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The Exploration of New Zealand

Chapter III — Missionaries, Whalers, and Traders 1830–40

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Chapter III
Missionaries, Whalers, and Traders 1830–40

By 1830 the missionaries were beginning to move boldly about the country. If the Maoris did not come to them, then they had to go to the scattered Maori settlements—and this was virtually indirect exploration. Apparently the natives were no longer hostile to Europeans. Some said this was the result of missionary endeavour; cynics believed that the Maoris desired better relations in order to obtain more muskets. They needed them because in 1830 there began another long period of tribal warfare with the outbreak of the 'girls' war'—so called because the original quarrel was one between the favourites of a whaling captain.

Through the mediation of Marsden and Williams there was a temporary peace in 1830–31 during which Williams was invited to visit the grateful natives of Rotorua. It was a great opportunity, and with T. Chapman he sailed to Maketu, the port of the Rotorua natives. There they enjoyed the hospitality of Tapsell, a noted trader and pakeha-Maori. Rotorua page 25was reached on 27 October 1831, and the missionaries enjoyed a hot bath regulated by fresh water from the lake. Williams had 'a good deal of conversation with the natives on the impropriety of men, women and children bathing together.' Ohinemutu and Mokoia were visited in due course. Yet for a well-educated man paying one of the first European visits to this remarkable region, Williams said very little and most students must wish that Samuel Marsden had gone there instead.

This period of calm—1830–31—saw the regular traders more permanently establishing themselves. Tapsell had settled at Maketu and had no doubt visited Rotorua before Williams and Chapman. It is thought that his European flax buyers had even gone from there to Matamata in the Thames district. On the east coast Harris established himself at Poverty Bay in 1831; in the same year, 1831, Captain Kent settled at Ngaruawahia on the Waikato. They, with several others, left little record of their activities, and few missionaries deigned to note their existence. One trader was J. S. Polack, who wrote an account of his experiences during 1831–37. He told of his journeys from Hokianga to Kaipara and of his visit to the east coast. There he saw moa bones and heard legends of the bird which he termed 'a species of struthio.' This was the earliest reference to the moa made by any European. Although he page 26did not venture very far inland he gave a fair description of the North Island. He knew of the thermal regions of Rotorua and Taupo, he could describe Manukau and the Waikato. To the existing South Island map he added really interesting details—the Buller river was the Rapid river, Otago harbour was Port Oxley, Foveaux Strait was, he thought, discovered by some sealers (the only contemporary reference to its discovery by O. F. Smith in 1804), and 'also by Captain Stewart.'

There had also been an increase of resident flax-traders in the southern districts. The trader no longer wasted time bartering from harbour to harbour. He landed collectors at the different settlements and expected them to search the countryside for flax which could be loaded when the ship returned. In 1831 Price and Williams of the Victoria went overland from Port Cooper to Kaiapoi to get flax and pigs in exchange for muskets and tobacco. They lost their way on the Canterbury plains when making for the mouth of the Waimakariri. A still greater change came about 1829 with the development of shore whaling. In Cook Strait and along the east coast of the South Island there sprang up those little communities of reckless Europeans, who took more interest in the interior than some historians would have us believe. From the Port hills whalers saw the Canterbury plains, from Dunedin whalers went overland to the Taieri plain and canoed down page 27the Taieri river to the station at its mouth. And up the great Molyneux, Palmer and other whalers went fifty miles in a whale-boat.

In the north, as an indirect result of the 'girls' war' tribal warfare began again in 1831. Henry Williams spent his time trying to arrange a peace, and his associates gave their attention to less disturbed regions. Such a one lay to the north of the Bay of Islands. In November 1832 William Williams and four other missionaries went north to Kaitaia, where they decided to found a mission station. In fact, conditions continued to be most encouraging everywhere except in the Rotorua—Bay of Plenty section of the Island and in 1833–34, for the first time since Hongi began his raids, the missionaries began systematically to explore the country.

Henry Williams, Brown, Fairburn, and Morgan opened the campaign by venturing up the Thames valley in October and November 1833. They were not the first Europeans in this district; on the way to Matamata, the residence of the chief Te Waharoa, they met four traders whom Williams admits were very civil. The parties camped beside each other and the missionary natives sang hymns while the traders from a nearby whare sang 'Old King Cole'. The track through the swamps was rather heavy going and Williams was carried on two poles by natives who often sank up to their chests in mud. Still, they reached Matamata and were hospitably received. page 28After discussing affairs with Te Waharoa they returned and selected Puriri as a mission site. It was established by December 1833 and the rather bold expedition had been justified.

