Friday, October 23, 2020

Two Chinese graves, somewhere on Motuihe


I came upon the story of the first burials on Motuihe Island by accident, while looking up something completely different in Papers Past last night.

Motuihe Island was apparently purchased from local iwi in 1837, then bought from Henry Taylor by William Brown and John Logan Campbell in 1843, according to a DOC heritage report from 2006 (the image is a detail from a larger photo in the same report, by Godfrey Boehnke). John Graham purchased in in 1858, and ran deer and poultry there. In 1868, he took out a mortgage from the Auckland Provincial Council -- later that year, he disappeared, believed drowned. His body was never recovered. 

In September 1871, a ship named the Joshua Bates arrived in Auckland, coming from Hong Kong with over 206 Chinese men as immigrants for the Otago goldfields. The ship was leaking, and needed provisions. Worse still, though, scurvy and dysentery had broken out, and three of the Chinese passengers had already died en voyage. There were reportedly two Chinese who were also doctors aboard. The local agents, Henderson & McFarlane, tried appealing to the provincial council to let the Chinese passengers land at Kohimarama while repairs and re-provisioning took place. This was declined -- but Motuihe was put forward instead. 

So the ship sailed for the island, and deposited her passengers there for six days. This was not a quarantine station then. That came to be from 1872. What buildings there would have been there would probably have been Graham's farmhouse and whatever shed or barns he may have built. It's likely, though, there was next to nothing there. 

Two of the Chinese died during this period of the Joshua Bates being at Auckland, and reports of the time in the newspapers indicate that they were buried somewhere on the island. Whether at the later cemetery connected with the quarantine station from 1874 is not known. 

After the six days, the Chinese boarded the ship Taranaki, which took them on to Dunedin. 

In 1872, this experience highlighted to the Provincial Council how useful Motuihe would be as a quarantine station, and so it entered the next phase of its history. Followed, of course, by being an internment camp during WWI, a quarantine camp once again, and its role in our military and defence history. But somewhere under the grass or the buildings of today's island probably lie two unknown, unmarked graves of men seeking their fortune and work, and finding only death, back in September 1871.