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Tikera; or, Children of the Queen of Oceania

Chapter II We set out to explore Maoriland

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Chapter II We set out to explore Maoriland

After only a few days in Auckland, my relationship with the young German nobleman had deepened into something like friendship. Newcomers from Europe arrive all the time in the colonies. New friendships are contracted in a matter of days, rather than after years of plodding acquaintanceship as happens at Home. The secret of success in any new situation is to drop one's old customs if they have become an encumbrance and adopt more suitable ones.

I felt considerable pity for my new friend. Was it crime, family disagreements, or simply his adventurous spirit that had driven him from the comforts of his life in the Old Country to rough it in the Antipodes? I dared not ask. Whatever he had done I felt enormous sympathy with this educated man who was utterly helpless and quite unprepared to cope with his present cruel circumstances.

One afternoon I asked him what he would do once I had gone, for neither my funds nor my inclination would allow me to stay any longer in that deplorable town. He answered in his usual despondent way, ‘I have no idea.’

‘But you must do something,’ I insisted.

‘Perhaps I'll join the militia. They are looking for volunteers, and the pay is good. But it's so difficult for a man like me to live with the dregs of colonial society.’

‘Is that the reason you don't want to join? All this time I've thought it was because you didn't want to fight against an unhappy people who are defending their freedom.’

‘That kind of thing doesn't bother me. Anyhow, the Maoris are an inferior race. But I can tell you that if I had a chance of becoming an officer, as I was in Maximilian's army, I would fight against the angels themselves. There's no hope of that.’

‘Why don't you come with me when I go? It will soon be harvest time, and later there'll be sheep-shearing. The work may be humble, but it's well paid.’

‘I am no good at it. Besides, no one would have me.’

‘Since you are out here you had better learn every kind of work, so long as it's honest, I'll take you with me. I have enough money page 16 for us both until you can fend for yourself. I can manage all right, and help someone else too.’

‘You're lucky. You can adapt yourself so easily to this rough life.’

‘Where there's a will there's a way, as the proverb says. I've learnt the hard way how to behave. As you know, I want to see the world. I have no private means, so I must use my arms and legs instead. The fact that once upon a time I knew something about books doesn't mean that I have to starve. You can be reasonably prosperous with a manual job.’

‘And where shall I find this prosperity?’

‘Come with me, and we'll look for it together.’

‘Where do you intend to go?’

‘I would like to go up north. The harvest starts early there, and the war hasn't yet spread so far. I admit that the south is more interesting, but we can wait to go there until the war is over. If we can catch a north-bound boat, we'll take it. If there's no boat, we'll go south, because the volcanic terrain and the bush north of Auckland are practically impassable on foot. I see from the newspaper that a small cutter sails to the Bay of Islands tomorrow. It's quite an historic place. Captain Cook made his first New Zealand landing there, and there are many active volcanoes to be seen. There are plenty of large farms as well as Maori villages, so we'll be able to learn about the country and its inhabitants as well as earning a good living.’

The outcome of this conversation was a visit to the harbour. There we were shown a small boat, of some fifteen tons, with the pompous title of ‘Bay of Islands Packet’.

She was a cutter, a single-masted sailing vessel, only partly decked and with her hold uncovered. These tiny replicas of the Viking ships in which the Norseman discovered America today carry English seamen to the farthest corners of the earth. As coastal traders cutters are unrivalled even by the steamers, although these are rapidly gaining in importance. The gallant men of the north-east American seaboard spend many a long month in these frail craft, sailing them fearlessly from one distant point to another, from Newfoundland to Antarctica. Often their only navigational instruments are a compass and a log. They use this and an hourglass to measure the speed of their ship. Like the Norse raiders they instinctively trust in the silvery stars which Providence has scattered all over the night sky, and the stars never fail their old friends. They have no use for telescopes, sextants, or logarithmic tables. Anyone who knows anything about seamen and ships will trust himself to such men quite unhesitatingly, how- page 17 ever hazardous the journey may seem, for these Anglo-Saxons face up to the sea as well as anyone in the world.

