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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

How the Curse Came

page 31

How the Curse Came.

Since the fall of man, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, and the pronouncement of God's curse on the ground for Adam's disobedience, we have had to deal with thorns and thistles, added to in these days by innumerable fungoid and insect pests, with high sounding entomological names. Down the ages these have proved a veritable curse to man, and even to-day it is true that "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."

Wairoa was a fertile land and so isolated from the rest of the world that many of the pests of to-day were delayed in their coming, and now in their haste of destructiveness they come by aeroplane and by wireless. Then Old Wairoa was a land of savages, and in war-time "long pig" was not disdained as an article of diet. When, therefore, Marsden and Selwyn, those noble self-sacrificing ambassadors of the Cross, together with their successors, started, they undertook no light task, for in many cases they took their lives in their hands daily, and at least endured many hardships, as the Natives had not then begun to emerge from a state of savagery; indeed, the possession of "guns" had only whetted the appetite for slaughter and extended the field of man-killing raids; and had someone not stepped in to stop the carnage the Maori race would have been extinct by now.

As the missionary work spread it fell into two great divisions. In this district one was represented by the Church of England (Reverend page 32Mr. Hamlin) and the other by Bishop Pompallier, and Reverend Euloge Regnier of the Catholic Church. The latter was a most lovable personage from la belle France. They both were, in fact, but Father Regnier had the hearts of both races at his call. These missionaries foregathered oft, and sometimes till the early morn, but many times they parted, if not in actual wrath, with heated countenances, for they held opposite views on the subject of everlasting punishment for the sin of not belonging to "the true Church," and in turn one sect condemned the other to a place not usually blared out in polite society.

If there had been but one religion brought to the Maoris they could have understood its precepts and accepted the dogmas, but with two, and one condemning the other, what were the Maoris to do or think? There were many notable conversions that were real and lasting, and many that were not, mainly owing to the diminution of "the loaves and fishes"; besides they read the lives of the professing Christians and not the life of the Master. The way the Pakehas swindled the Maoris in trade was another cause of the decline in Christian living, and when the land troubles came the Maoris practically exclaimed in the spirit of a great English reformer, "a plague on both your Churches"—and partly relapsed into savagery, as witness the deeds of Te Kooti's Lord High Executioner. But before these dire results occurred, the Reverend Hamlin and the Reverend Regnier did agree on one thing. The first was that no blackberries were to be found in Wairoa, whilst our French cleric mourned the page 33absence of the sweetbriar, or dog-rose, the rosa canina of the botanist.

There is no denying—at least the housewife says so—that the blackberry, well grown and controlled, is a very line fruit; and who can forget the perfume of the sweetbriar after an April shower in the Old Land. So our two clerics for once agreed, and Mr. Hamlin got the blackberry and planted it near Te Uhi pa, whilst Father Regnier set his loved dog-rose near a wattle-and-daub hut in which he lived the simple life of a hermit, when bar-bound in Wairoa, The site was about where Mr. W. Coker's cordial factory now stands, on the north bank of the river, and there were visible some years ago the remains of many fruit trees he also planted. The blackberry spread quickly in Wairoa's genial climate and fertile soil, the seeds being carried by Maoris and by birds far and wide till the pest is now the heart-ache of the farmer. The sweetbriar was equally energetic in covering the whole of the Wairoa and Orangitirohia flats till it became a matter of extreme difficulty to even ride a horse through it; but one day the late Mr. J. II. Smyth, when out horse-hunting, found the identical bush planted by His Reverence close to the remains of the hut. The sweetbriar is now nearly all gone, but it had to be hauled out of the soil with bullock teams. The blackberry still holds some sway—so here is the point of my story: that the two greatest churches in the world were responsible for the introduction and spread of the greatest pests that ever beset the farmers of Wairoa.