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The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement

Chapter XII. — Pioneer Life on The Old Frontier

page 84

Chapter XII.
Pioneer Life on The Old Frontier.

“There,” said Ninian, and pointed to the north, “is the start of what my father—peace be with him!—used to call the Wicked Bounds, where every man you'll meet has got a history, and a dagger in below his coat—Camerons, Clan Ranald's men, Clan Chattan, and the Frasers—it stretches to the Firth of Inverness for sixty miles, the way a kite would fly.”

—Neil Munro, in “The New Road.”

Looking southward across the Puniu in the Seventies and early Eighties we who were bred up on the Frontier saw a mysterious-appearing land, fascinating to the imagination because unknown—a land, too, of dread in the years of unrest, for there in the hinterland only a few miles from the border river lived Te Kooti and his band and the hundreds of Waikato dispossessed of their good lands on which we pakeha families now dwelt. As far as the eye could range it was a land altogether given up to the Kingites and the Hauhaus—an untamed country painted in the dark purple of broken mountain ranges, merging into the vague, misty blues of great distance, the sombre green of ferny hills and plains, and the yellow and white of deep flax and raupo swamps. Clear, dashing hill-streams and lazy, swamp-born watercourses, alive with eels and wild duck, all carrying down their quota to feed the silently-gliding Waipa. And over all, from Maunga-tautari's shapelessly rugged mass along the curving sector to Pirongia's fairy-haunted peaks, an aspect and air of solitude; a suggestion of mystery and waiting for the touch of man which was to transform that far-stretching waste.

The contrast! On our side the green farms of the pioneer settlers, roads, villages—each with its redoubt as a rallying-place in alarm—churches, schools—primitive schools, maybe, in the early stages—the flag of British authority flying.

So the border remained, the line of demarcation sharply defined by the confiscation boundary, the southern side inimical, sullen, waiting, for well-nigh twenty years after the final shots of the Waikato War.

Life on the old frontier, on one of the farthest-out farms, seems a kind of dream, a fabric of remembrance tinged with a faerie page 85 haze, viewed through the vista of years from these times of new interests, new manners, changed modes of thought. Memories! One strives to marshal them into some order, but the most that can be done is to recall the things that chiefly fixed themselves on the youthful mind. There was the home on the hill, on the famous battlefield, the garden with its sweet old flowers, the cherry orchard, the huge almond trees (with flat stones at their feet upon which Maori children long before us cracked those almonds)—trees grown in the old days from the Rev. John Morgan's orchard—the wild mint that grew in the tiny creek that went rippling down a swampy gully near the big acacia grove; the dam and the lake-like pond in the Tautoro swamp; and, above all, the peaches. The peaches of those happy dream-days on the old Orakau farm!—peaches vanished, a kind never to be tasted by the present generation. Orakau, Kihikihi, Te Awamutu, and Rangiaowhia were then the favoured land of the most delicious fruit that ever this countryside has known. Peachgroves everywhere, the good Maori groves, trees laden with the big honey peaches that the natives called korako because of their whiteness. Tons of peaches grew in those groves, and those wanted were gathered by the simple process of driving a cart underneath and sending one of us youngsters up to shake the branches until the cart was filled with fruit. Some of the best peaches were preserved by the housewives of the frontier in a way never seen now; they were sliced and sun-dried on corrugated iron, in the strong heat of the long days, and then strung in lines and hung in the high-ceilinged kitchen, criss-crossed in fragrant festoons, until required for pies.

As for the surplus fruit the pigs got it; many a cart-load of peaches from the groves was given to them, or they were turned out to feed on the heaps of fruit lying under the trees. Porkers fattened on peaches!

And it was curious, too, to explore some of those old groves of trees, on the crown of the farm near the road, for there the lead flew most thickly in the three days' siege of Orakau, and nearly every tree bore the curious weals and knotty growths that indicated a bullet-wound, and a search with a knife sometimes revealed a half-flattened ball or fragment of one.

