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Moko; or Maori Tattooing

The Evening Post, Saturday, September 4, 1920. — The Maori Wars — Major-General Robley — Soldier and Artist

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The Evening Post, Saturday, September 4, 1920.
The Maori Wars
Major-General Robley
Soldier and Artist

During a portion of last year I had the privilege of being stationed in London, where I experienced the pleasure of meeting Major-General HoratioHenry Gordon Robley, a veteran of the Tauranga Maori campaign of 1865–66, and from him I was able to learn a few particulars of his interesting career. Perhaps with the possible exception of the late Major-General Sir [gap — reason: illegible] James E. Alexander, it is doubtful if any Imperial, officer who took part in those stirring times so closely identified himself with this country, or subsequently showed the same interest in it as Major-General Robley. He was born on the 28th June, 1840, when the colonisation of New Zealand was in its early processes, and is, therefore, now over the four-score. When the second unfortunate Maori War of 1860 a young man of twenty, was stationed in India with the 68th Regiment, now known as the Durham Light Infantry, and subsequent to the siege of Delhi, followed by the capture of its old, feeble, and senile King, Bahadur Shah II., with his banishment to Rangoon, was in charge of the guard placed over that dusky potentate. The two or three years Major-General Robley was quartered in Burmah with his regiment, gave him the opportunity to study the arts, mythology, and beliefs of the Burmese, and, being proficient in the use of both pencil and brush, he has left on record many striking sketches of that application; besides illustrations of incidental experiences and strange things witnessed. His sojourn in Burmah was terminated with the outbreak of the Maori War of 1860, a conflict that, perhaps, could have been avoided if the governing powers of the day had displayed more skill and tact than were shown. The province of Taranaki was the scene of the initial conflict, where the measures taken to subjugate it were far from successful; and in a very short time the Ngati-Maniapoto, a powerful Waikato tribe, were sending bands of fighting men to the assistance of the Taranaki tribes; while elsewhere in the Auckland province other tribes were engendering a strong feeling of antagonism to the Europeans. Meanwhile Governor Gore-Browne had been recalled, Sir George Grey appointed in his stead, and in the space of two years some 6000 British troops from England, India, China, and Australia had been poured into the colony, commanded by officers who had rendered distinguished services in the Crimean and Indian Wars.

A Landing in Auckland.

In 1863 the 68th Regiment was ordered to leave Burmah for active service in New Zealand, and with the headquarters' staff went Ensign Robley, landing at Auckland from the transport Australian on the 8th January, 1864, in wet and wintry weather conditions, he having the honour of carrying ashore the Queen's colours. So soon as the regiments were quartered in Albert Barracks-square to the tune of their own quick step, Ensign Robley went into the embryo city, where he purchased a Maori vocabulary and Judge Maning's fine book on Maori life and the war in the North, called “Old New Zealand.” This work had just then been published. From a study of both of them he obtained his first insight of Maori customs and a knowledge of the language, which, by further study, led to him becoming an authority on these subjects. Prior to this the war had spread into the Waikato, and by April, 1864, it had in a way been terminated, whereas General Cameron removed his headquarters to Tauranga, where an outbreak was threatened, the 68th Regiment, commanded by Colonel Greer, being ordered there. The campaign that soon followed was made memorable by the disastrous reverse for our troops at Gate Pa and the victory at Te Ranga. Ensign Robley, who was now a lieutenant, and an Instructor of Musketry, served through the whole of this campaign, and was able to leave on record scores of drawings and water-colour views, depicting scenes he went through and personalities met. That he came through the campaign unscathed is a matter for wonder. It would seem as if through his sojourn in the East the mystification mysticism of that part of the world had somewhat impressed him, for he relates that prior to leaving for New Zealand a friend of his, an old yellow-robed Bhuddist monk, in whose monastery at Rangoon he had been permitted to make sketches, prevailed upon him to have pricked on his right arm a sacred red emblem which would make him invulnerable to the hurt of all weapons. This General Robley afterwards humourously characterised as quite a one-sided arrangement, and unfair to the Maoris.

Following the capitulation of the Maori chief William Thompson in June, 1865, the necessity of retaining the British troops in New Zealand no longer prevailed; the country had been won over to the self-reliant policy, whereby the termination of the war was to be effected by the employment of colonial-raised troops, and amongst other regiments that were evacuated was the 68th, which was ordered to Cape Colony and Zululand, in 18[gap — reason: illegible].Home. In 1870 Captain Robley linked up with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, subsequently serving with them in South Africa It was whileen in 1884 in Zululand that Lieutenant Robley first met an officer who became famous in the Great War, Major-General Allenby, and their friendship has continued to the present time. From Cape Colony the 68th Regiment was ordered home, Lieutenant Robley obtaining a transfer to the 1st Batallion Argyll and Sutherland[unclear: ,] Highlanders who for a period were quartered at Stirling, and Sso proud was he of his connection with this famous regiment, of which he subsequently became Colonel, that he wrote and published its history, extending from 1794 to 1887, in which latter year he retired with the rank of Major-General and took up his residence in London, where he has ever since resided.

