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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XII. — The Magistrate's Story

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Chapter XII.
The Magistrate's Story.

The Runanga Club:—A hard day's ride.—The sleep of the Weary.—Rain without ceasmg.Light in, Smoke out.The Whare Runanga (Council house).—Carved Ancestors.—The members of, the Club.—Yawns or Yarns.We agree to tell Stories.—The Club called to order.—The Magistrate's Story:—Thirty years ago.Cheap Government and no Debt.Plenty to eat.Had Little Money and were Happy.You have altered all that.Progress and Debt.Borrowing.—Taxes.Yet not Happy.A Primitive Prison.Donald the jailer.No cranks.Only Kindness.—'Punch' amongst the Prisoners—'They wadna stay wi' us.'—Jack let out.A Hornpipe and a Wedding.—'Ye maun be hame by nined the clock.'—Peter Macsandy's house.Castle or Prison—From one to the other.

With three companions I had ridden from early morning over a long stretch of plain. Late in the evening we arrived at a Maori village, where some Native friends of mine lived. Comfortable quarters were provided for us, and having attended to our tired horses, we ate our simple fare, with appetites that needed no other sauce than the hunger, which our long ride had developed. Later in the evening, two more visitors arrived. Tired with our long ride, we page 100rolled our blankets round us, and fell asleep on the floor of the Runanga house, with no more wooing, than a sixty-mile ride afforded.

During the night, the wind had changed, and before we had finished breakfast, the rain was falling steadily. For three days it rained heavily without ceasing, and we were kept close prisoners in our Maori house. Happily the house was large, being a Whare Runanga (council house). We kept a fire of Totara logs going, Maori fashion, in the centre of the hall. The usual porch at one end enabled us to keep the small door and the two small windows open, which served to let the light in, and the smoke out.

After the first day, it became very tiresome. We piled logs on the fire, and kept our pipes going. Some of us tried a stroll, but the heavy downpour quickly drove us inside. We narrowly examined the huge carved figures of ancient Maories ranged at regular distances round the capacious hall. Every one of these curious figures varied in some particular, but all possessed the same grave, solemn far-off look in their Egyptian features.

Next morning, it rained harder than before, and we had another miserable day before us, when somebody proposed that instead of yawning so much, we should tell stories, to while away the weary hours, which seemed to move with leaden feet in our gloomy chamber.

The party consisted mostly of old Colonists—an Indian Magistrate, a Major, an Interpreter, a Surveyor, a Station manager and myself, with the old Maori Chief of the village.

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The Magistrate was elected President of this 'Runanga Club,' as the Major named it. Taking his seat—on a log—with a gravity befitting his office, the President called the Club to order, and volunteered the first story.

The Magistrate's Story.

'In the early times, say thirty years ago, I spent two years in New Zealand. In those days you had no railways or telegraphs, only one Bank in each principal town, a simple and cheap system of government and no debt. The hardy Colonists of those times were simple in their way of living, moderate in their desires, worked hard on their own bits of freehold land, with plenty to eat, and little or no money, and were happy.

'Whilst I have been away these thirty years or so in India, you have altered all that, and I find, that during my absence you have made, what it is the fashion to call, great progress. That is, you have built railways in and to all sorts of places, some alongside navigable rivers, others along the coast line, making harbours there, where Nature never intended harbours to be, and serving to deprive your railways of their legitimate traffic. In the matter of telegraph lines, dry docks and harbours you have gone ahead wonderfully. In education you have, as the Yankees say, "beat the record," in passing your boys and girls through all the "standards" but one, namely, the standard of "work." Of that, your costly system teaches nothing, page 102unless it be, how not to do it, or to be too proud to do it.

'In the matter of Government, I fancy this little colony has a larger army of Civil Servants, does more talking, and borrows and wastes more money, than any other country of the same size in the world.

'To do all this you have borrowed about thirtyseven millions sterling, and have the satisfaction—if it be a satisfaction—of being the heaviest taxed community to be found anywhere on the face of the earth.

'With it all, you don't seem to be as happy as in the old days, when, if you had little, you owed nothing, and what you had was your own.

'Sir George Grey had given you an excellent system of Government—Provincial and General. Your mad Borrowing Policy destroyed your Provincial Governments, and if you don't take care, it will destroy your General Government also, and bring you back to a Crown Colony once more.

'I don't call your present condition worth having. I love the old style better, when I knew you in the long ago, and I shall tell you a story of those simple pleasant times.

