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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter XVI — Return to te Awamutu

page 278

Chapter XVI
Return to te Awamutu

On 3rd December, 1906, at 6 o'clock in the evening, we arrived by train at Te Awamutu railway station. We escaped the slippery clay hills, and the dangerous swamps of the Maunga Kawa mountain, over which the road from the Thames to the Waikato valley used to pass: the railway skirts round the base of the mountain, and crosses the Waikato at the old ferry of Te Rapa, now called Hamilton, by an iron bridge, the modern substitute for the frail canoe, towing the traveller's horse behind it. We crossed the rich plain of Horotiu far below Tamahere, but saw nothing of its extent.

The station at Te Awamutu is at some distance from the town. We were met by Mr. Teesdale, the Chairman of the Town Board, and by Mr. Bockett, Secretary of a Reception Committee which had been formed by the European settlers, and were driven in brakes along a road which skirted the upper part of the lands of the old school now leased to farmers, to the Te Awamutu hotel, where we stayed during the visit. At the door of the hotel I was met by a group of elderly men, Maories and half-castes, who proved to be the remnant of the old scholars of Te Awamutu. They had been got together by Mr. Swanson of Auckland, also an old scholar, who had been at great pains to inform page 279them all of the exact time of my arrival. I had parted from them all as youths in the prime of early life, and they were now old men—all upwards of sixty. We shook hands all round, and they told me their names, which I well remembered, though they were changed beyond all possibility of recognition. One of them was the boy who had accompanied me in my adventurous ride along the shores of Lake Taupo, related in a former chapter. We all, with one accord, walked down the old road which led past the gate of the Te Awamutu school to the bridge over the Mangahoe creek, where the scenes of the last chapter had taken place. We compared our recollections of those days, standing on the very place where they had occurred, and I was surprised at the number of incidents which I had forgotten which still dwelt in the memory of these old men. They recollected being taught to box, which had the same civilizing influence on a Maori boy that it has, according to the testimony of the Bishop of London, on the youths of Bethnal Green. They spoke of a great wrestling match that had taken place in the road in front of the church, in which William Hughes had floored a bigger antagonist, previously cock of the school. One of them in particular, Mr, William Swanson, had a vivid recollection of Tamihana's last visit; he told me many things I had said to Tamihana, with that chief's replies, and he said he could reproduce, on the verandah of Te Awamutu, if I chose, the exact positions in which Tamihana had page 280sat and I had stood talking to him. The group in the frontispiece was arranged on a following day in accordance with his recollection, and Mr. Beattie of Auckland was kind enough to photograph it. We stood some time on the bridge which had been the subject of many negotiations with Rewi, and the Kihikihi natives. It afforded at that time the only communication by road between Kihikihi and Rangiaowhia, and its possession by the Government, and the fact that one end of it was on Queen's land, was a powerful advantage in our negotiations. But the old crazy structure of those days had long since been removed and was replaced by a handsome bridge, over which a cart could be driven without fear of falling in. In former days carts had to be unloaded on one side of the bridge and the load carried across on men's shoulders. We looked into the field by the roadside, where the printing office of the Pihoihoi had stood; the building had gone, but I was told it still existed in some part of the township. We went into the churchyard and stood on the very steps of the church on which I had sat when Patene came to drive me away, but the church had been greatly altered and beautified, and the old whitewashed barn-like structure was scarcely recognizable. The churchyard, in those days a bare grass field, was now filled with gravestones and inscriptions of many who had lost their lives in the Waikato War. We thence returned to the new township, which stood upon page 281the site of what had been old Porokoru's settlement. I was surrounded all the way by the old scholars, who were most eager in recalling incidents of the days long gone by, many of which had entirely faded from my recollection. They recalled the names and told me the history of almost every one who had been at the school. Many were dead, one had gone away, years ago, to the Tonga Islands, and they said that all who were still known to be alive, with two exceptions, were there to meet me.

The Local Board entertained us at dinner. In responding to the toast of my health, I described my departure from Te Awamutu more than forty-three years before, and how when I took a last look at the place from the hill above the Mangapiko creek, I wondered if I should ever see it again. Up to a few months ago I had never even dreamed of seeing again the place filled with memories of departed friends, where so many happy days of my life had been passed, much less that I should arrive by railway and be entertained by the Town Board; it was a great pleasure to be welcomed there by the British inhabitants. Of all the kindness and hospitality shown to us in New Zealand, the climax had been reached that evening by the reception at Te Awamutu.

It had been arranged that on the following morning we should be driven in a brake to Rangiaowhia and Kihikihi; and that the gathering of Maories and the public reception should take page 282place in the afternoon. It was the old familiar road, but it now led through a beautiful farming district, divided into small but rich holdings. At Rangiaowhia, the two old churches, Anglican and Roman Catholic, were still standing, in the midst of a fertile and prosperous country. In olden times Rangiaowhia was one of the richest and most beautiful villages in the Maori country, with groups of neat houses, orchards and cultivation. Quantities of wheat and other produce were grown and brought down by canoe to the Auckland markets. During the Waikato War this peaceful spot, the inhabitants of which had done their best to prevent injury to Pakehas and avert war, was invaded and practically destroyed, and several natives were burnt to death in their houses. We visited the little school, frequented by Europeans and containing less than twenty children, one of the innumerable small schools which the New Zealand Government has established for the farming population. We were much amused by the dexterity and swiftness with which a girl who came galloping up on a pony too late for school, tore off her saddle, turned her pony into the paddock, and took her place in the class with a prim face as if nothing had happened.

