William Hook

One evening in October 1826, William Hook and seven of his crew mates rowed a whaleboat from Breaksea Island to come alongside the French expedition ship Astrolabe. Captain d’Urville offered them the night aboard and a dinner of ship’s biscuits and brandy. That night the sealers told of how they’d been treated abominably by their employers who had not returned for them, and how they were now living from their fishing and quite destitute.
D’Urville observed William Hook:

A young man with a very swarthy complexion, a broad face and a flat nose looked to me a completely different type from the English; I soon learned, on questioning him, that he was a New Zealander, a native of Kerikeri, attached for nearly eight years from a very early age to the miserable lot of these vagabonds. He speaks English and seems to have completely forgotten his homeland. (176)

Six months later William Hook’s name appeared in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser and he became a public player in the colonial history of Australia. (177)  In January 1827, one week after Major Edmund Lockyer’s busy pacifications of Menang men aggrieved by the sealers’ actions, a sealers’ boat approached the Amity asking for provisions. Lockyer let them aboard the Amity for the night and, suspecting the sealers were responsible for the murder of man on Green Island, interviewed them the next day. On the 12th, William Hook made his statement to Lockyer, testifying that he had been present at the Green Island killing and had witnessed the kidnapping of two Menang women. (178)

Although William Hook did not say in his statement who had fired the fatal shot, Lockyer concluded in his correspondences to the Colonial Secretary that it was Samuel Bailey who had assisted in the “atrocious murder” (179), the only evidence being that William Hook declared that Samuel Bailey was present on the boat at the time. When Festing brought Samuel Bailey back from Eclipse Island with the two captured Noongar females, Lockyer arrested Bailey. He then sent Samuel Bailey to Sydney and sent William Hook to testify against him. Once in Sydney, William Hook testified to an examining officer that Samuel Bailey had not shot the man on Green Island, which led to all charges being dropped. (180)

Lockyer and d’Urville’s accounts and descriptions are all I am able to find on the young Maori sealer. After Bailey’s charges were dropped in Sydney, William Hook’s name disappeared from official records. However to gather an estimation of his actions and character, I have sought information ‘around’ William Hook. I have also made tentative links between Hook and other Maori sealers on Bass Strait.

In 1824, John Boultbee kept a journal of his sealing expedition through Bass Strait. In the Hobart Town Gazette, the fellow crew of Boutlbee’s schooner Sally were named as: “Mr A. Hervel, Mr Smith, James Duncan, Robert Robertson, William Aldridge, John Richardson, George Belsey, Tiger New Zealand (a boy), Billhook (a boy) and John Smidmore.” (181)

John Smidmore was present at the killing of the Menang man on Green Island, two years after he worked with Boultbee on the Sally. In fact, after Samuel Bailey was transported to Sydney with William Hook, John Smidmore admitted to Lockyer to shooting the man himself. It is a leap of pure speculation that one of the boys aboard the Sally with John Smidmore in 1824 was William Hook: Tiger, described in Boultbee’s journal as a teenage Maori, or the boy called Billhook – a name that could easily be made official by extending it to William Hook. Aside from my ‘leap’ it is still likely that William Hook worked in Bass Strait or on Kangaroo Island, as those sealing grounds were where most of the Hunter and Governor Brisbane sealers were based before travelling to the west.

It is also likely that when William Hook first arrived in Sydney, he did so through the auspices of one Samuel Marsden. Samuel Marsden had set up New Zealand’s first Christian mission station in William Hook’s home of Kerikeri in 1814, buying five thousand acres from Nga Puhi Chief Honi Hiki “for the princely sum of forty eight axes,” (182) setting up the mission at around the same time that William Hook was a child there. Marsden appears to have engaged in a firearms trade with Honi Hiki, who was interested in gaining ascendancy over other tribes in the area.

