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Headstones provide link to early Far North traders

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A chance sighting of a headstone in the Jewish section of Auckland’s Symonds Street Cemetery has evoked links back to the earliest days of trade in the Far North.

The headstone, commemorating the life of trader Samuel Yates from ‘Parengarenga North Cape’ - as recorded on the headstone - is a tangible reminder of two very different cultures coming together in what was then one of the most isolated parts of the country.

Yates - who died in 1900 - was an important early Far North identity, according to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Maori Heritage Manager, Mita Harris, who spotted the headstone recently on a walking tour of the historic cemetery located in the heart of Auckland’s CBD.

"According to the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography, Samuel Yates was born in London in about 1829, the son of Saul Yates, a solicitor, and his wife Sarah Isaacs. It had always been assumed that Samuel would follow in his father’s footsteps and take up the law, however in 1852 he accompanied his father to New Zealand to join other family members, and dropped his legal studies," says Mita.

After a brief time in Auckland he moved up to Mangonui where he opened a general store.

"In 1862 or 63 he travelled on to Pārengarenga in the Far North, initially planning to open another store for a trial period of six months. The move was a significant one as he remained there for the rest of his life."

In December 1880, Yates married Ngawini (Annie) Murray at Mangonui.

"Ngawini Yates was descended from Te Rarawa and Te Aupouri, and together, she and Samuel ran a large farm and general store at Pārengarenga. In time, they purchased and leased tracts of land in the Far North totalling 150,000 acres," says Mita.

"Even when her husband was alive, Ngawini took an active role in managing the large station. A skilled horse-woman, she took part in cattle and sheep musters, and found time to raise and educate her eight children."

In September 1900, sensing that his death was near, Samuel headed to Auckland so he could be interred in the Jewish cemetery in Karangahape Road. He died just as his ship was leaving Pārengarenga Harbour, though Ngawini ensured his last wish was carried out.

After Samuel’s death, Ngawini took over the running of the station and general store, keeping records and accounts and overseeing the burgeoning local kauri-gum trade. Capable, generous, intelligent and very able in business affairs Ngawini was highly regarded by all in the community.

Ngawini Yates died at Pārengarenga 10 years after her husband on 29 July 1910. Descriptions of her in newspaper obituaries as the ‘Queen of the North’ and ‘a vast property holder’ highlighted the influence in the community that she had acquired in her own right.

"When she died, Ngawini was buried at Pārengarenga rather than in Auckland with her husband. On her headstone she is described as ‘Beloved of both Pākehā and Māori’ - an indicator of her standing in the community, and a reflection of the importance both she and Samuel had been to the local economy," says Mita.

"These are two different headstones in two very different places - though they speak of two people and two cultures coming together in an amazing way."

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