There was the bush on the north, covering the greater part of the swamp between the farm slopes and the high country of Rangiaowhia; even there, in little islanded oases in the woods and the page 86 raupo marsh, were Maori peach-groves. On the south, a few hundred yards from the homestead, was the Blockhouse, with its little garrison of smart, blue-uniformed Constabulary—a tiny fort, but one that came large and grim enough on the eye of childhood.

The nearest farmer neighbour was the farthest-out settler of all—Mr Andrew Kay—and very far out and lonely his home seemed, on the verge of the confiscation boundary. Maoris were more numerous than pakehas; many a savage-looking and tattooed warrior, wearing a waist-shawl—for the Maori had not then taken kindly to trousers—called in at the home from one or other of the large villages just over the border; and native labour was employed at times on the farms.

That was long before the day of the dairy factory and the refrigerator, and while living was cheap there was little ready money in the country. No monthly cheques for butter-fat then; no competing buyers coming round for crops or stock. When a mob of cattle was ready for the market it had to be driven all the way to Auckland; and often there was mighty little profit for all the long hard work. Wheat was one of the staple crops, and in the early years it was threshed by hand with the old-fashioned flail and the grain carted to the nearest flour-mill. There was a water-mill on the Manga-o-Hoi, on the old swamp road between Kihikihi and Te Awamutu, and further south in the Waipa-Waikato country there were several wind-mills. I think I recollect two wind-mills of that old type on the road from Te Awamutu to Hamilton; one stood at or near Ohaupo.

For many a year after the War periodical scares of a Maori invasion were raised in the border settlements, from Alexandra and Te Awamutu around the confiscation line to Cambridge. The shooting of the surveyor Todd on Pirongia Mountain in 1870, the tomahawking of the farm-hand Lyon on the Orakau side of the Puniu in the same year, and the murder and decapitation of Timothy Sullivan near Roto-o-Rangi, on the Maunga-tautari side, all set alarms going. Every settler was armed, and the old Militia organisation presently was supplemented and made mobile by the formation of a fine body of frontier horse, the Te Awamutu and Cambridge troops of Waikato Cavalry. Well mounted, armed with sword, carbine, and revolver, able to shoot accurately and ride well, and thoroughly acquainted with the tracks, roads, and river fords, these settler-cavalrymen could not have been surpassed for the purposes page 87 of border defence. Formed in 1871, the troops remained in existence until the introduction of the mounted rifles system in the beginning of the Nineties, and many hundreds of young fellows passed through the ranks during that time. In the early years, when the two troops were a real bulwark for the frontier, Major William Jackson, the veteran of the Forest Rangers, commanded the Te Awamutu troop; his lieutenants were Andrew Kay and William A. Cowan (the writer's father), the two furthest-out settlers of Orakau. Captain Runciman commanded the Cambridge corps. Te Awamutu was the usual drill-ground of Jackson's troop, and the shooting-butts were on the Puniu side of the settlement.

Some of the isolated settlers supplied themselves with small armouries of weapons for defence in case their homes were attacked. In our Orakau homestead there were, beside the cavalryman's regulation arms, a double-barrel gun and a Spencer repeating carbine, a novel weapon in those days, American make; it was the U.S.A. cavalry arm. It held eight cartridges, fed in a peculiar way, by spring action through the heel of the butt.

Towards the Puniu, on a lonely hill where a few bluegums mark the site of a long-razed dwelling, there lived an old soldier who had been a gold-digger, and he devised a method of winning safety, in case of an attack, which would naturally suggest itself to an exminer. He dug a tunnel from the interior of his little house to a point on the hill-side, concealed with a growth of fern and shrubs; there he considered he could make his escape into the scrub if his assailants burned his house over his head.

There was another pioneer, a veteran of Jackson's Forest Rangers, now living in Auckland. He told me of his preparations for defence on his section, which was partly surrounded by bush, at Te Rahu, a short distance from Te Awamutu. There was an old Maori potato-pit, one of the funnel-shaped ruas, not far from the house, and this he determined in one period of alarm to convert into a little garrison-hold. He made it a comfortable sleeping-place with layers of fern and blankets, and after dark at night he cautiously retired there with his carbine and two or three other shooting-irons and plenty of ammunition, and spent the night with an easy mind. His companion was his little daughter—his wife had died—and there the pair rested till morning. To make his retreat doubly secure the ex-Ranger had dug a short tunnel from his rifle-pit, emerging in the fern, so as to have a way of retreat in case his stronghold page 88 was forced. The place was quite an ingenious little castle; and, as he said, would probably have been secure even had his home been attacked, for fern grew all about it, and was not likely to have been discovered except by a dog—and the Maoris did not take dogs with them on a raid.

