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The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.

Chapter XIV. — Among The Maoris

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Chapter XIV.
Among The Maoris.

The day was bright, the autumn sky
Bade Nature smile, with bounty crowned;
We launched our boats, while hearts beat high,
And in our sports companions found.

Meanwhile, considering all things, good progress had been made by the folk engaged in building the barracks in Dunedin. The walls were already set up—at least the framework of the four sides—and the principal partitions had been raised, and the rafters were partly on. This was seen by the three young men as they sailed up that evening from their solitude, so far off as Black Jack's Point.

In addition to this, however, they observed that in various places lesser buildings were being commenced; the place was even so soon assuming an appearance of life and energy.

Not far from Jones' store, on the south, a patch of ground had been cleared, and they could see as they approached the landing place that a quantity of timber was stacked upon it, and afterwards learned that it was to be the site of the Rev. Mr. Burns' house, “The Manse172,” the material for which had been imported, ready for erection, and a large portion of it had been landed and laid in position.

The spot chosen was a charming one for a view of the surroundings—a good evidence of the sagacity of Otago's first minister. It was near the water, yet well up on a page 178 pretty piece of rising ground, on which one might stand and obtain a view of the harbour from the present site of the Gasworks173 to far below Macandrew's Bay. Yet it was right in the midst of what would shortly become the busiest part of the rising town, and has since become one of the most active parts of the city—viz174., Jetty Street corner.

There was great quiet among the whares of the settlers that night. Letters by the score were being written to friends in the Old Land. There were very few who were not sitting with pen in hand, committing to paper his version of the voyage, the arrival, and the place. Some were full of hope, others were devoid of enthusiasm, while there were not wanting those who have representatives in every community, and see a dark side to every picture. They may be forgiven for any hard things they said that night, for prospects of success could only be seen through the vista of long and sore toiling; and coming off a long sea voyage the work they had been doing for more than a week past had made every bone and muscle in their bodies ache, and few minds can resist the influence of physical weariness.

Eric wrote four letters—one to old Archie Rabb, one to David Moir, and one each to Mr. Knox and Kirsty—not, however, in the order I have stated them, more probably the inverse. In the one to Kirsty he enclosed a rough pencil sketch of the site of the future city from Grant's Braes175, which he had got from a young draughtsman in the Survey Office.

As there was no such thing known then as that great convenience of recent developments—the parcels post—and as many were anxious to send parcels containing little presents to “folk at Home,” it was arranged by the page 179 authorities that a box should be filled with such articles and forwarded to the office of the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland in Glasgow, where friends could be advised to call and get them.

In this manner some scores of parcels were sent off to bear testimony to the fact that the donors were safely landed in the far-off country for which they had sailed. It was a strange and varied collection that composed the contents of that big square box: from pieces of greenstone to small tree leaves, specimens of native art and industry and of Nature's products, selected according to the taste of the sender or the supposed fancies of the receiver. Never afterwards was the community so thoroughly represented in any one packet that left our shores; indeed, very few members of the families had not supplied some article to the total to remind friends at home of the wanderers.

The event of the next morning was the departure of the schooner “Alert176,” 48 tons burden, Captain Allweather, for Wellington and Sydney, carrying the first actual mail from Dunedin, and the precious case of presents.

Every man had left his work to see the vessel get under weigh, and the landing place was covered with men and boys, discussing what they had written, as well as the presents they had sent, and anticipating the effects which they would produce at Home.

The common talk was disturbed by the appearance of Captain Cargill and the Rev. Thomas Burns wending their way from the Survey Office—which did service as a Post Office as well for the occasion—to the beach, followed by a large spotted bullock drawing a sledge, on which were lashed the case of presents and the mail boxes.

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There was no lack of assistants to get the packets on board the flat-bottomed punt which floated right up to the stones against which the waves were gently washing, and bore them off to the “Alert,” lying at anchor about two hundred yards from the shore. The chief official accompanied the valuable first fruits of our exports, and saw them safely stowed in the hold, and then sealing down the hatches he handed some papers to the captain of the little ship, and then bade him good-bye and a prosperous voyage.

