Tommy Chaseland was born circa 1797 in Portland Head, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia to Thomas Chaseling (c1772-1847) and Aboriginal Woman and died 5 June 1869 Stewart Island, New Zealand of unspecified causes.

Tommy's aboriginal mother is not mentioned in any of the documents about the family. In the book Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Oceans, 1790-1870 by Lynette Russell (2012), she states that there is a clue to the aborigianl mother's identity in the Sydney Gazette of 7 July 1805 which describes events that led to houses being burnt down near the Hawkesbury River. The arsonist was a teenage aboriginal girl who had been raised from infancy by Henry Lamb and his wife after being rescued in the bush from the body of her dead mother. The Lambs were close neighbours of the Chasling family. Due to the previous fire of the Lamb family's home, and the home where the Lamb family including the aboriginal girl had next taken refuge, they were at the time taking refuge in the home of the Chaseling family. It was recorded that the "juvenille incendiary was detected in the very act of attempting to destroy with a firebrand the premises of Thomas Chaseland."  The problem with the assertion that this girl may be the mother of Thomas's son, however, it that the newspaper reports that the aboriginal girl was "not exceeding 13 years". She was too young to be the mother of Tommy Chaseland born in about 1797 as she then would have been "not exceeding" 8 years of age.

Tommy was raised by his father Thomas and his step-mother Margaret in the family home in Portland Head. He was not, however, included in the count of children living at the home of Thomas "Chaseland" in the 1806 muster of New South Wales. This can only be because Tommy was "half-caste" and therefore of no interest to the Government of the time.

1.        As a teen Tommy Chaseland worked in the shipping yards on the Hawkesbury River, where shipbuilding was an important activity alongside the farming in the region. Ships built to undertake sealing in the Bass Strait area were being constructed there.

2.        Tommy Chaseland first appears in official records as part of a ships crew when he was about 20 years of age onboard the Jupiter, a brig out of Calcutta, leaving Sydney on 6 August 1817. He is recorded as "Thomas Chaseling, son of a settler at Windsor by a native woman" (his father, Thomas Chaseling, was a settler at Portland Head near Windsor).  The ship sailed to the Bass Strait sealing grounds off Van Diemans Land (Tasmania). Sealers were generally oaid in a share of the catch and Chaseling earnt enough money to return to Sydney from Hobart as a paying passenger on the Frederick in 1818.

3.        Chaseland next appears a crew member on the King George which sailed from Sydney in 1818. The King George was a substantial locally built ship which undertook many sealing and whaling trips as well as to the Marquesas for sandalwood.

4.        After a successful voyage to the Marquesas, "Thomas Chaselin", “Seaman”, “free by birth in N S Wales”, was aboard the Governor Macquarie on 2 October 1819 when it left Hobart for Port Dalrymple (Launceston) and Port Jackson (Sydney) and then sailed onto New Zealand and Otaheite collecting seal skins and sandalwood. Later the brig spent 7 months on Kangaroo Island collecting seal skins, kangaroo skins, and salt.

5.       The next record is of "Thomas Chaceland 23" leaving Sydney on 7 October 1820 on the Glory for Port Dalrymple on a sealing voyage. This is the record that establishes his approximate year of birth, 1797. The Glory did not return to Sydney until 13 January 1822.

6.         In June 1822 he was aboard the St Michael sailing toward Tonga to whale in the Pacific Ocean. On 9 April 1823 Chaseland was still aboard the St Michael as it sailed from Sydney to Tonga and New Caledonia again for whales to render into whale oil. Before this trip he had been promoted to second mate and is described as “born in the colony”.

7.        On 25 January 1824 he was aboard the Nereus taking convicts from Sydney and arriving at Port Dalrymple on 10 February before it left for the southern sealing grounds off New Zealand. The Nereus then left on a sealing voyage coming back to Port Dalrymple in May with seal skins and oil, but without Chaseland. There are no more records of Chaseland in or out of an Australian port. Nigel Prickett from the Auckland War Memorial Museum in his paper Trans-Tasman stories: Australian Aborigines in New Zealand sealing and shore whaling suggests that it is likely that Chaseland was left in the sealing territory of the Foveaux Strait at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. It was common for ships to deposit men in the sealing grounds. Lynette Russell, who holds the chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at Monash University, confirms Prickett’s belief from the log of the Nereus stating that Chaseling sort his discharge from the Captain of the so that he could stay and make a life for himself in Southern New Zealand and its islands.

8.      Settled on Raikura ir Stewart Island, Chaseland was the headsman on the sealing boats of Sydney merchant Robert Campbell that were operating in the Foveaux Strait in early 1826 according to the 1879 recollections of the whaler Edwin palmer made to Dunedin historian T M Hocken.