The most anxious time on the frontier in the Seventies was the crisis caused by the murder of Timothy Sullivan by a party of Maoris between Roto-o-Rangi and Maunga-tautari, on 25th April, 1873. This was an agrarian murder, caused through rather careless dealings with native land; Purukutu, the principal in the crime, had not been paid for land in which he had an interest and which Mr E. B. Walker had acquired on lease, outside the aukati line. Sullivan was regarded by the Maoris as a tutua, a nobody; they were really after his employer, Mr Walker, and others, including Mr Buckland, of Cambridge. It was a savage piece of work, for Purukutu and Hori te Tumu, after shooting Sullivan—who had been at work with two companions fascining a swamp—decapitated him and cut out his heart. This was the last deed of the kind committed in New Zealand. The following account was given me by the old man Tu Tamua Takerei, who died recently at Parawera:

“Timoti [Timothy] was killed on the open plain at the foot of the hill. The Hauhaus cut off his head with a tomahawk and also cut open his body and took his heart away as a trophy of war. The head was carried to Wharepapa, where it was left. The heart was carried up country at the end of a korari stick (a flax-stalk), and was taken to a place near Te Kuiti. The slayers of Timoti intended to lay the heart before Te Paea, or Tiaho, the Maori Queen, but she disapproved their action, so the trophy was not presented to her. The taking of a human heart was an ancient custom of the Maori; it was the practice to offer it to Tu and Uenuku, the gods of war.”

This desperate deed was regarded by very many, Maoris as well as pakehas, as a prelude to war, and intense excitement prevailed on both sides of the border. The cavalry troops at Te Awamutu and Cambridge were called out for patrol duty, and the Armed Constabulary posts were strengthened. Additional blockhouses were built, one at Roto-o-Rangi and one at Paekuku, to watch the Maunga-tautari side, and a redoubt was built at the Puniu. The Waikato and Auckland newspaperswere full of war rumours; public meetings were called at Te Awamutu to discuss defence measures; and page break page break
Armed Constabulary Detachment at Orakau Blockhouse

Armed Constabulary Detachment at Orakau Blockhouse

The Te Awamutu Cavalry Band Back Row: Bandmster-Segeant H. T. Siley, J. Holden, T. Wealj Front Row: Front Row: Corporal A. H. North E. North R. Cunningha, Corporal J.Q. Tristram

The Te Awamutu Cavalry Band
Back Row: Bandmster-Segeant H. T. Siley, J. Holden, T. Wealj Front Row:
Front Row: Corporal A. H. North E. North R. Cunningha, Corporal J.Q. Tristram

page break
Mr. C. W. Hursthouse Hursthouse served in the wars in Taranaki, 1860–9, and had a very adventurous career as a Government surveyor. He was the earliest official of the King Country. See Appendices for narrative of his capture by atic, Mahuki.

Mr. C. W. Hursthouse
Hursthouse served in the wars in Taranaki, 1860–9, and had a very adventurous career as a Government surveyor. He was the earliest official of the King Country. See Appendices for narrative of his capture by atic, Mahuki.

Taonui Hikaka Taonui was a high chief of Ngati-Maniapoto and took a leading part in Kingite politics.

Taonui Hikaka
Taonui was a high chief of Ngati-Maniapoto and took a leading part in
Kingite politics.

page break page 89 all along the frontier the determined settlers were on the alert. It was many months before the alarm subsided. The fanatical-minded factions among the King Country Maoris might have succeeded in raiding some of the border farms, but no native captain was bold enough to try the experiment in the face of the vigilant watch of the well-armed, well-drilled troops of frontier horse and the numerous garrisons of Armed Constabulary.

