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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter XI — William Fox

page 186

Chapter XI
William Fox

At the close of the Taupari meeting Sir George Grey returned to Auckland, and Mr. Fox, the Prime Minister, set off on a journey into Upper Waikato, to meet the chiefs face to face, and attempt to come to terms with them. He took me with him, and we rode about the country together. He wished in the first instance to see Tamihana, to arrange a tribunal for investigating the hundred and odd claims on the land at Waitara which had been ignored by Governor Browne's advisers; but that chief had betaken himself to Hauraki, at the mouth of the Thames, to settle a land dispute and keep Christmas there, and special messengers sent after him found only Victoria, his wife, at Matamata, who did not know when to expect him back. Tamihana and others had been assembled at Ngaruawahia to hear the result of the Taupari meeting. But as soon as the news of the projected military road reached them, they all regarded it as conclusive. Such a road, they said, could be only intended to bring great guns to the Waikato river. It was quite plain that the Governor was going to fight, after all. So they all dispersed and went their way. We spent Christmas at Mr. Ashwell's mission station at Taupiri, with many other Pakehas who were travelling in the district, women as page 187well as men. Christmas in the New Zealand bush was a strange contrast to Christmas in England. Hot blazing sunshine, Church services in a strange tongue, friends only recently acquired, and so much green out of doors that evergreens were a mockery. Without asking for any consent of the Waikato chiefs, Mr. Fox determined to establish me as a resident magistrate in Upper Waikato; he took a house for the magistrate of Upper Waikato at Otawhao, thirty miles above Ngaruawahia, in the delta formed by the Waikato and Waipa rivers. This house, called Te Tomo, was built on thirty acres of grass land that had been sold to the Crown many years before the troubles began, and was half-a-mile from Te Awamutu, the mission station.

Just after Christmas the news came to Taupiri that Matutaera, the Maori king, with most of the chief men of Waikato, was keeping Christmas with Rewi at Hangatiki, a stronghold of Ngatimaniapoto, on the Upper Waipa, and Mr. Fox, without waiting for an invitation, took me with him and set off to join the festive party. The road was awful. At one place there was a ford across the Waipa along a ledge of slippery rocks just above a waterfall; the ford was interrupted by holes and pits into which a horse sank up to the shoulder, and at the far side was a projecting rock which squeezed the traveller to within two feet of the fall; it was a good case for one of Sir George Grey's bridges. At last Hangatiki, a most page 188romantic spot amongst picturesque wooded hills, was reached. We were received with the greatest honours. The King's bodyguard of forty young men turned out to line both sides of the road and present arms; our horses were taken in charge by a smart Maori lad; we were shown into one of the best houses in the village; and a young Maori girl asked us, in good English, whether we preferred chicken or roast pig for supper.

It was Saturday when Mr. Fox arrived, and Rewi appointed Monday for a public conference. Our house was close to the "guard-room," and the evolutions of the royal army were a source of never-failing amusement. It was always "kicking up a row," and drilling from morning till night. The "general" was a smart young Maori, who had been carried to Europe by Dr. Hochstetter and had visited Vienna. He was very communicative, and seemed rather ashamed of being caught at such employment, which was, he said, only just for a short time; he spoke a little English, German, Italian, and French. The drill was all carried on in English, and they had even imitated the stiff regulation stock, usual in those days, which must have been purgatory to lads accustomed to the freedom of a blanket costume.

On Sunday the army was marched to Church; the general carried their prayer books in a bag, and served them out when they had taken their places; towards the end of the sermon he caught two talking and laughing and walked down the page 189ranks and boxed their ears soundly with his hymn book. Most of them were quite young boys, and two of them told me in confidence they would like to go to school. The old men did not approve of the soldiering. "They'll be spoilt," said one old Maori, "for fighting, and be only fit for keeping barracks."

