Cultural go-between, colonial man: New perspectives on James Cowan

James Cowan at his desk, writing.. Ruscoe, Ivan, fl 1990s : Photographs relating to James Cowan. Ref: PAColl-5877-5. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22311747

James Cowan at his desk, writing.. Ruscoe, Ivan, fl 1990s : Photographs relating to James Cowan. Ref: PAColl-5877-5. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22311747

There’s an exciting symposium on James Cowan, planned for February, 2014.
Venue: National Library of New Zealand, Wellington
Day: 21 February 2014
Time: 9 am-5.30 pm

Co-hosted by: Centre for Research on Colonial Culture, University of Otago (Convenor:  Annabel Cooper) and Alexander Turnbull Library (Convenor:  Ariana Tikao)

This symposium coincides with 150th anniversary of the  Battle of Orākau, and will also highlight an exhibition of the extensive Cowan papers now housed at Alexander Turnbull Library.

But here, at Wellington City Libraries I have an added interest in the work of James Cowan, having been alerted, several years ago, to a chapter in the book of Patrick Lawlor:  Old Wellington days.  Whitcombe and Tombs, 1959: Chapter 8, p. 194.  James Cowan and his Wellington Place-names —  tells us that Cowan’s output whilst living in Wellington was relatively small, (but , for me, nevertheless, he pounamu) – consisting of  four chapters covering wars in Wellington, plus articles for the local press, along with his standout contributions to the New Zealand Railways Magazine.

“The journalist James Cowan was the magazine’s most prolific contributor to [New Zealand railways magazine] writing more than 120 historical and travel features, including 48 sketches of ‘Famous New Zealanders’.

But three articles published in the Evening Post, 1912: (Paperspast) on Wellington place names, form the basis of Chapter 8, in Lawlor’s book.

Evening Post, Volume LXXXIII, Issue 136, 8 June 1912, Page 10
Evening Post, Volume LXXXIII, Issue 142, 15 June 1912, Page 10

Evening Post, Volume LXXXIV, Issue 18, 20 July 1912, Page 10

“Many of the ancient names of the rohe that survive to the present day relate to the Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Ira histories of the Hataitai or Motukairangi (Miramar) peninsula – and indeed, the history of some of the names on the Poneke shoreline was retained only by the Ngati Kahungunu iwi.”
Rangi Te Puni, daughter-in-law  of Te Puni Kokopu, who, In 1912, lived in a small home close to the Pito-one Beach, was a source for much of Cowan’s information.  She was born in Waipa Valley and her iwi connections were to the Ngati Maniapoto.
Others who added their stories were Ngarimu Mawene of Whakahikuwai, Lower Hutt, –  said to be a chieftainess who danced on the shores of Pito-one, and chanted “Toia mai te waka ki te urunga” when the Tory dropped anchor in 1839, and Mere Ngamai, granddaugher of Rawiri Te Motutere and a former wife of Wi Tako.

Whitiora house and garden, Regan St, Stratford. McAllister, James, 1869-1952 :Negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district. Ref: 1/1-011917-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22876178

Whitiora house and garden, Regan St, Stratford. McAllister, James, 1869-1952 :Negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district. Ref: 1/1-011917-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22876178

Whitiora house and garden, Regan On the verandah stands James Robson, and his wife Mere (Mary) Ngamai but the oldest histories were given by Te Whatahoro, Ngati Kahungunu –

Hoani Te Whatahoro Jury. Ref: 1/2-024827-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22713838

Hoani Te Whatahoro Jury. Ref: 1/2-024827-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22713838

and his information is the basis for Elsdon Best’s histories of Wellington Harbour – see: The Land of Tara and they who settle it / by Elsdon Best, 1919.

From Part II of James Cowan’s Evening Post articles, (15/6/1912, p. 10) comes information on lesser known places located between Wellington and the Hutt Valley — for example:

Kaiwharawhara – Māori used to climb the gully to collect wharawhara from the trees, for food.

Wai-kiekie – just beyond Kaiwharawhara – “Stream of the plant  Freycinetia Banksii”

Paerau –“Many Ranges”- the steep hill just above Kaiwharawhara where the old track led to Johnsonville and Porirua.

Nga-uranga – “the landing place of canoes”

Piki-wahine – the hill above Ngauranga  where womenand children used to go exploring the bush for konini fruit and othe forest foods, and climbing kahikatea pines for the seed berries.

Paroro-rangi – “Cloudy Sky” –

Te Ana-puta – “Cave-opening” – a mile and a quarter north of Nga-uranga – this cave was full of skulls and skeletons and was extremely tapu.

Pari-karangaranga – “Cliff of Echoes” – Maori passing along the beach here, with the lofty rocky cliff towering above them, used to listen fearfully for the voice of a wairua, or spirit, in the heights as this was supposed to be the “reo” or voice of woman who had committed suicide at that place of many echoes.

Te Ahi-parera –“The-Fire-to Cook-a-Wild Duck” – is the name of those heights said old Rangi, pointing to the steep hilltops above Petone, on the northern and western side of the Tuara-whati Gully.  A fire (ahi) was kindled there by an ancestor of long ago to cook a wild duck (parera) which he had killed on a pool in the bush.

Te Raho-o-Te Kapowai –the range  of great hills rising above the Korokoro Valley mouth on the south side is named after an ancestor of Ngati Kahungunu who lived a great many generations ago.

Te Korokoro-o-Te-Mana – Te Mana, a chief of Ngati Mutunga, named the valley after himself, likening it to his throat (korokoro) in order to tapa or claim it as a possession for himself and his descendants.

Te Tuara-whati-o-Te-Mana- (Te Mana’s Broken Backbone) – The gorge above Pito-one railway station where a stream winds down  to the old Catholic Cemetery , also named after chief Te Mana is also the burial place for  Wi Tako Ngatata, and for Ngarimu Mawene.

These are just a few of the fascinating stories of place names recorded in three articles in the Evening Post of 1912, and in Chapter 8 of Lawler’s book, Early Wellington days.