Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
The French connection.

by Anthony G. Flude ©2002.

Had the plans of the restored King Louis-Phillippe of France and the French government succeeded in December, 1839, the South Island of New Zealand would now be a French Colony.
Contained within the initial plans, approved at the time, were directions for Captain Lavaud of the French Navy corvette Aube to take up the appointment of French Governor and establish the first French settlement at Akaroa, on Banks Peninsula, once sovereignty had been declared over Southern New Zealand.

Over many years, the French had sent expeditions into the South Pacific region. The navigator and explorer Jean-François de Surville's was in the Tasman Sea in 1789. Scurvy, the dreaded disease feared by many early sailors deprived of fresh fruit and vegetables during long sea voyages, had quickly spread throughout the crew of the Indiaman St-Jean-Baptiste under his command.

De Surville was aware of the existence of New Zealand, which had been first discovered by Abel Tasman some two hundred years earlier, when  it had been reported that the natives of this land were hostile and cannibals. Needing provisions and fresh water, De Surville first spotted the coast of New Zealand in December, 1769, his position somewhere north of Hokianga. He was to later learn, to his surprise, that the English explorer, Captain James Cook, was sailing the Endeavour up the opposite coast of Northland and that they were to pass some fifty miles apart.
De Surville, turned south looking for a better anchorage, while Cook continued north, neither aware of each others presence. The St-Jean-Baptiste put into Doubtless Bay to re-provision and water, where they found the Maori friendly and hospitable.
On his last day before setting sail back for France, an affray was to develop, when one of the ships whaleboats was washed ashore during a storm. They mounted a search to recover it, but could find no trace of its whereabouts. Maori natives had been seen taking it away. Angrily, de Surville ordered some huts and fishing gear to be burned and seized a maori chief named Ranginui as his hostage. Fearful of an attack from the Maori warrior's, he put on all sail to take him out into the Pacific Ocean.

Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne was the next Frenchman to enter New Zealand waters.  He had sailed from Tasmania in 1772 with two ships named the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries.
The two ships sighted the peak of Mount Taranaki, (which Captain Cook had already named Mount Egmont), where du Fresne decided to name it Pic Mascarin on their French charts. Gales forced them north and they finally made anchor in Spirits Bay, Cape Reinga. Continued gales force winds caused the loss of two of their anchors and so the ships made for the Bay of Islands to repair damage and re-provision, where they secured good anchorage close to Moturua Island. Their stay lasted over six weeks, during which time the local maori traded with them fresh vegetables, fish and barrels of fresh drinking water for the return passage, in exchange for tobacco and muskets and powder.

On the 12 June, 1772, Marion du Fresne and a number of his men went ashore but failed to return to the ship after a few hours. It was learned that they had been suddenly attacked by a large group of Maori and killed. Some twenty-seven officers and men lost their lives for no apparent reason.
The French closed up their camp ashore, abandoning masts and spars they were preparing to load aboard. An armed party went ashore to kill as many Maori as they could find and to sack and burn the village in a fierce swift act of reprisal. The two ships finally set sail for Tonga and the Philippines.

The French decided that they would send no more ships to the South Pacific for the next twenty years. An attempt was made to discover the fate of the Perouse expedition in 1793 but the leader of this expedition, D'Entrecasteaux, could obtain no information even though he called into the north of New Zealand.
In the year 1824 the vessel Uranie under Louis Duperrey, sailed back into the Pacific; aboard was a 38 year old officer named Jules D'Urville. The vessel visited Whangaroa Harbour and Doubtless Bay where D'Urville later reported his experiences and dealings with the Maori people to the French government and naval authorities in Paris.

He was finally able to convince them that a new expedition should be mounted  into the Pacific in June 1825. He was given the ship Uranie for the expedition but changed her name to Astrolabe. Sailing from Toulon, France, in April, 1826 he headed for Australia and finally set a course for New Zealand, making landfall on the west coast in January, 1827, near the present town of Greymouth. D'Urville sailed north for Cook Strait, naming French Pass, D'Urville Island and the Croisilles Harbour.

