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The Maoris of the South Island

Chapter V — The Decline of the Maori

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Chapter V
The Decline of the Maori

In the very early days the Maori population of the South Island must have been considerable. What are the reasons for the decline? They are mainly associated with factors arising from their contact with the pakeha. As so frequently happens when a new people settles among a primitive race, two great epidemics appear.1 To the Maori, influenza and measles were unknown, and he had no powers of resistance. The first great epidemic was in 1835. Fever was a new experience to him, and the Maori, hot with fever, plunged into the sea to cool himself. The results were disastrous. The death rate was serious, and in many cases the people died as they stood. Even in later years skeletons have been found far from their kaikas, lying one across another indicating the suddenness of the end. In 1836, the Sydney Packet arrived at Otakou with a few influenza cases on board. Immediately the disease attacked the Maori, and the people died in hundreds, reducing the population to an alarming degree. Venereal diseases took their sad toll. These diseases appeared with the whaling crews, and came as a new factor in the life of the Maori. The chief Hoani Weteri Korako complained bitterly of the diseases brought by the Pakeha. When Tuhawaiki made his historic speech to the pakeha purchasers of Maori lands, he sadly gazed upon their burial grounds and upon the quickly dwindling people of the tribe. Recognising that the decline was mainly due to the white man's diseases and “firewater,” he said: “We were once a numerous people. Our parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, children, lie around us. We are but a poor remnant … We are dotted in families, few and far between, where formerly we lived as tribes … We had a worse enemy than Te Rauparaha, and page 57 that was the visit of the pakeha with his drink and disease. You think us very corrupted, but the very scum of Port Jackson shipped as whalers or landed as sealers on this coast. They brought us new plagues, unknown to our fathers, till our people melted away.”1

What an indictment!

Mr. Watkin wrote on July 13th, 1840: “Had an interesting conversation with Huruhuru, an intelligent native and our nearest neighbour, respecting the former state of New Zealand, its former populousness, and the present fewness of its inhabitants. This is a sorrowful trait in its history. Places formerly thickly populated have not now a single inhabitant (tribal war was one cause). The race is now so low in numbers that I fear it will not rally, but that others will come and take their place and nation.”

On March 8th, 1841, whe wrote: “It is my fixed opinion that they will become extinct… Deaths are numerous, births are few. Their annihilation is desired by some unprincipled persons who live among them.”

On July 5th, 1842, he wrote: “The blessings which civilised man has conferred upon the people are easily reckoned up, not so easily the evils he has inflicted—is inflicting. Before they were visited by ships, they tell me that disease was rare among them; often since then it has been rife. Few died young, except I suppose such as perished by infanticide; now few live to be old.”

The Rev. Charles Creed, Watkin's successor, reported in his journal: “This tribe is fast disappearing, so many of all ages, and in every place are rapidly dying… The people dying so fast greatly affects me.”

The adoption of European clothing was another cause for the decline. The Maoris wore heavy European clothing in hot weather, then suddenly cast it aside and returned to their native dress, with evil results. Their physique became weakened by pneumonia, bronchitis and many other ailments. Such influences caused rapid deterioration and an alarming decline.

1 Manuscript of Dr. H. Densem.

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The decline of the Maori population has in recent years been arrested. Sir Peter Buck, Professor of Anthropology, in his valuable book The Coming of the Maori, published in 1949, gives facts and figures. He says (p. 414) that the lowest ebb in 1871 was stated to be 37,520, but, he says, this was too low. In 1896 the figures are 43,113. In 1936 the census revealed the rise to 82,326, and for 1942–3 the numbers were 96,437. The death rate is higher than the European rate, but the birth rate is over double that of the European with a corresponding higher rate of natural increase. The rate per 1,000 of population is as follows:
Natural increase:9.8429.18

The figures include persons of mixed blood who regard themselves as Maoris. The theory of extinction is not now correct. The marked improvement in the health of the Maori people is largely due to the efforts of Sir Maui Pomare who, as Minister of Health, did much to beter the hygienic conditions of his own race. Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) also did much valuable research work. After the first World War he was appointed Director of Maori Hygiene. When he left New Zealand the work was continued by Dr. E. P. Ellison (Erihana) who is still actively engaged in health matters.

