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A Compendium of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs in the South Island. Volume Two.

[No. 3. — Copy of letter from Walter Buller, Esq., to Native Secretary]

No. 3.

Copy of letter from Walter Buller, Esq., to Native Secretary.

Christchurch, March 8th, 1860.


In pursuance of your instructions, I have the honour to furnish herewith, "some remarks on the present condition of the Maori population of the Province of Canterbury," being the result of my observations during the past three months.

I have, &c.,

Walter Buller.

Donald McLean, Esq., Native Secretary, Auckland.

Enclosure in No. 3.

In offering a few brief remarks on the general condition of the section of Maoris residing in the Canterbury Province, J. propose to consider the subject under its threefold aspect of (1) Physical, (2) Social, and (3) Moral.

I. Physical.—It is not my purpose here to descant on the physical constitution of the Maori race. This subject has already been so ably handled by a competent authority, that any observations thereon of mine would savour of presumption. I shall, therefore, strictly confine myself to the consideration of the physical condition of the Canterbury Natives, as compared with that of the Northern tribes.

page 130

I have in a former report advanced the opinion, that, judging from outward appearances, they are considered as a whole, somewhat below the acknowledged Maori standard. And in this view I am strengthened by the concurrent opinions of several gentlemen, whose long acquaintance with the Natives of both Islands, attaches weight to their judgment.

In the men we find a greater lack of fine stature, and a more general prevalence of ill-favoured features than obtained among the Northerners, whilst the women, as a rule, have a smaller measure of comeliness than at the North.

But probably the deficiency in this respect is more than counter-balanced in their improved sanitary state; for they may not inaptly be described as a vigorous and healthy community.

I have visited all the Native settlements in this Province (save a few small villages on the West Coast), and I have met with only three or four cases of sickness, and only one of actual bodily, prostration. It is also worthy of remark that during my stay here of three months, not one case of mortality amongst them has come to my knowledge.

An adequate supply of both animal and vegetable diet, suitable and sufficient clothing, the discriminate use of the blanket, and the moderate indulgence in tobacco, are amongst the chief causes which have conduced to so marked a change in the physical condition of this people; and I may here add that, as far as my own observation goes, there exists a general and very strong aversion to the use of ardent spirits, in which, despite the severe prohibitory measures, some of the Northern tribes indulge to a deplorable extent.

This universal disuse of intoxicating drinks has doubtless contributed in no small degree to their present healthy condition.

Of opthalmia, I have met with only one case, and this was a very mild one.

Of cutaneous disease, generally so prevalent among the Maoris, I have seen nothing.

Their freedom from the former is probably owing, in a great measure, to the common adoption of chimney's in their houses, and consequent exemption from smoke, with its irritating effects.

II. Social.—Their social condition considered relatively, is far from being, unsatisfactory. They are now in a transition state, and it is interesting to note each successive step, however slow or apparently unimportant, in their onward march. And in order fairly to estimate the progress they have already made in civilization, it is necessary to take a short retrospect, and consider what they were only a few years since. There is probably not one of them of the age of 40, not many of 35, who have not, at some period of their life, eaten human flesh; and it is, very certain that there is not one within the age of 25 who has tasted of it! Only yesterday, then, they were cannibal savages; now, they are a peaceful, industrious, and thriving people.

Their houses are fast assuming a respectable appearance. Most of them are built of wood and clay, much in the fashion of the ordinary whaler's cottage; almost all have doors, windows; and chimneys, the latter being constructed of wood, or a combination of wood, stone, and clay; many of them have plastered and white-washed walls, partitioned apartments, and wooden bedsteads. But these, superior as they are to the old style of Maori architecture, are gradually giving place to a still better class.

At Kaiapoi, several neat boarded houses have been erected, and when the individualization of the reserve has been accomplished, the numbers will probably be considerably augmented.

At Port Levy, also, there are two very creditable buildings of similar construction. Their domestic habits are gradually assimilating, to the European.

Their clothing, as a rule, is not inferior to that worn by our labouring classes; all wear a covering for the head, and those who cannot afford to purchase boots or shoes, wear thick stockings, with stout sandals manufactured from the Native flax.

In the culinary department, most of the houses are provided with the common kitchen utensils, such as, a bucket, an iron pot, an oven, with plates, dishes, knives and forks, &c.

Tea is very generally used; and as many of the Natives keep cows, milk and butter are often added to the domestic comforts.

III. Moral.—Considering the disadvantages under which these Natives have laboured, in not having had (till very recently) a missionary resident among them, their outward morality and general regard for religious observances, is highly creditable to them. It was hardly to be expected, that in moral attainments they could rank so high as those who have, for a series of years, been under the special pastoral care of a zealous christian missionary. Their educational advantages also have been scanty. There is not, nor has there ever been, a properly organized school for the education of their youth; and yet, all but the very old people can both read and write with great freedom.

Tamati Tikao, an intelligent young chief, has, much to his credit, formed a class of children at. Wairewa, to whose instructions, both religious and secular, he devotes several hours daily.

Mr. J. J. Stack, a gentleman of the requisite qualifications, has now been stationed here by the Bishop of Christchurch, as itinerant Native Catechist, and is devoting himself with much assiduity, and apparent success to the moral and religious amelioration of his interesting charge.

Walter L. Buller.

Christchurch, Canterbury, 8th March, 1860.