On the Monday there was a great talk in the runanga house, Tamihana and the Ngatihaua were conspicuous by their absence, but Rewi with his protegé Wi Kingi, Reihana (then a young chief), who afterwards became famous as Wahanui, and most of the principal Ngatimaniapoto chiefs were there. The King, as usual, did not appear. It was the worst set of men in New Zealand to whom terms of peace could be offered. Mr. Fox, through an interpreter, gave an account of the new institutions and the plan proposed for the adjudication of the Waitara dispute. Rewi and the leading chiefs sat mute, but put up a henchman of Rewi's—a common man named Aporo—to reply. He was the man afterwards employed by Rewi to lead the war party which attacked Te Awamutu and carried off the printing press just before the outbreak of war. Aporo fenced about in the most ingenious manner in speeches and questions, without giving any pledge on any subject. He asked whether Mr. Fox did not think Governor Browne in the wrong, and Wi Kingi in the right, in the Waitara dispute. "Why," said Mr. Fox aside in English, "that's page 190exactly what I have always said in the Assembly." The remark was overheard by a Maori who understood English and repeated in Maori to the meeting. Aporo asked how a trial could take place, unless Governor Browne, the defendant, was present. He asked whether he had not conquered this concession for himself with his bow and spear, and whether our side would have re-examined the title to Waitara if we had not been unsuccessful in the war. He finally demanded delay and time for Waikato to consider before an answer was given. The meeting then broke up. The King, who had not been allowed to see Mr. Fox, went off to Kihikihi, and Mr. Fox rode down with Mr. Reid, the missionary, to Kopua on the Waipa. It so happened that Matutaera spent the night at a village near Kopua, and Mr. Reid sent over to invite him to tea. The answer from his secretary was: "Mattie is too ill to come—rather, do you send us some pork and a little pepper." Next morning, as we were departing, a second royal messenger came to beg for some tobacco.

Mr. Fox went on to the mission station at Te Awamutu, and thence paid a visit to the Ngatimaniapoto headquarters at Kihikihi. Great festivities were going on there. Te Heu Heu, the great Taupo chief, and his tribe were paying a ceremonial visit to the Maori King. The first person I met was my friend the general, who gave me a military salute. Matutaera and his suite were just leaving, as a deputation had arrived page 191from Lower Waikato, to say that troops had actually arrived at Mangatawhiri, to the great consternation of the tribes down the river. We had a very long and animated talk with the principal chiefs. Rewi joined issue with Mr. Fox on various points connected with the Taranaki war and the King, and they went at it tooth and nail for a considerable time. I thought his object was to prevent Mr. Fox from having any private conversation with the Taupo chiefs. We were then invited to dine on eels and potatoes; a long row of eels stuck upon sticks, like a hedge forty or fifty feet long, was roasting outside when we arrived, and they proved to be done to a turn. Mr. Fox and Wi Kingi had a great discussion during dinner about Waitara, and then Mr. Fox was invited into his house and introduced to his wife, and they were all laughing and joking together for a long time. I talked meanwhile to Rewi at the other end of the plank on which we were all seated. I advised him to retaliate on the Governor for placing troops at Mangatawhiri by a corresponding movement on their side: the Governor's soldiers were making a road on our side of the creek, and all the King's soldiers should go down and make a rival road on the Maori side of the creek. Rewi said he intended to drive me off the place which Mr. Fox had just taken at Te Tomo down to the place of Mr. Morgan, the missionary at Te Awamutu, that he would make me a missionary in page 192his place, as he had grown weary of his sermons. Afterwards oratory again set in. Te Heu Heu made a long speech, beginning his argument from the creation of the world and working his way slowly down to modern times, and everybody else went to sleep. I found half-a-dozen Taupo chiefs in a small house in a state of disgust at Rewi, who had, they said, stopped their talk with Mr. Fox, so I proposed that a few of their leading men should come down on the following day to Te Awamutu and have a quiet conference with him there. To this they readily agreed, so that Rewi rather over-reached himself by his stratagem. Shortly after this the Governor and Mr. Fox went off to the East Coast and Wellington to introduce the new institutions there, and left the Waikato rebellion to take care of itself.

My residence in Waikato divides itself into two distinct periods; during the former I lived as a magistrate at Te Tomo, a house hired by the Government from one of the settlers at Otawhao; during the latter as Commissioner at the Mission Station of Te Awamutu, in charge of a technical school and hospital that was being formed. Otawhao was the name given to the district in which the missionary station of Te Awamutu was situated. The name was that of an old pah built upon a low hill, the remains of which were then still to be seen. The name of the mission station, Te Awamutu, has now become the name of the district. During the earlier period I was page 193rather the officer of Mr. Fox's ministry than of the Government; my position was that of a magistrate, armed with proper legal powers, whose jurisdiction was repudiated and set at nought by all the people amongst whom he lived except a few Pakehas. The Maories from the first refused their consent to my exercising any kind of authority among them. Even such men as Tamihana, though anxious to receive advice and instruction, objected to the admission into their district of a magistrate who obtained his authority from the Queen. Although we remained firm and fast friends to the last, he never quite forgave what he regarded as my defection to the Governor's side; the first time I met him after being made a resident magistrate he condoled with me on the poor opinion which my countrymen seemed to have of me—"for," said he, "does not Paul say, 'Set them to judge, who are least esteemed among you"?"

