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The Southern Districts of New Zealand

The Southern Districts Of New Zealand. — Chapter I

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The Southern Districts Of New Zealand.
Chapter I.


On the 10th of August, 1843, I landed at Hakaroa, the principal harbour in Banks's Peninsula. I was there to commence the double duty of Protector of Native Interests, and Interpretor to Colonel Godfrey, who was the Commissioner appointed to examine claims to land south of Cook's Straits, said to have been purchased from the Aborigines.

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We were unable to procure a vacant house for a residence, and were proceeding to erect a tent, which we had brought with us for such an emergency, when Commodore Bérard, the officer who commanded a vessel of war stationed there by the the French Government to protect their infant colony, and whaling vessels, which resorted to the harbour in great numbers to refit, insisted on having our baggage removed to a very comfortable cottage, where he sometimes resided, while engaged in astronomical and other observations.

This attention to our comfort must have put the Commodore to great inconvenience, and we felt the more grateful afterwards, when seated by our fire on a rainy and stormy evening; for it was still the season of winter, and the snow was visible on the more lofty hills, although it never descended to our level.

I had brought with me two natives from the Bay of Plenty, where the climate is more steadily fine than in any other part of New Zealand. They were here obliged to sleep in a small tent, in which they seemed to enjoy themselves very tolerably, only sometimes making complaints of the cold. Our own feelings convinced us that page 3 the climate of Hakaroa was more mild and genial than that of Wellington, which we had just left. And the reason why it should be so, notwithstanding the difference of latitude, was to be seen on viewing its sheltered position, protected on all sides from the winds by lofty hills.

Mons. B—, the agent of the French Company, had planted several different sorts of vines, which had been brought direct from France, and he gave it as his opinion, that both soil and climate were suited to their cultivation, and looked forward to the day when wine might become an article of export.

We had heard beforehand that it would be difficult to procure provisions at this place, and had purchased a stock of preserved meats, which could then be obtained at a moderate price at Auckland or Wellington. And we had cause to be glad that we had done so; for we found all articles of food scarce, even potatos, the European and native population not being large enough to cultivate sufficient for themselves, and the crews of the numerous whaling vessels which put into the harbour.

Hakaroa had once been a favourite residence page 4 of the natives; but was partially abandoned after their principal chief, Tamaiharanui, had been kidnapped by the aid of the captain of the Elizabeth, an English trading vessel. The story of this shameful affair has been variously related. The following is the version derived from native sources.

Te Pehi,* the most influential chief of his day of a tribe called Ngatitoa, being killed treacherously by some of Tamaiharanui's tribe, among whom he had trusted himself, in order to barter muskets for Pounamu stone, it devolved on his near relatives, Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata, to avenge his death. For such a chief, no satisfaction was considered worthy but the head of Tamaiharanui. In order, therefore, to transport themselves from Cook's Straits to Hakaroa, where they expected to find him, they made overtures to the supercargo of a vessel then lying at Kapiti, who agreed to take them, with a body of natives

* An interesting account of the mode in which this chief forced himself on board a South Sea trader, as she was sailing through Cook's Straits, in 1826, in order to obtain a passage to England, where he expected to see King George, and receive a present of firearms, will be found in The Library of Entertaining Knowledge.

Vid Ch. II.

Vide Tabular View of the Pedigrees of Chiefs of the Ngatitoa Tribe, Appendix I.

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Te Rauparaha

Te Rauparaha

page 5 about eighty in number, to that place, for the consideration of a cargo of flax, to be delivered on their return. Once on board, they were, in fact, the masters, and the crew were obliged to do their bidding. When the ship cast anchor at Hakaroa they hid themselves below, while the captain, by their command, and, we may suppose, under the influence of fear for his life, represented himself to those who came alongside, as a trader for flax and provisions. Unsuspicious of any treachery from the white men, they gave the information that their chief was then residing in the valley of Wainui, a short day's journey distant, and readily agreed to carry a message to invite him to come over.