It is probable that Captain Cook and his party on the Endeavour were the first Europeans to view the coastline of the Otakou Peninsula. In February 1770 Cook passed by Pukekura, known today as Taiaroa Head, and named Cape Saunders after his friend, Admiral Charles Saunders. He apparently saw the entrance to the Otakou Harbour and also Wickliffe Bay and wrote in his journal: “One to four leagues north of the Cape the shore seemed to form two or three bays, wherein their appeared to be anchorage and shelter from S.W., Westerly and N.W. winds.” Cook noted Saddle Hill (Makamaka) and wrote “There is a remarkable saddle Hill lying near the shore, three or four leagues S.W. of the Cape (Saunders).”

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Although Cook did not land on the Otakou Peninsula he certainly bestowed a great benefit upon the Maori people by introducing the use of the potato, which he planted in the northern part of the South Island, and which appeared early in the Otakou district. Watkin states that the old chief of Wai-kouaiti (Korako) remembered the time of Captain Cook's visit and his beneficent gift of the potato. The useful vegetable proved not only good for the Maori but also for the pakeha whalers of the early days.

After Cook's time Otakou may have been visited by stray ships, but the first recorded visit was that of Captain Fowler in the Matilda in 1813. Captain Fowler was obliged to take shelter and refit his ship which was much damaged due to violent storms. He was well received by the Maori people and their chief, whom they called Papui, proved himself a very hospitable host. The ship's rigging was repaired with ropes made by the natives, and the ship's stores were replenished with fish, potatoes and fresh water. At the next place of call the Matilda met with disaster. In the south, probably Port Molyneux, some of the crew deserted, and quite a few were murdered by the Maoris, no doubt due to their having broken the law of tapu. One of the crew, a lascar, was found four years later living at Otakou.

The next story is that of the visit of the sealer Sophia under the command of Captain Kelly in December, 1817. Otakou was known to the sailors as Port Daniel and Port Oxley. Captain Kelly anchored his ship just inside the Otakou Harbour, off the main kaika, Te Ruatitiko, facing the Rauone Beach. At once the captain made friends with the Maori people and all seemed to be favourable. Next day, with a few sailors he proceeded outside the heads to Whare-akeake now known as Murdering Beach, where he traded with the people for potatoes. He found the people unfriendly, and a lascar, formerly of the Matilda, who was living with the natives, tried to warn the visitors of their danger. One of the sailors was recognised by a native as the man who had, some years previously, stolen a dried head from the Maoris at Aparima and, according to Maori law, utu was demanded.

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Suddenly there was a commotion, and a fierce attack was made upon the sailors and several were killed. Kelly and the survivors rushed to their boat and returned to their vessel in the Otakou Harbour and found it swarming with excited natives. Apparently they had heard of the affray, and an attempt was being made to take the ship. The infuriated Maoris, led by their chief Karaka, found themselves no match for the sailors with their knives and cutlasses, and they could only escape extinction by jumping overboard.

The next day another attempt was made to capture the vessel, but it ended in failure. Kelly immediately manned two boats and cut up the canoes on the beach. On December 26th an armed party landed and set fire to the kaika and it was reported that six hundred whares were destroyed.1 On the 27th, at daylight, Kelly and his party left for the Chatham Islands, but before doing so a volley of musketry was fired at the natives on the beach.

Much of the trouble between the Maori people and visiting sailors and traders in the various parts of New Zealand in those early days was due to the unscrupulous conduct of many of the pakehas. Some of these men violated Maori customs, desecrated their burial grounds, and invaded the sanctity of their home life. Can we wonder that the Maori people demanded utu?

Another visitor appeared in 1826, Captain Herd, in command of the Rosanna, who, with a company of emigrants for a proposed settlement at the Thames, called at Otakou. He described the port as “an inlet, or arm of the sea, running up about nine miles S.S.W., making a peninsula of the land on which is Cape Saunders, bearing from the said Cape N.B.W. by compass, about two leagues distant. This is a well-sheltered harbour, with a bar across the entrance, having three and a half fathoms over it at low water from seven to nine fathoms deep inside…” After 1826 various sealing

1 Most historians regard the statement “600 whares” as an exaggerated estimate. Others question whether the whares destroyed were situated at Otakou or at Murdering Beach. The Maori tradition places the scene at Otakou which seems the more probable.