The cutter, moored by the jetty, balanced lightly on the water like a swan, at ease in her element. Her solitary mast bobbed up and down, weaving gentle circles on the pink background of the early evening sky.

‘Where's the crew?’ I asked the undersized boy who was stretched out on the rocking stern and obviously enjoying the movement of the cutter. Though the sea appeared calm a steady swell was betrayed by the swaying mast as the sea breathed in a restful sleep.

The startled boy leapt to his feet.

‘The skipper is in the pub over the road.’

‘And the crew?’

‘The crew … the crew,’ he pondered, scratching his shaggy head, ‘that must be me.’

‘What? there's only the skipper and a youngster like you?’

‘We used to have two men, but they deserted in Sydney. So three of us, the skipper, the first mate, and I, had to sail the boat all the way to Auckland. Yesterday the first mate had a fight with the skipper and he went off, too, even though he owed quite a bit of money to the owner.’

‘What are your duties on board?’

‘Whatever comes along. Sometimes cooking, sometimes crewing. A bit of everything.’

‘Well, so really your skipper is single-handed?’

‘That's all right,’ he bragged. ‘We could sail this boat to England if we wanted to. You don't know her sir—she's a real beauty. She can sail under the water just as well as she can on it.’

Despite this boast, Charles refused to risk a voyage with such an unusual crew. Like all landlubbers he believed only in big ships, the ones with the greatest number of victims on their consciences.

‘Are you a coward?’ I asked him.

‘Not on land, but I wasn't brought up to be a seaman. Moreover, though my horoscope tells me that I need not fear the gallows, it's strangely silent about death by drowning. And although I swim quite well, I won't board this packet-boat unless you provide me with a pair of wings, like an albatross's. If I could alternately swim and fly perhaps I wouldn't be so set against this foolish trip of yours. As it is, I won't go.’

So our projected voyage to the Bay of Islands came to nothing. After sending Charles away I hunted high and low but found no larger boat sailing for those parts. I walked the whole length of the page 18 waterfront until, tired and thirsty, I resolved to refresh myself in the first public house I should come to. This happened to be a rowdy place, overflowing with Maoris, soldiers, and seamen. One of the crowd recognized me as his old shipmate from the Woodpecker. I had unfortunately forgotten that he had the reputation of being a regular sly dog.

‘Where have you been hiding?’ he shouted. ‘All the fellows are looking for you.’

‘I haven't got enough money to drink with all of them.’

‘At least you can have a good time with me. Hey, landlord, show us into the parlour. It's natural for two mates who spent six months together to want a good talk over their drink.’

It seemed to me that so saying he gave a wink to the publican but at that time I was not up to the tricks of colonial society and I did not pay much attention.

‘At your service, gentlemen,’ mumbled the affable publican, whom I thought to be a half-caste. He led us to the requested room, continuing: ‘The ordinary parlour won't do for you, gentlemen. A few Maoris from the whaling ship that came into the harbour today are sitting there. I'll take you to a private room, right behind the parlour, where you'll find more suitable company.’

We sat down at a table next to a group of men who were playing at dice. They immediately invited us to join them, but I refused. Meantime, my former shipmate ordered some porter and ale. When they were brought he mixed them up and served the brew known as ‘half-and-half’. Again, as I watched the dark brown porter and the light yellow ale turn into a darkish mixture, I thought that my host winked at the publican. Innocently I gulped down my drink, never suspecting any treachery.

In a very short time the gamblers began to argue among themselves. Apparently they did not trust one another and they called upon me to arbitrate. I tried to reconcile the opposing parties by counting up the points on the dice. Surprisingly enough they accepted my verdict and asked me to celebrate with another drink. Knowing the colonial custom I could not refuse. Raising my glass I drank to their health. Meanwhile, my former companion kept filling my glass up again. Drinking encouraged conversation. The gamblers grew more and more lively while I grew more and more silent every minute. My head got heavy, my tongue simply refused to move. I felt sleepy. Although I knew instinctively that for my own good I had to get outside into the fresh air, I could not manage it. How long I fought against this strange drowsiness I do not know … perhaps fifteen page 19 minutes or half an hour. Eventually I must have fallen asleep for a moment or two. All at once I woke up, violently out of breath, half aware of having had my pockets picked.

