Formerly known as Nengone, Maré is a small island about one hundred kilometres northeast of Noumea with a population of around 6,900 people. It is part of the Loyalty Islands archipelago, which was annexed by France in 1864 and is now included in the French territory of New Caledonia.
In earlier times, George Selwyn, the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, regarded the Loyalty Islands as a fruitful area for conversion to Christianity. He first visited Nengone in 1849 and took some natives back with him to Auckland for religious instruction. In June 1852 he established a mission on the island under the supervision of the Reverend William Nihill at the sheltered cove of Netche (or Neche) on the northern coastline. A dedicated worker, Nihill learned the local language and began translating religious texts. Unfortunately he was already ill with tuberculosis when he settled in Nengone. He died at Netche in April 1855.
Sir George Grey shared Nihill's interest in the Nengone language. Among Grey's manuscripts in the Library's collection there is a large notebook in which he compiled an alphabetical list of Nengone words with their English meanings. He also owned translations of the New Testament and the Psalms into Nengone printed by the London Missionary Society.
In September 1854, after his appointment as Governor of Cape Colony, Grey donated a large collection of drawings and paintings of New Zealand and the Pacific islands to the British Museum. They included ink and wash sketches of Netche Cove and its inhabitants by the New Zealand-based artist Charles Heaphy. Although these sketches are not dated, a reference in one of Heaphy's captions to the 'residence of the Rev. Mr. Nihill' at Netche indicates that they could not have been drawn before June 1852.
Grey held on to a small number of paintings and drawings and took them with him to Cape Town. Among them was the Heaphy sketch shown here. It was returned to Auckland by the National Library of South Africa in 1998.
Of the type of native outriggers depicted in sketch, Nihill remarked in one of his journals (now in the Library's collection), 'Their canoes are not large enough or seaworthy enough to allow them to from one island to another, except when they are very near, as are Mare and Lifu. They go away with a fair wind, and if they are not lost at sea, are obliged to wait, sometimes for several months, till the wind shifts and allows them to return.'