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The Southern Districts of New Zealand

Chapter VI

page 105

Chapter VI.


ALL the cases brought before the Commissioner's Court having been examined, he left Otakou, on the 15th of October, in the Government brig, which had arrived the day before. I then removed to the native village at Te Rauone; and after having remained a few days there, hired a boat to take me to Waikouaiti, Mr. J—'s whaling station. At that place there were also a small body of natives, and a Wesleyan Missionary, who had very hospitably offered to give me a bed at his house.

I accordingly set sail at day-break, on a misty page 106 morning, but with a fair breeze off the land, which carried us the whole distance, about eleven miles, in two hours and a-half. We landed on the bank of the small river, which gives its name to this place, and flows into the southern extremity of a sandy bay. The mouth of the river is somewhat protected from the roll of the sea by a projecting headland, close to which there is deep water, while from its lofty summit a good view may be had of the offing, and of any whale which may chance to spout there. These advantages render the site an eligible one for a whaling station. It had first been occupied for this purpose, in 1837, by a merchant of Sydney, who became bankrupt the year following; and was then bought by the present proprietor, who has carried on the fishery, since that time, with various success.

Mr. J—'s history afforded one of many instances of the rapidity with which persons, in New South Wales, have elevated themselves from a lowly position to one of great wealth. It is a history of which he is justly proud, and there is no reason, therefore, why it should not be told.

When a boy, he had been a sealer on the page 107 coast of this island. Having saved enough money to purchase a boat, he went to Sydney, and employed himself as a waterman. There, being a careful and shrewd man, he found lucrative ways of investing his savings. Finally, he commenced business as a merchant; and in 1841, was considered one of the most wealthy and respectable of his class. In his prosperous days, he had speculated largely in the whale fisheries; he had also sent sheep, cattle, and several families of labourers, to this place, and had commenced farming operations on a more extensive scale than, perhaps, any other individual in New Zealand. In this he had distinguished himself from the great body of land-claimants, who had, in most cases, never attempted even to take possession of the land they pretended to have purchased. In 1840, he prevailed on the Wesleyan Society to send a missionary to Waikouaiti, by liberally offering to convey him and his family without charge, and to build a house for their reception.

About two years after this, ruin overtook most of the merchants at Sydney, where wild speculations, and a system of credit, had been carried page 108 on to an extreme seldom before heard of. Mr. J— suffered among the rest, but managed to retain his property in New Zealand, where he retired with his wife and family; so that, on my arrival at this, the then “ultima Thule” of the colony, my ears were astonished at the sounds of a piano, and my eyes at the black “cutaway” and riding whip of a young gentleman, lately of Emman. Coll. Cantab., but now acting tutor to Mr. J—'s son and heir.

The weather, for some while after my arrival, was very boisterous and rainy; the rivers flooded, and the country quite unfit for travelling. This caused a delay in my proposed journey, by land, to Banks's Peninsula, which I found very irksome, but which, at the same time, enabled me to collect information respecting the different whaling establishments on the coast, and other matters of interest.

To equip one of these stations necessarily requires the outlay of a large sum of money. A pair of sheers, such as are used for taking out or putting in the masts of ships, must be erected, in order to raise the immense carcases above water, that they may be cut up more page 109 conveniently and expeditiously. It is also necessary to build try-works, as they are called, where are the furnaces for melting the blubber. Add to these a storehouse, furnished with a sufficient supply of slops, spirits, cord, and canvas; and from three to five well-built and well-found boats. If, however, the season be successful, there is an immediate and large profit. For example;—in 1838, forty-one whales were caught at this place, which yielded 145 tons of oil, and about 1½ ton of bone.*

Till within the last few years, all these establishments seem to have been conducted on the same system. Some merchant at Sydney made the first necessary outlay. The men employed in the active part of the work were paid by receiving a certain per centage of the

* The value of the oil and bone together would have been about £1,500 in New Zealand, or £4,500 in the London market. The sum for which the whole establishment had shortly before been purchased at auction, in Sydney, was, as I was credibly informed, £225.

The following was the ordinary scale of payment:—

  • The chief headsman's share was 1-18th.
  • A headsman's 1-28th.
  • A boatstearer's 1-60th.
  • A cooper's or carpenter's 1-70th, or monthly wages.
  • A boatman's 1-100th.

page 110 oil procured. The remainder was the share of the merchant, at whose expense the station had been fitted out; who had also the advantage of taking the oil at his own valuation, which was very much in his own favour, as is evident from comparing the price at which it was usually bought in New Zealand with its value in the London market.*
During the whaling season, the store was allowed to remain empty; but, as soon as it drew to a close, a ship came with a supply of spirits and goods suited to the tastes of the place, and received a return freight of oil. Each man had then a credit to the amount of his share, if he had not, as was generally the case, an old debt to wipe out. Forthwith all hands gave themselves up to drink the infamous rum, or arrack, with which they were supplied; and continued to do so as long as their


Before 1843.In New Zealand.In London.
Value of black oil, per ton£8 to £12, paid in rum, goods, and part cash.£30 cash.
Value of bone, ton£50 to £56, paid in rum, goods, and part cash.£160, & upwards, cash.

page 111 credit lasted. Then followed several months of idleness and misery, during which they were badly fed, and frequently became a prey to delirium tremens, or “the horrors,” as they aptly call that disease.

