Thursday, 20 February 2020


An able seaman in the family

Peter Jones, the owner of Grace OMalley’s Irish Inn in Whitianga, has family ties to HMS Buffalo. His great, great-grandfather, able seaman William Porter, was a member of the Buffalo crew for just over a year. One of Peter’s first cousins who still shares the Porter surname, also lives in Whitianga.

William was born in 1802 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He signed on to HMS Buffalo from his hometown on 24 April 1839 when he was 37 years old and was discharged on 12 October 1840 (as recorded in official UK records taken from the HMS Buffalo Muster Book).

On board the voyage from Canada to Australia were 141 Canadian and American prisoners. The prisoners, known as patriots in Canada, unsuccessfully fought against British colonial power in the “Upper Canada Rebellion.”

After the prisoners were offloaded in Hobart and Sydney in early 1840, the Buffalo departed New South Wales for the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. Among the passengers were Mrs Hobson and her children, en route to join their husband and father, William Hobson, the first governor of New Zealand.

While the Buffalo was loading kauri spars in the Bay of Islands, Governor Hobson offered land to members of the crew if they would stay and settle in New Zealand. William, along with five others, accepted the offer.

William initially set himself up as a chandler (a dealer in supplies and equipment for ships and boats) and also became the first butcher and publican in Parnell, Auckland.

From the Bay of Islands, HMS Buffalo sailed without William and the other crew members who accepted the offer of land to Mercury Bay to load more kauri spars. The ship attempted to sail from Mercury Bay on 25 July 1840, but due to bad weather, had to stay put. From 26 July, a strong easterly wind increased in violence and on 28 July, the Buffalo was driven ashore and wrecked.

The ship now rests in the water off Buffalo Beach approximately 200m east of Whitianga Continuing Care.

On 9 October 1843, William married Janet Gordon Rippey, who was born in Scotland. Janet had arrived in New Zealand - along with her parents and three brothers - on 22 August 1843 on board the Duchess of Argyle, the first UK immigrant ship to New Zealand. She was 17 years old. William and Janet had nine children together.

In 1855, William purchased land in East Tamaki and became a farmer. The Porter family continued to reside in the area until Janet’s death in 1901.

By 1856, there was still no sign of the land offered by Governor Hobson. William, along with the five other former crew members of HMS Buffalo who accepted the offer of land made to them in 1840 in the Bay of Islands, took to writing letters to the Provincial Council, demanding that Governor Hobson’s offer be honoured. It was not until 1858 that land was finally granted to each of the former seamen. They were allowed to select 100 acres of rural land in the Province of Auckland.   

William passed away two years later in Papatoetoe, Auckland at the age of 58, after suffering a stroke.

Pictured: The HMS Buffalo Muster book which shows able seaman William Porter signing on to the ship on 24 April 1839 when he was 37 years old.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.