This stung me to the raw, not because of the money in them, but for much deeper reasons. The pocket has become an indispensable product of civilization, and modern man (who is not naturally a marsupial) is extremely sensitive to violations of its privacy. His pockets multiply in accordance with his age or degree of enlightenment, and he strongly resents any attempts on their safety or anything that threatens their existence. He obtains his first pocket when he is about four years old, with his first pair of trousers. Gradually their number increases until he attains the refinements of waistcoat pockets for a watch, a toothpick, small change, etc. In Europe, this finally marks a man's full maturity, but in the colonies he must have an extra pocket to hold his gun before he reaches that status. So far this is the most that civilization has done for man, yet I believe there are pockets planned for the future which will ornament the tops of jackboots. Strangely enough civilization shows this generosity towards man but allows poor woman only a single pocket, and even this luxury is so impractically positioned that any thief can easily steal a purse from it. The whole pocket question presents an interesting problem for the anthropologist, but my predicament did not allow me to study its finer points of detail.

Although I was very much frightened I decided that only active resistance would save me. I had deposited the bulk of my money with my Irish landlord and had only a little on me. I was afraid that the thieves would think I had it sewn into my clothes and would murder me just because it was not in my pockets.

I am an unusually strong man and I was able to break free a little from the prying hands which held me and call for help.

‘I'll give you something to shout for,’ cried one of my assailants, knocking me down with a blow to the temple. Before he was able to kick me the door opened and the publican appeared on the threshold holding a lighted candle. His head was the only brightly lit spot in the whole dark room but I did not find it very pretty nor its sinister expression very cheering.

‘Can't you blunderers do a simple job like that?’ inquired the head. ‘Gag him with a cloth, or everyone will know what you are up to. If you don't do as I say, I'll have to put an end to this business. I have my reputation to consider.’

‘Help … police!’ I yelled, until they silenced me by wrapping a coat round my head so tightly that I could scarcely breathe.

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Though I was gagged I could still hear the publican's voice: ‘Damn you, why didn't you put him properly to sleep?’

‘I gave him a double dose of laudanum. I've never met such a hard head,’ explained my erstwhile companion ruefully.

‘Then finish him off with a knife,’ advised another voice.

‘For God's sake, not that,’ protested the landlord. ‘Blood tells strange stories, even after many years. Do him in under the coat.’

I took advantage of the fact that during this villainous exchange I was restrained by only one pair of knees and made a desperate effort to remove the stifling coat. I yelled with all my strength. My voice must have been heard in the next room through the half-open door.

‘Shut the door and go to the devil!’ swore my ex-shipmate at the publican.

The publican was obeying when he was violently pushed into the room and a well-built Maori in Mercantile Marine uniform appeared in the doorway. The landlord's candle outlined the newcomer's slim, strong body on unusually short legs (the common Maori physique) and his noble brown face. His sharp eyes tried to pierce the darkness of the room. He made a splendid picture against the black background of the passage, all the more so because he gave me back hope of life.

‘What are you doing in here?’ he asked in good, fluent English. ‘Whom are you murdering? Let him go at once! What, you won't do as I say?’ And a revolver barrel gleamed in front of his shining eyes, aimed at the landlord's head, who, panic-stricken, dropped the candle and hid behind the table. In the darkness that swallowed the room the ruffians quickly left me. The sound of stealthy steps and the creaking of the back door betrayed their hasty retreat. The Maori struck a wax match (there are no others in the colony), found the candle, lit it, helped me to my feet, and led me along the dark passage into the cool starry night.

‘Poor fellow,’ he said, ‘they beat up you mercilessly. You are bleeding all over. Which ship are you from? I can see from your clothes that you are a seaman.’

‘Until a few days ago I served on the Woodpecker.’