The East Cape was the next scene of action. In January 1834 William Williams returned some captive natives to Hicks Bay and saw for the first time the region in which he was afterwards to work. The refugees were welcomed by relatives and friends because they brought back muskets and powder in direct contradiction to missionary instructions. Williams had never seen 'so wild looking a set' of natives, but he boldly went up the Waiapu valley to Whakawhitira, where he preached a sermon. The Rev. W. Yate who was in the party describes the men in the audience. 'Some had their beards plastered with red ochre and oil; others, with blue clay, and a deep mark of red ochre over each eye; which together with the tattooing gave them the most ferocious aspect that can be conceived; strongly resembling some of the pictures of Apollyon, in the older editions of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.' However the reception had been very encouraging and Williams thought that the Waiapu valley was an ideal spot for another station. He finished off the trip by sailing south to Table Cape, the northern extremity of Hawke's Bay.

But no action was taken for some years, for the Waikato was found to be a more attractive field. page 29This discovery was the result of one of the finest journeys in the history of the mission. The explorers were the Rev. A. N. Brown and James Hamlin who, in February 1834, went from the Bay of Islands to Kaipara harbour where they vainly sought for natives bold enough to guide them into the Waikato. This region, as far as Ngaruawahia, was practically unoccupied because Hongi's raids had drawn his allies to the north and driven his enemies far away to the south. Consequently there were no canoes in which to cross the intervening rivers and no hospitable natives to offer them provisions. Marsden's journeys were pleasure trips in comparison with the one before Brown and Hamlin.

The obvious route was up the Kaipara river, but to avoid days of laborious paddling against the current they decided to go overland. So south-east they went, taking compass bearings through broken and trackless country or else following neglected paths and narrow pig tracks. Sometimes they fought their way through dense fern or else plodded along the muddy edges of the river-beds. The natives began to complain of feet injured by the ferns, and the Europeans worried about the diminishing food supply. To save what flour they had, they were living on fern root, the stems of palm trees, and tawa berries. It was 19 March when they saw the Waikato river; next day they reached it fifteen miles from the heads. To cross they constructed ten moki page 30or rafts, and for a day the place had 'all the bustle and activity of a dockyard.' The craft were so satisfactory that the party paddled down the river, not knowing that they were leaving Ngaruawahia behind them. Some caution was necessary because it was quite likely that their Bay of Island natives would be attacked by any revengeful Waikatos whom they should happen to meet.

Eventually the two Maoris in the first moki did meet a canoe being paddled up the river. They had to explain hurriedly that some missionaries were coming down behind them or else they would have been fired upon. Fortunately the travellers were led by a brother of Te Wherowhero, the Waikato chief, and by a European going up to the Waipa river. They took the missionaries back up the river to Captain Kent's station at Ngaruawahia. Here they were well received and advised to take the native track from Whatawhata to Whaingaroa (Raglan), whence they could follow the coast to Kawhia.

This was done and, after discussing affairs with the Ngatimaniapoto natives at Kawhia, they were free to go due east to the hills overlooking the headwaters of the Waipa river. They ascended Kakepuku and saw Mount Tongariro in the distance. Away to the SSE. was Ruapehu covered with snow and looking like 'a brilliant bank of fleecy clouds cradled in the rays of the setting sun.' Then on 11 April they went down to the Waipa river and thence page 31by canoe to Ngaruawahia. From here they went down the Waikato to its junction with the Maramarua. By going well up this river and then overland to the north-east they reached Whakatiwai on the shores of the Firth of Thames. They crossed to the western shore and went up the Thames river to the mission at Puriri.

The journey had taken nearly five months and they had discovered a rich and fertile country. It was thinly populated, but the natives were so anxious for a mission station to be established that in August 1834 Brown and William Williams were sent to select a site. From the Firth of Thames they followed the track by which Brown and Hamlin had returned from the Waikato. It took them from Whakatiwai to the headwaters of the Maramarua river, thence by canoe to the Waikato river, and upstream to Ngaruawahia where Captain Kent received them with great civility. Well up the Waipa river they chose Mangapouri as the site, and on 28 August planted some fruit trees. Then they went east across country to Maungatautari where they were met by Morgan. The latter had come up the Piako river from the Thames, had crossed to Horotiu near Ngaruawahia, and had continued his journey by canoe up the Waikato. From Maungatautari they went on to Matamata and finally to Tauranga, where another station was about to be established.

