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The Southern Districts of New Zealand

Chapter VII

page 124

Chapter VII.


Nov. 3.—On a Friday, the sailor's day of evil omen, I set sail from Waikouaiti, in Stephen Smith's whale-boat, to visit Moeraki, the principal native settlement in this part of the island. The distance was about twenty miles by water. Besides my natives, who had no skill in boating, we took two who had gained some experience as whalers; and I invited a gentleman named Earle, who had come here to collect birds, and other specimens valuable to a naturalist, to join us. On our way, we proposed to visit a place called Matainaka, where coal had been found. page 125 This was not accessible at all times; for a short distance south of it a reef ran from the mainland, several miles seaward, directly in our course; and, though at one point a boat could cross the reef, the passage was dangerous, except in fine weather.

We were about two miles distant from this, when the wind came up strong from the southward. As we neared the rocks, one of the natives stood up in the head of the boat to direct the steersman. There was no clear passage to be seen; and we soon found ourselves in a short broken sea, with rocks on all sides, their black summits showing every now and then between the waves. A whaler's skill, with a native pilot, got us through this difficulty, with no more inconvenience than that of shipping a little water; and we landed shortly after on a beach not more than ten yards broad, but protected by a natural breakwater of kelp, so as to form a secure boat-harbour in case of emergency. Here we found the coal: part of a seam, about two feet in thickness, being left exposed above the level of the beach. A few tons had been taken, at different times, to the page 126 neighbouring whaling station, and burnt at the forge; but the specimens thus tried were not well reported of, as they were said to contain a good deal of sulphur, and to be very inferior to that brought from New South Wales. These, however, were all obtained from the surface, where, I believe, the coal is always found to be of an inferior quality. In this neighbourhood, the natives find the slabs of freestone, used in grinding the pounamu. It is a district, therefore, where a geologist would look for coal; but the difficulty and expense of transporting it to Otakou, the nearest harbour, will, for a long time, render it useless to settlers. Having brought with us a pick-axe and shovel for the purpose, we dug a few bushels, and then prepared to depart, first taking two reefs in our lug-sail, as the wind was increasing.

We had now a broad bay of six or seven miles to cross, and had made about one mile of our distance, when the wind suddenly shifted from south to south-west, causing the sail to gibe; and the sheet being slackened incautiously at the same instant, the foot of the sail was carried over the mast-head. For some minutes, our fate was page 127 doubtful; but we had an able and cool steersman, who by keeping the boat steadily before the wind prevented her being upset. All efforts, however, to extricate the sail were fruitless, till a stronger blast relieved us by carrying it, with the mast, over the bows. Smith and his two natives—for mine lay in the bottom of the boat, wrapt in their blankets, and resigned to whatever might happen—soon set up our shortened mast, and close-reefed the sail, now quite large enough to expose to the fury of the gale.

In half an hour we were under shelter of the headland at Katiki, and soon after reached a sandy beach, called Onekakara. At this place a whaling station had been formed, a few years before, by a Mr. Hughes, who met us with a hearty welcome. His wife, a New Zealand lady, as soon as she found her husband had guests, set about making preparations for entertaining us with the best fare her larder could boast; and in a very short time a liberal supply of potatos and pork was placed on the table, with a large jug of goats' milk; and, as Mr. Hughes and his companions had long since drained their last can of grog, a capacious kettle of whalers' tea page 128 stood on the hearth, ready for the use of those who liked it. This tea, an infusion of “manuka” boughs, is a beverage much drunk by the whalers; it is very wholesome, and, although not palatable at first, appears to be agreeable to those who have become accustomed to it. The leave of the “manuka” (leptospermum scoparium) furnished Captain Cook with a substitute for tea in his first voyage: and in his following voyage, he used the small branches of this shrub and of the tree “rimu,” (dacrydium cupressinum,) in equal proportions, to make the decoction from which he brewed the spruce beer,* frequently referred to by him as a valuable anti-scorbutic.

Mr. Hughes had a very comfortable weather-boarded house, and a large barn with a thrashing-floor: for he was a farmer as well as whaler, and had several acres of wheat, besides potatos and other vegetables. The bread we had just been eating was made from home-grown corn, ground in a hand-mill, and was very good. I also observed some very creditable cultivations, the property of the other whalers, appearing as green

* Captain Cook's account of his mode of brewing this beer, and his description of the spruce tree, will be found in the Appendix.

page 129 patches every here and there between the trees and brushwood, with which Nature had clothed the neighbouring hilly ground.

