Raromi or The Maori Chief’s Heir by A. A. Fraser. A Temperance Novel with a Twist
A. A. Fraser’s novel Raromi or The Maori Cheif’s Heir is “a salvation novel which deals with both individual and collective salvation” (Moffat 46), tracking the journey of the protagonist Falconer and his peers from alcoholic ruin to riches. At the beginning of the melodramatic narrative the dock hand Falconer doubts himself proclaiming “I’m only a – a beach-comber – on my “beam ends”- going to ruin!” (7), yet by the end of the story he has become teetotal and repented his sins, established a successful shipping business and found his long lost fiancé. Didacticism is heavily present throughout and the message is clear, if the example of Falconer is followed salvation and success will be abundant. Fraser’s narrative will be outlined, detailing largely arbitrary episodes which consist of action, romance and cross-cultural encounters. Very little concrete information is known about A. A. Fraser, but what is known will be discussed. Because of the obscurity of Fraser’s identity, this introduction will focus on examining the content of the novel from a historical perspective. Raromi was published in 1888 but it illustrates a period roughly forty year prior to this, depicting the city of Wellington in the early stages of its infancy. Vibrant scenes, containing a degree of historical accuracy are presented, such the infrastructure and settlement of Wellington, judicial process, shipping, trade, and race-relations. While Fraser’s novel is a temperance novel, it is a temperance novel with a twist. Constantly in the backdrop throughout the entire narrative, is the overarching presence of Te Rauparaha. So much so that the novel ends expressing concern that he is a barrier to peace. While Te Rauparaha, the ‘Southern Napoleon’, was a tyrant his representation in the text is incorrect, as historical record suggests that during the period he was not a force of hostility in Wellington, but one of neutrality. However, his presence in the text does provide an almost mythological villain, whose distance from society within the novel is a celebration of peace, prosperity and salvation.
Like many Victorian novels of questionable quality, Raromi or The Maori Chief’s Heir contains an array of almost arbitrary facts, characters, plot twists, action, romance, travel and, specific to its New Zealand setting, racial relations and vivid geographical description. Often characters are introduced solely to provide crucial detail which instigates an action or romance sequence, and then they disappear into thin air. However, Fraser does present a consistent protagonist, Falconer, even though his name and identity are not so uniform. Falconer is a “bonny sailor-lad” (7) who, along with his colleagues, works during the day and hits the bottle during the evening. The novel opens with Falconer repenting his sins to a close pious friend, remaking “In your presence I vow, before God, to give up the company of the drunkards; I’ll touch drink no more, come what may of it!” (10). His friend, suitably named Noble, helps to guide Falconer away from his existence of sin, acting as a paternal figure for a lost soul without family support in the colony. Becoming teetotal allows Falconer’s life to literally take flight (Fraser’s pun excused). He relinquishes his alcoholism and is attributed characteristics and titles which reflect the positive progression and achievement his character has made. Despite his multiple titles such as Raromi and Harold Morpeth, he will be referred to primarily as Falconer to avoid confusion. He is befriended by a Christian Maori chief, Dog’s-Ear, who he rescues from a harrowing cliff face in the Ngauranga Gorge. The Chief pronounces him “Ramori, for your grip is tight, your word straight, and your heart is true.”(108). Adventures within the novel include Falconer successfully defending himself in court against a murder charge, Noble being abducted by hostile associates of Te Rauparaha and taken to Makara, hunting Kaka to survive in the bush, speculation to start a shipping company, blowing up a ship of hostile natives with rockets and getting lost at sea, ending up in Sydney.