We drove thence to Kihikihi, along a good metalled road made through the old impassable swamp, and were hospitably received by Mr. William Grace, a son of the former missionary at page 283Taupo, whom I remembered as a little boy at the Auckland Grammar School. Mrs. Grace is the niece and heiress of Rewi Maniapoto, and she gave us the most hearty welcome.

From Kihikihi we were driven to Orakau, which was the scene of a celebrated exploit of Rewi's in the Waikato War.

Three hundred of his tribe, including many women, occupied a pah at Orakau for three days, with little food and no water, heroically resisting more than six times their number of Imperial and Colonial troops. The road runs directly through the site of the pah, but no traces of it now remain. When their ammunition was exhausted and they were summoned to relinquish the place as hopelessly untenable, Rewi appeared upon the battlements and cried out, "We will not surrender, we will fight on for ever, and ever and ever" When it was proposed that the women should go free, they replied, "No, we will die with the men." Shortly after a sudden sally was made from the pah by the whole body of defenders with the women in the centre, including Rewi's niece, now Mrs. Grace. Sir Henry Havelock, years after, in the House of Commons used to talk of this rush from the Orakau pah as the finest thing he had ever witnessed in the whole course of his military life. The troops were taken completely by surprise, and before they had recovered themselves, and brought guns to bear upon the fugitives, they were well on their way to the Waipa river, and the broken page 284country through which a track, once traversed by Mr. Fox and me, leads to Hangitiki. A considerable number were killed, but Rewi and the main body succeeded in making their escape.

In the days before the war Orakau was a pretty native village with large cultivations, and great groves of peach trees, from which all passersby, including pigs and oxen, were welcome to take as much fruit as they chose, but the peaches have from some disease now died out and disappeared.

At Orakau we were hospitably entertained by Mr. Andrew Kay, who in the old days kept a store on the Mangatawhiri creek near Te la, and it was to his store that the Maories brought down the press of the Pihoihoi, after it had been carried off from Te Awamutu, and subsequently given by Rewi to Tamihana for disposal. I asked him particularly about what had become of this Government property. He told me the natives had landed it from canoes and placed it in his store; that he then informed the Government that it was in his hands, and asked for instructions. After an interval of some days, drays were sent from Auckland, the press was loaded into them, and driven off in the direction of Auckland, and that was all he knew of the matter. A ridiculous story has long been current that the natives melted the type into bullets which they used in the war, and although Mr. Kay's evidence proves that this story is untrue, I have no doubt it will page 285be repeated by historians as long as the New-Zealand War is remembered.

From Mr. Kay's house we were driven back in heavy rain through Kihikihi to Te Awamutu. We passed the tomb of Rewi, which has been erected at Kihikihi, now turned into a little European town, and just before reaching the hotel, at Te Awamutu I caught sight, through the rain, of the site of our old home at Te Tomo; the house was gone, and its place was only marked by a group of acacia trees, which seemed specially to flourish like nettles in this country, on the site of former dwellings.

In the meanwhile a great assemblage had collected itself at Te Awamutu. All the Europeans from the neighbourhood were there, and the livery notes of a native drum and fife band were heard. Maories had come in from all quarters, on horseback, on foot, in vehicles of every description and by special train from the remoter parts of the King country, until between four and five hundred were assembled. All these were awaiting us on the recreation ground. As we drove up, the Maori drum and fife band marched to meet us and escorted us to the pavilion, and the whole body of natives burst out into an ancient song of welcome, beginning with the words "Haul up the Canoe"; they then danced a Haka, accompanied by the well-known song of greeting, "Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!" which is always sung on occasions of peacemaking or when welcoming ancient friends.

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There were bright coloured flags, bearing Maori inscriptions and symbolical devices, and the greater part of the people were in native costume. When the uproar of reception subsided, speeches of welcome in the most affecting strain were made by the Ngatamaniapoto chiefs. Some were the very men, and some were the sons of men, who had composed Rewi's army of eighty men armed with guns who had raided Te Awamutu in 1863, and expelled from their country all the men engaged in the benevolent work at Te Awamutu. It was a strange contrast to the last time I had been face to face with Ngatimaniapoto, more than forty-three years before.

The first speaker was Tuko Rewo, a white-haired old chief, who spoke the most cordial and affecting words of welcome, and in a high quavering voice sang a song, in which he likened my reappearance to the first dawn of light in the morning sky. I had gone as a chief from their midst, and I now returned to them as a chief. All the high chiefs of olden days were gone, and I remained alone. He ended his speech by chanting the pathetic old song of sorrow for the dead which begins:—

Listen, oh ye people,
This is the parent of death,

and all the assembly joined with heartfelt energy in the chorus.