Formidable on the youthful eye in those lively years of the Seventies loomed the Blockhouse. This was the picturesque little garrison-house which crowned the Karaponia hill at Orakau, as if guarding our homestead that stood a few hundred yards away among its groves. It was very close to the spot where the British headquarters camp had been pitched in 1864 at the attack on. Orakau Pa. The Blockhouse was a type of the border outposts built on many parts of the frontier, as far away as the Hawke's Bay-Taupo Road, in the Hauhau wars. The building was of two storeys, and its curious tall shape and its lonely stand on the hill-crest commanding a look-out over the wild Maori country southward made it the most prominent object in the landscape. On the ground floor the building, constructed mostly of kahikatea, was about 16 feet by 20 feet, with a height of 9 feet. The upper storey overlapped the lower one by about 3 feet all round, and was 12 feet high. The walls were lined, and the space between the outer wall and the lining was filled with sand to make the place bullet-proof. The palisade which surrounded the Blockhouse was 10 or 12 feet high; there was a space of 6 feet or 7 feet between it and the building. In the walls of the top storey there were loop-holes all round, breast high, three at the ends and about six at the sides; and there was also provision for firing through the projecting part of the floor. There were no rifleslits in the lower storey, but the palisading was loopholed; these firing-apertures were about 5 feet apart and breast high. The loopholes were 6 inches high and 2 inches wide, just large enough to put a rifle barrel through. In the front the palisading was double, with a curtain of timber covering the entrance. The front fence was nearly all tall manuka stakes, but the main palisading consisted of posts 10 or 12 inches in thickness; manuka timber was used to fill the interstices. On the edge of the gully at the rear of the Blockhouse the bank was scarped perpendicularly about 7 feet as an additional protection. To heighten the warlike face which this little fort presented to the world, above the narrow gateway there was page 90 set a wooden effigy of a sentry. The figure had been carved by some Maori artist; it represented a soldier, with wooden rifle and fixed bayonet, in the correct attitude of “port arms.” It gave a kind of artistic finish to the “pa o te hoia,” as the Maoris called the Block-house, and it loomed very grim and soldier-like in the eyes of us small youngsters from the Orakau farm. A tall flagstaff stood in front, and there were a potato patch and a garden plot, with all the old-fashioned flowers—sweet william, verbena, sunflower, Indian-shot, pansies, and their like. The married men of the Armed Constabulary lived outside the Blockhouse, in raupo whares, and very cleverly the pakeha learned to thatch his house. I remember the home of an Irish sergeant who lived near the Blockhouse, beside the main road; it was a snug, thatched dwelling, very neat and pretty; there was a potato patch, and there was a sweet little flower garden, and honeysuckle twined about the whare and hung over the door.

The Blockhouse stood no sieges; its loop-holes never flashed the fire of Enfield or Snider on a yelling horde of Hauhaus. But it is certain that the existence of this chain of posts along the frontier, with the vigilant patrol of the settlers' cavalry corps, prevented the hostiles from raiding across the border and descending on the out-settlements.

There were many scares, and more than once the wives and children on the scattered farmsteads were taken in to the redoubts and blockhouses for the night, while the men of the farms, with carbine and revolver, watched their homesteadsand rode patrol along the tracks leading to the Maori country and the fords ofthe Puniu.

∗ ∗ ∗

They are all gone now, those romance-teeming old blockhouses of our pioneer days. Like many other deserted posts, the Orakau building stood there on the sentry hill-top for many a year, rocking in the gales now that the protecting palisade had gone, until a Crown Lands Commissioner with no interest in historic matters sold it as mere old timber. Few people in those years possessed sufficient prescience and sentiment to help preserve for the new generation of colonists those relics of the adventurous days.

Of the redoubts, less easily demolished, a few crumbling earthworks remain here and there. One, I am glad to say, that is very well preserved is the Armed Constabulary redoubt at Alexandra— page 91 now Pirongia—garrisoned up to 1883. The village English Church stands in the centre of the work to-day. I give a sketch-plan of this last surviving example of the old frontier forts.

