Transcribed by Margaret Couch

(This photograph was taken by my 
Mother, circa 1930-ish.. Pearl W.) 


Introducing Peter MCDONALD...

Peter MCDONALD was born in Glasgow on May 12 1800. Although he completed his formal schooling at age 11, he spent the rest of his life learning as much as he could, about 'everything'.  He had several jobs in Glasgow, working for; Mr BROWN, "Oil & Colour merchant", Henry and Andrew OSWALD, Wine and Spirits merchants, then managing a Co-Op store at 42 London St before being headhunted to manage a Co-Op trading society in Londonderry, Ireland. He returned to Scotland to work in a Pawnbrokers in Paisley and finally was clerk for geologist, John CRAIG. It was while he was working with Craig that travel to New Zealand was discussed – Craig was approached to survey for mineral deposits in NZ, however the proposal fell through but Peter was still keen to seek his fortune in the new country.

In 1842 with his wife Margaret RUSSELL and three children, Alexander (6 yrs), Margaret (4yrs) and Thomas (4mths) they set sail from Greenock aboard the "Jane Gifford". For the first few years there was little work in Auckland for the new settlers. In 1845 William HARDING, "Old Bill" offered Peter a job in the new copper mines on Kawau Island.

His diaries during the copper mine years (I haven’t read them all yet) describe a busy life on Kawau, working shifts at the mine, tending vegetable gardens, fishing, opening a new school.  The diary I'm transcribing covers the years he spent as temporary schoolmaster 
on Kawau Island when he was in his 70’s. He died in 1879 and is buried on Kawau, near his son Alexander who died at age 13.

Peter wrote everything down, shipping, passengers, his theories on 
the meaning of life and his opinions (mainly critical) of visiting clergy. Most of his papers are held in the George Grey collection in the Auckland Public library. However, the diary I'm working on is held by the Hamilton Public library.

Peter and his wife Margaret had two (possibly three) more daughters after they arrived in New Zealand; Isabella Russell in 1845 and Frances Harwood in 1848. Isabella was my great-grandmother. 

The following excerpts were first sent to New Zealand-L rootsweb mailing list. 


Episode 1

Christmas Day on Kawau, 1871.

Mon: 25 Dec: 1871
Christmas day. Left Momona Bay about 9 o'clock this morning in company with Mr & Mrs MEATYARD,  Mr & Mrs OSBORNE, Mr & Mrs TAYLOR, Mr & Mrs TINDALL, Mr & Mrs FINIGAN, Mr & Mrs JOSEPHS and a host of children altogether forming a grand Pic-Nic party. We were pulled in a boat to the head of Bon Accord Harbour where we intended to spend the day - By the time we got to the place where we wished to land the tide was pretty far out and we had some difficulty in landing, however by the exercise of a little patience we all got safely ashore. We selected a beautiful bay on the South side of the Harbour surrounded by rather high hills wooded to the to having a fine stream of water coming down from the hills and forming a beautiful Cascade. We soon kindled a fire and made tea - The Ladies having provided a plentyfull supply of all the good things of this life we made a very comfortable dinner - dancing, with singing & were kept up with great spirit and pleasure. About 5 in the afternoon we had Tea and about 
half past six we again got into our boats and returned to Momona Bay. The weather was all that could be wished for and every one seemed thoroughly to have enjoyed himself. In the evening the company again met in my room where dancing was resumed and kept up with unflagging spirits till a late hour. We thus spent Christmas day very happily at Kawau.


Episode 2
Peter McDONALD (aged 71) and the others on Kawau were reliant on regular visits from various cutters, schooners and steamers to keep contact with the outside world; sometimes things didn't go to plan.

From January 1872
Wed 17: Intended going to Auckland but no "Duke" has put in an appearance.

Thurs 18: The "Duke" put in this afternoon, Mrs OSBORNE and sister Elizabeth as passengers also Mr TINNE from Auckland who brought 
as a present to Sir George (GREY) a number of young carp for his ponds. I hope they do well. We had letters from Fanny, she is to be married today but of course owing to the unexpected detention of the steamer neither Isabella nor myself can be present, well we can't help it, nothing surer than disappointment.

Peter had been involved in earlier mining ventures; he remained on the look out for interesting bits of geology...)