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and whaling vessels called at Otakou for food and to refit.

The Maori people were keen traders, but all exchange was done by barter. For a needle and a few pieces of thread they would give a kit of potatoes of about fifty pounds weight. For a gun or blanket they would give at least twenty kits of potatoes, each kit containing fifty pounds. A usual mode of barter was for the Maoris to place their pigs and potatoes in a line on Rauone Beach and then go away. The ship's captain and officers would then place a stick of tobacco on the first pig, some trinkets and beads in the kit of potatoes, a sailor's sheath knife on the next pig, and so on alternately, and then would stand at a distance and wait for the result. After this the Maoris would return and, if satisfied with the bargain, they would collect the tobacco, trinkets, knives, garments or whatever was placed there and go away well pleased with the transaction. The ship's officers would then come and collect the pigs and potatoes, and return to their ship.

In the late twenties or early thirties shore whaling stations were established along the coast. In 1829 Captain Peter Williams of Sydney established the first whaling station at Preservation Inlet.

In 1831 Weller Brothers, of Sydney, decided to establish a station at Otakou, and began business the following year. The venture proved to be a great success, and Otakou became the largest and most profitable station on the coast. Mr. R. McNab, in his useful book Murihiku has stated that Weller Bros. purchased the Lucy Ann, a barque of 212 tons, to trade between Australia and New Zealand. Her first cargo to Otakou from Australia consisted of six cases of muskets, ten barrels and one hundred and four half-barrels of gunpowder, one case of axes, two iron boilers, five casks of beef, one case whaling gear, one case whaling line, one pipe of gin, two puncheons of rum, five casks of tobacco and stores.

Unfortunately, in April, 1832, a disastrous fire broke out on the whaling establishment, and many of the buildings were destroyed, including the bulk of the gunpowder. This was a great set-back to the station.

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In May of the same year Mr. George Weller arrived at Otakou; but not till November, 1833, is there any record of whale oil arriving at Sydney. On that date the Lucy Ann, in command of Captain W. North, discharged one hundred and thirty tons of oil, seven tons of whalebone, one ton of flax, eight tons of potatoes and one cask of seal skins.

At a later date the Lucy Ann arrived at Sydney with much cargo which included ten logs of timber, thirteen casks of whale oil, six cwt. of whalebone, two casks of seal skins, three tons of flax, twenty-two barrels of salt fish and two tons of potatoes, consigned to George Weller.

The main landing place at Otakou was at Black Rock, known to the Maori as Te Umukuri (the oven that cooked the dog). On or near this spot the whalers erected their sheds and try pots. There also were the blacksmith's shop, cooperage and carpenter's establishment. Repairing and painting was a daily task. The little sandy beach between the rock and the road to the heads was used for beaching the boats. Maori women were there making flax baskets and kits and dressing flax. The captured whales were towed to the jetty and cut up for extraction of oil. There were employed at Wellers' at one time about one hundred men, and twelve boats were in use. In those early years as many as eleven whalers are said to have been seen at one time in the harbour.

In 1834 things did not go too well with Weller Bros. and their employees. The story is told by Captain Anglem and is given by McNab in his book Murihiku. While the Lucy Ann was at Otakou a war party of Maori warriors arrived from Cloudy Bay (about five hundred strong) where they had been on an expedition against Te Rauparaha and his men. As they returned south they plundered the whaling stations on their track. The report reads: “They treated the residents with much insolence, and struck Mr. Weller repeatedly … they took the pipes out of the servants' mouths, and went into the houses and broke open the boxes, taking whatever they thought proper for them. After this, about half of them left Otakou for the purpose of going, as they page 63 said, to Port Bunn (the establishment of George Bunn and Co.) which they did. The rest remained behind, and while there a child belonging to one of the chiefs died, which, under some superstitious impression, they attributed to the visit of the Lucy Ann. In consequence of this they resolved to take the vessel and assassinate Mr. Weller, Captain Hayward, Captain Anglem and the rest of the Europeans. On going ashore for a raft of oil, Captain Hayward was informed, by one of the native boys, of the intentions of the natives to murder them all and take the ship. Captain Anglem immediately left off work, and before daylight next morning the Lucy Ann was in a state of defence. The natives soon found that the Europeans were acquainted with their intentions, and gave up the idea of taking the vessel for that time. Captain Anglem, previous to his departure, for the better security of the lives of the residents at Otago and its neighbourhood, persuaded some of the chiefs on board, and having got them below, set sail for Sydney in the most secret manner, and kept the natives as hostages for the good conduct of their tribe during the absence of the Lucy Ann. The utmost consternation is felt about this part of New Zealand by the labourers belonging to those gentlemen who are residing near Otago and very little work can be done by them.”

