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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter II — The New Zealand Coast

page 24

Chapter II
The New Zealand Coast

The first spot on the New Zealand coast familiar from old associations within sight of which the Sonoma arrived on October 29, 1906, was the island of Kawau, about thirty miles north of Auckland. This island was bought by Sir George Grey as a private residence for himself, and a place where he could carry on his favourite pursuit of making experiments in the acclimatization of strange birds and beasts. He employed it when his "institutions" were expelled by Rewi from the Waikato as a refuge for the relics of those establishments, the youths who had attended the technical schools, and certain of the officers and employés of Government.

At the time of this event Sir George Grey was absent from Auckland in temporary residence at Taranaki, where he was endeavouring to induce his colonial ministers to give up the disputed land at Waitara and admit that it had been wrongly purchased; he had just before in gratification of the general public opinion of the colonists taken military possession of Tataraimaka, a block of Crown land which the Maories were holding as a material guarantee for the restoration of what they claimed to be their own. Sir George Grey's first idea was to station the party which Rewi had driven from Te Awamutu, on Crown land page 25below the Mangatawhiri Creek on the Waikato river, which was at that time the boundary between Crown and Maori land, with a company of soldiers to protect them; to build a stockade; to arm the youth from Te Awamutu; and to enlist as many young men from the friendly tribes in Lower Waikato as could be induced to join: but he afterwards changed his plan and directed me to take the whole party to the Kawau and to remain there till his return to Auckland, when he would reinstate us all at Te Awamutu: how he intended to do this I never knew.

Sir George Grey had a beautiful house at the Kawau, surrounded by a number of cottages which furnished suitable accommodation for all the refugees. The island was stocked with deer, kangaroos, rabbits, emus, and all sorts of strange birds and beasts which he was trying to acclimatize: some were so tame as to be almost a nuisance: I remember my little son, then two years old, running about with bare feet, and playing with the deer; the game often ended in their butting him to the ground. The great old-man kangaroo was a more formidable person to approach, but even he was so tame as to accept food from the little boy's hand. In the island were the remains of a copper mine, which had ruined its shareholders some years before; all the works and houses were still standing, but in a state of ruin. It was difficult to walk about the island from the extent of uncleared bush, and dangerous from the wild page 26cattle with which it abounded. One of Sir George Grey's chief amusements when he visited his property was to provoke a wild bull to charge him, and shoot it with a rifle when a few yards off. Life in the island was no doubt dull and monotonous, but after the excitement of the contest with Rewi repose was acceptable. The party was brought to the island in the Caroline, a sailing schooner belonging to the New Zealand Government which was to have run down from Auckland once a week, to bring food and other stores: but the exigencies of native affairs stopped the despatch of the Caroline, so we were left for some weeks practically marooned on the island to feed ourselves as best we could. There were excellent fish to be caught in the sea at "Flat Rock" on the east of the Kawau, a danger lying in the direct course of the ships going to Auckland, which was awash at high tide, and all the rocks near the Kawau at low water were covered with succulent oysters, so we did not starve, though eggs and milk for the children were not procurable. Sir George Grey's plan of reinstating the establishment at Te Awamutu never came off. The war of races broke out instead, and the whole party had to be taken back to Auckland, and was there dispersed. The American steamer passed close by the Flat Rock where we had fished for our living; it is now indicated to shipping by a proper beacon. I could make out in the distance the conical rock where we used to obtain our oyster luncheons, page 27armed with hammers to open the oysters, and slices of bread and butter like the carpenter in Wonderland. I could also distinguish some of the copper mine ruins; but the house itself faces to the west, and was invisible from the high seas.