Harold, her own Harold, by his daring and bravery had saved her, had saved her at the risk of his own life. And, best of all, that clear, frank look of his – the outlook of a hers; he was true, but chastened, sad, and repentant for the wrong he had thoughtlessly done. (191)
From here, Falconer’s narrative neatly resolves itself. He and Clara return to their cottage in Kaiwharawhara, and his business exporting and importing produce to and from Australia is lucrative. Most plot ends are neatly summarised in a letter by one of Falconer’s associates from Sydney and an inspirational message from Fraser is given: “hard work, energy, and perseverance allied to tact will do more than idle, limp people imagine in this world – they give success.” (211). For a didactic novel which consistently reinforces temperance, this would be a suitable conclusion. The protagonist has successfully sought redemption, all have benefited and now the reader is given the opportunity to do the same if they follow the example Fraser has presented. Yet there are two additional chapters narrating a confrontation between Dog’s-Ear and the hostile tribe of Te Rangihaeata, from whom Dog’s-Ear must claim utu against the fictional Pakihure. Dog’s-Ear is wounded and as he dies he proclaims to Maori and Pakeha spectators that peace must be retained, and that no utu be taken for his death. Fraser ends the novel writing “Pakihure returned home in peace, and saw no more the face of Te Rauparaha, the fierce maker of war. There was peace.” (224). Some of the didacticism in Raromi is hyperbolical, while much of it is merited and informs the reader of the morals and methods that Fraser wanted to transmit, his decision to end the novel with the overarching threat of Te Rauparaha is very interesting, unusual and historically inaccurate.
While Raromi or The Maori Chief’s Heir has not been entirely forgotten by New Zealand literary history, as some studies gloss the narrative, it seems that A. A Fraser’s identity has. No concrete evidence regarding Fraser’s life is available, which is a view reinforced by Stevens, Moffat and Jones. In their respective studies only the content of the novel is discussed. Stevens labels the narrative as “prohibition fiction” (30) outlining the teetotal redemption of Falconer, the protagonist, and the fall of his enemy Black Charlie who dies repenting his alcoholism, praying in the arms of his mother. She also writes that the novel has “much false Maori melodrama, some authentic details such as snaring pigeons, boatbuilding, and so on” (30). Stevens implicitly transmits that she has no knowledge of Fraser’s life, which is something that Moffat makes explicit writing that “my research in the National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library collections has failed to produce any details about Alexander Fraser’s personal history” (46). Moffat follows Stevens, detailing the redemption of Falconer and Black Charlie, and labelling the work as a salvation novel which deals in both collective and individual salvation (46). Jones gives Fraser’s work even less treatment than the others, briefly glossing themes such as a lost heiress, secrets, kidnappings, capture by Maori villains (a theme that is illustrated on the frontispiece of the novel) and shipwrecks as essential elements for Fraser’s “New Zealand melodramas” (Jones 124).
No such confidence in specificity is expressed when narrating Sydney and other parts of Australia, making Fraser’s sudden attention to geographical detail a stark contrast to previous episodes. This passage, along with countless others which accurately detail Wellington locations and landmarks make it obvious that Fraser lived, for at least a period of his life, in Wellington.
Some three months later a smart, swift, topsail schooner swept around the outer edge of Barrett’s Reef, ran close-hauled through the entrance between the Reef and Pencarrow Head, and stood boldly into the harbour with a smart breeze. Tacking off Ngahauranga, the schooner ran quickly to an anchorage off Port Nic. and drooped anchor. . . looking through a telescope, swept the picturesque western shore, the heights above it, and the straggling town, which, though poor in itself, was set in a rich framework of wild scenery. (204)
Fraser’s previous novel Daddy Crip’s Waifs: A Tale of Australasian Life and Adventure, published in 1886, is set in Wanganui. Due to Fraser’s familiarity with Wellington transmitted in Raromi, it is plausible to assume that he spent some time inhabiting Wanganui in order to complete Daddy Crip’s Wife. Therefore, a non-conclusive argument can be proposed that ‘Mr A Fraser’ (Figure One) is the author in question. The photograph was taken in the studio of William James Harding, Wanganui. No specific date is given, but the photos from the collection that ‘Mr A Fraser’ is a part of were taken between 1856 and 1889, which encompasses the years Fraser was writing.