After a short stay in the Bay of Islands, the Astrolobe sailed back into the Pacific on its return journey to France. French whalers did not appear in the Pacific until 1830, but it was several years before they began to realise the importance of New Zealand as a whaling resource. British and American sealers and whalers had been turning up annually for the big hunt off the South Island shores for several years before. As a result, the year 1838 saw some fourteen French whalers off the New Zealand coast and calling into the Bay of Islands. At least ten of these were known to have cruised off or near Banks Peninsula.
A further expedition, under the command of Cyrille-Pierre Laplace left France on the 30th December, 1829. His instructions were to report on the openings for French traders to settle in New Zealand. His corvette La Favorite sailed for Sydney, from which he set a new course for the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, arriving in September, 1831.
Laplace carried out some extensive survey work for his naval charts at the entrance to the Kawakawa River mouth before leaving New Zealand, this activity not going un-noticed by the local settlers.

Unfounded rumours began to spread and a message was dispatched to Sydney that the French were about to take possession of New Zealand and were laying out plans for a new settlement. This news was taken seriously and the British naval sloop Zebra was immediately dispatched to warn Laplace off. Unaware of the problems he had created and left behind, Laplace had already sailed for South America.

The French warship Héroine arrived at Akaroa in June 1838 where there were some sixty French whaling ships operating in the vicinity. All would call into Akaroa Harbour to replenish supplies and fresh water several times during the season, where several of the crew had stayed ashore to settle and set up trading posts.
There were some eighty European settlers at Akaroa and on Banks Peninsula in those times and a reported number of around five hundred Maori living in the Canterbury district, their numbers reduced by the civil wars of 1820 and raids led by Rauparaha in 1830, when Kaiopoi was sacked and destroyed. The warship landed a herd of fifty cattle which were eagerly bought by the settlers and Maori farmers at the sales.

The French authorities seemed to be doing little towards gaining a foothold on the South Island of New Zealand. Several of the Frenchmen who had set up trading posts, purchased land from the local Maori at Akaroa and on Banks Peninsula but were unsure as to how to protect their assets, or even if the land sales were legal.
The wily Master of the whaler Cachelot Captain Langlois, decided he would legitimise his land purchases from the local maori by writing a land sale document in French, saying that they were selling him all of the land known as Banks Peninsular for the sum of 1000 francs (£40), £6 to be paid immediately in goods, not cash. For this so-called purchase, the local maori received: 2 coats; 6 pairs of trousers; 12 hats; 2 pair of shoes; a pistol and 2 shirts.
To verify the sale, Langlois took the sheet of paper he had written as a land sale document and asked eleven of the local maori to draw on this their moko. Obligingly, each maori carefully copied their facial moko or tattoo, onto the paper as a form of signature.

Langlois sailed from New Zealand back to France in May, 1839, where he now proposed to get backers to form a company which would bring French settlers as emigrants out to New Zealand to a French Colony at Akaroa.
The scheme met difficulty, as financial backers in France were not easily forthcoming on such a venture. Finally he was able to gain the interest of a prominent polititian, the Duke Decazes, who expressed an interest in colonisation of the South Island of New Zealand.

A company was set up, sometimes called the French New Zealand Company, but better known as the Nanto-Bordelaise Company. They now needed to get the co-operation and sanction of the French government for their scheme. This was eventually gained through the support of the Prime Minister, Marshall Goult.
Agreements were drawn up which were approved by the Cabinet and then submitted to King Louise-Phillipe for his signature of approval. The King was cautious, not wishing to provoke the British but was also eager to gain possession of the southern island of New Zealand.
In December, 1839 he gave his full approval and ordered the ship Compte de Paris to be fitted out as a whaler and emigrant ship to convey sixty colonists to Akaroa. These were to be recruited from the Le Havre district, but those willing to make the journey were mostly unskilled labourers- all eager to get the five acres of land promised on arrival and seventeen months of free rations.