While passing in front of a hut, I was invited to visit a sailor who lived within, and who had had a bad leg for many years, which rendered him unfit for any other work than that of signal man. While the rest of his companions were actively engaged in the boats, he was carried every day during the season to the summit of the most projecting point of the cliff, where he sat under a shed, glass in hand, to look out for whales. By means of a mast and yard, and some signals, he was able to give notice to the boats in whatever direction he discovered a whale; and so earned a small share in the fortunes of the fishery. This man had been in many hospitals, among others the Grampus, replaced by the Dreadnought, off Greenwich. Probably, I felt more interested in his fate, having formerly resided, while a student, in that hospital. I found the bone to be much diseased, and therefore recommended that the limb should be taken off. To this he agreed joyfully; having, as he said, suffered so much pain at night that page 130 he had frequently begged his comrades to chop it off. I always carried with me a supply of useful drugs, among which I fortunately had one which I thought likely to relieve him from his torments. I supplied him with a sufficient quantity of this to last him several weeks, and promised to arrange some plan for his removal to Hakaroa, where he might be placed under the care of the surgeon of the French corvette; that gentleman being always ready to give his professional assistance to those who needed it, whether of his own or any other nation.

In the evening, Mr. Hughes entertained us with tales of his personal adventures. He very willingly informed me how many whales had been caught, and how much oil made, in each successive year from 1837, when he first established this station, to the present time. Speaking of the quantity of oil and bone procurable from a whale, he said that he knew an instance where fourteen tons of oil had been obtained from one fish; but he considered that five tons was about the quantity a fish of an average size would yield. With regard to bone, he estimated that a breeding cow and calf pro- page 131 duced about one hundred weight of bone to one ton of oil; but a small fat whale a much less proportion.

Fortunately there were now no spirits at the station, or it might not have presented so orderly an aspect; as it had, par excellence, a character for drunkenness. At the commencement of the previous season a cask of rum had been rolled on the beach; and, its head having been knocked out, all hands were allowed to help themselves at pleasure. Such wild drinking bouts were formerly not unfrequent; but of late years they have declined sensibly.

Nov. 4.—I sent Smith home with his boat, and removed my tent to the native village at Moeraki. It is situated on a promontory, with a beach on either side on which boats can be hauled up. In the offing is the reef Takia-maru, a celebrated fishing ground for the “hapuku” or rock cod, as it is called by the whalers—the finest fish of these seas. The adjoining hills are rich in wood and soil, and produce abundant and excellent crops of potatos, enough to supply the residents, and any vessels calling at the whaling station, besides a large page 132 quantity which is carried in boats for sale at Otakou.

I did not take a census of the population, but estimated it at about two hundred of both sexes and all ages. Owing, however, to their fondness for visiting their relatives at a distance, for which purpose they make voyages up and down the coast, from Hakaroa to Rakiura (Stewart's Island), their numbers left at home are constantly fluctuating; and at this time there were many absentees.

A tragedy had been enacted, a week before I arrived, by a woman named Hinekino (woman of evil), who had killed one of her children in a brutal manner. She had two others by a white man with whom she now lived; but the unfortunate slain was the daughter of a former native husband, and twelve years of age. This child being missed unexpectedly, the mother, when asked where it was, said that it had run away into the bush. She was not believed, however, as on former occasions the child, when beaten by her, had been in the habit of seeking refuge among its relatives at the Pa. Te Ruakaio, Hughes's wife, a near relative of Tuha- page 133 waiki, went with two companions to search the bush, and after some time discovered the body in a water-hole. They immediately returned to their house, where they met the mother, and taxed her with the murder. After some hesitation she confessed it. Several natives and Europeans then went to the spot, and dragged the body from the water. The hands were found tied behind the back with flax; the legs also were bound, and several large stones were laid on the body.

The whalers were very urgent to have Hinekino seized and tried by English law; and, as she was a person of no importance, the natives seemed not inclined to offer any obstacle. Many even expressed themselves in favour of her being punished by the law of the white man.