As with Fraser’s identity, the date in which the narrative is set is also non-conclusive. The novel was published in 1888 and not once within the text is a date, specific or approximate, given. However there are multiple details within the text that suggest that the story is situated in a distant, yet still living, memory of the past. Throughout Ramori both Te Rangihaeata and his uncle Te Rauparaha are portrayed as overarching villains, constantly threatening the security and prosperity of Wellington. The fictionalisation of these historical figures provides an end date in which the narrative must occur before. Te Rangihaeata died in November 1855 (“Te Rangihaeata” www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t63/te-rangihaeata) and Te Rauparaha died in November 1849 (“Te Rauparaha” http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t74/te-rauparaha), making 1849 a cut-off date. Another date marker is the inhabitation of central Wellington. “Te Aro Flat, now dotted over with wooden shanties” (Fraser 84) is “filled by colonists unaccustomed to war” (Fraser 37), and there is no mention of co-habitation with Maori, who are only at the fringes of settled areas, notability inhabiting Porirua. By December 1847 the majority of Te Aro Maori had been relocated out of the central city, accepting an offer from Governor George Grey for a 526 acre block out of town, allowing for wharf construction. Consequentially Grey could now sign off a Colonial Office report announcing that all land disputes in the vicinity of Wellington were settled (Rutherford 164).
It is worth detailing some plot. Falconer had refused to drink with his fellow sailors at the local bar, enraging them. Later that evening a murder was committed and Black Charlie, the leader of the gang, attempts to frame Falconer for the crime because of their disagreement. Eventually the truth is revealed and the innocence of Falconer is proved – his temperate nature provides salvation. Aside from overtly clichéd nostalgia for the motherland, this passage represents a relative realism to the civic development of Wellington during this period. Echoes of Fraser’s judge resonate with two of New Zealand’s first judges, William Martin and Henry Samuel Chapman. Martin was appointed chief justice of New Zealand in January 1841 and was the first judge to sentence a crown subject, Wiremu Kingi Maketu, to death (“William Martin” http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m21/martin-william). However, he resided in Auckland. Chapman was his Wellington counterpart, being appointed as judge of the supreme court of New Zealand for the southern district in 1843 (“Henry Samuel Chapman” http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1c14/chapman-henry-samuel). Much like Fraser’s judge, Chapman served in various administrative positions throughout the empire, spending time in Montreal prior to his time in New Zealand, and moving on to both Tasmania and Melbourne afterwards (ibid.). Of interest to the text is conviction of Henare Maroro, the first Wellington convict to be sentenced to death. The New Zealand Evangelist details that “Maroro the Murderer” was brought to trial before Chapman. Maroro was angered at the four months he had just spent in a newly established government prison, and upon release he murdered John, William and Catherine Banks at random for their property and possessions. The author of the article then remarks “If every, or any native, be disposed to carry out the old native practice of extracting utu or payment for any one in the tribe which they suppose has injured then, no white man’s life is safe.” (263). Fraser also makes appropriating comments about utu writing “to a Maori – complete revenge – is the dominant passion of his untutored heart.” (37). While the trial of Henare Maroro is not identical to that of Falconer the two cases do have similarities, as both are early murder trials in Wellington, reinforcing that the narrative of Raromi firmly belongs in this historical period. From the evidence discussed it can be argued that the narrative is set between 1847, when the Te Aro area was supposedly “cleared” of Maori, and 1849 when Te Rauparaha died. The case of Henare Maroro also reinforces this. It is probable that Fraser simply decided to place his narrative forty years prior to its publication, which was in 1888.
