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  • Peter Barrett

What of New Zealand’s Early Hives?


The Reverend Richard Taylor. One of New Zealand’s earliest beekeepers, whose journals are a source of information on hive movements in the 1840s.

I refer to the beekeeping history article (Don’t’ Believe Everything You Hear..) in the August 2022 issue of Apiarist’s Advocate. The statement “By the 1840/41 season there was quite a clique of beekeepers in the Northland/Hokianga area” spurred me into research mode. Specifically, I wished to know what happened to the Hobson hives before they succumbed; in Rev. Richard Taylor’s words, “they did not increase.”

Hobson’s bees arrived on 17 March 1840 at the Port of Russell in the Bay of Islands on the Westminster. I assumed that, due to expediency, the hives would have been landed and stored in a suitable situation ashore, hopefully one of relative safety. One candidate would have been Charles Baker’s vicarage adjacent Christ Church, Kororareka. Baker, subsequently, greatly assisted Hobson in preparations for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840.

In late February 1840 Hobson suffered a stroke. Richard Taylor brought the stricken Governor from Kerikeri to Waimate around March 9. Hobson spent his convalescence at the house of Mr. Davis until April 16 when Mrs Hobson arrived at the Bay on the Buffalo. Hobson and his family moved into Baker’s house, located at the far end of Paihia beach, adjacent Horotutu Creek. By mid-May the Hobsons had relocated to James Clendon’s former house at Okiato (Russell).

A prime historical reference document (Dieffenbach, 1843) places one hive at the CMS Waimate mission station between late November and 4th December 1840. When that hive arrived at Waimate is unknown. Richard Taylor’s journal documents his removal of another hive from Paihia to Waimate on 15 December 1840. “I set off home taking a hive of bees with me. I nearly got bogged in passing the Wawaroa."

Christ Church in Russell, Bay of Islands, as it is today. Nearby would have been the home to some of New Zealand’s first beehives in 1840.

On 25 March 1841, Taylor returned one hive to Paihia into the custody of George Cooper, Collector of Customs. It had become queenless, and Taylor thought “by being placed near the others they might accommodate the helpless community with another ruler".

So, for up to five months from November 1840 to March 1841 there were not two but at least three hives in the vicinity: one that Taylor already had at Waimate on 4 Dec., another hive which was taken to Waimate on the 15 Dec., and a third hive located at Paihia on 25 March 1841. This third hive appears to have been a swarm from one of the ‘others’.

William Mason, Government Architect and Inspector of Public Works, and a witness to the arrival of the Hobson bees to the Bay of Islands, was quoted by Isaac Hopkins in 1882. He observed from Mason’s letter that he “believed they [the bees] remained at the Bay when the Government party left to establish the seat of Government on the Waitemata, now the city of Auckland.”

Regards, Peter Barrett, Caloundra, Queensland.

PS – My Books...

Some of your readers may be interested in my latest book on New Zealand beekeeping history.

Mary Bumby’s Bees, 1839-40, Myth Fact Mystery.Self-published in August 2022, I first had to wade through the myriad of inaccuracies out there in articles, books and the net. After much research over several years, I believe I’ve produced an interesting and very readable insight into the fate of her bees.

Surrounding that is a look into the fascinating people and places that constituted her time at the Wesleyan Mission stations of Mangungu and Pakanae on the Hokianga river in the far north. Her visitors included the ebullient beekeeper William Charles Cotton, the natural history enthusiast Rev. Richard Taylor, as well as Lady Jane Franklin, the widely travelled and outspoken wife of the Governor of Tasmania.

Did Mary bring her bee hives all the way from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, or were they acquired in Tasmania? On board the James out of Gravesend on the Thames River in September 1838, there was certainly “the bleating of sheep, the clamour of ducks, the cackling of fowls.”

Also of note, I have authored two books on another pioneering New Zealand apiarist, William Cotton. They are Cotton’s Tomatin Bees, 1841-1842, & other tales and W.C. Cotton, Grand Bee Master of New Zealand.

Anyone who is interested in inquiring about any of my works on the pioneer beekeepers of New Zealand is welcome to contact me via email:


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