Title: Henry Lawson Among Maoris

Author: William H. Pearson

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1968, Wellington

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Paul Millar

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Henry Lawson Among Maoris



The Maoris of the Kaikoura district in Lawson's time were predominantly Ngai-tahu. Other Maoris of Marlborough pro vince, north of the White Bluffs, and especially around the Sounds, were Rangitane and Ngati-toa. A tradition of the earliest settlement of the district is that a canoe Uruao brought a people calling themselves Waitaha direct from Hawaiki to the Kaikoura coast.1 According to later traditions the coast was subject to three invasions from the North Island tribes. In the mid-sixteenth century the Ngati-mamoe destroyed or eventually absorbed the Waitaha.2 In the mid-seventeenth century there was an invasion by the Ngai-tahu, who by the end of the century had occupied the Marlborough Coast from the Awatere to the Conway.3 The Ngati-mamoe were driven further south as the Ngai-tahu occupied the whole eastern coast of the South Island.4 There were about 2,000 Ngai-tahu in the Kaikoura district in 1829 when there was a further in vasion, this time by the Ngati-toa under Te Rauparaha, dispossessed of their own ancestral land by the Waikato tribes. In the raid on Kaikoura 1,400 Ngai-tahu were killed. The inhabitants of Omihi, about fifteen miles further south, were defeated and those not killed or taken prisoner fled to the mountains or south to another Ngai-tahu settlement Kaiapohia (Kaiapoi). Two of the survivors of the Omihi raid, Paratene Wahaaruhe and Ihaia Wahaaruhe, boys at the time and half-brothers, were in Lawson's time elders at Mangamaunu, both of them early members of the school committee, page 33and one of them Mary Jacob's grandfather. For fear of retaliation by the Ngai-tahu in other parts of the South Island Te Rauparaha did not attempt to hold Kaikoura.5 He was defeated by the Ngai-tahu under Tuhawaiki at Oraumoa (Fighting Bay) near Port Underwood in 1835, and a formal peace was made which ratified his conquest of the Pelorus and Wairau districts, where colonies of Ngati-toa had settled.6 These districts were not Ngai-tahu territory but occupied by the Ngati-kuia hapu of the Rangitane tribe, who had come from the North Island after the Ngati-mamoe. It is to a garbled version of these events that Bertha Lawson refers when she said: 'Our Maoris … had originally been North Islanders, but had been defeated in war and were said to have been kept as slaves'.7 Henry Lawson's reference is derived from the same incomplete account:
  • And the last that were born of a noble race—when the page of the South was fair—
  • The sons of the conquered dwelt in peace with the sons of of the victors there.8

Refugees from the raid on Kaikoura were massacred in the Puhipuhi Valley behind Mangamaunu but there is no evidence of slaughter at Mangamaunu.9 By the 1840s the Ngaitahu were again in occupation of the Kaikoura district in very small numbers; in 1849 J. W. Hamilton, a government landbuyer, reported the population from the Clarence to the Conway to be no more than sixty.

It did not rise greatly through the century; in 1858 Hamilton reported eighty people in Kaikoura county, living in seven settlements; in 1878, sixty-seven; in 1881 the figure-is eighty-four; in 1896, the year before Lawson's arrival, seventy-seven.10 Of these forty-nine were Ngai-tahu and six half-castes, so that twenty-two must have been from other districts. Even if one allows for the inaccuracy of census-taking among a population semi-literate and seasonally migrant, the rate of natural increase was low: in 1878 Alexander Mackay, Crown Commissioner, counted only twenty-one children under 15 out of a total Ngai-tahu population of sixty-seven; in 1896, in a figure that includes Maoris other than Ngai-tahu, the number of children under 15 was only twenty-seven.11 In the six years preceding 1874, Maori births for the whole of Marlborough page 34province, in a population of 452, exceeded deaths by only thirteen.12

The peace with Te Rauparaha had resulted in the recog nition of Ngai-tahu ownership over land south of the White Bluffs (between the Wairau and Awatere rivers), and the Kaikoura Maoris claimed special ownership of land from the White Bluffs south to the Waiau river, and extending inland to the Spenser mountains, a claim recognised by the Ngai-tahu of Kaiapohia and Rapaki in Canterbury province. Hamilton estimated the size of their lands as being between a million acres and a million and a half. Yet though, Hamilton said, the whole of the country had by this time (1858) 'long been occupied by [European] sheep-owners', no payment had been made to the owners of the land.13 Government land-buyers had assumed the land belonged to the Ngati-toa and had already made two purchases from them; £3,000 had been paid be tween 1847 and 1851 for the Wairau and neighbouring district, and at Wellington in 1853 the Ngati-toa sold all their claims in the South Island for £5,000.

