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Settlers and Pioneers

7 — The Edge of Danger Land

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The Edge of Danger Land

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.

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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.

There were two classes of pakeha frontiersmen that the old patriots of the King Country particularly distrusted and disliked. ('Dislike' is indeed a mild term for it.) One was the Government surveyor, with his instruments, his pegs, his observation marks and stations. The other was the prospector for gold. Both these outlanders gave the Hauhaus of the border much trouble in their time and kept them on the alert to see that they did not trespass on the sacred territory of the Maori King.

Pirongia Mountain, so beautiful and so mysterious a place in our young days, when it rose unspoiled and forested from the valley where the Waipa River flowed, was the scene of both surveyors' and gold-seekers' explorations very soon after the Waikato page 57war ended. Diggers from the Thames and Coro-mandel fields thought that the great mountain, with its deep gullies and its rocky streams, looked exacdy the place for gold. Some of them ventured across the Waipa from the township of Alexandra (named after the beautiful Danish princess who married Queen Victoria's son in 1863). The Maoris suspected their presence, and more than one party of armed men went out to scout the bush. Two gold-seekers in particular were known to be in the ranges early in 1870, and a party of thirty Hauhaus searched for them with the intention of shooting them for their breach of the command 'Keep out!' These gold-searchers would never have been seen again had the guardians of the frontier found them. Perhaps had good gold been discovered and a rush of eager diggers set in, all the gunmen in the King Country could not have kept them out long. But fortunately for the peace of the country, only traces of gold were found in the quartz, and the prospectors wisely concluded that the adventure was not worth the risk.

There were surveyors here and there, however, on the edge of the Dangerous Land, and these were more easily found than the gold-prospectors. In the latter part of 1870 there was a Government surveyor named Richard Todd, an old resident of the Raglan district, camped on the lower part of Pirongia, a few hundred feet above the west bank of the Waipa and about two miles across the bridge page 58from the military township that is now called Pirongia, after the mountain.

Mr Todd, who had several assistants, had pitched his tents in the shelter of the bush, and had made a comfortable camp. One of his party, Mr Frissell, had a tent deeper in the bush and a little higher up the range. Todd's instructions were, first, to clear the line along the mountain foot which marked the boundary of the Waikato land confiscated from the King Maoris as punishment for rebellion; then to mark off a block of the confiscated land as an estate for the chief Hone te One and his tribe. This was to compensate the tribe, the Ngati-Hikairo, for land which had been taken from them in the war. Hone te One and his people lived on the shores of Kawhia Harbour, the most secluded retreat of fugitives from white man's rule. The land was to be taken out of the seized territory on the pakeha side of the boundary. It was only 3 50 acres, but it was proposed to cut it up into separate areas so that each member would have an individual section. The chief, however, strongly objected to this, because it would tend to divide the tribe as time went on. He wished all the land to be held as one block, on the ordinary communal plan.

Several times warnings were sent to the surveyor that to persist with his work would be dangerous. He took no notice of these cautions; and at last some of the extreme Kingite party decided that something page 59more than warnings was needed. A small party of men ready for any desperate deed crossed the range by the Hikurangi track from Kawhia and found Todd's survey camp. (His assistant, Mr Frissell, and his party they did not trouble to track once they had located the head camp.) The attackers crept up to the two tents very early in the morning of Monday, 20 November 1870, and fired at Mr Todd and his companions as they were having breakfast. Another double bang and another. The first bullet passed through Mr Todd's breast and he died almost at once. A half-caste chainman received three wounds, but he escaped death.

When the alarm reached the Alexandra redoubt, a relief party of Constabulary and volunteers hurried off across the river and carried in the body of Mr Todd and the wounded man. As for the shooting party, it was off at its best speed either for Kawhia or for that safe retreat, the densely-forested Hauturu Range, to the south. The leader was Nukuwhenua. The chiefs refused to surrender him and he went free all his days.

Incidents of that kind occurred on all the frontiers of the Hauhau districts in the often anxious period between the end of the actual fighting and the final peace. There was excitement all along the South Auckland border country, and Constabulary posts were garrisoned at strategic points; here and there alarmed families took refuge in the redoubts and page 60blockhouses. There were rumours of war; it was thought that the killing of a Government man was the prelude to a general attack on the conquered Waikato by the Maori King's warriors.

There were some rather hysterical people in Auckland who demanded more protection against the 'savage Maoris.' But the border farmers kept their heads. They attended to their farms, milked their cows and saw to their crops; those who had rifles took them with them to the fields.

A few months later, under the authority of the Native and Defence Minister, Sir Donald Maclean, the Waikato Cavalry Volunteer Corps was formed, consisting of settlers and their sons. There were two troops, one at Te Awamutu, the other at Cambridge, to patrol the border roads and tracks when necessary and reinforce the Armed Constabulary.

There were suggestions that the Maoris over the border should be outlawed and that any who came over should be shot. The Aukati should be a barrier against Maoris, just as it was against the pakeha.*

In August 1879—nine years after the Pirongia killing just related—there was another shooting affair in which surveyors were the targets. D. H. Bayldon and J. Crump had a survey party engaged for the Government on the boundaries of the block

* Aukati Line. Compare with George Borrow's Wild Wales: '"There was a time," said my companion, "when it was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of Offa's Dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it." '

page 61of land at Rotokohu, between Paeroa and Te Aroha. Some of the men of the Ngati-Hako tribe objected to the sale to the Government of this Rotokohu area, and fifteen of them formed an armed party to deal with the surveyors. When they found the pakehas they fired on them, and a young man named W. D. McWilliams, who was one of the chainmen, was hit and severely wounded. The first bullet from a tupara * took off the ends of two of his fingers and the second entered his hip. McWilliams fell down and feigned death. A Maori ran up with his knife and cut off some of his hair and put it in his mouth and chewed it. This was an old war custom, the bunch of hair, like the Red Indian scalp, was the ito, representing the object of hatred and revenge. The Maoris thought him dead and left him where he lay. When they had gone he crawled down towards the swamp. He was found by a half-caste woman, Kate Thompson, who contrived to get him on her back and carried him through the swampy ground to Paeroa. The bullet was extracted in the Thames Hospital and he recovered. The survey went on; the Maoris contented themselves with that demonstration of displeasure.

* Tupara, a double-barrelled gun.

In the North Island much of the story of exploring survey is involved with Maori agrarian politics, page 62especially in connection with the pioneering of the Central railway line.

John Rochfort, the man who made the first reconnaissance survey, was sometimes turned back and threatened with death. Volleys were fired over him—and it was not blank cartridge. In 1883 two Government surveyors—the veteran Hursthouse and his assistant—were imprisoned and chained up in a hut by fanatic Maoris near the site of the town of Te Kuiti. Between truculent native patriots, whose ideal was the Maori land for the Maori people, and the natural obstacles of a new land of bush, swamp, and creek, and range after range of steep mountains, the pioneer surveyor of the North met much trouble in the day's work. His toils and achievements, like those of his South Island fellows, should receive a thought to-day from those who speed in comfort through these scenes of ever-changing interest and beauty.

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Charles Wilson Hursthouse Pioneer Surveyors

Charles Wilson Hursthouse
Pioneer Surveyors