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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

An Early Description

An Early Description.

An interesting description of Ahuriri in 1835 appeared in "Chamber's Journal" for September, 1857 (reprinted "Herald." April 6th and 24th, 1858). The writer was a Mr Dodson, ("Herald," September 4th, 1874). He says:—"At Ahuriri in Hawke's Bay, on the coast of the Northern Island, have been discovered fine plains covered with good natural grasses, combined with the temperate climate due to the 40th parallel of latitude. Many squatters have already settled on extensive sheep runs on the upland Runtaniwhu plains, and these pastoral colonists will doubtless be followed by agriculturalists as soon as the Government succeeds in purchasing the extensive alluvial plain at Ahuriri. . . . The Ahuriri plain is a good typo of its kind, and illustrates well the peculiar process of the formation. Six livers run through the plain page 48 into a common channel about 20 miles long at the bock of a beach of small moveable shingle. The channel leads to a lagoon about 20 square miles in extent, lying at the back of the narrow beach also, and on the side of the plain opposite to Cape Kidnapper. An opening of 150 yards in width from the lagoon co the sea at the island pa is the only outlet for all these rivers in summer, but in winter each river swollen by heavy rains, bursts through the beach, and makes to itself a separate mouth. Notwithstanding that the tide rushes through the main opening at the rate of six or seven knots an hour, the lagoon is rapidly silting up, and mudflats are appearing; wherever there Is easy water. . . . The influx of settlers into this favoured district has already raised up at the entrance of the lagoon three public houses where London porter may be had for half a crown a bottle, and brandy so plentifully mixed with fiery arrack as fully to confirm the Maoris salutary idea of the noxious qualities of waipiro."

Mr Dodson then describes a visit to Noah's pa on the banks of the Ngaruroro. He crossed the river at its mouth in a whaleboat and walked along the shingle in the direction of Waitangi. "Large masses of pumice lay scattered around brought down by Hoods from the volcanoes inland. Of this light material the settlers here built the chimneys of their weather-hoarded houses, cementing the pumice with lime Of burnt shells; for building stone and limestone are not within a convenient distance of Ahuriri. . . Karaitiana was to meet me at Pukenau, the kainga of noath, of the Nguiuroro; I therefore passed Awapuni, the kainga of Karaitiana and crossed the channel in n canoe to Pukenau on the grassy banks of the Ngaruroro. The village contains page 49 about twenty houses, snugly hid among groups of noble willow trees, just then opening into their fresh green leaves, in pleasing contrast to numbers of peach trees, flushing all over with their pink blossom of early spring. AH the villagers were at work, some ploughing with horses, others digging with spades to which they seldom needed to apply the heel, so light is this sandy river soil. The women and children were putting in uncut seed potatoes, while the patriarch Noah followed with a hoop of supplejack on a long handle, with which he filled up and smoothed over the furrows. Potatoes, wheat, and Indian corn are the staple of the .Maori farmer. Pakehas—often old whalers or refugees from Tasmania—are settled along the coast to buy produces, potatoes, wheat and Indian corn from the natives, who bring it down the rivers in canoes to the store on the coast, and return with supplies of slop clothing, farming instruments, etc The merchants of Auckland send schooners and smart brigs to drogue for wheat along the coast; and thus the harvest finds its way to market. In many cases, however, the natives themselves possess smart sea-going craft which they navigate with surprising skill. The natives of Poverty Bay alone possess 83 such vessels. The proceeds of the crops go to buy horses, saddles, clothes, ploughs, etc., for the Maoris pay no rent and are not troubled with butchers' or bakers' hills, since they grow their own food on their own land, moreover, they are free from all rates and taxes. During my stay here I was lodged in Noah's house, which is the first Maori house I have met with that differs from the universal ancestral type. It has two apartments, a hut and a ben; a table, windows and a high door, a pumice-stone chimney and a bedplace raised above the ground, not unlike the boxes that page 50 do the office of bedsteads in the fore cabin of a small steamer, but still a great improvement on sleeping on the earth. In the evening a prolonged tinkling on the head of a hoe summoned all the village to karakia, or church, a building nearly covered with drooping willows, where Noah read prayers in Maori amid prolonged silence, except where responses were required. Before and after our meals grace was invariably said. A few hundred yards from the little village stood a large native church capable of containing one thousand persons, now gradually falling into decay, the regular services having been for some time suspended. . . . The natives are sober, intelligent, frugal and industrious and as farmers are evidently formidable competitors of the European emigrant." The description suggests considerable changes in the configuration of the Inner Harbour.