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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter XVIII — Waahi

page 303

Chapter XVIII

The idea which was first broached by the Maories in the pah at the Christchurch Exhibition was to have a great "tangi" at Waahi, in memory of the chiefs who had been my comrades in former days, and who with the one exception of Patara were all now dead. But the proposal had been changed by Mahuta into a meeting of a more civilized character, in which speeches and not weeping were to be the order of the day.

From the landing-place we walked up, surrounded by the shouting women and children to the "Mare," the wide open space in the centre of the town, where a great assembly of Waikato Maories was waiting for us. The principal chief present was Mahuta Potatau, who had been for some years a member of the Legislative Council of New Zealand and was for some time a member of the Government. He was supported by Henere Kaihau, who is the elected representative of the Western Maori Electoral District which embraces the Waikato and surrounding country, and by our friend Taingakawa, Tamihana's son, who had come over from Matamata to take part in the proceedings. Old Patara was also at the meeting, to which he had come from his home near Auckland, but from his great age he took no part in the public speaking. There was also a very old chief page 304still older than Patara, a son of Potatau, who came dressed in a blanket, and presented a picturesque relic of the ancient times.

Only Mahuta and Henere Kaihau spoke at the public meeting, which began by the reading aloud of an address of welcome in the Maori language which had been presented by Mahuta; in reply to the address I said in Maori that I had forgotten a great deal of the Maori language, which I used in the old days to speak, and I must therefore ask them to let me address them in the tongue of the Pakeha. The rest of my speech was interpreted as I went on. "The Government of Great Britain had asked me to go out to New Zealand to represent them at the International Exhibition at Christchurch, to testify to their goodwill towards the New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori. That which persuaded me to take such a long journey in my old age, was the ardent desire to see once more the Maori people, and the scenes of the happy days of my youth. It is true almost all my old friends in New Zealand of both races are dead and gone, but there is one old friend present to-day, Patara Te Tuhi, who met me on the wharf a few weeks ago when I arrived in Auckland. Patara and I were once antagonists in the days before the war, when he was editor of the Hokioi, and I of the Pihoihoi, but for many years we have been the best of friends. More than twenty years ago, when Mahuta's father Tawhiao, Patara, and others came to page 305England, they asked me to help them in their effort to obtain a hearing of their grievances by the British Government, and I succeeded in procuring for them an interview with Lord Derby, at that time Secretary of State for the Colonies, and they had then the opportunity of laying before him the whole of what they had gone to England to say: but Lord Derby would do nothing of his own motion for the redress of their grievances, but referred all their complaints back to the Government of New Zealand. That was the way in which any direct complaint now made by the Maories to the British Government would probably be treated. You see that I come here, not in any political character, but only as a friend to meet you face to face and shake hands with you. All the great chiefs of former days became my friends. Tawhiao came to visit me in London, Tamihana was my friend to the day of his death, and even Rewi Maniapoto, who drove me from Te Awamutu, wrote to me to London after the war, and asked my advice in regard to Maori affairs. I am quite sure that any one of those chiefs, if like Patara they had been alive to-day, would have joined in welcoming me to the Waikato. All that I have seen during my visit to New Zealand has given me very great pleasure. Maori children are better fed, better cared for, and better taught than they were fifty years ago. I have no mandate to speak to the Maori people on behalf of the Government of Great Britain, or page 306on behalf of the Government of New Zealand. I speak only as an old friend, who lived here more than forty years ago, and always loved the Maori people, and I say to you, in the words of Potatau, 'Live in peace and friendship with the Pakeha.' Anyone who tries to stir up quarrels and enmities between you and the Pakehas is an enemy of both races. Questions and difficulties will arise from time to time between the two races, but if you are wise you will have those questions solved in New Zealand, by men who understand them, are acquainted with the past, and sincerely desire to act with justice. My hope is that Pakeha and Maori will always live together as friends, and that you will together raise up a great nation that will one day be known to all the world as New Zealanders."

Mr. Fowlds, the Minister of Education, also addressed the assembly, and pressed upon them the importance of sending their children to the public schools, and giving them all the advantages of a European education. He claimed to be a friend of the Maori people. When Sir John Gorst was coming amongst his old friends, he wished to accompany him, and to show the friendly feeling of the New Zealand Government. They might not always understand each other, there might be difficulties, but the Government always desired to do that which was right and just. The Government wished to provide more technical teaching for Maori children, and invited gifts from page 307the Maories themselves in the form of money or land for the endowment of such technical schools.