During this interval, Te Rauparaha and his party never came on deck, except at night, and then merely for air, and in a small number at a time; and so completely did they succeed in their plans, that on the third day Tamaiharanui, with his son and daughter, and several more of his tribe, came on board, and never discovered that danger was near, till, descending to the cabin, he found himself in presence of his enemies. The hidden bands then rushed on deck, and a general page 6 massacre took place; the chief and his daughter being alone preserved to be carried home in triumph. Fearfully must the captain and crew have repented of their iniquitous compact. The ship became as it were a shambles, and during the voyage back to Cook's Straits, the native passengers feasted on their enemies' flesh.

Tamaiharanui, while confined in the cabin with his daughter, a girl about sixteen years of age, called Nga Roimata (The Tears), who was left unbound, persuaded her to throw herself into the sea, with the hope that she might swim ashore; for the vessel was then near the Heads. She was, however, drowned. And he, not having it in his power to make the same attempt at escape, was put to death shortly after his arrival in Cook's Straits. The natives relate that his neck was thrust through with a red-hot ramrod, while he chanted a song, which he had composed to commemorate his own fate.

From a census which I took, I found the entire native population to be only forty-nine males—inclusive of six belonging to tribes of the Northern Island, who had come here in whaling vessels, and had settled after marrying natives of the place— page 7 and forty females. They did not live in one settlement, but were separated into four different bodies, each inhabiting its own village. The above numbers were obtained by writing down the names of every individual in each family.

During a month's stay in this place, only two claims to land were brought before the Commissioner's Court. One of these, however, was that of a company of French gentlemen, of Nantz and Bordeaux, and involved the question of their right to the whole of the Peninsula; the more important, as it can boast of four very good harbours.

On a day appointed, nearly the whole native population of the neighbourhood assembled at an early hour in front of the Commissioner's residence; and before noon their numbers were augmented by a large party from the northern shores of the Peninsula with Iwikau at their head—a chief on whose support the agent of the French Company relied to counteract the opposition of the natives who resided at Hakaroa. It was generally understood that we should have a stormy debate; and the Commodore and several of his officers, as well as many of the colonists who page 8 were present, seemed to watch the proceedings of the day with much solicitude. The meeting, however, terminated in a peaceable and orderly manner; and the native evidence, though obtained with some little trouble, after a patient investigation, was of a satisfactory nature, so far, at least, as it was the unanimous voice of all parties.

Those who feel an interest in the subject are referred, for further information, to the copies of official documents inserted in the Appendix (II). Suffice it to say here, that the result was unfavourable to the claim of the company, except to a limited extent.

The Court of Inquiry closed on the ninth of September, and a few days after we took passage for Otakou in a small schooner, Commodore Bérard having the complaisance to send us on board in one of his boats.

On our arrival, the only quarters we could procure were two rooms of a weather-boarded house, the other part of which was appropriated as a store for the sale of rum and whalers' slops. The architect had probably been a ship's carpenter, for he had fitted up one of the rooms with tiers of page 9 sleeping places of the form called by sailors bunks. We had no fire-place, and the daylight was visible through numerous chinks and cracks in our slight wall of boards, through which the air was freely admitted; and whenever the wind blew, it drifted with it a fine white sand from the neighbouring beach, which penetrated everywhere, and was a source of much annoyance.

It was a matter of marvel to us, that we did not suffer more from being so exposed to the weather; for except when the wind was S.W., which is a cold quarter, and rushed down the harbour with great violence, we did not feel much inconvenience from the cold.

Otakou is an inlet about ten miles long, and on an average one mile and a-half broad, taking a direction, by compass, nearly S.W. Its western Head is distinguishable by a remarkable white sand patch. A shoal, on which the sea breaks heavily, extends from this towards the eastern Head—a steep round bluff—leaving a channel, however, running close to the bluff, which I was informed by the whalers, had a depth of three fathoms and a-half at low water. The land on either side the inlet is hilly or mountainous, with page 10 here and there a pleasantly situated valley, and one or two rather more extensive flats. The hills are clothed with wood, or a species of grass (triticum scabrum), known by the name of “patiti.” About six miles from the Heads is the island Rangiriri, which nearly divides the harbour into two equal parts. On either side of this island, there is a narrow passage, through which the tide runs with great rapidity; and Nature has, moreover, defended it with steep rocky sides; so that it seems to have been placed there as a citadel, to protect the inner harbour from an enemy. There are unfortunately many shoals between this point and the Heads, and the channels between them are intricate; but the authority of the whaler residents was in favour of their being sufficiently deep to admit ships of five or six hundred tons.

