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Chapter XXVII. — Children of the Church

page 265

Chapter XXVII.
Children of the Church.

Another lot of Tutira aliens has carried a message which assuredly no other group of plants has anywhere been privileged to bear. They have reached the station as heralds preparing the way, forerunners making the path straight for the coming of a King. I can never view a row of thyme or clump of mint on the long-deserted site of a far inland pa—gifts brought from afar of frankincense and myrrh—without seeming to hear their native carrier tell his tale of the mission garden whence the plant had sprung, of the white men from across the sea, of their strange new gospel of peace and goodwill. Assuredly not one of these mission garden aliens, these children of the church, has been handled, tasted, or smelled without discussion of the donor, the austere example of his life, his beliefs.

No white man in early days visited the district of which Tutira forms a part. The population was too insignificant, the locality too wild; rumour and report of Christianity was beyond doubt first carried upcountry by the medium of plants. Prior to translation of the Bible into the Maori tongue, fertilising messages from holy writ, texts from scripture, had been scattered over heathendom in the form of drupe, rootlet, and seed. As in Antioch, the followers of the new faith were earliest known by the name of its founder, so during discussion of missionary plants were Christian precepts first ventilated on the wilds of Tutira.

As we shall see, some of the plants in this group have reached the run almost directly from mission stations, others by more circuitous peregrmations from the same source.

It is impossible in this volume and in this chapter to deal, however briefly, with the story of the introduction of Christianity into New Zealand. Marsden had already visited the country, but it was not until page 266 early in the nineteenth century that a Church of England Mission Station was permanently established at Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Internecine strife was then everywhere raging betwixt the Maori tribes. In the North Island over the whole wide land, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Paihia was the single oasis of peace and culture, the one good deed in a naughty native world. It was from this missionary centre that influences radiated which in the beginning modified the rigour of strife, and which in the end terminated tribal warfare.1

Between this date and that more or less general combination of the Maori clans at a later period against the encroachment of white settlement, plants from mission gardens were widely distributed. The potherbs, for instance, still found growing on the sites of deserted hill pas of Maungaharuru, must have been taken there at a very early date, for these fastnesses had been abandoned long before the Mohaka massacre in the 'seventies, long before the battle of Omaranui, long before the stocking of Tutira. They survive there still as scraps of past history, as relics of the primordial introduction of Christianity.

Although, however, the plants of this group have probably all reached Tutira more or less directly from mission sources, I do not mean to say that several of them had not reached New Zealand prior to the advent of the church. The peach (Prunus persica), for example, is certain to have been imported from New South Wales at an early date; its stone is of just such a size and shape as would lend itself for transport, too big to lose readily, yet small enough for easy portage; peachstones were habitually carried in early times as gifts to inland districts. We can leave the likelihoods at this, that though the peach and probably the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabaccum) also had originally reached New Zealand from Australia and had skirted the coast in the trail of the sealing and whaling industries, yet neither had been carried far up-country or far from these industrial centres.

The few Europeans then in New Zealand, sailors and beach-combers,

1 The old-time Maori's devotion to warfare, and the levity with which he engaged in it, would be incredible were it not attested on all hands. A typical instance related by Darwin in his ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ will suffice: “A missionary found a chief and his tribe in preparation for war, their muskets bright and clean and their ammunition ready. He reasoned long on the inutility of the war and the little provocation which had been given for it. The chief was much shaken in his resolution and seemed in doubt, but at length it occurred to him that a barrel of his gunpowder was in a bad state and that it would not keep much longer. This was brought forward as an unanswerable argument for the necessity of dictating immediate war—the idea of allowing so much good gunpowder to spoil was not to be thought of, and this settled the point.”

page 267 were not the type of men that in trim gardens take their pleasure, not the type to encourage the native in paths of peace and plenty. Neither, moreover, was muru an institution likely in either race to foster foresight or assist in the accumulation of private wealth. Although, therefore, it is possible that a few seeds may have been carried short distances inland, away from trade centres, it is to the Mission Station that places at the back of beyond, such as the inland east coast, owe even the peach and the tobacco plant.