Sometimes, having exhausted all their rum and eatables, they would embark in a body, and visit the nearest station, where, if they found their comrades in a better plight than themselves, they would remain till they had eaten and drank up all they had; and then, with increased numbers, make an inroad on the next station,—and so on, till all within reach had become reduced to the same state of poverty.

The merchants who fitted out these stations encouraged this mode of life as much as possible, in order to bring into their purse a larger gain; for, instead of paying in cash for the oil, they paid in property, which was retailed at a price much above the cost in Sydney. Thus the established price of one pound weight of tobacco was three shillings and sixpence, which tobacco had been purchased, very likely, but a short time before, from an American whaler, at seven-pence per pound; and, of course, no duty had been paid for it.

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The men being generally in debt, and having no money, were in a manner bound to the place; for there they could always obtain, on credit, from time to time, a supply of necessaries, just sufficient to keep them till the commencement of the next season. Indeed, it would have been difficult for any of them to leave the country; for no other vessels ever came near, except those of their employers, in which, if they had wished, they could not have obtained a passage. Not even a letter from them was suffered to reach their friends at a distance, all alike being destroyed at sea; as there existed a great jealousy lest any information relative to the fisheries should be made public in Sydney.

This state of things has now happily ceased, under the united influences of the bankruptcies of most of the Sydney merchants engaged in the trade, and the colonization of New Zealand. At present (1844) the proprietors of the fisheries are in many cases residents, and actively employed at their stations; and a great part of the oil, instead of enriching Sydney, is exported directly from New Zealand.

The men are paid on the same principle as page 113 heretofore; but are emancipated from their debasing state of vassalage, and have open to them a readier means of communication with the world; for small vessels from Wellington and Hakaroa frequently visit the coast, with such goods as are known to be most in request; and, as oil or bone is always willingly received in payment, the proprietor of the station is obliged to give the men a larger and more just price than formerly.

It is not to be expected that the seasoned topers of the old school will, or can, acquire habits of temperance. But the younger hands, being for the future more at liberty than they were before, and feeling that it is within their power to receive the price of their exertions in money, will be more careful not to squander it as they did, when they had scarcely a choice between not being paid at all, or else paid in rum; and so being made drunkards whether they would or no.

At this place I found one man who had had the courage to resist the temptation which had proved too strong for all his companions. His name was Stephen Smith; for it deserves to be page 114 recorded. While the rest had squandered their gains, he had insisted on receiving the price of his share of the oil in money, which he carefully buried in different spots known only to himself; having, as he said, no other safe mode of preserving it. There was no one to whom he could intrust its care: and if he had kept it in his house, he would infallably have been robbed; to hoard money being looked on as a crime, and the criminal fair game for spoliation. When an opportunity offered, he purchased a cow, tobacco, or any thing else he wanted.

This man, by his care and industry, was an example of what may be done by the exercise of those inestimable virtues under very disadvantageous circumstances. By the edge of a wood, about a mile distant, he had a garden of two or three acres, entirely fenced; where he cultivated potatos, corn, and garden stuff, more than sufficient for his own use. He had seven head of cattle, among which were milch cows, and a young bull, which he had broke in to harness, and on which he might frequently be seen mounted, riding to his farm. His cottage and dairy were pictures of neatness, and his page 115 soidisant wife, a native of Taranaki, with whom he had lived six or seven years, not less so. Mrs. Smith dressed like a European country girl, wore a white apron, and made excellent butter.

I found that the natives and Europeans lived on very good terms, as, in fact, appears to be the case at all these stations. The latter had small cultivation grounds, but did not advance any claim to be proprietors of the soil. On the first establishment of the station, very few natives, by all accounts, resided at Waikouaiti; but they soon increased in number, coming from other parts of the country for the sake of the tobacco, clothing, &c., which they could here obtain in exchange for their labour, or for pigs and potatos. They now possessed several boats, which they had thus purchased.

Two native women had married whalers, and nine had formed similar connexions without the solemnity of the marriage ceremony. The fruit of these unions were fourteen half-cast children. The remaining native population stood thus:—
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I may here remark, that the population of this and similar places should not be selected as a standard of comparison, in forming an estimate of the relative proportion of men, women, and children, among the natives generally throughout New Zealand. Part of the females at these places are appropriated by the Europeans; while a great number of young men come from other places at a distance, where the rest of their family reside, to hire themselves temporarily as boatmen or labourers. This observation equally applies to Auckland, Wellington, and other townships, from the native population of which very erroneous conclusions on this subject have often been arrived at.

I was glad to find that spirits were not generally drunk by the natives. Those who had acquired the habit, however, although few in number, appeared to be as much slaves to it as their European neighbours.