During the second period I was rather the officer of Sir George Grey than of Mr. Dommet's ministry. My position was that of Commissioner of the Upper Waikato District and during part of the time of the Lower Waikato as well. Te Awamutu, an estate of about 200 acres, with school buildings and a dwelling-house surrendered to the Queen many years before for a mission station, was lent by the Church Missionary Society to Sir George Grey, for the purpose of founding there a technical school and a hospital.

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Life at Te Tomo was interesting and pleasant, if it had only been possible to divest oneself of the feeling that no progress was being made in the solution of the native question. The task of removing a family from Auckland to the heart of the King country, now accomplished by railway in a few hours, was then a work of difficulty: there were chairs and tables, pots and pans, to be bought for the house, and stores to last as long as possible in the remote bush. An honest Scotchman with a wife and a little girl of twelve, who had come out in the Red Jacket, agreed to go as servants. A young lady, engaged to be married to a captain in the army, begged to come with us as company for my wife; and Mr. Marsden Clarke, the clerk and interpreter, was to live with us till his own house was ready. Having got our baggage and servants packed off in a sailing cutter to Waiuku on the Manukau, whence they were to ascend the river by canoe, we turned our attention to the removal of my infant son, which proved a very arduous business, occupying a whole week from Monday to Saturday. We were favoured with beautiful weather, or I do not know what would have become of us.

The first day's journey was very easy and pleasant, as we drove along a good road in a dog-cart, and the second in a spring cart through the Hunua forest was not so very bad. The soldiers were getting on well with the road; in some places it was shaky and rough, but the more page 195he was shaken, the more the little fellow seemed to enjoy himself. But when we got upon the river, all his good humour evaporated; he could not bear the canoe, and did nothing but cry all the way up to Mr. Ashwell's. Whether it was the heat, or the sand-flies and mosquitoes, which covered his fair skin with spots and hillocks, or the exceeding slowness of the canoe's progress, for some reason he roared and cried all the way; only in the tent at night did he sleep in peace. From Taupiri we went on horseback; Marsden Clarke carried the baby on a bundle of blankets strapped to the pommel of his saddle; this gave the little boy the most amazing satisfaction; he alternated between fits of laughter and sound slumber, and he slept in a tent at Pukete, better than he had ever slept before in his life.

Housekeeping at Te Tomo presented some difficulties. The boycott of the magistrate did not extend to depriving him of food. Such an expedient would have been quite repugnant to Maori ideas. In Heke's war, when some Pakeha friend suggested to that chief to cut off the droves of oxen sent to the British camp, he replied with surprise and indignation—"But if the soldiers get no beef, how will they be able to fight?" During the whole of my residence at Otawhao, old Porokoru, who was one of the strongest advocates of my being driven away, sold us fowls at 6d. or 1s. apiece, and live pigs at 1½ d. a lb. Our domain was entered through a gap in page 196the fence closed up by slip-rails, a short lane with sweetbriar hedges on each side led up to a verandah which fronted the wooden house; a door from this opened directly into the one room, which was drawing-room, dining-room and nursery; opposite the door was a yawning chasm, which was the fireplace and chimney, of wood lined with tin. We painted and papered the house ourselves. Out of the sitting-room opened at the sides three bedrooms with wooden walls and ceilings; at the back was a door which, being opened, tumbled you down into a sort of pantry containing shelves filled with plates, cups and saucers, etc. On the left was a store-room filled with milk and cream, butter, tea chests, bags of flour, casks of sugar, and all sorts of what are technically known as "supplies." On the right was the kitchen, always filled with blinding wood smoke and swarming with cats, which we were obliged to keep as a lesser evil than rats. There was a yard behind the house, and a garden beyond containing fruit trees and a wilderness of vegetables and potatoes; below this were the stockyard and cowshed, and thence the fields descended to a swampy brook, which was the boundary. There was a little wooden house across the yard for the Scotchman and his family. We lived on dairy produce, bread, pork and chickens, with mutton sometimes and beef very rarely.

I had frequently to go away from home for two or three days at a time to attend Maori meetings page break
Photo by Govt. Tourist DepartmentWaikato

Photo by Govt. Tourist Department

page 197and enquire into grievances. I travelled on horseback, with a Maori lad to accompany me, carried my kit on the saddle, and slept and ate in Maori villages. The natives soon ceased to feel any fear or jealousy of my presence amongst them: they received me everywhere as a friend, and entertained me with the best they had to offer. They talked quite freely before me, and I soon became the recipient of facts and information which had been unknown to the Government until I duly reported them.