It must be explained that the young settlement had just received a judge sent down from Sydney to act in criminal cases. Englishmen in the colonies like to have a doctor to tell them when they are ill; a lawyer to settle their disputes; and a governor to hoist the Union Jack, and remind them of home . . . Sad to say, one of the judge’s first trials was that of Falconer, for the wilful murder of Garry; and the trial, stripped of much of its ceremony – as conducted at home – was fixed for the morrow. (47-8)
Throughout the novel Falconer’s sobriety repeatedly results in improved circumstance, which is reflected by multiple changes of identity, as he becomes a more reputable character. This improvement of circumstance includes gaining the respect of the Maori chief Dog’s-Ear, who gives him the title Raromi, and rekindling his romance with Clara, who evokes Falconer’s previous identity, Harold Morpeth. One aspect of interest is Falconer’s upward social mobility through his employment. Falconer, initially a dock hand and sailor, removes himself from the company of his drunken peers and speculates his future: “This is just the country to do something good in by-and-by. But I want to strike in now, and be ready for it. Instead of being a common sailor, I want to employ them, and help them and myself, too” (80) Falconer and his associate Scotty plan to build a ship of fifteen to twenty tons, trading potatoes, onions and timber under the name “Falconer, Scott, and Co” (84). During chapter XVII the narrative details a colourful episode in the forest of Kaiwharawhara, where Falconer’s ship Kahawai is built. Many adventures are had in this ship including a scuffle with hostile Maori involving explosives, and a near death experience in the middle of the Tasman Sea. The Kahawai sinks, but thankfully Falconer and his friends are saved with only seconds to spare. Near the end of the novel once Falconer has received investment, the ship is rebuilt and his enterprising ideas are put into practice with great success: A letter received from an Australian trade partner states that “the cargoes you send are so well selected and arrive in such good condition that people look out for the Kahawai, money in hand” (211).
The sums suggested by Revans are astronomical, but nothing came of this speculation (Miller 130-1). Constantine Augustus Dillon, the political secretary of Governor George Grey, wrote to William Fox, the future premier of the colony, suggesting timber exports to locations as distant as California: “speculation will give a great spur to the timber trade . . . . if this cargo pays we shall probably export £50,000 to £100,000 worth of timber annually for this port – if hands can be got to saw it.” Dillon Letters, February 8th 1850). This strongly echoes Falconer’s behaviour in the novel, which sees him export timber to Sydney and Melbourne. However what we do not see depicted by Fraser is the environmental damage caused by these exports. Miller suggests that between 1840 and 1850 “the indiscriminate destruction of native trees reduced the countryside to a wilderness of stumps” (132). It is important to note that Falconer does not deforest indiscriminately in the novel. He only culls trees from Kaiwharahara glen, which his friend Dog’s-Ear inhabits, acquiring this area legitimately “by purchase or lease” (212).
Many of us . . . are convinced that a Whaling Co. would pay well and advance the place [Wellington] rapidly. We should like a Co. to be got up at home, capital £150,000 for the purchase of 25 ships or 50 brigs. In addition to a London board a local direction should be reserved for that purpose. I should be happy to be a director here, 25 vessels would have 1,000 seamen. Their earnings would not be less than £70,000 which would be expended by them in this place. I reckon a Co. of this kind would benefit Port Nicholson to the extent of £100,000. Get Wakefield to take the matter up. (Revans Letters, July 7th 1841)
Throughout the novel there is much depiction of conflict but none with such preposterous intensity as this. The question must be asked, why rockets? A possible explanation is Fort Buckley, which is located in Kaiwharawhara and was built in 1885, only three years before the novel was published. Fraser displays an accurate in-depth geographical knowledge of Kaiwharawhara throughout his narrative, so it is highly likely he was aware of fort’s existence. The fort contained two sixty-four pound guns, one of which is pictured below (Figure Two). Around the time Fraser would have been writing the novel, shell practices and shows were plentiful, with the Evening Post regularly reporting these events in “The Volunteers” column. One particularly enlightening column, on the 14th of February 1887 describes the artillery as follows
‘Fire away!’ said falconer, and away flew a big rocket into the hold with great force. It struck one, then another, rebounded and returned, hissing, darting, and striking on all sides with great force, with great noise, until it finished with a fearful explosion! (139)
The “exceedingly rough time” described here is experienced by Fraser’s hostile Maori who do “not like the “bang-bang”” (139). Fort Buckley, along with multiple other artillery emplacements, were built in 1885, during one of many so-called Russian scares that New Zealand experienced in the second half of the 19th century. The Russian iron cruiser Afrika, had visited Auckland in 1881, and continued to patrol the Pacific for quite some time (Cooke 48). Tensions had been mounting between Russia and Britain over disputed territory in Afghanistan and this, alongside a supposed report about planned Russian raids on various Australian cites that was received by the New Zealand Government, sparked concerns that New Zealand was vulnerable. (Cooke 49). However, according to Fraser, the real danger to the colony was from hostile Maori who had grievances with the settler population, and the most prominent of these Maori was Te Rauparaha.