Thurs 25: Had a walk to the South Harbour, examined a small creek to the left of the road going down to the harbour, found it full of quartz, all the way to the gully and should think if gold is to be met with on Kawau it would (be) found here. A boat from Mahurangi brought over a deputation to Sir George asking him to become patron of the "Mahurangi Agricultural Society".               


Episode 3
The shelter at Kawau was important to shipping in the 1870’s too, sometimes vessels had to wait several days for favourable weather before setting out.

From March 1872

Thurs 14: Dull and showery. The Schooner "Ringleader" put in this morning having Dr POLLEN on board. The Barque "Adventurer" of Sydney arrived from the whaling ground; they are bound for Auckland. They have suffered a good deal from rough weather and will require considerable repairs. The "Clyde", the "Sovereign of the Seas" and "Policeman" are also in the Bay & [the] "Don".

Friday 15: The breeze still continues. The "Don" was the only vessel that ventured out. A number of passengers by the "Clyde" came ashore among them was my old friend Mrs. MCEWAN and two other ladies. Sir George with his usual hospitality made them stop ashore the night. Sir George and Dr POLLEN had a ride round the island.

People mentioned in the diary Jan-June 1872.
ANDERSON, ARTHUR, Mr BIDULPH, BOND, Sir George BOWEN, Mr BOWMAN, plumber, BURDETT, Miss COATES, FARQUHAR, FINIGAN family, FRASER, Seymour GEORGE, GILLIES, Sir George GREY, HARRIS family, James HAY, Thomas HENRY(known in Auckland as the Irish Jew[sic]), HOLMES, Capt. HUTTON, Boomer Jack (a Maori from Matakana), JOSEPHS, MCEWAN, MCKENZIE, Revd Mr McKINNEY,   The Hon, D McLEAN,  MCLEOD, Capt. MARKS, Annie MATTHEWS, MEATYARD family, Mr MIT(L)FORD, MOORE, Mr & Mrs MUNDY, Sarah NOBES, NEWBIGGINS family, OSBORNE family, Mr George PARKER and his mate Jim, Dr POLLEN, Mr John POPPLEWELL, Harry SMITH, 

ADDITIONAL NAMES July-December 1872.

Miss BALNEAVES, BROWN family (settlers on Kawau), Mr BROWN (customs Officer), Rev BURROWS, Manuel CHRISTIAN (from Matakana), CREIGHTON family (cook), Rev HUDSON, George INEZ, Mr LYCETT (could be LYSAGHT), Mr MECHAN (ex Jane Gifford), Mr ROLAND, could be ROWLAND, Dr SMITH, Mr Henry SNELL, Mr STOVIN, Mr THORNE, Mr & Mrs TOLLEMACH (from England bound for Tauranga), Mr WADDEL, Mr WALKER (from Canterbury), Mr WILSON (painter), Mrs WYNYARD.

Coastal Transport visiting Kawau 1872 

C/Katherine Borrodale, Don, Gazell(e), Heather Bell, Margaret, Prince of  Wales, Rangitawa, Rob Roy, Sovereign of the Seas, Sumpter, Tay, Victoria, Water-Lilly

 Challenger, Coomerang, Duke of Edinburgh, Golden Crown, Royal Alfred, Southern Cross, Star of the South

 Blanch, Luna

Adventurer, Bella Mary, W.C.Wentworth

Policeman, Tauranga, Janet Gray, Isabel, Amaranth   


Episode 4 
(I know fireworks have been around for centuries, but I didn't think 
of our Victorian forebears having a "Guy Fawkes" day that sounds remarkably familiar.)

November 1872
Tues 5: A beautiful day pleasantly warm.  This being "Guy Fawkes" 
day we had a grand display of Fireworks in the evening - that is we would have had them only the obstinate things would not go off - 
such things will happen.

Peter's seal of approval, fulsomely bestowed on the Tollemach's.

Sat 16: Fine growing showers.  The "Challenger" came in about 4p.m. Mr. CREIGHTON and Mr H SNELL went passengers for Auckland.  I believe Mr SNELL does not return to Kawau for sometime.  A few minutes after the "Challenger" left the Gov. Steamer "Luna" made 
her appearance.  Mr & Mrs TOLLEMACH went on board.  I believe 
they are bound for Tauranga.  Mr & Mrs TOLLEMACH seem a very worthy comfortable couple. Their attitude (altitude?) is considerable
and their calibre extensive.  The carpenter got on board and took 
his place.


Episode 5
Peter opened the school in March 1872 and a few months later embarked on a series of communiques with the Education Office 
of the day...