Another chief referred to the departed glory page 287of the Maori chiefs of old times. "You will not see one of your old friends here to-day," he said, "but we, their descendants, are here. When you left these parts there were men who had authority and distinction, but things are changed. We, the remnants, are glad to see you, and if you can suggest any plan for the improvement of our affairs, speak; we will gladly listen to you." A white-moustached old warrior, with a tattooed face, who was cousin to Rewi, also spoke, he was severely wounded at Orakau, and is one of the few survivors of the engagement.

As it was still raining very heavily, the meeting was adjourned to the Town Hall, where I was welcomed by the Chairman of the Town Board on behalf of the European settlers now resident at Te Awamutu. I then made a short speech, which Mr. Grace translated into Maori, thanking both Europeans and Maories for the reception they had given me. It was the place where some of the most active and happiest days of my life had been spent, and though the passions of the two races were then stirred up for fighting, my work had been entirely one of friendship and goodwill. Even those chiefs who on political grounds drove me away from the neighbourhood, recognized in after life the benevolent character of the establishment at Te Awamutu. Rewi himself wrote me the most friendly letter, asking for my advice, after the war was over. To come back to a place in which one had lived and laboured page 288more than forty years before was an experience which befel few people. People were constantly asking what changes I saw. First I was astonished in the transformation in the face of the country; where nothing but scrub and swamp were formerly to be seen, there are now flourishing farms, where men and women can lead peaceful and happy lives, and bring up families of healthy children to succeed them: but a change that has astonished me still more is the alteration of feeling between the European and Maori races. When I left, war was on the point of breaking out, and it did break out, and caused distress and misery for twenty years. Now, when I come back, I find nothing but peace and kindly feelings on both sides, and I suppose nobody has any idea that war will ever again break out between the two races.

In the evening there was a social meeting in the Town Hall, which was attended by Europeans and Maories promiscuously; there were first Haka and Poi dances, and afterwards the ordinary dance programme of society to an excellent town band. There was also singing: a beautiful song was sung by two very pretty Maori girls, the daughters of Mr. William Hughes, once a carpenter's apprentice at Te Awamutu school, and now a wealthy and prosperous chief at Kopua. They had presented my daughter in the morning with a green stone and a gold pin, which they described as "the pin of love," in token of the page break
Photo by Govt. Tourist DepartmentPoi Dance

Photo by Govt. Tourist Department
Poi Dance

page break
Photo by LoveyThe Misses Hughes

Photo by Lovey
The Misses Hughes

page 289affection of their respective fathers for each other. The following is the translation of their song:—

Turn, oh, turn back,
Spirit of Te Kohe (Gorst).
Send back your love to us
When you look your last on Te Awamutu;
Think of the lonely ones you ne'er will see again:
As the train bears you from our midst
Oh, backward turn your gaze,
Like the smoke that backward drifts,
Towards our lonely home.
Farewell! a fond farewell!
We will pin you and your daughter to our hearts
With the pin of love,
The pin that will never rust.

On the following morning we visited the old mission house at Te Awamutu, to which we were kindly welcomed by Captain and Mrs. Bockett, who were then in occupation. The house, which was rebuilt by Government in 1862 out of the timber about which we had so many fights with the Kihikihi natives, is said to be as good as ever, but all the surrounding school buildings, which would have been rebuilt had Rewi permitted, had long ago been pulled down and taken away. I went into the various rooms, filled with memories of the past, and walked about the garden, now peaceful and lovely, in which Aporo and his men had raged forty-three years before.

We also visited the public school at Te Awamutu; it is a large school of more than eighty children, most of whom were the children of European page 290inhabitants, mixed with a few Maories. The most remarkable thing about New Zealand school children is their bright and healthy appearance, and the entire absence of those miserable and neglected children of which one finds specimens in nearly every school in the Mother Country. There is one weak point in the condition of school children in the farming districts: they have in many cases to get up very early in the morning to milk the cows, and therefore come tired to school. They have, however, this one great advantage over the hard-worked children of the Mother Country, that they get before they go to school an excellent breakfast with abundance of milk, and though they may come wearied, they never come hungry. The Government authorities in New Zealand are quite alive to this defect in their national education, and are contemplating measures for its removal; but it was alleged by many that the use of talking machines in the dairy districts is spreading with such rapidity that the necessity of employing children to milk will shortly disappear. The children at the school sang to us, with very good voices, and we were all photographed in a group outside the building. I then begged a holiday, according to the usual custom of distinguished visitors to schools, and we took our leave amidst the hearty cheers of the children. At the railway station all the authorities of the town, and those who had been scholars at Te Awamutu, came to see page 291us off. The two Misses Hughes sang again on the railway platform the song of farewell which they had given at the Town Hall the previous evening; we shook hands all round, and the train carried us off to Ngaruawahia.