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The Long White Cloud

Chapter VI — Mission Schooner and Whale Boat

page 98

Chapter VI
Mission Schooner and Whale Boat

“Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.”—Text of Samuel Marsden's first sermon at the Bay of Islands, Christmas Day, 1814.

MAORI, shipping before the mast on board whalers and traders, made some of the best seamen on the Pacific. They visited Sydney and other civilized ports, where their fine physique, bold bearing, and strangely tattooed faces, heightened the interest felt in them as specimens of their ferocious and dreaded race. Stories of the Maori went far and wide—of their fierce fights, their cannibal orgies, their grotesque ornaments and customs, their lonely, fertile and little-known country. Humane men conceived the wish to civilize and Christianize this people. Benjamin Franklin had planned something of the kind when the news of Cook's discovery first reached England. Thirty years later Samuel Marsden, a New South Wales chaplain, resolved to be the Gregory or Augustine of this Britain of the South. The wish became the master-passion of his life, and he lived to fulfil it. How this resolve was carried out makes one of the pleasantest pages of New Zealand history. The first step was his rescue of Ruatara. In 1809 a roaming Maori sailor had worked his passage to London, in the hope of seeing the great city and—greatest sight of all—King George III. The sailor was Ruatara, a Bay of Islands chief. Adventurous and inquiring as he was intelligent and good-natured, Ruatara spent nearly nine years of his life away from his native land. At London his captain refused to pay him his wages or to help him to see King George, and solitary, defrauded, and disappointed, the young wanderer fell sick nigh unto death. All the captain would do for him was to transfer him to the Ann, a convict ship bound for Sydney. Fortunately Marsden page 99 was among her passengers. The chaplain's heart was touched at the sight of the wan, wasted Maori sitting dull-eyed, wrapped in his blanket, coughing and spitting blood. His kindness drew back Ruatara from the grave's brink and made him a grateful and attached pupil. Together they talked of the savage islands, which one longed to see and the other to regain. Nor did their friendship end with the voyage. More adventures and disappointments awaited Ruatara before he at last reached home. Once in a whale ship he actually sighted the well-beloved headlands of the Bay of Islands, and brought up all his goods and precious presents ready to go on shore. But the sulky captain broke his promise and sailed past the Bay. Why trouble to land a Maori? Ruatara had to choose between landing at Norfolk Island or another voyage to England. Cheated of his earnings and half-drowned in the surf, he struggled ashore on the convict island, whence he made his way to Sydney and to Marsden's kindly roof. The whaling captain went on towards England. But Justice caught him on the way. He and his ship were taken by an American privateer.

Ruatara gained his home at the next attempt. There he laboured to civilize his countrymen, planted and harvested wheat, and kept in touch with Marsden across the Tasman Sea. Meanwhile the latter's official superiors discountenanced his venturesome New Zealand project. It was not until 1814 that the Governor of New South Wales at last gave way to the chaplain's persistent enthusiasm, and allowed him to send the brig Active to the Bay of Islands with Messrs. Hall and Kendall, lay missionaries, as the advance party of an experimental mission station. Ruatara received them with open arms, and they returned to Sydney after a peaceful visit, bringing with them their enthusiastic host, with two other chiefs—Koro Koro and Hongi, the last-named fated to become the scourge and destroyer of his race.

At last Marsden was permitted to sail to New Zealand. With Kendall, Hall, and King, the three friendly chiefs, and some “assigned” convict servants, he reached New Zealand in December 1814. With characteristic courage he landed at Whangaroa, among the tribe who had massacred the crew of the unhappy Boyd. Going on shore there, he met the page 100 notorious George, who stood to greet the strangers, surrounded by a circle of seated tribesmen, whose spears were erect in the ground. But George, despite a swaggering and offensive manner, seems to have been amicable enough. He rubbed noses with Hongi and Ruatara, and shook hands with Marsden, who passed on unharmed to the Bay of Islands. There, by Ruatara's good offices, he was enabled to preach to the assembled natives on the Sunday after arrival, being Christmas Day, from the text printed at the head of this chapter. The Maori heard him quietly. Koro Koro walked up and down among the rows of listeners keeping order with his chief's staff. When the service ended, the congregation danced a war dance as a mark of attention to the strangers.

Marsden settled his missionaries at Ranghihoua, where for twelve axes he bought two hundred acres of land from a young rangatira named Turi. The land was conveyed to the Church Missionary Society by a deed of sale. As Turi could not write, Hongi made the ingenious suggestion that his moko, or face-tattoo, should be copied on the deed. This was done by a native artist. The document began as follows:

“Know all men to whom these presents shall come, That I, Ahoodee O Gunna, King of Rangee Hoo, in the Island of New Zealand, have, in consideration of twelve axes to me in hand now paid by the Rev. Samuel Marsden, of Parramatta, in the territory of New South Wales, given, granted, bargained, and sold, and by this present instrument do give, grant, bargain, and sell,” etc., etc.