The "new institutions" which Sir George Grey and the Colonial Ministry sought to establish in Maori districts were never in operation in the Upper Waikato. No salaries of magistrates assessors and policemen were ever accepted there, and they expressed profound contempt for those chiefs such as Waata Kukutai in Lower Waikato who had donned the Government livery and accepted the Government pay.

During the months that I had to pose as a magistrate at Te Tomo, my functions were limited to settling civil disputes among Pakeha settlers more in the guise of an arbitrator than a judge. I used to appoint a place convenient to the parties for a hearing, sit on a rail under the shadow of a tree, and after hearing both parties, give my decision, which was at once complied with, without the formality of judgment and legal process.

But I also exercised, indirectly, a great deal of page 198judicial influence amongst the Maories themselves. Rewi's Runanga at Kihikihi regarded me politically with deadly hostility, but whenever a knotty point arose, upon which legal advice seemed desirable, one of the chiefs would slink down next morning to Sir George Grey's magistrate and extract a legal opinion from him, sometimes by a frank exposition of the facts that had come before the Runanga, and sometimes by putting the question as a hypothetical case.

It was also part of my official duty to take up the case of Pakehas who had been unfairly treated, whose goods had been seized, whose cattle or sheep had been impounded, or who were threatened with violence. I visited local Runangas and the King's Runanga for this purpose, but nobody seemed able to give redress. Orders were given by all the chiefs that on my visits to native settlements I was to be kindly and hospitably entertained, and these orders were uniformly obeyed. The best house in the village was placed at my disposal, fern was cut for bedding, the best food they had was cooked and laid before me, and no payment whatever was asked for or expected. They would, indeed, have been much offended if it had been offered. If there was a sick man, woman or child in the village, I was called in to prescribe; I hope my prescriptions did no harm. I once went to Kihikihi to complain of some outrage committed by the Ngatimaniapoto on a Pakeha, and had a fierce altercation with Rewi; page 199in the midst of it he caught sight of my wife, who had ridden over with me to buy quinces. "What is your wife here for?" he asked; and when I told him, he turned to his people sitting round, and desired that they would give her as many quinces as she required as a present from the tribe.

During the first period, no very serious attempt was made to drive me from my district by force. An abstract resolution was indeed passed by the Runanga of Ngaruawahia forbidding the establishment of a Queen's magistrate within the dominions of the Maori king; and Patene, a crack-brained Ngatimaniapoto chief, determined to exalt his name by carrying the resolution into practical effect.

No sooner did news reach him that I had actually arrived at Otawhao and was a guest at the mission station, than he set out from his village, at the head of a Maori regiment, the counterpart of that which Mr. Fox encountered at Hangatiki, bent on expelling the intruder. Patene first marched to Rangiaowhia to arrest a malefactor, but as the Rangiaowhia people would not surrender him, they nearly came to blows: the dispute ended by the old men taking the soldiers' guns from them, and turning them out of doors, saying "they would have no riot there." After spending a wet day at Rangiaowhia, Patene marched his forces down to the mission station to expel the magistrate. It was a comical scene.

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A large party of Rangiaowhia men went down on horseback, joking and laughing, to see the fun. Everybody in the neighbourhood had received notice of the intended performance, so that a number of Europeans, with several ladies, had assembled; and a tribe of scampish Maori boys had perched themselves on the fences to get a good view. On the arrival of the soldiers, who had been halted out of sight to put on their breeches, everybody first shook hands with everybody else, and then Patene read to the assembled public a declaration of loyalty to the Maori king, which had, he averred, been signed by 2,079 persons. As sunshine in the open road where Patene was standing was found to be too hot, he proposed an adjournment to the shade in the churchyard; so I went and sat down on the church steps, the army was re-formed, reprimanded for allowing the boys to poke fun at it, and manœuvred through a gap in the hedge into the churchyard, and drawn up with fixed bayonets, a couple of yards in front. Patene then came forth and made an oration. He dwelt on the wrong committed by the Governor in sending up a magistrate when they had passed a resolution that none should be allowed. It was no use my saying that I had never yet judged a Maori; he had seen in the papers that the Governor had sent me up to be a magistrate. It might be a piece of Queen's land on which I was living, but he would not let me stay, unless I consented page 201to be a trader, and sold blankets and tobacco, and gave up being a magistrate. All the Runangas had agreed that English magistrates were not to be there. Officers of Government were worms, baits which Sir George Grey was fishing with, and if allowed to remain some tribes in Waikato would in the end be caught. Patene repeatedly and solemnly ordered me to go. I persistently refused. He then said that this time he had told me quietly to go, if I persisted in remaining he should soon come back and send us away: he should take us and our goods, but without hurting either, bundle us into a canoe, and take us down to the Queen's boundary at Mangatawhiri. A bystander observed we should have to be carried to the canoe, and should refuse to paddle, to which Patene replied such conduct would be perfectly just. The unlooked-for magisterial obstinacy put an end to the proceedings, and Patene, with many threats, marched his army away.

