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The Long White Cloud

Chapter V — No Man's Land

page 87

Chapter V
No Man's Land

The wild justice of revenge.

THE Maori told Cook that, years before the Endeavour first entered Poverty Bay, a ship had visited the northern side of Cook's Strait and stayed there some time, and that a half-caste son of the captain was still living. In one of his later voyages the navigator was informed that a European vessel had lately been wrecked near that part of the country, and that the crew, who reached the shore, had all been clubbed after a desperate resistance. It is likely enough that many a roving mariner who touched at the islands never informed the world of his doings, and had, indeed, sometimes excellent reasons for secrecy. Still, for many years after the misadventure of Marion du Fresne, the more prudent Pacific skippers gave New Zealand a wide berth. When D'Entrecasteaux, the French explorer, in his voyage in search of the ill-fated La Perouse, lay off the coast in 1793, he would not even let a naturalist, who was on one of his frigates, land to have a glimpse of the novel flora of the wild and unknown land. Captain Vancouver, in 1791, took shelter in Dusky Bay, in the sounds of the South Island. Cook had named an unsurveyed part of that region Nobody-Knows-What. Vancouver surveyed it and gave it its present name, Somebody-Knows-What. But the chief act for which his name is noted in New Zealand history is his connection with the carrying off of two young Maori—a chief and a priest—to teach the convicts of the Norfolk Island penal settlement how to dress flax. Vancouver had been asked by the Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island to induce two Maori to make the voyage. He therefore sent an officer in a Government storeship to New Zealand, whose notion of inducement page 88 was to seize the first Maori he could lay hands on. The two captives, it may be mentioned, scornfully refused to admit any knowledge of the “woman's work” of flax-dressing. Soothed by Lieutenant-Governor King, they were safely restored by him to their people loaded with presents. When in Norfolk Island, one of them, at King's request, drew a map of New Zealand, which is of interest as showing how very little of his country a Maori of average intelligence then knew. Of even more interest to us is it to remember that the kindly Lieutenant-Governor's superior officer censured him for wasting time—ten whole days—in taking two savages back to their homes.

For two generations after Cook the English Government paid no attention to the new-found land. What with losing America, and fighting the French, it had its hands full. It colonized Australia with convicts—and found it a costly and dubious experiment. The Government was well satisfied to ignore New Zealand. But adventurous English spirits were not. The islands ceased to be inaccessible when Sydney became an English port, from which ships could with a fair wind make the Bay of Islands in eight or ten days. In the seas round New Zealand were found the whale and the fur-seal. The Maori might be cannibals, but they were eager to trade. In their forests grew trees capable of supplying first-class masts and spars. Strange weapons, ornaments, and cloaks were offered by the savages, as well as food and the dressed fibre of the native flax. An axe worth ten shillings would buy three spars worth ten pounds in Sydney. A tenpenny nail would purchase a large fish. A musket and a little powder and lead were worth a ton of scraped flax. Baskets of potatoes would be brought down and ranged on the sea-beach three deep. The white trader would then stretch out enough calico to cover them. The strip was their price. The Maori loved the higgling of the market, and would enjoy nothing better than to spend half a day over bartering away a single pig. Moreover, a peculiar and profitable, if ghastly, trade sprang up in tattooed heads. A well-preserved specimen fetched as much as twenty pounds, and a man “with a good head on his shoulders” was consequently worth that sum to anyone who could kill him. Contracts for the sale of heads of men page 89 still living are said to have been entered into between chiefs and traders, and the heads to have been duly delivered “as per agreement.” Hitherto hung up as trophies of victory in the pa, these relics of battle were quickly turned to account, at first for iron, then for muskets, powder, and lead. When the natural supply of heads of slain enemies ran short, slaves, who had hitherto never been allowed the aristocratic privilege and dignity of being tattooed, had their faces prepared for the market. Sometimes, it is recorded, a slave, after months of painful preparation, had the audacity to run away with his own head before the day of sale and decapitation. Astute vendors occasionally tried the more merciful plan of tattooing “plain” heads after death in ordinary course of battle. This was a species of fraud, as the lines soon became indistinct. Such heads have often been indignantly pointed at by enthusiastic connoisseurs. Head-sellers at times would come forward in the most unlikely places. Commodore Wilkes, when exploring in the American Vincennes, bought two heads from the steward of a missionary brig. It was missionary effort, however, which at length killed the traffic, and the art of tattooing along with it. Moved thereby, Governor Darling issued at Sydney, in 1831, proclamations imposing a fine of forty pounds upon anyone convicted of head-trading, coupled with the exposure of the offender's name. Moreover, he took active steps to enforce the prohibition. When Charles Darwin visited the mission station near the Bay of Islands in 1835, the missionaries confessed to him that they had grown so accustomed to associate tattooing with rank and dignity—had so absorbed the Maori social code relating thereto—that an unmarked face seemed to them vulgar and mean. Nevertheless, their influence led the way in discountenancing the art, and it has so entirely died out that there is probably not a completely tattooed Maori head on living shoulders to-day.