The beautiful conical island of Rangitoto which closes the entrance of the harbour at Auckland was unchanged. On the shore opposite Rangitoto I was able to make out at the distance of a mile or two the buildings of the college at Kohimarama, once the headquarters of the Melanesian Mission, where I had spent many happy days with Bishops Selwyn and Patteson.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn was the most unpopular man in the colony, and in almost every company, except that which Lady Gore-Browne, the Governor's wife, assembled at Government House, he was vehemently abused. His offence was that at the outbreak of the Taranaki war, he had had the courage to speak the truth, and truth is always resented by the British people when they embark on their little wars. Bishop Selwyn, with Sir William Martin, the late Chief Justice of New Zealand, and Mr. Swainson, formerly Attorney-General, declared from the first that the sale of Waitara to the colonial Government was invalid, and that the occupation of the land in dispute by British troops was unjust.

At the time of my first arrival the buildings at page 28Kohimarama were standing empty, Mr. Patteson, as he then was, and his Melanesian scholars were absent on the schooner Southern Cross on their winter tour among the islands, and the Governor had just asked for the loan of the buildings in order to entertain in them a number of Maori chiefs whom he had invited to a conference in July, 1860, on the subject of native grievances in general. Mr. Mainwaring, who had accompanied me from England, and I went over to help the Bishop to prepare the college for the reception of these Maories. The Bishop and Mrs. Selwyn went a roundabout way on horseback and we crossed the harbour direct in a boat. The situation of the college is very beautiful; it is on a little shelly bay, opposite Rangitoto island, only four miles from Auckland by water, but about eight or nine by land. The college buildings were paid for by Miss Yonge out of the profits of "The Daisy Chain," which were dedicated to the Mission. The clearing out of the great hall to make a dining-room for the chiefs was immense fun, and my first introduction to the freedom of colonial manners. The Bishop at once took off his coat and waistcoat and worked like a day labourer, loading wheel-barrows with all sorts of odds and ends, from copies of the Bible in strange tongues to paint-pots and sacks of potatoes, which were then wheeled off, and the contents stacked elsewhere. As soon as the moving was effected, the Bishop took a broom and began to sweep, and sent us page 29off to take a load of pumpkins to a Maori college on a bluff, halfway to Auckland. When our boat was loaded and we were standing with bare feet, and trousers rolled up, ready to shove off, a man-of-war's boat came round the corner with His Excellency the Governor, Sir Thomas Gore-Browne, K.C.B., and suite on board. As soon as the Governor fell into the hands of the Bishop he and the aides-de-camp had to take off their coats, and assist in the sweeping of the building. The Bishop explained afterwards that he had expected to find Lady Gore-Browne with a picnic party at Kohimarama, and he had intended to press them into the service.

Before, however, the preparations for the Maori chiefs had been completed, news arrived in Auckland that the mission schooner Southern Cross had been driven ashore in a gale of wind at Ngunguru, some fifty miles north of Auckland. Fortunately she ran on a soft, sandy part of the coast, so that she did not go to pieces, and those on board, after hanging half the night in the rigging, got safely on shore in the morning. The Bishop at once set off for Ngunguru and took me with him. We went in the Petrel, a twenty-ton schooner bound for Whangarei, uncertain how we should get thence to the scene of the wreck. The cabin of the Petrel was six feet square and not high enough to stand up in, but the Bishop was comfortable anywhere, and was soon quite at home, telling yarns with the captain, page 30who had been formerly in McClure's Arctic expedition.

Next morning, instead of being at Whangarei we found ourselves off Rodney Point, with a strong north-west gale, which sent us for refuge into a little cove under the lee of Rodney Point. There we landed in a very leaky boat, just calculated to go from ship to shore without foundering. Our purpose was to forage for food because the beef had been carried away by the sea during the night. The landing-place was a little patch of sand, from which a thing like the bear-pole in a zoological gardens led up a rock to a small native village. This was my first experience of a Maori house, which consists of a frame of sticks, to which bundles of raupo, a sort of reed, are tied; there is a small aperture for door, and a wood fire is kindled in the middle which completely fills the dwelling with blinding and choking smoke. Round this fire the natives were squatting by way of curing the "Influenza" from which they were all suffering. The Bishop was quite at home, and chatted away with the people, the brunt of the conversation being borne, according to the custom of all peoples, by the women. After calling upon all the people in the village it was proposed to go through a Maori wood to visit the chief; a storm of thunder and lightning caught us, kept us prisoners in an old shed, and then sent us soaking on board again. Next day the wind was just fair enough for the schooner to fetch Whangarei; you page 31could not show your face on deck without being drenched with spray. It was too rough to sit below, so you had to lie all day in a locker. During the night the Petrel anchored in smooth water in the Whangarei river.

