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Settlers and Pioneers


I had been reading Sheila Kaye-Smith's novel of English country life, Ploughman's Progress. Coincidentally, there came to me from the Waikato a note on a relative's pioneering adventures on the Old Frontier, a very different kind of life from rural England's. The old-timer was Mr Tom Qualtrough, a hardy veteran of eighty-two. In his young days on the land he was an expert ploughman. He had come out with his parents from the Isle of Man in 1859.

When a youngster of barely twenty-one, Tom Qualtrough had taken a contract to plough an area of unbroken land on Grice and Walker's cattle run at Roto-o-Rangi and Puahue and Panehakua and on towards the Maunga-tautari Ranges. Part of this large stock run lay on the Maori side of the war-confiscation boundary and was held on leasehold from some of the Maori owners. One day in April 1873 he drove his team afield, to begin his ploughing, when a party of armed natives suddenly appeared page 54from the fern and manuka. They pointed their guns at him; they ordered him to go back. 'This is our land,' they told him; 'off with you or you will be killed.'

The young ploughman did not argue the point. He turned his team about, and presently reported to the manager of the station. The Maoris, or at any rate their leader Purukutu, appeared to have a legitimate grievance; all the owners of the property had not been included or consulted in the deal. Our ploughman did not return to the attack on the disputed soil; but other station hands were sent out on various jobs across the frontier line next day and the Maoris struck. They shot and tomahawked Timothy Sullivan, one of Grice and Walker's farm workers, who had been sent out with others in a cart to make fascines to lay across a swamp. The Maoris cut off his head and cut out his heart and carried these trophies through the King Country like a fiery cross. It was really Walker, part-owner and Parker the manager, that they wanted.

It was a fearfully anxious time on the frontier farms. All thought it was the prelude to another war. Settlers were armed. The Waikato Cavalry, two troops divided into patrol detachments, watched the tracks and the river fords. The Poverty Bay massacre was still raw in all minds. The Constabulary posts were strengthened and more blockhouses and redoubts were built. Happily it did not go beyond page 55military readiness. In a few months all was quiet again.

During the crisis Maori and pakeha both prepared for war, though no one but a few of the most hostile Hauhaus wanted it. Even Auckland was alarmed— more than a hundred miles away. Te Kooti might be down with his hundreds of warriors; people might be massacred in their beds. This of course was ridiculous; old war-weary Te Kooti, who lived only about twenty miles away over the border, had done with fighting for good. But the whole frontier was more or less under arms for some months. One of the permanent jobs done was the completion of a patrol road right along the pakeha side of the frontier.

Before that barbarous killing there had been alarms long after the end of the Waikato war and after the white side of the border was well settled. There was here and there a murder. In 1870 a farm worker went missing near Orakau—a young fellow named Lyon. It was thought to be a Kingite challenge to war. Patrol and search parties were out. A Constabulary sub-inspector and my father were out together, riding along the bank of the Puniu River. Near a ford of the river, they noticed a hawk fly up from the fern. Going over to the spot, they found the missing man, very dead. He had been tomahawked in the back of the head. Reports of war, as usual. But it turned out that it was nothing to be alarmed about—purely a private settlement of accounts.

page 56

Young Lyon had struck up a love affair with a Maori girl just across the river. She was a married girl, and her husband was soon on the trail. He followed the pakeha from the trysting-place in the fern one night and tomahawked him. When that became known, the people of the frontier townships and homesteads breathed again. The Constabulary, too, and the Authorities all the way to Wellington. There was no need for action; tomahawk law settled the case. The Maori husband just retired to Te Kuiti for a change of air, and presumably also of wives.