Cook had found the Maori still in the Stone Age. They were far too intelligent to stay there for a day after the use of metals had been demonstrated to them. Wits much less acute than a Maori's would appreciate the difference between hacking at hardwood trees with a jade tomahawk and cutting them down with a European axe. So New Zealand's shores page 90 became, very early in this century, the favourite haunt of whalers, sealers, and nondescript trading schooners. Deserters and shipwrecked seamen were adopted by the tribes. An occasional runaway convict from Australia added spice to the mixture.

The lot of these unacknowledged and unofficial pioneers of our race was chequered. Some castaways were promptly knocked on the head and eaten. Some suffered in slavery. In 1815 two pale, wretched-looking men, naked save for flax mats tied round their waists, threw themselves on the protection of the captain of the Active, then lying in the Bay of Islands. It appeared that both had been convicts who had got away from Sydney as stowaways in a ship bound for New Zealand, the captain of which, on arrival, had handed them over to the missionaries to be returned to New South Wales. The men, however, ran away into the country, believing that the natives would reverence them as superior beings and maintain them in comfortable idleness. They were at once made slaves of. Had they been strong, handy agricultural labourers, their lot would have been easy enough. Unfortunately for them, one had been a London tailor, the other a shoemaker, and the luckless pair of feeble Cockneys could be of little use to their taskmasters. These led them such a life that they tried running away once more, and lived for a time in a cave, subsisting chiefly on fern-root. A period of this diet, joined to their ever-present fear of being found out and killed, drove them back to Maori slavery. From this they finally escaped to the Active—more like walking spectres than men, says an eye-witness—and resigned, if needs must, to endure once more the tender mercies of convict life in Botany Bay.

More valuable whites were admitted into the tribes, and married to one, sometimes two or three, wives. The relatives of these last occasionally resorted to an effectual method of securing their fidelity by tattooing them. One of them, John Rutherford, survived and describes the process. But as he claims to have had his face and part of his body thoroughly tattooed in four hours, his story is but one proof amongst a multitude that veracity was not a needful part of the equipment of the New Zealand adventurer of the Alsatian epoch. page 91 Once enlisted, the Pakeha were expected to distinguish themselves in the incessant tribal wars. Most of them took their share of fighting with gusto. As trade between whites and Maori grew, each tribe made a point of having a white agent-general, called their Pakeha Maori (Foreigner Maorified), to conduct their trade and business with his fellows. He was the tribe's vassal, whom they petted or plundered as the mood led them, but whom they protected against outsiders. These gentry were for the most part admirably qualified to spread the vices of civilization and discredit its precepts. But, illiterate ruffians as most of them were, they had their uses in aiding peaceful intercourse between the races. Some, too, were not illiterate. A Shakespeare and a Lemprière were once found in the possession of a chief in the wildest part of the interior. They had belonged to his Pakeha, long since dead. Elsewhere a tattered prayer-book was shown as the only relic of another. One of the kind, Maning by name, who lived with a tribe on the beautiful inlet of Hokianga, will always be known as the Pakeha Maori. He was an Irish adventurer, possessed not only of uncommon courage and acuteness, but of real literary talent and a genial and charming humour. He lived to see savagery replaced by colonization, and to become a judicial officer in the service of the Queen's Government. Some of his reminiscences, embodied in a volume entitled Old New Zealand, still form the best book which the country has been able to produce. Nowhere have the comedy and childishness of savage life been so delightfully portrayed. Nowhere else do we get such an insight into that strange medley of contradictions and caprices, the Maori's mind.