After the formal meeting was over, we had much talk with the Maories there assembled from various parts of the district. A luncheon was served to all the visitors in the large meeting house. The food was various and abundant, and well cooked, coming as it did from native ovens, but as in all other places the service was in European fashion. We sat at a table with a white cloth, with knives, forks and spoons. I felt a lingering longing for the old hospitality of former days, when the company sat on the ground, upon clean flax mats spread over the floor, when each guest had a separate portion handed to him by a Maori girl in a little green flax kit, woven for the occasion, potatoes and meat and vegetable marrow together, to which he had to help himself with his fingers, and when fruit, peaches and melons were poured upon the ground about him in unstinted plenty.

After the dinner I had a further and final talk with Taingakawa, whose acuteness and persistence in efforts to enforce his own views reminded me of his father. The Maori people are always in a chronic state of dissatisfaction with the New Zealand Land Laws. It would weary the reader to attempt a description of the various methods that have been from time to time tried. Failure, which led to wars in former days, only leads to dissatisfaction now. Native owners are page 308at the present time restricted by laws intended for their protection from selling their lands, and certain of the Maori lands of which it is not possible to determine the individual owners can only be leased to the settlers under public schemes, subject to a certain amount of Government control. The Maories who are dissatisfied with the existing state of the law, of whom Taingakawa may be looked upon as one of the most influential leaders, have got it into their heads, or have been persuaded by Pakeha friends, that a deputation to Great Britain to lay their case before the Imperial Government or the Privy Council, would secure them justice.

It was this idea that I did all I could to combat, and I tried to put before Taingakawa in private conversation the futility of the proposed expedition to Great Britain, and to persuade him and his party to entrust the decision of the question to the New Zealand Government and Parliament. I told him the latter were much more fit to judge of the intricacies of New Zealand land law than people in Great Britain, where nobody understood their complicated land system, and nobody had leisure to investigate its intricacies. In the New Zealand Parliament the Maories themselves had representatives, and could secure a hearing of all their views and arguments. That in Great Britain, if they succeeded in obtaining access to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, they could only lay their case before a man ignorant of Maori laws and customs, and overwhelmed with other page 309subjects in which he took a much more lively interest. I reminded him of the visit of Tawhiao to London, more than twenty years ago, to seek redress for Maori grievances. The whole Maori case was then laid before the Earl of Derby, Secretary of State for the Colonies, by competent interpreters who were instructed by Wiremu Te Wheoro and Patara, who had a thorough knowledge of the Maori claims, and of all the arguments in their support, and yet the only result was that they were referred back again to the Government in New Zealand, from which they had appealed. A like fate would certainly befall any deputation at the present day, when the principle of trusting the Government of New Zealand to manage the affairs of New Zealand was firmly established and confirmed by the excellent results that had been achieved. I felt sure that my representations did not at the time prevail with him, but I hoped mature consideration might prevent an expedition which could only result in disappointment.

After a great deal of talk with the natives present, we took our leave and crossed the river, in the Tangi-te-Kiwi, to the Eastern bank, whence a special train conveyed us to Auckland. The railway to Auckland does not go along the bank of the river, and there was no opportunity of recognizing the spots familiar in the journeys on horseback and in canoes in the old days. The village of Paetai seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Nobody had heard page 310of it, and since the war it seems to have ceased to exist. The railway touches the river again at a modern town called Mercer, which appears to be on the site of the ancient village of Meremere, and nearly opposite to Te Kohikohi, where Wiremu Te Wheoro was chief before the war. The railway proceeds through the site of the Hunua Forest, which appears now to be almost entirely cleared, and where the old landmarks are gone, and we at last arrived at the town of Drury, which stood on the north border of the forest in former days.

It was up in these ranges above Drury, then covered with forest, that I fulfilled my last and most dangerous service in New Zealand for the Government. The road to the Waikato was at the time when the invasion took place thronged by armed men of every description, from the veteran British soldier to the raw colonial shop-boy shouldering his musket for the first time. Through this the Maori refugees from Mangere and other villages near Auckland, who had abandoned their homes on the summons of the officials of the native office, had to thread their way as they went over to join their relatives in Waikato, and some of them became greatly alarmed. A report came to Auckland that two chiefs, Ihaka and Mohi, with their women, children and young men, had taken refuge at a small native village called Kirikiri, on the slope of the Hunua forest, overlooking Drury. There they had stopped and appeared to have given up all intention of going page 311further. Wild reports were circulated: it was said that the Maories meant to show fight at Kirikiri, and that a hundred young warriors were assembled and were building a pah. Settlers who had been scouring the bush to bring in cattle had come upon their encampments. Others had seen the pah, and all were certain that reinforcements had been sent for from Waikato to enable the party to stand their ground. On the other hand, it was alleged that the Kirikiri party were afraid to stir; that they had with them aged, infirm people, women, children and sick: that they were without means of transport, and were horribly afraid of the soldiers, who were thronging the plain below; that they were starving, and if they could but get food and some means of conveyance, they would only be too thankful to be gone. The Government were desirous to get these people out of the Hunua ranges, and away to Waikato, with all possible speed, both for strategic reasons and on grounds of humanity. Mr. Dillon Bell, the Minister for Native Affairs, and I, were sent on a special mission by Sir George Grey to visit Kirikiri, to ascertain the real state of affairs, to supply the natives with food if needed, and to make the best arrangement we could to get them away from their dangerous vicinity to the outlying villages.

