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Tommy Chaseland (c. 1800–1869)

by Lynette Russell

This article was published:

Tommy Chaseland (c. 1800–1869), sealer, whaler, and expatriate, was born in the late 1790s or early 1800s, probably at Port Jackson, New South Wales, only son of Englishman Thomas Chaseland (Chaseling), convict, and an Aboriginal woman whose name is not remembered. Some sources suggest that his mother was Goomeereewah (Gooreedeeana), an Eora woman, and that he had an older sister, Maria (1794–1853). His father had been convicted of theft in England in 1791 and transported to Australia in 1792. Thomas Chaseland was pardoned in 1801 and moved to Windsor in the Hawkesbury region where, with Mary McMahon, also known as Margaret McBland, a fellow ex-convict, he established a farm and fathered five children. Tommy was raised in his father’s household.

As a teenager Tommy was sent to work in the shipping yards of the Hawkesbury River. It is not known for how long or for which shipping merchants he worked; however, the proximity of his father’s home to the shipping yards and his later skills as a seaman suggest that he was well trained in the craft of shipbuilding and sailing. In 1817 he signed on to the Jupiter, a brig out of Calcutta, and headed to Bass Strait and the sealing grounds off Van Diemen’s Land, his mixed heritage no obstacle to securing a position. Despite greatly depleted stocks—the result of fifteen years of relentless slaughter—sealing remained a popular activity at this time. He returned to Sydney on board the Frederick in 1818. Life at sea must have appealed to him as he quickly joined the King George bound for the Marquesas and nearby islands to secure a cargo of sandalwood and pork.

In 1819 Chaseland joined the brig Governor Macquarie that was bound for New Zealand and Otaheite (Tahiti) to collect seal skins and sandalwood. Later the brig spent seven months on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, gathering seal and kangaroo skins and salt. He joined the sealing vessel the Glory in 1820. Two years in the southern waters followed. In 1822 he joined the St Michael, sailing towards Tonga to whale in the Pacific Ocean. It is likely that his strength and skill impressed the ship’s master, Captain John Beveridge, as he sailed again the following year as second mate.

On the ocean Chaseland shared quarters with sailors from the Pacific Islands, including New Zealand, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, as well as the Sandwich Islands, the Marquesas, and Tahiti, acquiring new skills, and learning new languages. In 1823 he acted as a Māori interpreter. The following year he joined the Nereus, sailing out of Sydney for the southern whaling and sealing grounds of New Zealand, where he decided to remain.

New Zealand was largely a Māori world at this time: Europeans numbered in the hundreds and lived in isolated pockets in the far north or deep south. Chaseland settled on Rakiura (Stewart Island) and formed a relationship with Puna, a high-ranking Ngāi Tahu woman who was the daughter of a prominent leader, Koroko, and the sister of Chief Taiaroa. In 1835 Chaseland and James Brown harvested eleven whales in seventeen days at Mataura River, one of several small whaling stations in the Southland region. Edward Shortland, administrator and scholar, described it as ‘the greatest feat of the kind ever performed in the country’ (Shortland 1974, 145), but Chaseland and Brown did not have enough casks to contain the oil and most of it was lost.

Chaseland moved frequently among the whaling stations as his skills were in high demand. In 1837 he was recorded as the headman at the Preservation Inlet station, on the south-western corner of the South Island. On 24 April 1838, storekeeper and diarist Octavius Harwood made a notation in his journal that whaling gear was issued to him, along with one week’s provisions to his gang. Chaseland, being illiterate, marked the receipt with an ‘X.’ In 1842 he was recorded as working at Jackson Bay (Okahu) on the southern west coast of the South Island. The next year he was engaged by Shortland, who was undertaking a population census of the southern whaling stations, as the pilot of the ship Scotia. In 1844 he was the manager of Johnny Jones’s whaling station on Moturata Island, off the coast of Taieri Mouth. Four years later he was on the payroll of the Tautuku whaling station. During the 1850s he worked mainly for himself, sometimes sealing and sometimes as a pilot, most notably for the Acheron, when he was hired by Captain John Lort Stokes to assist with survey work.

