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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Deighton's Trek

page 145

Deighton's Trek.

The story of "Dick" Deighton's connection with the early settlement of New Zealand is one worthy to be told in the schools of this land, embalmed in history, and the descendants in our town to-day might well be the proud possessors of decorations for deeds as doughty as any that won the Victoria Cross. History is still extant in his diaries, for as a diarist he might be said to outclass Pepys or Evelyn—for he saved the infant city of Wellington and its people from sack and slaughter.

Richard J. Deighton (father of the late R. J. Deighton of Grey Street, and grandfather of Messrs. R. Deighton and A. H. Deighton, and Mrs. M. Harding) arrived in New Zealand in 1840 in the ship Cuba, and settled with his brother, Sam, at Wanganui, afterwards at Wairoa, and in the Chatham Islands.

When Richard Deighton arrived in Wairoa from Wellington, he engaged in various occupations such as befell the pioneer, and in one of these he sustained a semi-paralytic stroke which incapacitated him for seventeen long years, his only consolations being the visitations of his friends, whom he invariably commandeered for a game of chess. His other recreations being keeping up his diaries and publishing his reminiscences, in the press. The writer had the privilege of seeing his diaries and manuscripts. But he died "unwept, unhonoured and unsung," as far as the authorities were concerned, for it was not till late in life that the late Reverend W. Lambert secured for him a small pension and one not in page 146keeping with his fine services. But to my story: The Deighton brothers very soon mastered the Maori language, and in their contact with the Wanganuis learned a good deal of the ways of the Maoris, a knowledge of which proved very useful when the war troubles came on the land in 1846. Deighton himself tells how he was introduced to Rangi-haeata, the lieutenant of Te Rauparaha:

"It was in the year 1842, shortly after the news had arrived of a dreadful massacre having been committed at the Wairau (Nelson province) where twenty-six white people had been killed (some of whom were butchered in a dreadful manner) by the Maori chief Te Rangi-haeata and his tribe; I was on a journey overland, on foot, of course, as a horse in those days was an entirely unknown animal, at all events in that part of New Zealand. This journey was by no means a trifling undertaking, for it had never been ventured on by any of my fellow colonists before. However, being young, strong, fond of adventure and having an ardent desire to become better acquainted with this new country I had adopted, I started with my swag on my back, consisting of the following items: 1 blanket, 1 shirt, 1 pair socks, ½lb. tea, 8lb. sugar, and 3lb. tobacco, with a sheath-knife and pannikin attached to my belt. Thus equipped I started on my trip; the quantity of tobacco in my bundle might strike the reader as being unnecessarily large for the consumption of one person, but I should explain that, tobacco in those days was the only medium the traveller had for defraying current expenses, half a head then was more than equivalent in value to one shilling of the present times. But to return to my trip. After a laborious day's walk over hills, through the bush, crossing streams some thirty or page 147forty times, I reached Porirua; how thankful I was for a pannikin of tea and a slice of bush pork and damper; and after a smoke of the pipe I turned in and slept well, depend upon it, without the aid of any opiate. I started next morning and was ferried across the Porirua Harbour to Paremata, at that time a whaling-station kept by old Geordie Botts (alias Toms), a well-known character in those days; finding no inducement to stop there, for the place literally stunk of train oil and bad rum, I determined to push on as far as possible before night, but had not proceeded more than a mile, and was passing a Native settlement, when I heard a voice behind me calling, 'Pakeha e! come back," to which I paid no heed, and was going on, when the voice shouted again in a threatening tone, adding, 'If you don't come back I'll shoot you.' On hearing this I turned round to see what the fellow meant, when to my great surprise, and I must admit, not a little funk, I beheld a Maori about fifty yards off, with a double-barrelled gun at his shoulder, presented towards me. Discretion, thought I, is decidedly the better part of valour in such a case, so I walked back to see what he wanted, when, with the greatest coolness, he asked, 'Why did you not come back at once when I called you?' I replied by asking him who he was and if he thought I was his slave to come at his beck and call. 'No,' said he, 'but you are on my land and no Pakeha shall pass over it without my permission,' upon which I enquired of one of the by-standers, 'who this man was?' He said in a tone, and with an emphasis on the name, evidently intended to frighten me, 'He is Te Rangi-haeata.' 'What,' said I, 'Rangi-haeata of Te Wairau?' 'Yes,' said old Rangi himself, 'I have just returned from killing some of you white men for trespassing on my land' (he appeared perfectly mad on this point 'his land'). 'However,' said he, 'I am sorry it occurred'; then immediately after, with a sudden start, he added, page 148'It served them right, what business had they to trespass on my land'; then again, he added, 'But for all that I am sorry it has taken place, for I was always fond of the white man, but why did they try to take my land from me?' Then, after a few minutes, he turned and invited me to go up to his settlement, but I, not feeling altogether safe in such company, and not over desirous of partaking of the hospitality of such a ruffian, declined, saying that I was anxious to get on my journey, on which a dark scowl came over the old savage's face, and he said, 'You forget that you are upon my land, you go no further to-night.' There was no mistaking this, so, needs must when the d——I drives I went up with him to the settlement, and he treated me with greater hospitality than I have ever met with from any Native in New Zealand before or since."

