It is unclear what kind of ship it was that Jimmy Quinn deserted off the coast of North Island that day in 1839. Most likely a whaling ship, Jimmy had decided he wanted out and disappeared into the bush of Tpiriri (Bay of Islands).
It isn’t known how long he wandered around for but he found employment splitting timber. The well built giant became well known around the place as he would spend his wages ‘knocking it down’ at the neighbouring grog shanties. It was a brave move for a deserter as these places were used mostly by whalers.
Not one to commit to things for too long, Jimmy headed north to Auckland and got a job as Governor George Grey’s gardener. He was well liked there, especially by a young Maori woman serving within the household staff. Unable to contain their need to act on their mutual attraction, they took to having intimate encounters during working hours. They soon lost their jobs surprisingly enough.
Convincing Jimmy to come with her, they head to her tribe who were making their living away from European civilization. The lifestyle seems to suit Jimmy and he settled down amongst these Maoris for the next 8 years. He learnt to speak Maori and made a living back in the bush, splitting timber. He also proved to be very useful when the Australian traders came to barter as he was able to act as a translator.
He is called ‘Waka’ by the natives as he took to canoeing very well. Within a short while, no other man could keep up with his skills on the water.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, the Chief started to view Jimmy as a threat and disliked that he was so happy amongst the people. An argument between the two erupted and Jimmy gets a bullet in the head, claiming one of his eyes but he managed to flee with his life and the bloody clothes on his back.
Always known to proudly state that he ‘was never on the broad of his back for long’ Jimmy reappeared on the American whaling ship ‘Eliza’, where he was known as Jimmy Waka. Because of his injury, he soon had the nickname of One Eyed Jimmy. When the ‘Eliza’ left New Zealand waters, he took to his feet and walked to Akaroa.
There he took up with the Akaroa Ngai Tahu before resettling in Little River. Back working in the bush, he built himself a whare. Around this time, he got married to an unnamed local woman, known simply in history as Mrs. Walker – the term Waka had been changed to Walker.
It seems they weren’t much good to or for each other.
It was reported around Coop Town that she was a shockingly bad housekeeper and Jimmy wasn’t one to keep his fists to himself when concerning her. It may not have helped that he would disappear to Christchurch with the wages to drink it away.
With the news of the discovery of gold in Otago, Jimmy travelled south to try his luck. He did very well but as per usual, his gains were wasted in the Otago Saloons. Occasionally, some of the gold he found did make the journey home to Mrs. Walker.
Restless again, Jimmy and a friend decided to head into the Fiordlands and are believed to be the first Europeans to see this region. After a good few weeks, the pair walked into Queenstown with quite a tale. I’ll let Jimmy tell you:
“We were camped out in a deep gully a little above the creek which we had been prospecting for the last three days. I could scarcely believe my eyes, for there right in front of us, standing opposite side of the gully, was the Moa bird that I had heard of from the Maoris. The Moa, I should say was about eight feet, six inches or nine feet high, and from the knee downwards you would think he had a pair of officer’s boots on, quite shiny and black…”
By the end of the night – of telling this tale around the saloons of Queenstown – Jimmy was in prison cell, arrested on assault charges. After being told he was a liar and called other nasty names, Jimmy had snapped and belted someone. Once released, he tried to get friends, both European and Maori to track the Moa down with him but no one believed him.
On the loss of his whare to fire, Jimmy headed back down south. I’m sure the Moa he had seen influenced his choice of direction. It is there, on the banks of the Ragitata River that he is found dead, an empty bottle of booze in his hand.
What happened to Mrs. Walker? She was found dead a few years later in a paddock close to Little River. Heart disease is listed down as her cause of death.
*image courtesy of http://www.fishbird.co.uk *