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No. 2 (Spring 1952)
– 40 –

Bringing the Mail Ashore
One Hundred Years Ago

Wellington's first mail-carrier was a canoe. It was named ‘Matara’ (distant), probably in reference to the letters which came in immigrant ships from a distant land. Its crew was a small, carefully chosen band of Maoris, who knew their harbour in its many moods, and could be relied upon to get the mail to land safe and dry.

This canoe was used by Mr (aftrwards the Hon.) W. B. D. Mantell, Postmaster, Wellington, as early as 1841. The berthing-place was at a spot opposite Mulgrave Street. In later years the Hon. W. B. D. Mantell filled many important posts (including, on occasions, that of Acting-Curator of the Museum in Sir James Hector's absence); but the canoe he first used was retained as a cherished memento in the family, until, in 1932, it was presented to the Dominion Museum.

Unfortunately, it was stored outside, on a flat part of the roof of the Mantell home, so in the passing years it has suffered much from weathering. The timber of the canoe is totara, which, though durable, tends to crack and split unless kept painted or oiled.

Elsdon Best, in the Dominion Museum Bulletin, No. 7, describes the Mantell canoe as a small vessel of the tiwai class (31ft. long). It had evidently once been fitted with top strakes (rauawa). This would be necessary for use on Wellington Harbour. Best also remarks that this small vessel is remarkable for its sheer, or upward curvature to prow and stern which amounts to 11½ inches—that is to say, a line drawn taut from prow to stern is 11½ inches above the sides of the canoe in the middle. The keel is sharp at the ends, but is flat in the middle.

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Prizewinning entry: three district councils of the Maori Women's Welfare League entered as competitors at the Waikato Winter Show in Hamilton this year. They were the Maniapoto, Waikato and Hauraki councils, who all put forward one exhibition stall showing Maori homecrafts and one stall showing Pakeha homecrafts. Winner of the exhibition was the Maniapoto council, whose attractive Maori crafts exhibition is shown here.