 12 acres of 2 blocks purchased by Forsaith. The set-up appeared to be that while Forsaith travelled back and forth across the Tasman, handling the business from Sydney, Shaw and his family managed the trading store.

It was this store which became the catalyst for a grievance by local Maori which was to last over 160 years.

There are two near-contemporary sources for the story of the Skull in the Trading Store: Elihu Shaw’s obituary in 1895, and James Buller’s narrative from 1878, Forty Years in New Zealand. The Waitangi Tribunal in the Kaipara Report this century, also enlisted testimony from the government hearings at the time into the incident.

The Shaws themselves appeared to have a good rapport with local Maori, a vital skill to have while a trader in the area at that time. (Forsaith himself was said to be fluent in both Maori language and customs.) One time when a boat Shaw was using to ferry provisions capsized on a river, it was local Maori who came to his rescue.

The Mangawhare store had previously burnt down, according to Shaw’s obituary, but Forsaith arranged for it to be rebuilt. No one knows exactly how a skull came to be placed in the store. One story says a local Maori found it in a flax bush, and Mrs. Forsaith placed it in the store “out of pity” by hanging it in a kit bag on the wall. Another story about the incident claims the skull was spotted by local Maori in the potato store, even more injurious to the skull’s mana. How the Forsaiths, who were supposed to be familiar with Maori protocol, could have made such an error regarding the placement of so sacred a relic as a human skull has never been determined.

A Maori chief of the area, Tirarau, asked Shaw who put the skull there, and Shaw told him it was Mrs. Forsaith. A raiding party returned shortly after to carry out a taua muru, destroying everything identified with the Forsaiths, including the store itself. The Government enquiry, for what it was (the Waitangi Tribunal have since criticised it for procedural errors) was held at Rev. Buller’s station at Tangitiroria, and the Crown ordered that some of the Maori land be officially confiscated in punishment for the destruction of Forsaith’s store. This land, at Te Kopuru, was a source of local Maori grievance for the next 160 years or so, due to lack of recognition of local iwi land interests, and errors regarding the initial survey by Charles W. Ligar.

Forsaith benefited greatly from the compensation: he went to Auckland, and by 1843 had set himself up as a draper and merchant in the city. From there, he progressed to politics, almost becoming one of the colony’s early premiers.

Shaw, meanwhile, remained in Northland until the Northland War in 1845. The family left the area, travelling by boat (one for the family, towing another for their only cow) to Helensville, then walking the rest of the way to Auckland. They are said to have resided first somewhere in Avondale, then Onehunga, before Shaw finally purchased his Cabbage Tree Swamp land off Sandringham Road in 1851. He followed a number of occupations, apparently. One may have been as a road-maker, like his near-neighbour Mr. Walters at what is now Eden Park, quarrying the necessary rock out of his own landholdings. There are one or two quarry-like depressions close to present-day Shaw Street. Eventually, he turned to his first occupation – gardener – and ended his days market gardening in what is now the Morningside-Kingsland area of Mt Albert.

One of his grandsons, Charles T. Shaw, lived in the New Lynn Hotel for a time, before shifting to Avondale’s Rosebank Road. He was a musician, a member of the Oratia Band, and ran a store in Avondale with his wife for a number of years, close to today’s Ray White building (former National Bank). Another grandchild was Mrs. J. Capes, also of Avondale.

Gwen P. Howe, The Gardener and the Squire’s Daughter, 1988
Deeds Indexes for Allotment 153 and 154, Section 10, Suburbs of Auckland, LINZ.
Obituary for Elihu Shaw, NZ Herald, 13 July 1895
Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser, 1838-1839
James Buller, Forty Years in New Zealand: Including a Personal Narrative, an Account of Maoridom, and of the Christianization and Colonization of the Country, 1878, pp. 84-88
Kaipara Report, Waitangi Tribunal


  1. Amazing research. Well done. My daughter is looking into the Shaw family history and this provides her with a lot to work off. Cheers James Sherer (Shaw descendant)

