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Sport 40: 2012

The Englishman

The Englishman

The first time I encounter James Worser Heberley is in a picture in Trevor Bentley’s 1999 book, Pakeha Maori. He frowns at the camera, his hand clasped protectively over that of his wife, Te Wai, who sits on a chair beside him. Her face is blurred, though her body is not, as page 10 if she were shaking her head slightly as the shot was taken. Heberley sports impressive sideburns that grow down like a beard in the style of the time, but the front of his face is clean shaven. His nose is broad and his lips as wide and full as his wife’s. Bentley says he was one of ‘Te Rauparaha’s original Pakeha toa, [who] as a young man joined Ngati Toa in their intertribal musket battles.’3 Something about the Heberley name stays with me for a while before I realise where I have heard it. I pull out the whakapapa chart I created only weeks before and find the Heberley name immediately, just above my great- great-great grandparents—Sarah Heberley and William (Pire) Henry Keenan. James ‘Worser’ Heberley and Maata Te Naehi e Wai (Te Wai) were Sarah’s parents. Half Mäori, half English-German, Sarah married a man who also had mixed blood, an Irish-Mäori.

Heberley’s eyes are penetrating and troubled. When I look closely they seem marked by sorrow rather than anger, though I am not sure I want this man to be my ancestor. Bentley’s book is full of bloodshed and cannibalism, thieves and mercenaries. His Mäori are bloodthirsty opportunists, his Päkehä variations of disreputable anarchists. To be fair, he doesn’t demonise either group. They both, it seemed, brought with them unsavoury as well as honourable practices. But the Aotearoa he describes is not one I recognise. Bentley seems to highlight every cannibal feast, every juicy narrative. According to Pakeha Maori, Heberley would have taken part in some of Te Rauparaha’s most vicious raids on South Island tribes.

I have not read every historical account Bentley references, but of the other sources I’ve found, none asserts Heberley’s allegiance to Te Rauparaha. They tend to emphasise Heberley’s more famous pursuits: he helped Dieffenbach climb Mt Taranaki, thereby becoming the first known man4 to gain the summit; he was Wakefield’s pilot and later the first pilot of Wellington, bestowing his nickname on the bay where he lived and worked: ‘Worser’. The name is usually attributed to ‘his habit of warning that the weather would get “worser and worser”.’5

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This story may be only legend, however, since Worser’s own journal states that he was teased about living in a Mäori raised storehouse or ‘whata’ before he had built his own house. ‘Tangata Whata’ soon became Europeanised to ‘Worser’.6

Heberley’s own account is also unclear on his loyalty to the warrior chief. For the most part his early stories of life in Queen Charlotte Sound consist of making do as best he can. He describes several skirmishes, and the necessity to flee from his home at Te Awaiti. He uses the term ‘we’ often, though sometimes it is unclear whether he is simply referring to himself and his family, his Päkehä cohort, which includes fellow whaler and employer, Jacky Guard, or the Mäori tribes they are living with. Perhaps at different times he means all, or different combinations of these groups. When they flee attack, they often return months or weeks later to find all their homes destroyed.

There are two revealing references to Heberley’s relationship with Te Rauparaha, aside from his matter of fact observations of ritual feasts. His obituary states:

[Heberley] well remembered his return with 500 prisoners from the famous raid to Kaiapoi 67 years ago; witnessed the murder of the prisoners, and the cannibal orgie that ensued. He afterwards owed his life to that same Rauparaha, who threw his cloak over him just in the nick of time to save him from a Waikato tomahawk upraised to brain him.7

This latter event occurred soon after they had fled the Sounds for Te Rauparaha’s northern stronghold:

We took our Boats and the Natives their Canoes, the Southern Natives followed us but they could not catch us, for we could outpull them, we went across to the other island and stayed at Kapiti, the Natives were at war again . . . so I took my boat and two natives to pull with me to page 12 a place called [Waikanae] to land my wife and child among her own tribe, I came back to Kapiti . . . 8

Heberley also records that he paid Te Rauparaha with tobacco for the protection of his cloak. He seemed to have a distant allegiance to the chief, owing more to the necessity of survival than a taste for warrior life. Later he is braver in his descriptions: ‘he was very troublesome . . . we were not sorry when he took his departure . . .’9

Bentley’s narrative, often derived from Päkehä Mäori returning to ‘civilization’ who could make a good bob or two from stories of savages and feasts of human flesh, makes early New Zealand seem a relentless and nightmarish world. While there is plenty of evidence of this in journals like Heberley’s, it doesn’t always reflect the reality of ordinary people trying to survive troubled, rapidly changing times. So many must’ve been trying to get by in their own peaceful way. Engage in commerce. Stay out of the way of that uncle or cousin who was on a rampage. Make a deal. It didn’t always work out, history tells us that. It also doesn’t make as exciting a narrative.

On balance, Heberley’s story is for the most part about trying to find a way to live in an unforgiving world. Back in Britain, he was sent to work at the age of 11, and served for years at a time on various ships, sometimes captained by ‘tyrants’, sometimes by men who found him destitute and offered him food and shelter. He doesn’t expand on the hardships in great detail, apart from the beatings with frozen rope or dogfish tail that sent him from one ship to another. It must’ve been a grim, frightening business for a boy growing up. There was some light relief when he began whaling as a young man, the rituals of cutting in being quite festive: ‘the Steward sang out Grog O—and we began to cut in the first whale . . . we began to get pretty merry . . . they danced away, although the Decks were greasy with the Blubber, every one got drunk but not so far, as to neglect their work . . .’10

When at last he came to Queen Charlotte Sound in 1830, he was told ‘there were plenty of Houses in Te Awaite and Native Women, page 13 and that we had nothing to do but to go in our Boats and catch Fish’.11 It was not that simple, for there were no houses, and the next ten years were filled with conflicts between warring tribes that Heberley found difficult to avoid. He must have liked the place and the people though, since he stayed amongst the tribes. He soon found himself a wife in Port Underwood, Te Wai of Te Ati Awa, who ‘clearly had important chiefly connections’12 and ‘reared a large family’.13 Says Bentley: ‘There is an important Maori woman in the story of every known Pakeha Maori’.14 He also quotes Markham from the time: ‘in fact it is not safe to live in the country without a chief’s daughter as a protection as they are always backed by their tribe’.15 Multiple wives were not uncommon, though Heberley seemed protective of and content with one, and of course ‘Mäori wives were rarely compliant or servile partners’.16 Like the other ancestors in this story, Worser and Te Wai have hundreds, if not thousands, of descendants.