As he returned to the shore the schooner hoisted her sails, weighed anchor, and headed down the harbour, while all the interested settlers stood watching her receding figure until, in about twenty minutes, she had gone from sight round Black Jack's Point.

When the venerable patriarch of the colony returned to the shore Eric extended his hand to him to help and steady him as he sprang from the boat.

“Thank you, Eric,” said the Captain in recognition of the kind action, and, as if willing to induce a conversation, continued in a dry humourous manner, “So you lads, who have left bonnie lassies in Scotland, have got letters away to them at last.”

“I suppose you look upon your official despatches as of far greater importance than our simple letters to simple folk?” retorted Eric.

“All things in their due order, sir; there is nothing without its proper place in the whole universe. The tiny blade of grass is entitled to its place as much as the forest pine tree,” answered the Captain seriously.

“Just so, Captain, your pines and our tiny blades of grass are all off now to exercise their influence on the folk at Home.”

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“We must come to recognise this as our home, Eric, and we must live such lives and produce such work as will make it worthy of being a home for our people for generations to come.”

“How long, sir,” said Eric, more interested over the future of his letters just then than the future of the colony, “How long, sir, do you think it will take those despatches and letters to reach Home?”

“It is difficult to say when they may get to their destination,” returned the patriarch. “We have no exact advice of when they may get away from Sydney. It will probably take a month for them to get there, and even if a ship should be sailing immediately on their arrival, it will take four or five months for the main voyage.”

“Do you reckon that they are likely to get there by next August, sir?”

“Perhaps some time in August or September, I should say. But I thought all your family came with you, Eric. Is that not so?”

“Oh, yes, all our family are here,” said Eric; but his voice told that there was someone else who held a large share of the young man's affections who was still left behind, and whose presence was necessary before he would be able to call this place “home.”

“I see,” said the captain, “I was afraid some of you boys had left your hearts behind you. Have you sent for her to come straight off to join you? If you have I will admit your letter holds a more worthy position among the packets that we have sent off to-day than a blade of grass does in relation to a forest pine.”

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“Well, no, captain, I have not sent yet, but I will as soon as I have got on a bit, and can have a place for her.”

“That's right, lad, you must lose no time in getting the place ready and bringing out your bonnie bride. And here is Mr. Burns, who, I am sure, will be pleased to do all a minister can to put you through the marriage ceremony. But you should have brought the lady with you, with the marriage certificate in her box.”

“We are both young, captain,” answered Eric, “and her parents thought better I should come first and get things into order, and so the matter was arranged.”

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” put in Mr. Burns, knowing already Eric's story. “You have left a lot of braw lads behind you, and there have been grievous disappointments before now. You will be wise to lose as little time as possible, if you are to cage her safely.”

“I am not in any doubt of her, she is a true-hearted Scotch lassie,” said Eric bravely.

“Nothing surpasses confidence,” returned Mr. Burns.

“It is the grandest thing in life,” commented the captain.”

“The want of it is the secret of all misery,” moralised the minister, looking with an inquiring gaze in Eric's face.

“Yes, Mr. Burns, if I had not had confidence in your statements about New Zealand, when I heard you first, I might have had no prospect in life but the miserable career of a struggling cobbler,” said Eric in a voice that betokened gratitude.

“Then you are not sorry for coming out?”

“No, Mr. Burns, I feel a different spirit in me already, and I am satisfied that I will yet have much to thank you for.”

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“A stout heart on a stiff brae wins the summit177, lad. I have no doubt that your perseverance will be rewarded.”

Eric accompanied Mr. Burns to where the latter's house was being put together, and, after being shown all the plans for the manse and the garden, he rejoined his mates, who spent the rest of the day among friends, and in the evening they returned to the scene of their bush-life.

Saturday morning dawned with all the signs of a fair day, and all the members of “Eric's band” were early astir on board the “Philip Laing.”