Except the potato, the former was probably the earliest alien to reach the station. Peach-groves, indeed, like the two native grasses already named, everywhere marked the sites of native villages, native cultivation-grounds, even the smallest homes of outlying Maoris.

The peach-trees of Tutira in the 'eighties appeared to be about forty or fifty years old, though after a certain time their boles increase but little in girth, making determination of their age difficult. Growth is rapid at first—fruit may be gathered from seedlings in their third or fourth season,—but the very few survivors now on the run seem to have hardly altered in girth during my residence. The trees composing the little groves dotted about Tutira, Puterino, and Maungaharuru varied in numbers from several dozen downwards. They were of two distinct types, the more common variety akin perhaps to the wild progenitors of the race, its fruit ovoid rather than round, smaller than garden varieties, slightly though pleasantly bitter, its stone easily detached, the skin downy, and when fully ripe, yellow, not red; the other type in all ways similar to the peach of commerce, except that I have never seen yellow-flesh varieties growing wild.

Beneath the laden branches of these old orchards, pigs could be stalked during moonlight nights; to sheep camped in hot weather in their shade the thud of a dropping peach was a signal to rise and feed; horses, too, were fond of the fruit and could neatly manipulate and eject the stone.

About '83 or '84 the groves and outlying trees on Tutira became diseased with die-back and curl-leaf, so that ten years later but few remained, even those, like the emblem of the stranger knight in Pericles, only “green on top.”

The cherry too (Prunus cerasus), although it had never been established locally as was the peach on old native workings, has also, in all probability, sprung from the mission garden. Comparatively speaking, page 268 the plant is a new-comer. The grove planted by Craig from roots carried from Havelock North in the late 'sixties, and flourishing near the present homestead until overrun by honeysuckle, has been the source from which suckers have been taken to other spots on the run. The cherry on Tutira, unlike the peach and almond, which germinate readily, even if but partially covered with soil or rotting grasses, has never sprung up from seed. Of all the stones that have been scattered about the homestead, men's quarters, and Maori camps, thrown from verandahs on to dug soils, emptied on rubbish-heaps, dropped in the orchards, basketed for picnics, riding and rowing expeditions, or, lastly, fallen from the trees themselves, never a stone has germinated. Nor has the cherry been given only by man an excellent chance of spreading by means of seed. The fruit of the fine plantation near George Bee's old homestead at Maungaharuru has for fifty years been chiefly gathered by native pigeons, yet there too no seedlings have appeared either in the open bush or about its edges.1

One wretched gnarled specimen of an apple-tree grew in '82 on the site of a deserted clearing on Pera's Flat. It was literally fleeced with American blight, which throughout the province was then threatening the existence of the wattle (Acacia dealbata).

Whatever may be the degree of relationship of these aliens to mission gardens, the tie between the missionary and the pot-herb tribe is very close and very intimate.

Catmint (Nepeta cataria), spearmint (Mentha viridis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), were in very truth born of the church. Doubtless all of them first reached New Zealand with drupes of stone fruit, pips of apple and pear, with grain, with grasses, with seeds of trees; they were imported of set purpose to multiply and replenish the earth, for the policy of the Church Missionary Society was from the beginning practical; the earliest laymen sent forth were persons “trained to useful arts.” It was to this system, indeed, that years later Archdeacon Henry Williams attributed in great degree the lasting effect of the work done.

1 True until after 1914. Since then seedling cherries have appeared not infrequently in the manuka-clothed ravines near the homestead. I am inclined to believe these seedlings now for the first time germinating on the station have been taken by birds from the so-called barren double-blossomed Japanese varieties, many of which mature a tiny fruit, or from the great cherry-trees of several garden varieties in Harry Young's garden, the whole of whose fruit has for years been stolen by birds.

page 269

That pot-herbs especially should have been so brought out from England seems the more natural, when it is considered how large a part the still-room played in the lives of gentlewomen of a century ago.

