Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 06, Issue 01, 1996

10. Brunner, Kehu and Pikiwati (and Wives) to the West Coast:

10. Brunner, Kehu and Pikiwati (and Wives) to the West Coast:

They were only back in Nelson for three months when Brunner set out again on 3rd December 1846, not accompanied by any other European, but assisted by Pikiwati as well as Kehu, and their wives. Pikiwati was also of Ngati Tumatakokiri and mokai of Motueka chiefs, and like Kehu, had been in the employ of Europeans since at least 1842. He had been known as Sylvanus Cotterell's "Man Friday" and in November 1842 had been his guide on a major journey of exploration from Nelson to Tophouse, down the Wairau Valley to the coast and south to the Clarence River. Two months later, in January 1843, Pikiwati led Cotterell to 'discover' Lake Rotoiti and the Buller outflow; they also tramped to the head of the lake and up the Travers River for some distance before climbing to the ridge of the eastern range, to find only mountains all around and not the great plains which Cotterell was seeking. Cotterell was killed at the Wairau Affray in June 1843 and Pikiwati had apparently been devastated by the death of his mentor and friend at that tragedy. Pikiwati then became Williams Fox's guide on some of his early journeys of exploration.

Brunner arranged for the men to be paid £5 for their services and they were supplied with outfits and stores for the journey, but he was not happy about being accompanied by the wives who would also have to be outfitted and fed. However, he was given no choice in the matter. We have not been able to discover any further details about these women. 18

The intention of this journey was to reach the furtherest point of the February expedition in the Matakitaki district, and proceed from there to find a route down the Kawatiri to its mouth, retrace the coastal route south to Arahura again, and from there as far into South Westland as possible. This turned out to be the most rigorous of all expeditions ever undertaken in the colonial exploration of this country. Despite having the assistance of a mule to reach Rotoiti it took six months for them to reach the mouth of the Buller. Brunner's accounts record with great admiration the Maoris' ingenuity at net-making, rapid construction of water-tight bark shelters, river-crossing, fishing, eeling, bird-snaring and raft construction. Again they used the shelters previously built by Kehu and friends in 1845, and the canoe which was still safely hidden at Lake Rotoroa. Despite the Maoris' skills there were many periods during which they almost starved; at one stage (May 1847) they were so desperate for food that Brunner's dog had to be sacrificed. On other occasions Brunner was utterly frustrated when Kehu would get onto a good run of eels and refuse to budge, sometimes for days, until he had caught every last available fish. The Maori sometimes quarrelled among themselves; one of the women was stricken by the taipo (evil spirits) and was missing for a time; all got cramps and other afflictions. Brunner noted how his companions became disgruntled by the stresses and demands of their situations but that

"…I had trouble with all but my own native Kehu. "

page 12

It was July before they reached Taramakau, and Kehu and Pikiwati refused to travel any further south; probably for them, this was another homecoming of sorts. Brunner was forced to wait three months before any of the local Poutini chiefs were prepared to guide him south; in October he set out with three of them. While at Okarito Brunner noted that the chief, Tuhuru, who had been captured by Niho 16–17 years earlier was now at that place:

"…also took Tu Uru, the chief, prisoner, whom he has since released to return here to work the greenstone for him. " 19

Brunner got as far as Paringa where a serious injury to his ankle forced him to recuperate for a period and then return north. It was Christmas Day 1847 (over a year after leaving Nelson) that Brunner arrived back at Mawhera where he had a further wait of about 10 days for Kehu who had gone fishing with the locals.

Again Brunner wished to cross the Alps to Canterbury and again Kehu refused. Kehu and Pikiwati also refused to take the easier route back to Nelson via the coast to Buller, Te Tai Tapu and Aorere. They argued that to do so would place the lives of all in jeopardy, given that their wives were runaway slaves and would be recognised at the Rarua and Atiawa kainga they would have to pass through on that route. Eventually they travelled for the first 60 miles by another new route (for Brunner, that is), which was via the Upper Mawhera valley. Brunner was most impressed with the hospitality and kindness of the Poutini Ngai Tahu; despite his having nothing left in his stores to reward them with, these people took him several miles up the Mawhera River to the limit of canoe travel, and then presented him with half of their tobacco stores as a farewell gift. As they passed Kotukuwhakaoho he noted

"This is the place where Kehu, my lad, lost his father and was taken prisoner himself by the Ngaitahu tribe." 20

Eventually they came to the Inangahua where they re-entered the dreaded Upper Buller Gorge where the party faced further cycles of feast and famine; they were near to starvation in late February, but then on March 1st they had 54 eels, each an average 31bs in weight, all of which Kehu insisted they carry with them….and then four miles on he found another eel-hole where

"…nothing would induce him to pass it. "

Pikiwati became lame for a period and then in mid-April Brunner suffered a severe stroke and was paralysed for a time, with lasting defects in his vision and balance as well. Were it not for Kehu and his wife, Brunner would have surely died:

"Kehu refused to leave me, but Epike and his wife started forward by themselves. I received great kindness from Ekehu and his wife for the week I was compelled to remain here; the woman kindly attending me, and Ekehu working hard to obtain food for us all, always pressing me to take the best, and frequently telling me he would never return to Nelson without I could accompany him. "

During their enforced delay as Brunner slowly recovered, Kehu spent some time fashioning shelters, planting potatoes and making other preparations for a possible return to reside in the district.

page 13

When they finally moved, on May 20th 1848, Kehu virtually carried Brunner who could only stand on one leg. Kehu would first carry their gear ahead and return for Brunner "…partly carrying, partly leading me along. " And so it went for almost a month, out of the Gorge, across the Matakitaki, up the Tiraumea and the Tutaki and back to Lake Rotoroa. Here, Kehu's wife again came to the fore, swimming out to the middle of the lake to retrieve the canoe which had floated off in a fresh. They journeyed back through Rotoiti and eventually to Frazer's farm in the upper Motueka Valley.

The final sentence of Brunner's account reads:

"I found my native Ekehu of much use – invaluable indeed… … to Ekehu I owe my life – he is a faithful and attached servant. "

So ended The Great Journey – some would say the greatest journey of colonial exploration in New Zealand – a saga of over 19 months!

Kehu guided several other expeditions. Later in 1848 he, Brunner and Alexander Campbell crossed the Bryant Range to the Pelorus River near the confluence with the Tinline; and from there travelled down to the pa at Wakamarina. Here they made a mokihi (a raft of dried flax flowers) and experienced a most exciting and memorable ride down the heavily flooded Wakamarina and Lower Pelorus Rivers to the pa at Motueka (Havelock). They then travelled out through the Kaituna Valley to the Wairau before returning to Nelson.