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Old New Zealand: Being Incidents of Native Customs and Character in the Old Times by A Pakeha Maori

Chapter IV

page 61

Chapter IV

A little Affair of “Flotsam and Jetsam.”—Rebellion crushed in the Bud.—A Pakeha's House sacked.—Maori Law.—A Maori Lawsuit.—Affair thrown into Chancery.

Pakehas, though precious in the good old times, would sometimes get into awkward scrapes. Accidents, I have observed, will happen at the best of times. Some time after the matters I have been recounting happened, two of the pakehas, who were “knocking about” Mr. —'s premises, went fishing. One of them was a very respectable old man-of-war's man, the other was the connoisseur of heads; who, I may as well mention, was thought to be one of that class who never could remember to a nicety how they had come into the country, or where they came from.

It so happened that on their return, the little boat, not being well fastened, went adrift in the night, and was cast on shore at about four miles distance, in the dominions of a petty chief who was a sort of vassal or retainer of ours. He did page 62 not belong to the tribe, and lived on the land by the permission of our chief as a sort of tenant at will. Of late an ill-feeling had grown up between him and the principal chief. The vassal had in fact begun to show some airs of independence, and had collected more men about him than our chief cared to see; but up to this time there had been no regular outbreak between them: possibly because the vassal had not yet sufficient force to declare independence formally. Our chief was, however, watching for an excuse to fall out with him before he should grow too strong. As soon as it was heard where the boat was, the two men went for it as a matter of course; little thinking that this encroaching vassal would have the insolence to claim the right of “flotsam and jetsam,” which belonged to the principal chief, and which was always waived in favour of his pakehas. On arrival, however, at this rebellious chief's dominions, they were informed that it was his intention to stick to the boat until he was paid a “stocking of gunpowder”—meaning a quantity as much as a stocking would hold, which was the regular standard measure in those days in that locality. A stocking of gunpowder! who ever heard of such an awful imposition? The demand was enormous in value and rebellious in principle. The thing must be put an end to at once. The page 63 principal chief did not hesitate: rebellion must be crushed in the bud. He at once mustered his whole force (he did not approve of “little wars”), and sent them off under the command of the Relation Eater, who served an ejectment in regular Maori form, by first plundering the village and then burning it to ashes; also destroying the cultivation and provisions, and forcing the vassal to decamp with all his people on pain of instant massacre—a thing they did not lose a moment in doing; and I don't think they either ate or slept till they had got fifty miles off, where a tribe related to them received them and gave them a welcome.

Well, about three months after this, about day-light in the morning, I was aroused by a great uproar of men shouting, doors smashing, and women screaming. Up I jumped, and pulling on a few clothes in less time, I am sure, than ever I had done before my in life, out I ran, and at once perceived that Mr.—'s premises were being sacked by the rebellious vassal, who had returned with about fifty men, and was taking this means of revenging himself for the rough handling he had received from our chief. Men were rushing in mad haste through the smashed windows and doors, loaded with anything and everything they could lay hands on. The chief was stamping page 64 against the door of a room in which he was aware the most valuable goods were kept, and shouting for help to break it open. A large canoe was floating close to the house, and was being rapidly filled with plunder. I saw a fat old Maori woman, who was washerwoman to the establishment, being dragged along the ground by a huge fellow who was trying to tear from her grasp one of my shirts, to which she clung with perfect desperation. I perceived at a glance that the faithful old creature would probably save a sleeve. A long line of similar articles, my property, which had graced the taiepa fence the night before, had disappeared.

The old man-of-war's man had placed his back exactly opposite to that part of the fence where hung a certain striped cotton shirt and well-scrubbed canvas trowsers, which could belong to no one but himself. He was “hitting out” lustily right and left. Mr. — had been absent some days on a journey, and the head merchant, as we found after all was over, was hiding under a bed. When the old sailor saw me, he “sang out,” in a voice clear as a bell, and calculated to be distinctly heard above the din:—“Hit out, sir, if you please; let's make a fight of it the best we can; our mob will be here in five minutes; Tahuna has run to fetch them.” While he thus page 65 gave both advice and information, he also set a good example, having delivered just one thump per word, or thereabouts. The odds were terrible, but the time was short that I was required to fight; so I at once floored a native who was rushing by me. He fell like a man shot, and I then perceived he was one of our own people who had been employed about the place; so, to balance things, I knocked down another, and then felt myself seized round the waist from behind, by a fellow who seemed to be about as strong as a horse.