Each of the plants which in New Zealand we now look upon as a mere weed was then well known for its medicinal virtues. The warm sweet seeds of the fennel (Fœniculum vulgare) were valued as a carminative medicine for infants. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) was held in high esteem for culinary and pharmaceutical preparations. From other mints was expressed an oil used in medicines as an excitant and stomachic for promoting digestion. Thyme was in high favour as a flavouring; the extract of horehound was a remedy for coughs and asthmatical complaints.

Only a generation without physicians, dependent on medicines from its own gardens, can fully appreciate these simples of an old-fashioned past. The spread of pot-herbs was very rapid, because their value was very great.1

Of catmint (Nepeta cataria) one clump grows, and has grown for years, on the site of a native clearing in the Maungahinahina, another on a Maori cultivation-patch on the Maungaharuru Range. Its seed never germinates on the surrounding turf; the plant never spreads. I am convinced these two clumps could only have reached their present sites by the intervention of man; doubtless they were brought direct as rootlets in very early times.



Spearmint (Mentha viridis) flourishes on the margin of streams, and often covers roots of marsh. Once introduced inland, its rootlets carried down in floods, its seeds attached to the plumage and feet of wild-fowl, the plant would rapidly overrun the travertine deposits where it specially luxuriates.

1 Doubtless scores of other medicinal plants were imported, though comparatively few may have been able to propagate themselves. I have it from members of the Williams family that Charles Darwin, walking at an early hour in the Mission garden at Paihia, gathered sage-leaves for breakfast. Of his hosts and of their garden he was more appreciative than of their country. “I took leave of the missionaries with thankfulness for their kind welcome, and with feelings of high respect for their gentlemanlike, useful, and upright characters. I think it would be difficult to find a body of men better adapted for the high office which they fulfil.” It is heartrending to read his additional remark. “I believe we were all glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place.”

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Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), another plant that could only have reached Tutira by deliberate carriage, manages, after half a century, still to retain its trim compact shape. On Maungaharuru and elsewhere the original rows were, until lately—and may yet be, if not grubbed by pig—distinct on the ancient garden - plots of long-deserted native villages. The seed of thyme, like the seed of tansy, never germinates in turf; no beast eats it. When met with, the plant is a sure and certain indication of bygone settlement.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) grows plentifully on many parts of the run, but especially prefers sheep-camps on conglomerate outcrops. Under certain conditions the plant acts as an aphrodisiac.






Twice I have noticed that rams pawing and nosing the leaves have been stimulated as by the proximity of a ewe eager to mate. On each occasion I believe the discovery was a chance discovery, but having been experienced, persistence in the bruising of the plant was prolonged with visible results.

Thorn - apple (Datura stramonium), or, as it is still called in Hawke's Bay, “Priests' Weed,” has on two occasions appeared at Tutira. As a plant likely to be of use in pulmonary affection, it was distributed in early days throughout the pas of Hawke's Bay by the Rev. Father Regnier of the Meanee Mission Station. It offers yet another example of the esteem in which medicinal herbs were held in the early years of last century.

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The universal spread of water-cress (Nasturtium officinale) points also to early importation. As it is not a plant the frolicsome sealer is likely to have burdened his memory with sailing for New Zealand waters, the chances are that it also is of a missionary origin.1

The manner of arrival of ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is still another instance of that appreciation by early converts of mission plants—a proof, too, of the immense distances seeds were carried by neophytes and scholars. Its collection, carriage, and subsequent neglect are also typical at once of the mingled intelligence and carelessness of the Maori character. Ripora, afterwards the mother of my friend 'Pera, was as a girl educated at the Bay of Islands Mission Station. She it was who first brought ryegrass to Tangoio about '34 or '35. It had been gathered at Paihia either from one of the newly - sown missionary fields, or saved from plants that had already spread about the native quarters. Stowed away safely during the overland march, guarded from sea-water during the long canoe - voyage south; on arrival neglected in the whare at Tangoio, the cloth of the containing - bag torn by mice, the once - treasured seed was finally flung out in forgetfulness. There, falling on fertile soil, it germinated like the barley and rice cast forth by Robinson Crusoe before the entrance of his cave. The exact manner of its ultimate arrival at Tutira can only be surmised, but probability points to the equine stomach. Horses ridden from the one place to the other scattered it along the trail and dropped it on the station. It is curious to think that this, the most valuable grass in the province, should have reached Tutira

