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


page 156


On their side, the Mangamaunu people, apart from Pene Tahui's letter to Pope, remembered Lawson without bitterness or, apparently, any impression of a serious breach of relations. J. M. Sherrard writes:

Barney Martin, a Maori, living near the Hapuku station, can just remember Lawson although he did not attend the school until the arrival of Lawson's successor. He says that his people often talked about the previous teachers and that he remembers the later teachers very well indeed. But Lawson seems to have made only a slight impression during his short stay. Martin says that there was no great praise for him-nor any feeling of resentment against him.1

Mr Martin died in 1960; he was probably one of the four Martin children who were on the school roll during Lawson's time, but absent for the most part at South Bay.

Nevertheless Lawson was not forgotten. Six months after her arrival at Mangamaunu Mrs Moss wrote to Lawson. The letter is dated 27 November 1910:

You are not forgotten by the Maoris of this pa. Since I came here to teach, six months ago, I have often heard them speak of you & many times I have thought that perhaps you might be interested to hear from Mangamaunu.

Just now the Maoris are having sad times. Since July ten children have died. Consumption is killing the babies & the growing boys and girls. Henry Norton has lost four children. William Poharama has lost one & has three ill, Agnes Norton died yesterday & pretty Dorothy Norton is ill.

All this sickness has made a difference to the school. I have only 21 scholars. They attend well & are very happy. It is a pity they cannot speak Maori as well as English.

Old Mrs Poharama is still alive, her daughter Maria-page 157one of your pupils-is married. William Barnett, commonly known as Billy Barnett, remembers you well. I am living in the queer little school-house. It has lately been mended & additions, much needed, have been made. The tiny garden is gay with flowers & great cairns are in different parts of the large play-ground. They were built years ago with the loose stones which used to lie around.

The mountains are still fairly well covered with snow. We have some gorgeous sunsets and during the last fortnight we have had forty earthquakes, great & small.

The Hapuku river is still unbridged & is swift & deep at times.

I do not quite know how to address this but send it to the "Bulletin" office, hoping that it may reach you, also that you will not think me impertinent in bringing this out-of-the-world place to your mind again.2

One cannot know if Lawson recognised how much of this sad news concerned Ratima's children. Mrs Walsh recalled that Maraia Poharama had married Harry Jacob, Ratima's adopted son. She recalled that Oke-or perhaps Maud-Jacob had married Harry Norton, who had lost four children, and that Mary Jacob had married Wi Poharama, who had lost one and had three ill.*

Lawson at this time was a lonely and dispirited man, who had been imprisoned more than once for defaults in maintenance and tended to brood on his wrongs, to see himself (as he put it seven years later in a letter to George Robertson) as 'a good, kind, proud husband and father & a generous friend-a cruelly wronged and innocent man'.3 As a writer he felt he had exhausted his subject:

Has Beens we who fight the cheerful jim-jams of the Written Out.4

He welcomed Mrs Moss's letter and was disposed to reconsider his memories of Mangamaunu. In an undated letter to Robertson apologising for an incident at his shop on the previous Tuesday, he wrote as an afterthought: 'Had a letter from my Maoris will send you a copy'. The letter ends: 'Will see you Monday 26th December'. The only years in which 26

* Records of Maori births, deaths, and marriages for this time are incomplete, and of Mrs Walsh's memories only that concerning Maraia Poharama and Harry Jacob can be confirmed by the Registrar-General's office.

page 158December fell on a Monday were 1910 and 1921. In December 1921 Lawson was recuperating in a convalescent home and unlikely to call at Angus and Robertson's to cause trouble. A passage on the other side of the page makes the dating more certain.

I have written a big sketch round the letter from my Maoris, and Jimmy Edmund will print it. Mrs Lawson knows-tell her that old Pene Tahui is dead (our old chief and my Chairman of the School Committee. He used to say: "There is always two ways of looking at it, Mr Lawrence (they couldn't pronounce Lawson"

Yours ever Henry Lawson-Henare Lurehanna.5*

James Edmond retired from the Bulletin editorship in 1915, so that this letter was certainly written in December 1910. Lawson was wrong about Pene Tahui, who did not die (of bronchitis, in Christchurch Public Hospital) till 17 November 1920, when he was 70. 6

There is a pencilled draft of the sketch in the Mitchell Library; it is attached by staple to Mrs Moss's letter, and it is editorially marked (by Edmond?) 'No'. It is worth reproducing in full, since it probably represents a second handling of some of the material of the lost 'Native School' sketches. I have edited the manuscript as little as allows fluent comprehension.

