This page describes the history of Mana Island from the earliest times to the present day. Mana Island is located off the coast near Porirua City.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref Q.2.5.
The full name of Mana Island reflects the long historical association of Maori with Mana Island. Te Mana o Kupe ki te Moana Nui a Kiwi (the mana of Kupe in crossing the great ocean of Kiwa), or its alternate shorter name Te Mana o Kupe ki Aoteroa, is one of many local Porirua names that also relates to Kupe's visit to the Porirua.
Mana Island was certainly occupied in the very early 1400s, and perhaps as much as two hundred years earlier. We know that Mana was deforested by burning beginning about 1275 AD and this was probably carried out so that there was clear land for crops to be grown.
George Swainson drawing of doorway to Kaitangata.
Drawing from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref Q.1a.5.
The iwi who occupied Mana at this time were predominantly Ngai Tara and Ngati Ira. In the 1820s Ngati Toa settled in the district and the chief and master carver Te Rangihaeata chose Mana as his main base up until the 1840s and his main house there, George French Angas recorded Kaitangata, in a painting in 1844.
Captain Cook sighted Mana Island on his first voyage of exploration but he did not name it. To the Europeans who visited it in the late 1820s and early 1830s, it was known as Warspite Island, probably after HMS Warspite which passed through Cook Strait in 1827. The distinctive formation of the 2000 acre island has also given it the name Table Island.
Farmers at Mana Island Trig Station.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref Q.2.7.
In 1832 three Europeans; Alexander Davidson, Archibald Mossman and John Bell paid Te Rangihaeata, Te Rauparaha and Nohorua (the three Ngati Toa leaders connected to Mana) goods to the value of ₤24. What they paid it for is disputed, Ngati Toa said is it was rent, the Europeans said it was a sale.
From that time on Mana became the haunt of whalers, traders and other Europeans. Prominent among them was the Bells. John Bell married Mary Orr in Sydney in 1822 and in 1834 John Bell moved to Mana and began farming there. In 1836 John and Mary adopted an orphan John Knochs and the family set up home on Mana.
Mana Island's situation, about 20 kilometres south-west of Kapiti Island and 3 kilometres off Titahi Bay, made it an ideal location for a trading station with the whalers who passed through Cook Strait, and their enterprise was well rewarded in the next few years. Within a few years, Bell could offer visiting whalers mutton, beef, lamb, port, rabbits and poultry, as well as vegetables and even tobacco.
Bell family on Mana Island.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.2.260.
In June 1836, Bell exported the first cargo of wool to Sydney. The Hobart Town Courier commented on its quality in January 1839:
"Messrs Ramsey and Young received from New Zealand a small consignment of wool, the produce of these islands. It exceeds, both in length and staple, any wool ever produced in New South Wales. The beautiful manner in which it was washed and sorted sufficiently explains the superiority of the climate of New Zealand, and forms additional proof in support of the policy of the British Government forming a settlement there ...." The Hobart Town Courier was rather slow in its reporting, for by 1838 wool was being exported quite regularly to Sydney where it was fetching good prices. Possibly the remarks referred to the first Mana Island wool to reach Tasmania.
Mana Island was also used as a landing point for passengers for Wellington. Vessels from Australia would call at Kapiti Island and then Mana, where passengers for Wellington were ferried to Korohiwa to walk over land to Pito-one (Petone) and Wellington. Despite all this activity the settlement did not prosper to the extent its original owners expected. Apparently whalers and passengers for Wellington were not the only people who appreciated Mana Island produce. Te Rangihaeata, the paramount local chief, had a habit of slaughtering sheep whenever he held a feast.
After the Bells the Fraser twins, Alec and Thomas, ran a whaling station there until 1845. They also built at least two schooners on the Island. The Fraser brothers drowned when they went out to gather in fishing nets despite being warned by other sailors that the water was too rough
Vella Family pre 1909.
Standing left to right: Mattea, William, Ida. Sitting on chairs left to right: Andrew, Elizabeth, Mariano, Giovanni. Sitting on floor left to right: Mariano Jnr, Antonnia.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.2.89.
In 1841 the island was acquired by Henry Moreing who kept it, despite the objections of the Fraser Brothers, until 1865 when it was conveyed to the Wellington Provincial Government. John Fortescue Evelyn Wright leased the island in 1873 for 21 years, at an annual rental of 52 pounds, but in 1886 he subleased it to the Vella family. They remained on the island for 70 years, during which time it was reserved for defence purposes from 1893 to 1948.
Mana Island woolshed. John Gault's farm 1969.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref Q.1b.8.
In 1953, five years after the island had reverted to the Crown, the Gault family purchased the lease. But Mana Island never regained the prominence it held when Davidson, Bell and Mossman - and Te Rangihaeata - first realised the potential of New Zealand as a sheep-raising country.
View of Ministry of Agriculture Isolation station on Mana Island 16 August 1975.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref Q.3.1.
Since 1865, the island has been used for various purposes, including an exotic sheep quarantine and breeding station in 1973 when managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and a temporary cattle farming operation managed by the Department of Lands and Survey. Mana Island became a Scientific Reserve in 1987, and since that time has been managed and administered by the Department of Conservation. Various replanting and animal release schemes have been undertaken on Mana Island under DOC management, including the release of Little Spotted Kiwi and Green Gecko and planting of native trees. The Friends of Mana Island Society (FOM) was established in 1998, whose principal objective is "supporting and assisting the Department of Conservation in implementing the restoration plan for Mana".
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