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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 10 (February 1, 1930)



“Maui's Bird.”

In Stewart Island, just as in the North, the annual arrival of the far-flying pipi-wharauroa, the shining cuckoo, from the tropic islands of the Pacific is the signal for the people of the native race to plant their food-crops. Its name means, literally, “long-journeying little bird.” Cruising around Paterson Inlet, long ago, I learned from an old Maori, Mohi, the folk-talk concerning this harbinger of summer weather. Its first long-drawn call is a reminder to get busy in the cultivations.

Here it has an honorific title, Te Manu a Maui, or “Maui's Bird.” Maui is the traditional tutelary deity of the food gardens. Its call when it first arrives on these shores in spring sounds like “Kwee, kwee, tio-o.” The Maoris interpret the “Kwee, kwee” as “Koia, koia” (“Dig away”), and they proceed to obey its musical injunction. Later on its clear whistling cry sounds to the Maori ear a paean of rejoicing at the warmth of midsummer, “Kui, Kui, whiti-whiti ora, tio-o!” This high call, with its melodious whistle at the end, is peculiarly the pipi-wharauroa's cry; it can never be mistaken for that of any other bird. But it is curiously interesting to find this same oft-repeated “tio, tio” call in the classic song of the hoopoe summoning its fellows in “The Birds” of Aristophanes.

The other cuckoo, the koekoea (or kohoperoa, (the long-tailed cuckoo) has a harsher note, but it, too, is a welcome visitant. The pipi-wharauroa seems to be less shy than its long-tailed cousin. This little messenger, whose life knows no winter, is sometimes to be heard even in gardens and plantations in the New Zealand towns.

“There She Blows!”

Old whaling days! No end of yarns about those roaring times of hard-toiling crews, driving captains and bucko mates. In the years when sperm and right whales were plentiful there were whole fleets of American whaleships about these coasts, with here and there a Colonial barque and schooner. If you seek tales of those greatly adventurous years read the late Frank Bullen's “Cruise of the Cachalot,” that epic of the whaleman. Bullen's “Cachalot,” he told me when he was in New Zealand a good many years ago, was really the “Splendid,” a New Bedford ship which spent many seasons whaling around our coasts. It was in the early Seventies, when the seas were alive with whales, now all but extinct—at any rate, the great sperms. It was a truly sporting business, in the sense that the whale had a fair fighting chance against the crews that tackled him with hand-hurled harpoon and jabbing lance. The horribly scientific whaling of to-day—how different! Slaughter, greedy slaughter; the biggest whale that swims the seas has not a ghost of a chance against those huge fleets of steam killers with their guns and bombs.

Race of Sailors.

This, above all other parts of New Zealand, has for a hundred years been a land of sailors, Maori, pakeha-Maori, and all the numerous sub-degrees and shades of a half-caste ancestry. Stewart Island, with its so broken coastline, its many coves and bays and island-sprinkled harbours and coasts, is a natural nursery for seamen. The absence of roads, except for a very few miles around Half-Moon Bay, compels sea travel. There are many motor launches nowadays, but the fine art of seamanship is fostered in the numerous small sailing vessels— schooners, ketches and cutters, most of them with auxiliary engines of one sort and another. Old whalers, old sealers are here, with endless tales of adventure in stormy seas and on rock-bound coasts. Some of the younger men have seen service in the Norwegian whaleships of the most modern type that make Paterson Inlet their winter headquarters between cruises to the far-south Ross Sea.

Many have served in the Government steamers, and no better crews can be found for the rough surf-boat work at the lighthouses around the coast. The native settlement at The Neck, near the entrance to Paterson Inlet, is an all-sailor community. The historic Maori name of this half-caste village, by the way, is Te Wehi a Te Wera, which holds a story. A chief named Te Wera many generations ago came here from page 29 northern parts. When he was exploring this beach he came suddenly on a huge whakahau, or sea-lion, which reared itself up and roared at him. It so startled him, old warrior though he was, that he turned and ran, and the beach to this day is known by the name he gave it in memory of the fright (wehi) he suffered.

The women in some of these bays are as expert sailors as the men. They can handle wheel or tiller and “come in on that there jibsheet” and give a hand at reefing and furling sail. Two old acquaintances of mine, who have been settled on the island for many years, spend half their time on the water in their cutter-yacht.
“In small proportions we just beauties see.“—Ben Jonson. (Govt. Publicity photo.) Charming islets of tropic green in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island.

“In small proportions we just beauties see.“—Ben Jonson.
(Govt. Publicity photo.)
Charming islets of tropic green in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island.

There are just the two of them, man and wife, and in this retreat of wonderfully dovetailed land and sea, they have found their hearts’ desire.

Paddy Gilroy, His Barque.

From the old hands at The Neck one hears yarns about that remarkable little Irish whalechaser Captain Paddy Gilroy, and about the two Captains Anglem, father and son. The first Anglem came this way whaling and sealing and greenstone-hunting on the West Coast of the South Island a century ago. He had no end of adventures. His half-caste son, William Anglem, was at one time Gilroy's mate in the famous old whaling barque “Chance,” and his daughter was Gilroy's wife. We shall hear more about Gilroy and the “Chance” presently, also about that capital old Maori sailor Tohi te Marama, popularly called “Buller,” whom I knew many years ago. He was a full-blood Maori, a rather rare bird in these parts these times, for pakeha and Maori have been blending races for a century. Every shore-whaler and sealer of early days quickly took to himself a “sleeping dictionary.”