The following unexpected letter, coming at a most unexpected time, and after a lapse of many years, brings a flood of memory, also something as of sadness and regret. It brings a grain of comfort and a touch of pride too, because of being remembered so many years by a poor little people, whom, perhaps I understood, after all, instinctively-and who (perhaps) understood me far better than I. thought-or than I did my self. And whom I left, I am now sorry and ashamed to say, in rather a bitter mood. They have had several masters and mistresses since then. The letter speaks for itself, and for my Maories, far better than I can. They have fallen

* 'Henare Lurehanna', written at the top of the page, is tied by a line of pencil to Lawson's signature: there was no room at the bottom of the page for it. I take it as a bad attempt at a Maori trans-phonemisation of his name, perhaps a badly remembered version (since Lawrence would be Rorene and Lawson Rohana).

This sentence lightly cancelled, MS.

page 159on evil times, and a dreader enemy seems to be among* them than any since the days of that bloodthirsty brute Rauparaha:


When I went to take charge of the school, the children used to go all the winter in thin clothes-cheeap flannellette & cotten, and rotten sodden boots. At least they didn't wear the boots outside-theyed carry them down in their hands, as I found out, and put them on in the flax near the S[c]hool. Then they'd sit in those rotten sodden boots through the school hours. Thats how the consumption started. So I told them to leave off boots alltogether. If the school code and the law would have let me I'd have got them back into mats. They were constantly putting up their dusky hands and asking to go out "Please Mr Lawrence.-(they couldn't pronounce "Lawson" for some reason) "May I go out"; and their tails would scarcely have disappeared out the school door, when their noses would appear-looking relieved. This puzzled me till I found they only went out to blow their noses. Consumption coming. But the noses seemed to get better in the absence of boots.

At the beginning of summer they would begin to turn up wit[h] good rig-outs, with strong, new, boots. This was because the whaling season had ended, below the peninsula (Kaikora of blood memory-that they held against Rauparaha) and the men had been paid,

I might have something to say about my Maori children later on.

[Roughly written jottings:] Better arithmatician than Bluff. Back of blackboard Watch a month to catch me on an error.

Suffice for the present that when I went there first They all seemed pretty much alike to me, with troublesome noses for the most part, and rags tied round their ancles where theyd cut themselves in the jungle, but, after a while I noticed all the different charactiristics to be found in a white Bush school-or, in a modified way, in any primitive town or city school. Sarah Barnett,-sister of the Billy of that ilk, mentioned in the letter,-was the M'liss of the school,

* among] upon written above, MS.

page 160with Charley Poharama for a sort of Tom Sawyer, and Billy Barnett as Hucleberry Finn.

Sarah: (Breathlessly indignant) Please Mr Lawrence, Charley Poharama called me a-a-a-halfcask picanniny!"

And Sarah was some shades darker than Charley.

But they believed in a visible devil and his works, and sometimes brought him up as an excuse for absences at school. On account of sickness at home. They'd talk to me frankly about him, and other things & superstitions where the old Maoris wouldnt-because I'd listen to the children and never laugh at them; only* Sarah Barnett declared that the devil** was a plain devil while Charley Poharama held that he was a spotted one, Mr Lawrence. Sarah used to get excited abt that too, in case I'd believe Charlie instead of her. We had Maria Poharama, mentioned in the letter, for a servant for some time.

They seemed to me to learn quicker than white children, and they constantly forgot more quickly too, as I had occasion to know, for they were taken away, on various excuses to the whaling station for weeks at a time.

They the elders, were reckoned as poor-class Maoristhe descendants of the slaves of rauparaha-and looked upon as dirt-and their teacher little better-by the few clannish white families round, whom I looked upon as poor class whites, and with whom I was pretty quickly at feud too.

Now (1) a year or two before, I had travelld in a lining gang, on the telegraph, with five of those Maoris, of whom Norton, who is losing his pretty children, was one, and I got an idea that they were good clean camp mates, very hardworking men, and gentlemen, And I was concidered rangatira in those days and for some years afterwards. Perhaps some of my Maoris consider me rangatira yet. (2)I used at the school to go shooting on holidays with M—, a young Maori of about my age§ He had a double barrelled breach loader, I an old single barrel muzzle loader. He tried to perswade me that he preferred to shoot out of my gun, but I wouldn't borrow his and spoil his sport on

* only written above but cancelled, MS.

