Bay where no ships has been 60 years with no name
It was almost certainly a good thing, that 60 years ago the name of the Auckland region’s first European settlement slid unnoticed into the next bay north.
Had the bay been known by a descriptive name, such as Spar Station Cove, or by any name at all, even less of the archaeology of Gordon Browne’s enterprise would have survived. The pillaging of the 155-year-old Mangawhai-built schooner Daring’s immediately her intact hull and decks were disinterred, by big, sand-shifting tides last winter, is an unwelcome reminder that civilised behaviour is not inherited, but must be determinedly instilled, generation by generation.
The first, incomplete chart made of the Mahurangi Harbour doesn’t name the bay so much as label the settlement in it Mr Brown’s establishment. Omitting Mr Browne’s e was the least disrespectful action of the hmss Buffalo, but while her mate F A Cudlip’s soundings survived to detail the 1891 compilation chart Mahurangi Harbour and Approaches, the spar station label didn’t, nor was the bay named. Nor was it on the 1906 chart, but the name resurfaced:
…misplaced to the north on the 1959 topo and changed to G Browns Bay, changed again to Brownes Bay in 1979, moved further into the wrong bay in 1989 where it sits today.Robert Brassey, pers. comm., 29 July 2019
Place names, first and foremost, must have utility. In the case of the spar station bay, having to describe it as bay immediately south of Brownes Bay, Mahurangi Harbour, is messy. Addressing misplaced, misspelled or wholly lacking names is, rightfully, a rigorous process. With the adoption of the New Zealand Geographic Board Act(Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) 2008, the means are provided for:
…appropriate recognition to be accorded to cultural and heritage values associated with geographic features…
Inevitably, when Europeans began charting Aotearoa, a profusion of personal names were plastered around the coastline. One of the more egregious examples is Auckland, for what was well established in te reo Māori as Tāmaki Makaurau. The Mahurangi Magazine has long argued for the let’s-meet-halfway option of the euphonious Makaurau—the desired by many part, and deemphasising the Tāmaki battleground. George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, was not unusual, as a source of New Zealand toponymy, in having never set foot in the antipodes. The then Lord Auckland’s mendacious and calamitous invasion of Afghanistan that cost 16500 lives in the infamous 1842 retreat from Kabul alone, should have led New Zealanders, long since, to jettison the name of his deservedly short-lived earldom.
Indisputably, the first duty when addressing New Zealand place-name lacunae is to address the loss of the indigenous. In the case of the unnamed, spar station cove, no historic te reo Māori option is known that might be restored. The nearest pre-European name is that of the extreme southern point of the Pukapuka Peninsula, Ōauatry Oar oh-uh—effectively, mullet point.
Lacking an indigenous name, the next duty of the geographer is to the historic. Being the first European settlement in the Auckland region narrows down the options nicely, as does the precedent of the location being marked as Mr. Brown’s Establishment by Mr Frank A Cudlip on his 1834 chart, and its subsequent iterations as G. Browns Bay and, finally, the win-some-lose-some Brownes Bay.
Had the name not been displaced one bay north, there would have been no cause to contemplate whether Brownes Bay should be revisited. But one important of the criteria for assessing a name’s suitability that would have disqualified Brownes Bay with or without an e is the existence of another location so-named in the geographic vicinity—populous Browns Bay just 26 kilometres to the south. So, given not just the opportunity but the imperative to differentiate the Brownes/Browns bays, the options are:
- reinstate the g
- spell Gordon out; or
- replace with a descriptive name.
Including first names is a toponymy no-no and generally to be resisted. And while Gordon Browne Bay would literally retain the strong link with Gordon Browne’s role in establishing the spar station, the name, if reattached to the bay, would in practice excite very little curiosity about who Gordon Browne was. The assumption would be that, like too many New Zealand place names, it simply records the name of an early—by New Zealand standards—property holder.
In contrast, if an entirely descriptive name was chosen that recorded the historical archaeology of coastal trade on the Mahurangi River, and Auckland region’s first pre-European settlement, many more people would learn about Gordon Browne the man. Spar Station Cove could do that, and Cove rather than boring Bay, to address the double-bay dilemma. Pairs of Little- and Big-this-bay-or-other are almost as banal as North and South Island. Or All Black, and its endless, breathless iterations. There are, however, generations of Mahurangi children who know the bay currently misnamed Brownes Bay as Flax Bay. Curiously, considering its historic importance in coastal trade, harakeke is totally ignored toponymically. Given that Gordon Browne’s first antipodean enterprise was procuring processed harakeke, Harakeke Bay would euphoniously echo that connection.
Cove may strike some as queer, given the low incidenceabout 1 bay in 14 officially gazetted is named something-Cove of the term’s use—there are only 58 officially gazetted, including a Bay of Many Coves, compared with the 715 bays named Bay. Counting against the term, however, is the not-infrequent small-coastal-inlet additional distinction:
…especially one having high cliffs protecting vessels from prevailing winds.
Either Spar Station Cove or Spar Station Bay would be an Improvement on no name, but, given England’s immense maritime heritage, the English language palette is astonishing small when it comes to topographical-element-names for coastal features generally, but for bays in particular.
What is unarguable is that for 60 years too long, the “bay where no ships have beenas referred to by Gordon Browne’s business partner, Captain Ranulph Dacre, the Mahurangi Harbour as a potential spar station” has also been the bay where no name has been.
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