Marsden brought Maori children to Australia. He “confided to Pratt that he intended to bring back from New Zealand to Parramatta a number of ‘children of the chiefs’ for education.” (183) Samuel Marsden took the Kerikeri children to his Native Institution in Parramatta (where Fanny was placed in 1827), using the excuse of ‘education’ in what was ostensibly holding Maori children hostage in return for favorable treatment from their parents and to ensure that no harm came to his missionaries in New Zealand.

Another way that William Hook may have crossed the Strait was by being sent out as an adolescent by his family for seafaring, agricultural and cultural experience, or even to earn money to purchase muskets in Sydney. As Dieffenbach wrote in the 1840s, “This spirit of curiousity leads [Maori] often to trust themselves to small coasting vessels; or they go with whalers to see still more distant parts of the globe.” (184) Maori were traditional voyagers and had excellent reputations as seafarers among the European and American sealing and whaling. In the early years of New Zealand offshore whaling and sealing, young Maori were sometimes ill-treated aboard ships; flogged, humiliated or abandoned thousands of miles from their homes. To be fair, some captains treated their crew with absolute equality. Ill treatment by their employers was by no means confined to Maori seafarers, as I have demonstrated previously by outlining the actions of the captains of the Hunter and Governor Brisbane, who abandoned all of their crew, never to return for them. But many young Maori were sent to sea by parents who ranked highly in Maori society. Events such as the burning of the brig Boyd in 1809 alerted colonial administrators to the Maori ‘ship’s boys’ who may have been vulnerable to abuses of power, but were also connected to powerful hierarchies within Maori societies, and that abuses of mana and dignity could be met with terrifying consequences.

The history of post-contact Kerikeri, of young Maori seafarers in the nineteenth century and of the company that William Hook may have kept in Bass Strait gives an indication of the cultures which William Hook lived and worked within. His connection with Samuel Marsden is interesting for several reasons, including that, as a child, he would have interacted with other Europeans and with Christianity far earlier than Maori from other parts of New Zealand. He was a young Indigenous man who successfully straddled cultures, ethnicities and cultural values during the trans-Tasman colonisation. What especially intrigues me about William Hook is that his statement to Lockyer in 1826, whether or not coerced, does not answer to an assumedly tight allegiance to his fellow sealers, especially Samuel Bailey, during the crew’s time of extreme isolation and stress. Yet, it was John Smidmore, the sealer who had possibly worked with Hook before in Bass Strait, who later confessed to shooting the man on Green Island and Hook does not mention him once in his statement.


176. Rosenman, H., Trans. Ed. 1987, p. 32.
177. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 20/04/1827, p. 3.
http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/ndp/page/495597 (accessed 12/08/09)
178. See Appendix 1
179. H.R.A. III, Vol. 1, p. 474.
180. See Appendix 4
181. Beggs, A., & Beggs, N., The World of John Boultbee, Whitcoulls Publishers, Christchurch, 1979, p. 53.
Hobart Town Gazette, 20/08/1824, p. 4.
182. Brook. J., and Kohen, J.L., 1991, p. 135.
183. Brook. J., and Kohen, J.L., 1991, p. 139.
184. Dieffenbach, E., Travels in New Zealand (2 vols) John Murray, London, 1843, in The Prow http://theprow.org.nz.maori-and-whaling/ (accessed 09/03/12)
operations. “Captains and mates relied on their cheap labour, sobriety and skill as harpooners and topmen.”

185. Chaves, K.K., ‘Great Violence Has Been Done: the Collision of Maori Culture and British Seafaring Culture 1803-1817’, in Great Circle, Vol. 29, No. 1, p. 26. See also Pricket, N., ‘Trans-Tasman Stories: Australian Aborigines in New Zealand Sealing and Shore Whaling’, in Terra Australis, ANU, Australia, 2008.
186 Chaves argues that the Boyd massacre resulted from Maori seamen aboard the whalers being treated disrespectfully. Chaves, K., Great Circle, p. 22.