The deed is not only the first New Zealand conveyance, but has an interest beyond that. It is evidence that, at any rate in 1815, a single Maori, a chief, but of inferior rank, could sell a piece of land without the specific concurrence of his fellow-tribesmen, or of the tribe's head chief. Five and forty years later a somewhat similar sale plunged New Zealand into long years of war.

After this Marsden returned to Sydney. The Active took back spars and dressed flax to the value of £450. The flax was sold at £110 a ton. Kauri timber brought half a crown a foot, and the duty charged on it at the Sydney customs house was a shilling a foot. The day of Free Trade there was not yet. One cloud was hanging over the mission page 101 when Marsden sailed. Ruatara lay dying. He had been seized with a fever, and the natives, believing him to be attacked by a devouring demon, placed him under tapu, and kept food, medicine, and his white friends from him. When Marsden, by threatening to bombard the village, obtained access to the sick man, it was too late; he found his friend past hope. Thus was the life of this staunch ally—a life which might have been of the first value to the Maori race—thrown away, though the missionary's friend Ruatara died a heathen, and his head wife hung herself in customary Maori form.

Such was the setting up of the first mission station. Its founders were sterling men. Kendall had been a London schoolmaster in good circumstances. King, a master carpenter, had given up £400 a year to labour among the savages. Marsden, though he made seven more voyages to the country, the last after he had reached threescore years and ten, never settled there. Henry Williams, however, coming on the scene in 1823, became his chief lieutenant. Williams had been a naval officer, had fought at Copenhagen, and had in him the stuff of which Nelson's sailors were made. Wesleyan missionaries, following in the footsteps of Marsden's pioneers, established themselves in 1822, and chose for the place of their labours the scene of the Boyd disaster. Roman Catholic activity began in 1838.

It took ten years to make one convert, and up to 1830 the baptisms were very few. After that the work began to tell and the patient labourers to reap their harvest. By 1838 a fourth of the natives had been baptized. But this was far from representing the whole achievement of the missionaries. Many thousands who never formally became Christians felt their influence, marked their example, profited by their schools. They fought against war, discredited cannibalism, abolished slavery. From the first Marsden had a sound belief in the uses of trade and of teaching savages the decencies and handicrafts of civilized life. He looked upon such knowledge as the best path to religious belief. Almost alone amongst his class, he was far-sighted enough to perceive, at any rate in the latter years of his life, that the only hope of New Zealand lay in annexation, and that any dream of a Protestant Paraguay was Utopian. Quite naturally, but most un- page 102 fortunately, most missionaries thought otherwise, and were at the outset of colonization placed in antagonism to the pioneers. Meanwhile they taught the elements of a rough-and-ready civilization, which the chiefs were acute enough to value. But the courage and singleness of purpose of many of them gave them a higher claim to respect. To do the Maori justice, they recognized it, and the long journeys which the preachers of peace were able to make from tribe to tribe of cannibals and warriors say something for the generosity of the latter as well as for the devotion of the travellers. For fifty years after Marsden's landing no white missionary lost his life by Maori hands. Almost every less serious injury had to be endured. In the face of hardship, insult, and plunder the work went on. A schooner, the Herald, was built in the Bay of Islands to act as messenger and carrier between the missionary stations, which—pleasant oases in the desert of barbarism—began to dot the North Island from Whangaroa as far south as Rotorua among the Hot Lakes. By 1838 there were thirteen of them. The ruins of some stations I have seen, surrounded by straggling plots run to waste, “where once a garden smiled.” When Charles Darwin, during the voyage of the Beagle, visited the Bay of Islands, the missionary station at Waimate struck him as the one bright spot in a gloomy and ill-ordered land. Darwin, by the way, was singularly despondent in his estimate both of Australia and New Zealand. Colonial evolution was not amongst his studies.