Next morning the leaky boat managed to convey us, and our spades, axes, and buckets, on shore before she filled. The Bishop sent off to borrow a whaleboat and passed the interval in climbing a mountain to see which way the wind blew. The rest of us went to breakfast with a Mr. Aubrey, who was postmaster, custom-house officer, harbour-master, magistrate, policeman, and held every other civil office. I thought this extraordinary at the time, little thinking I was destined to fill a similar post in Waikato. This was before the opera of "Mikado" and the character of "Pooh-bah" had been heard of.

On arrival of the whaleboat we set off to row or sail as the wind might serve round Bream Head and up the coast northwards to the scene of the wreck. We landed near the Head, and borrowed a sail, but it proved of little use; as soon as we rounded Bream Head the wind was foul the rest of the day. The Head rises straight up from the sea, cloven with huge fissures from top to bottom, its sides and summit covered with fresh green woods.

As soon as we turned to the north we found ourselves in for a very hard row; all day long we toiled up the beautiful coast, and it was dark page 32long before we arrived at Ngunguru. At the finish we had to cross a deep bight in the coast; there was a sea on, and some signs of wind, so we were not sorry to arrive at our journey's end. We made the beach close by the wreck and had the usual amusement of tumbling out to drag the boat on to the beach. It was too dark to see much of the wreck, except that she lay on her beam-ends and half buried in the sand. Some of the spars and the main-sail of the schooner had been rigged up into a tent on the top of the beach. Under this we pitched our small tents, lit a roaring fire, made tea and went very tired to bed. Bed consisted of a strip of waterproof spread on the sand, and a bag of blankets on top. If you scoop out a hole for your hip it is not amiss, but inelastic and very cold.

The Southern Cross proved to be quite sound but very deeply buried in sand, so much so that the port bulwarks and a large part of the deck were quite hidden. The sand was about the same consistency as that at Blackpool, top hard and firm, soft and wet below. There were about eight of us at work, one being a ship's carpenter whom we brought with us from Whangarei.

After the first day the Bishop left us for the purpose of fetching more material and further help. But beyond saving property, such as sails and cabin furniture, we could do nothing. After the first night or two we slept at the house of an English settler on the other side of the river, about page 33a quarter of a mile up. We got up about sunrise, rowed across the river, and walked to the wreck; there we lighted a fire and got a breakfast of biscuits, cocoa-nuts and sugar-cane, and, as soon as the tide permitted, turned to at the wreck, pumped out the water, shovelled out a few tons of sand, and then the tide came in and undid all our labour. The men got so weak by having no animal food that I was compelled to volunteer into the foraging department. I first went up the river to a Maori village pleasantly situated in a mangrove swamp, where I found an old Maori woman and a mangy dog. As neither of these was eatable, I inquired for pigs, and was told the chief had gone into the bush to look for some. I exhorted them to send the pigs down the river as quickly as possible and returned empty-handed. Then the old carpenter, who was very hungry, proposed we should go along the coast northwards to Tutukaka, a Maori village. The path led through dense forest. At last at the top of a hill there came into sight a beautiful little harbour, surrounded with woods, and off the coast were the islands called the "Poor Knights," and the little rocks among which the Red Jacket had entangled herself.