It was not until July of the eventful year of 'forty-six that the subject of this sketch managed to get in touch with the notorious raiding cannibal chief, who had at that time conceived serious designs on the infant town of Wellington. It was by chance (if indeed there be such a thing) he managed to get sight of a letter signed by Te Rauparaha, and addressed to the Upper Wanganuis and the inland disaffected tribes calling upon them to join up with their great chief, Te Mamaku and Rangi-haeata, the lieutenant of Te Ruaparaha, to make a raid on the frontier posts in the Hutt Valley. Quick as thought it struck Deighton that if the contemplated junction of forces was brought about Wellington was doomed, and he at once informed the Wanganui magistrate, Mr. King, and offered to take a message of warning to Governor Grey, letting him page 149know that a strong taua (war-party) was being organized, and while he was thus urging his point, the scanty Wanganui settlers got a shock by observing a fleet of canoes coming down the river, about 200 strong; all were armed. Questioned, they admitted they were going to Wellington, but only to tangi over their chief, Te Mamaku, and get him to return to the tribe, which he had left in high dudgeon some time previously. This, Deighton claimed, was only an effort to side-track the Pakeha, and he added, "I tell you there is going to be a big attack on Wellington by the combined forces unless they are prevented from junctioning." He added that if the Magistrate gave him a written despatch he would take it to Wellington and place it in the hands of the Governor. After some talk of the risk he was taking, Deighton decided to would go on with the hazardous venture, and left next day carrying a dispatch which one of Deighton's sisters sewed up in the collar of his coat! The war party also set out, accompanied by a party of women to act as cooks, as is common on such expeditions. Deighton went with them telling the leader that he was anxious to reach the infant city to claim some goods he expected. The column camped the first night at Whangaehu, the intrepid letter-carrier fixing up his "bivvy" and doing his own cooking. He was under suspicion all the time, and no doubt a very small indiscretion might easily have cost him his head. One of the war-party conveyed to him the intelligence that one of the emissaries of Te Rangi-haeata, Po-nga-kuru (the night-killer), suspected him of carrying page 150letters to the Governor—and he was not far wrong—and advised him to go back to Wanganui. Nothing daunted he went to the Wharepuni where something like a war council was being held and addressing the principal chief said, "I am told you have resolved to kill me because it is reported that I am carrying letters to the Governor. Now, who has suggested this? There is only one among you who would accuse me of such a thing, and there he is!" Deighton pointed to Po-nga-kuru. "That man," he said, "comes from the tribe Ngati-Toa, whose boast has been, that you Wanganui people are only a tribe of slaves, the remnant of their food. If you believe him, send someone to search my pikau, while I remain here." Deighton turned out the pockets of his clothes and showed them that they contained no papers. This the Maoris did, and naturally they found no letters. His luck was in, for "Old Maketu," said Deighton, "told me I might go back to ray kai, and that no one would harm me." But he was to be the recipient also of an enemy missive dictated to him by Maketu for Te Rauparaha. On went the cavalcade, and the camp at the end of the day was set up on the sandhills near the mouth of the Rangitikei river. But here Po-nga-kuru, still suspicious, tried to catch Deighton, who tells the story thus in his reminiscences published in the Wairoa Free Press:

"The sun was setting and Maketu, thinking it inadvisable to travel over the sandhills in the dark, determined to bivouac on the dunes and at daylight start inland for the Rangitikei village, where he expected an accession to his force. So, while they page 151were all busy making sleeping-places, I took the opportunity of counting, as well as I could, the number of firearms there were. On casting my eyes a little way off, I beheld my friend carefully shepherding me. Po-nga-kuru, I suppose, divined what I was doing. Corning up to me, he said: 'You are, I know, a friend of our Wanganui people, but for what reason are you counting the guns?' At once, laughingly, I replied: 'I counting the guns? Why, I am counting the women and children so that the Pakehas will at once perceive, when I tell them the number, that it is a weeping party going to meet Te Mamaku and not a war-party.'"

The bluff came off all right, and while the Maoris branched off to Rangitikei Deighton was left to his own resources and decided in his mind "Quick march! to Wellington!" Off he went and by nightfall was at the mouth of the Manawatu, the next morning being ushered in with very heavy rain. Still he pressed on, now well ahead of his late friends for he was young and not over-hampered. Yet when he reached a Ngati-Raukawa village he was just about done in. He was well treated by these people, and somewhat refreshed, he set out for the British post at Porirua. This was his longest day's march, and on he went fording the Otaki and Waikanae rivers until he got to Paekakariki. Round the Pukerua rocks he marched, stumbling many times in his weary state, over the range of the same name and down to where Plimmerton is now situated. Walking through the Ngati-Toa village, he observed Rauparaha sitting in the front of his house, but walked past him without delivering the letter he had for that old warrior. It was page 152fated for a better purpose, and when he made known his mission to the Governor he was hospitably entertained. Next day he started for Wellington and only just got him as he was about to embark on a war vessel. Briefly but graphically Deighton stated his mission, and then taking off his coat he tore open the collar and handed him the intercepted letter and that to Maketu also. The rest is a matter of history, for two days later Rauparaha was seized and spent two years or so on H.M.S. Calliope as a prisoner, and little did that warlike chief like it. Deighton received the thanks of the Government and a small interpreter's post, but nothing commensurate with the value of the services rendered to the infant colony.

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