In the government view the Wairau block extended inland as far as the Wairau River and south to a straight line run ning from the source of the Wairau to Kaiapoi: it included most of the land claimed by the Kaikoura Maoris. Naturally they did not recognise either the Ngati-toa claim to have won the land by conquest or the government purchase based on this claim, and in 1852 they had refused access to a government surveyor.14 The Kaikoura spokesman Whakatau in 1856 offered the lands for £150 provided that certain small areas were reserved for his people. But in the three years before the sale was made, Whakatau learned more of the value of his land; he at first asked for £5,000, but Mackay, the buyer, beat him down to £300 subject to 5,565 acres being reserved for Whakatau's people.15 This, the Kaikoura purchase, was signed in March 1859. The area sold lay between the White Bluffs and the Hurunui River, and extended inland to the Spenser and St Arnaud mountains: its area was two and a half million acres.16 The reserve land was coastal, and the Mangamaunu block was the largest-a strip of coast about 12 miles long and hardly a mile deep. At the Mangamaunu end it consisted of a beach of boulders and blacksand, a strip of flat with fern and flax and manuka backed by an abrupt 50-foot terrace on page 35
Marlborough and North Canterbury, showing sites of some nineteenth century Maori villages and places mentioned in the text

Marlborough and North Canterbury, showing sites of some nineteenth century Maori villages and places mentioned in the text

page 36which the old village (known earlier as Hapenui and Haunui) stood at the base of the foothills of a coastal range rising to 3,000 feet. For 12 miles north, almost as far as the Clarence mouth, it consisted of cliffs, beaches, rocky shores, hills and the lower seaward faces of the range with stretches of scrub and timber on the flanks and in the gullies. Mackay considered the block to be 'of the most useless and worthless description' and doubted that it would meet the economic needs of the Maoris. Yet it was, in its provision of food or access to foodfish, shell-fish, crayfish, birds, karaka berries-vital to the Maoris' existence and infinitely more valuable than the foodless acres of tussock hills the Pakeha wanted to buy.17 Whakatau's raising of the price possibly reflects an awareness of the potential value of the land, but without sheep, credit, or capital his people could not have made use of it.

Hamilton's statement that the whole country had 'long been occupied' by sheep-owners must be an exaggeration. Mr J. M. Sherrard tells me that the first European sheep-runs at Kaikoura were established at the end of the fifties. Buick dates the first settler, who took possession of a run in the district, at February 1860; it had been offered him by a leaseholder who held the land under licence from the Nelson government but had not stocked it.18* Elvy mentions cattle-runs established by 1859.19 Sales to leaseholders had apparently begun by 1856, but large sales did not begin till after the Kaikoura purchase) when in the latter half of 1860, 63,741 acres of rural land were sold.20 By the end of 1866, 468,916 acres of country land had been sold at an average price of 6s. 8d. an acre.21 Some of the runs were large: returns for Kaikoura county in 1897 when Lawson was in Mangamaunu show sixteen run-holders with estates of over 1,000 acres, nine with holdings of more than 5,000 acres, and four, including a bank, with holdings of more than 10,000 acres.22 It was not until between 1898 and 1900 that under Liberal legislation, the big holdings were divided into farm sections and small grazing runs.23 For example, an estate of 18,000 acres at Puhipuhi, directly inland from Mangamaunu, was resumed by the Grown in 1898 and subsequently redivided for sale, rent, or lease in perpetuity to a page 37number of settlers.24 There was a big influx of European settlers and by 1900 European children outnumbered Maoris at Mangamaunu School.25

