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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter XVII — Ngaruawahia

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Chapter XVII

It was a strange sensation to arrive at Ngaruawahia by train. The little modern European town has assumed, in spite of official decision, the name of the old Maori capital. For some time after the war it was attempted to call the place Newcastle, in honour of the late Duke of Newcastle, who at the outbreak of the war was Secretary of State for the Colonies, but usage was too strong, and the name is now dropped.

My first visit to Ngaruawahia took place on a Sunday in March, 1861, when Mr. Ashwell went to hold service there, and this is how I described it, in a letter written at the time. "The village consists of a few huts, built between the Waikato and the Waipa: the most conspicuous objects are—a large flagstaff, which is looked upon as the bulwark of Maori liberty, a large barnlike building, which is the royal residence, and a very curious black and white wooden structure, which is poor old Potatau's tomb. We found a large number of natives there; Wi Kumete, a brother of Potatau, had just returned from Taranaki with a large party: the English accounts had reported him killed. Upon this he was very merry, and told us he had unexpectedly come to life again. Tamati Ngapora, the peacemaker, was there, and told us his eye could not see Wi page break
Photo by Mr. BeattieNgaruawahia

Photo by Mr. Beattie

page 293Kumete until he promised not to return to the fight. Service was held in the King's house: it is like all Maori houses, without either-chimney or partition inside, but the walls are neat and pretty, covered with white and black raupo, woven into a sort of pattern, like a cane-bottomed chair. Mr. Ashwell read the prayer for the Queen, to which there was a very hearty Amen! Matutaera, the King, was kneeling next to him. Mr. Ashwell preached a most severe sermon against the war, and pitched into Wi Kumete and his friends. They took it very kindly and good-humouredly, and brought us a large melon to refresh ourselves with. Wi Kumete said Mr. Ashwell had better give him a Prayer Book to help him to remember the sermon."

In the modern town of Ngaruawahia there is little to remind the visitor of its former appearance. The tomb of Potatau alone stands, solitary and undisturbed, as a memorial of its former greatness, but at the great Runanga house, the historical flagstaff and all other Maori houses are gone, and are replaced by railway stations, hotels, and the modern houses of European settlers. The Ngatihaua settlement on the bank of the Horotiu, as they called the Waikato, had disappeared, and instead of the canoe ferry, by which man and horse used to pass, there was an iron railway bridge. The beauty of the two rivers remains unspoiled. The clear rush of the torrent of the Waikato, which joins the dark and placid page 294waters of the Waipa, and the picturesque and wooded banks which border the windings of the latter river remain, and the green meadow at the junction of the waters on which we used to land. Marks of civilization, however, have stamped themselves on both streams: butter factories and flax mills detract from the solitary and savage isolation which the views on these rivers in former times presented.

We spent the afternoon in wandering about the picturesque little town, and seeing the process of making the New Zealand butter, out of the milk produced by the dairy farms of Waikato; nearly all of it is exported to Great Britain, where it commands in the market a price scarcely inferior to that of the best Danish butter. It was strange to partake of an ordinary dinner in an ordinary hotel, and to go to sleep in an ordinary bed, instead of enjoying the warm and profuse hospitality of the native oven and the bed of fern. It had been arranged by the Government with Mahuta, son of Matutaera the Maori king of former days, and grandson of Potatau, whom I had known as a little boy at Mr. Ashwell's school, that we should be carried from Ngaruawahia to Waahi in a Maori canoe. A party was sent to Ngaruawahia by Mahuta to welcome and take charge of us. It consisted of a chief named Ehau, a lame man, a Tohunga of great repute among the Maories, with two others, who were to take charge of the canoe. The canoe was a new page 295one, more than seventy feet in length, and about three in beam; it had been cut out of the trunk of a white pine, a few months before, on the slopes of the ranges on the western bank of the Waipa river, and was named "Tangi-te-Kiwi" (the Cry of the Kiwi) after the first words of an old song still often used in dragging canoes from the forest, in which the director of the work calls to his men such cries as "Ka Tangi Te Kiwi" (the Kiwi cries), to which they reply in a great chorus, "Kiwi." Then "Ka-Tangi-te-Moho," "Mono," and so on. The architect and principal owner of the canoe was an old chief of Ngaruawahia, and it was manned by fourteen Maories.

