Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Old Whaling Days

The Introduction

The Introduction.

The recovery by Mr. McNab of the series of five letters written just eighty years ago by one of the shore whaling party at Moturoa, or the Sugar Loaves, New Plymouth, and published in the “Sydney Monitor” of April 10th, 1833, and succeeding issues, is of more than passing interest, interwoven as the story is with the history of the whole south-west coast of the North Island. The letters describe the closing scenes of the long blood feud between the Waikato-Maniapoto and allied tribes and the Ngati-Awa—Ngati-Tama—Taranaki combination. For generations, these tribes had been warring against each other, and in a general summing up, as long as the old Maori weapons were in use, honours may be said to have remained even. But the advent of the Pakeha musket altered all page 39 this. Armed with the new weapon, the Rarawa, Ngapui, Ngati-Whatua and allied peoples of the extreme northern portion of New Zealand, better known as the Bay of Islands tribes, started out in the early years of the 19th century on a series of sanguinary raids against the unarmed—that is without firearms—tribes to the south. These in their turn, seeing that the non-possession of muskets spelt, sooner or later, extermination, strove with might and main to become possessed of such, and fabulous prices were given to the traders by way of exchange in flax and other commodities, by the natives, for these coveted articles, and often it was discovered that a useless article had been pawned off on the unsuspecting Maori by the unscrupulous trader. Once possessed of firearms they in their turn pressed south and ever south, and thus it came about that the famous warrior and diplomat, the most able Maori leader of his day and generation—Rauparaha—seeing clearly what would happen if he remained at Kawhia, promptly decided to move south and conquer fresh lands, rather than be overwhelmed by the great tribes to the north and east who were already on the move to compass his destruction. Accordingly, he and the whole of his people set forth on that heke or migration, which shows us the abundant resourcefulness, courage and craftiness of the man more than any other incident in his long and enterprising career. For particulars of this heke, and his story generally, we refer those interested to the “History of the Taranaki Coast,” published by the Polynesian Society. Rauparaha, who was connected with the Ngati-Awa and Taranaki people, induced many of these to join him in his migration, and as the story of his successes came to be told, heke after heke followed in the wake of the first, until but a remnant of the once most numerous and warlike tribes of northern Taranaki—Cape Egmont to Mokau—remained. Thus weakened, the country fell an easy prey to the Waikato combination, who, besides greatly outnumbering the Taranaki people, were armed almost to a man with firearms, while the local tribes were poorly page 40 supplied with muskets, and were dependent almost entirely upon the old Maori weapons of wood and stone.

The letters open with an account of the siege and capture by the Waikato of the great fighting pa of Puke-rangiora, on the Waitara River, and the accompanying horrors of lust and cannibalism. This was one of the most momentous events and the greatest disaster that ever happened to the Taranaki people, resulting eventually in the practical abandonment of the whole coast from Mokau to Patea. Flushed with success and overburdened with human flesh, upon which they fed unstintedly, the great taua, or war party, moved on to Nga-Motu—The Sugar Loaves—twelve miles distant, with the avowed object of capturing and devouring the remnant of the tribe sheltering at that settlement, and also of the Europeans who were working a whaling and trading station at that place. This station had been established in 1828 or early in 1829, and at the time of the siege—February 1832—was under the direction of John Love, or Akerau, as the natives called him, with Richard Barrett, so well known through Wake-field's description of him in his “Adventures in New Zealand,” as second in command. The letters tell the story of the three week siege with a vividness and reality that could only be infused by one taking an actual part in its varying fortunes. The final success lay with the Nga-Motu Natives and the whalers, but the impression made by the fall and dreadful slaughter at Puke-rangiora and by their knowledge that the enemy would inevitably return, better armed and in larger numbers, to take utu or revenge for their losses in the siege, determined the remainder of the Ngati-Awa people to migrate south and join forces with their tribesmen and allies under Rauparaha and other noted leaders in the neighbourhood of Kapiti and Port Nicholson. Accordingly in the following June practically all that remained in North Taranaki joined forces near to what is now the Sentry Hill Railway Station, and marched to the number of over two thousand men, women and children through the forest at the base page 41 of Mount Egmont, coming on to the coast again at Hawera, and thence on through many dangers and much fighting to their destination. This heke or migration is known as “Tama-te-Uaua.” For a full and graphic description of which see page 488 of the “Maori History of the Taranaki Coast,” already quoted. This migration left North Taranaki practically deserted, save a miserable remnant who sheltered on the Sugar Loaf Islands. Its great pas and numberless plantations and gardens speedily fell into decay and ruin. To quote the words of Ihaia Te Kiri-Kumara, a leading Ngati-Awa chief, “All was quite deserted—the land, the sea, the streams, the lakes, the forests, the rocks, the food, the property, the works; the dead and the sick were deserted; the land marks were deserted.”

The names of the traders who assisted in the defence of Nga-Motu Pa were:—

  • John Love (Haki-rau), the leader of party.

  • Richard Barrett (Tiki Parete).

  • Billy Bundy (Piri).

  • John Wright (Harakeke).

  • —Bosworth.

  • Wm. Keenan.

  • Daniel Hy. Sheridan (Tami-rere), the historian of siege.

  • George Ashdown.

  • —Lee (E'Tori) the negro cook.