The range was 1800 yards, 20 min., right deflection, and after each shell was fired the detachments changed rounds, so that each man present laid the gun and fired his own shot. The shooting, with the exception of one solitary shot, was capital, and had the mark fired at been a ship instead of a barrel, she would have had an exceedingly rough time of it. (Evening Post)
Te Rauparaha is represented by Fraser as an almost mythological figure who is never seen, but is constantly present: his haunting and fierce image always looms over the narrative. Hostile Maori chiefs such as Te Rangihaeata and others are depicted, but their danger comes from their association with Te Rauparaha, not the very real threat that they pose themselves. While many other details represented by Fraser in his novel are soundly based historically, how accurate is his representation of Te Rauparaha? Te Rauparaha had a fierce reputation within New Zealand prior to serious European settlement. He and his Ngati Toa people drastically changed the nature of inter-tribal warfare through their early adoption of muskets. They migrated to the lower North Island and based themselves on Kapti Island. From this base much territory was conquered including parts of the Lower North Island and Upper South Island. Once the pace of colonisation accelerated, after Te Rauparaha and many others had signed the treaty of Waitangi, he began to contest land sales made. This ultimately resulted in a violent conflict dubbed the Wairau affray, where many settlers were killed attempting to arrest Te Rauparaha for crimes he believed he did not commit. His mana is such that a haka he composed, “Ka Mate”, is regularly preformed by the All Blacks.
During March 1846 shots were exchanged between Lower Hutt Maori and the settlers there, and on April 2nd some Maori killed two settlers. Te Rangihaeata probably did not instigate this act but he declined to forfeit those responsible, thus becoming the main British target (Belich 73-4). Later, after more encounters, Te Rangihaeata retreated from the Hutt Valley to his pa in Pauatahanui. From here Governor Grey mounted an expedition against the pa which resulted in Te Rangihaeata and his followers retreating northwards. Belich comments on this period of conflict, remarking that
Te Rauparaha was following a line that was consistent with his behaviour during . . . the previous year , that his preference was for all to live in peace, that he would use the influence he had to this end, but that the final solution [to the inter racial hostilities] lay with Te Rangihaeata whom he would not encourage, but whom he would not encourage. (251)
Te Rauparaha was victimised not necessarily because of his actions, but because of the circumstance he found himself in. It is worth noting that in this situation the settlers are the aggressors, forcing Maori out of the Wellington region to free up land for settlement, thus creating conflict. Prior to his arrest Te Rauparaha wrote to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, Mathew Richmond: “Take care lest Pakeha attack the Maori. The Maori will not be the first to attack; they will leave it to the Pakeha to strike the first blow.” (Rauparaha to Richmond, 19th May 1845). Te Rauparaha certainly was a fierce war chief, especially if one was his enemy. But the Pakeha were not his enemy, as he saw trade and cooperation as a way to better both his own people and those of reason who were making their home in New Zealand. During one of Fraser’s bush scenes he depicts two Maori who
The major British success was not a military event, but the seizure of the neutral chief Te Rauparaha on 23 July. Grey accused Te Rauparaha of secretly supporting Te Rangihaeata, but another motive was that the former chief could be captured, whereas the latter could not. The arrest of so important a Maori leader was a bold assertion of government power. (74)
This is one of countless examples from the novel. Fraser’s account certainly clashes with both Te Rauparaha’s own words, and Ward’s assessment of him. It seems that Fraser has taken his literary representation from the myth of Te Rauparaha, rather than the man.