Their houses were built in a different fashion from those in the Northern Island. They were more lofty, and had a door opening with a wooden hinge, not sliding forward and back in a groove like the lid of a box, as is there page 117 common. They were furnished also with a window, fire-place, and chimney, and generally bed-places, built like a stage, about ten inches from the ground. These peculiarities were probably borrowed from the whalers' huts, to which they bore a general resemblance.

Here I saw for the first time, on a large scale, the native method of grinding the “pounamu” or green stone, from the rough block into the desired shape. The house belonging to the chief, Koroko, was like a stone-cutter's shop. He and another old man were constantly to be seen there, seated by a large slab of sandstone, on which they by turns rubbed backwards and forwards a misshapen block of pounamu, while it was kept moist by water, which dropped on it from a wooden vessel. While one rubbed, the other smoked. They made, however, so little progress on it during my stay, that it seemed probable it would be left for some one of the next generation to finish the work. It is not, therefore, to be wondered, that what has cost so much labour, should be regarded as the greatest treasure of the country.

Here also I saw the drill, with which holes page 118 are bored through this stone. It is formed by means of a straight stick, ten or twelve inches long, and two stones of equal weight, which are fastened about its central point, one on either side, opposite each other, so as to perform the office of the fly-wheel in machinery, and to exert the required pressure. One end of the stick, or, as we may call it, shaft of the instrument, is applied to the pounamu where the hole is to be bored. Near the other end are tied two strings of moderate length. One of these is wound round the shaft, close to the point of its attachment, and its extremity is held in one hand, while the extremity of the other string is held in the other hand. A motion is now given by pulling on the former string, which, as it unwinds, causes the instrument to revolve, and the other string becomes coiled round the shaft: this is then pulled on with a similar result; and so the page 119 motion is kept up by alternately pulling on either string. The point of the instrument can thus be made to twirl round, backwards and forwards, as rapidly as the point of a drill, moved by a bow; and merely requires to be constantly supplied with a little find hard sand and water, in order to eat its way through the pounamu or other stone, on which steel would make no impression.

One morning, finding that some natives, who lived at a small settlement called Purakaunui, were about to return home, I asked them to give me a passage, which they granted with much willingness. I took my two natives, but neither tent nor any sort of provision. It was a fine morning, and so perfectly calm, that we were obliged to pull the whole way, about eight miles. We had only four pullers, as usual, very independent fellows, utterly careless whether they arrived soon or late at the end of their voyage, each stopping to smoke, or talk, or eat, as he felt inclined; so that there were generally only two oars in the water at once, except when they would occasionally strike up a song, and pull lustily for a few minutes.

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In this they had not departed from the customs of their brethren in the north. I had, however, no right to complain, as I was their self-invited guest. Besides, I had lived long enough in New Zealand to learn to be patient; for there is not, perhaps, a better school anywhere for the study of this virtue.

Our course lay across a deep bay to a small cove, where was the native village, delightfully placed by the side of a river, deep enough to admit our boat, which entered it with the flood tide. Here was abundance of everything the New Zealanders required;—plenty of wood, a rich soil, and the sea close at hand, to supply them with fish. Nor did there appear much chance of their being disturbed; for the space of level land was too small to attract the attention of the European settler, and there were too many lofty hills surrounding it. The number of residents here I found to be—
a more favourable proportion than that at Waikouaiti.
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This place formerly belonged to a family called Urikino. The present occupants were tenants on sufferance, having fled hither from Kaiapoi, after Tamaiharanui had been kidnapped by Te Rauparaha. Their family name was Katihurihia, and their chief persons were Pukai-a-te-ao, and Kaitipu. I spent some time conversing with my new acquaintances, and looking at their cultivations.

In the meantime they had sent a messenger to their white man, an old whaler who had built himself a cottage near the beach, at a short distance from the village. They said he could give me a more comfortable night's lodging than they could. This man welcomed me with the hospitality of his class, although he possessed little but the mud and sticks of his hut, an old musket, and the clothes which covered him. He set himself to work to shoot some pigeons for my dinner; but, as he used small stones for shot, I was obliged to be very careful in eating, to avoid breaking my teeth. My bed was made from the slender branches of “manuka,” which are both soft and fragrant. I never had a better.

In the morning I woke early; and, as the page 122 dawn first peeped forth, was deafened by the sound of the bell-birds. The woods which were close by seemed to be thronged with them. Never before had I heard so loud a chorus. I called to mind Captain Cook's description of the impression made on him by the singing of these birds, when at anchor near the shore in Queen Charlotte's Sound. He is wrong, however, in saying that they sing at night, like the nightingale. They commence at dawn of day their chime of four notes, which, repeated independently by a thousand throats, creates the strangest melody. But they cease, as by one consent, the moment the sun's first rays are visible; and there is a general silence. Again, at even, they commence, just as the sun's last ray fades, and sing on till dark.

Whoever has often slept in the woods in New Zealand, will have learnt that the first bird to wake up is the “kaka” or large grey parrot, page 123 while it is yet dark. At the sound of his harsh cry the New Zealander knows that daybreak is not far off. “Kua tangi te kaka”—“The kaka has cried”—is then synonymous with “It is time to bestir one's self.”