Colonists as a rule shrug their shoulders when questioned as to the depth of Maori religious feeling. It is enough to point out that a Christianity which induced barbarian masters to release their slaves without payment or condition must have had a reality in it at which the kindred of Anglo-Saxon sugar-planters have no right to sneer. Odd were the absurdities of Maori lay preachers, and knavery was sometimes added to absurdity. Yet these dark-skinned teachers carried Christianity into a hundred nooks and corners. Most of them were honest enthusiasts. Two faced certain death in the endeavour to carry the Gospel to the Taupo heathen, and met their fate with cheerful courage. Comic as Maori sectarianism became, it was not more ridiculous than British. It is page 103 true that rival tribes gloried in belonging to different denominations and in slighting converts belonging to other churches. On one occasion, a white wayfarer, when asking shelter for the night at a pa, was gravely asked to name his church. He recognized that his night's shelter was at stake, and had no notion what was the reigning sect of the village. Sharpened by hunger, his wit was equal to the emergency, and his answer, “the true church,” gained him supper and a bed. Too much stress has been laid on the spectacle of missionaries engaging in public controversies, and of semi-savage converts wrangling over rites and ceremonies and discussing points of theology which might well puzzle a Greek metaphysician. Such incidents were but an efflorescence on the surface of what for a number of years was a true and general earnestness.

The missionaries, aided by Professor Lee, of Cambridge, gave the Maori a written language. Into this the Scriptures were translated, chiefly by William Williams, who became Bishop of Waiapu, and by Archdeacon Maunsell. Many years of toil went to the work, and it was not completed until 1853. In 1834 a printing press was set up by the Church Mission Society at the Bay of Islands, in charge of Mr. William Colenso. Neither few nor small were the difficulties which beset this missionary printer. At the outset he got his press successfully from ship to shore by lashing two canoes together and laying planks across them. Though the chiefs surveyed the type with greedy eyes and hinted that it would make good musket-balls, they did not carry it off. But on unpacking his equipment Colenso found he had not been supplied with an inking-table, composing-sticks, leads, galleys, cases, imposing-stone, or printing-paper. A clever catechist made him an imposing-stone out of two boulders of basalt found in a river-bed hard by. Leads he contrived by pasting bits of paper together, and with the help of various make-shifts printed on 21st February, 1835, the first tract published in New Zealand. It consisted of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians in Maori, printed on sixteen pages of writing-paper and issued in wrappers of pink blotting-paper. Much the most capable helpers whom the lonely printer had in his first years were two one-time compositors who had turned sailors and who, tiring of foc'sle life under Yankee captains, made up their page 104 minds to resume the stick and apron in the cannibal islands. Impish Maori boys made not inappropriate “devils.” With such assistants Colenso, working on, had by New Year's Day, 1838, completed the New Testament and was distributing bound copies to the eager Maori, who sent messengers for them from far and near. Pigs, potatoes, flax were offered for copies of the precious volume, in one case even that rarest of curiosities in No Man's Land—a golden sovereign.

Not the least debt, which anyone having to do with New Zealand owes the missionaries and Professor Lee, is a scholarly method of writing Maori. In their hands the spelling of the language became simple, systematic, and pleasant to the eye. What it has done to save the names of the country's places and persons from taking fantastic and ridiculous shapes a few examples will show. For sixty years after Cook's discovery every traveller spelt these names as seemed good to him. The books of the time offer us such things of beauty as Muckeytoo (Maketu), Kiddy-Kiddy (Keri-Keri), Wye-matte (Waimate), Keggerigoo (Kekerangu), Boo Marray and Bowmurry (Pomaré), Shunghee and E'Ongi (Hongi), Corro-radickee (Kororáreka). The haven of Hokianga figures alternately as Showkianga, Sukyanna, Jokeeangar and Choka-hanga. Almost more laughable are Towackey (Tawhaki), Wycaddie (Waikare), Crackee (Karakia), Wedder-Wedder (Wera-Wera), and Rawmatty (Raumati).

These, however, are thrown into the shade by some of the courageous attempts of the two Forsters, Cook's naturalists, at the names of native birds. It must have taken some imaginative power to turn pi-waka-waka into “diggowagh-wagh,” and kereru into “haggarreroo,” but they achieved these triumphs. Their chef-d'œuvre is perhaps “pooadugghie-dugghie,” which is their version of putangi-tangi, the paradise-duck. After that it is not so easy to smile at the first sentences of an official statement drawn up by Governor King, of New South Wales, relative to the carrying off to Norfolk Island of the two New Zealanders before mentioned, which begins:

Hoodoo-Cockoty-Towamahowey is about twenty-four years of age, five feet eight inches high, of an athletic make, and very interesting. He is of the district of Teerawittee.… Toogee Teterrenue Warripedo is of the same age as Hoodoo, but about three inches shorter.

page 105

Poor Huru, poor Tuki!