Farther north there was corresponding activity. page 32In December 1834 Puckey from the new station at Kaitaia, went overland to Spirits Bay near North Cape. It was dreary and barren, with screaming sea-gulls and the sea roaring against black rocks. From here the spirits of the dead left for the Maori underworld. Puckey went down to the cliffs and saw Te Reinga, the ladder by which they descended to the beach. It was 'a tree projecting out of the rock, mclining downwards, with part of it broken off by the violence of the wind; but said to have been broken off by a number of spirits which went down by the aka (branch of the tree) to the Reinga some years ago, when numbers were killed in a fight.' This was, no doubt, the result of Hongi's campaigns. The guide also pointed out some large lumps of seaweed washing to and fro in the swell; this was the door which closed on the spirits after they had reached the beach by the Reinga and had gone out by the rocks to the sea. Fish caught near by were always red from the red ochre on the painted garments of the deceased.

When the party made its way back there was some criticism, several Maoris fearing that Puckey had cut away the aka. The guide, who was a Christian, had to defend his new faith and incidentally his own property. The comment by one old man was, 'Leave us our old road to the Reinga; and let us have something to hold on by as we descend, or we shall break our necks over the precipices.' Altogether page 33it was an interesting expedition, not because of the area of new country, but because Puckey had visited one of the most famous spots in Maori legend. And he saw fit to be more communicative than missionaries usually were when they saw for the first time some new feature of Maori life and custom.

Thus by December 1834 the wave of missionary endeavour had broken the barriers and advanced to the more remote parts of the North Island. Space does not permit any account of the many other journeys by Henry and William Williams, Morgan, Brown, Stack, and Wilson in the valleys of the Waikato and the Thames. Morgan illustrates it best by saying, in October 1835, that within the last thirteen months he had slept in his tent 'more than a hundred times and travelled at least fifteen hundred miles, sometimes on foot and at other times in native canoes.' Similar claims could no doubt have been made by other men, for those thirteen months more or less covered the period of exploration for the future mission sites. By the end of 1835 Hamlin and Stack were at Mangapouri, Brown was at Matamata, Wilson was at Tauranga, and Chapman at Rotorua was planting his pear, apple, apricot, and cherry trees.

At this stage it must not be forgotten that since their arrival in New Zealand in 1822 the Wesleyan missionaries had also made long journeys and established new stations. As early as January 1825 William page 34White penetrated to the Waikato from the Firth of Thames. Only the breaking up of their station at Whangaroa prevented the Wesleyans occupying the new field at this time. Like the Anglicans, they saw that conditions in 1834 were now more favourable for expansion, and the local committee decided to send White to the Thames and overland to Waikato, and John Whiteley along the coast to Kaipara.

Whiteley reached Kaipara on 24 February and, apparently not knowing of Marsden's visits, thought that he was the first missionary to go there. His confrere, White, made his way successfully from the Thames to Waikato. The anxiety of his native guide to return upset his plan to visit Kawhia, Mokau, and Taupo. However, he left two native teachers to supervise the building of a house at Ngaruawahia. Early in May he returned to the attack, although Brown and Hamlin of the Church Missionary Society had by now made their tour of the Waikato. This time he approached from the west coast. For what seems a high price—£10—he obtained a passage by schooner to the mouth of the Waikato. With him went Simon Peter, a Maori convert, who had once accompanied a war party to the same region. They did not return until late in June and, perhaps because of Simon Peter's past career, there were rumours of their being killed. But they were not molested and White urged the foundation of three page 35mission stations. He had heard that the Anglicans planned to open stations in the same region.

There was no suggestion of rivalry. The missionaries—Anglican and Wesleyan—were very tolerant before Bishop Selwyn fanned the flames of sectarian strife. Until separate spheres of influence were agreed to in London, the Wesleyans were satisfied with coastal stations as far south as Kawhia. From here in 1835 Whiteley made an expedition to the Mokau river. The Harriet had been wrecked on the Taranaki coast and a seaman named Anderson had set out to walk to some European settlement. He had reached the Mokau river and, having lost the use of his feet owing to frost-bite, could go no farther. The Wesleyans heard of him and Whiteley secured his release from the Maoris.