We have already seen that a lieutenant in Her Majesty's service thought it no crime in 1793 to kidnap two chiefs in order to save a little trouble. We have seen how Cook shot natives for refusing to answer questions, and how De Surville could seize and sail away with a friendly chief because someone else had stolen his boat. When in 1794 that high and distinguished body, the East India Company, sent a well-armed “scow” to the Hauraki gulf for kauri spars she did not leave until her captain had killed his quota of natives—two men and a woman—shot, because, forsooth, some axes had been page 92 stolen. If such were the doings of officials, it came as a matter of course that the hard-handed merchant-skippers who in brigs and schooners hung round the coasts of the Islands thought little of carrying off men or women. They would turn their victims adrift in Australia or on some South Sea islet, as their humour moved them. With even more cruel callousness, they would sometimes put Maori, carried off from one tribe, on shore amongst another and maybe hostile tribe. Slavery was the best fate such unfortunates could expect. On one occasion the missionaries in the Bay of Islands rescued from bondage twelve who had in this fashion been thrown amongst their sworn enemies. Their only offence was that they had happened to be trading on board a brig in their own port when a fair wind sprang up. The rascal in command carried them off rather than waste any of the wind by sending them on shore.

An even more heartless piece of brutality was the conduct of a certain captain from Sydney, who took away with him the niece of a Bay of Islands chief, and after living with her for months abandoned her on shore in the Bay of Plenty, where she was first enslaved and finally killed and eaten by the local chief. The result was a bitter tribal war, in which she was amply avenged.

Another skipper, after picking up a number of freshly cured tattooed heads, the fruit of a recent tribal battle, put into the bay of the very tribe which had been beaten in the fighting. When a number of natives came on board to trade, he thought it a capital joke—after business was over—to roll out on the deck a sackful of the heads of their slain kins-folk. Recognizing the features, the insulted Maori sprang over-board with tears and cries of rage.

A third worthy, whilst trading in the Bay of Islands, missed some articles on board his schooner. He at once had the chief, Koro Koro, who happened to be on board, seized and bound hand and foot in the cabin. Koro Koro, who was noted both for strength and hot temper, burst his cords, as Samson his bonds, and plunged through the cabin window into the sea. Swimming to his canoe, he gained it, and then, before taking to flight, flung his throwing-apear and transfixed a sailor on deck. The captain in return page 93 shot at the infuriated chief, but missed him, and Koro Koro paddled ashore. The wounded sailor did not die; so, on consideration, both sides decided to regard the account as settled, and the incident closed.