To return to the first Captain Anglem, the highest mountain in Stewart Island is named after him. It is a trifle over three thousand feet high. Its Maori name is Hananui, meaning “Great Glow,” probably in allusion to the sunlight effects of morning and evening on the rocky peak. At its summit is a deep crater which contains a small lake.

Second Mate of the “Postboy.”

That Maori old-timer not mentioned was a perfect type of the South New Zealand seaman. Tohi te Marama had been one of the hard-case crew of the little whaling barque “Chance,” whose raffish-looking hands were described by Frank Bullen in his “Cruise of the Cachalot.” When I met him he was over seventy years old, but he was still sailorising, pilot aboard a Dunedin schooner which went round to Milford Sound with a gang of men to work the tangiwai greenstone reef on the seaward slope of the Mitre Peak range.

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Never have I seen a man with a more richly weathered sea-seasoned face. His complexion was a prime old saddle-brown with a dash of the ruddy glow of three-quarters of a century of hot sunshine and a tough hardness of features that came of the same period of Antarctic-born gales and roaring westerlies. His keen old eyes that had looked out to windward so long were enclosed in a network of wrinkles, and the more he laughed, this jolly-hearted ancient mariner, the more those wrinkles grew.

There wasn't a hair on his face; I don't think he ever needed to shave; the gales of Foveaux Strait would be sufficient barber.

“Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound.“—Shelley. (Govt. Publicity photo.) One of the many beautiful coves in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island.

“Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound.“—Shelley.
(Govt. Publicity photo.)
One of the many beautiful coves in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island.

Fossicking around among these brown veterans for folk-lore of coast and island, I happened to ask this Maori sailorman whether he could give me any ancient waiatas or chants concerning Rakiura and the fiordland shores and sounds. Tohi thought for a moment, then he grinned till his shrewd eyes almost disappeared among their wrinkles. “Yes,” he said, “I know some good old songs, and this is the one I like best of all.” And he threw his head back and trolled out in deep-sea fashion:

“Oh, Sally Brown's a bright mulatto;
Away-oh, roll and go!
She drinks rum and chews tobacco;
Spend all my money on Sally Brown!”

The famous old chanty was Tohi's favourite waiata. “Yes, boss,” he said, “I was the chanty-man long ago aboard the ‘Postboy,’ topsail schooner. I was second mate of her, away back in the whaling and sealing times. I know every bit of a bay, every seal-cave along the coast and around the islands. I was at Sydney in her in the Fifties, when everyone was going mad over the gold-diggings in Victoria and America. I was nearly going off in a vessel to the Sacramento diggings in California. But I came back to the old place and went sealing in the Sounds, and then when Paddy Gilroy got the ‘Chance’ I went with him whaling on lays, same as all the rest of the boys. I went to sea when I was twelve or so, and here I am, at it again.”

Captain Stewart, Schooner-Man.

The sailorman after whom the island is named calls for a note. Captain William Stewart, who discovered the insularity of Rakiura, must not be confused with that other Stewart, the master of the notorious brig “Elizabeth,” in which Te Rauparaha made his cannibal expedition to Akaroa about a century ago.

page 31

Our Stewart was sealing, whaling and trading around these coasts for a long period in the early part of last century. A hundred and twenty years ago he sailed round the island, and thirty years or so later he piloted H.M.S. “Herald” to Port Pegasus and other bays of the island.

In 1825–26 we find him in command of a Sydney schooner called the “Prince of Denmark.” He took a party of timber-sawyers and shipwrights from the Bay of Islands to Stewart Island and established a shipbuilding yard at Pegasus Bay. The enterprise did not last long; a vessel commenced for Stewart was not finished. The men spent three years in building a 60-ton schooner for the Wellers, who owned a whaling station in Otago. This schooner, which took a cargo of whale oil and flax to Sydney, was given the name of “Joseph Weller” (and it was long before the days of “Pickwick.“).

She was the first pakeha vessel built in Stewart Island. The name Shipbuilders’ Cove, in Port Pegasus, remains to remind us of that century-ago schooner-launching.

The Ambergris Coast.

Away around on the surf-battered west coast are Doughboy Bay and Mason Bay, locally celebrated as places where valuable finds of ambergris have frequently been made.
“Among the leaves he boldly struts and loads his bill.” (Govt. Publicity photo.) The weka (or woodhen), Stewart Island

“Among the leaves he boldly struts and loads his bill.”
(Govt. Publicity photo.)
The weka (or woodhen), Stewart Island

A settler in that wild place of storms and solitude regularly patrols all the beaches in search of this curious treasure from dyspepsia-afflicted whales.

Codfish Island—Maori name Whenua-hou, or “New Land”—is a now lonely spot with a somewhat hectic past. A century ago sealing gangs from Sydney were frequently left at various places around Stewart Island to get skins while the vessels went on to the further south islands. It was no country for a man who loved a peaceful life. Savage Maoris sometimes hunted them down, and having slaughtered them did not waste the meat. If they chanced to escape ambuscade by the cannibals, they were as often as not practically marooned by their employers who failed to send a vessel to take them off. Later there was a small colony of pakehas with Maori wives; Bishop Selwyn found a half-caste settlement there in the “Forties.” Now only the visiting mutton-birders liven its desolation.