At this moment I cast an anxious glance around the field of battle. The old Maori woman had, as I expected, saved a good half of my shirt; she had got on the top of an outhouse, and was waving it in a “Sister Anne” sort of manner, and calling to an imaginary friendly host which she pretended to see advancing to the rescue. The old sailor had fallen under, but not surrendered to, superior force. Three native had got him down; but it took all they could do to keep him down: he was evidently carrying out his original idea of making a fight of it, and gaining time. The striped shirt and canvas trowsers still hung proudly on the fence; none of his assailants could spare a second to pull them down. I was kicking and flinging in the endeavour to extricate page 66 myself; or, at least, to turn round, so as to carry out a “face to face” policy: which it would be a grand mistake to suppose was not understood long ago in the good old times.

I had nearly succeeded, and was thinking what particular form of destruction I should shower on the foe, when a tremendous shout was heard. It was “our mob” coming to the rescue; and, like heroes of old, “sending their voice before them.” In an instant both myself and the gallant old tar were released; the enemy dashed on board their canoe, and in another moment were off, darting away before a gale of wind and a fair tide at a rate that put half a mile at least between them and us before our protectors came up. “Load the gun!” cried the sailor—(there was a nine-pound carronade on the cliff before the house, overlooking the river). A cartridge was soon found, and a shot, and the gun loaded. “Slew her a little,” cried my now commander; “fetch a fire stick.” “Aye, aye, sir” (from self). “Wait a little; that will do—Fire!”—(in a voice as if ordering the discharge of the whole broadside of a three-decker). Bang! The elevation was perfectly correct. The shot struck the water at exactly the right distance, and only a few feet to one side. A very few feet more to the right and the shot would have entered the stern of the canoe, and, as she was end on to page 67 us, would have killed half the people in her. A miss, however, is as good as a mile off. The canoe disappeared behind a point, and there we were with an army of armed friends around us, who, by making great expedition, had managed to come exactly in time to be too late.

This was a taua muru (a robbing expedition) in revenge for the leader having been cleaned out by our chief, which gave them the right to rob any one connected with, related to, or under the protection of, our chief aforesaid, provided always that they were able. We, on the other hand, had the clear right to kill any of the robbers, which would then have given them the right to kill us; but until we killed some of them, it would not have been “correct” for them to have taken life, so they managed the thing neatly, in order that they should have no occasion to do so. The whole proceeding was unobjectionable in every respect, and tika (correct). Had we put in our nine-pound shot at the stern of their canoe, it would have been correct also; but as we were not able, we had no right whatever to complain.

The above is good law: and here I may as well inform the New Zealand public that I am going to write the whole law of this land in a book, which I shall call “Ko nga ture;” and as I intend it for the good of both races, I shall mix the two page 68 languages up in such a way that neither can understand; but this does not matter, as I shall add a “glossary,” in Coptic, to make things clear.

Some time after this, a little incident worth noting happened at my friend Mr.—'s place. Our chief had, for some time back, a sort of dispute with another magnate, who lived about ten miles off. I really cannot say who was in the right: the arguments on both sides were so nearly balanced, that I should not like to commit myself to a judgment in the case. The question was at last brought to a fair hearing at my friend's house. The arguments on both sides were very forcible; so much so that in the course of the arbitration our chief and thirty of his principal witnesses were shot dead in a heap before my friend's door, and sixty others badly wounded, and my friend's house and store blown up and burnt to ashes.

My friend was all but, or, indeed, quite ruined; but it would not have been “correct” for him to complain—his loss in goods being far overbalanced by the loss of the tribe in men. He was, however, consoled by hundreds of friends who came in large parties to condole and tangi with him, and who, as was quite correct in such cases, shot and ate all his stock, sheep, pigs, goats, ducks, geese, fowls, &c., all in high compliment to himself: at page 69 which he felt proud, as a well conducted and conditioned pakeha Maori (as he was) should do. He did not, however, survive these honours long, poor fellow. He died; and, strange to say, no one knew exactly what was the matter with him: some said it was the climate, they thought.

After this, the land about which this little misunderstanding had arisen, was, so to speak, “thrown into chancery,” where it has now remained about forty years. But I hear that proceedings are to commence de novo (no allusion to the “new system”) next summer, or at farthest the summer after; and as I witnessed the first proceedings, when the case comes on again “may I be there to see.”