9.         On 13 January 1827 Chaseland was aboard the Glory, a ship in which Campbell had an interest, when it was wrecked at Pitt Island in the Chathams to the east of New Zealand. In a long boat the Captain and some of the crew reached the Bay of Islands at the top of the North Island of New Zealand. Chaseland and others reached the East coast of the South Island of New Zealand at Moeraki in an open sealing boat. Some of the others included Chaseland’s defacto Maori wife Mary Puna. Nigel Prickett records that Herries Beattie, a recorder of southern Maori lore, has accounts of the voyage from 2 Maori sources. In one account Puna and ‘Tame Titirene’ (Tommy Chaseland’s Maori name) are wrecked on the Chatham Islands, build a boat & put sufficient food in it, and then landed at Moeraki. Puna “was a great tohunga & pulled one of her hairs, said a karakia & put it in the sea, so they had a safe voyage”. In the second account Puna sat in the bow of Chaseland’s boat from Chatham Island “karakia-ing to keep the storm down”. The ship wreck on the Chatham Islands and the subsequent passage to New Zealand in an open boat, without mention of Panu’s part in the voyage, was also reported in a letter to the Nelson Examiner in 1844 by D Munro who had recently spent some time with Chaseland and his wife when he had been entertained with many stories of Chaseland’s adventures.

10.      Chaseland’s relations with the Maoris were not always positive however. Beattie also has a story which shows Chaseland in a very unattractive light. Chaseland was part of a sealing camp at Arnott Point on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand which had been raided by Maoris, with, according to one report, 2 sealers being killed. In retaliation Chaseland and the other sealers attached a Maori settlement further south in the area of Jackson Bay. In this attack several Maori were killed, maybe as many as 30. A child whose parents were killed was left for dead by a “beserk” Chaseland who dashed the little girl’s head on a rock. Fortunately this child survived the attack, but later in her life she reminded Chaseland of the event he had nothing to say in reply. The sealers then went further south to the area of Milford Sound and attacked another Maori party apparently killing all of them. These raids and counter-attacks between Maoris and sealers were frequent  in the 1820s.

11.      Chaseland was among the first residents at Sealers Bay on Codfish Island after the island was set aside by Maori chiefs of the Foveaux Strait for the use of sealers and their Maori wives.

12.      Chaseland was one of only 3 survivors from the wreck of the Industry on Stewart Island on 28 February 1831. The Captain of the ship, 10 seamen, and 6 Maori wives were drowned. The other 2 survivors were Chaseland’s Maori wife Mary Puna, and a seaman George Moss. Chaseland first struggled to save Puna and after getting her ashore went back to rescue others. He hit his head upon a rock and Puna then in turn needed to drag him ashore. This episode became part of a now lost Maori song. On another occasion Chaseland related how he was the only survivor of an attempted landing on a small island south of Cape Sanders.

13.         Sydney capitalists invested in whaling stations to be set up in southern New Zealand where Right whales were known to calve in the bays from April to October. Many sealers from the Foveaux Strait turned to whaling during the season, and many, including Chaseland had previous experience on sea-going whales. In 1835 Chaseland and James Brown are recorded as having taken 11 whales in 17 days at the mouth of the Mataura River. Some regarded this as “the greatest feat ever performed in the country”. The only product taken was whalebone as a lack of casks at the whaling station meant that the valuable oil was lost. Chaseland was then to play an important part in the New Zealand whaling industry until the late 1840s when due to overfishing the whales became scarce. His skills as a headsman, a pilot, a crewmember, and a manager of whaling stations were in high demand. There are many stories about his time in the industry.

14.     In 1843 he was engaged as the pilot of the ship Scotia' by Edward Shortland, in order to undertake a population census of the southern whaling stations. In 1843 Chaseland’s defacto marriage to Mary Puna was also formalised with a legal marriage performed by Rev. James Watkins. They had been together from before 1827 when they were wrecked on Pitt Island. Tommy & Mary had no children. Puna died of influenza on 6 January 1849 at Waikouaiti.

15.      Chaseland remarried in 1850 to a Maori girl, Pakawhatu (Margaret Anthony in the marriage register). The register says that he was 47 (he was about 53) and that she was 15 (she was only 13). They had 6 children.

16.      In 1851 Chaseland was pilot for HMS Acheron’s survey of the west coast sounds of the South island of New Zealand. At this time he provided information about the Maori raids and sealer reprisals of the 1820s.

17.       Chaseland was renowned for his “great size and strength”. He reached legendary status with descriptions of super-human eyesight, strength, and courage. He was also described as large and heavy with a prominent scar down the left side if his face. Despite his bulk he was described as fast and light on his feet, and a universal favourite with an excellent, unquarrelsome, temper. It was believed that his amazing eyesight was inherited from his mother an Australian “gin” (native woman). Ironically he also became legendary in relation to his appetite for alcohol, though this was no different to other men in his industry at the time. Prickett states that “he is remembered as a huge presence and character in the early contact period (with the native Maoris) in southern New Zealand”. Lynette Russell adds “although he was illiterate, his achievements were such that he remains to the present the best known sealer and whaler of the southern waters”.


Offspring of Tommy Chaseland and Margaret Anthony Pakawhatu (1837-)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Maria Chasland (1852-)
Thomas Chaseland (1854-)
John Chaseland (1856-)
Caroline Chaseland (1861-)
William Hanry Chaseland (c1864-)
Margaret Chaseland (1866-)


Footnotes (including sources)