Hero Stories of New Zealand
Maro and Her Lovers
Maro and Her Lovers
MARO was a girl of the Whakatohea people, the tribe of the Opotiki alluvial plain and contiguous coast. They were her mother's folk; her father was a man of the ancient Kareke clan, descendants of the first inhabitants of that part of the Bay of Plenty shores. The Whakatohea women were accounted by competent judges among the pakeha to be the handsomest along the coast. Maro was, in her day, the prettiest woman in Opotiki. I knew her and her stalwart pakeha husband in their old age, and even then she was not without beauty. Theirs is a story of love and fidelity that endured for more than half a century. Five years before the faithful old couple passed to the Spiritland—they died within a very few months of each other—I heard from them at their home on the shores of Ohiwa Harbour, the tale of their early days' true romance, and the story of the man whom they both had loved more than anyone on earth except each other.
The two young frontiersmen were firm and trusty comrades in the bush-fighting years of the ’Sixties. Side by side they fought in one Maori campaign and expedition after another. The one who survived told me that they had been in more than thirty skirmishes together. They were christened “David and Jonathan” by their mates. Jonathan was Captain J. R. Rushton, of Ohiwa; he was known as “Wiremu” by all the Maoris along the coast. David fought and died long ago. He was Lieutenant David White, of the Opotiki Rangers. Some years ago I stood on the spot where he was laid page 194 to rest in 1869. A precarious sleeping place it was, on a gravel-spit island in a river-bed in the Urewera country. He was buried under fire. Rushton, even in his eighties, was a fine figure of a man. Tall and straight-backed and long-legged, he was the perfect type of bush soldier and scout. David White was, from the description of him I have heard from old comrades, just such another man, one of those stout-hearted, powerful fellows who could meet the Maori in his native bush and tackle him on equal terms.
Rushton was a Yorkshireman; and though he had been in New Zealand for nearly sixty years when I knew him, the North Country accent was still strong on his tongue. He served in three different corps of Rangers; first in Taranaki in Major Harry Atkinson's Bush Rangers of 1863–64, then in the Patea Bush Rangers, a hard-fighting little force which saw a vast amount of perilous bush service, and later in the Opotiki Volunteer Rangers, a body of military settlers formed to protect the border farms from the raids of the Urewera mountaineers and their Hauhau allies. He and White were in the expeditionary force which captured Opotiki after the fanatics had murdered the missionary Volkner; that was in 1865. In the following year they were both back in Taranaki, fighting under Major Tom McDonnell in a sharp bush campaign. The Patea Rangers, who were the first troops to land at Opotiki, were disbanded, and Rushton and White, who had both been sergeants in the corps, felt that the Government had treated them and their comrades badly, but they continued to serve rather than desert McDonnell, who was short of experienced men. They served without page 195 pay all through that six months' campaign on the West Coast.
The Taranaki forest fighting over, the comrades returned to the Bay of Plenty and became military settlers on the Opotiki flat, and it was then that they met and both fell in love with the beautiful Maro Taporangi.
That year, 1867, was one of alarms and raids and expeditions, an unrestful time for the people of Opotiki, hemmed in by hostile ranges on three sides. On one of the numerous excursions up through the forest defile of the Waimana against the Urewera and the hapus of the Whakatohea, still on the warpath, Rushton and White exchanged shots with the old warrior chief of the Kareke, who afterwards became their father-in-law.
Each of the rangers asked Maro to be his wife. She hesitated long, in indecision. She liked both of those strong, tall, bearded young scouts well enough; each would make a good husband, each would love and protect and cherish her. Which should it be? She was in no hurry to decide. The lovers and comrades agreed to leave it to her; their friendship would not be severed by love of woman.
Maro, not at first believing that the two suitors would remain friends if she married one of them, was secretly troubled by the thought of a quarrel between the two Englishmen who were as brothers to each other. At last she spoke to them both and made them promise that if she accepted one of them the other would not be jealous and dispute her choice. They must remain comrades, they must not fight for her possession. Moreover, she said, it was a time of danger and sudden death. Any day or night might see a raid or a skirmish page 196 that would carry a fatal bullet; she had seen over much of battle in her life. That being so, she wished Rushton and David to promise that if anything ever happened to the husband she chose, the other one would protect and care for her.
The promise was given, and on this understanding Maro took David. The pair were wedded and they set up house—a raupo-thatched whare on David's section. But it was brief joy for Maro and her lover.
A few months later Colonel Whitmore invaded the Urewera Country and the war bugle called David once more. He joined the column of Lieut.-Colonel St. John, the left wing of the force, for the march up the gorges of the Whakatane. With a small party of scouts he headed the advance. Just as he was stepping into the water at one of the fords of the river, at Te Paripari, far up in the ranges, towards Ruatahuna, a volley crashed from the opposite side of the Whakatane, and he fell mortally wounded. He died in a few minutes, and while the wild valley thundered and smoked with battle, Major William Mair read the burial service over his blanket-wrapped body. Hauhau bullets spattered the stones in the river-bed when the prayers were hurriedly said for the gallant soldier spirit.
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Maro, down in her lonely whare at Opotiki, wept long and bitterly for her man. Rushton did not serve in that expedition; had he joined the march he might have been leading the scouts in place of White. But he was under orders to remain at Opotiki in charge of one of the defending blockhouses. He was there on duty when the news came of his comrade's end.page 197
The two bereaved ones mourned with each other. Six months passed. Then Rushton renewed his proposal, and they both spoke of the promise made before she took David. So presently the pair of lovers rode along the coast to Tauranga, and there they were married in the little mission church.
And at Opotiki, and later on at Ohiwa, the Yorkshireman and his Maori wife lived and grew old together. It was a restless, anxious time for a year or two after they were married, for the Hauhau spirit still was strong among the tribes that roved the ranges, and Te Kooti and Kereopa were still at large, and Rushton was the Government's chief scout—he held a commission in the Militia—in the Opotiki district in the early Seventies. No one was his better on the forest trail, none more skilful in following up Maori tracks and detecting ambuscades. He made many expeditions into the savage bush country to the south of Opotiki and Whakatane up to about the middle of the year 1872. One of his last bush marches on active service was at the head of a war-party of Ngaitai friendlies into the rugged Motu forestland in search of Te Kooti. He was a true guardian of the frontier. For seven years he fought the Hauhaus.
And on their little section at Paewiwi, on the green shores of Ohiwa Harbour, hard by Kutarere, the venerable pair lived their quiet life, the calm evening of a stormy day. Rushton was still straight and soldierly as of old when we talked there some fifteen years ago. Maro was growing bent and feeble, but one could well believe she had been a lovely woman. There they lived, growing their food crops, now and again launching page 198 their canoe for a fishing excursion; before them the shining waters of Ohiwa, on which they had looked out for nearly two score years; their tenderest mutual thought always the memory of David, the scout chief who fell at that far ford in the forest. When Maro died her man did not long survive her. The two died in the same year, and the Maoris said that Wiremu's spirit hastened to join Maro's in the Shadowy Land where the souls of true lovers await each other.