Saturday, March 14, 2009

Penguin hunter no saint-what a mean man!

Penguin hunter no saint
By JIM CHIPP - The Wellingtonian

A reader has responded to The Wellingtonian's story about Macquarie Island penguin hunter Joseph Hatch. We posed the question: "Was Hatch a southern entrepreneur or eco-villain?"

Villain, answers Redmer Yska emphatically.

The Wellingtonian previewed Circa Theatre's latest offering Hatch or the Plight of the Penguins, examining Hatch's penguin oil enterprise, which ended with the first public environmental campaign.

"It's a great play a colourful, salty frontier story," says Yska. "Hatch embodied the rapacious spirit of the frontier one of those whaler types creating wealth and plundering resources.

"But he was also an out-and-out thug, a demagogue, a stand-over merchant and an environmental gangster. I call him a cross between Tony Soprano and Winston Peters."

Hatch was a noted orator who was able to draw a crowd and carry it with him.

Yska has written An Errand of Mercy, a book detailing his great-grandfather Jacob Eckhoff's dealings with Hatch, which ultimately ended with Eckhoff's death at sea.

In March 1890, on behalf of Hatch, Eckhoff had delivered a party of 10 Dunedin sealers to Macquarie Island to harvest penguins for their oil.

Hatch allegedly undertook to re-supply the men in three months' time, but never did. On Christmas Eve, nine months after the men arrived at Macquarie Island, a government-sponsored expedition set out from Invercargill to rescue them.

Eckhoff was pilot aboard the Kakanui, a coastal steamer totally unsuited to the southern oceans.

They recovered the men from Macquarie, but when returning, the ship was lost with 19 aboard. Eckhoff left a wife and 10 children.

"His [Hatch's] actions led to my great-grandfather's death. He is not kindly remembered in our family," says Yska.

Yska's book is available from most libraries.

Source: the Dominion Post @

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