June 1872
Sun 30: The "Catherine Borrodale" arrives to-day from Auckland. 
Had a letter from David ARTHUR, one from my daughter Fanny with 
a parcel and another from Mr POPPLEWELL with some stationery, which I sent for.  He likewise sent me a copy of the Common School 
Act for 1869 at the same time advising me to apply for a few maps 
and books for the use of the Kawau School, which I intend to do.

Things seem to be going quite well with the Education Board.

July 1872
Sat 27: Showery.  The "Coomerang" called this evening bringing Sir George, Miss MATHEWS & Miss BALNEAVES they brought no mail 
at which the people were very much disappointed.  Received a large map of New Zealand and a small work on the Geography of the colony from the Central Board of Education.

And then .....

October 1872
Thurs 31: The "Challenger" came in this evening.  No passengers.  
Had a letter from John POPPLEWELL, which I do not understand, 
and an account sent by the Central Board of Education.


February 1874:

Sat 14: This I believe is what is called St Valentines day, which in 
old times was greatly respected but in these modern days it is but 
little thought about.  Being invited by Sir George, I went in a boat 
up the North harbour where we landed and had a long walk.  At the head of the harbour there is a large track of land which very easily 
be reclaimed from the sea.  Leaving the North Harbour we struck a 
way to the left till we reached sea, at least the cliffs which overhang 
the sea.  Here we had a most splendid view.  The cliffs facing the 
sea at this part of the island are very high being in some places upwards of 200 feet.  Standing on the brink we could easily perceive the Little Barrier, the Big Barrier, Cape Collvile and the islands called the Poor Knights.  

Keeping along the edge of the cliff which in some places is very narrow, we reached a point where stand the remains of an old Maori Pa.  Sir George pointed out two other Pa's only a short distance from one another.   These fortifications must have taken an immense 
labour when we take into account the want of proper tools to work 
with, being destitute of iron, having nothing but pieces of wood or stone.  It [is] really amazing to see the vast surrounding work that 
has been done and the numbers of these fortifications, which are 
met with in other parts of the island, plainly shows that a numerous population had, at one time existed on the Kawau.  The formation of this part of the island is very curious, consisting of narrow ridges, 
very steep with deep, dark valleys between them, each valley having 
its own little rill of pure cold water which in the longest season of drought never dries up.  In several places the ridges terminated in a sharp point where the small rills join into one stream which has 
forced its way through the embankment and mingles with the sea.  
The many and great improvements which [have] been made on the island under the direction of Sir George Grey are manifest every
where to the eye these are still being carried out so that
[they will] form one of the most beautiful stations in the Colony of 
New Zealand.


Thurs 18 March 1875

About half past 7 this morning Mr A WYATT (servant to Sir George) was seized with some kind of apoplectic or paralytic fit. He seemed all at once to lose every facility of sense.  He was at once carried to his room and laid in bed.  A boat was dispatched for Dr CRUICKSHANKS, but poor Mr WYATT never spoke - appeared to breathe with great difficulty and after giving two or three long sighs, breathed his last about nine o'clock. 
Another boat has been sent to carry the news to his brother at the Mahurangi.  Boat returned bringing Dr CRUICKSHANKS. Messrs OSBORNE and ANDERSON are at work on the coffin.

Fri 19th March 1875

The coffin for Mr WYATT is finished and the body laid therein.  A boat has gone over for Mr McKENNY.  An inquest was spoke about but deemed unnecessary. 

11 a.m. the Revd McKENNY, Mr THOMPSON (a nephew-in-law to Mr Wyatt), Mr MURRAY and Mr MUNROE have arrived and I believe the funeral will take place today. 

After all, a kind of inquest was held but what really took place there I cannot well say as I was not invited to attend and knew nothing about it till after the funeral.  I was then told the Dr. was not present having hid himself away and could not be found.  It would appear that some kind of ill-feeling exists between Mr MURRAY and the Dr. the inquest had therefore to proceed without him. 

The funeral was in every way respectable.  Mr McKENNY read the funeral service, the grave was filled up and all the people returned to their homes leaving all that remained of Mr WYATT in their lowly, peaceful habitation.

Mr McKENNY, Mr MURRAY, Mr MUNROE and Mr THOMPSON started in a Boat for Mullet Point with a very rough sea, there was a strong breeze blowing at the time they started.


To be continued............