HMS BUFFALO VISITS TUTUKAKA 173 YEARS AGO
By Wade Doak
The first big sailing ship to make a major visit to Tutukaka has left 36 tons of her ballast stones in the basin just within the entrance. A hawser secured her bow to rocks on the north side and a stern anchor strung her 120-foot length broadside across the harbour. There is a Buffalo sailor buried somewhere on these shores. She erected a flagpole above Kowharewa Bay to exchange signals with another on a hill above Ngunguru River. For five months, from October 1837, this big ship with her crew of around one hundred men stayed in our harbour. Her second officer made the first Admiralty map of the Tutukaka Coast, including Ngunguru River. His name is attached to the tiny volcano plug isle in the harbour centre: Phillip Island.
As I researched my book on the history of this area [now completed] I located her logbooks and the detailed diaries of two of her senior men. Transcription from handwriting was an ordeal! I have even found a lively sea shanty about their stay composed by one of her sailors.
For five months teams of Buffalo men worked very hard in the forests with the local Maoris. The two cultures had surprisingly good relationships. One of my favorite stories from the diaries is how ships’ officers stitched together a full set of baby clothes for the chief’s young wife. When the Buffalo sailed away with her cargo of kauri logs wakas accompanied her out to sea, waving and chanting. Behind on the shore remained the first pakeha settler in this district. My research has unearthed some surprising stories about this remarkable man.
She was rated a sixth-class store ship, and fitted to carry wood. She was wrecked off Whitianga and declared a loss in 1840, and parts of her are still visible today!