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Check to Your King

Chapter Fifteen — There Was a Glory

Chapter Fifteen
There Was a Glory

The scene-shifters complain that the stage is too full, the whole thing cumbersome. “Take it from me, an empty house tomorrow night,” grumbles one old gaffer, striking a match on his corduroy pants. “Yes, all those hams and heroines on together, and all talking at once.… What do they suppose the audience will make of that clack? We'll all be lying to our landladies the day after tomorrow, and on the roads the day after that.”

“Here,” says one enterprising old curmudgeon, “why can't we have a revolving stage? Sort of thing they use in the modern shows, so that you can see a million legs at once, each more ravishing than the last?”

“But,” protests the author wearily, “you can't have a revolving stage, for revolving stages weren't invented in your day. Use sense, I implore.…”

But upon that, they all blur together, like the blue smoke-rings from a long churchwarden pipe. “Who distinguishes us, one from another? We are the years.”

“Very well. For peace and pity's sake, you shall have your revolving stage. Listen, now. We are in England. This is the House of Lords.”

“Hadn't you better give some idea of the cast?”

“Oh, later, later. First let us rehearse this House of Lords, and the Nanto-Bordelaise scene. It weighs on my mind, I can bear no more. Don't knock out your pipe-ashes where the audience can see them. Ring up the curtain.…”

“Resolved in Select Committee of the House of Lords: that it appears to this Committee that the extension of the Colonial page 135 Possessions of the Crown is a matter of public policy which belongs to Her Majesty's Government: but that it appears to this Committee that support, in whichever way it may be deemed most expedient to afford it, of the exertions which have already beneficially affected the rapid advancement of the religious and social conditions of the aborigines of New Zealand, affords the best present hope of their future in civilisation.”

The Earl of Devon is in the Chair. Men appear for a moment in London limelight, called in to report on New Zealand conditions. Mr. John Liddiard, expert by reason of a ten weeks' stay in the country, makes his bow.

“You have stated that the New Zealanders appeared anxious to have Europeans among them. Do you suppose this was solely for the purpose of instructing them in religion and the Arts, or for giving them laws and acting with authority?”

“For the purpose of bettering their condition in giving them greater comforts of life, and introducing the arts of civilisation.”

Another witness, the Hon. F. Baring, Member of Parliament, is questioned.

“Lord Durham's New Zealand Company did not give for their million of acres more than about forty or fifty pounds?”

“Probably not. They would give a certain number of muskets or blankets.”

To the uninitiated, this deal might seem no more respectable than that made by the Baron de Thierry; and then there was the land purchase made for the missionaries in 1815, and paid for with twelve axes.…

Captain FitzRoy, of the old Beagle, gives evidence before the Lords, and makes an excellent impression in this awakening England. The Earl of This, the Marquis of That, the Duke of The Other, are known to be strongly in favour of the settlement of New Zealand. No one can too powerfully emphasise the fact that Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield (the power in the New Zealand Company's steam-engine) has absolutely no official status in connection with the project. “Oh no, we never mention him, his name is never heard,” writes Mr. Wakefield, and clears his decks for action. Poor Mr. Wakefield.… He supplied most of the energy and action, and what did he get for it? Begrudged fame, precious little fortune. But then, Mr. Wakefield sometimes looked like a buccaneer, which was what the others, also buccaneers at heart, but so overgrown with whiskers and respectability, could not tolerate.

Two kings on the English throne since that poor old man under page 136 whom the elder and now deceased Baron de Thierry had come from the French shambles. Now a woman, with Victory for her name. England wakes out of the introspective, poseur-ridden phase into which she had passed after the Napoleonic wars, shakes out lion's mane on the wind.