On descending to Tutukaka, we came upon a Maori in a dirty blanket, whom we dragged off to a trader who had established a small store in the village. With the assistance of the Pakeha trader a bargain was struck for the purchase of a page 34pig at 3d. per pound, and we were invited to inspect the animal. The beast was tied by the leg to a tree stump, looking very wild. At first it was so furious as to discourage a nearer approach, then changing its mind, made a bolt, and, snapping the rope, dashed into the bush. Upon this a Maori woman made her appearance and without much difficulty succeeded in inducing the animal to be caught. Then down came the magistrate in a clean white blanket with many boys and girls and the rest of the population to see the pig weighed. The pig was capsized and the Maories sat upon it and leisurely tied its legs together, while it made futile attempts to bite them. Then the pig was triced up to a steelyard, and you had to approach with fear and hesitation to adjust the balance, with a big mouth and tusks swinging in close proximity to your legs; then a little sum was done with chalk on a boxlid to the magistrate's satisfaction, and after a futile attempt to persuade me to drive the pig home myself, through a bush and two swamps, I became the owner for £ 212s. 6d. for the pig to be delivered at Ngunguru. The pig set off under the care of a man and a boy, with an odd dog or two, and we adjourned to the Pakeha's house, where he entertained us with tea and fried bacon, while the spectators talked over the whole transaction from various points of view. We had in the end to shoot the pig, as nobody was competent to slaughter it, and it was too fierce to be managed by an amateur.

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The attempts to save the Southern Cross proved entirely abortive, but I learnt a great deal from the professional ship's carpenter, and we had nightly lessons in the Maori tongue from the Bishop, who gave them under the condition that while he taught us we would pick oakum, which was required for cauling the wreck. I had to return to Auckland before the rest of the party to catch the mail for Sydney, and left Ngunguru for ever at 4.30 a.m. by way of the Ngunguru river in the company of the settler at whose house we had lodged. We rowed about seven miles up the river, which winds about among hills densely covered with forest; the stream was full of old sunken trees, which made navigation very difficult. When the river became too narrow, we landed, and walked to a Maori settlement. We had to cross the river twice. Stripping your benumbed feet, on a cold winter morning and wading a chill rapid stream with a bed of remarkably pointed pebbles is a feat more enjoyable in the recollection than the reality. It has the advantage of making your feet very warm and your appetite very keen, and we did justice to the breakfast we brought with us and cooked at the Maori village. The path thence to the English settlement on the Whangarei river presented the usual pleasing alternation of forest, swamp and creek, in which you break your shins over long slippery tree roots, get a pleasant "stocking" of black mud, and wash it off again.

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The only remarkable thing I saw was a superb waterfall, where a river plunges down ninety feet into a circular abyss, the sides of which are overgrown with creepers and trees, dotted with the bright green stars of tree fern. I got lodged for the night with a Frenchman, and next morning, finding no ship in the river, I started alone for Mr. Aubrey's at Whangarei Heads, which they said was only seven miles off. A polite Maori gave me a passage in a very leaky canoe part of the way, and finally put me on the right road. After proceeding some way, I came upon a second village, at the outskirts of which I found myself pleasantly bogged above the knees in black mud. After extricating myself, and passing the dogs and children, the way led pleasantly two or three times across the river to give the bogged traveller an opportunity of cleaning himself, and then crossed a mangrove mud flat of a depth varying from ankle to the knee. After walking many miles through endless Maori villages, I came upon a friendly settler who entertained me with bread, milk and pork, and the information that Aubrey's house was still eight miles off.

Next morning it took two hours to reach the house; so much for a New Zealand seven miles. I just caught a schooner setting sail for Auckland. We went tearing off before a north-west wind, and were in sight of Rangitoto at four o'clock, when with my usual luck it fell nearly calm, and we did not get to the North Head until past ten o'clock, page 37where we had to anchor for the night. Bush life on the whole was very agreeable, but it was sad to see how slovenly in their habits, and degenerate in their ideas, many of the settlers become. They all, however, seemed to possess the virtue of being exceedingly kind and hospitable to strangers.