were outlawed warriors, employed covertly by Te Rauparaha to harass the settlers, spy out their affairs, rob them if they could, and, in fact, do anything that might sow animosity between the settlers and Maoris. (67)
He is present in the minds of the characters because of his mana. He is evasive like Wulf of 'Wulf and Eadwacer' who is craved but never experienced. Clayton’s goal when representing Te Rauparaha, which he explained during an undergraduate lecture, was “to write this poetic impression of the place that Te Rauparaha might have occupied in the imagination” (Clayton, “Wulf”). What Wulf essentially does is depict a period in New Zealand’s past where imagination, myth and historiography combine. The three factors collide at the novel’s conclusion during Te Rauparaha’s sack of Takapuneke (near Akaroa), where he captured and tortured Te Maiharanui along with his wife and daughter. Te Rauparaha enlisted the help of Capitan John Stewart and his ship Elizabeth (the vessel central of Clayton’s novel) to achieve this. The complicity of Pakeha traders in inter-tribal warfare concerned English authorities, causing the appointment of the first official British resident in New Zealand, James Busby, essentially beginning the process which would encompass New Zealand into the Empire. Clayton concludes his novel with this event, presenting a small verse
Every word spoken, sent like a raft of smoke onto the air of that strange country, smelled like the blood riding the breath of their great chief, fearful to us, the Southern Napoleon. Amongst ourselves we’d taken to calling him the Great Wolf, for the men imagined him falling upon us when our backs were turned . . . We knew he was coming.(13-4)
Te Maiharanui and his strangled their daughter to spare her from a cruel and prolonged death, and the involvement of the Elizabeth in this incident has caused the history of Pakeha and Maori to become one.
When she came aboard. When we went into the hold. When she strangled her daughter. When we threw the body into the sea. Then we entered each other’s histories.(231)
As Clayton’s novel suggests, the histories of Maori began to weave with that of the Pakeha during the 1830s, but a strong rope was not instantly created. The literary fibres that compile Te Rauparaha’s representation have been grown in this country, but have not been properly woven. For Clayton Te Rauparaha existed in a distant past somewhere between myth and history. For Fraser he existed as a distant memory, conveniently filling the role of the hostile Maori outlander, whose mythical presence can be evoked whenever conflict is required for the narrative. Like Te Rauparaha’s identity, Fraser’s has been diluted largely because of the obscurity of his career. He produced two novels of questionable quality, probably lived in Wellington and Wanganui, and judging by his inactivity in the public record, probably mostly kept to himself and his evangelical associates. Raromi or The Maori Chief’s Heir is a melodramatic temperance novel which details the successful salvation of Falconer, the protagonist of reputable upbringing who has fallen from grace in the colonies. In this sense it is a heavily didactic novel. It provides the reader with a template, realistic or not, for reparation of sin, or the ability to help lift others out of sin, with the end result being lavish success. The narrative is often laughable and implausible, but is generally entertaining. However, if there is any real value in this work, it comes from its vibrant literary representation of a city, our city, Wellington, during the crack of dawn. The content of Fraser’s novel vibrantly details Wellington during the 1840s, with a good degree of accuracy. He depicts various civic practices, shipping and trade, adventure in the bush and something that could not be avoided, contact with Maori, both positive and negative. When surveying literature of this period Jones highlights Alan Mulgan’s Spur of Morning as one of the novels of merit composed during the late colonial period (135). Mulgan writes that his story “is set in a time that to-day seems distant although it is within my own generation” (vi), much like Fraser’s narrative, written in 1888, depicting a period roughly forty years earlier. While the quality of Raromi is questionable, it can be seen as one of many early novels that helped to lay the foundation for reputable future of New Zealand literature. Fraser’s novel shows the country in first light, while Alan Mulgan’s transmits the excitement and possibility of the morning. It would take another generation for the glorious heat of noon to appear, when more than just one Man Alone would be seeking shelter from the sun.
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