Yet there are strange happenings also in France. (Swing over that revolving stage. Ah, how it creaks!) Almost you'd think life moved again, life better than shadow, among the gilt and the ghosts of Versailles. Even the lack-lustre Court, with Louis Philippe's curled hair, fleshy face, and twinkling eyes stamped on its gold bits, is astir over the subject of Nanto-Bordelaise. It's rumoured that His Majesty stoops to pat the shoulder of a French whaling-master, Jean Victor Langlois, who sailed his ship, the Cachalot, all round New Zealand, and from an old South Island chieftain has bought the whole of Banks' Peninsula for a French settlement.

Before Cécille turned L'Héroine back towards France, at the request of this Jean Victor Langlois he took possession of the South Island, with salvo of heavy guns and the tricolour flying. This is not official annexation, but it's a step on the road. France is very tired of M. Guizot, the autocrat of the Chamber of Deputies, who leans back in his chair, sighs that he is a man of peace, and watches England snatch one prize after another. The Paris quill-drivers tickle that rhinoceros hide of his, and if they don't wake much more in him than a lazy enmity, they attract the attention of the crowd. If Charles de Thierry were in France today, they wouldn't talk to him about Brazilian coffee-beans. Quite suddenly, Charles is a penny-a-liners' hero in Paris.

Captain Langlois advertises for settlers, and they come pelting. Journalists mirror the fertile lands of Banks' Peninsula as a little Arcady. The big fellows of the moneyed world take a hand in mixing the pie. Captain Cécille, arriving in France early in 1839, endorses the project of a French colony in the south of New Zealand. His word settles the matter. The Nanto-Bordelaise Company, with a capital running into many million francs, is successfully floated at Bordeaux, with Captain Langlois of the Cachalot a fifth partner for his pains.

On December 11th, 1839, the French Government have positively made up their mind. Nanto-Bordelaise is to be supported to the limit of discretion. The naval transport vessel, the Mahé, is to sail with arms and provisions, under orders to remain with the settlers for eighteen months in New Zealand, wet-nursing the infant colony. The insurance on the pioneers' vessel runs into page 137 300,000 francs. Louis Philippe remains good-humoured with his whaling-master. At a royal hint, the Mahé is renamed the Comte de Paris, after the baby heir to the French throne.

In Paris, the Chamber of Deputies now argue whether to send a French Consul to the Confederacy of Chiefs under Parore (Mr. Busby's “United Tribes of New Zealand”) or to the Court of the Baron de Thierry. Francis de Thierry puts in an appearance, working day and night for his brother's interests. Charles's name is hoisted up, a queer little flag bobbing about in journals whose editors know nothing very valid about his circumstances. Their pictures of the “Court” are of a grandiloquence to make the bells of Utopia burst into peals of mirth. There was a little girl in a French conte de fées who went out one morning and found strawberries under the snow; but that's nothing. Charles, when he had found the strawberries, looked once again, and behold the snow wasn't snow at all, it was ice-cream!

Fantastic letters, all addressed to the “Sovereign Chief of New Zealand”, begin to pour in at Mount Isabel. There are protests of loyalty and promises of support from men whose names had faded into limbo years ago.

The great balance sways. The King at Mount Isabel cannot help wishing that both sides would suddenly become involved in some crisis… a war, a new revue, a fashion, anything to take their minds away from New Zealand. In the sovereignty of a great power, whether England or France, commerce stands to gain much, political strategy still more. But the native? Men of the greenstone age, tall, chivalrous, barbarous, childish, friendly.… Facing them, in a truce more dangerous than open warfare, the powers of Europe.

Meantime, King Pokeno continues the offices of his alleged Court.

