The New Zealand Reader
The Adventures of John Rutherford
The Adventures of John Rutherford.
An Englishman, named John Rutherford, has recently returned from New Zealand, after a residence of several years in a part of the northern island considerably beyond the furthest limit known to have been reached by any European page 244who has yet penetrated into the interior of the country. Rutherford returned to his native land, from his long exile, in the early part of the year 1828, bringing with him an account of the adventures he had met with in different parts of the world, and especially during his detention among the savages of New Zealand, which he had dictated to a friend (for he could not write himself) on his voyage home.
Rutherford, according to his own account, was born at Manchester about the year 1796. He went to sea, he states, when he was hardly more than ten years of age, having up to that time been employed as a piecer in a cotton factory in his native town; and after this ho appears to have been but little in England, or even on shore, for many years. He served for a considerable time on board a man-of-war off the coast of Brazil; and was afterwards at the storming of San Sebastian,* in August, 1813. On coming home from Spain he entered himself on board another King's ship, bound for Madras, in which he afterwards proceeded to China by the east passage, and lay for about a year at Macao. In the course of this voyage his ship touched at several islands in the great Indian Archipelago—among others at the Bashee Islands,† which have been but rarely visited. On his return from the East he embarked on board a convict vessel bound for New South Wales; and afterwards made two trading voyages among the islands of the South Sea. It was in the course of the former of these that he first saw New Zealand, the vessel having touched at the Bay of Islands, on her way to Port Jackson.
His second trading voyage in those seas was made in the Magnet, a three-masted schooner, commanded by Captain Vine; but this vessel having put in at Owhyhee.‡ Rutherford fell sick, and was left on that island.
* [A fortified town in Spain, guarding the French frontier between the Bay of Biscay and the Pyronees.]
† [About 100 miles south-east of Formosa.]
The land directly opposite to them was indented by a large bay. This the captain was very unwilling to enter, believing that no ship had ever anchored in it before. "It was," says Rutherford, "in the form of a half-moon, with a sandy beach round it, and at its head a fresh-water river, having a bar across its mouth, which makes it only navigable for boats." Reluctant as the captain was to enter this bay, from his ignorance of the coast, and the doubts he consequently felt as to the disposition of the inhabitants, they at last determined to stand in for it, as they had great need of water, and did not know when the wind might permit them to get to the Bay of Islands. They came to anchor, accordingly, off the termination of a reef of rocks, immediately under some elevated land, which formed one of the sides of the bay.
As soon as they had dropped anchor, a great many canoes came off to the ship from every part of the bay, each containing about thirty women, by whom it was paddled. Very few men made their appearance that day; but many of the women remained on board all night, employing themselves chiefly in stealing whatever they could lay their hands on: their conduct greatly alarmed page 246the captain, and a strict watch was kept during the night.
The next morning one of the chiefs came on board, whose name they were told was Aimy,* in a large war canoe, about sixty feet long, and carrying above a hundred of the Natives, all provided with quantities of mats and fishing lines, made of the strong white flax of the country, with which they professed to be anxious to trade with the crew. After this chief had been for some time on board, it was agreed that he should return to the land, with some others of his tribe, in the ship's boat, to procure a supply of water. This arrangement the captain was very anxious to make, as he was averse to allow any of the crew to go on shore, wishing to keep them all on board for the protection of the ship. In due time the boat returned, laden with water, which was immediately hoisted on board; and the chief and his men were despatched a second time on the same errand. Meanwhile, the rest of the Natives continued to bring pigs to the ship in considerable numbers; and by the close of the day about two hundred had been purchased, together with a quantity of fern root to feed them on.
Up to this time, therefore, no hostile disposition had been manifested by the savages; and their intercourse with the ship had been carried on with every appearance of friendship and cordiality, if we except the propensity they had shown to pilfer a few of the tempting rarities exhibited to them by their civilised visitors. Their conduct as to this matter ought, perhaps, to be taken rather as an evidence that they had not as yet formed any design of attacking the vessel, as they would, in that case, scarcely have taken the trouble of stealing a small part of what they meant immediately to seize upon altogether, On the other hand, such an infraction of the rules of hospitality would not have accorded with that system of insidious kindness by which it is their practice to full the suspicions of those whom they are on the watch to destroy.
