The brothers, Joseph Brooks (1802-1835), George (1805-1875) and Edward (1814-1893), founded their establishment at Otago Heads in 1831, the first enduring European settlement in what is now the City of Dunedin.
Members of a wealthy land-owning family from Folkestone, Kent, they moved serially to Australia, partly to alleviate Joseph Brooks Weller’s tuberculosis. Joseph Brooks left England on 20 October 1823. He arrived in Hobart on 4 February 1824 and then went to Sydney. After 18 months he returned to England, and left there for good on 1 January 1827 accompanied by Edward. In the meantime George had already left England and arrived in Australia in March 1826. and had bought the Albion. By 1830 Joseph Brooks, Edward, George and his new wife, Elizabeth (formerly Barwise), their parents, Joseph (1766-1857) and Mary (née Brooks) (b.1779), and two sisters, Fanny (1812-1896) and Ann (1822-1887), were all in Sydney.
Development of trading
Joseph Brooks Weller interested himself in flax and timber trading at the Hokianga. In 1831 he called at William Cook’s shipbuilding settlement at Stewart Island/Rakiura to commission a vessel before visiting Otago in the Sir George Murray, reaching an agreement with Tahatu and claiming territory for William IV. He returned in the Lucy Ann with goods and gear to establish a whaling station, (it is believed with Edward) in November. George and his wife came too, or arrived soon after.
The Wellers continued to trade in flax and spars, maintaining operations at the Hokianga even as they developed Otago. At that time and throughout the decade they were the only merchants regularly trading from one end of New Zealand to the other. In January 1832, Joseph Brooks Weller bought land including the sites of the modern cities of Auckland and North Shore and part of Rodney District. A fire soon destroyed the Otago station, but it was rebuilt. Edward was kidnapped by Māori in the far north and ransomed. Whale products started flowing from Otago in 1833 where Joseph Brooks based himself and European women went to settle.
Relations with Māori were often tense, the establishment being ransacked and the Wellers keeping Māori hostages in Sydney, reverberations from earlier conflicts. ("The Sealers' War".) Joseph Brooks died at Otago in 1835, his brother Edward shipping his remains to Sydney in a puncheon of rum.
At 21 Edward became the resident manager while George maintained the Sydney end of the business. At this time there were 80 Europeans at Otago which had become a trading, transshipment and ship service centre as well as a whaling station. A measles epidemic greatly reduced the Māori population.
New fisheries were established inside the harbour and up and down the coast. The Wellers’ ships cruised beyond Australasia and they tested the tax regime preventing direct shipment of whale products to Britain.
Edward made strategic marriages to a daughter of Tahatu, Paparu, and after her death to Taiaroa’s daughter, Nikuru. There were daughters, Fanny and Nani, by each alliance.
By the end of the 1830s, exports of whale products (Southern Right Whale or Humpback Whale) were at a peak, the station taking about 300 Southern Right Whales on the first season, as was the resident European population. Anticipating British annexation the Wellers started buying land and settling it. But a sudden decline in whales saw Edward’s exit at the end of 1840 followed by the firm’s bankruptcy. He and George lived out their lives in New South Wales.
Otago, now the name of their settlement, reached a nadir in 1842 but revived, remaining the centre of port operations until after the establishment of Port Chalmers and Dunedin. As “Otakou” it is still the home of Pākehā and Māori.
- Entwisle, Peter. "Weller, Edward 1814?–1893". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
- The Weller Brothers in the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
- Entwisle, P. in Griffiths G. (ed) (1974) The Advance Guard Series 3 Edward Weller Dunedin, NZ: Otago Daily Times.
- Entwisle, P. (1998) Behold the Moon the European Occupation of the Dunedin District 1770-1848 Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press. ISBN 0-473-05591-0.