“I, Charles, Baron de Thierry, do hereby decree…” This time it was a document relating to the sale of native lands, one of the last issued for circulation by the Sovereign Chief. Re-affirmation of his benign wish to encourage all Maoris settled on what he religiously describes as “my lands”. (Did I mention it? He had commenced what he hoped would be a twelve-mile carriage-drive through the Long Bush. This was probably the most optimistic enterprise in the world.) A suggestion follows that, to guard against unscrupulous land-sharks, a minimum money price of five shillings per acre should be paid on all sales; and, to safeguard native interests, let all such lands coming into the market be disposed of at three-monthly auctions, held in Sydney. Let 25 per cent of the proceeds be set aside for roading and public improvements; 25 per cent for page 138 native hospitals and schools; 12 1/2 per cent for a native trust fund, banked in Sydney; 12 1/2 per cent for native needs in clothing and tools. All, of course, perfectly illegal. The native vendors would sooner have cut his throat, any day, than have seen their hard-earned gains stuck in a bank, or expended on hospitals and schools. Also the white settlers, clinching their bargains with raw spirits, must have found the circular diverting.

It was put forward, presumably in all seriousness, in March, 1839, and carries as its final clause a suggested limitation of all land-holdings to a maximum of 100,000 acres “free for ever of land-tax”.

He was to write of 1839 as “the last year of my political existence”.

Slow burning of those massive Christmas candles, alight on the pohutukawa trees. The Wakefield brothers' ship, the brig Tory, lies anchored in the Hokianga that Christmas, and twice Colonel Wakefield – Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield's adventurous brother – tramps to the canoe which takes one up-stream to Mount Isabel. The English voyager writes down Charles as “a most interesting conversationalist”. He does more. On Christmas Day arrives a letter from Colonel Wakefield, promising the Baron a much-needed supply of caps and gunpowder, and begging “Miss de Thierry” to honour him with the acceptance of a toy from her friend. That was civil. The Hokianga bushes don't sprout wax dolls, or green and yellow dancing wooden mannikins, either.

We can no longer delay it. Here they come, the cast, the cast… all drawn up in order at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands; which is, of course, the home of Mr. James Busby, British Resident. Mr. Busby has an important role to play in the drama, that of superman among the clerks. I often reflect that it is really the clerks who made the British Empire, but they never got any thanks for it.

Cast Assembled at Waitangi

Captain Hobson (formerly, you may remember, of H.M.S. Racehorse). A British officer. A gentleman. A man of unimpeachable integrity, who might have served as model for that cliché “An Englishman's word is his bond.” Later, first Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand. Later again, an untimely corpse.
Captain Nias,of H.M.S. Herald, Captain Hobson's convoy from Sydney. An officer. No gentleman. With a cold in the head.
Archdeacon Henry Williams.Driving force among the missionaries. Official interpreter of the Treaty of Waitangi to the natives, and of the native orations to Captain Hobson and the other whites.
Other Missionaries:Any number of them.
Bishop Pompallier:Regarded by the above as representing the page 139 Scarlet Woman. Wears purple. Not popular. Not expected. Attended by his two assistants.
Hone Heke:Fighting spirit among the younger Maori chiefs. Likes to be always first. A temperamental young man, regarded by some as a Maori Paladin, by others as the makings of a brigand. Something in both views. Hone Heke has acquired much mana by marrying the daughter of the late Shunghie, Hariata the Beautiful. He makes good speeches.
Tamati Waaka Nene:The greatest of the chiefs. From the independents' point of view, a defeatist. Actually, the spirit of the Maori race.
Other Chiefs:All have speaking parts. All make excellent speeches. All are more than half prepared to fall on the white men and devour them. All secretly await a lead.
Our Charles:Present only in the spirit. To the English, an exploded cracker, a mare's nest. To the French, a good agent ruined by temperament and a fad for native independence. To the natives, King Pokeno. To himself, King of Nukahiva, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand, Defender of the Maori faith.

* * * *

It would be idle to deny that the first scenes passed off without their little hitches. When Captain Hobson and Captain Nias landed from the Herald, Hobson was almost distracted, Nias in a vile temper. He refused to recognize Captain Hobson as Lieutenant-Governor, or to give him a salute from the Herald's guns, until this Treaty was signed and done with. Hobson's landing was contrived with the maximum of discomfort and the minimum of respect. A few settlers arrived, just in time to prevent the future Lieutenant-Governor from delivering his first speech to the walls of a wooden shed. Later - when the treaty was signed - Hobson from his bunk on the Herald offered to fight Captain Nias “across a pocket handkerchief”. The settlers were wroth with Nias. “He fell off his horse, he got wet, he caught a cold in the head”, joyously relates a scribe of the period.