* [Not recognisable as a Maori name.]
"The captain," he continues, "now paid the chief for fetching the water, giving him two muskets and a quantity of powder and shot: arms and ammunition being the only articles these people will trade for. There were at this time about three hundred of the Natives on the deck, with Aimy, the chief, in the midst of them; every man armed with a greenstone, slung with a string around his wrist. This weapon they call a mery;* the stone being about a foot long, flat, and of an oblong shape, having both edges sharp, and a handle at the end; they use it for the purpose of killing their enemies, by striking them on the head. Smoke was now observed rising from several of the hills; and, the Natives appearing to be mustering on the beach from every part of the bay, the captain grew much afraid, and desired us to loosen the sails, and make haste down to get our dinners, as he intended to put to sea immediately.
"Meantime, a number of women who had been left in the ship had jumped overboard, and were swimming to the shore, after having cut her cable, so that she drifted and ran aground on the bar near the mouth of the river. The Natives had not the sense to shake out the reefs, but had chopped the sails off along the yards with their tomahawks, leaving the reefed part behind. The pigs which we had bought from them were many of them killed on board, and carried ashore dead in the canoes. Others were thrown overboard alive, and attempted to swim to the land; but many of them were killed in the water by the Natives, who got astride on their backs, and then struck them on the head with their merys. Many of the canoes came to the land loaded with plunder from the ship, and numbers of the Natives quarrelled about the division of the spoil, and fought and slew each other. I observed, too, that they broke up our water-casks for the sake of the iron hoops.page 249
"While all this was going on we were detained in the canoe; but at last, when the sun was set they conveyed us on shore to one of the villages, where they tied us by the hands to several small trees. The mate had expired before we got on shore, so that there now remained only twelve of us alive. A number of large fires were kindled on the beach, for the purpose of giving light to the canoes, which were employed all night in going backward and forward between the shore and the ship, although it rained the greater part of the time."
"Gentle reader," continues Rutherford, "consider now the sad situation we were in: our ship lost, three of our companions already killed, and the rest of us tied each to a tree, starving with hunger, wet and cold, and knowing that we were in the hands of cannibals.
"The next morning I observed that the surf had driven the ship over the bar, and she was now in the mouth of the river, and aground near the end of the village. Everything being now out of her, about ten o'clock in the morning they set fire to her; after which they all mustered together on an unoccupied piece of ground near the village, where they remained standing for some time; but at last they all sat down except five, who were chiefs, for whom a large ring was left vacant in the middle. The five chiefs, of whom Aimy was one, then approached the place where we were, and, after they had stood consulting together for some time, Aimy released me and another, and, taking us into the middle of the ring, made signs for us to sit down, which we did. In a few minutes the other four chiefs came also into the ring, bringing along with them four more of our men, who were made to sit down beside us. The chiefs now walked backward and forward in the ring with their merys in their hands, and continued talking together for some time, but we understood nothing of what they said. The rest of the Natives were all the while very silent, and seemed to listen to them with great attention. At length one of the chiefs spoke to one of the Natives who was seated on the ground, and the latter immediately rose, and, taking his tomahawk in his hand, went and killed the other six men, who were tied to the trees. We could not refrain from weeping for the sad fate of our comrades, not knowing, at the same time, whose turn it might be next. Many of the page 250Natives, on seeing our tears, laughed aloud, and brandished their merys at us.