Thus both missions, by 1835, had advanced far to the south and were calling a halt in order to consolidate their positions before the explorers and pioneers could again be sent forward. But at Rotorua on Christmas Day a relative of Te Waharoa was murdered. This crime started a period of tribal warfare which lasted until 1840 and stopped any further advance to the south. Chapman did his best; he obtained the victim's head and handed it to the relatives. But such a warrior as Te Waharoa must have his revenge. The Tauranga natives supported him; those at Maketu supported Rotorua.

A detailed description of the fighting is quite page 36outside our subject, but some references are worth quoting because they show the character of the people among whom the missionaries worked. Some slight realisation of their barbarity should prevent any tendency to belittle the early missionaries and should convince most people that, had the missionaries not prepared the way, organised settlement in 1840 would have been impossible.

Te Waharoa began by raiding Maketu. Tapsell, the flax-trader, lost all he had, the natives even unearthing the body of his child to seek treasure in the coffin. Brown and Maunsell who went to Tauranga saw the raiders return. 'The sight was harrowing—a heart stuck on a pointed stick—a head secured to a short pole—baskets of human flesh, with bones, hands etc. protruding from the tops and sides—and what more deeply affected me than any other object, one of the infant children of our school dandling on his knees and making faces at the head of some Rotorua chief.…' Some quartered in Wilson's garden and used the vegetable leaves as dampers for the ovens. The missionaries returned with the war party to Matamata and reported that the baskets of flesh 'tainted the atmosphere.' There Brown refused some human flesh and Te Waharoa said 'If you are angry I will eat you and all the missionaries.' Little children at the mission school were withdrawn to enjoy the feast and Morgan knew of 'sixty bodies being cooked in one day.…'

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The Rotorua natives retaliated and Te Waharoa promptly sacked the pa and mission station at Ohinemutu. Messrs Knight and Pilley were roughly handled and witnessed some savage actions. Knight, describing preparations for a meal, said 'his breast was opened and his heart etc. steaming with warmth, was pulled out and carried off.' In the face of such conditions the advanced stations were evacuated, some missionaries going to Puriri and others back to the Bay of Islands.

To balance these disasters there was news of the gospel being preached in the Waiapu valley by the natives William Williams had taken back in 1834. Therefore, in January 1838, William Williams, Stack, Matthews, and Colenso, the mission printer at Paihia, landed at Hicks Bay and went up the valley to Whakawhitira. Thence some went overland to Tokomaru and on by canoe to Tolaga Bay. The sea trip was rather exciting and Colenso, who gives the best account of it, remarked upon the Maoris' wonderful seamanship. They went on to Poverty-Bay and were welcomed by those on the boat who never expected to see them again.

Later in the year Colenso thought of going on foot from the Bay of Islands to Hawke's Bay and of returning over the Ruahines to Rotorua. 'By strict application to my work now, I shall get my Brethren here to grant me an holiday in the summer; and no schoolboy ever rejoiced more to get one, than I page 38shall to get out once more among these poor children of the wilds.' Apparently he was not given permission, but this is not evidence of any decline in missionary interest. William Williams visited Waiapu in November 1838, in April 1839, and finally, in January 1840, he founded a station at Poverty Bay.

The Cook Strait natives, including relatives of Te Rauparaha, were also taking an interest in Christianity. Therefore Henry Williams decided to go there himself and establish the Rev. Octavius Hadfield at a mission station. They entered Port Nicholson just after Colonel Wakefield of the New Zealand Company had been purchasing the surrounding country. Hadfield was left at Otaki and on 5 December 1839 Williams set off for Tauranga.

This meant a journey of 300 miles through the heart of the North Island across country not yet explored by Europeans.* The first section was a coastal traverse from Otaki to the Rangitikei which he followed for a few miles before going on to the Wanganui river. Real exploration began when he went up the river to the volcanic plateau near Taupo and Rotorua. The journey had its exciting moments: on one occasion Williams took off his shoes and stockings to prevent his slipping over precipices; page 39on Christmas Day, 'one of our fellow-travellers, the largest of our pigs, fell down the precipice, and broke nearly every bone.' Two days later on approaching the plateau, 'The volcano Tongariro rose before us, the summit covered with snow, a splendid sight,' and late that evening they camped at the foot of Ruapehu. On 30 December they saw the beaches and buildings of Lake Taupo, and from there it was a wearisome trudge to Lake Rotorua and the mission station on Mokoia island. The last stage was to Tauranga, where by chance he met his brother William Williams en route to found the station at Poverty Bay.