Mr. Busby and his two clerks had the next scene to themselves. All night they sat, putting the finishing touches to the beautiful Treaty, under which the chiefs were to cede their sovereignty to Queen Victoria, but must not be forced to part with any of their land unless they wished to sell. The British Crown was to acquire pre-emptive right of land purchase. All the blessings, all the curses of white man's rule and civilisation, are the chiefs' hereafter, for a mere scratch of pen on parchment.

But the real show begins in that great beflagged marquee at Waitangi, in which the Treaty is to be read out to the natives, and page 140 the perorations of the latter will be heard. Very impressive settings; flags - though all the bunting in the Hokianga must have been scraped up to supplement that of the Bay of Islands - clean outshone by the spectacular garments of the Maoris: white plumes nodding in dark hair, inky blue of the huia feather, red of the kaka, greenstone earrings, clubs, amulets. Numerous gold-laced coats, representing the pomp of Great Britain. Bishop Pompallier, a dramatic figure, purple from head to foot-even purple stockings - with a gold cross on his breast, and the great episcopal ruby on his finger. How the black-frocked missionaries suck in their breath!… Especially when the Bishop somehow manoeuvres his person between themselves and Captain Hobson, and appears on the dais in a seat of honour. All eyes, however, are distracted by the entrance of a dandy robed in glistening white dog-skin. The splendour of the old pagan world rises up tall and implacable in this tent, for a moment its full sunlight streams in the Lieutenant-Governor's eyes. He does not see, seated on his dais, that the sun passes its meridian on that day.

There was a glory. Let us admit that, and salute it before we turn the page.

Rangatira, tohunga… let the spirits of your old meanings creep like lizards out of that cavern where you have taken refuge, the Silence of the Ancestors.

See, the white man has collected a handful of your ancient words, as a child gathers the bright worn pebbles from the glassy rub of the sea-waves; knowing nothing of their meanings, knowing only, as their smooth kiss lies in the palm of his hand, “This is significant and beautiful.”

He was set like a rock above the tribesmen. The shadow of his hand was like the swaying of the mighty totara tree.

Where he moved in anger, the enemies were afraid before him: as sweeps the wave back, under the thrust of the great storm.

When he came in friendship, there was raised to him in obedience and love the heart of things : as the tide is lifted unto the moon.

He was the touch of greenstone, clear, hard and cold. He was the wind that challenges dawn alone from the horn of a mountain. He was the forest that flared in that fire kindled by the white man, the pakeha; and in his going, majesty was stolen from the earth, and her natural garment was withdrawn. Haere mai, thou who comest from the caves of the spirit. Haere mai, O rangatira.

And thou, tohunga, what was it, elder brother of the Maori race, that was too subtle for thee? Was it the fiery metal of the white stars, or the clay of the human heart?

page 141

Nay, for both were written on the doors of thine understanding: in that speech which is older than all speech. And something of this thou taught'st to the sons of chieftains. But all thou didst not teach.

Tell me, then, wise one, old one, that could conquer so much: were they so easily defeated, your kinsmen, the atua of the Maori race?

Nay, but the lizard runs from one cavern into another: and who shall say which is the larger, when the second cavern lieth unseen?

Since thou hast withdrawn into the darkness, old one, and come now only to the threshold, with the dryness of Time on thy tongue, and its scorn in thy glittering eyes, I think it is a vast cavern, that Unseen which we have not conquered. Slip back then into your darkness, Lizard; begone like the cold trail of a thought. Yet, because thou wert wise and secret, never yet surprised, never yet defeated, haere mai to thee also, O tohunga.