‘Did you get your pay?’

‘Yes, I did.’

‘Did those villains steal it from you?’

‘No, I didn't have it on me. I left it with my landlord.

‘You must be a shrewd man. But why did you go to that place page 21 without any money? The Gay Maori is a meeting place for the worst gamblers and drunkards in town.’

‘It's only by accident that I went there. Afterwards I was enticed to the private room.’

‘You're lucky that I was searching for my men from the whaling ship and called in to collect them before going back to our village. If it hadn't been for that, you would have lost your life. The regular customers at that place never hear the calls for help from the next room.’

‘What rogues! I must report all this to the police.’

‘That won't help you much. You have no witnesses, and the publican will testify against you.’

‘But you can be my witness.’

‘I? A coloured man? Oh no, we are not permitted to witness against a white man.’

‘What? And you an officer in the Merchant Service, an educated man?’

‘Aye, and a tribal chief whose ancestors' deeds have been a theme of Maori chants since the days when the first canoes landed with my people on these islands. That counts for nothing. No white judge will accept my testimony. If those men had not been afraid of my gun going off and the fact that it would have attracted the attention of people in the street, they would have killed you before my eyes without a second thought.’

‘Thank God you helped me as you did. May I know your name?’

‘The pakehas call me George Sunray, which is a translation of my Maori name. I don't use that in town because I am ashamed that although I am chief of an ancient tribe I have to serve on a white man's ship.’

‘Who taught you to speak English so well?’

‘We have schools, and I went to a missionary college here. Some of my relatives have even been to England to be educated. Moreover, for the last few years I've served as a quartermaster on a whaler, where I have acquired a further knowledge of the language.’

Whatever else this long conversation with the stalwart Maori proved to me, one thing was certain. Apart from his complexion he was in every way my equal. As we walked to my boarding-house I could not help admiring the dignified bearing and the grave, powerful tread of my Maori rescuer.

‘How can I repay you for your help?’ I asked him as we parted.

‘If ever you meet a Maori in danger forget for an instant that you have a light skin and he has a dark one. You have already told me page 22 that you aren't an Englishman so you have no reason to hate us. By helping one of my people you will be helping me and your debt will be paid.’

I shook his honest, powerful hand and bade him farewell. I did not expect to see him again for he told me that he lived far from Auckland, near Mount Tongariro, a district seldom visited by Europeans. He also told me that he had had enough of the sea. He had decided to forget the disappointment which had made him leave his home. He had made up his mind to return to his village where he would be acclaimed as chief, partly through inheritance, and partly by a tribal vote. He was the last of a line of tribal chiefs, and traditionally the Maoris do not look for a new chief outside the chiefly families, unless these are extinct.

When I entered my boarding-house the company showed me great sympathy. My Irish landlady washed my head and dressed it gently with soft paper soaked in vinegar, while the other residents listened attentively to my story. The landlord muttered that I should have waited to quench my thirst at home.

‘Let it be a lesson to you, young man,’ he went on solemnly, holding up his candle before handing it over to me, ‘never go to a strange public house in the colonies. If you want to get drunk, do it among your friends.’

After this edifying lecture I climbed upstairs to rest my painful body on my hard bed. I was so sore that I stayed awake until midnight, and when at last I fell asleep I dreamt all night about robbers and white-wigged judges in long black robes who jeeringly kept snatching the Bible away from a Maori witness. England claims as her mission the world-wide distribution of the Bible. She gives the Bible with one hand and a bottle of fourth-class rum with the other.

The next day I did not feel like going abroad on account of all the bruises, cuts, and soft paper I sported. The landlord and everyone else told me that in this blessed country nobody was ashamed at being slightly scarred. Indeed, my appearance was so little out of the way that not a soul accosted me in the street or wanted to investigate the cause of my disfigurement. I moved about unmolested all day long, visiting various interesting places. All the same I was quite relieved when night fell, my last but one in Auckland according to my plan.

‘Soon I shall be able to hide my battered face in the bush,’ I thought as I fell into a sweet sleep.