The leisure he now enjoyed gave him the opportunity of further pursuing the search for knowledge of all that appertained to Maori life and customs, and in 1896 he published that remarkable and unique work entitled “Moko, or Maori Tattooing,” the first part of which relates to its subject name, while the second half of the book, named “Mokomokai,” is devoted to dried Maori heads. It should be explained that the word “tattoo” is not a New Zealand Maori word, but a Polynesian one; a native of this country, in early times at any rate, would refer to the moko, not tattoo, lines on his body, while the word “mokoamokai” simply means “dried head.” This valuable work is enriched with numerous illustrations, many of which the author is responsible for, and it is well it is so, as photography was not at all suitable for placing on record the wonderful facial and body delineations of this now vanished art of the Maori. It is extremely doubtful if there is now a native to be found whose face is well covered with tattoo, while twenty-five and thirty years ago cases were fairly numerous. The two subjects which comprise this work are quite akin, as every dried head would have an elaborate facial design. It is true, however, that when European and American museums were keenly desirous of obtaining specimens, and the demand for such exceeded the supply, many a poor unfortunate Maori slave or prisoner, whose face perhaps bore no tattoo scroll and line pattern, was killed for the express purpose of having his face incised with the art of the tattooer. This is referred to as post-mortem moko, and can be recognised as such through the cuttings in the flesh not healing as they would in life, but remaining striated, while another curious fact relating to it, and not generally known to those who have seen specimens in our Dominion museums, is that if the head was that of a friend the lips would be brought together in the process of embalming, while in that of an enemy they would be drawn far back, exposing the white teeth in the paroxyism of death.

A Collector of Heads.

As an authority on this subject General Robley stood alone. No one else had attempted it, so therefore this work of his, based on his own careful investigations and the few brief references made by early voyages, is all that we have. For many years he possessed a collection of thirty-five heads, obtained by him at great trouble and expense from the British and other curio dealers, and in 1908 came to the conclusion that the time had arrived to take some steps to preserving the collection as a whole. With this end in page break view, he twice offered it to the New Zealand Government for the sum of £1100, but though the late Hon. Mr. Seddon was disposed to purchase, other influences in New Zealand prevailed. In 1909 the collection was on view in the Liverpool Museum, and when seen by a representative of a U.S.A. museum, who gathered it was in the market, he immediately cabled to his principals, who promptly and briefly replied “buy,” and so all of them, with the exception of five, found a home in the United States for the sum of £1250, or a matter of £41 for each specimen. The five that were excepted were some of the best, and these General Robley had reserved, trusting that this country would yet see its way to acquire them for the national collection, and so restore these wandering heads to the land of their origin. Notwithstanding he gave New Zealand every opportunity to possess them, no interest was shown, and in course of time they found ready and satisfactory purchasers abroad. There are perhaps not more than seven preserved Maori heads in the whole of New Zealand. Both the Auckland and Christchurch Museums have each possessed two specimens for many years past, but they are not of the best. Those at Auckland are of two chiefs named Moetarau and Koukou, who were killed in a fight at Opua about 1820. The Hocken collection at Dunedin has a rather inferior specimen obtained by Dr. Hocken from General Robley, while of late years the Dominion Museum procured one from Tasmania, while a second specimen on view is privately owned. These two heads are the property of the New Zealand Govt. & were obtained from Tasmania. Quite a number of European museums possess these heads: the Paris Museum of Natural History has six obtained by early French voyagers, the Berlin Museum has two, while in various museums in the United Kingdom there are at least sixty. At the bottom of the Red Sea are two, keeping company with Pharaoh's army. In 1919 the writer of this article was present at Steven and Co.'s auction rooms, near Covent Garden, and saw a fine specimen sold to a dealer for £30, who would perhaps obtain as much as £50 to £70 for it.

Following the publication of his work, “Moko,” a book which the author considered somewhat hastily written, General Robley assiduously applied himself for a period of ten years collecting additional matter with the view of a second and enlarged edition, but he found that increasing age had placed the task beyond him. At this time Dr. Hocken, of Dunedin, was on a visit to England, where he met the author, who made over to him the whole of his additional notes, besides his own copy of the work, containing marginal corrections and additions, and at the same time Dr. Hocken, with characteristic thoroughness, negotiatated with the publishers for the purchase of the complete set of original printing blooks to the illustrations, and with these in his possession he hoped to issue a second edition, an intention that was frustrated by the death of the Doctor in 1909 on the 17 May 1910. The material is now in the Hocken collection, waiting to be taken in hand by some one having the necessary enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject.