* * * *

The stateliness, the gesticulations, the play of passion in the mannered speeches of the dark orators, drift slowly together in that hot whirlpool of memory. Here and there a splendid face stands out; the reproachful dignity in an old man's eyes makes the Lieutenant-Governor wish that he could understand what is said, without the services of an interpreter. There is dispute over the settlers' and missionaries' land. Hobson gathers that Mr. Busby, Archdeacon Williams, a score of others, are accused by the natives of over-shrewdness. The accused men are quick in their own defence. One by one, they explain how their young families are growing up in this wilderness, with no secure inheritance but in their fathers' estates. True enough.… If the white children are to be secured, the native children must be… what is the word? Dispossessed? No, no, a friendly mingling together. For how many? Room for how many? Mr. Williams is once again requested to speak up.

Hone Heke makes an oration, of which Captain Hobson understands nothing except that the young man expresses fire in every line of his clean-run body. There is trouble over the interpretation. Mr. Williams says that Heke is favourable to the Treaty; a score of voices shout that Heke is for no surrender.

The afternoon has wearied the white men; eyes have grown vacant and tough bodies listless. Not only the stuffiness of the marquee, but the invisible conflict in the air is telling on them. Captain Hobson, his strength sapped by a sickness of months' standing, thinks grimly that he is like a ventiloquist's doll. At the right moment, his voice will say the correct words. But the lips page 142 that utter them might as well be a dead man's, for all the sense of physical reality that remains to him.

Something in the presence of Nene stirs him to life again. He leans forward from the dais, studying the finely tattooed face, the look of deep-set eyes under a noble forehead.

Nene, baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as Thomas Walker, says, “Too late”. If you had kept your country from the white men, he tells the natives, we could stand together now. If you had never invited the ships and the traders, the country would still be your own, and we should rule it. But you have brought the white men to New Zealand; your whole strength will never suffice to drive them away where once they have settled. To master the bad among the white men, you must have the white man's law.

The level voice spoke on. Nene was a friend to the pakeha, a zealous convert to Christianity. Yet, far more than those moved quickly to anger and loud talk, he remained a prince of the Maori race. On this afternoon, when he offered himself valiantly as ally to the white men, the spirit of his race spoke through his lips, and its sad cry was, “Too late”.

It would never speak so clearly and bitterly again, until besieged and thirsting in sun-baked Maori trenches, Maori men and women, the forces of the chieftain Rewi Maniapoto, huddled together, and death watched them with empty eyes from a little distance. The officers sent them an offer of surrender and safeguard. The blackened lips returned a message of one sentence.

“Friends, we will fight against you for ever… for ever.”

* * * *

A few months of bearing the Treaty here and there, among the more distant tribes of the North Island. (The South has not yet been taken into consideration. Do not forget the Comte de Paris, Captain Jean Victor Langlois, the French settlers for Banks' Peninsula, now on the high seas.) Occasionally, a chieftain sticks out his tongue at the Treaty. One in particular declares he will never accept the petticoat government of “the woman Victoria”. But that's a bagatelle. New Zealand has an English Queen. There is officially a British Lieutenant-Governor.

It might seem that Captain Nias of the Herald could no longer refuse to be polite… but that's because one does not know Captain Nias. After that desperate quarrel in the cabin of the Herald (Hobson, already a sick man, propping himself up on one elbow in his bunk), quite suddenly the Governor's head swims, the world page 143 becomes very dark. The managing spirit, for the moment, loses control of the ventriloquist's doll.

“The Governor has had a stroke,” whisper dismayed settlers, one to another. He was ominous, that very aged chieftain who came to Waitangi especially to see the White Queen's first representative; who teetered forward across the green lawns, stared in the Governor's face, pointed a finger as shrivelled as a crow's claw, and cried : “Alas, an old man!… He will soon be dead!”