A shore whaling-station was established at Waiopuka (on Kaikoura Peninsula) and was operating by the winter of 1843.26 Buick says there were eventually three stations, employing eighty men.27 By 1859 Kaikoura had become a regular port of call for trading, and in 1861 a first survey of town and rural sections was made in the Kaikoura district.28 Kaikoura was port and whaling-station, the only sizeable centre on the east coast between Blenheim and Rangiora, a stopover for mailmen and travellers who used the bridle-track which was the only means of going north by land, the goal of sailors, shearers, and station-hands with money to spend. By Lawson's time there were two sawmills and a co-operative dairy factory. The town population was about four hundred. A rough coach road between Kaikoura and the Clarence River was opened in 1890, and by 1891 there was a coach service to Blenheim.29

Two descriptions of Kaikoura in the late nineteenth century are apposite; the first is by W. J. Elvy, a local historian, the second from a Bulletin correspondent in 1897:

The Town of Kaikoura was always alluded to as "The Band" in my youthful days. I was told this was short for "Band of Hope"; so called from the number of spongers that hung about the pubs hoping that a shearer or station hand would happen along with a cheque to "knock up." They were only too willing to help him spend it.30

Kaikoura is the town of the glorious "bender"- and the regular inhabitants only smile tolerantly with a used-to aspect, when they see a beer-emburdened shepherd working-up imaginary sheep with the aid of a pained and wondering sheep-dog.31

It is apposite to note, at this point, that, presumably in reaction to the general tone of drunkenness, a small temperance group was formed in 1879, the Ray of Hope Tent of the Independent Order of Rechabites.32

By the 1870s Kaikoura Maoris had become an enclave of the dispossessed in an economy that would eventually absorb them. They had little contact with the runholders. I quote J; M. Sherrard:

page 38

The Maoris are said to have been a generous hearted people who had scarcely any contact with—for want of a better term—the respectable white settlers…. The white men they saw were the mailmen, the station musterers and fencers, and remittance men and deadbeats…. They were the men who gave them the new pattern of life when tribal authority faded. Some of these 'poor whites' were left-overs from the early whaling stations. The better class of whaler took up farming or labouring work on the stations or in and near Kaikoura Peninsula. The rest lived close to the Maori pa, spending easy days and going on the spree whenever they had the chance. Among them were at least one Australian aborigine and one negro. Some of the young bloods of Kaikoura would resort to Mangamaunu when they wanted some prostitution on the cheap or a booze-up on the sly.

With these examples as their guide the younger Ngaitahu steadily dropped their standards. The white community began to look more and more askance at anyone who consorted with the Mangamaunu Maoris.33

Although the land reserved under the 1859 deed of purchase gave the Kaikoura Maoris an average of roughly 59 acres per head, it was not long before they found it insufficient to support them. Mackay reported in 1872 that Maoris of Nelson, Marlborough, and the West Coast were finding their reserves too small for hunting and fishing.34 They continued to harvest karaka berries-the school was given permission to close for a fortnight in May 1882, so that the children could be with their parents during the harvest.35 But they had to turn increasingly for support to the new economy. Men were engaged quite early by the whaling-stations. J. M. Sherrard writes: 'I have no record of any being in the gang for the 1843 season, but am sure that during the next year or two quite a number of Maoris were engaged. Certainly by the 1850s many Maoris worked in the whaleboats as well as at the try-works. By 1880 the majority of whalers were Maori or half-caste.'

They engaged in agriculture only to meet their needs and Mackay reported that they owned a few horses, cattle, and pigs, but that each animal was 'a source of anxiety, lest it involve them in trouble with their European neighbours'.36 A 10-acre pig paddock had been fenced by the government by 1888.37 Sometimes they let their land, but according to Mackay they page 39were finding it hard to maintain a new and more expensive way of life.38

When Denton Prout says they were 'not averse to "knocking off" a sheep or two from a white man's run when the owner wasn't looking', I suspect that he is predisposed to see the Maoris in terms of the Australian myth of Waltzing Matilda and the jolly swagman.39 The only evidence for his statement is in any case from fellow-Australians: Henry Lawson's dropping of quotes around 'wild sheep' in a letter to Hugh Mac- Callum, and Bertha's statement:

I asked the children where the wild sheep lived, and they said out in the hills. They were sheep with long tails. We did not inquire too closely into this, but I'm afraid that any lamb that missed tailing or mustering was counted as wild sheep.40