Such were some of the more ordinary episodes of commerce in No Man's Land. They were varied by tragedies on a larger scale. In 1809 the Beyd, a ship of 500 tons—John Thompson, master—had discharged a shipload of English convicts in Sydney. The captain decided to take in a cargo of timber in New Zealand, and accordingly sailed to Whangaroa, a romantic inlet to the north of the Bay of Islands. Amongst the crew were several Maori. One of these, known as George, was a young chief, though serving before the mast. During the voyage he was twice flogged for refusing to work on the plea of illness. The captain added insult to the stripes by the words, “You are no chief!” The sting of this lay in the sacredness attached by Maori custom to a chief's person, which was tapu—i.e. a thing not to be touched. George—according to his own account1—merely replied that when they reached New Zealand the captain would see that he was a chief. But he vowed vengeance, and on reaching Whangaroa showed his stripes to his kinsfolk, as Boadicea hers to the Britons of old. The tribesmen, with the craft of which the apparently frank and cheerful Maori has so ample a share, quietly laid their plans. The captain was welcomed. To divide their foes, the Maori beguiled him and a party of sailors into the forest, where they killed them all. Then, dressing themselves in the clothes of the dead, the slayers made off to the Boyd. Easily coming alongside in their disguises, they leaped on the decks and massacred crew and passengers without pity. George himself clubbed half a dozen, who threw themselves at his feet begging for mercy. Yet even in his fury he spared a ship's boy who had been kind to him,

1 As given by him to J. L. Nicholas five years afterwards. See Nicholas's Voyage to New Zealand, vol. i, page 145. There are those who believe the story of the flogging to be an invention of George. Their authority is Mr. White, a Wesleyan missionary who lived at Whangaroa from 1823 to 1827, and to whom the natives are said to have admitted this. But that must have been, at least, fourteen years after the massacre, and George was by that time at odds with many of his own people. He died in 1825. His last hours were disturbed by remorse arising from an incident in the Boyd affair. He had not, he thought, properly avenged the death of his father—blown up by the powder-barrel. Such was the Maori conscience.

page 94 and who ran to him for protection, and a woman and two girl-children. All four were afterwards rescued by Mr. Berry, of Sydney, and took refuge with a friendly neighbouring chief, Te Pehi. Meanwhile the Boyd had been stripped and burned. In the orgie that followed George's father snapped a flint-lock musket over a barrel of gunpowder, and with the followers round him was blown to pieces. Nigh seventy lives were lost in the Boyd massacre. Of course, the slain were eaten.

Then ensued a tragedy of errors. The captains of certain whalers lying in the Bay of Islands, hearing that the survivors of the Boyd were at Te Pehi's village, concluded that the kindly chief was a partner in the massacre. Organizing a night attack, the whalers destroyed the village and its guiltless owners. The unlucky Te Pehi, fleeing wounded, fell into the hands of some of George's people, who, regarding him as a sympathizer with the whites, made an end of him. Finally, to avenge him, some of the survivors of his tribe afterwards killed and ate three seamen who had had nothing to do with any stage of the miserable drama.

Less well known than the fate of the Boyd is the cutting-off of the brig Hawes in the Bay of Plenty in 1829. It is worth relating, if only because it shows that the Maori were not always the provoked party in these affairs, and that, moreover, vengeance, even in No Man's Land, did not always fall only on the guiltless. In exchange for fire-arms and gunpowder the captain had filled his brig with flax and pigs. He had sailed out to Whale Island in the Bay, and by a boiling spring on the islet's beach was engaged with some of his men in killing and scalding the pigs and converting them into salt pork. Suddenly the amazed trader saw the canoes of his friendly customers of the week before, headed by their chief “Lizard,” sweep round and attack the Hawes. The seamen, still on board, ran up the rigging, where they were shot. The captain, with those on the islet, rowed away for their lives. The brig was gutted and burnt. The Maori, perplexed by finding a number of bags of the unknown substance flour, emptied the contents into the sea, keeping th bags.1

1 Judge Wilson's Story of Te Waharoa.

page 95

Certain white traders in the Bay of Islands resolved to bring “Lizard” to justice, in other words to shoot him. They commissioned a schooner, the New Zealander, to go down to the scene of the outrage. A handy Bay of Islands chief offered to do the rest. He went with the schooner. On its arrival the unsuspecting “Lizard” came off to trade. At the end of a friendly visit he was stepping into his canoe when his unofficially appointed executioner stepped quietly forward, levelled his double-barrelled gun, and shot “Lizard” dead.