We all embarked at about half-past eight on the following morning, from the green bank of the Waikato, just above the junction of the two rivers, where I had so often landed and embarked long ago. Our official conductor, Ehau, could not go with us, having received news of the death of one of his relatives, and the canoe was taken charge of by a stalwart chief, Hori te Ngongo, the son of my old friend Te Oriori, long since deceased. The Tangi-te-Kiwi was pushed out into the rapid current, and was soon speeding smoothly and swiftly down the broad river.

It was a beautiful summer morning, the forestclad ranges of the hills on the left bank rose clear above the willow and acacia clumps that now fringe and obscure the banks of the river.

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Hori te Ngongo stood amidships, giving the time to the paddlers by voice and gesture, and breaking from time to time into one of the old Maori songs of ancient days. One of these songs had been composed in 1863, in special reference to myself, and the Mangatawhiri creek, which was the frontier between the King and Queen's dominions in those days. As the canoe approached native settlements on the banks, the song about me was chanted in louder tones, or my name was called out to the people, who replied by the waving of shawls and cries of welcome, "Haere Mai, Haere Mai." We passed Hopu Hopu, where Mr. Ashwell's boys' school was formerly stationed, and where I had taught Tamihana's son. The school had gone, but it is still a mission station, at which a native clergyman is stationed.

I could not make out the former settlement of Kahumatuku; whether it was hidden by the weeping willows or whether, as was more probable, it was altogether abandoned I cannot say. This village was only a mile above Taupiri, and was one with which I had been especially familiar; it was there I first preached a Maori sermon. It was the headquarters of a small section of the Waikato tribe, numbering only fifty or sixty men, scattered over a wide extent of country, reaching as far north as Paetai, and south as far as Whatawhata on the Waipa, and everywhere intermixed with larger and more powerful tribes. Hona, the head chief of the tribe, had been an assessor page 297under Mr. Fenton, but after Mr. Fenton's schemes had been abandoned by the Government, Hona had joined the King party, and had built himself a house near Ngaruawahia to lodge in during the national assemblies, in which he took as great a part as his abilities and station permitted. For a long time, his tribe had been engaged in litigation with the Ngatimahuta, the tribe royal, concerning the right to an eel weir at Paetai, and in the beginning of 1862 the cause came on for trial. The powerful Ngatimahuta insisted upon having their blood relations, the Ngatimaniapoto, as judges. Tamihana, who was related to Hona's tribe, demurred, and proposed one of the Hauraki tribes as being really neutral, but his advice was not listened to, and when the trial took place he refused to be present. The eel weir was adjudged, as every one expected, to the Ngatimahuta: whereupon Hona and his tribe renounced their allegiance, handed over their King's flag to the royal army, and wrote to ask me, as an old friend, to come and establish the "new institutions" amongst them.

I went down from Te Tomo to Kahumatuku, where they held a meeting, and stated their requirements. They demanded two magistrates, two wardens, five policemen and a secretary, in all ten officers, for the government of fifty persons. They were very angry when their demand was refused: they said they were treated much less favourably than other tribes had been, and they page 298particularly instanced Te Wheoro's tribe at Te Kohikohi, which they said was smaller than their own. They farther asked to have the right of carrying the inland mails transferred from Taati to them. They asked to have a Queen's flag given them to flaunt in the faces of the King's natives as they passed by on the river: and finally by way of taking revenge for the loss of the Paetai eels, they proposed to sell an acre-and-a-half of land to a Pakeha trader who had resided for some years at Kahumatuku.

Disappointed at the coldness with which their newborn zeal for the Queen was received, they resolved to make application in other quarters. Hona went down to the Commissioner of the Lower Waikato, and told him that his tribe lived partly in the Upper, partly in the Lower district; they all objected to be included in the former, but all wished to be in the latter. Thence Hona went on to Auckland to see what effect he could produce on the Government. His conditional loyalty was accepted, the Government made the arrangements desired, and Hona and his friends became salaried officers of the Queen.

