Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 10 (January 1, 1935)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 40

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

Nature's Royal Salute.

IT is really an excellent thing to have a national volcano on tap, so to say, likely to give a kind of snap to sightseeing life in our greatest National Park. Ngauruhoe cone, which was in eruption last in 1926, was fully due for another ebullition, one of those periodical little explosions of temperamental Ruwai-moko, the god of the underworld, who does not like to be forgotten entirely, but who at the same time doesn't want to hurt anybody. Really we owe a lot to old Ruwaimoko. He has done a vast amount in his time to make our island a place of interest and beauty. To him we owe Egmont, Ruapehu and scores of other lofty and shapely mountains, and hundreds of the lesser cones. And so far from being a place of dread as it was in earlier days, the volcano park is all the more attractive for the dramatic phase of activity of which Ngauruhoe is the cupola and chimney. Up to the moment of writing no human life has ever been lost on Ngauruhoe or around it. There are few other great mountains in New Zealand of which that can be said. Some of us have experienced lively hours on its slopes. But it is essentially a sightseer's safe mountain. It may make a big noise every few years, but really it doesn't mean all it thunders, and most of its occasional vigorous output of rock and ash only goes to build up its own cone.

The old South Taupo Maoris used to say that volcanic rumblings or explosions in their parts of the land often signalled the approach of some great chief, a visitor of high mana. We may take it therefore that Mr. Ruwaimoko received the news of the Duke's coming per earth radio, and so, being a loyal New Zealander, got off his royal salute early.

The Man With a Story.

Writing of old-timers sets one's thoughts back on the trail that is most fascinating, and often elusive, of all pursuits, the search for the veteran who could tell a story. But really in one's own experience it was not a search; the best stories of strange and dramatic happenings came unsought, unexpected.

There was a man who was a particular friend of mine in the Rotorua country, where he anchored after long years of roving, who had in his time seen a vast amount of wild hard life, before he used his theodolite in the New Zealand hills. The son of a professor of mathematics in a Swedish University, he went to sea and before he was eighteen he had endured enough to last most people a lifetime.

Somehow he drifted into a Brazilian slaving schooner, which was captured by a British brig-of-war when carrying a load of negro slaves from the West Coast of Africa. The slaver was taken to St. Helena, condemned and sold, and the crew were turned adrift. The youngster was marooned there with nothing whatever beyond his shirt and trousers and an old straw hat; he was barefooted. Presently he found his way, in one craft and another, round Africa to Zanzibar; there he took a job navigating an Arab dhow, a slaver again, to the South Coast of Arabia. He was as near as anything being captured again, in the Red Sea this time.

That was enough of slaving for Carl. He served in whaleships and traded with the Kanakas in the Pacific; when he came to New Zealand he was wrecked in a brigantine on the Kaipara bar. Then began his life in these parts. He was a mathematician and an expert navigator. He soon obtained a position as Government surveyor. He had a natural gift for languages; he lived with the Maoris to acquire the tongue, and he became the most learned Maori scholar I have ever known. He had learned Arabic and Hebrew besides the principal European languages, and he acquired several Polynesian dialects.

What didn't he tackle, that many-tongued (and musical withal) adventurer? He built a vessel; he was for many years Maori land purchase agent for the Government, a trusted and successful official; he managed a geyser-land publichouse; he died on his little farm on Pukekohe Hill.

Chased and Chaser—A Strange Reunion.

In my many talks with this grand old rover, scientist and philosopher, all this, a bookful of it, was gradually unfolded. But the strangest happening of all was an incident which occurred when I chanced to be staying at his hotel in 1894 or 1895. One of the guests who arrived from Auckland about the same time was a veteran naval officer, Captain Lang, of H.M.S. Tauranga (he was afterwards drowned, on the China Station). The two old sailors soon were deep in yarns of the rolling sea and the ships and men of other days. Lang mentioned that he had seen something of slaver-chasing when he was a midshipman on the West African Station, sometime before 1860.

“Why,” said my friend, cocking that keen blue gaze of his on the naval man, “I saw a bit of slave-chasing too, but I was the chased. I was one of the crew, shipped at Bahia, of a big Brazilian schooner that an English brig captured with a full hold of slaves. We were fast, but she was faster; our Spaniola skipper hove-to when she put a shot over us.”

“What was the name of your vessel?' asked Captain Lang.

“The ‘Tris,’” said the other. “The British brig that caught us and took us to St. Helena was called the ‘Cygnet,’”

“By Christmas—the ‘Cygnet’!” the Captain exclaimed. “Why, that was my ship—that was the old brig! And the ‘Iris’ was one of the slavers we nabbed. I was a youngster in the ‘Cygnet’ when we captured you. You must have been just about my age; and we turned you, adrift on the old rock. Good Lord, to think of it!”

“Old sailors are apt to meet again,” said “Taare,” in his dry way. “I had better luck on the East Coast, and I learned Arabic and Swahili there. Well, here's to our old shipmates.”