We left Auckland on this errand on July 13. The Mangatawhiri creek had been crossed the day before, so the invasion of Waikato had page 312begun. The same evening at Drury we met Bishop Selwyn, who had been spending the day with the natives in the ranges. He said both reports which had reached the Government were to some extent true; there were a number of sick and infirm people at Kirikiri who wished to get to Waikato, but could not cross the forest tracks and dared not go by road; but Mohi and the young men made no secret of their intention to come back and fight in the ranges, so soon as they had taken their old people and children to a place of safety.

The next day we rode on horseback into the ranges to Kirikiri. I thought at the time it was something like putting your head into a lion's mouth. We found Ihaka very ill, and half-a-dozen aged men, with a few women and children in one of the houses; they sent off for Mohi, and after we had waited for about an hour, he arrived with a few young men, and sat down for a talk. The main body of effective young men never appeared at all. Mr. Dillon Bell told them that the proclamation calling upon them to take the oath of allegiance and give up their arms was not intended, as they had supposed, to be a positive order to leave their homes. He had been sent out by the Governor himself, who had heard of their destitute state, to give them the choice of taking the test, and returning home in peace, or if unwilling to do this of going unmolested to the Waikato to join their friends. He urged the former page 313course upon them, declared that the Government had no wish to deprive them of their property, and promised them protection and good treatment under the Queen's rule. Mohi replied by thanking Mr. Bell for the kindness which he had ever shown to the Maories, and specially for his generosity in venturing unarmed amongst them at such a time to carry a message of peace and goodwill; if Mr. Bell had arrived a few days earlier with such an explanation of the meaning of the test, he and most of his comrades would have returned in peace to their homes. But now within the last few days a great change had taken place; the Governor had crossed the boundary and invaded Waikato. Mohi said he would not deceive us, but would frankly declare his present purpose. Hitherto he and his people had strongly opposed the war party in Waikato; letters had arrived recounting the violence of Rewi and the Ngatimaniapoto and they had all joined Tamihana in condemning his conduct. They all thought Rewi in the wrong, and had Sir George Grey declared that he was going to punish Rewi for his crimes, they would have sat by without interfering, and would have said the Governor was in the right. But instead of that Sir George Grey had determined to punish all Waikato; he had crossed the Mangatawhiri creek without notice, and without any investigation into the crimes of Waikato, and was at that very time in occupation of Maori land. Mohi, therefore, said distinctly, and page 314he begged us to mark his words, that they all intended to fight; he himself was a part of Waikato. The Pakehas had attacked Waikato, and he should therefore go and join his people and live or die with them. Mohi's decision bore the mark of sincerity, as it cost the speaker the rentals of estates worth several hundreds per annum. Mr. Bell told the meeting that the cause of the invasion of Waikato was a secret conspiracy to attack Auckland, and murder the Europeans; they all denied any knowledge of the fact and asked for the names of the informants. Mr. Bell said he could not give the names without the Governor's permission, which he would try to obtain. They said if the Governor would give them evidence of the existence of such a conspiracy they would take the test and remain in their homes. The old people said they were very frightened and hungry, and accepted the offer of food and assurance of safe conduct which we gave them.

Late in the afternoon we returned to Drury. The last thing we had heard when we went away in the morning was that a settler and his son who had gone into the forest were missing, and the first thing we heard on our return in the evening was that they had been killed and that their bodies had been found in the forest near Drury. Their murder was never laid to the charge of Ihaka's party, but to an entirely different tribe. At ten o'clock that night a telegram was received at Drury from the Governor ordering the troops to page 315take all the party at Kirikiri prisoners. A detachment was accordingly told off, who marched up to the village and captured Ihaka, the sick chief, and all the infirm old men with the women and children, but Mohi with his able-bodied followers slipped through their fingers, and being thus relieved of his encumbrances, and of all ground for forbearance, he at once began hostilities. Tamihana wrote to remonstrate with the Governor on this affair, asking how it was that our side had not followed the example of the Maories, who sent away the Europeans from Waikato in safety with their flocks and herds, and all their property. "Why," he inquired, "has the property of the Maories been plundered, and why have Ihaka and the women and children been taken prisoners?"