After the latter the Māori resident in Waitohi (Picton) moved to Waikawa, and it was soon after this that typhoid broke out amongst them. Māori oral history tells that Ropoama found a spring of fresh water and encouraged his people to use it, so ending the spread of disease. We do not have a date for this particular epidemic, as there were few written records of the Māori population at the time, and the Marlborough newspapers did not start publication until the 1860s.
Ropoama himself died in 1868, so we know the typhoid outbreak was before this time. However, an event does not have to be written down to have occurred, and it remained strong in the memories of the kaumatua and was passed down to their children and grandchildren.
In 1978, when there was a strong Māori presence in the Picton Historical Society and its President was Meteria (May) Horrey née Tonga Awhikau, the Society decided to mark this unscripted past event with a monument. At that time most people knew from their elders what had occurred, and the Society Minutes of 2 May 1978 record:
"After a discussion in Committee it was decided that subject to the approval of the land owner and the Elders of Waikawa the Society would erect a plaque on or near the site of Ropoama’s well in Waikawa where fresh water was discovered and broke the Typhoid epidemic that occurred when the Maoris shifted to Waikawa after the Waitohi purchase."
This plaque cost the Society $257 that year, a considerable sum for a small voluntary organisation.
It is believed that the actual site of the spring was on the other side of Waikawa Road from where the plaque was placed. The monument remains as the only solid reminder of the episode.
This story by Loreen Brehaut was first published in Picton in the Seaport Scene. (updated August 2020)
Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.
Further sources - Ropoama's Spring
- Whakapapa of Ropoama Te One. In Mitchell, H & J (2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, volume II: Te Ara Hou Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatu Incorporation, p.39
- Hulbert, P. (2016, August 10) Mystery surrounding monument to Maori chief in Waikawa. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
- Papers and documents relative to the Waitohi Purchase, Queen Charlotte Sound. In Mackay, A. (1849- A Compendium of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs in the South Island, Volume One
- Hōne Ropoama Te One. (updated 27-Jun-2016) NZ History online, Ministry for Culture and Heritage