Bertha at least noticed that the wild sheep had tails or hadn't been mustered. Henry's suspicions may have been right, but there were wild sheep in the hills, the descendants of sheep that had escaped through broken fences. Twelve years before the Lawsons, and with no hint of suspicion, Robert Bedford, a medical officer, had reported their hunting of wild sheep and pigs. Wild sheep diseased with 'scab' were so great a plague in the Kaikoura district from the 1870s to the early 1890s that parties of hunters were employed to destroy them.41

Bedford noted that food was scarce in the winter; after a wild sheep or pig, he said, the settlement through 'want of powder, leisure, or inclination', would go without meat for a long time and live on potatoes, Indian corn, and pauas. In that year (1885) he noted that even potatoes were scarce and little corn was grown; the people were often short of flour. Besides paua, fish and wildfowl the other source of protein was rabbits, which were abundant. The trend of such Maori farming as existed, was towards pasturage and sheep. The 1886 census shows a total of 9 acres of potatoes, maize, and other crops, 10 of sown grasses, 31 cattle and 53 pigs but no sheep.42 The 1896 census showed slightly less cultivation, but a big increase in stock: 3 acres of potatoes, 4 of maize, one of other crops, and 200 of sown grasses-presumably for the 1,020 sheep, 40 cattle and 2 pigs held by the Kaikoura Maoris.43 No land was held in common by members of the hapu,44 but page 40
Marlborough Province, with 1897 county boundaries

Marlborough Province, with 1897 county boundaries

page 41if some men appeared to own more than others, land and stock belonging to several members of an extended family were probably, for convenience, entered in the returns in the name of the senior man of the family. Of the 1,020 sheep, half were registered in the name of two men, 385 in the name of Paratene Wahaaruhe, Native Assessor and an elder of the hapu, and 261 in the name of Pene Tahui who was chairman of the school committee in Lawson's time.45 These sheep were presumably kept for wool.

It was the contrast with North Island Maoris that made Mackay's report on Nelson, Marlborough, and West Coast Maoris so favourable. Comparatively unaffected by the King movement and not at all affected by Hau Hau, they showed, he said, a disposition towards Europeans that was 'uniformly good'. Their social conditions he found satisfactory, their clothing not inferior to that of European labouring classes; their houses were wooden, with doors and windows and chimneys.46 But such evaluations are relative. There is no gainsaying the detailed sanitary report on Mangamaunu by Robert Bedford, Native Medical Officer, who visited the village in 1885 after the building of the new settlement on the flat to accommodate families with children going to the school.47 The houses at the pa, he reported, were no more than huts with sunken clay floors. Walls were of 'interlaced saplings, plastered with clay; the roofs of manuka bark and rushes, either tied or weighted down … and a short cobbed chimney carries off the smoke'. There was only a quarter of the minimum airspace he considered necessary for health (200 cubic feet for each occupant). Old people and young children were insufficiently clad and huddled indoors round the fire. The huts being so small, it was only in warm weather that windows and doors could be opened, and it was excessively humid inside. There was an inadequate supply of good water in the summer; when the creeks were dry, the inhabitants used a water-hole shared by pigs, cattle, and horses. Cooking utensils were not properly washed and slops were thrown within reach of doors. There was a general neglect of personal hygiene, though Bedford noted some improvement among the children attending the school.

The effects on health of such living conditions were obvious. page 42Catarrhal consumption was common and almost all the middleaged and elderly had bronchitis.48 Mackay had noted in the provinces he visited the commonness of rheumatism and of diseases of the chest and abdomen. The women were generally infertile; and Mackay blamed in-breeding.