The women folk had spent the week in a high condition of expectation, and had prepared many things for the day's outing. The fact of getting off the ship for a full day to romp about in the grass through the bush or on the beach had raised their spirits to animation; and when the fleet of five boats came alongside, under the guidance of Ben Brooks, who by this time had become a well-known and respected character among the women, because of his frequent visits and many little acts of kindness, the twentysix maids and matrons who were to have the privilege of the sail and picnic were seen tripping round on deck as full of life as any band of women setting off to a Scottish fair.

They were received with demonstrations of hearty welcome by the Maoris who lined the beach at the Kaik, where they were to land, and as soon as the boats grounded on the shallow sand the natives, men and women alike, rushed into the water offering their services to carry the pakehas ashore.

This was a novelty of which our modest young folk were reluctant to take advantage, but nothing would satisfy the “terrible savages” but to have their way. Mrs. page 184 Thomson was the first to submit to the persistent demands of the strong and tall. Korako178, who carried her to the dry sand as respectfully as any gentleman could have done. After her example other dames and damsels followed, each in the arms of a noble specimen of the male gender, while the women fancied carrying the men, and effectually prevented some of them, who were too bashful to submit to so tight a grasp and friendly a hug in the arms of the Maori beauties, attempting to go into the water themselves. The first man who put his foot over the side of the boat was fastened on by two of the dusky fair sex, and between them was borne in triumph to the shore by his captors.

There was nothing for it but to give way and be conquered in this mild and friendly fashion. One pair of fascinating eyes had watched the movements of Eric, and, although he seemed not to recognise her, she knew him and was intent only to secure his attention. She was not a big woman, but she considered herself equal to the task of taking the young man on her back to the shore. Not being able to get him to look her way she at last went close in to the side of the boat just where he was, and touched him, saying:

Haere mai179,”—come with me.

“The touch and the voice startled him, and on looking at her he recognised Annie Pakeha, from whom he had on the night of his arrival purchased the two specimens of Maori handiwork.

He smiled and tried to pronounce the Maori salutation as he had learned it from Ben Brooks.

Tena koe.”

She repeated it in more musical tones, and again said:

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“Haere mai.”

It would have been a cause of offence had he refused, and rising he sat on the gunwale of the boat, and was immediately taken up by his admirer and borne to the sand as if by the strength of an amazon. When he felt his feet on the firm ground he was expressing his thanks, when she put her hands on her ears, and exclaimed:

“Ka pai, Ka pai!” and she laughed a hearty, musical laugh as she again repeated:

“Haere mai,” indicating with her hands that all were to come with her; and then she led the way to where her large whare was standing back among the trees in a beautiful spot surrounded by green, glossy-leafed kaios180, and sheltered from the south winds by a steep hill.

There she had a number of other wahine waiting to be attentive to the visitors, and as each one came along a finely-woven flax mat was spread on the grass, and signs made to sit down on it.

This part of the programme was quite unprepared for, and they being in this manner taken captive, it was quite as embarrassing as it was surprising. However, when Annie had them all seated to her hospitable satisfaction, she disappeared inside her whare, leaving her astonished friends to surmise what next might happen.

While she was in the whare, the men and women of the settlement kept gathering in numbers and squatted in a wide circle round the visitors, still increasing their surprise and wonder. At last they were surrounded by between two and three hundred natives, who spoke with one another, in a lively fashion, a language which the pakeha knew nothing about. This situation was anything page 186 but pleasant to some of the women, who still retained fears that the cannibal nature of their captors might not have been overcome, or even if it had, there might still remain the old hatred of intruders, and this was merely the prelude to some terrible outbreak, and perhaps a massacre.

Miss McKechnie, who had been sitting on the same mat as her mother, rose, and coming over to Eric, said:

“Mother says she is frightened something is going to be done to us; do you know anything of what is meant?”

“I think you may assure your mother,” he replied, “that nothing but a spirit of kindliness has prompted these people, and in a few minutes, if you remain respectful to them, we will see it all.”