∗ ∗ ∗

The year 1881 saw the first definite decision for permanent peace on the part of the Maoris; it marked the nearing end of the necessity for frontier redoubts and blockhouses, and it relieved the border of the Kingite menace which had been an ever-present source of disquiet since white farmers first set the plough to the confiscated lands. Tawhiao laid down his guns at Major Mair's feet at the border township of Alexandra, and then came a peaceful though martial-appearing march of the Kingite men through the European settlements and much firing of salutes to the dead—the “powderburning of sorrow “—over the battlefields of the Sixties. Six hundred armed Kingites escorted the tattooed king and his chiefs, the lordly Wahanui and his shawl-kilted cabinet of rangatiras, on the pilgrimage to the scenes of the last despairing fights, and there were amazingly animated scenes in the outermost villages of Waikato when Tawhiao came to town, riding grimly in his buggy, and guarded front and rear by his fierce-faced riflemen. The march was by way of Te Awamutu, and the Cavalry band rode out from the township along the Alexandra Road to meet the Kingites and play them through the village. A right rousing march it was, too, for the tune the bandsmen played as they came riding in at the head of the procession was “The King of the Cannibal Islands.” It was Sergeant Thomas Gresham—then a lawyer in Te Awamutu, and afterwards coroner in Auckland—who suggested the air to page 92 Bandmaster Harry Sibley, and that grizzled veteran of the wars seized on the bright idea with joy, and chuckled into his clarionet at the left-handed compliment he was paying his olden adversary. Tawhiao himself was pleased with the liveliness of the music, and later, through an interpreter, inquired the name of the tune; and an angry man was he when he was informed that it was “Te Kingi o Nga Moutere Kai-tangata.” For that same “kai-tangata” was a tender subject; and dour old Tawhiao had no glimmering of a sense of humour.

Kihikihi settlement was given up that week to a Kingite carnival of feasting and war-dancing and speech-making, and the Maori camp at Rewi's house and in the neighbouring field rang night and morning with the musical sound of the Hauhau hymns, the service of the Tariao, the “Morning Star,” chanted by hundreds of voices. Some unconventional scenes there were, characteristic of the frontier life. For instance, there was the pakeha-Maori dance on the main road in Kihikihi that symbolised the final unifying of the two races. The dashing Hote Thompson, the King-maker's son, a fighting man of renown, paraded in all the glory of Hauhau warpaint in front of his savage-looking soldiery, and called for a pakeha lady partner to dance “te lancer” with him, and then out stepped a settler's handsome wife, and the accomplished Hote led her through the mazes of the lancers in the middle of the crowd on the dusty road with as much grace as if he had been young Lochinvar himself. True, Hote wore only a shawl in place of trousers, and his face was blackened with charcoal dabbed on for a haka, but none the less he was a pretty gallant. Had that pakeha dancer been a reader of Bret Harte she might have recalled the historic dance on “Poverty Flat”:

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“The dress of my queer vis-a-vis,
And how I once went down the middle
With the man that shot Sandy McGee.”

There was no law but the Maori chieftains' law south of the Puniu River until after 1883, when Te Kooti was pardoned and a general amnesty to Maori rebels was proclaimed. For policy reasons the Kingites were left pretty much to themselves for some time after Tawhiao laid down his guns at Major Mair's feet at Alexandra in 1881, and when John Rochfort and Charles Wilson Hursthouse, setting out from Kihikihi, carried flying surveys through the Rohe- page 93 potae, the state of the country from the Puniu for a hundred miles southward was not very different in essentials from that of the Scottish Highlands in the period described by Mr Neil Munro in his adventure romances that carry a tang of Stevenson's “Catriona.”