"Some of them now proceeded to dig eight large round holes, each about a foot deep, into which they afterwards put a great quantity of dry wood, and covered it over with a number of stones. They then set fire to the wood, which continued burning till the stones became red-hot. In the meantime, some of them were employed in stripping the bodies of my deceased shipmates, which they afterwards cut up, for the purpose of cooking them, having first washed them in the river; they then brought them and laid them down on several green boughs which had been broken off the trees and spread on the ground near the fires for that purpose. The stones being now red-hot, the largest pieces of burning wood were pulled from under them and thrown away, and some green bushes, having been first dipped in water, were laid round the stones, which were at the same time covered over with a few green leaves. The mangled bodies were then laid upon the top of the leaves, with a quantity of leaves also strewed over them; and after this a straw mat was spread over the top of each hole. Lastly, about three pints of water were poured upon each mat, which, running through to the stones, caused a great steam, and then the whole was instantly covered over with earth.
"They afterwards gave us some roasted fish to eat, and three women were employed in roasting fern-root for us. When they had roasted it, they laid it on a stone, and beat it with a piece of wood, until it become soft like dough. When cold again, however, it becomes hard, and snaps like gingerbread. We ate but sparingly of what they gave us. After this they took us to a house, and gave each of us a mat and some dried grass to sleep upon. Here we spent the night, two of the chiefs sleeping along with us.
"We got up next morning as soon as it was daylight, as did also the two chiefs, and went and sat down outside the house. Here we found a number of women busy in making baskets of green flax, into some of which, when they were finished, the bodies of our messmates, that had been cooking all night, were put, while others were filled with potatoes that had been preparing by a similar process. A short time after this the chiefs assembled, and, having page 251seated themselves on the ground, the baskets were placed before them, and they proceeded to divide the flesh among the multitude, at the rate of a basket among so many. They also sent us a basket of potatoes and some of the flesh, which resembled pork in appearance; but instead of partaking of it we shuddered at the very idea of such an unnatural and horrid custom, and made a present of it to one of the Natives."
Rutherford and his comrades spent another night in the same manner in which they had spent the last; and on the following morning set out, in company with the five chiefs, on a journey into the interior. When they left the coast, the ship still continued burning. They were attended by about fifty Natives, who were loaded with the plunder of the unfortunate vessel. That day he calculates that they travelled only about ten miles, the journey being very fatiguing from the want of any regular roads and the necessity of making their way through a succession of woods and swamps. The village at which their walk terminated was the residence of one of the chiefs, whose name was Rangadi,* and who was received on his arrival by about two hundred of the inhabitants. They came in a crowd, and, kneeling down around him, began to cry aloud and cut their arms, faces, and other parts of their bodies with pieces of sharp flint, of which each of them carried a number tied with a string about his neck, till the blood flowed copiously from their wounds.
The house of the chief to which Rutherford and his comrades were taken was the largest in the village, being both long and wide, although very low, and having no other entrance than an aperture which was shut by means of a sliding door, and was so much lower even than the roof that it was necessary to crawl upon the hands and knees to get through it. Two large pigs and a quantity of potatoes were now cooked in the manner already described; and when they were ready, a portion having been allotted to the slaves, who are never permitted to eat along with the chiefs, the latter sat down to their repast, the white men taking their places beside them.
* [Perhaps Rangiriri.]
"In the morning, when we arose, the chief gave us back our knives and tobacco boxes, which they had taken from us while in the canoe on our first being made prisoners, and we then breakfasted on some potatoes and cockles, which had been cooked while we were at the sea coast, and brought thence in baskets. Aimy's wife and two daughters now arrived, which occasioned another grand crying ceremony; and when it was over the three ladies came to look at me and my companions. In a short time they took a fancy to some small gilt buttons which I had on my waistcoat, and Aimy making a sign for me to cut them off I immediately did so, and presented them for their acceptance. They received them very gladly, and, shaking hands with me, exclaimed, 'The white man is very good.'