    1. 0224399010 call me as I'm an in-law of the Shaw whanau . My son in law is Chris Shaw his ph no is 0211482970

    2. I'm a researcher and Te Tiriti o waitangi claimant of Mt Albert Mt roskill

  2. Hi James, I'm glad this has been of some help.

  3. Labour weekend saw a reunion of 80 descendants of Elihu Shaw. This was the first I knew of being related to Elihu and have lived very near shawville for over 30 years!! Im wondering where James fits in,would be very interested Pam mayes (nee Shaw)

  4. Hi Pam,

    Click on his name above, and get in contact with him via his site -- if you haven't done so already. Cheers!

  5. How fantastic, all this is online now! I am Elihu Shaw's great, great granddaughter. I have photos and a wall hanging of him, I also have original newspaper clippings from the reported accounts. Wonderful to come across this stuff. thanks.

  6. Cheers. Glad this has been useful!

  7. Fantastic Story Im glad its now online. Robin Carpenter. (Shaw descendant)

  8. Thanks, Robin. Good to hear from you.

  9. Such amazing history well done,wish i new about the reunion :)

    Andrew Shaw (Shaw descendant)

  10. Good to hear from you, Andrew -- and thanks!

  11. Hi Have just read about anonymous 29/06/2010 having photos of Elihu etc and thats what I as his great great ganddaughter have been looking for is there anyway i can contact this person?? thanks Pam mayes

  12. Hi Pam,

    Sorry, if they haven't emailed me or left an email contact or name here, there's no way I can tell who they are, much less get in contact.

    Folks, please do leave a name if you can, and even better a web-based email address (so you needn't worry about pesky spammers). This has been a popular topic, and a lot of relatives are trying to get in touch with each other. Thanks!

  13. I received this email on 16 August from Jo Carter.


    Thank you for your wonderful research into the Shaw family history. My husband, Paul Carter is one of the many Shaw family descendants. I scan and restore photos professionally and was really interested to see on your blog that someone had some early photos. I am hoping that you may now have been contacted by that person as someone else a year later was also trying to obtain copies of photos as well. While there are some photos in the book The Gardener and the Squires Daughter they are not the clearest. I would be happy to scan any original photos of Elihu and restore and share with others who may be interested.

    (Contact me at, and I'll forward your enquiry on to Jo.)

  14. (Another email received from a Shaw relative. Contact me for the email address).

    Here I am, the infamous, anonymous great, great, great, granddaughter of Elihu Shaw. I am pretty sure it was me that put this comment in but since looking into things further, I realize I do not have the much sort after photo of Elihu Shaw as I thought I did at the time.

    What I do have is photos of his daughter Elizabeth Shaw and her husband (I have the original shown in Gwen's book as well as a wall hanging of the two of them when they were young), plus a photo of her youngest brother Rueben Shaw and his Wife Alice Good. I also have original newspaper clippings of the accounts of his life, a photo copy of the original register of names, handwritten as shown in Gwen Howe's book, plus plenty of photos of his grand daughter Flora McDonald and her family. I may have a photo of Elihu as I have several albums of old photos, but so many are not named that I can not tell.

    I am happy for you to forward my email address onto interested descendants as I am in the process of putting together a family tree online and have made a number of connections re photos and family members.
    Cally whitham (nee Beart)

    1. Hello,I would be greatfull if you could pass on my email as i am a descendant of Elihu Shaw and have a number of photos which I have names for and may be able to help Cally .

      Glenn Carter -

  15. I had a unfortunate experience today to discover that a Shaw family descendant named William Boag,in his book "Life of Bill" (2010), which I understand was a limited production of 12 copies for the immediate family, uplifted entire sections of my blog post above and inserted them into his book (pp.57-73) without quote marks or attribution. Yes, Mr Boag listed Timespanner as one of his sources at the back of his book -- but, sorry, that really isn't good enough. In some quarters, that would be considered plagarism, the taking of my work, and making it appear to be someone else's.