'In the little town—now a large city—where I resided occasionally, amongst the necessities of the primitive civilization, even of those times, a prison was provided. The jailer Donald Mac Donald had peculiar notions of prison government. His system may be described as one in which humanity, consideration and trust were the main features. The prison was a page 103slim, weather-board building, through the walls of which, a prisoner might have easily kicked his way out, whenever it pleased him.

'Nevertheless, Donald never lost a prisoner. He had no silent system, no treadmill, no cranks, nothing but himself and his kind heart. He knew nothing of the various systems of prison administration which have been tried, each to be abandoned in its turn, until, after many systems and many years, Donald's system in its main features, is the one now most in favour.

'Now for my story.

'One day a visiting Justice seeing some Illustrated papers—"Punch" amongst the number—on a prison table, enquired of Donald, why they were there?

'"Hech mon, dinna ye ken? for the prisoner laddies of coorse," replied the jailer.

'"Nonsense," said the Justice, "who ever heard of prisoners reading' Punch'?"

'"Eh mon," replied honest Donald, "they wadna stay wi' us, if we were na kind to 'em, puir bodies."

'On one occasion, a sailor in a passenger ship had been committed for disorderly conduct. A few days after the sailor had been consigned to Donald's care, the Captain of the ship and the lawyer who had prosecuted, were having a friendly glass of toddy in the bar parlour of the "Bruce's Arms," when they were disturbed by uproarious singing and dancing in an adjoining room.

'"Hallo," said the Captain, "surely that must be the voice of my sailor."

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'"Nonsense," replied the lawyer, "why he's safe enough in prison."

'"That's his voice and his song anyhow," said the Captain.

'To settle the matter, they adjourned to the room where the revellers were making merry, and there, sure enough, was Jack doing a sailor's hornpipe. It appeared that two of the passengers had that day been married, and were rejoicing with their friends accordingly. To add to the fun, they had asked the jailer to let out Jack, who was a merry fellow enough when "off duty." The kind-hearted Donald had let him out, and when the wedding party separated, Jack retired to the prison, where he served out his time without any further trouble.

'Not unfrequently, a prisoner would ask the goodnatured Tonald to let him out for the evening.

'Donald would say, "Weel mon, ye maun be hame by nine o' the clock, or I will lock ye oot, 'deed I will."

'And indeed occasionally he did, greatly to the discomfort of the truant prisoner. It rarely happened however, that he had to resort to this extreme measure, for his chickens usually came home to roost at the appointed hour.

'After my departure for India I always longed for news from your beautiful country, where I had spent many happy days. Amongst other stray items, I remember a queer prison story of the young city with an ancient name. It had so happened, that His page 105Honor Peter Macsandy Esquire (that was the name I think) Superintendent of that part of New Zealand, a merchant, chief magistrate, and a sort of Deputy Governor of the district, had been unable, in those presteam postal times, to make some necessary remittances to his friends in Scotland at the appointed date. In due time, the creditors entrusted the case to a local lawyer, who took the necessary proceedings to recover the amount, and failing to secure payment, obtained judgment, execution, and a warrant for the committal of his Honor to the common jail of the City.

'Not relishing the select society in charge of honest Donald, and not being destitute of some knowledge of the peculiar laws of those primitive times, and having a great store of the grim humour peculiar to his countrymen, his Honor was equal to the occasion, and straightway proclaimed, in a Government Gazette, "Splashbrook House"—his own home—to be the common jail of the City, following it up by issuing a mandate to the jailer, to "remove the body of one Peter Macsandy to the common jail," which was thereupon done. By this proceeding His Honor was enabled to transact his own business, and the public affairs of the district with the least possible inconvenience to himself, and to all Her Majesty's loyal subjects in that part of the Colony.

'Strange as this story may appear, it is substantially true, as I myself subsequently saw the Government Gazettes of the day, in which both of these curious notices duly appeared. This extraordinary style of page 106administration was however, a little too much even for those free-and-easy times, for, shortly afterwards, another Government Gazette appeared, in which it was announced, that His Honor Peter Macsandy Esquire had been deprived of all his public offices.'

' Well,' said the Major, 'that is a racy story, but it is in the main true, for I remember the whole affair myself.'

After some hearty laughter at this specimen of Scotch humour, and some regrets for the good old times of the simple past, the President said,

'Now Mr. Surveyor, suppose you give us a story.'

'Well,' replied the man of the chain, 'after such a beginning, I fear my story will make a poor show. However, anything is better than the everlasting rain outside, so gentlemen, fill your pipes before I begin.'