1 There are no snakes in New Zealand, but water-cress stories seem in early times to have been almost equally alluring. I hope—I trust—that none of those who wrote about the plant to their friends in England were missionaries; at any rate, the tradition of giant water-cress in New Zealand yet lingers in the Old Country. Not once, but several times, at home I have been commiserated with on the fact that our rivers in New Zealand were blocked by the plant—that inland navigation was hindered by its growth. On one occasion, when recovering from typhoid, and under the care of a doctor whose forebears had been connected with missionary enterprise, as I had foreseen and dreaded, condolences were offered about the plant and the misfortune to the colony of its importation. At first I struggled to state the facts; but finally—he was very insistent and positive, and I weak—I let him go away in the belief that its stems were larger than those of the British oak, and that if by chance a pair of moa still lived they would infallibly choose to nest in a water-cress jungle. The truth is, that on the Avon, and possibly elsewhere, small areas of water really were densely covered with a sud of rootlets; possibly, too, the navigation of small row-boats may have been in some degree hindered over insignificant distances.

page 272 long before the run was taken up, and years before a grain of grass-seed had been purposely sown on the station.1

We now come to the best known and most widely spread of all the missioners—the willow (Salix babylonica). A willow leaf must indeed in early times have been to the natives of New Zealand as the olive leaf to the inhabitants of the Ark—an emblem of hope, an indication that the deluge of bloodshed, strife, and rapine was abating from the face of the earth. It has been carried from the tree weeping over Napoleon's tomb at St Helena to the original Church of England Mission Station at Paihia in the Bay of Islands, to other Mission Stations of later date, and thence spread everywhere. About this tree—the ancestor of the willow-groves of the Dominion—Sir Henry Galway, at one time Governor of the island, has kindly given me the following information. He writes: “ I have to-day received a reply from St Helena re the Napoleon willow, but there is nothing in that reply to show the country from which the original willow was imported. That being so, I am satisfied nobody in the island can give information on that particular point. My correspondent says that the willow, with other trees, was imported into the island by the East India Company, and that the Tomb Valley, then known as either Sane Valley or Geranium Valley, was one of the areas in which the willows were planted. The willow under discussion was growing before Napoleon arrived in St Helena, and the grave was dug quite close to it. I send you, under separate cover, a print of the Tomb, the original having been drawn after the exhumation in 1840. The original willows disappeared very many years ago, and those now growing are the great-great-grandchildren of the original trees.”

Like the sago-palm to the Indian, the willow to the settler in New Zealand is useful in a score of ways: it can be pollarded for stock during drought, it can be planted for the drying - up of marsh and well-head; as no fencing is required, individual trees can be

1 The Poverty Bay ryegrass, so famous throughout Australia for germinating quality and weight, is also directly descended from missionary sources. Mr J. N. Williams has told me it was first noticed shortly after the shipment of a couple of cows from the Bay of Islands to the later-established headquarters of the Mission on the Waipaoa river. There the grass appeared, having either been carried in the animals' bodies, or amongst bay shipped as fodder for the voyage. Mr Williams' brother, the late Bishop of Waiapu, has informed me, too, how rapidly and thoroughly it killed out the native Microlœna stipoides then in possession of the whole of the Poverty Bay flats.

page 272a
Napoleon's Tomb at St Helena. Showing the original Weeping Willow from which have sprung the single trees and groves that beautify every part of New Zealand.