There had been another curious coincidence on this trip. When Henry Williams had been on the east side of Lake Taupo, the Rev. James Buller of the Wesleyan mission had reached the north side. He was also traversing the Island, being on his way from Kaipara to Port Nicholson where some land, bought by the missionaries Bumby and Hobbs, was being claimed by the hungry New Zealand Company. He began at Kaipara and went overland to Manukau and down the coast to Kawhia. Crossing to the Waipa river, he followed a native track to Lake Taupo, a route which B. Y. Ashwell of the Church Missionary Society had traversed earlier in the same year. On New Year's Day 1840 he was encamped on the northern shore. The following day he crossed to the east side and found that Henry page 40Williams had been there on the previous day. That night he could see the fires of Williams's camp. From Lake Taupo Buller covered much the same country as Henry Williams, reaching Pipiriki and going by canoe to the mouth of the Wanganui river, and so to Port Nicholson.

This must have been one of the longest journeys in missionary history, yet Wallis, a Wesleyan missionary, followed the same route on another occasion. One who went that way said: 'To make such a journey once was a sin of ignorance, and might be forgiven. To attempt it a second time was a sin of presumption, for which there is no forgiveness.' Altogether, in the history of missionary exploration the Wesleyans must not be overlooked.

These expeditions by Henry Williams and Buller took place while the New Zealand Company's agents were buying Maori land and are therefore a fitting conclusion to the history of early missionary exploration. The largest area not yet traversed by Europeans was that east of the mountain chain which runs north-east from Wellington to the East Cape. It includes the present Wairarapa, Hawke's Bay, and Poverty Bay, and its exploration was shared by the missionary Colenso and different servants of the Company. The difficult country from the upper Wanganui west to the Mokau river was left well alone for many years—as it had been for the most part by the Maoris.

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Similarly, it is fitting that between the missionary and Company eras there should be one independent explorer. He was J. C. Bidwill who, rather than be idle in Sydney, came to the Bay of Islands in 1839 and decided that it contained 'a greater number of rogues than any other spot of equal size in the universe.' Wishing to visit the mountains described in the handbooks of the New Zealand Company, he went to Tauranga. Here he saw the ovens and entrails left after some Rotorua natives had raided the place. He could have seen a head half eaten by the village dogs, but he thought he had seen enough for the day. Naturally enough, the local natives were not eager to guide him to unfriendly Rotorua, but through the kindness of Stack, the missionary, he obtained a party and set off on 17 February 1839.

The route was not a new one for Europeans, but Bidwill was the first botanist to use it. Apart from his botanical observations, it is interesting that he, like Bishop Selwyn, favoured the new waterproof coat designed by Mr Macintosh. At Rotorua he was welcomed by Chapman, the missionary, who had just returned from his pioneer journey to Lake Taupo. (Except for the captive Powers, Chapman was the first European to visit the lake.) Bidwill went on across the pumice country to the lake, collecting plants and rocks to the wonderment of the natives who could only understand the necessity of carrying potatoes or a tent. From Taupo he went page 42to Lake Roto Aira, and on 3 March 1839 he ascended Ngauruhoe from the Mangatepopo valley on its north-west side.

There was snow on the mountain but the cone was clear; the natives said that it had been 'making a noise in the night.… ' The ascent of the cone itself was undertaken by Bidwill alone, and he said that the smoke spread above him 'like a mushroom' and that the noise was 'not unlike the safety valve of a steam-engine.' After looking down into the 'terrific abyss' of the crater, he returned to his tent and eventually to Lake Taupo. Here he had an animated reception, for the mountain was tapu and Bidwill, in the absence of the chief Te Heu Heu, had committed a crime. Some tobacco calmed the chief, but he continued to say that he would never have permitted the ascent and that he hoped Bidwill would not tell any other pakehas of the climb. Other visitors—Dieffenbach and Sir George Grey—learned how sacred the mountain was to Te Heu Heu, and one is inclined to think that Bidwill was lucky to escape unharmed.

* There is reliable evidence to show that a Scandinavian, Andrew Powers, went from Wanganui to the Bay of Plenty in 1831—under compulsion. He and others from Kapiti island were at Wanganui trading in Maori heads when they were captured by some natives from Lake Taupo. Powers was taken to Taupo, Rotorua, and Maketu. Here Tapsell redeemed him for 25 lb of tobacco.