Early in the morning we began to assemble the necessary equipment for our journey. We did not need much apart from a small page 23 tent, some blankets, a couple of axes, and a billy for making tea. No one carries heavy packs, even on longest expeditions in the colonies. As for food, travellers take a fair amount of tea and sugar with them. Flour they buy as they can at the scattered settlements they come to, and meat and fish are not too difficult to provide if one has a gun and some fish hooks. I took a good store of these but no rifle, trusting to buy meat from European sheepfarmers or from the Maoris.

The following day was to see us on the move. Meanwhile, to occupy the idle hours, I paid a visit to Parliament, both Houses of which were in session deliberating how to bring peace to a country split by the bloodiest war between the two races that New Zealand had known.

As you no doubt know New Zealand is a federation of separate provinces united in the person of the Governor and by Parliament. The Lower House, the legislative body, contains the white representatives of the provinces and a few Maori members. I saw some of them, dressed in ample cloaks, woven by their women from the native flax and dyed in mottled colours and beautiful patterns. One of them spoke while I was there, using English words but Maori phraseology. He claimed that the Bill under discussion, by which the land of the rebellious tribes should be confiscated, was unworthy of the House's approval.

‘There are very few of us,’ he said, ‘and we are rapidly disappearing. Captain Cook found us as numerous as pebbles on a beach. Today you will find on this Island more pakehas in scarlet uniforms than Maoris. The pakeha's wife has four, five, six children. The Maori's wife has none. Atua has cursed us, for we have sold the sacred land of our forefathers and accepted foreign customs. Leave us the property which we have not yet sold. You will not have to wait long for our inheritance, for Atua has cursed the Maori womenfolk.’

This short speech from a civilized Maori chief, friendly towards the white men, pointing out that the luxuries and sickness brought to his land by the invaders would give all of it to them sooner than the bayonet and confiscation, had no visible effect.

Parliament approved this rapacious Bill and made it law. A wicked law it was, for it punished sons for the faults (if we can call them that) of their fathers. It cried aloud to heaven for vengeance. It took away the land belonging to the tribes and handed it over to a few grasping speculators. It was based on violence and not on mutual respect, as law should be.

This unworthy and ignoble Bill was unanimously accepted by all page 24 the white representatives. It was chiefly this new law that intensified the war and became the source of my future adventures amongst the Maoris; for news of it so inflamed them that a European wandering across their threatened domains faced a dishonourable slavery, or even death. Tribes which had hitherto remained neutral now joined the rebellion in defence of their kinsmen whose land was, according to the law, theirs no longer.

Unaware of what was in store for us we intended to explore precisely that part of the country where this fatal law would cause the fiercest indignation. We meant to pass through the Auckland province and the volcanic interior of the North Island to reach the wealthy provinces of Taranaki and Wellington, whose sheepfarmers had employment for every newcomer. Numbers of tradesmen and shopkeepers go to these two provinces during the harvesting and shearing seasons, where they receive substantial pay for their short period of work. In this way, an immense area of arable land is cultivated by a handful of landowners who would find the cost of running their vast estates far too high if they had to employ regular labourers all year round.

Having collected all the indispensable items for our expedition we foolishly increased it by an expensive and, what was worse, a heavy addition. My enterprising companion wanted to take a saucepan because, he said, he had seen travellers in America use them for baking bread. Small flat loaves baked directly over the ashes of a fire—almost a staple diet in the Australian bush—did not please his aristocratic palate. Though my coarse taste was scarcely aware of any difference between bread baked in the saucepan or in the ashes, I got what he wanted. Its hard, heavy bottom almost broke our new, tender friendship, for my comrade meant to use it just for baking, leaving its transportation to me. The disagreement caused by my protest against this division of labour proved that the noble character of my German friend was more selfish than is proper in a partnership, particularly when travelling in a dangerous wilderness. Wherever life consists of rustic trifles, the presence of pettiness is more discouraging than any other fault, and makes companionship difficult. A man who shows himself an egotist in little things will turn out to be a tyrant in great matters.