It turned out that the principal chiefs of Waikato had never authorized this expedition of Patene; they wrote to Rewi, and told him to keep his tribe in better order and stop all future attempts at violence. Patene was very angry when he found his zeal so little appreciated. He said he had been trying to carry out a law universally agreed to, but now his act had been condemned, he should never allow the magistrate to be driven away, and should resist anyone who might try page 202to do so at any future time. One of the chiefs who had accompanied him came and expressed his desire to be friends, and invited the magistrate to come and hear the proceedings of his Runanga. Tamihana and many leading chiefs wrote to disclaim any share in the demonstration, and to give an assurance that it would not be repeated. But the chiefs who thus interfered liked Sir George Grey's attempt to establish European jurisdiction in Waikato no better than the Ngatimaniapoto, though they sought to counteract the Governor's move in a more peaceful and effectual way. The magistrate was on Queen's land, and had a right there: but they had as good a right to keep all cases out of his court. They therefore enacted stringent laws in all their Runangas, forbidding under heavy penalties any native from bringing any suit in his court; and so successful was this policy, that for six months afterwards only one native suitor brought any case into court, and he had to pay a heavy fine for doing so. The Ngatimaniapoto, who had threatened other tribes with their displeasure if they permitted a magistrate to come among them, now had the mortification of seeing one established within a few miles of their principal settlement, whom they were unable to get rid of.

There were, of course, scattered about the villages of Waikato, plenty of discontented people who had been affronted by leaders of the King party. Now that loyalty had a market value, page 203these men had a strong pecuniary interest in declaring themselves on the Queen's side. They accordingly obtruded their loyalty on the Government, claiming to be made assessors, wardens and policemen. No advantage was to be gained by yielding to their demands; they constituted a small minority, in the midst of an overwhelming hostile majority. So little did the chiefs of the King party fear the influence of Government assessors, that they made no objection to assessors being appointed in the very heart of the King's dominions. It was commonly reported that all the Queen's native magistrates within the Maori king's territory paid regularly part of their salaries to the King, as the condition of being allowed quietly to enjoy the remainder. The Maories declared openly that having tried to conquer them, and having failed, we were now trying to bribe them into submission. They derided equally both attempts. The only effect of the new system in Waikato was to draw a small minority of greedy and mercenary men into our employment, who rendered us no other service than to make us utterly contemptible in the eyes of the disaffected but more honourable chiefs.

Wiremu Te Wheoro, the chief of a small section of Ngatimahuta, the tribe royal, was the only man I ever came across who appeared to have the slightest notion that his loyalty implied any obligation to obey the Queen's laws. He was a very intelligent young man living at Kohekohe, page 204a few miles above Mangatawhiri, and had attached himself to our side, less from love of money than from a desire for civilization. Tamihana always told me he was the best man we had enlisted, and that the rest of our native officers cared for nothing but our money. An old Maori lady, who did me the honour once to paddle me from Meremere to Mangatawhiri for a shilling, stopped her paddle, took the pipe out of her mouth and laughed me to scorn for remarking that Te Wheoro and his tribe were loyal. "Yes," she said, "there are some on the Queen's side, the two assessors, the two wardens and the six policemen, but all the rest to a man are faithful to our King." She cast up her eyes, resumed her pipe and paddle, and regarded me with pitying contempt.

The monotonous occupation of pretending to be a magistrate, while deprived of all real power and authority, was diversified by a journey to Taupo. Mr. Fox and a companion were travelling through Waikato to the East coast, and I accompanied his party from Otawhao as far as the foot of the lake. It was a wild journey, occupying five days, through remote Maori settlements and primeval forests. The very names of the villages through which we passed are now forgotten. We passed the boundary line where the fern country of the North and the grass country of the South were contending for the mastery. It would have been of fascinating interest to a naturalist; the fern seemed to hold its own on the tops of the page 205little hillocks, while the grass successfully expelled it from the valleys.

We passed an entire day traversing in Indian file a native forest, catching occasional glimpses of the sky through the overhanging trees and camped at night in an opening, where we made an enormous fire with fallen timber, round which we sat and listened to the cry of the owl which exactly produces the words "more pork!" We were kindly and hospitably welcomed in every Maori village; and our fatigue was comforted with natural warm baths when we reached the place where the Waikato rushes out of the lake of Taupo. My journey round the lake to Mr. Grace's mission station has been related in a former chapter.