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The Adventures of Kimble Bent


page vii


This book is not a work of fiction. It is a plain narrative of real life in the New Zealand bush, a true story of adventure in a day not yet remote, when adventure in abundance was still to be had in the land of the Maori. Every name used is a real one, every character who appears in these pages had existence in those war days of forty years ago. Every incident described here is a faithful record of actual happenings; some of them may convince the reader that truth can be stranger than fiction.

Numerous instances are recorded of white deserters from civilisation who have allied themselves with savages, adopting barbarous practices, and forgetting even their mother-tongue. In the old convict days of New South Wales escapees from the fetters of a more than rigorous “system” now and again cast in their lot with the blacks. Renegades of every European nationality have been found living with and fighting for native tribes in Africa page viii and America and the Islands of Polynesia. But none of them had a wilder story to tell than has the man whose narrative is here presented—Kimble Bent, the pakeha-Maori. Ever since 1865—when he first “took to the blanket”—he has lived with the New Zealand Maoris. For thirteen years he was completely estranged from his fellow-whites; he had deserted from a British regiment and a price was on his head. British troops and Colonial irregulars alike hunted him and his fanatical Hauhau companions. His hairbreadth escapes were many; he had to risk death not only from British bullet and bayonet, but from the savage brown men of the forest with whom he lived. When at last he came out of hiding, and dared once more to face those of his own colour, he had almost forgotten the English language, and could speak it but with difficulty and hesitation. He has been out of his bush exile many years, but is still living with his Maori friends, and is still known by the Maori name, “Tu-nui-a-moa,” which his chief Titokowaru gave him in 1868. When he writes to me, he usually writes in Maori, and he is practically a Maori himself, for he has lived the greater part of his life as a Maori, and he has assimilated the peculiar modes of thought and some of the ancient beliefs of the natives, as well as their tongue and customs.

page ix

One of the most remarkable portions of Bent's narrative is his account of the revival of cannibalism by the Hauhaus in 1868. Vague stories have been heard concerning the eating of soldiers' bodies by the bushmen of Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Rauru and of rites of human sacrifices performed in the woods of Taranaki, but this account of Bent's is the first detailed description from an eye-witness of the man-eating practices in Titokowaru's camps. Many of Tito's Hauhaus are still alive; but they are very reticent on the subject of “long-pig.”

I first met Kimble Bent in 1903. In that year Mr. T. E. Donne, now the New Zealand Government Trade Commissioner in London, had induced the old man to come to Wellington for the purpose of being interviewed and photographed; and it is these interviews, very considerably expanded during a seven years' acquaintance with Bent, and carefully checked by independent Maori testimony, that are now embodied in this book.

In confirmation and extension of Bent's story, I have gathered data at first-hand both from Taranaki Maoris who fought under Titokowaru, and from soldiers and settlers who fought against him, and these particulars are incorporated with the old pakeha-Maori's narrative.

The 1868–9 portion of the book is, therefore, practically a history of the Titokowaru war in page x Taranaki; and it embraces a great deal of matter not hitherto recorded.

Many of the settler-soldiers who survive from those wild forest days now farm their peaceful lands within sight of the battle-fields of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, and Pungarehu, and Moturoa, and Otapawa. With them the recollections of bushmarches and ambuscades and storming of Hauhau stockades are still fresh and vivid. But the younger generation know little of the dangers and troubles through which the pioneers passed. The available histories deal very meagrely and often very inaccurately with the story of the Ten-Years' Maori War, even from the white side, while the Maori view-point is absolutely unknown to all but a few colonists. Therefore it is fortunate, perhaps, that one has been enabled to gather before it is too late from the old Hauhau warriors themselves the tale of their ferociously patriotic past, and to place on record this true story of wild forest life from the lips of one of the last of that nearly extinct type of decivilised outlander, the pakeha-Maori.

For information and assistance in regard to various engagements in Titokowaru's war I am indebted to Colonel W. E. Gudgeon, C.M.G., Colonel T. Porter, C.B., and other old Colonial soldiers. Tutangé Waionui, of Patea, who was one of Titokowaru's most active scouts and warriors, has given page xi me many details concerning the campaign from the Maori side; and the Rev. T. G. Hammond, Wesleyan Missionary to the Taranaki Maoris, has also furnished assistance on the same subject. To Mrs. Kettle, of Napier, daughter of Major von Tempsky, I owe my thanks for permission to reproduce three of the illustrations in this book, copies of water-colour sketches by her celebrated father, representing scenes in the Taranaki campaign of 1865–6. The picture of the fight at Moturoa in 1868 is from a black-and-white sketch by a soldier-artist who took part in the engagement; the original was in the possession of the late Dr. T. M. Hocken, of Dunedin, who allowed me to have it photographed for this book.

J. C.

Wellington, N.Z.,
Feb. 1, 1911.
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