“Then what can they mean by surrounding us so completely, as if we were already made prisoners?”

“Just their way of showing us honour. Would they have given us their best mats to sit on if they were making prisoners of us?”

“Perhaps not, and perhaps it was done to allay any suspicion.”

Just as she said this Annie appeared at the door of her whare, and gave a signal by the waving of her hand, and eight women followed her back into the whare; and shortly appeared, each bearing a load in her hands.

There were baskets full of boiled potatoes and smoked fish, which the bearers carried round to all the visitors, and gave them a supply, laid out on the clean mats.

Having done this, Annie made another sign, and all the natives rose to their feet and went through what was supposed by the strangers to be a Maori song, but was a page 187 Christian hymn of thanks sung before partaking of food. When the singing was over the ring of honour was broken, and the natives dispersed, shouting:

“Ka pai ka pia181!”—very good, very good!”

The wholesome fare was not greedily consumed, although each one partook of a portion more for the sake of avoiding offence than from relish. They had not yet become accustomed to the mode of serving up, even if they had already eaten potatoes and smoked baracouta.

Before rising Mr. Thomson, senr., suggested that they should follow the example of the Maoris, and sing a hymn of thanks after food. Then all rose and sang in the open air of that pretty spot a beautiful sacred song of four stanzas, and before they had finished they were again surrounded by almost as many natives as had been there a quarter of an hour before, all standing with heads uncovered, and charmed with the music as it was wafted on the vibrating air from the lips of the singers.

Their imprisonment was over, and they were allowed to spend the day according to their own wishes in many joyous kinds of sport; while their friends the Maoris looked on in wonder to see the happy capers182 of the pakeha, as they amused themselves in no stinted manner for hours on the sand and on the grass, to the strains of a well-played violin, and occasionally to the peals of the bagpipes.

During the heat of the day a few of the young fellows, having passed the word to some of the elder gentlemen to prevent ladies going round a rocky point to the south, went off for a good free plunge in the clear sparkling salt water.

They had found a very convenient thicket in which to prepare themselves for their bath, where they undressed in page 188 quiet and good order, and leaving their clothes to the care of the seclusion they made a rush for the water and there amused themselves in a thorough manner; suddenly there appeared emerging from the brushwood where they had left their clothing half a dozen Maori men and women, who stood between them and their “bath-house” for some minutes, when all the six coloured aborigines183, throwing off their mats, came deliberately into the water beside them, with all the apparent innocence of children playing with their friends.

The lads kept close together and showed their disinclination to have company, but to no purpose. The Maoris were like fish in the water, swimming gracefully with an unconcerned grace that made the efforts of the pakeha “paddlers” seem grotesque in the extreme. Darting out past them into deep water, diving out of sight, swimming along the bottom and reappearing yards away from where they went under, they showed the young men how a human being may feel at home in the water. Wherever the pakeha group went the Maori aquatics came gliding up towards them, laughing and talking in an unknown tongue. Sometimes inviting them to strike out into the stream, and, like a school of porpoises, they would plunge head first into the briny element and glide away in a comely style with surprising fleetness; and while the young pale skins stood watching them with a hearty admiration, the Maoris would gesticulate and perform antics in the water, which seemed at length to originate in a spirit of banter and ripen into one of jeering or contempt.

If their bath had been interrupted and their sense of modesty somewhat shocked, they had at least been the page 189 spectators of an enjoyable swimming entertainment, a second item in the day's programme on which they had not counted; which showed them at least one thing in which these natives could far surpass the sea shore natives of their own land.

As they were returning round the point to join their friends, they came near to a native woman standing on a rock about five feet above the surface of the water, where there was a depth of about ten feet. She held a short wooden spear184 in her hand, and beckoned to them to be still; then poising for a moment she dived almost perpendicularly, and in a couple of seconds rose to the surface with a beautiful flounder transfixed by her spear. On coming ashore she threw her mat round her, and, running after them, presented the fish to Eric; when his companions rudely, yet perhaps pardonably, gave a hearty and derisive laugh. It was Eric's patroness, Annie, who seemed to single him out for every attention. He, of course, received the proffered gift with due courtesy, and she was pleased.