"The whole of the Natives having then seated themselves on the ground in a ring, we were brought into the middle, and, being stripped of our clothes and laid on our backs, we were each of us held down by five or six men, while two others commenced the operation of tattooing us. Having taken a piece of charcoal, and rubbed it upon a stone with a little water until they had produced a thickish liquid, they then dipped into it an instrument made of bone, having a sharp edge like a chisel and shaped in the fashion of a garden hoe, and immediately applied it to the skin, striking it twice or thrice with a small piece of wood. This made it cut into the flesh as a knife would have done, and caused a great deal of blood to flow, which they kept wiping off with the side of the hand in order to see if the impression was sufficiently clear. When it was not they applied the bone a second time to the same place. They employed, however, various instruments in the course of the operation, one, which they sometimes used, being made of a shark's tooth, and another having teeth like a saw. They had them also of different sizes to suit the different parts of the work.
"While I was undergoing this operation, although the pain was most acute, I never either moved or uttered a page 253sound; but my comrades moaned dreadfully. Although the operators were very quick and dexterous, I was four hours under their hands; and during the operation Aimy's eldest daughter several times wiped the blood from my face with some dressed flax. After it was over she led me to the river, that I might wash myself (for it had made me completely blind), and then conducted me to a great fire. They now returned us all our clothes, with the exception of our shirts, which the women kept for themselves, wearing them, as we observed, with the fronts behind. We were now not only tattooed, but what they called tabooed, the meaning of which is, made sacred, or forbidden to touch any provisions of any kind with our hands. This state of things lasted for three days, during which time we were fed by the daughters of the chiefs, with the same victuals, and out of the same baskets, as the chiefs themselves, and the persons who had tattooed us. In three days the swelling which had been produced by the operation had greatly subsided, and I began to recover my sight; but it was six weeks before I was completely well. I had no medical assistance of any kind during my illness; but Aimy's two daughters were very attentive to me, and would frequently sit beside me, and talk to me in their language, of which as yet, however, I did not understand much."
Rutherford remained at this village for about six months, together with the others who had been taken prisoners with him and not put to death, all except one, John Watson, who, soon after their arrival here, was carried away by a chief named Nainy.* A house was assigned for them to live in, and the Natives gave them an iron pot they had taken from the ship in which to cook their victuals. This they found a very useful article. It was tabooed, so that no slave was allowed to eat anything cooked in it.
† [Probably Aperama, for Abram.]
"We were treated very kindly," says Rutherford, "at this village by the Natives. The chief, whose name was Ewanna,* made us a present of a large pig, which we killed after our own country fashion, not a little to the surprise of the New Zealanders. I observed that many of the children caught the flowing blood in their hands and drank it with the greatest eagerness. Their own method of killing a pig is generally by drowning, in order that they may not lose the blood. The Natives then singed off the hair for us by holding the animal over a fire, and also gutted it, desiring nothing but the entrails for their trouble. We cooked it in our iron pot, which the slaves who followed us had brought along with the rest of the luggage belonging to our party. No person was allowed to take any part of the pig unless he received some from us; and not even then if he did not belong to a chief's family. On taking our departure from this village we left with Ewanna one of our comrades, named Jefferson, who, on parting with us, pressed my hand in his, and, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed, 'God bless you both! we shall never see each other again.'
* [Haere mai.]
"At last it happened that Aimy and his family went to a feast at another village a few miles distant from ours, and my comrade and I were left at home, with nobody but a few slaves and the chief's mother, an old woman, who was sick, and attended by a physician. A physician in this country remains with his patients constantly both day and night, never leaving them till they either recover or die; if they die he is brought before a court of inquiry, composed of all the chiefs for many miles round. During the absence of the family at the feast, my comrade chanced to lend his knife to a slave to cut some rushes with, in order to repair a bouse; and when that was done he received it back again. Boon after, he and I killed a pig, from which we cut a portion into small pieces, and put them into our iron pot, along with some potatoes which we had also peeled with our knives. When the potatoes were cooked, the old woman who was sick desired us to give her some, which we did in the presence of the doctor, and she ate them. Next morning she died, when the chief and the rest of his family immediately returned home.
