Story: Marmon, John
Sailor, convict, Pakeha-Maori, interpreter, shopkeeper, sawyer, carpenter, soldier
This biography was written by Roger Wigglesworth and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990
John, commonly known as Jacky, Marmon was born in Sydney, New South Wales, probably on 5 June 1800, although some sources give the year of his birth as 1798 or 1799. He was the son of convict parents: Patrick Marmon, an Irishman, and his wife, Catherine Evans. Between the ages of 11 and 23 Marmon served aboard colonial merchant vessels sailing throughout the Pacific and between the Australian colonies. In April 1823 he was convicted of theft in Sydney, and was sentenced to be kept at hard labour on board colonial government vessels for two years. He was aboard the Elizabeth Henrietta when it sailed to New Zealand in November 1823. Marmon probably left the brig on arrival, to settle permanently in the Hokianga district, initially under the protection of Muriwai. Marmon later claimed that the social disgrace of his conviction for theft (he maintained that he was innocent) was the reason for his decision to leave New South Wales permanently.
From the 1820s Marmon lived as a Maori. He married Ihipera (Isabella), daughter of Hone Kingi Raumati, by 1835. He also had liaisons with other Maori women; his only child, Mere (Mary), who was born in 1826, was the daughter of another of Raumati's daughters, Hauauru. He became fluent in the Maori language, adopted a Maori lifestyle (his name, transliterated into Maori, was Haki Mamene) and, reportedly, had a moko. He also accompanied Hokianga Nga Puhi on their raids under the leadership of Hongi Hika. For instance, he was reported as having participated in the attack on Te Ika-a-ranga-nui pa in March 1825.
Towards the end of the 1820s European traders began to visit the Hokianga Harbour regularly to purchase the easily accessible, high-quality timber near the river. As well as becoming useful to both Maori and traders as a negotiator and interpreter, Marmon is said to have run a grog shop. As the European population of the Hokianga area grew, he was much in demand as an interpreter, and was recognised as being more fluent than the missionaries. In 1835 he was the interpreter at William White's trial. He was also involved in negotiating land sales, most notably the sale of Horeke to William Stewart and Captain Deloitte in 1826. In addition Marmon found paid employment as a sawyer and carpenter. He is reported to have built houses for F. E. Maning and J. R. Clendon, as well as several of the buildings at the dockyard and settlement of Horeke. Thus, by the mid 1830s Marmon was in a sound enough financial position to purchase more land for himself from the Maori and to build a large house on it.
Marmon was a Roman Catholic and he helped Bishop J. B. F. Pompallier to establish his mission in the Hokianga area in 1838–39. He is said to have had his Wesleyan marriage to Tauro, whom he had wed by 1836, reconsecrated by the bishop in 1838. However, the only documentary evidence of a marriage is contained in Wesleyan records, which state that John Marmon married a woman named Pungi on 9 January 1838 at Mangungu.
Marmon gained some notoriety in official circles for his attempts to dissuade Hokianga Maori from signing the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. However, during Hone Heke's revolt of 1845, he, like many other Hokianga Europeans and Maori, actively supported the British troops. Marmon was involved in several engagements. He distinguished himself during the taking of Ohaeawai pa by succeeding in recovering the bodies of the Europeans slain and wounded during the assault on 1 July.
Marmon's fortunes declined with the collapse of the Hokianga timber trade in the 1840s. The 523 acres he had purchased at Rawhia proved to be unsuited to intensive cultivation or to livestock raising. He was therefore obliged to rely again on Maori support. In his later years he lived a reclusive life, largely on his own at Rawhia, or with his Maori relatives around the Hokianga or Whangape harbours. He died at Rawhia on 3 September 1880.
Marmon's criminal record, his close association with the Maori, his bellicose temperament, and the widespread belief that he had been a cannibal, meant that he was never accepted by the emergent European society. Self-styled leaders of the community, such as Thomas McDonnell and the Wesleyan missionaries, regarded him as an evil influence on both Maori and European societies on the river. Indeed, in later years, Marmon, a short, ruddy-faced man, who invariably wore a top-hat, was the bogeyman with whom errant Hokianga children were threatened.
The Maori, however, sustained and accepted him, protected him from official attempts in the 1820s and 1830s to have him returned to New South Wales and, to the end, regarded his name with the greatest respect because of his close association with the great Hokianga chiefs.