** the devil written above it cancelled, MS.

Now (1) written above Some year cancelled, MS.

at the school written above with carets after both used and to; in schoo cancelled, MS.

§ then (after age) cancelled, MS.

wouldn't] woundlt MS.

page 161those transparent terms. But, sometimes going out after school, Id meet him coming home through the flax, and hed hand he his gun, and cartridges politely slipping a couple of fresh shells into the breach before doing so; and he'd hand it to me in a manner that some white gentleman couldn't immitate. Then he'd* take my old gun and carry it home, to leave at the school house. I never noticed anything poor class about young M—.

3 Old H-my chief and chairman of the School Committee, used to say to me, depreciatively, (or to sooth me in one of my frequent outbursts about something that in my opinion had gone wrong in the pah) "There is always two ways of looking at it Mr Lawrence." He had a daughter whom he had in a way forced to marry a Maori she didn't like, and, as a natural consequence, she cleared out with the young Maori she loved. The young couple were persuaded to come back-either by H-or short commons-I dont righ[t]ly remember which. Now old H-took them in, had a mordren whetherboard cottage built and furnished for them, and put them in it, and helped them all he could. He argued that it was all his own fault, because he had made his daughter marry the man she didn't love; and this was his way of making reparation. "There are always two ways of looking at it Mr Lawrence". He had the choice of two ways of looking at it, and the choice of two ways of acting on it, and he chose the one he concided right-and acted on it to the best of his ability. I couldn't§ see anything poor class about his action-but then, they say I always had a crooked way of looking at things.

(4) There was one half Ma[o]ri woman I remember well whose father was a negro from a whaling ship, and first husband a pakeha Maori-said to have been a gentleman toaccordind to her version he was one yet. She had a lot of the kindly, and even sentimental negro blood in her, and was our very good friend-she had lost caste a little I think with the other Maoris. She had a daughter (Maggie) my youngest scholar; a pretty, brunette, a solemn silent dumpling of about 4 (I'd carry Maggie down to the "residence" on cold days, to warm her, and give her dainties, and I remember I never succeeded in getting a word out of her out of school.

* obligingly (after he'd) cancelled, MS.

of] for MS.

two (after had) cancelled, MS.

§ couldn't] counted MS.

page 162though she'd say he[r] ABC and figure glibly enough during school hours). Her mother used to tell Mrs Lawson how her father died. And shed finish up something like this:* "And he laid back down again, and he said** over and over again, 'Take care of little Maggie Nene-Take care of little Maggie'; and he shut his eyes, and two big tears came out and rolled down from under the lids- It would make you so sorry Mrs Lawrence."

She-or another daughter of a dead granny-used to tell Mrs Lawson of a terrified experience of her childhood, when he[r] mother crouched all night hid in the flax, with her and a little brother, while Rauparahas men were burning, murdering and ravishing all round. And the glare, and the howling, and the shrieks….

Now trace back the blood of my Maories to that chief, who with his friends and daught[er]s were enticed aboard the schooner of a black hearted yankee and betrayed into the hands of Rauparaha. He was overpowerd treachereously, bound, and thrown into a cabin, to be reserved for torture, while the rest were murdered. Except his daughter a beautiful Maurio girl, who was reserved for what most men consider a worse fate, and was thrust for the present in to the cabin with her father, and locked in. Now! Maori Chief!§ He struggled to a sitting posture, becconed his daughter to him, spoke to [her] rapidly, while he struggled desperately to get one hand free enough to strangle her-to save her from that worse fate.

Victory! Good night. They gnawed no "poor class" coward's, or slavish bones when the[y] ate you, old man.7

This outline of a sketch or sketches needs some comment. There is the inaccurate reference to the Ngai-tahu as Te Rauparaha's slaves, and an account of the incident of the brig Elizabeth in 1830 when Captain Stewart (British not American), in return for a cargo of flax, carried Te Rauparaha and eighty Ngati-toa warriors to Akaroa on an expedition of

* Something like this concluding partly cancelled, MS.

** said repeated, MS.

Maggie was actually the name of the mother, not of the daughter.

four carets under dash, stars ringed and written above dash, MS.

§ Now! Maori Chief! These words written at the end of the paragraph may have been inserted later and conceived as a sub-heading.

