Letter 5

Sarah Harris to sisters and friends. New Plymouth, May 1841

My dear Sisters & friends

Feeling that my letters will be read by all the family I have addressed you as above. You of course dear Emma will claim them once they are read. I think if possible I had better make a kind of Diary by relating some things as they occur. I daresay you will smile at my vanity knowing what an ignoramus I am. I think I have told dear Father that we arrived March 31 1841. As my health improved I began to enter into the gipsy sort of life & to make myself useful. Although not very strong I could not bear to be idle.

One night I felt something creeping over the bed. What could it be, I thought to myself, getting rather alarmed. I woke Edwin & he said it was the rats. I took hold of the Quilt & gave it such a shake & heard them fall on the ground. Then I thought of the children, would the rats bite them? He said they were harmless & not like English rats. Such unwelcome companions prevented my sleeping soundly for a long time. I was always ready to shake them off, night after night.

One day I heard a woman scream & I went to see what was the cause. She said a pig had taken her pudding out of the crock of boiling water & run away with it. I could scarcely believe it, so ran with her a little way & saw a very large wild pig running with the tied part of the cloth in its mouth & the pudding hanging down. He soon dropped it finding it, I suppose too hot for him. I wonder if you are amused at what I have written. I assure you the strangeness of all our surroundings is very amusing to me, at the same time very distasteful. I long to take a walk with the dear children, the forest is behind me & the sea in front, but I dare not venture in the former for fear of losing myself & the beach is often too exposed to high winds making you almost blind with the iron sand & the great waves of the Pacific Ocean dashing against the rocks. Interesting as the sea is to me yet I cannot help feeling tired of the scene where no ships or boats are to be seen. It is now near three months & none have come. I have seen a beautiful water spout & the Whales sometimes but that was not often. But that great Pacific has cut me off for ever from you dear Emma & those dear ones of our family. Such is the feeling I have.

May 1841. Edwin has told me this morning that he has engaged some Natives to build a Warrie [whare] about a mile from here where the town is to be & that it would be ready in a week. This was delightful, and we should have a house to ourselves without the carpet partition that was so disagreeable close. He also said the Missionary had seen some Natives who were going to Auckland if he would like to trust them. Mr C said he could not answer for them as they were strangers but as Mr H was so anxious to go to Capt Hobson he thought he would tell him. Edwin decided to go. The Warrie [whare] was finished & we had been in it a few days making it comfortable, unpacking boxes that had not been opened, taking out blankets to pay the Natives who he expected to call for him daily. Next day he was putting up some shelves in the little kitchen when the servant caught fire to the rapa [raupō], lighting the fire in a cob chimney. Immediately the house was in flames. We could only get out to save our lives but nothing else. The river was not near & the men were out cutting lines & only the Dr & a few women near me. The Dr rushed in & got Edwin’s watch which appeared to be uninjured but when opened the works came to pieces. While the house was burning a number of natives, ten I think, came to go with Edwin to Auckland, which of course could not be thought of as there were no blankets to pay them so they sat round on the ground & made a great cry over our losses. I cannot describe my own feelings at the time with my little ones round me & Edwin lamenting over his valuable instruments for his profession all ruined. I stood like one petrified unable to act or speak. Except among a few immigrants there was no sympathy & one of the former offered a room which we gladly accepted & we got some natives to get up another warrie [whare] in a few days which we went into, very small in comparison to the one burnt.

Edwin finding it impossible under present circumstances to go to Auckland sent some letters to Capt Hobson which he brought out from Mr Rendel that was fortunately with a little money in a tin case in a small box left at the warrie [whare] we first inhabited & explaining the reason of his not being able to leave. I do not know if those letters were ever delivered. I fear not.

Finding there was no chance of reaching Capt Hobson, Edwin accepted the offer of conducting one of the surveys for the New Plymouth company. After some few months surveying he was enabled to purchase the Dr’s Portable timber house that he brought from England, which was put up at the Henui about a mile from the Town where he had bought two acres of land & with a little addition & a verandah round it was comfortable to what we had before. Many settlers came to live near us saying where Mr. Harris bought land it must be good.

Yours affectionately,


Harris Family History. Compiled by various hands 1871-1934. Briant Papers. Notebook, pp. [120]-[125].


You of course dear Emma will claim them once they are read
Emma Hill kept the family letters from New Zealand until her death in 1866, after which they were given to her sister Ann Paddon. Shortly before Ann died in 1887, her London house was cleared for sale and most of the letters were destroyed. Ann’s daughter Mary Mountjoy Paddon had some of the surviving letters typed and sent to New Zealand in 1922. These typings are now at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and three of them appear in the present arrangement as #6, #10 and #11. See Coda and note.

I have seen a beautiful water spout & the Whales sometimes
Skinner (20): ‘On May 18, 1841, considerable excitement was caused in the settlement by the appearance of the first whale for the season making its way southwards between the two outer Sugar Loaves.’

Edwin has told me this morning that he has engaged some Natives to build a Warrie [whare]
Carrington and Cutfield had to find accommodation for the emigrants until such time as Carrington’s survey could be completed. They selected level land on the rise west of the Huatoki river mouth. Skinner (13): ‘On the 6th [of April] the same two gentlemen, having settled on the site, took the immigrants to see the location of their temporary quarters, and upon which they could at once proceed to erect tents, whares, or houses, places that might be dignified by the name of “home,” and where the privileges of family life and privacy might once again be enjoyed, however humble the structures and surroundings. The ‘William Bryanites,’ Mr. Carrington remarks, were all well pleased with this arrangement, and accordingly 33 lots of an eighth of an acre each were staked out, and all those who wished to avail themselves of this scheme were granted a temporary lease, or permit, to occupy their lots for two years, at a rental of sixpence a year. At the expiration of the two years the land was to be given up, or an increased rent was to be fixed by the company’s agent. This was the first public transaction in leasehold land dealing in Taranaki. The original plan of this little hamlet still exists in the local Survey Office, and on it are shown the names of the 33 heads of pioneer families who made their selections. The locality was promptly named “Devonport,” after the well-known naval port of old Plymouth, and to the older residents it is still known by that name.’ The people of Ngāmotu built whares for the emigrants for a negotiated price of £18 per structure. The map of Devonport to which Skinner refers has disappeared.

Immediately the house was in flames
Weekes, Sunday 23 May 1841: ‘Mr. Harris’s house was burnt down on Friday and most of his things burnt.’ A second reference to the fire occurs 5 June in Weekes’ MS booklet ‘First establishment of the New Plymouth colony 1841’: ‘A fire the other day destroyed in a few minutes one of the emigrant’s houses, being made of tinder-like bulrushes; scarcely a thing was saved. A liberal subscription has been made for the sufferers.’

After some few months surveying he was enabled to purchase the Dr’s Portable timber house
Edwin Harris accepted Carrington’s offer of survey work in June 1841 and worked for the New Zealand Company until Nov 1842. When the first suburban sections were balloted in Oct 1841, Henry Weekes bought a 50-acre block at Te Henui and subdivided it for resale to his fellow settlers (Skinner 47). Edwin Harris bought Lot 28, a two-acre section fronting present-day Devon St East between Henui St and Nob’s Line in what is now Strandon. See Te Henui 1842-1850 (Puke Ariki. ARC2005-129) On modern maps the property is 483-487 Devon St East.
Weekes left Taranaki in 1842, arriving in Sydney in March on his way to Valparaiso and England. His subdivision became known as Weekeston.