"The corpse was first removed to an unoccupied piece of ground in the centre of the village, and there placed, with a mat under it, in a sitting position against a post, being covered with another mat up to the chin. The head and face were anointed with shark oil, and a piece of green flax was also tied round the head, in which were stuck several whtie feathers—the sort of feathers which are here preferred to any other. They then constructed around the corpse an enclosure of twigs, something like a bird's cage, for the purpose of keeping the dogs, pigs, and children from page 257it, and, these operations being over, muskets continued to be occasionally fired during the remainder of the day to the memory of the old woman.
"Meanwhile, the chiefs and their families for miles round were making their appearance in our village, bringing with them their slaves loaded with provisions. On the third day after the death they all, to the number of some hundreds, knelt down around the corpse, and, having thrown off their mats, proceeded to cry and cut themselves in the same manner as we had seen done on occasion of the different chiefs of the villages through which we passed being welcomed home. After some time spent in this ceremony they all sat down together to a great feast, made of their own provisions which they had brought with them.
"The following morning the men alone formed a circle round the dead body, armed with spears, muskets, tomahawks, and merys; and the doctor appeared, walking backwards and forwards in the ring. By this time my companion and I had learned a good deal of their language, and, as we stood listening to what was said, we heard the doctor relate the particulars of the old woman's illness and death; after which the chief began to inquire very closely into what she had eaten for the three days before she expired. At last, the doctor having retired from the ring, an old chief stepped forward, with three or four white feathers stuck in his hair, and, having walked several times up and down in the ring, addressed the meeting, and said that, in his opinion, the old woman's death had been occasioned by her having eaten potatoes that had been peeled with a white man's knife after it had been used for cutting rushes to repair a house, on which account he thought that the white man to whom the knife belonged should be killed, which would be a great honour conferred upon the memory of the dead woman.
"To this proposal many of the other chiefs expressed their assent, and it seemed about to be adopted by the Court. Meanwhile my companion stood trembling and unable to speak from fear. I then went forward myself into the ring and told them that if the white man had done wrong in lending his knife to the slave he had done so ignorantly, from not knowing the customs of the country. I ventured at the same time to address myself to Aimy, beseeching him page 258to spare my shipmate's life; but he continued to keep his seat on the ground, mourning for the loss of his mother, without answering me, or seeming to take any notice of what I said; and while I was yet speaking to him the chief with the white feathers went and struck my comrade on the head with a mere and killed him. Aimy, however, would not allow him to be eaten, though for what reason I never could learn. The slaves, therefore, having dug a grave for him, he was interred after my directions.
"As for the corpse of the old woman, it was now wrapped up in several mats, and carried away by Aimy and the doctor, no person being allowed to follow them. I learned, however, that they took her into a neighbouring wood, and there buried her. After this the strangers all left our village and returned bo their respective homes. In about three months the body of the woman was again taken up and carried to the river-side, where the bones were scraped and washed, and then enclosed in a box which had been prepared for that purpose. The box was afterwards fastened on the top of a post, in the place where the body first lay in state, and a space of about thirty feet in circumference being railed in around it, a wooden image was erected, to signify that the ground was tabooed, or sacred, and as a warning that no one should enter the enclosure. This is the regular manner of interment in New Zealand for any one belonging to a chief's family. When a slave dies a hole is dug and the body is thrown into it without any ceremony; nor is it ever disinterred again, or any further notice taken of it. They never eat any person who dies of disease or in the course of nature.
"At last it happened one day, while we were all assembled at a feast in our village, that Aimy called me to him, in the presence of several more chiefs, and, having told them of my activity in shooting and fishing, concluded by saying that he wished to make me a chief, if I would give my consent. This I readily did, upon which my hair was immediately cut with an oyster shell in the front, in the same manner as the chiefs have theirs cut, and several of the chiefs made me a present of some mats, and promised bo send me some pigs the next day. I now put on a mat covered over with red ochre and oil, such as was worn by the other chiefs, and my head and face were also anointed with the same page 259composition by a chief's daughter, who was entirely a stranger to me. I received at the same time a handsome stone mery, which I afterwards always carried with me.
—G. L. Craik("The New-Zealander," 1830).