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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter IV — Through the Heart of the Island

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Chapter IV
Through the Heart of the Island

Maclean goes to Taupo and meets Te Heuheu

At this period, 1845, the tribes of the interior lived a perfectly independent life, untrammelled by all pakeha laws save the mild rule of the missionaries, each paramount chief exercising the power of a petty sovereign. The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed by most of the principal men in the two islands, but one who steadfastly refused to set his mark to it was the greatest chief of all. This was Te Heuheu Tukino, the Ariki of the Taupo country, head of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa tribe, occupying the very heart of the North Island, around the shores of Lake Taupo. There stretched the deep sea-like waters of Taupo Moana, navigated only by the war canoes and the fishing shallops of his people; there rose, from the volcanic plains south of the lake, the wonderful smoking and steaming mountains of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe and the snowy pile of Ruapehu, the sacred peaks of his family and tribe, symbolising to the Maoris their nationhood, their ancestral glory.

Te Heuheu was the most dignified, even majestic figure among the many high aristocrats of his race. Of great stature and in his prime a toa or warrior of exceptional strength and activity, he was now grown old but his vigour of mind and his fiery clan pride remained unabated. He declined with scorn the coaxing of the missionaries to become a Christian or to sign the Treaty with the White Queen. “I shall not abase myself by placing my head between the thighs of a woman,” he declared with the blunt symbolism of the Maori. “I am King here in Taupo.” His younger brother Iwikau—soon to succeed him as Ariki of Taupo—had been induced to sign the document when he page 16 went on a visit to the Arawa country; he was given a blanket for his “X” on the “pukapuka o te Kuini.” Iwikau soon had good reason to regret acceptance of that blanket, for his brother berated him for his action in thus belittling the family and the tribe by accepting alien sovereignty, and made him return it.

That was the chief and that was the district which the young Sub-Protector of Aborigines set out to visit in the spring of 1845, in pursuance of his determination to make friends with all the native tribes and familiarise himself with their ways and their attitude towards the Government and the colonists. It was not an easy place to reach in those days of no roads. The only way was to take canoe up one or other of the great rivers as far as practicable and then walk through the forests and swamps and over the many steep ranges. Very few Europeans had been to Taupo. The Rev. Richard Taylor, the missionary at Wanganui, was one of the earliest. He accompanied Maclean on a second expedition, up the Wanganui River. Edward Jerningham Wakefield, nephew of Colonel Wakefield and Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and author of Adventure in New Zealand, had been at Pukawa in 1842; he was hospitably entertained by Te Heuheu. In 1844 G. F. Angas, the artist, from Australia, on his expedition through the North Island met and sketched the two high chiefs and many scenes in their country. Maclean had met Te Heuheu on the coast in 1844, as described in the last chapter. It was the old chieftain's last war-trail; he was not fated to meet a toa's death, in battle, but to perish miserably in a land-slip with half a hundred of his people.

The stalwart Maclean was only twenty-five when he undertook his diplomatic mission through the Island to Taupo, but he was of a discretion, wisdom and acumen beyond his years. Practically he was an ambassador to independent tribes, and he must uphold the mana of his race and his Government with befitting dignity, at the same time paying due respect to the opinions and the customs of a proud primitive folk. One of his responsibilities was the making of peace between quarrelsome clans wherever there was a possibility of conflict.

page 17

The story of Maclean's first journey from New Plymouth to Taupo, and a second expedition later in the same year, is contained in a MS journal narrative hitherto unpublished.*

Writing from New Plymouth under date July 11 1845, Maclean reported to the Chief Protector of Aborigines, Mr. George Clarke, at Auckland, that he left Taranaki for Mokau and Taupo in April of that year, in order to visit tribes in the interior that he had not yet had an opportunity of seeing. At the Mokau he found the people “quite unacquainted with European habits and customs and forms of government;” they had, however, seen something of traders by this time, and they had a resident missionary. From Mokau Heads he walked by rugged tracks to Kawhia, where he made a short stay with his missionary friend John Whiteley. From Kawhia, with his Maori companions, he started on the long walk through the country that long afterwards came to be known as the King Country, the land of the Ngati-Maniapoto tribe, to the wild Tuhua country and South Taupo.

Two big men, physically and mentally, silently appraised each other when Maclean and Te Heuheu Tukino met. The old warrior king was even bigger than the six feet two inches pakeha. The descriptive Mana-nui, meaning great influence, prestige, authority, was the popular affix to his name. Maclean was still to make his own name and establish his mana, but it was not many years before Wake-field described him as “the great Maori mystery man.” The adventurous Scot and the Maori “savage,” as the missionaries called him, conceived a respect and admiration for each other that was too soon tragically swept aside by death.

Maclean had travelled by way of Whakatumutumu (on the head-waters of the Mokau), and Tuhua, fifty-six miles apart, through a marshy forest country where the party had to carry all their provisions for the journey. At Tuhua he was detained a day or two by the difficulty of getting assistance, his own natives being completely knocked up from

* Manuscript diary, reports and letters of Donald Maclean, 1845, lent by Lady Maclean, at Napier 1929.

page 18 the fatigue of the march; only two were able to go on to Taupo, where they had again to carry their provisions through a forest country.