    On top of this, Mr Boag made the error of going by Davenport's book on street name, and incorrectly identifying Kenneth and Leslie Avenues with the Shaw family. This is wrong, and if Mr Boag had used this blog as a true resource (and not just copy pasted bits to put in his book to suit) he would have spotted the post dealing with those streets, and Davenport's misinformation.

    Sadly, Mr Boag's book is lodged with Auckland Research Centre, and my information possibly in the future being accessed,and then credited to Mr Boag. If any family member read this --please pass on my dissatisfaction.

    1. Lisa fair valid comment. If people are going to use someone else's content it should be fully sourced to the originator of the work, in quotations where the content is reproduced and that should not be in full unless written permission has been granted by the originator of the work cited. I've had that happen to me as well. It's completely unacceptable for anyone to make claim to another persons work. The internet is not a place of public domain for people to help themselves to others content. Sad Mr Boag chose to plagarise instead of actually doing his own work. Credit should be given where credit is due.

    2. I agree with the using of material without consent. With regards to the streets named Kenneth and Leslie Avenue, I was informed many years ago that they are named after Shaw descendents on the Carter side who were involved in road engineering of the area.

    3. Without proof of that, you will be forever in a debate with the descendants of the family who actually owned the property where Kenneth and Leslie Streets are today, and claim them as names from their family not the Shaws.

      You might just face it that incorrect information was used in times past based on assumptions. Me, I prefer going by land records.

    4. And, Anonymous -- you're agreeing to plagarism??

  16. My Mother Josy Wickman Nee McCarthy told me that her Father Thomas McCarthy is a decendent of Elihu Shaw, my mother is 87yrs old, such an interesting family, not sure if anyone has heard of this line to the Shaw family.

  17. Hi all, Alexander McDonald (husband of Elizabeth Shaw who is Elihu Shaw's daughter) is my g.g.grandfather. His son William is my g.grandfather and one of his children, Vera Marion McDonald is my Nana. We were always told that McDonald Street in Morningside was named after Alexander, and Shaw after Elihu. We were also told that Alexander was born in Glencoe Scotland, and that 'Alexander' , named Morningside after living in Morningside Scotland. I was at one of the new eating establishments recently and the manager/owner told me that it was Kerr-Taylor being labelled a bit crazy by his brothers for buying this area of land, that it was named Morningside after an asylum in Scotland. I thought the former sounded much more plausible. Do you have any information on this?? Or anybody here? Did anyone here attend the Shaw reunion in 1988 at the Avondale Racecourse? It was pretty big. Didn't realize how many people I was related to in AK.
    The above is an amazing read ! Thanks so much for sharing all this wonderful information.

    1. Allan Kerr Taylor was the one to subdivide that part of his estate called Morningside in the 1860s, Shelley. He gave it the name.

    2. Always pays to check the family stories against resources like newspapers from the time.

      Mr S Cochrane had excellent attendance yesterday at the sale of Morningside, the property of Mr Allan K Taylor, of Mount Albert. Of the 120 lots offered for sale, all but 24 were sold, at prices varying from 3s to 22s per foot, according to situation and other circumstances. The bidding was brisk, and the sum realised amounted to £1,900. An excellent lunch was provided, and the auctioneer, with his usual ability, kept his audience together and amused —now wheedling just another shilling per foot out of one or persuading another to take not one, but two or more allotments, and have a nice market garden at once. The property was literally sold without reserve, and while it realised a handsome price in the aggregate to the seller, purchasers had no cause of complaint. From £70 to £150 per acre is not a bad price at which to sell land by the acre at the present distance Morningside is from Auckland, and yet not a high price to buy it by the foot. It will not be very long before Morningside is not a mere outside village, but one of the city suburbs itself. Even higher prices would probably have been obtained yesterday, but that many people are reserving themselves for the splendid property in the Kyber Pass Road, which Mr Cochrane will shortly offer for sale in building lots.
      (NZ Herald 17 March 1865)

      Thanks for your kind comments re the article! :-)