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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Dreadful Epidemic of Measles in 1854

Dreadful Epidemic of Measles in 1854

When Charles Baker and his family left Auckland in the Dolphin on 11 February, 1854, to take charge of the Rangitukia mission station, they were accompanied by Mr. Malcolm, who had been engaged as tutor to the children at a salary of £100 per annum, plus board and lodgings for himself and his wife. The passage money for the whole party, together with freight space of 40 tons, ran into £50. A Mr. Taylor [“Hori Punehu”], his wife and their baggage were dropped at Whangaparaoa Roads. On account of adverse winds the Dolphin anchored off Te Hekawa, and Mr. Baker and his party travelled overland to Rangitukia. En route a call was made at Horoera, where a half-caste infant belonging to an American was baptized. Mrs. Baker was able to ride a horse most of the way.

According to Mr. Baker's journal, his goods were landed at Te (Port) Awanui and placed in a rush house. Although it was being rented as a wheat store by a Spanish-American [Charles Manuel], Tipuna, a son of Porourangi, demanded £3/12/6 for storage. Mr. Baker says that he got only a scolding. Young Charles Baker went to parcel page 172 out the goods for the carriers, but, after he had gone, the natives reapportioned them. Some came back with only a book or a stocking; some with goods weighing only 3lb. or 4lb.; but, in the end, a few brought a decent load apiece. Mr. Baker was visited by several native teachers—Hohepa Rire (or Riley), of Tuparoa, Raniera Kawhia, of Whareponga, and Eruera Pakura, of Waipiro Bay. The total number of communicants in his district was then 681.

Towards the end of April, measles in a virulent form made its appearance. The Bakers' children did not escape. Quickly the disease spread throughout the whole district. Each day, Mr. Baker was kept busy visiting the sick and conducting funerals, and, every night, he was occupied for some hours making up medicine for messengers who came in from outlying districts. Some of the natives preferred to use their own methods of treatment—an infusion of bark, and the herb, raorika. Here are a few extracts from Mr. Baker's diary—May 22: “Mokena and his party making coffins”; June 17: “There have been many deaths this week; Pita (my assistant) is away at Ti burying three corpses”; July 29: “The natives at our pa have made a coffin for a lad not yet dead, and another for a girl who bids fair to recover”; August 13: “Buried several infants this week”; September 4: “One family has lost five children.” Dr. Schmidt, who had been sent by the Government, arrived at Waiapu on 13 September. The burials conducted by Mr. Baker and Pita totalled 69.

During Archdeacon W. Williams's visit in November, 1854, £4/5/2 was collected at the offertory at Rangitukia. There is no earlier record of the taking up of a collection at a Waiapu church. On 20 November, Mr. Baker conducted two marriages at Whareponga, and began receiving marriage fees. Books for the registration of the dead were opened in the main villages in April, 1856, and the native teachers were authorised to collect 5/- in respect of each burial.

The fourth Waiapu trader whom Mr. Baker married was John Hayes, of Reporua. Hayes had, for some years, been living with two native women, but had agreed to put one away and marry the other. However, after the banns had been published, he had received back the woman he had discarded. Mr. Baker induced him to agree to marry the woman whose name had appeared in the banns. After the wedding, which took place on 13 February, 1855, Hayes's two sons, John and Ben, who were half-brothers, were baptized.

Whilst Bishop Selwyn was questioning a class at Whareponga on 15 February, 1856, the natives seemed confused. Mr. Baker says: “The Bishop poured down on me a volley of abuse for not having spent more time on them. I told him the illnesses of Mrs. Baker and my daughter had prevented me, and, besides, I had myself been ill for ten days. He said that a clergyman should not neglect his duties by paying attention to his wife and family. His own wife might be ill for aught he knew. I replied that there was a material difference between a case of illness in a town and a case at an isolated missionary station. I had done my best and was willing to resign. He said afterwards that I had misunderstood him.”

Several neat wooden chapels were erected on the East Coast during Mr. Baker's term at Rangitukia. Work on them was begun as under:—St. John's, Rangitukia, 27/12/1854; St. Stephen's, Te Araroa, 12/12/1855; St Paul's, Te Horo, 23/3/1856; St. Philip's, Kaiariki, 27/10/1856; St. Peter's, Whareponga, 31/12/1856; and St. Matthew's, Tuparoa, 23/2/1857. Funds were being collected for a church at Waipiro Bay when Mr. Baker was forced by illness to relinquish his duties in May, 1857.

The Church of St. John at Rangitukia was the largest. It was 80ft. in page 173 length and 40ft. broad. Two immense puriri posts, with totara posts at intervals, carried the huge ridgepole. Bishop Selwyn held the consecration service on 17 February, 1856. He estimated that 3,000 natives attended the open-air feast on the following day. The food was drawn on to the feasting-ground in large, shallow canoes amid rejoicings in the form of songs and dances. First of all came the meats and vegetables, and then boiled rice, plum puddings, etc. When a feast was held in connection with the start of the work on St. Philip's at Kaiariki on 27 October, 1856, the food included beef and mutton. [There is no earlier mention of these meats being provided at a feast on the East Coast.] A bottle (containing coins and a document), which was deposited in the hole made to receive the main post of the Church of St. John, would make an interesting memento for the native memorial church at Tikitiki.

On 2 November, 1856, Mr. Baker fixed a site at Manutahi for native farms. “The valley,” he says, “is expansive and fertile, and the Waiapu River runs through it. There may be a farm for wheat and runs for cattle and sheep.” To-day this valley is studded with dairy farms and sheepruns.