* * * *

“An aboriginal people saved… a marvellous consummation. A native race protected and perpetuated, brought forward instead of being driven back into the wilderness, and a people taught to love the God that permitted these things, instead of trembling at the denunciations of the missionaries. It might have been. Poor doomed, poor devoted people. But England is mistress here, and Fate has sounded their funeral-knell. Where they might have been taught to command, they must be content now to obey: and where in ages to come they would have shone and reflected glory and light upon their country, they must hang their heads in servile despondency, and grope their way in darkness.”

Yes, yes, at Mount Isabel. The Sovereign Chief discovered at his teak writing-desk. Where else could it possibly be?

That epitaph of his upon Waitangi is rather good. But it wouldn't be Charles if he didn't ruin the effect by adding, farther down the page, “If in the years to come the natives ever set eyes on what I have written here, how they will weep!”

Apart from the possible weeping of the natives, there's the vastly important matter of the first letter from the Sovereign Chief to the Lieutenant-Governor.

Charles congratulates Captain Hobson on his landing and successful achievements, and begs information as to what attitude Her Majesty's Government would take up regarding “French possessions in New Zealand”. (This is a bit mystifying. But the Nation of One being obviously unsuited to defend itself, the French wing may have seemed the one remaining refuge.)

I have very few comforts to offer the traveller, but, should you come this way, I need not say that I shall feel proud of an opportunity to welcome you.


Yours very sincerely,

Charles, Baron de Thierry,

Sovereign Chief of New Zealand.
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(“Was I to hide away like a guilty man? Was I to pull down my flag, and hide it in some obscure corner?”)

There is in Captain Hobson's exquisitely neat letter-the Lieutenant-Governor was a genuine penman - a courtesy which takes the sting out of its tail.

“When you do me the honour to address me again, pray avoid the title you assume of Sovereign Chief.” Hobson points out that the French neither held nor could hold any possessions in Her Majesty's dominions, “though individual French settlers have large holdings, and these shall receive exactly the same treatment as the other white settlers.”

There was half a promise to visit Mount Isabel. Indeed, a few days later a young Maori arrived, mud-splashed and panting, with a pencilled note from the Governor, explaining that the visit which the Baron had expected from him that day had gone awry, owing to the sudden illness of Captain Nias, and a mishap with a guide who had lost the way, delaying until it was too late to make the difficult journey to Mount Isabel. So the supper for which one of the turkeys had died the death was consumed en famille.

“My flag remained. I desired one of my children to lower the ill-omened colours, and fold them and put them away, in memory of the lost liberties of the natives of New Zealand.”

The Princess Isabel secreted herself, alone for once, in that quaint thatched temple where they counted the stars together, she and her papa. It was next to the grotesquely deformed Kauri which owing to its proboscis, was known far and near as the “Elephant Tree”. A green lizard, perhaps half an inch in length, ran out from under a strip of grey bark, with an air of great importance, and at sight of her finger suddenly froze, as if his mere existence were a piece of bad manners, which she would perhaps be good enough to overlook.

The lizards of New Zealand are extraordinarily old and wise. One of them, the tuatara, is said to be the Oldest Member in his entire society, and lives in a burrow, proving that nothing can ruffle his philosophic calm by allowing white seagulls to bunk with him. Could any but a reptilian Diogenes live placidly with such a shrew?

The little green lizards are not so wise as all that, but they have good sense also, and a certain degree of magic. The dry slithering sound they make is as if the hot restless leaves had come unstuck and gone travelling on a summer's day.

“Oh Lizard, advise me!… We are all plunged into sorrow, for my papa, the King-whom the English insist is a pirate, or else a page 145 French general - has been obliged to strike his colours. What shall we do?”

Wisdom in its solid form is incommunicable. Dissolve it, then, into streams, sieve it into the yeast of almost invisible air-bubbles, dancing between earth and sky. The prickle of tiny strawcoloured grass stems, the warmth of the sun, were grateful to her bare knees. Perhaps they were wisdom of a sort. Friendliness, at all events.