Napoleon's Tomb at St Helena.
Showing the original Weeping Willow from which have sprung the single trees and groves that beautify every part of New Zealand.

page 273 placed where wanted without cost or care. Slips as thick as a man's wrist, and of sufficient height to stand above reach of cattle, thrust into suitable soil, will in a few years provide a fine circumference of shade. It is the harbinger of spring, the verdure of its pendent trailers bearing promise to the struggling settler of warmth returned, grass-growth, and lambs on hillsides once more green. Bare of leaves for only six or seven weeks of the year, this exquisitely graceful tree has become—in the north at any rate—almost an evergreen. The growth of the weeping - willow, in fact, is so rapid, its vitality so exuberant, that, had it not perforce remained celibate, the waterways of the colony would have been seriously affected. The old - world origin of our New Zealand groves is, as stated, the celebrated tree growing over Napoleon's tomb at St Helena. From it cuttings were brought to the Bay of Islands Mission Station by two English ladies—Mrs Malcolm, wife of Admiral Malcolm, and Mrs Abel.1 These ladies, reaching New Zealand by one of the sailing ships which in the early part of last century were accustomed to call at St Helena, presented a box full of small rooted twigs to Henry, afterwards Archdeacon Henry Williams. His daughter, Mrs Davies—now a venerable lady of ninety - nine, to whom I am indebted for the anecdote of Napoleon and for other information—recollects well the circumstance of her father's call on the newly - arrived ship, and his enthusiasm over his cuttings.2 From the Bay of Islands the willow spread south.
Reaching the Meanee Mission Station in Hawke's Bay, a slip was taken by Colenso, who planted it at Tangoio, where in '85 a willow-tree grew measuring over seven feet in diameter. From Tangoio a slip was carried to Tutira and planted on the pa Te Rewa. That tree is dead, but its branches have populated the station. In the 'seventies the Stuart Brothers and Kiernan had begun that planting which has since so beautified the place. Trees were still, however, in the 'eighties, few and

1 Mrs Abel had a small daughter on board. This child had been a favourite of Napoleon; with her at St Helena he used to play, even apparently to romp, if such a skittish term can be applied to the movements of the Man of Destiny. On one occasion, at any rate, the girl during their play managed to capture his sword, exclaiming in glee, as a child might, that she had done alone what the nations of Europe had leagued to accomplish. Napoleon never forgot this speech, or cared again to play with the child.

2 There are probably willows of the same descent in England also. Major-General Smith, to whom this book is dedicated, when returning from service abroad, recollects brother officers having to make restitution of slips clandestinely gathered from St Helena; doubtless, however, all offenders were not detected by the sentinel on guard.

page 274 far between, one row growing on the western edge of Waikopiro lake, another on the south of the Taupunga peninsula; three trees stood on the wool-shed peninsula, three more on the little flat where the present homestead has been built; now there are hundreds round the lake itself, and along the edges of the alluvial flats, planted chiefly by Harry Young, Jack Young, George Whatley, T. J. Stuart, and myself.

Sweet-briar (Rosa rubiginosa), “Missionary” as it is still called, has been spread abroad by the horse. Though I could do so, it would be wearisome to the reader were each plant located. It is enough to say that in the 'eighties, between Petane, probably the local starting-point of the plant, and Tutira bushes grew scattered at long intervals. Many years later, long after the local extirpation of these pioneers, the station was again invaded, plants appearing plentifully on the Tutira-Heru-o-Tureia track. Grass seed packed from the station was being sown on that distant block, where there was then no holding paddock. The hungry horses fed about the old Maori briar-infested cultivations, devouring amongst other rubbish quantities of red ripe hips. Returning without loads and driven fast, their stomachs were emptied throughout the “Wild Horse Country,” “Nobbies,” “Educational,” ”Second Range,” “Dome,” “Image,” and “Natural Paddock.” Sweet-briar originally, therefore, reached the run from the south, but later from the north-west. It has never spread so dangerously as the bramble. The equine stomach is more expeditiously emptied; as no rider, moreover, during a journey would willingly allow his steed to gorge on hips, each outlying bush has not served, as in the case of the blackberry, for a fresh reservoir of replenishment. As its local name—“Missionary”—implies, sweet-briar too is a child of the Church of England.