The mystery surrounding Henry Ring’s name

04 May 2021

Researching those buried in the cemeteries of Mercury Bay, Informer contributor and historian, Meghan Hawkes, often uncovers interesting pieces of history. This is a contribution about Henry Ring, buried at the Whangapoua Cemetery.

Henry Ring lived his 70 years in absolute silence, touching those who lived at Whangapoua with his kindness and empathy. The benevolent Maori was born deaf and mute and was affectionately known as “Dummy,” the name evidently given to him by a European who adopted him as a child.  

Henry was a follower of modern ideas. He was patriotic and keen to salute the flag or curse the Boers. His shanty was immaculate inside and ship-shape outside. A powerfully built man, he was always ready to help and lend his strength. He also tended the sick, doing all that he could for those in need. Although praised and admired, Henry had his quirks. He disliked Maori customs and preferred to live in Pakeha fashion. 

When Henry became ill in 1901, he was taken to Coromandel Hospital (in Coromandel Town) suffering from an internal disease. Despite the care, his illness had gone too far and against all advice Henry crept away from the hospital and returned to his home. He quickly became worse and if it hadn’t been for his Whangapoua friends, he would have been in a desperate plight. Eventually Henry fell into a stupor before dying around 4:30pm on a Friday.   

The next day residents gathered to pay their last respects. The school flag flew at half mast. The coffin was placed in a boat which had belonged to Henry and towed down to Karaka Bay. Henry was then carried up the hill to the little Whangapoua cemetery overlooking the sea. The service was read by the village schoolmaster, as a clergyman was not available. 

Mystery surrounds Henry’s name. A source says the headland between New Chums and Whangapoua is Dummies-Motuto Point, “Dummies” being the servant of an early sawmiller at Whangapoua. The graves of both the miller and his servant are said to be located at the Whangapoua Cemetery.

There were European sawmillers in the district around the early 1830s when Henry was born, but the Ring brothers, Charles and Frederick, sawmillers at Coromandel Town before discovering gold there in 1852, didn’t come to the area until Henry was well into his forties. 

George White and his business partner, McCormack (first name unknown), were the first recorded Europeans to come to Whangapoua. The year was 1840 when Henry would have been nine years old. White and McCormack stayed for over a year trading with local Maori and felling trees. White left the area while McCormack stayed on and became involved in the kauri gum trade.

Early sawmillers at Whangapoua were Thomas Craig who arrived in 1862 when Henry was aged 39, followed by the two Christopher Atwell Harris’, senior and junior. Henry may have later been a “servant” to one of these men, but was well past childhood when they arrived. 

As well as the age inconsistencies, none of these people are buried at Whangapoua with Henry. 

The naming of Henry Ring may just be a story distorted over time. Perhaps it was a mispronunciation of his original name. George White or McCormack may have adopted and named him as a nine-year-old or there may have been an earlier, unknown European named Ring who took him under their wing. 

Henry’s headstone is one of only two still at the Whangapoua Cemetery. The inscription reads “Erected by his friends in appreciation of the sterling character of the deceased.” 

Pictured: Henry Ring’s headstone at the Whangapoua cemetery.