The young Government ambassador met with a most friendly reception at Te Rapa, on the south Taupo lakeside. Te Heuheu the Great, after entertaining his guest to food, introduced him to the members of his family. Then the chief began a long speech on the condition of the Maori people and their relations with the pakeha. “He displayed,” Maclean wrote in his diary, “the martial bearing of a New Zealand chieftain, declaiming on warlike operations, his deportment portraying both dignity and determination, which could not fail having an effect on all he might address. With a powerful but harsh voice he thus began:

“‘The New Zealanders are all a chieftain race. They will not be subdued by Europeans. From their infancy they have been skilled in war.’” Hone Heke's opinion, he said, was that the flag-staff at the Bay of Islands was intended to enslave the natives, and deprive them of their lands; he had been told so by an American trader, whom he named Te Hu.*

They had been told the same thing by the Rev. W. Williams. This, Maclean told him, would have been inconsistent with that gentleman's character. But he persisted that Williams had said so. Te Rangihaeata was ready to create a similar disaffection at Port Nicholson. Many attempts were made to erect flagstaffs there. He recommended the Government not to put up any at Wellington, as the natives wanted an opportunity, and were quite ready for a quarrel with Europeans; that messengers had already been sent through the island to ascertain how far the neutral tribes would render assistance, in the event of a war with the pakeha. Te Heuheu had told those messengers that he did not wish to trouble himself with

* Captain William Mayhew, an American who had a store at Wahapu, near Kororareka; he was Acting Consul for the United States from 1840 to 1845. Mayhew was one of those who had instilled a dislike and distrust of Britain into the minds of Heke and Pomare and other chiefs, consequent on the imposition of Customs duties.

page 19 European quarrels; that they did not trouble him much. He hoped the Governor would soon declare peace with Heke when he had obtained satisfaction for those killed by him.

Te Heuheu's brother, Iwikau, said that many Maoris who were partial to the Waitangi Treaty had been persuaded by their missionaries. Many councils were held amongst natives and Europeans, that placed them on their guard as to the result of their negotiations, which they then pretended would not be of a final character. He could then foresee, as well as all other discerning chiefs—who also held their councils—that the Government was usurping a right over their lands, chieftainship and property, of which they would never make a voluntary concession. “The pakeha must be a very dishonest people,” said Iwikau; “else why do they have so many locks on their doors and boxes?”

The young Government emissary tried to convince the chiefs that many of their impressions were erroneous, but their cynical scepticism as to the Europeans' good intentions was not to be demolished. So passed the conference with the two big men of Taupo.

After succeeding in pacifying two sections who had quarrelied, Maclean took his leave, and returned to the coast, by way of the plains and the Wanganui River. “On passing down the Wanganui,” he wrote, “I was struck by the denseness of the population on the northern parts, and the inaccessible situation of many of their pas, only to be approached by ladders up the steep sides of precipices. These places, fenced by nature, have been their safeguard when attacked by the otherwise irresistible force of the Waikato, who failed in their attempts to subdue the inhabitants of these rugged wilds, when other parts of the Island were obliged to submit. This part of the river has rarely been visited by Europeans, which caused the Maoris to think the more of my coming to see them at a time when the Island was under such excitement. They manifested great anxiety to learn the intentions of Waikato and Taupo towards them, from whom they were in daily fear of an attack more especially those towards the coast, whose page 20 situation being more unprotected from the flatness of that part of the country, had greater occasion to dread an hostile incursion. They were pleased to learn that Heuheu was peacefully disposed to all his former enemies.”

Heuheu and the Missionary

Here comes in the Wanganui missionary, the Reverend Richard Taylor, a friend of Maclean's, but a less tolerant man, who was respectfully and hospitably treated by the big man of Taupo whenever he visited Taupo on his travels. We revert to the early part of the year when Te Heuheu had visited the West Coast at the head of his war party.

In Maclean's manuscript journal there is a record of a theological argument between Te Heuheu and Mr Taylor, in which the Maori ripostes are sharp and scornful. It must have been an amusing duel of tohunga tongues. Maclean includes some extracts he made from a manuscript journal which the missionary lent him.

Mr Taylor preached to the taua, the war-party from Taupo, at Wanganui on 5 January 1845.

“After preaching,” he wrote, “I went to see the Heuheu. He told me that our God was a child, he had only come to the land; his own gods had been there from the beginning. I told them that there was but one God, and exhorted them to listen to His words. Heuheu answered there were many gods, because one God could not make all things. One man could not make all houses, canoes, weapons, etc. Our God, he said, was an angry God to thrust all his enemies into the fire. He, Heuheu, was a god also. Tongariro Mountain was his progenitor, and continued so through all his generations.”

The debate between the chief and the missionary was continued on 7th January. Mr. Taylor wrote: “Had an interview with Heuheu, who spoke very largely about the wicked being sent to Hell. He said he would have a fight with God first before he went there. He said he would take Waitotara; and then he would soon make all the natives give up religion. I could not listen to his boasting and page 21 blasphemous language, without thinking of Sanakarib; and I could not think that the Lord would fail to manifest his power to bring to naught all the evil devices of this poor benighted savage.”

The horror of the missionary at this impious defiance of his doctrine of hell-fire must have secretly amused the Scot, for all his own Calvinistic training. He did not call the Heuheu a “poor benighted savage.” On the contrary, he wrote in his diary, after quoting Taylor's words: “Here I would remark that the manners of Heuheu are very attractive, so as to command respect, and even admiration; and were he to have more intercourse with respectable Europeans, he would no doubt advance in civilization.”