EDWARD POHAU ELLISON
‘E tama, hei aha!’—(Son, never mind.) Such was the brief reply of a humble man to my request that during his lifetime an account of his life and work be published.
I first met him and his charming wife at Oeo Pa, Taranaki. The occasion was a Church service, and I wondered then who this fine looking, fine build Pakeha was. I was soon to learn that he was the sole medical practitioner stationed at Manaia, and was also an active Churchman and an officer and member of practically all the different organizations in the district.
For years there was a gentleman's agreement between the Anglican and the Methodist Churches to the effect that Maoris in the Taranaki district would be under the charge of the Methodist Church. But in recent years Maoris from other tribes had migrated in fair numbers into this district and from them came an appeal for a clergyman of their own church. The lot fell to me to answer the call, and at the very first meeting of the South Taranaki people an Anglican Maori Mission Committee was formed, with Pohau Ellison unanimously elected its first chairman.
But, who was this man? Where has he lived all these years? Why isn't there much known or heard of him? Was he really a Pakeha? When I was introduced to him, I realised that I had met the sole survivor of the ‘Young Maori Party’.
Thomas Ellison, the grandfather of Edward Pohau Ellison, left his home in England as a cabin boy on one of the East India Company's boats, and settled in Australia. Later he went to Otakou in New Zealand, and established a whaling industry off the Sounds in Cook Strait. He married Ika-i-raua, daughter of the chief Whati of the Ngati-Tama Tribe, but shortly after the establishment of his station he was drowned in a violent storm at sea. The whaling station was taken over by a son, Raniera Ellison, and the business flourished.
At the same time another whaling station was established at Otakou by the Weller brothers. Edward Weller had married Nikuru Taiaroa, who died immediately after giving birth to her first child, Hannah.
Taniera Ellison gave up whaling for goldmining, and in later years he married Hannah Weller. He then became a farmer, and after many years at Otakou he decided to lease the farm and settle at Waikanae near Otaki. It
was there, in a ‘tin’ house just below the present Waikanae traffic bridge, that Edward Pohau Ellison was born on 26th November, 1884.
Here is the family tree:
Teikairaua m. Thomas Ellison
Raniera Ellison m. Hannah Nani Taiaroa
Edward Pohau Ellison
Matenga Taiaroa m. Hinewhareua
Nikuru m. Edward Weller
Hannah Nani Weller m. Raniera Ellison
Edward Pohau Ellison
Pohau was adopted by his father's cousin, Mrs Harirota Eyes, who lived at Punehu, opposite the present Pihama Dairy Factory in Taranaki. It was there, in an old fashioned five-roomed house, nestling under the protective wings of Maunga Taranaki, that Pohau spent the first ten years of his life. ‘My childhood life in Taranaki’, wrote Dr Ellison, ‘was a rather strenuous one, but it had its compensations. Snow-capped Taranaki (Mt Egmont) was always a delight to see. To go by cart to collect tawhara was an enjoyment. As a child, I had little companionship and no toys. I got pleasure straddling and riding a long flax stick. When six years old I was milking cows, and at eight, milking as many as twenty-three during emergencies. There were no milking machines in those days!’
When he was nine years old Pohau's foster mother died in an accident. This was a terrible blow to young Pohau, and Mr Eyes sold the farm and went with his foster son to Wellington. At Wellington Pohau met a stranger, one Tom Ellison, a lawyer and a famous footballer. Young Pohau was later to learn with surprise and delight that the stranger, Tom, was his own brother!
Pohau returned to his natural parents at Waikanae, where for two years he attended the local primary school. Then the Ellison family returned to Otakou, their native home. Referring to this, Dr Ellison wrote, ‘I liked this place immensely … Otakou commanded a beautiful view of both the Otago Harbour entrance and the channel to Port Chalmers with a background of high bush-clad hills. It was a delight to see both trading and passenger steamers passing to and fro along the channel, while fishermen plied their trade along the banks or in the blind channel as the tide receded. What a wonderful place this was!’
When he completed the sixth standard at school he went to Wellington to do clerical duties in his brother's office. He was keenly interested in sports, in particular rugby, and went to practically every football match at Athletic Park. There he saw many great footballers in action, among them Alwood, Wallace, Roberts and many others. These visits stimulated a keen desire to enter Te Aute College, the nursery of many famous Maori footballers. Eventually he persuaded his brother to allow him to enter Te Aute, and at the age of fourteen years he became a pupil there.
‘Three years after my entry into Te Aute,’ Pohau writes, ‘I matriculated. The teachers were always very helpful to us and in particular our beloved headmaster, Mr John Thornton, together with the first assistant, Mr Long. The occasions on which they addressed us, be they in church, in chapel or school, were always very impressive and had a marked uplighting influence on the School, in manner, behaviour and character…. The staff accompanied our rugby football team in 1904 to Australia … never was there such an enjoyable trip and our teachers helped to make it so.’
