A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History
"Auld Lang Syne"—Native Pursuits—Swift Decay.
Several settlers of thirty, and even forty years' standing yet reside in Turanga, or Poverty Bay, as it is named by Europeans; and the description given by those settlers of its condition on their first arrival is interesting and instructive. In those days the Maoris were numerous and industrious; they manufactured a variety of elegant and useful articles; their houses, sometimes handsomely carved, were of a superior description, and their war canoes were magnificent specimens of ingenuity and beauty. Eighty of those canoes, each capable of carrying from 70 to 100 men, have been counted at one time in the Waimataha river. The natives exported large quantities of prepared flax and other produce, which was disposed of to Sydney traders by the earlier settlers.
Hostilities sometimes broke out between different tribes, but the settlers were slightly affected by their occurrence, and, on the whole, the whites found the Maori was a good neighbour. At that time the morality of the natives was of a higher standard than it subsequently became, and the power of the chiefs was in the ascendant.
At a later date the influence of the chiefs declined; another species of domination arose, under which the Maoris (probably the most acute people in the world where their temporal interests are concerned) learned to prefer their rights before their duties. From this period the natives rapidly degenerated: old customs were forsaken; industry declined; and immorality prevailed where before it was almost unknown. All these causes combined, sadly deteriorated the race. By the end of 1863, the Turanga natives were a remnant of what they had been. But if they had declined, the natives still far outnumbered the whites, and had become domineering to an extent unknown before. It is true they have learned to read and write, but it is questionable if their knowledge was beneficial to themselves or their neighbours. Of their religion it is sufficient to say that whilst minutely conversant with the forms of Christianity they knew nothing of its spirit. They were even then suspicious and distrustful of Europeans, and had become what they have since (with a few honorable exceptions) shewn themselves to be—a discontented and dangerous people.