The three years General Robley was in New Zealand he used his pen, pencil, and brush to some purpose, placing on record many of the historic scenes he went through or was witness of, besides making water colour sketches of many of the leading Maori warrior chiefs, rebel and friendly. At one time he offered the Tauranga Borough Council a set of portraits of the most prominent chiefs in the Tauranga campaign, but this offer was also refused, as not being of sufficient interest.

However, in 1905, he was more fortunate, when the New Zealand Government purchased seventy of his water colour sketches. These are now in the Dominion Museum, and though poorly displayed, through lack of proper wall space or suitable cases, are deeply interesting. They represent his best work, and all depict scenes and incidents in the Tauranga campaign. It is of interest to note here that the artist was of opinion that the missionary, the Rev. C. S. Volkner, of Opotiki, was put to death by the Hau Hau fanatics on 2nd March, 1865, as utu for the capture of the rebel chief Tupaea, who they believed had been put to death. As an illustrator of Maori physiognomy, carvings, and art generally, Major-General Robley stands almost unrivalled. His drawings of natives are certainly more true to type than are those of that accomplished and ambidextrous artist, George French Angas, who most excels in representing scenes of Maori life, carvings, and habiliments.

Some Little-Known Work.

Some years ago he prepared illustrations for Maning's book “Old New Zealand,” and though these are still in England, and have not been made use of, it is satisfactory to know they were presented by the artist to Mr. R. D. M'Lean, of Hawkes Bay, who has them at his London residence, Cadogan-square, along with other examples of the artist's brush.

The only other written work relating to New Zealand that has been published was one entitled “Pounamu: Notes on New Zealand Greenstone.” This was issued in 1915, and is profusely illustrated with drawings and photos made and taken by the author. The work has not been placed on sale in this country, and it is doubtful if there are even half a dozen copies here. It is dedicated to Mrs. R. D. M'Lean, through whose interest, along with that of Mr. M'Lean's, the publication was undertaken, while elsewhere acknowledgement is made to Mr. Elsdon Best and the late Canon Stack for information supplied.

Taking his collection of Maori heads as models, with those he had seen in various museums in Europe, he made water, colour drawings, both full and side face, of the best of these, and only as late as 1918 offered a set of forty to the New Zealand Government for the modest sum of £20; and it is greatly to be regretted that again advantage was not taken of the opportunity to acquire them. The small recompense solicited by the gifted artist was quite out of proportion to the time, travel, and work involved in their production. From 1886 to 1894, and perhaps later, he contributed quite eighty drawings to the London Graphic, but they do not relate to New Zealand. One of them, a full-page illustration, and full of humour, represents the visit of a unit of Highland Regiment to Paris, and is entitled, “Should Mounted Highland Regiments Wear Kilts?” From 1864 to 1866 the Illustrated London News reproduced quite a number of his drawings relating to the Maori War, with accompanying letterpress furnished by the artist. The originals are still with that newspaper, which is not disposed to negotiate for their transfer elsewhere.

Following General Robley's retirement from the Army, his interest in it was continued in many ways, and for quite a period he acted as Range Officer at Wimbledon Rifle Range, besides acting in the same capacity at the annual championships between the Lords and Commons. Throughout the late war he particularly interested himself in New Zealand troops who happened to be in London, and while perhaps, through belonging to a past generation and unknown to this one, he did not make his identity known, many wounded New Zealand soldiers may recall having been spoken to by an elderly civilian possessing somewhat the cast of countenance and build of the late Lord Roberts, who interrogated them regarding their disablement, and presented them with a hand-painted postcard, generally characteristic of the Dominion's part in the war, with the request they should write on it the date and locality when and where they received their casualty.

In spite of his great age General Robley continues to enjoy fairly good health, and whenever circumstances permit keeps in close touch with the many Maori curios, weapons, etc., that from time to time change hands in the auction rooms, or are deposited in the curio shops of the great metropolis. It is somewhat strange he has never written an account of his New Zealand war experiences, but information recently to hand indicates that within the last few months he has applied himself to this, and before long the manuscript will be sent out to this country, where perhaps some day it may be placed in such form as to be available to all those interested.

That his hand has not lost its cunning as a painter of Maori scenes was demonstrated only so recently as August of last year, when he completed a fine painting, from a sketch furnished by the writer, of a large meeting of natives and settlers held at the Pa Whakairo. Te Aute, in 1863, presided over by Sir Donald M'Lean, and the native chiefs Porokuru, Te Moananui, and Te Hapuko, where the land question was under discussion, and incidentally one of Sir George Grey's famous flour mills was being presented to the natives.

O[gap — reason: illegible]. Fildes
Wellington. N.Z.