J. W. Stack in 1877 had been struck by the large number of children in Mangamaunu in comparison with other Maori villages of similar size, and as well by their healthy appearance, which he attributed to the abundance of rabbits.49 As far as numbers go, early figures bear him out and point to a subsequent decline. Stack reported twenty-nine children of school age; at the end of 1896 there were only thirteen on the school roll.50 Mackay's figures in the 1881 census show 40 per cent of the population under 15 years (thirty-four out of eighty-four);51 the 1896 census shows 35 per cent (twentyseven out of seventy-seven).52 Whereas the 1886 census shows thirteen children under 5,53 the 1896 census shows that only three of them had remained or survived. Admittedly such figures are of only rough reliability since there was no registration of Maori births, and parents' memory of children's ages might not have been accurate. But the decline is striking and is consistent with the fact that there was a typhus epidemic among Marlborough Maoris in 1891.54 Of the fifteen Maori children under 5 in Kaikoura country in 1896, only nine were Ngai-tahu, that is locally-born, and of the twelve between ages 5 and 15, only three of them, all males, were Ngai-tahu. But even these twenty-seven were not all to survive. The census was taken on 12 April; on 28 October, J. H. Pope, inspecting the school, noted that two children and several babies had died; he attributed this to bad water supply and connected it with his opinion that the 'intermarriage principle has been carried unusually far here.' It is probably these same deaths, or these and some subsequent ones that Henry Lawson meant on his arrival in the following May when he noted that several children had died recently.55 In fact most of the fifteen under-5's of the 1896 census had moved from the district or died by the time Lawson arrived, because in September 1897 he said that none of the infants in the pa would be old enough to attend school for three or four years.56

Yet between Bedford's visit in 1885 and Henry Lawson's stay in 1897 there had been some improvement, if not in page 43health itself. Pope in 1894 reports 'a considerable advance' since his last visit ten years before.57 In 1895 he said: 'The Maoris have made their principal settlement very pretty, and quite a striking feature of the landscape.'58 He visited the two settlements into which the village was divided and 'was surprised to see the advance made … in respect to sanitary laws, as shown by the general condition of their kaingas and the whares composing them.'59 Bertha Lawson describes the pa as 'a group of small weatherboard homes, scrupulously clean, with pretty flower gardens.' She adds, 'They took great pride in these and there was much friendly rivalry'.60 But it was not till 1899 that the school inspector, this time H. B. Kirk, reported signs of recovery: 'there are several babies in the settlement'.61

Throughout the last thirty years of the century South Island Maoris numbered around 2,000.62 It is hardly surprising that traditional customs died more rapidly than, in the North Island. In 1880 J. W. Stack noted that one consequence of the younger Ngai-tahu of Canterbury adopting the European way of living was that old people without near relatives would be allowed to die of starvation: one old man had been left without food by his neighbours for thirty hours. In Mangamaunu, not recovered from the Ngati-toa slaughter before the European infiltration, the traditions disintegrated quickly. Though the runanga was meeting as late as 1885, it had, according to J. M. Sherrard, ceased to operate by 1900. Aylmer Kenny who conducted the 1896 census among Maoris of the Marlborough and Sounds counties, north of Kaikoura county, reported:

I was much surprised to find that a large proportion of the younger Maoris were unable to distinguish between the "iwi" and the "hapu". In many cases they did not know to what iwi they belonged, and it was only in rare instances that they knew their hapu; this was often the case with the older people, many of whom had to refer to other Maoris for the information, and I found that in some cases the members of the same iwi pronounced the name of it quite differently.63

H. W. Bishop of Christchurch, who took the census of the Ngai-tahu Maoris, felt constrained to point out to the devisers of the census that they no longer lived as members of tribes.64

page 44

But if they had lost the traditions of their grandfathers, the Marlborough Maoris that Kenny dealt with were nevertheless distrustful of Europeans, at least of those who were suspected as representing the government in its predatory aspects. Kenny says:

I have also to note that in many cases the Maoris showed a strong disinclination to give me the necessary information; and in some cases, indeed, I was met by an absolute refusal, although in every instance I was able to overcome the objecttion raised, one of the chief of which was the fear that information was required for taxation purposes. In some cases the Maoris were willing to give the information, but wished to be paid for it.65

W. J. Elvy tells a story of calling at Mangamaunu in 1898 to take wages to a Maori employed with a survey party, who had been involved in a pub fight the day before:

I was riding a fine, upstanding horse, with a new saddle and bridle, white tether rope neatly coiled hanging from its neck. Dressed in a blue coat with cord riding pants and leggings, I must have looked like a mounted constable, and to complete things, there was the blue voucher stuck in my breastcoat pocket, looking suspiciously like a 'blue peter'. Reaching the pa, I accosted a Maori. 'Where is Rangi? Tell him I want to see him.' He looked me up and down and said: 'Rangi, I don't know him, no one of that name about here.' 'You must know him, this is where he lives,' I said. 'No, I don't know anything about him,' said he. By this time others had come out of the tents and I asked a woman: 'You know Rangi, he works for Smith, the surveyor?' 'Oh, he hasn't lived here a long time,' she said. 'I think he lives at Kaiapoi.' 'Do you know Rangi?' she asked a young girl. 'I think he very ill a long time; he go to hospital in Christchurch,' said the girl. 'Well, he was all right yesterday,' I said. 'He knocked a man out at Kaikoura, nearly killed him.' 'Oh, no no, he don't live here,' they cried. 'Well,' said I, 'I have a lot of money for him. They told me he was here and I was to give him his wages. But he can't get it until he signs this paper,' touching the blue voucher. 'Oh,' they said, 'you got his wages? Rangi!' they yelled. 'Come out, it is only the man with the wages'.66

Another contemporary glimpse (September 1891), if a hostile one, is from an English lady tourist:

page 45

A short distance from Kaikoura lies the Maori pah (village) called Maunga Mauna, a miserable collection of dilapidated huts, or "whares", as the natives name them; but the settlement seemed by no means adequate to contain the very numerous inhabitants who turned out to watch us passthe advent of the weekly coach being, no doubt, a great excitement in their eventless lives.67

Bertha Lawson is both right and wrong when she says that the Mangamaunu people had been twice christianised, once Catholic, the second time Presbyterian.68 Henry in fact knew them to be Catholic.69 They had been baptised first in the Anglican Church and then in the Catholic.70 They were first converted by a son of the Ngai-toa invader, Tamihana te Rauparaha who called at Kaikoura on his missionary tour of the east coast of the South Island in 1843. I quote J. M. Sherrard:

The first Kaikoura church was built by the Maoris on the Mangamaunu bank of the Hapuku river near its mouth. It may have dated from the visit of Tamihana. It was there when the white settlers established sheep runs at Kaikoura at the end of the fifties. It was burned to the ground in the seventies or eighties. No white missionaries were stationed at or near Kaikoura then. The Maoris had their own preachers.71

It was probably during their first conversion that local Maoris took their Biblical baptismal names-Ihaia, Rawiri, Hohepa, and Jacob. But Mackay's report for Nelson, Marlborough, and the West Coast in 1872 found Maoris 'perhaps less observant of religious worship than formerly'.72 And at the trial of Ratima Jacob in 1883, Ihaia te Awanui, one of the elders of the village, said from the witness-box: 'The Maoris at the pah have been taught about the Bible but they do not take interest in it…. There is a person there who pretends to be a missionary, but no one goes to him'.73

In 1875, a French Marist priest, Francis Yardin, began to work the Kaikoura district from Lower Hutt,74 and it is probably he who spoke to William Rolleston, Minister of Education, about Mangamaunu school in 1881. Fr John Lampila took over the work between 1880 and 1883, and at least one convert was made in 1882, a 30-year-old woman. Kaikoura became a parish in 1883 and Fr Lampila took over, residing page 46there and serving the Pakeha parishioners of Kaikoura as well as the Maoris of Mangamaunu. He was 75 and had worked for about forty years among Maoris in several North Island districts.75 He stayed for five years before returning to France, when secular priests took over the parish. Fr Francis Melu paid occasional visits from the Otaki Maori Mission. In 1885 Paratene Wahaaruhe (one of the boys who survived Te Rauparaha's raid on Omihi) was converted, aged 75, and in the following year Mary Jacob herself and a sister of hers. Her grandfather Ihaia Wahaaruhe (another survivor of Omihi, and half-brother to Paratene) followed in 1887, aged, according to the baptismal record, 70; he and his brother Wi Poharama (aged 62) were baptised on the same day. Apparently 1887 was the crucial year because in that year Keepa te Hina offered his resignation as chairman of the school committee and gave as his reason that all the men and children and the women too had become Catholic.76 The 'pretty little Catholic church' of St Francis that Pope referred to in 1895 was consecrated by Archbishop Redwood in 1890, and Fr Melu, assisted by Paratene who became the church catechist, had campaigned for it for a year or so.

* A few depasturage licences had been issued in the early fifties by the Nelson government before Marlborough had separated from Nelson province.