Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Ex-Cannibals as Evangelists—Taumata-a-Kura and Matenga Tukareaho—Native Chapels Before Mission Stations—Strict Observance of the Sabbath.
Strangely enough, the natives inhabiting the seaboard between Cape Runaway and Wairoa owed to the tribe which they dreaded most—the more warlike Ngapuhi—their first opportunity to become instructed in Christianity. From every district which the Ngapuhi visited during their devastating southern raids between 1818 and 1824, they took back prisoners to the Bay of Islands. Many of the captives were slain and eaten; the others were distributed as slaves among the northern chiefs. A large number of the exiles belonged to Ngati-Porou tribe.
Thanks to the missionaries, a small batch of East Coast captives was released in 1833 as a sequel to a fortuitous happening. The English whaler Elizabeth (Captain Black) had called at East Cape in April, 1833, and had carried on to the Bay of Islands some Ngati-Porou as involuntary passengers. They comprised a chief named Rukuata, who belonged to Rangitukia, and about a dozen other natives who were paying a visit to the vessel when she put off to the north.
Accounts differ as to whether these Ngati-Porou were carried away accidentally or deliberately. According to W. L. Williams, a gale sprang up and the captain had no option but to resume his voyage. On the other hand, Barnet Burns, in his narrative, avers that the captain kidnapped the natives because three of his crew were being harboured in the locality. [An account of the rescue of the deserters appears in the chapter entitled: “The East Coast Tattooed Trader.”] In evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines in February, 1836, the Rev. W. Yate (who was at the Bay of Islands when the Ngati-Porou were landed) suggested that Captain Black enticed them on board and landed them among the Ngapuhi in order to gain favour with the northern chiefs.
When Rukuata and his companions were put on shore, the Bay of Islands chiefs wished to share them, but the missionaries redeemed them by making a payment of a pair of blankets for each. In charge of the Rev. W. Williams, they sailed for home on the mission schooner Active. She ran into a southerly off Hicks Bay and was driven back to the Bay of Islands. Pending another opportunity to take them back they received regular instruction at page 157 the Paihia mission station. Towards the end of 1833 the Fortitude was required to take timber and stores to the new mission station at Puriri (Thames), and it was decided to extend her voyage to East Cape. She took about sixty natives, of whom thirty were Ngati-Porou; some had been liberated by their masters. Many had smuggled firearms on board.
In Christianity Among the New Zealanders, W. Williams says that he was accompanied by the Rev. W. Yate, and that the Fortitude reached Hicks Bay [East Coast] on Wednesday, 8 January, 1834. On the evening of that day, the first Christian service—it took the form of Evening Prayers—was held on the East Coast by an ordained clergyman. Historic interest in the occasion is enhanced by the fact that the resident natives were invited to attend, “providing a full assemblage.”
“I have never before seen such a wild-looking set,” Mr. Williams remarks. “… They were exceedingly friendly … Rukuata and his companions soon began to relate their adventures, for their relatives had heard no tidings of them since the ship had carried them off. They told them some of the customs of the missionaries, carefully distinguishing between us and the foreigners they had hitherto had to deal with.”
Mr. Yate told the British Parliamentary Committee in February, 1836, that the natives were astonished to find their long-lost relatives on board. Nothing could possibly have exceeded their gratitude. It had been believed that they had been murdered upon Captain Black's ship in the same way that the natives were murdered on Captain [J.] Stewart's ship [at Banks Peninsula]. The whole of the funeral ceremony had been gone through, and images in representation of their murdered friends had been buried.