The ship sailed from France for New Zealand in March, 1840, a month after the French naval ship, the Aube which was to give military backup if the scheme to gain sovereignty for France had succeeded. 

The French had left things far too late to make such a move!

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed with the Maori and Governor Hobson in the Bay of Islands on the 6th February, 1840, making the North Island of New Zealand a British colony. This was followed on the 21st May, when the South Island was also declared a British Colony.

Commander Lavaud of the French corvette Aube had called into the Bay of Islands on his way to Akaroa. There he met Governor Hobson and discovered that they had already annexed both the North and South Island's of New Zealand under British sovereignty. Despite this, he still had hopes of making the South Island independent under French rule.
After the Aube left for Akoroa, Governor Hobson had decided to send the British warship Britomart down to Akaroa to keep an eye on French activities.

By March, 1840, Major Thomas Bunbury was in Akaroa to gather signitaries for the Treaty from the chiefs of the Ngai Tahu tribe and in August, Captain Stanley, sailing in the warship HMS Britomart formally raised the British Union Jack flag at Akaroa.
The French emigrant ship arrived at Akaroa Harbour on the 17th August, 1840, to find their own corvette and the British warship already anchored there. They soon learned from Lavaud that the South Island was now British. Lavaud thought the chosen land was suitable for a French settlement and instructed Langlois to go ashore to re-negotiate with the Maori over his land purchases.

Langlois soon came back with some more 'signatures' on a blank piece of paper which he soon filled in details of an agreement, in French,  for the Maori to sell all of Banks Peninsula to him and his company, for the newly arrived French settlers.
Captain Lavaud cast some doubts over the document he was shown and on checking found it had not been signed by any of the Maori chiefs at Akoroa. He sent Langlois off again to prepare a more acceptable document which could be presented to the British authorities, back-dating this to 1838.

Meanwhile, the emigrants had landed at Akaroa in freezing winter weather. Tents had been erected for them and surveyors were in the process of marking out the land alloted to each. Five acres for each male adult and two and a half acres for each child aged 10 to 15 years old. Huts were then erected by the settlers, potatoes were planted and other vegetables. Some twelve of the settlers embarking in Le Havre were of German origin and these families elected to settle in an adjacent bay, naming this German Bay. (Takamatua)
Soon these settlers were able to supply the visiting ships and other settlers to the district with fresh vegetables, wheat, oats and even tobacco grew in the rich soil of their farms. By 1844, the farms occupied by the French settlers at Akaroa boasted 430 pigs, 400 sheep, 40 cows and two horses.

The validity of the land claim presented by Langlois was examined in 1843 by the British Land Claim Commissioners. They found that a Maori chief, Iwaikau, had acknowledged selling a small amount of land in 1840 to him and his settlers and that they had promised to sell more to the French Company over time. As a result, Langlois documents were not accepted as genuine or as a legal purchase of land by the French Nanto-Borderlaine Company and a Crown grant at that time was refused.
Their plans had failed. The backers in France decided that they should sell their assets in New Zealand to the London based New Zealand Company. They needed to get recognition of their land purchases from the British Government to do this. Finally, the company was awarded 30,000 acres of land on Banks Peninsula, about one-eighth of the total Peninsular, but no Crown Grant was issued.
Never-the -less the New Zealand Company agreed to buy them out for the sum of £4,500, allowing the French to pay off their debts and wind up their company in June 1849. The New Zealand Company agreed to pay the Maori the sums of money under the origional arrangements with the now defunct French Company.

In due course, the French imigrants were to receive their Crown land grants. Most of them stayed and settled on Banks Peninsula at Akaroa, where the township was laid out in true French style, while its streets bore the French names, Rue Lavaud, Rue Balguerie, Rue Joli and Rue Benoit, Hôtel Francais, Hôtel de Normandie, to name but a few. Naturally, French is still the second language spoken in Akaroa!