"poor class" written twice and once cancelled, MS.

page 163revenge for the killing of a Ngati-toa chief. There are several versions of this which vary in minor particulars. Thomson's version is that a Ngai-tahu chief Tamaiharanui was invited by Stewart to visit the ship with his wife, son, and daughter and several of his tribe; Te Rauparaha's party killed them all except the chief and his wife and daughter (aged 11 or 12) and then landed and massacred the rest of Tamaiharanui's people. Tamaiharanui was bound hand and foot, but persuaded his wife to strangle their daughter Nga Roimata, and was later tortured to death by Te Rauparaha.8 Shortland's version, from Ngai-tahu sources, is that Tamaiharanui persuaded Nga Roimata to throw herself into the sea and swim ashore, but she was drowned.9 Another Ngai-tahu version is that Tamaiharanui himself strangled his daughter, and threw her body overboard, in order to prevent the Ngati-toa killing her.10 It is probable that Lawson read, rather than heard, this story, in either Stack or Travers, both of which might have been shown to him by Tregear. Stack's version is that Tamaiharanui smothered Nga Roimata with his mat as she slept, in order to save her becoming the wife of an enemy.11 But Stack shows little sympathy for Tamaiharanui, who had been party to the killing of a relative of Te Rauparaha's, Te Pehi. Lawson's version comes closest to that of Travers:

It appears that the unfortunate Tamaiharanui attempted to commit suicide, in consequence of which he was chained in the cabin, but his hands being free, he managed to strangle his daughter, and to push her through one of the after ports, in order to save her from the indignities to which she would be subjected by her ruthless captors …12

Tamaiharanui being Ngai-tahu would have been related to the people of Mangamaunu but there is no evidence that they were descended from him. Ema Turumeke in 1894 told a story of concealing herself and a baby from the Ngati-toa after the raid on Omihi, but this was probably a common experience.13

Certain of Lawson's memories have been more durable than others. The 'better arithmatician' watching to catch the teacher out on an error he had already written of in his 'Fragment of an Autobiography'. The incident of Charlie Poharama calling Sarah Barnett a 'half-cask picanniny' he was to use in page 164'The Kids' in 1913, and it may be a misremembered version of Sarah's complaint about Clifford Renwick, described in his letter to MacCallum. The dispute about the colour of the devil he used also in 'The Kids'.

One notices incidentally a lack of concentration due perhaps to absent-mindedness or drink in certain spelling mistakes: woundlt reproduces all the right letters, but in the wrong order, so (almost) with counted for couldn't, and so with Maurio for Maori, which he has spelt correctly earlier in the manuscript, as if a consciousness of having omitted an o caused its addition at the end of the word.

Most noticeable, in spite of the kindliness of memory, and the repenting of the bitter mood in which he left Mangamaunu, is the persistence of old attitudes: 'my Maoris'; the hope that they think of him as 'rangatira'; the need for an antagonist, so that, forgetting apparently that it was he who had subtitled his story 'A Sketch of Poor-Class Maoris' he angles this draft as a defence of them against the local Europeans who had called them 'poor-class'.

But that Lawson himself had doubts about the genuineness of his revised attitudes is apparent from this undated letter to Edmond, which I take to refer to the sketch written after reading Mrs Moss's letter:

Dear Edmund,

Please tell me if this will make a sketch, article, or paragraph, or is it only Drivel. Read letter attached at the end. If all fales you might send me down a Bob.

Yours H.L.14

There is a pathetic self-centredness in some of the memories—the knowing better than the 'school code' about the children's clothing, the hope that he is still considered 'rangatira', the consciousness of appreciating humour where others couldn't—'but then, they say I always had a crooked way of looking at things'. There is a similar self-centredness in another memory reported by J. McCausland who talked with him at Leeton in 1916.

His memories of Maoriland were pleasant ones, he assured me…. He had a good word for the Maories and considered them the finest type of coloured races extant. We could take page 165a pattern from some of their customs he said. When a Maori takes a final view of his Hapu, they have a much more felicitous way of speeding him on that great expedition which has never been revealed to us. A visit to a Tangi is very interesting said Lawson. That's the sort of funeral I'd like. Music in the vanguard and a canteen in the rear and impulsively he strode to the table and took up his pen. "By jove said he I'll write a poem on that, "music in the vanguard and a canteen in the rear, he repeated, and if the cortege is wanting in elegance it will be neither here nor there". It dawned on me that he had written similar sentiments in his "Jolly Dead March".15

'The Jolly Dead March' had appeared in the Bulletin of 11 December 1897 and might have been written in Mangamaunu. According to William Wood the poem refers to Bourke experience: 'His verses about the Brass band at the funeral was another Bourke experience. The band would play the deceased to the grave with dead marches and on the way back to town would give more lively airs'.16

Colin Roderick ascribes the poem to Mangamaunu.17 If the poem was inspired by a tangi it shows both a misunderstanding of the meaning of a tangi (a very mournful occasion) and a predilection to using experience as material for fantasy of self-dramatisation.