The following letter, said to have been written by Captain Hayward and published in the Sydney Herald is more serious: “Otago, N.Z., September 28, 1834. The schooner Joseph Weller arrived on the 21st September, all safe, I believe. Through her timely arrival our lives have obtained a respite of a few weeks, that is to say, as soon as the Lucy Ann shall arrive, and the two chiefs which went up in her shall return. They make no hesitation in telling us that they will murder us all, and divide our property among them, each man having made his selection. Since their return from Cloudy Bay, they have been so much emboldened by their success in plundering the white people there, and they take from us whatever suits their fancy, such as our clothing, and food off our very plates; help themselves to oil, in such page 64 quantities as they require, from our pots. They say white people are afraid of them, for great numbers of vessels have been taken and plundered by them, and white men killed, and Europeans dare not come and punish them for so doing; and if they did come they (the natives) would all run into the bush, where they would be enabled to kill all the Europeans; but white men do not know how to fight with a New Zealander. We asked them why they wished to kill us. They answer with as much indifference as a butcher would do, that it was necessary for their safety, for then ‘no-one would know what would become of us.’ We are under constant apprehension of being burnt in our beds every night; and of the natives robbing and shooting those that remain, as they attempt to escape. Once or twice Tobooca (Te Whakataupuka)1, who is one of the worst disposed chiefs, and a horrid cannibal, came up with his mob with that intention, armed, but was persuaded to desist by the relatives of those chiefs in Sydney, until the arrival of the Lucy Ann; when after some consultation, they departed, having first endeavoured to provoke me to quarrel. However, a fire they would have, and they burnt down a native's and a European's house.

“The schooner Joseph Weller, having brought the news that two ships of war were coming to New Zealand to seek revenge for the murder of the people of the Harriet, surprised them a little but when they heard the small number of men (nearly sixty) they laughed at the idea. Notwithstanding, that very circumstance has saved the Joseph Weller from being taken, and all of us from being massacred, the night after her arrival. Had those chiefs come down that went up to Sydney in the Lucy Ann, all would now have been over with us, for as soon as it became dark a great number of strangers crowded on board … when they began an indiscriminate plunder—some opening the hatches and going below—others taking whatever they could lay their hands

1 Te Whakataupuka belonged to the far south. He was the uncle of Tuhawaiki.

page 65 upon, but were once more stopped by the relations of the chiefs in Sydney; so you see everything is got ready for an immediate attack, and God only knows what our fates will be. We put great hopes in the statements which have appeared in the Sydney papers, that two men-of-war were on the coast, and in all probability they will visit this place; if they do not come here after having told the natives they would, and seek revenge if they should kill us, our fates will then be certain. However, we are all prepared for the worst, and we are determined to die like men and not give up the ghost without a struggle. We are all well armed, and are determined to sell our lives are dearly as possible. We have petitioned the Governor for assistance, but I am fearful that it will arrive too late to rescue us from destruction. If you should get this letter, send down another vessel, well armed, with the Lucy Ann. I have only landed part of the goods from the schooner; the remainder I return, and have despatched Mr. Snowden, in hope that he may arrive in time to make arrangements for sending down two vessels to bring up all our property, as the whole of us intend to abandon the place should our lives be spared.”

The cause of the trouble seems to have been the fear of European aggression. Later on things were much more settled and Mr. Edward Weller made up his mind to remain at Otakou. It was on this account it is believed that Edward Weller married Paparu, the daughter of the chief Taiaroa. This would help to facilitate matters and bring about a more friendly feeling between Maori and pakeha. Upon the death of Paparu, Edward Weller married, by Maori custom, Nikuru, a chief's daughter. The descendants of both wives are living today.

The whaling business was now very profitable and the men employed could have become wealthy if they had been economical, but many of them “wasted their substance in riotous living.”

