Story: Chaseland, Thomas

Page 1 - Biography

Chaseland, Thomas

1802/1803?–1869

Sealer, whaler, pilot

This biography was written by John Hall-Jones and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Thomas Chaseland was born probably in Australia in 1802 or 1803. His surname may have been Chasland, Chaseling or Chasling, but Chaseland is the form which occurs most commonly in contemporary records of him. Chaseland himself was illiterate. His father was an English settler and his mother an Australian Aborigine. Nothing is known about his life until 1824, when he is believed to have arrived in New Zealand. A man of great size and strength, with an appetite for alcohol to match, he was to become a legendary figure among the whaling community in the south. He formed a liaison with a woman called Puna, a close relative of Taiaroa. The marriage was later solemnised by the Reverend James Watkin at Waikouaiti on 14 August 1843. After Puna's death Thomas married Pakawhatu, also known as Margaret Antoni or Anthony, the daughter of Anthony Remond and Esther (or Hester) Leah Pura. The marriage ceremony was conducted by the Reverend J. F. H. Wohlers on Ruapuke Island on 15 August 1850. Pakawhatu and Thomas had two daughters and two sons. Thomas Chaseland is reported to have died on Stewart Island on 5 June 1869.

In 1826 Chaseland was recorded as working as a headsman for one of Campbell & Company's sealing boats. In the same year he is listed among the arrivals at the early settlement on Codfish Island, off the north-west coast of Stewart Island. In February 1831 Chaseland, Puna and George Moss of Ruapuke were the only survivors when the schooner Industry was driven by a gale from her anchorage in Sealers Bay, Codfish Island, and wrecked on the rocks of Easy Harbour, on southern Stewart Island.

In 1835 Chaseland and James Brown made a remarkable catch of 11 whales in 17 days at the mouth of the Mataura River. It was 'the greatest feat of the kind ever performed in the country', Edward Shortland recorded. Unfortunately most of the oil was lost because of a shortage of casks. In 1842 Chaseland was working at Jackson Bay, and in 1843 he was in Waikouaiti for his marriage to Puna. During that year he piloted the schooner Scotia south for Shortland's census of the southern whaling stations.

During 1844 Chaseland served as Johnny Jones's manager at the Taieri Mouth whaling station and in 1848 was working at the Tautuku station. In the 1850s he lived mainly at Bluff. In 1851 he was engaged by Captain John Lort Stokes as a pilot for the Acheron survey of the south-western sounds. From Bluff in 1852 he took the commissioner of Crown lands, W. B. D. Mantell, across to Ruapuke. In 1856 the surveyor J. T. Thomson records meeting Chaseland at Bluff and gives an amusing account of the legendary figure's squaring up to the arrival of the first policeman and 'inviting him to a friendly trial on the powers of manhood'.

Today Chaseland's name is probably best known by the South Otago district of Chaslands and the name of a promontory, Chasland's Mistake. This name, according to Chaseland, derived from his landing there late one evening and discovering a herd of seals, which he waited till next morning to dispatch. By that time the seals had disappeared.