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Settlers and Pioneers

4 — The Pioneering Period

page 22

The Pioneering Period

True pioneering conditions prevailed in some parts of these islands to a quite recent period. Consider some of the features and episodes of life in the interior of the North Island. Up to about 1883 the King Country was closed to British men. The Government did not venture to assert authority anywhere in that huge area of country between Lake Taupo and the west coast and between the Puniu and Waipa rivers and the White Cliffs, north Taranaki. In 1880 the Kingites killed a white trespasser at Taumarunui by way of asserting the Maori King's sovereignty and the high chiefs' policy of exclusion. A few years before that a farm worker was shot and beheaded within a few miles of Cambridge township, and the frontier settlers armed and patrolled the troubled border line. It was not until 1885 that the Armed Constabulary were disbanded and the border redoubts were abandoned as no longer needed. All Taranaki was practically an armed camp in 1881, the time of the march on Parihaka. page 23It was not until 1883 that the arrangement of a general amnesty finally brought Te Kooti and his fellow rebels out of retreat in the Upper Waipa country.

That was the military position at the beginning of the eighties, and it sufficiently indicates the exciting, not to say anxious, position of many hundreds of our settlers and their families. As for farming conditions, they were primitive; there was the simple life in real earnest. Roads in many settlements were non-existent or were made by the settlers themselves, unless the Armed Constabulary were turned on to them. Surveyors, telegraph-line construction parties, gold prospectors—all had their difficulties and often their perils. Among the Maoris themselves there were many quarrels, sometimes resulting in bloodshed, as in the little campaign on the Poroti gumfields, between Whangarei and the Mangakahia and Northern Wairoa in 1888, in which three men were killed and several wounded. Up to the eighties nearly all immigrants came to New Zealand in sailing vessels. Many parts of the interior were imperfectly explored; as for the South Island, the work of discovery was still going on in such places as South Westland and the western part of Otago and Southland.

There are men who were on Gabriel's Gully and other Otago goldfields at the beginning of the sixties; many more who explored the West Coast for gold. Pioneer settlers, old sailors, whalers, soldiers, surveyors, page 24bushmen—they are not yet a quite vanished race in the New Zealand of to-day.

In spite of the Treaty of Waitangi and the general desire of the Maori to have the pakeha as a neighbour and friend, there were certain elements that at an early stage made for conflict between the two races. The European was only in New Zealand on sufferance, and some of the very independent chiefs, old and young, did not hesitate to let him know that in plain terms. The pakeha was quite acceptable as a trader, a customer for Maori produce and a supplier of the weapons and clothes and implements and luxuries of the European world that the Maori desired. But he was at the same time given to understand that any interference with immemorial native usage would be resented, and one of those cherished rights was the practice of exacting utu in revenge for injuries or for the satisfaction of an inter-tribal vendetta. The influence of the missionaries and of such far-seeing and benevolent men as Tamati Waka Nene in the North made for peace in the very early years of British government, but a trial of strength was inevitable.

Neighbourly trading and the cultivation of the soil had kept most of the tribes peacefully busy until 1860. The chief cause of the growing distrust and suspicion on the part of the Maori was the land. The land, always the land, was the root of evil. The white population was increasing quickly; shiploads of page 25immigrants were arriving, and the new English settlers demanded land. This want of land for farms was particularly urgent in Taranaki. In South Auckland, too, the farming population was spreading, and visitors to the Waikato described the beautiful Maori cultivations there, the wheatfields and the orchards and the water mills that ground the Maori corn. The Maoris seemed to have the best of the land; naturally they had long ago occupied the choicest parts of the country for their homes and the food gardens which aroused the envy of the Europeans. The Maoris, on their side, were beginning to feel that sooner or later the strong white men would push them out of their own country.

The Maori of the old generation had a shrewd wit, with which he often made play at the expense of the pakeha. An old missionary friend of mine, 'Te Hamana' to the Maoris, had many an argument with one of his Wanganui people concerning the pakeha and all his ways. The old Maori grew sarcastic. 'Oh, you missionaries,' he said. 'Do you know why you were sent to us? You were really sent to break us in, to tame the Maoris as we break in a wild horse—rub them quietly down the face to keep them quiet. Then when the missionaries had tamed us, another set of pakehas took the land from under us.'

Another simile bears upon the white man's steady advance in the King Country. The surveyors sent into the Maori country to spy out and map the land page 26were likened to a wedge. The Kai-ruri, said Mahuki the prophet, was the first wedge of maire wood driven into the log of Maori nationality. Presently other wedges would be driven home and the pakeha Government would split the log up. And therein, too, truth is embodied. That splitting-up process in the Rohepotae was inexorable and inevitable. The log symbolised not only Maori nationality but the land, and all that great territory could not be allowed to remain in its wild state.

Again, an old land-owner at Kawarau, Kaipara, was engaged in an argument with a Government agent, touching land-selling. The pakeha official was bent on a purchase, the conservative owner of many acres was determined to hold on to them. 'Money—your money!' he said. 'What is it? We sell the land, and the money vanishes like the dew on the taro leaves, licked up by the morning sun.'