Mr Fox’s journey to the Wairarapa

William Fox travelled from Wellington to the Wairarapa in April 1843. Today it takes about an hour and a half by car to travel the 100 or so kilometres from Wellington to Masterton, but in Fox’s time there was no road, no cars of course, there was a range of hills to cross, several rivers and there was a lot of forest.

Fox Lake W Hocken William Fox, Head of the Wiararapa [sic] Lake, sunrise, Wednesday May 3rd 1843 – Hocken Library, Dunedin

Who was Fox and why did he make the journey? And why am I interested? William Fox (later Sir William, 1812-1893) came to New Zealand on the ship George Fyfe in November 1842. He was a lawyer but on being told he would have to swear that he had not done any act that would prevent him becoming a lawyer in New Zealand, he refused – believing a gentleman shouldn’t have to swear such a thing. He therefore turned to journalism, exploring and in September 1843 became an official with the New Zealand Company, which was responsible for the organised emigration and formation of the New Zealand towns of Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson. He was also a good watercolourist.

Later still he became a politician and during his varied public career he held the position of Colonial Secretary, Attorney General, and was four times the Premier. In later life Fox held the position of Commissioner of Land Claims arising from the confiscation of Maori lands on the West Coast of Taranaki. So, I’m intrigued that no one has written a full biography of him, but it would take a large amount of research so it doesn’t surprise me. There is a short biography on the Te Ara website here. This ends with:

“Fox was a very intelligent man, an excellent debater, but bitter, vituperative … In politics he tended to react to events rather than to initiate. He knew what he did not like, but had little positive vision of what he did want … He was not a great leader, not a populist, like Grey, but few New Zealand leaders have made a mark in so many areas – constitutional development, politics, social reform, painting and exploration.”

Art historian, Cheryll Sotheran, wrote an article called “The Later Paintings of William Fox” in a 1978 edition of Art New Zealand.

Crofton & Westoe

I got interested in Fox a couple of years ago when I researched and wrote a report on a house he had owned – built in 1857 and still standing in the Wellington suburb of Ngaio. He named it Crofton and the present owner still uses this name. It is listed as a Category 1 building on the Heritage New Zealand List – here’s a link to the information I prepared on it. He later had a grander house built and lived in it for longer – that is also a Category 1 historic place called Westoe.

So that, briefly, is William Fox.

1843 Journey to the Wairarapa

He made this journey in company with a few other ‘gentlemen’ who were looking for flat land for potential grazing of sheep and cattle. Wellington was (and still is) hemmed in by hills and its valleys didn’t provide large areas of grazing land. At that time, much of the land was still forested. NZ Company Chief Surveyor Samuel Brees had made a trip to the Wairarapa in February 1843 and in his report said there was sufficient arable land for settlers.[1]

Fox’s companions were Charles Clifford (later Sir Charles), William Vavasour, Arthur Whitehead and nine men to carry their goods.[2] They left Wellington on 25 April and walked to Petone – the first night was spent at Francis Molesworth’s place in the Hutt Valley.

Molesworths house Molesworth’s house, by William Mein Smith, 1844, Turnbull Library Ref: A-263-007

The next day Francis Molesworth and Henry Petre joined them, but these two left after one night in the rain, although Molesworth left them his tent and provisions to use and a Maori man, called ‘Carimo’ by Fox in the journal he kept of the journey. Interestingly, despite it being a journey lasting a few weeks, Fox doesn’t name any of the nine men who carried their goods – I would surmise that he knew the names of at least some of them, but because they were not of his class he saw no need to name them. They are simply “our men”. Each man carried at least 60 pounds of luggage (that’s 27 kilos – heavier than a suitcase allowed on most airlines today!)

On the 27th they are still crossing streams and cutting their way through bush in the Hutt Valley. They spent a “very wet and comfortless” night – the “old Maori who had our tent did not come up before dark though we could hear him shouting not half a mile off so we had to sleep without it under a tarpaulin on sticks.” The next day the ‘native’ appeared “having made himself comfortable for the night under our tent”. This sounds to me like a cunning ploy on the part of ‘old Carimo’! It rained for the next few days. On 2 May they got a view of the Wairarapa valley, which Fox says was a great treat after being confined by hills for so long. They dined on a pig which they had shot, but “it proved poor as most of the bush pigs are”.

Fox Wairarapa 2 William Fox, The Lake of Wiararapa [sic] West side. No. 1 Lake and lower part of the valley of Wairarapa. Taken from the West side. 2 May 1843, Turnbull Library, Wellington. On May 4th “Carimo and two of our men thought proper to take a route of their own and we have not seen them since.”

Fox encampment HockenWilliam Fox, Encampment in the Valley of Wiararapa [sic]- evening of Thursday May 4. 1843. Hocken Library, Dunedin

On the 5th there was another separation in the party. As Bagnall says of the trip – “cohesion was not its strong point.” Some get separated from the carriers so have few possessions with them to survive in the New Zealand forest, which is not benign. This does not sound like good planning!

Fox, Clifford and Whitehead were away 19 days before they managed to get back over the ranges to the Hutt Valley. Another group were a few days longer and walked back around the coast. ‘Carimo’ and the other two were even longer and had gone three days without provisions at one point. At the end of his account, Fox admits they were too late in the season to do such a trip and needed a good Maori guide. He also admits they disregarded Carimo’s advice – “he being an old chattering mountebank” – but had they listened to him they might have come back via the Manawatu, which they had originally contemplated doing.

One of the carriers is known – George Green Buck, who said they were nearly starving until some local Maori found them and gave them food.[3] Buck had also arrived in Wellington in 1842 – on the ship Burman.[4] This trip was obviously a memorable one as it is mentioned in his obituary in 1894.

So what is my interest in this trip? Other than the fact that I grew up in the Wairarapa (in Masterton), and my interest in Fox, I had wondered if my great-great-grandfather, Henry Jones (who also arrived in 1842 – on the ship London) might have been one of the carriers. In a ‘short sketch’ of his life it was said that he carried loads for surveying parties in his early years in Wellington.[5] However, as Fox doesn’t name the men on the 1843 journey and neither the ‘short sketch’ of Henry Jones’s life nor his obituary[6] make any mention of it, at this point I can probably assume he wasn’t one of them.

Still, this has been an interesting journey for me in trying to find out.


[1] A G Bagnall, Wairarapa: An historical excursion, Hedley’s Bookshop for the Masterton Trust Lands Trust, 1976. p. 33

[2] The journal Fox made on the trip is held in the Hocken library, Dunedin, but a photocopy of it and a transcribed copy are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington – which is where I looked at it.

[3] Bagnall, p. 34

[4] Evening Post, 12 October 1894, Page 2

[5] “Short sketch of the life of Mr Henry Jones”, by ‘Delta’, c. 1896, Wairarapa Archive digital copy online: Ref 92-92/

[6] Wairarapa Daily Times, 30 October 1902, Page 2


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