His brother Tom had died in 1904, and his father wished Pohau to study for law, and eventually to take up his brother's practice. But Pohau was not interested in law. He had seen how high the mortality rate was amongst the Maori people, and he had decided that one day he must study medicine and work amongst his own people.
Through the assistance of Mr Long, his former teacher, he was admitted to Te Raukahikatea Theological College at Gisborne; Archdeacon Samuel Williams had agreed to assist Pohau in his medical studies at Te Rau provided that on completion of his studies, he would devote his work to the Maori people. ‘This pleased me immensely’, wrote Pohau, ‘as I was anxious to delve deeper into the foundations of Christianity’. While he was studying medicine he also attended theological lectures, and within two years had passed grades one and two of the Durham Theological College and as well gained his medical preliminary examination.
Whilst at Te Rau, Pohau had a revelation.
In a dream, he was bound down firmly on his back on a broad platform which was slowly approaching a large circular saw rotating at great speed. He tried in vain to free himself; he yelled and struggled, but the more he struggled the firmer was the grip on him; as he neared the blade he noticed two men on either side of the platform. One was a tall fair man with black hair and heavy black eye-brows. Which of these two was he to appeal to for help? Which of them had a grain of pity for one in anguish and about to undergo torture and suffering? Which of these two was a Christian? Pohau hesitated as he looked appealingly from one to another.
He chose the tall fair man, and immediately awoke to find this pyjamas soaking wet with perspiration. He lay in his bed fully exhausted but felt that his choice was the right one.
Some days later, misfortune again befell Pohau. Archdeacon Samuel Williams died and made no allowance in his will for the financial assistance which he had promised Pohau towards his medical studies. Pohau had no option but to leave Te Rau and return to Otakou in the hope that his father would help him. But his father was not interested in medicine. ‘Whaia ko te mana o te Maori kua ngaro nei’ was his advice to his son. (Seek the dying prestige of the Maori.) Greatly disappointed, but determined to find some way of continuing his studies, he worked for some time with a surveyor, in the hope of raising sufficient money to make this possible. Months passed: months of anxiety and waiting. Pohau could not help but think of the dream he had at Te Rau. What was he to do? Had he after all chosen the wrong man? There was only one thing to do and that was to prove that his choice was indeed right.
He applied to be readmitted as a theological student at Te Rau, and was accepted back. He graduated at the end of the college term, but he changed his intention of entering the ministry when he received advice that, through his father's being a beneficiary of the North Island ‘Tenths’, he had been given a Government grant to study medicine. But great disappointment met him on his return to Wellington. The Public Trustee informed him that it was a mistake, and that ‘no provision was made in the current estimates’. Pohau decided that having taken hold of the plough, he would not turn back; he must battle through to the end. His own father could not assist him, but in spite of all difficulties, he enrolled at Otago, specialising in clinical medicine.
Towards the close of his university life, Pohau met with a serious accident whilst assisting at a post mortem. He cut his thumb and septicaemia set in. He was admitted to hospital and labelled as dangerously ill. Again in a dream he met the two men—the tall fair one and the short dark one—and he awoke to find two attendants answering to the description of his dream. From then on his condition gradually improved and within a short time he fully recovered.
In due course he graduated, and so began a long and faithful career both in New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands. In 1913 Dr Ellison married Tini, daughter of the late John Taiaroa, a rangatira of the Ngaitahu Tribe. They had two sons and one daughter, Joy. Joy became very ill with pneumonia, and her father decided to take her to the Islands where she might have some hope of recovery. He applied for the first position in the Pacific Islands that was available, and was appointed resident medical officer for Niue Island. Unfortunately, Joy died in Wellington before the doctor and his family could leave for their new home, but having accepted the new post, the doctor could not retract from taking the position in Niue. This was the beginning of a prolonged service in the tropics.
Dr Ellison was at Niue for three years as deputy resident Commissioner as well as medical officer. In 1921 he returned to New Zealand and became the Resident Commissioner, Resident Magistrate and Medical Officer at the Chathams. Two years later he was back at Otago University on a post-graduate course in surgery, and in 1925 he went first to Samoa to study tropical diseases, then to Makogai to study leprosy under a world-famous specialist on the subject. A year later, Dr Ellison was appointed Medical Officer and deputy Resident Commissioner to the Cook Islands but was recalled to New Zealand the following year and was appointed Director of the Division of Maori Hygiene.
It was about this time that his wife died, and in 1928 he married Mary, daughter of Mr and Mrs G. G. Boyd, of Puketapu, Hawkes Bay. He returned to the Cook Islands in 1931 and in 1932 he became a Commissioner of the High Court. He retired from the Islands service in 1945 but when the Second World War spread to the Pacific, Dr Ellison remained in the Cook Islands.