The eastern and western borders of the inner harbour are similar to those of the outer, but steeper and more rugged, till you approach its southern extremity, where they are level, with very shoal water, leaving long mud flats as the tide ebbs.

At this season of the year, there were plenty of fat pigeons in the woods, which were so tame, and page 11 so little afraid of the report of a gun, that several would suffer themselves to be shot one after another on the same tree. These proved a very acceptable addition to our stock of provisions, which was beginning to fail. And every now and then, we had a present of “patiki,” a fish not unlike the sole in appearance, and quite equal to it in flavour, which a retired whaler used to spear on the shoals of the harbour.

Here we were obliged to remain a month, with very little to do, but to take our daily exercise, pacing up and down the beach, admiring the huge skeletons of whales which lay half-covered by the tide, or moralizing over several deserted and ruinous buildings,* the evidences of former life and activity, which had only endured for a few years. Such objects were well calculated to encourage gloomy thoughts and fancies, while the

* In 1833, Messrs. G. and E. Weller, merchants, of Sydney, formed a fishing establishment at Otakou, which was, for a short time, the most successful and important of any on the coast. In 1834, the whales caught yielded 310 tons of oil, besides bone; and for several years there were from seventy-five to eighty Europeans constantly employed. In 1840, however, the oil obtained having fallen off to 14 tons, the fishery was abandoned, and the numerous buildings required in the days of prosperity for storehouses, &c. were now (1843) falling to decay.

page 12 monotonous dreary roar of the breakers on the bar sounded ever in saddening unison.

One day, while thus occupied, we were much delighted at witnessing the forethought and ingenuity displayed by a sea-bird, a species of tern, called a “korora” by the natives, of which there were large flocks always hovering over the water, or crowded together on the sand-banks. The “pipi,” a shell fish, which is to be found on the beach, appears to be its favourite food. These little bivalves have, to a limited extent, the power of locomotion, and are generally found congregated together wherever there is a patch of soft sand, in which, as the tide recedes, they bury themselves, and remain concealed. But I have often watched them, as the first wave of the flowing tide washed over their territory, raise themselves to the surface, to bask, as it were, in the sea-water with shell half opened. The “korora” too has seen this. As the tide flows, he is busily occupied hovering over the line of beach, prepared to drop a small stone, which he holds in his beak, between the divided valves of the blind “pipi.” He is then able to feast on his prey at leisure.

A similar example of the ingenuity of a sea- page 13 bird may be witnessed by any one who travels from Wakatane to Opotiki, in the Bay of Plenty.

Near the former place are several miles of perfectly smooth and very hard beach, on which, at low water, may be seen every here and there the broken shells of another, but much larger species of bivalve. This the bird carries to a great height, whence it lets it fall on the beach, and then descends itself to pick out the flesh from the broken fragments of the shell.

At Otakou, I saw, for the first time, the effect of a singular but dreadful disease, called Tuhawaiki, by which a woman had lost her hands and toes, as though they had been frost-bitten. She was not more than thirty years of age, and appeared to be at present healthy. The mutilated stumps had healed, but the limbs had a shrivelled appearance, and were of a darker colour than other parts of her body.

This disease must now be of rare occurrence, as I have never seen a case of it in the Northern Island, nor to the south of Hakaroa, more than two or three old cases of mutilations of the extremities, said to have been caused by it. The page 14 account, given by the natives, of its commencement and progress seemed to me to agree with descriptions of mortification of the extremities, frequently seen, at certain seasons, in different districts on the Continent, and attributable there to the use of unsound wheat or spurred rye. How far it may depend here on the poisonous action of food similarly infected, I cannot venture to say.