Weller Bros. reported that up to 1835 their station had produced eight hundred tons of oil and thirty-seven and a half tons of whalebone which were regarded as good and page 66 profitable returns; a whole whale being worth between £200 and £300, good for those days.

Towards the close of 1835, Joseph Weller, one of the partners in the station, died of consumption, and his body preserved in a puncheon of rum, was taken to Sydney on the barque Susannah, which arrived at that port on the 27th September, and reported that measles had broken out among the Maoris of Otakou.

At the end of 1839 and the beginning of 1840 whales were less numerous, and from January to July there was not a single catch. The first whale was caught on the 8th July in 1840. The decline was due to the increase of shipping which prevented these monsters of the deep from coming to these disturbed waters. They came from the cold Antarctic to the warmer climate of the bays and inlets of New Zealand for the purpose of calving and feeding their young. There was also an indiscriminate slaughter, and when a mother whale was killed her calf died. They were so harassed and galled that they sought places of shelter elsewhere to mature their young. Weller Bros. closed down in 1840 and Edward Weller left for Sydney.

There were dubious diversions at Otakou in those exciting days. The brig Highlander called at the Heads in 1840 and left no good impression. Of the crew of forty men, it is recorded that thirty-nine of them were convicts. In a drunken brawl they quarrelled with the settlers and set fire to their houses. Hunter's store was plundered and burned down. Much relief was felt when this lawless gang was far out to sea.

One of the best known whalers in those early days was William Isaac Haberfield who came to Otakou on the Micmac in 1836, and on the day he arrived (March 17th) he was one of a boat's crew that killed two whales in the harbour. Haberfield signed on with Weller Bros., who had twelve ships engaged in the whaling trade. He had great respect for George and Edward Weller, and said that they were not land grabbers and did not own any land in New Zealand; they were just traders and stuck to their business. Their store page 67 was always well stocked and they sold their goods at the cheapest rate. There were only three white women, wives of workmen at the station—Mrs. Brinn, Mrs. Garrett and Mrs. Flood. There was a fortified pa at the Heads. He reported that he had seen as many as twelve large double canoes in the harbour at once … He had seen as many as twenty canoes go out in the morning fishing for barracouta. “As to drink,” he said, “the Maoris would not take it.” It was “waipiro or waipirau” (stinking or rotten water). They had slaves, but in the Mission days they were free.1

When his contract with Wellers expired, Haberfield engaged himself to the whaling industry at Moeraki owned by Hughes, Thompson and Sivatt. After a strenuous life he lived in retirement at Moeraki and in his declining years he was cared for by his Maori wife, Araki, to whom he was married by the Rev. Charles Creed.

After Weller Bros. had closed down their station in 1840, many ships visited Otakou for repairs and supplies. A good trade was carried on in timber, potatoes, fish and pigs. The pigs were caught on the hill slopes of what are now known as Mornington, Roslyn and Maori Hill. They were caught, killed and some were salted and put in barrels; and in addition there was fresh pork, and all was taken by boat to the Otakou Heads and Kaika. In this activity Maori and pakeha worked in friendly co-operation.

Dr. Monro (later Sir David Monro, speaker in the New Zealand House of Representatives), visited Otakou in 1844 and wrote regarding the whaling station: “Some years ago there was a whaling station at Otago belonging to a mercan-tile house in Sydney, but it has been abandoned. Great numbers of bones of whales strewed about on the beach and a sea wall built entirely of their heads attest that a considerable number must have been killed. The weather while we lay in Otago, was most beautiful. The sky, a great part of the time, was without a cloud, and not a breeze ruffled the

1 Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume 4, and Evening Star, April 1948.

page 68 surface of the water, which reflected the surrounding wooded slopes, and every sea-bird that floated upon it, with mirror-like accuracy. For some hours after sunrise, the woods resounded with the rich and infinitely varied notes of thousands of tuis and other songsters. I never heard anything like it before in any part of New Zealand. It completely agreed with Captain Cook's description of the music of the wooded banks of Queen Charlotte Sound.” He notes that “the white residents, generally speaking, were living in good substantial cottages, and cultivating to a small extent. The potatoes grown by them are of excellent quality. I saw also some good barley … The land which they have cultivated is bush land, lightly timbered, upon rather steep slopes.”1

The above gives a good idea of how Otakou appeared four years before the arrival of the Scottish settlers.