According to Will Lawson, Henry lying in the Coast hospital in 1921 received a long telegram from the Maoris of Mangamaunu 'sending their love and praying for his early recovery. That did him a lot of good-it made him happy'.18 Will Lawson's informant, of course, was Bertha;19 and at the time of Lawson's illness a reconciliation with Bertha had been made by Henry's friends, so that she would have heard from him.20 If there was such a telegram it must have arrived later than Lawson's note in the Bulletin of 22 September in which he names and thanks well-wishers and does not mention any Maoris, or his poem of two months later in which he refers to unanswered messages of goodwill and still does not refer to Maoris.21 But probably Mangamaunu had not then heard of his illness. A Sydney cablegram appeared in New Zealand newspapers on 1 December 1921 reporting that the Federal Government had increased Lawson's pension from the Men of Letters Fund from £1 to £3 weekly; the cable added: 'Mr Law-page 166son is recovering from a serious illness'. This cable appeared in the Lyttelton Times, the Press, and the Dominion, all of which could have circulated in the Kaikoura district. The Marlborough Express does not carry the cable, and there are no files of the Kaikoura Star for the year concerned. Mrs Walsh was not in Mangamaunu at this time. Presumably the telegram was addressed to Lawson at the Bulletin office. There is some doubt as to whether Lawson was still in hospital at this time. Denton Prout says he did not leave till 3 January 1922; the Sydney Morning Herald of 21 October 1921 reports that he had recovered sufficiently to leave the Coast hospital at Little Bay, and on 27 September Lawson gave his address as 'Denistone House' Convalescent Hospital, Eastwood.22 Prout tells of a visit to the Blue Mountains at Christmas. I have not been able to find the telegram or any comment Lawson might have made about it.

Late in the same year as Lawson died, Mangamaunu School caught fire one weekend when the teacher was in Kaikoura. It was completely destroyed and whatever school records (logbooks, rolls, workbooks, etc.) might have survived the tidying up of Lawson's successors were destroyed. The local Maoris suspected, according to Mr Sherrard, that settlers a couple of miles north along the coast were responsible; they had been agitating for some time for the shifting of the school nearer their homes.23 A new school was built by the Canterbury Education Board, sited two miles north of the old school, and opened in April 1923 with Eric T. Baas as master. Mangamaunu Native School officially closed in the March quarter of 1923 with a roll of twelve. Another school south of the Hapuku had been opened for the children of settlers in 1905.24

On 26 January 1925 Mr Baas replied to a request for information on Lawson from J. F. Thomas. The memories are becoming less distinct, the information less accurate:

Lawson was here for only a short time I think, but I can not tell you the date of his stay here, with any certainty. In the district however are several old pupils of his whose children I am teaching. Mrs James Norton and Mr Harry Jacobs both remember Lawson if they were not taught by him….

About Lawson I have been able to ascertain very little. That he taught here and was subsequently deprived of his posi-page 167tion is quite well known, as also is the fact that he wrote verse. Evidently too he was fond of sport but I have come across no reminiscences of him and there are no records of him in the district….

I have been told that Mrs Lawson was here and a child was born in the district but this information is by no means reliable.25

Harry Jacob was the adopted son of Ratima's second marriage, and was not taught by Lawson. His son was unable to give me more information than that he had heard his mother say that Lawson taught at the school. Mary Jacob, I am told, died years ago, though I have not been able to trace the entry of her death; Maraia Poharama (Mrs Harry Jacob) died of tuberculosis in 1939. I have not found any surviving ex-pupils besides Mrs Walsh.

There are few Maoris living at Mangamaunu now and none at the old kainga. The Maori community began to break up in the 1930s; railway construction camps in the district after 1936 hastened its disintegration.26 J. M. Sherrard, visiting the site of the village in 1965, found no remains of the settlement on the flat; the huts of the old settlement on the terrace were in disrepair with sheep wandering through them; the church had several holes in the walls and sheep had fouled the floor. The old teacher's residence, extended and altered, still stands; it was occupied till his death in 1959 by Hoani Terewiti Jacob, son of Ratima and brother of Mary Jacob, and model of the 'brother or someone' that Lawson's teacher once chased away from it.

page 168