The only occasion on which an offender south of the Puniu was brought to justice before the chiefs of Ngati-Maniapoto voluntarily opened the country to Government authority was in 1882, when a long-wanted man was brought into Te Awamutu under circumstances unorthodox and dramatic. The Maori was Winiata, who in 1876 killed a man named Packer, at Epsom, near Auckland. Packer and Winiata had been fellow-servants in the employ of a Mr Cleghorn, and had quarrelled. Winiata, after tomahawking Packer, fled to the King Country, and for six years was safe. At last the Government reward of £500 tempted a big half-caste named Robert Barlow to make an effort to bring in Winiata. The arrest was accomplished as the result of a scheme devised by the Te Awamutu policeman, Constable R. J. Gillies—a very smart and capable man, afterwards Inspector of Police—and Sergeant McGovern, of Hamilton. At Otorohanga Barlow met Winiata, whose home was at Te Kuiti, and, pretending to be a pig-buyer, set about bargaining with the wanted man. In the night he succeeded in making Winiata and two companions drunk, and about midnight lashed him to a spare horse, after taking a revolver from him, and made off for the Puniu. It was an exceedingly risky undertaking, for Barlow would have been shot had any of the Maoris been at all suspicious. He took the prisoner to Kihikihi, and with the assistance of the Constabulary handed him over to Constable Gillies at Te Awamutu. He received the reward of £500, with which he bought a farm at Mangere. Winiata was tried and convicted, and was hanged at Auckland on 4th August, 1882. As for Barlow, he did not live long himself; he died in a very few years after his King Country feat, and the natives declared that he had been fatally bewitched (kua makuturia) by a tohunga in revenge for his capture of Winiata.

Another incident that greatly excited the frontier was the capture and imprisonment of Mr Hursthouse and a fellow-surveyor by the fanatic Te Mahuki, or Manukura, of Te Kumi, near Te Kuiti. This was in 1883. The surveyors were released by Te Kooti and friendly-disposed King natives. Soon thereafter Mahuki and a band of his “Angels” rode into Alexandra, which they had threatened to loot and burn; but they were smartly arrested by Major Gascoyne page 94 and a force of Armed Constabulary and Te Awamutu Cavalry, and were haled off to Auckland prison.*

∗ ∗ ∗

A wilderness that vast country of the Rohepotae lay for many a year. The cultivations of the Maoris, even the fields of wheat and oats around such settlements as Araikotore—the patriarchal Hauauru's village—or the large patches of potatoes and maize at Tokanui and Tokangamutu—it is Te Kuiti to-day—gave but scanty relief from the general impression of an unused virgin expanse of fern prairie and woody mountain land. At Otewa, on the Upper Waipa, lived the notorious and dreaded Te Kooti, in outlawed isolation far from his East Coast birthland, ever since his final skirmish with Captain Preece's Arawa force in the Urewera Country in the beginning of 1872. Not until after John Bryce's peace-making with him at Manga-o-rongo in 1883 did the white-haired old cateran venture out into the pakeha settlements.

Then miles away to the west, on the beautiful slopes of Hikurangi, giving on to the fertile basin of the Waipa and overlorded by the Pirongia Range, there was the great camp of King Tawhiao and his exiled Waikato, several hundreds of them, looking down with many mournings on the good lost lands and the lost battlefields of the Sixties. Later, they moved down to Te Kopua, yonder by Kake-puku's fern-shod heel, and then to Whatiwhati-hoe, the Place of the Broken Paddles, on the level banks of the Waipa. In the mid-Eighties they migrated in their canoes, a picturesque tribe-flitting, past Pirongia, down the Waipa and down the Waikato, back to their old ancestral homes, or what was left of those homes, on the west side of the Lower Waikato. But they never had a more lovely or more inspiring home in all their wanderings than those sun-bathed slopes of rich volcanic land on the high shoulder of Hikurangi, where the road to-day goes over the range to Kawhia.

Now the once wild country across the border has become the highway of the motor-car, has become dotted with scores of lively European settlements, with large towns with electric light and asphalted footpaths, churches and police stations, tennis lawns and bowling greens, stock sale-yards and all the other varied furnishings of an advanced day. Hauhauism is a far-off tale of the past; descendants of old king-like Wahanui and the one-time followers of page 95 the Pai-marire and Tariao fanatic faiths have fought beside Waikato and King Country white soldiers on the fields of Gallipoli and France. Yet the names of the old trail-breakers, the stories of the heroic missionaries, soldiers, surveyors, road-builders, should not be forgotten by those who look out from their carriage windows or their cars or from their comfortable farmhouses on this wellfavoured land of the Waipa slopes and the old Aukati frontier.

* For further details of these episodes see Appendices.