The Weller Bros. had built a store near the whaling station and when they ceased business, their manager, Mr. Octavius Harwood, took over the concern. The premises had outhouses attached to a large stock yard. There was also a fine orchard, flower and vegetable garden, and the whole presented an attractive scene.

Mr. Tuckett, surveyor, visited the locality in 1844, in the discharge of his duties and noted that Mr. Harwood “conducts a store and tavern; he has a good house and a flowery garden … and that the Europeans residing there have enclosures of cultivated land. I have not seen elsewhere in New Zealand such fine potatoes … They exceeded all other picked samples.”

A revival of the whaling trade took place in 1872 when Charles Bradshaw established a two-boat station at Otakou. It was again a profitable business and the men employed shared the profits. Again Black Rock (Te Umukuri) became a hive of industry and the try-pots treated the blubber from the whales. Miss A. Karetai, senior, still living, informed the present writer that it was a common sight to see men

1 Contributions to the Early History of New Zealand, Dr. T. M. Hocken, p. 244

page 69 waist deep in a whale, cutting up the blubber, and the odour polluted the air as in former days.

A notable person in those later whaling days was Richard Burns (Riki Paana). He was born at Moeraki and came to Otakou when he was about twenty years of age. He joined the whaling party and continued with them until they ceased to function. The men in the boats received one share of the profits of a catch, the harpooner received one and a quarter shares, the man who killed the whale was allotted one and a half shares, while one share went to the boat. This was profitable seeing that a whale was worth between £200 and £300.

Richard Burns died at Lower Portobello on October 6th, 1945, in his 99th year. He was the last of the oldwhalers. The funeral was conducted by the present writer.

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The distinguished navigator, Dumont D'Urville, commander of the French discovery ships Astrolabe and Zelee, arrived at Otakou on March 30th, 1840. This navigator was the discoverer of the French Pass and D'Urville Island in Cook Strait. He found at anchor in the Otakou Harbour the French whaler Havre, commanded by Captain Privat. There were also in port one British and two American ships. D'Urville landed his officers and carried out scientific research work. He surveyed the bay, took soundings and explored the harbour as far south as where Dunedin is situated today. The visitors beheld two main villages in the Otakou neighbourhood, one at Ruatitiko (Harrington Point) facing Rauone Beach, and another at Tahakopa near the Black Rock and extending towards Omate. D'Urville does not give a flattering account of the conditions which prevailed. There were two taverns which were frequented by the whalers and sailors in the Bay. The owners of the said taverns did a flourishing business. They sold, “at a high figure,” the vilest of liquor. There were potato plots and vegetable gardens which produced cabbages, lettuce and turnips. The work was done chiefly by Maori women, though “at times payment in liquor” would induce a man to do a bit of work. D'Urville states page 70 that the “Maoris were far from having gained from their contact with the sailors.” On April 3rd, under the direction of a local pilot, D'Urville's ships crossed the bar and sailed for Akaroa.

The account of the early whaling stations and of the visit of Captain D'Urville has been given at some length to show the changing conditions in which the Maori people of Otakou lived. Many whaling stations were established along the coast of Otago and Southland, and it was inevitable that there should be an enormous change in the manner of life of the Southern Maori.

There were many fine men amongst the early whaling crews, but it was unfortunate the Maori should have been introduced into a society which was, at best, not typical of what the white man had to offer. As we have seen, the new era was ushered in with diseases which ravaged the native population. Their standards of life and ways of thinking suffered a radical change, the stabilising law of tapu had gone, and there was not foothold for these bewildered people. It is no wonder that in 1840 D'Urville formed such a poor opinion of them.

It would have been a sad ending to this account of the decline of such a fine race, had it not been for the new influence which was brought to bear upon them when the first Christian missionaries took up their work in the South Island. Devoted men such as the Revs. Watkin, Creed, Ironside, Riemenschneider, Wohlers and Kirk did not spare themselves, and to their credit, and to the credit of the Maoris themselves, a new spirit rose amongst the people. The population had declined sadly, and this could not be restored, but the Christian faith had revitalised the lives of the people.

It provided a faith which did not grow dim during succeeding years, and still shines brightly in the lives of men and women who have lost the ancient gods but found a new way of life which embraced and transcended the best elements of their earlier spiritual aspirations.