While the missionaries were slowly winning their way through respect to influence in the northern quarter of the country, and were giving the Maori a written language and the Bible, very different agents were working for civilization further south. From the last decade of the eighteenth century onwards the islands were often sought by whaling-ships. Gradually these came in greater numbers, and, until about the year 1845, were constantly to be seen in and about certain harbours—notably the Bay of Islands. But not by the utmost stretch of charity could their crews be called civilizing agencies. To another class of whalers, however, that title may not unfairly be given. These were the men who settled at various points on the coast, chiefly from Cook's Straits southward to Foveaux Straits, and engaged in what is known as shore-whaling. In schooners, or in their fast-sailing, seaworthy whale boats, they put out from land in chase of the whales which for so many years frequented the New Zealand shores in shoals. Remarkable were some of the catches they made. At Jacob's River eleven whales were once taken in seventeen days. For a generation this shore-whaling was a regular and very profitable industry. Only the senseless slaughter of the “cows” and their “calves” ruined it.

Carried on at first independently by little bands of adventurers, it in time fell into the hands of Sydney merchants, who found the capital and controlled and organized whaling-stations. At these they erected boiling-down works, shears for hoisting the huge whales' carcasses out of the water, stores, and jetties. As late as 1843 men were busy at more than thirty of these stations. More than five hundred men were employed, and the oil and whalebone they sent away in the year were worth at least £50,000. Sometimes the profits were considerable. A certain merchant, who bought the plant of a bankrupt station for £225 at a Sydney auction, took away therefrom £1,500 worth of oil in the next season. But then he was an uncommon merchant. He had been a sealer himself, and finally abandoned mercantile life in Sydney to return to his old haunts, where he managed his own establishment, joined farming to whaling, endowed a mission page 106 station,1 and amazed the land by importing a black-coated tutor and a piano for his children. Moreover, the harpooners and oarsmen were not paid wages or paid in cash, but merely had a percentage of the value of a catch, and were given that chiefly in goods and rum. For this their employers charged them, perhaps, five times the prices current in Sydney, and Sydney prices in convict times were not low. Under this truck system the employers made profits both ways. The so-called rum was often inferior arrack—deadliest of spirits—with which the Sydney of those days poisoned the Pacific. The men usually began each season with a debauch and ended it with another. A cask's head would be knocked out on the beach, and all invited to dip a can into the liquor. They were commonly in debt and occasionally in delirium. Yet they deserved to work under a better system, for they were often fine fellows, daring, active, and skilful. Theirs was no fair-weather trade. Their working season was in the winter. Sharp winds and rough seas had to be faced, and when these were contrary it required no small strength to pull their heavy boats against them hour after hour, and mile after mile, to say nothing of the management of the cumbrous steering-oar, twenty-seven feet in length, to handle which the steersman had to stand upright in the stern sheets.

The harpooning and lancing of the whale were wild work; and when bones were broken, a surgeon's aid was not always to be had. The life, however, could give change, excitement, the chance of profit, and long intervals of comparative freedom. To share these, seamen deserted their vessels, and free Australians—nicknamed currency lads—would ship at Sydney for New Zealand. Ex-convicts, of course, swelled their ranks and were not always and altogether bad, despite the convict system. The discipline in the boats was as strict as on a man-of-war. On shore, when “trying down” the blubber, the men had to work long and hard. “Sunday don't come into this bay!” was the gruff answer once given to a traveller who asked whether the Sabbath was kept. Otherwise they might lead easy lives. Each had his hut and his Maori wife,

1 John Jones, of Waikouaiti. His first missionary found two years at a whaling-station quite enough, if we may judge from his greeting to his successor which was “Welcome to Purgatory, Brother Creed!” Brother Creed's response is not recorded.

page 107 to whom he was sometimes legally married. Many had gardens and families of half-caste children, whose strength and beauty were noted by all who saw them. The whaler's helpmate had to keep herself and children clean and the home tidy. Cleanliness and neatness were insisted on by her master, partly through the seaman's instinct for tidiness and partly out of a pride and desire to show a contrast to the reeking hovels of the Maori. As a rule she did her best to keep her man sober. Her cottage, thatched with reeds, was perhaps whitewashed with lime made by burning the sea-shells. With its clay floor and huge open fireplace, with its walls lined with curtained sleeping bunks, and its rafters loaded with harpoons, sharp oval-headed lances, coils of rope, flitches of bacon, or bags of flour, it showed a picture of rude comfort.1 If the seats were the joints of a whale's backbone, there was always food in plenty, washed down with grog or tea made from manuka sprigs. Whale's heart was a delicacy set before guests, who found it rather like beef. Maori, sharks, and clouds of sea-gulls shared much of the flesh of the captured whales' carcasses.
Maori relatives learned to envy and, to some extent, to copy what they saw. They took service as oarsmen, and even bought and equipped boats for themselves. They learned to be ashamed of some of their more odious habits, and to respect the pluck and sense of fair play shown by their whaling neighbours. As a rule, each station was held by licence from the chief of the proprietary tribe. He and tenants would stand shoulder to shoulder to resist incursions by other natives. Dicky Barrett, head-man of the Taranaki whaling-station, helped the Ngatiawa to repulse a note-worthy raid by the Waikato tribe. Afterwards, when the Ngatiawa decided to abandon their much-harried land, Barrett moved with them to Cook's Straits, where in 1839 the Wakefields found him looking jovial, round, and ruddy, dressed in a straw hat, white jacket, and blue dungaree trousers, and married to a chief's daughter—a handsome and stately woman. It was Dicky Barrett who directed

