Story: Jackson, James Hayter

Page 1 - Jackson, James Hayter

Jackson, James Hayter

1800–1877

Mariner, whaler, trader

This biography was written by Don Grady and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

James Jackson (who later called himself James Hayter Jackson) was born on 24 November 1800, in Putney, London, England, the son of James Jackson, a mariner, and his wife, Sarah Smith.

Jackson first came to New Zealand in 1829, as mate of the schooner Waterloo, which was under the command of Captain John (Jacky) Guard. The schooner left Sydney on 31 May 1829 and ended its voyage at Te Awaiti, on the south-east coast of Arapawa Island, in Tory Channel. Jackson became second in charge under Guard at New Zealand's first shore-based whaling station, situated at Tar'white, as Te Awaiti was called by Europeans. Like many other whalers at Te Awaiti, Jackson entered into a form of marriage with a Maori woman, with whom he is said to have had several children.

By the mid 1830s Guard had moved to Kakapo Bay, Port Underwood, which he had discovered was a more advantageous site for shore whaling than Te Awaiti. At about the same time Jackson established himself as the headsman of a whaling operation at Onapopoti, a little bay separated from the main Te Awaiti valley by a low tongue of land. The bay was renamed Jacksons Bay after him. In September 1839, when New Zealand Company officials visited the settlement on the Tory, the three Te Awaiti whaling stations were run by Richard (Dicky) Barrett, Joseph Toms, and Jackson in his own bay. The naturalist Ernst Dieffenbach recorded that Jackson employed some 20 Maori in his whaling business and had established a permanent dwelling and cultivated land in the vicinity. A watermill, said to have been built at Jacksons Bay to grind wheat, was probably one of the first water-powered flour mills in New Zealand.

Jackson was an outstanding character in the whaling days at Te Awaiti. He was so big – over 6 feet 3 inches in height and 19 stone in weight – that he was sometimes called 'Fat Jackson'. However, he was best known as Captain Jimmy Jackson. A great talker, he had strong opinions and liked to use long words, although he did not always understand their meaning. Edward Jerningham Wakefield recalled that on his visit to Jacksons Bay in 1839, Jackson 'never ceased talking from the moment we entered his house until we returned on board.' Said Wakefield: 'He was a great admirer of Bonaparte, whose battles adorned his walls in gaudy colours and tinselled frames, as bought from some French whale-ship. He supported his superficial view of almost everything that could be mentioned, by quotations from the Scriptures and Guthrie's Geography, which seemed his favourite books of reference.'

An accomplished seaman with entrepreneurial ability, in December 1839 Jackson transported whale oil to Sydney as master of the chartered brig Siren. When the whaling trade fell away, he had built, possibly at Te Awaiti, a small schooner of 14 tons called the Nelson Packet, which he used on coastal trading trips. Jackson carried supplies to Wellington and as far north as the Manawatu River, as well as to the first Nelson settlers. He used the vessel to bring eight tons of coal out of Motupipi in Golden Bay in 1842 on behalf of the Massacre Bay Coal Association and was one of the first traders to ship cargo to Blenheim, using the Opawa River.

In September 1842 Jackson took Captain Arthur Wakefield on the Nelson Packet to the Collingwood and Takaka areas. The purpose of the expedition was to facilitate the survey of land which had recently been purchased from local Maori. Alfred Domett, then editor of the Nelson Examiner and a member of the expedition, described Jackson as 'looming large as he sate in the stern, bearing about the same proportion to his little craft as Venus does to her shell, or Neptune to his car, in allegorical pictures…his commands are given in a man-of-war style, with a sort of dashing self-satisfied burly cheerfulness, which shows a mastery and delight in his profession, and, above all, a pride in his craft, which is unto him as a frigate.'

At Nelson, on 19 February 1843, Captain Jimmy Jackson married Eliza Roil. Jimmy and Eliza, who became known throughout Marlborough as Granny Jackson, were to have nine children.

It appears that Jackson did not live continuously at Te Awaiti. A general contractor, Robert Blaymires, who helped cut the first cattle track between Waitohi (Picton) and the Wairau Valley, said that in 1855 Jackson was running a store at Waitohi for the brothers H. E. and Oswald Curtis. At this time Waitohi consisted of a few Maori huts on the foreshore. However, Jackson returned to Jacksons Bay in 1857, and purchased a further 40 acres on Arapawa Island, which he farmed. He ended his days at Jacksons Bay, dying there on 2 August 1877.