Saturday, July 24, 2010

An island called Motuketekete

From deed 64125, LINZ records, Crown Copyright.

On Friday last, I was at the Auckland LINZ office, looking through some of the deeds books for a commission research job -- and opened one of the old books to find the above: an 1880 map of a 59-acre island called "Keta Keta". I put the book to one side, and as soon as I'd finished finding what I needed for the commission, I returned to the story of  island.

Well, I'd never heard of the island before. Now, I realise that its name is Motuketekete, lying just across the South Channel; from Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf. But, I decided to look into what there is about the island's history.

The original crown grant was on 25 April 1850, from George Grey as Governor to Frederick Whittaker and Theophilus Heale. These two gentlemen had been  involved since 1845 with the setting up of a copper mining company at Kawau Island, their efforts opposed by the company already there at Kawau. According to Shirley Maddock and Don Whyte in Islands of the Gulf (1966):

"The original company were deeply hostile to the newcomers, and refused to allow Whittaker's miners to live on Kawau, so they had to camp on Motuketekete, an island a few miles south, and be ferried back and forth each day to the mines."
According to a Department of Conservation report on Kawau Island Historic Reserve, a rival smelting plant was set up on Motuketekete either in the late 1840s or 1850s. I wonder if any archaeology from that part of the copper mining story in the Gulf still exists there. It may even have been the island referred to by the Southern Cross, in a report from 28 May 1852, as "Captain Heale's Island":

"We had, however, rounded Wangaproa, and, with a brisk and bracing breeze, were entering a channel formed by the Kawau and its outlying islets. On our port beam was observable "the hole in the wall," an opening leading to Captain Heale's island, with a brig at anchor, but so faintly shown in perspective, that her tracery of spars gleaming through the leaden clouds, showed more like those of a phantom than a substantial collier. On the island the puff puff of the engine of a smelting furnace apprised us that the hand of the diligent maketh rich."
The partners purchased the title for ₤59, or a pound per acre. By March 1855, it seemed to have served whatever purpose it had -- Whittaker and Heale sold it to hotelier Bryant Vercoe for ₤100. 1855 and 1856 was when speculation seemed to run hot for Motuketekete. Perhaps there was still the sniff of copper or other riches associated with the island. Land agent and former hotelier Samuel Allen Wood bought the island from Vercoe in May 1855, for ₤175 (including a house there); then in February 1856 a gentleman named John Gouthwaite Brooke paid a whopping ₤485 for that piece of real estate. Something must have been there to have attracted so much money from Brooke. In October 1856, the island was purchased by George Wardell for a reduced ₤330.

Wardell (c.1832-1917), born in Scotland, went to Victoria to take part in the gold rushes there as a youth, and came to Auckland in 1855 on the Pioneer. He founded the commission firm of Wardell and Stephenson in March 1863 with Charles Stephenson, and seems to have had financial dealings with the colourful John Sangster Macfarlane.  Two years after starting his firm, though, Wardell had money troubles. In 1865, he was selling a number of properties, including Motuketekete.

"ISLAND of MOTU KETAKETA, situated in the Firth of the Thames, 2 miles distant from the Kawau (the residence of his Excellency the Governor Sir George Grey), 2 Houses, Out-buildings, Orchard, & never-failing spring of water, good landing and achorage in all weathers ..."
 (Southern Cross, 14 August 1865)

Macfarlane took up title for quite a few of Wardell's properties, including the island, that month. But somewhere along the line, Wardell made a promise to a miner named Noah Parsons that he could buy Motuketekete. Wardell and Macfarlane eventually gave Parsons his title for ₤155 in October 1872 -- but Parsons then sold it to accountant and banker George Schwartz Kissling the following month for ₤205.

Now, we come to the deed that attracted my attention to the island's story in the first place. In March 1880, Kissling sold the island to Matakana farmer George Scandrett for ₤140 (by now, possibly, the wild speculation as to any mineral resources the island may have held was over, it seems). According to the Auckland Regional Council site, Scandrett arrived from Ireland in 1863, and seems to have had an early association with Mullet Point, Mahurangi. The Scandrett family were to own Motuketekete from 1880 to 1907, when Hector Scandrett sold the island to Christchurch merchant Thomas Phillip Vivian for ₤190. The island remains in private ownership today.

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