As a matter of course the affair did not end there: “Lizard's” tribe were bound in honour to retaliate. But upon whom? The Pakeha who had caused their chief's death were far out of reach in the north. Still they were not the only Pakeha in the land. In quite a different direction, in the harbour which Captain Cook had dubbed Hicks's Bay, lived two inoffensive. Whites who had not even heard of “Lizard's” death. What of that? They were Whites, and therefore of the same tribe as the Pakeha concerned! So the village in which they lived was stormed, one White killed at once, the other captured. As the latter stood awaiting execution and consumption, by an extraordinary stroke of fortune a whaling ship ran into the bay. The adroit captive offered, if his life were spared, to decoy his countrymen on shore, so that they could be massacred. The bargain was cheerfully struck; and when an armed boat's crew came rowing to land, the Pakeha, escorted to the sea side by a murderous and expectant throng, stood on a rock and addressed the seamen in English. What he told them to do, however, was to get ready and shoot his captors directly he dived from the rock into the water. Accordingly his plunge was followed by a volley. The survivors of the outwitted Maori turned and fled, and the clever Pakeha was picked up and carried safely on board.

At that time there was living among “Lizard's” people a certain Maori from the Bay of Islands. This man, a greedy and mischievous fellow, had instigated “Lizard” to cut off the Hawes. This became known, and Waka Néné, a Bay of Islands chief, destined to become famous in New Zealand history, punished his rascally fellow-tribesman in a very page 96 gallant way. On a visit to the Bay of Plenty he bearded the man sitting unsuspecting among his partners in the piracy, and, after fiercely upbraiding him, shot him dead. Nor did any present venture to touch Waka Néné.

The South Island had its share of outrages. On 12th December, 1817, the brig Sophia anchored in Otago Harbour. Kelly, her captain, was a man of strength and courage, who had gained some note by sailing round Tasmania in an open boat. He now had use for these qualities. The day after arrival he rowed with six men to a small native village outside the harbour heads, at a spot still called Murdering Beach. Landing there, he began to bargain with the Maori for a supply of potatoes. A Lascar sailor, who was living with the savages, acted as interpreter. The natives thronged round the seamen. Suddenly there was a yell, and they rushed upon the whites, of whom two were killed at once. Kelly, cutting his way through with a bill-hook he had in his hand, reached the boat and pushed out from the beach. Looking back, he saw one of his men (his brother-in-law, Tucker) struggling with the mob. The unhappy man had but time to cry, “Captain Kelly, for God's sake don't leave me!” when he was knocked down in the surf, and hacked to death. Another seaman was reeling in the boat desperately wounded. Kelly himself was speared through one hand.

The survivors regained their ship. She was swarming with natives, who soon learned what had happened and became wildly excited. Kelly drew his men aft and formed them into a solid body. When the Maori, headed by their chief Karaka—Kelly spells it Corockar—rushed at them, the seamen beat them off, using their large sealing-knives with such effect that they killed sixteen, and cleared the decks. The remaining natives jumped overboard. A number were swept away by the ebb-tide and drowned. Next day the crew, now only fourteen in number, repulsed an attempt made in canoes to take the vessel by boarding, and killed Karaka. Emboldened by this, they afterwards made an expedition to the shore and cut up or stove in all their enemies' canoes lying on the beach. This was on Christmas Eve. On Boxing Day they landed and burnt the principal native village, which Kelly calls the “beautiful city of Otago, of page 97 about six hundred fine houses”—not the only bit of patent exaggeration in his story. Then they sailed away.1

What prompted the attack at Murdering Beach is uncertain—like so much that used to happen in No Man's Land. It is said that Tucker had been to Otago some years previously and had stolen a baked head from the Maori. It is hinted that an encounter had taken place on the coast not long before in which natives had been shot and a boat's crew cut off. As of most occurrences of the time, we can only suspect that lesser crimes which remained hidden led to the greater, which are more or less truthfully recorded.

1 Transactions New Zealand Institute, vol. xxviii.