A month afterwards, to Hona's great disgust, the Lower Waikato district was placed under my charge, and I was in a position to note the way in which Hona carried out his duties. Against the King party he was utterly powerless. A resolution had been lately passed at Ngaruawahia to augment the King's scanty revenue by laying page 299a poll tax of £ 1 yearly upon all Pakehas living on native territory. One of the first persons upon whom an attempt was made to collect this tribute was Hona's trader; the native magistrate and his friends made a great fuss about the insolence of the King party, and bragged about the resistance they would make to any attempt to enforce the payment of the tax, but when a canoe full of men came down from Ngaruawahia headed by a young chief, who quietly stated that his instructions were to take £ 1, or £ 1 worth of goods from the trader's store, and that he should do so, Hona knocked under, and told the European that the best course would be quietly to pay the money. Nor was Hona more successful in attaining his desire to carry Her Majesty's mails. Taati's Runanga had decreed that no one other than a King's soldier should be allowed to carry the Queen's mail. Even a young Rangiaowhia chief who presumed, in defiance of the law, to be carrier, was stopped at Ngaruawahia, had his bag taken from him and given to a soldier to carry on to Auckland, and was himself sent back home. The natives asked, what did it matter to the Government who carried their mail, as long as the mail was regular? Government had better be content, and not give themselves unnecessary trouble.

During the whole time that Hona was a Queen's officer, he attended native meetings, visited Ngaruawahia, appeared to be on good terms with the page 300disaffected natives, and never so far as I know did the slightest service in return for the salary he received. At the outbreak of war he went down the river with some of his tribe and lived at a village called Cameron Town, about eight miles below Mangatawhiri. There Mr. Armitage, formerly Commissioner of Lower Waikato, who had again become Hona's superior officer, lost his life in an ambuscade. There was very grave suspicion that to this ambuscade Hona's tribe had been privy. Waata Kukutai accused Hona of being accessory to the death of Mr. Armitage, at which the latter took such offence that he openly renounced his allegiance to the Queen, and went again over to the King's side.

Sweeping past the shore on which the village of Kahumatuku once stood, the canoe soon arrived at Taupiri. From the high peak of Taupiri on the right bank, the once sacred mountain of the Maories, most of the timber seemed to have been cut away, and the base so sacred in former days that no traveller could proceed up the river on that shore, but must needs cross in a canoe to the left bank, was now desecrated by a railway station and cutting, and the screams and smoke of locomotive engines. On the left bank could be seen the old landing-place of Mr. Ashwell's mission station, so familiar in former days. But all the buildings of the house and mission school were gone, and the site was overgrown by a thicket of acacia trees. There were page 301a few native houses on the left bank, one of which was pointed out as the last residence of Heta, the native deacon, who had been the Bishop of New Zealand's right-hand man during the war, and had remained faithful and loyal throughout its course. He was a great friend of mine in former times, and was one of the most sincere Christians I ever met with in my life. He was my comrade in many visits to Tamihana, and his advice on native questions was always sound and good. But he had died some years before, and though he left a large family, I did not meet any of them in the course of my Waikato visit.

Soon after passing Taupiri, we observed in the distance a large canoe filled with men. It had thirteen paddles on each side, which flashed regularly in the sunlight as the canoe made its way up the river to meet us. This was Mahuta's state canoe, sent up the river to meet the "Tangi-te-Kiwi" and escort her to Waahi, where the Maori assembly was to take place. This canoe carried twenty-six paddles, and amidships stood a picturesque red-capped figure—the conductor and timegiver of the canoe. All the paddlers were magnificent specimens of athletic Maories; they were stripped to the waist, and were members of the most celebrated canoe tribe of the Waikato. The royal canoe came alongside and Mr. Fowlds, the minister, and my daughter were transferred to the canoe, which then shot away, easily page 302distancing the Tangi-te-Kiwi, and went down the river at racing speed, the twenty-six paddles keeping time wtih a precision greater than that attained by even a University crew.

I had once before in my life landed at Waahi. I was coming up the river in a "kopapa," a small canoe paddled by a single boy. Night was coming on, I was wet through, cold, and hungry. At Waahi an old woman invited me to land. She cried over my forlorn condition, took me into her house, and still weeping split a fern stick, into which she tied an eel in folds like a gigantic "cracker." This she roasted over the embers of a fire: it was the most delicious morsel I ever tasted. Strengthened and invigorated, we then set forward on our nightly voyage. On this occasion we landed in sunshine at about 10 o'clock, being greeted by a crowd of women and children, waving coloured handkerchiefs, singing songs, and crying "Haere Mai." From the shore we proceeded amidst a crowd dancing and singing around us to a great open space opposite the native houses, where chairs had been set for us and where our meeting with Mahuta was to take place.