Puna worked alongside Chaseland, sometimes travelling with him on sealing voyages that could be dangerous. After narrowly surviving a shipwreck on the Chatham Islands that left many others dead, they built a boat and sailed back to the mainland, Puna sitting ‘in the bow … karakia-ing [praying] to keep the storm down’ (Beattie n.d., 227). Their relationship had been solemnised by Rev. James Watkin at Waikouaiti on 14 August 1843. Following Puna’s death in 1850, Chaseland married a young Māori woman, Pakawhatu (Margaret Anthony), at Ruapuke Island on 15 August 1850. They would have six children: Maria (b. 1852), Thomas (b. 1854), John (b. 1856), Caroline (b. 1861), William Henry (b. 1864), and Margaret (b. 1866).

Considered ‘the best whaler in New Zealand’ (Shortland 1974, 153), Chaseland was said to have extraordinary eyesight, being able to see ‘land when fully thirty miles from it’ (Howard 1940, 392). A man of great strength and size, he had a prominent scar down the left side of his face. By Māori he was known as Tame Titirene. Tame was the Māori word for Tom or Tommy, and Titirene may have been a rendering of the sounds of citizen. Despite having a reputation as an ‘inveterate … drunkard,’ he was apparently ‘a universal favourite’ (Shortland 1974, 153) among Māori. This was due to his ‘excellent temper,’ for unlike many other sealers and whalers, Chaseland was ‘never … quarrelsome’ (Shortland 1974, 153). Yet, a story recorded by Herries Beattie in the early twentieth century depicted him as capable of great violence. Following a raid by Māori on a sealing station occupied by Chaseland, it was said that ‘he became a frenzied fiend. Among his other acts he seized a child, Ramirikiri, whose father and mother had been killed, and dashed her head on a rock and left her for dead’ (Beattie 1919, 219). However, Ramirikiri did not die and in her old age she would ‘tell Chaseland what a savage brute’ he had been and ‘rebuke him for his part in the massacre’ (Beattie 1919, 219–20). According to Beattie, ‘Chaseland did not like it but he had nothing to say in self-defence’ (Beattie 1919, 220).

Chaseland died on 5 June 1869 on Rakiura. An active participant in the new social structures that emerged from the establishment of European colonies in the antipodes, especially the maritime industries of whaling and sealing, he built a life in Aotearoa, where his Aboriginal identity did not hinder his opportunities and perhaps even helped him to be accepted in a Māori world. He is remembered in New Zealand as a legendary figure after whom Chaslands, a location in the Clutha District, Otago, and Chasland’s Mistake, a prominent headland on the south-east Otago coast, are named.

 Lynette Russell’s Aboriginal ancestors, through her father's mother, were born on the Wotjabaluk (Wergaia) lands of Western Victoria.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Beattie, J. H. ‘Casual Allusions to the Whalers Made by the Maoris in Interviews Given to Herries Beattie between 1900 and 1950.’ James Haeries Beattie Papers, MS-582/G/9. Hocken Archives, Dunedin
  • Beattie, J. H. ‘Traditions and Legends Collected from the Natives of Murihiku.’ Journal of the Polynesian Society 28, no. 112, part xi (1919): 212–25
  • Hall-Jones, John. ‘Chaseland, Thomas.’ Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed 11 May 2021. Copy held on ADB file
  • Howard, Basil H. Rakiura: A History of Stewart Island, New Zealand. Dunedin: A. H. & A. W. Reed for the Stewart Island Centennial Committee, 1940
  • Russell, Lynette. ‘“A New Holland Half-Caste”: Sealer and Whaler Tommy Chaseland.’ History Australia 5, no. 1 (2008): 08.1–08.15
  • Shortland, Edward. The Southern Districts of New Zealand: A Journal with Passing Notices of the Customs of the Aborigines. Christchurch: Capper Press, 1974

Additional Resources

Citation details

Lynette Russell, 'Chaseland, Tommy (c. 1800–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2022, accessed online 12 July 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Chasland, Tommy
  • Chasling, Tommy
  • Cheslin, Tommy
  • Chaslin, Tommy
  • Chaisland, Tommy
  • Cheeseling, Tommy
  • Titirene, Tame

c. 1800
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


5 June, 1869 (aged ~ 69)
Stewart Island, New Zealand

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.