Whaling was an important industry in Hawke’s Bay until around 1852 and also was an important early social contact between European and Maori.
Little is known about the history of the Te Hoe Whaling Station on the Mahia Peninsula except that it was established in 1840 by a Mr Ellis.
The names of several of the whalers are known, including Mr Daniel O’Keefe who was buried at the site and whose descendants recently marked his grave with a headstone.
An archaeological dig took place in the summer of 2005 at the Te Hoe Whaling Station protected by Len Symes and Jan Lincoln-Symes with a QEII covenant.
Above: Archaeology students at work on one of the house sites at the whaling station, where the fireplace (left foreground) and the remains of timber walls around the edges of the excavated area were found. In the background, children from nearby Nuhaka School visit the tryworks area. Photo: Malcolm Piper
The site contains evidence of early whaling settlement and technology - in exceptionally good condition - together with evidence of earlier Maori occupation.
The dig was carried out jointly by Auckland Museum and the Anthropology Department at University of Otago to accurately record and map the site’s archaeological features.
Of particular interest were two tryworks, or whale processing areas, where whale blubber would have been rendered down into oil in large trypots.
The foundations of fireplaces built to support the trypots were uncovered and the remains of iron tanks sunk into the ground, where the whale oil would have been poured to cool.
An old grindstone and the remains of barrels used to ship the oil away were also found.
Other features from the whaling station included the stone fireplaces and footprints of a number of huts and a midden (or rubbish dump).
Shell middens, kumara pits and house sites are all evidence of earlier Maori occupation.
Above: Len Symes (in green shirt) and his aunt Kui (in black), inspect the larger of the two tryworks (centre) with archaeologists. Whale bones at the left of the tryworks were probably intended to fuel the fire. Photo: Malcolm Piper
Len is keen to protect features of local history, having family roots on his 720ha sheep and cattle farm that go back to the early 1900s.
'We had an open day during the dig and we got letters afterwards thanking us for protecting the site,' he said.
Open Space™ Magazine No. 64, July 2005 © QEII National Trust
For more about historic industries visit New Zealand Historic Places Trust