Ben Brooks and his wife Sally had taken entire charge of the fires, and, as if they had been employed to cater for the party, brought with them a large quantity of food of various kinds; and Sally, having induced Ben to stow some broad boards in the boats, they had placed them on stakes driven into the ground and set out an excellent repast on this impromptu dining table, which greatly pleased the much gratified picnicers; particularly the women, whose relief from the confinement of the ship had filled them with abundance of good humour.

Their return journey was enlivened by a brilliant page 190 sunset, that threw a band of glorious clouds from the summit of Mount Cargill185 to beyond the eastern peak of Rangipokiha186.

From the brightest gold the curtains of the sky were shaded down through many degrees to the dull gray of slate, or lead, while ever-changing devices dissolved and recast into a thousand designs, ever fresh and ever new. Now it was the dark red glow of an angry flame that spread itself along, growing darker as it extended from the centre, presenting a resemblance to the whole side of a mighty mountain on fire, in the midst of which tall trees seemed to stand, whose wide spreading branches produced a gorgeous effect, as the gleams of red and yellow shot between their irregular openings.

Again it was some enormous temple lit up with a grandeur far surpassing the power of human art to imitate or describe. Its tall and massive rows of pillars fringed with gold and capitalled with cornices of granite set with rubies, while from roof and gables were thrown all shades of light from brightest yellow, through orange, vermillion and scarlet, crimson and blue.

These again dissolved, and in their places gradually appeared a glorious city of gold with walls of vast dimensions, and ponderous gates standing open at frequent intervals, and inside were castles and splendid villas in many fantastic styles of architecture, all being surmounted by majestic towers and gay turrets; intermingling among them were beautiful gardens with all manner of flowers and fruit trees, and happy tribes of animals—domestic and wild.*

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All too soon the enchanting phantasmagoria187 faded from the view, and left the occupants of the boats to the less happy realisation of the descending shades of evening and their return to the monotonous life on board ship.

173 The Dunedin Gas Light and Coke Company was formed in May, 1862, by Stephen Stamp Hutchinson. The building underwent a number of refurbishments and improvements until 1987, when it was finally closed down.

174 Used to introduce an amplification, or more a precise and explicit explanation, of a previous statement.

175 The site of the Reverend Thomas Burns’s farm, which provided grain to colonists during the early settlement years.

176 The Alert was lost in the Cook Strait on September 30th, 1897, with no survivors. There does not appear to be any records of a Captain Allweather having existed.

177 A sixteenth-century Scottish proverbial saying, meaning that determination is needed to overcome obstacles.

178 The uncle of the Ngai Tahu co-chief Karetai, with whom Korako signed the Treaty of Waitangi on the 13th June, 1840.

179 An interjection, meaning come here or welcome; a greeting.

180 The South Island name for a native New Zealand evergreen shrub, more commonly known as the ngaio tree, whose leaves are poisonous.

181 A spelling error, either made by Adams, or during the printing process.

182 Frolicsome leaps; frisky movements.

183 Although now commonly used in reference to Indigenous Australians, the term originally described the native inhabitants of any country which had been subject to European colonisation.

184 Māori occasionally used barbed spears (or, pātia) when hunting for fish.

185 Also known by its Māori name, Kapukataumahaka (or, Kopuka-tau-mohoka). Named in honour of Captain William Cargill, Māori legend has it that the three peaks of Mount Cargill represent the petrified head, body and feet of an early Otakou tribe princess.

186 Correctly Te Pahuri o te Rangipohika, the Māori name for Signal Hill, Dunedin.

187 An extraordinary shifting or changing scene consisting of many elements, reminiscent of or resembling a dream.

* A sunset presenting the chief outlines of the above attempt to describe it was witnessed from the Lower Harbour in the autumn of 1879 by the author.