1 Wakefield, Adventures in New Zealand; Shortland, Southern Districts of New Zealand; S. Thomson, Story of New Zealand; Sir W. T. Power, Sketches in New Zealand; G. F. Angas, Savage Scenes.

page 108 Colonel Wakefield to what is now Wellington, and who, in consequence, may be recorded as the guide who pointed out to the pioneer of the New Zealand Company the future capital of the Dominion.

Nor was Barrett the only specimen of this rough race whom New Zealanders may remember with interest. There was Stewart, ex-Jacobite, sealer, and pilot, whose name still conceals Rakiura, and whose Highland pride made him wear the royal tartan to the last as he sat in Maori villages smoking among the blanketed savages. There was the half-caste Chaseland, whose mother was an Australian “gin,” and who was acknowledged to be the most dexterous and best-tempered steersman in New Zealand—when sober. He needed his skill when he steered an open boat from the Chathams to Otago across five hundred miles of wind-vexed sea. Chaseland's mighty thews and sinews were rivalled by those of Spencer, whose claim to have fought at Waterloo was regarded as doubtful, but whose possession of two wives and of much money made by rum-selling was not doubtful. Another notable steersman was Black Murray, who once made his boatmen row across Cook's Straits at night and in a gale because they were drunk, and only by making them put out to sea could he prevent them from becoming more drunk. A congener of his, Evans—“Old Man Evans”—boasted of a boat which was as spick and span as a post-captain's gig, and of a crew who wore uniform. Nor must the best of Maori whalers be forgotten—the chief Tuhawaiki—brave in war, shrewd and businesslike in peace, who could sail a schooner as cleverly as any white skipper, and who has been most unfairly damned to everlasting fame—local fame—by his whaler's nickname of “Bloody Jack!” These, and the “hands” whom they ordered about, knocked down, caroused with, and steered, were the men who, between 1810 and 1845, taught the outside world to take its way along the hitherto dreaded shores of New Zealand as a matter of course and of business. Half heroes, half ruffians, they did their work, and unconsciously brought the islands a stage nearer civilization. Odd precursors of English law, nineteenth-century culture, and “the peace of our lady the Queen,” were these knights of the harpoon and companions of the rum-barrel. page 109 But the isolated coasts and savage men among whom their lot was cast did not as yet call for refinement and reflection. Such as their time wanted, such they were. They played a part and fulfilled a purpose, and then moved off the stage. It so happened that within a few years after the advent of the regular colonists whaling ceased to pay, and the rough crew who followed it, and their coarse, manly life, disappeared together.

Unlike the whalers, the sealers did not as a rule establish permanent stations on the Islands. They hung about the coast in their sailing-vessels landing small parties to kill and skin their seals. In 1792 Captain Raven, of the Britannia, set some men ashore in Facile Bay on the west coast, who stayed there twelve months without molestation. So plentiful were the seals that in 1821 a party of six American hunters claimed to have collected and salted no less than 3,563 skins in six weeks. These men had been landed near Puysegur Point from a Nantucket whaler, the General Gates, Captain Abimelech Riggs. As they were sleeping in their hut, about midnight a gang of Maori burst their door in and seized them and their rich store of furs. The captives were marched off northward, trudging for many days through mountains and soaking forests, until their captors encamped on the sandy shores of a bay in Westland. There the miserable seamen were lashed to trees, and the Maori proceeded to kill, Cook, and eat them at the rate of one a day. The heads of the slain were buried in the sand. When four had thus been disposed of, a violent thunderstorm broke over the camp with torrents of rain, and amid the confusion and darkness the two surviving Americans managed to slip off their bonds of native flax. They seized a canoe on the beach, ran her out through the surf, and paddled off to sea, escaping by very little the yelling savages who rushed into the waves to seize them. After tossing about for three days they were picked up more dead than alive by the trader Margery. Such were the risks of business in New Zealand a hundred years ago.1

1 See Polack's Adventures in New Zealand and Muri Huku, by R. McNab.