This was a case of more than ordinary atrocity, and it would have been no hard matter to have seized, tried, and hung Hinekino. But would it have been wise to do so; thus establishing a precedent difficult, or perhaps impossible, to follow in the next case that occurred? I then thought, and still think, that it would have been most impolitic to attempt to carry into page 134 execution our laws to punish crimes not affecting Europeans, without being prepared to do so in every subsequent case. The law, which applied only to the weak, and not to the strong, would surely be little respected.

In the Northern Island, the natives had universally recognized the right of the Government to apply English law to all cases in which Europeans, as well as natives, were concerned. Indeed, the protection of the lives of the settlers demanded the enforcement of this right. In one case of murder, the guilty person, though a chief, * had been given up, and his father had acknowledged the justice of the sentence which condemned him to death. But they had always refused to consent to the application of our laws to cases occurring among themselves alone. At least, the only persons who professed assent were the suffering party, who were anxious to use

* Maketu Wharetotara, the young chief referred to, was executed at Auckland, 7th March, 1842, after a formal trial. He admitted the justice of his sentence, and professed great penitence for his crime; and it is worthy of remark, that his father, Ruhe, during the disturbances caused by Heke, in the north part of New Zealand, in 1845, took an active part among those natives who served with Her Majesty's troops.

page 135 our laws, or any other means, to obtain satisfaction; but if, the next day, they had committed a similar offence, they would have denied the authority before so anxiously invoked.

The influence of English law must necessarily, at length, reach all Her Majesty's subjects, whether of European or native origin. As a first step, it might be enforced within certain limits, first of a township, then of a wider district, and so on. Such a mode of proceeding would be likely to obtain the ready assent of every intelligent New Zealander; and surely a principle, once established on the basis of reason, is more calculated to endure, than if introduced by force. Fortunately, the most certain method of prevailing with a New Zealander is to apply to his reason. Only get him to assent that your proposition is “tika” or straight, and you will soon obtain his consent to it. And it is notorious that, having once openly given his opinion, he will seldom retract. It is contrary to the use of his countrymen to do so; and he is, therefore, very cautious how he pledges himself openly and unreservedly. Being as great a lover of liberty as any in the world, force—unless page 136 it be overpowering and irresistible—above all a threat, is the worst possible influence to employ with him.

The natives at this place, although mostly professing Christianity, were divided into two parties, one calling themselves “Children of Wesley,” the other “The Church of Pahia.” These parties maintained constant disputes on the subject of religion; so that division and bad feeling had been introduced into almost every family. Such a state of things appeared to have arisen from the circumstance of their never having had other instructors than native missionaries of the opposite persuasions of Wesley and the Church, who, being young men very partially instructed in the principles of Christianity, had set themselves to work to make proselytes, with a spirit more natural to a New Zealander, than becoming to a Christian. In this small village, there were consequently two chapels; and the rivalry of the two congregations might be noticed even in the loud and obstinate din which issued from two iron pots, the common substitute for a belfry.

My eldest native belonged to the “Church of page 137 Pahia,” and, having been educated in the house of an English missionary, proved himself more competent to give instruction than the native teacher of the place. On this account, he was treated with great consideration, and was invited to preach on the approaching Sunday. He asked my consent, which I readily gave, although I afterwards saw cause to regret that I had not dissuaded him from undertaking an office he was little qualified to discharge.

On my return to Waikouaiti, I was shown some large bones, which had been discovered accidentally by a whaler, who, as he was walking along the neighbouring beach, struck his foot against one of them which projected above the surface. This he naturally enough mistook for a human bone; but on bringing it to the village, it was recognized by the natives as that of a bird now extinct, called by them a “Moa,” and a search was at once made for more, with the idea that they would be saleable at Sydney or Wellington. Unfortunately, a pick-axe was used for this purpose, which, although very few were obtained, produced sad havoc among those page 138 left behind; as I discovered, a few days after, nearly the whole of a large number which I then collected, on the same beach, being more or less mutilated. These had been washed ashore during the night by a gale, the sea having, no doubt, stirred up the soil loosened by the former digging; and, as I was the first to visit the place, they fell into my hands.

On examination, this part of the beach was observed to be composed of sand nearly as far as low water mark: then came a stratum somewhat resembling peat, being a mixture of fine sand and earth, with a large proportion of vegetable matter. In this the bones were embedded, as far as could be judged, in great numbers; but as they were always partially under water, it was not easy to get at them.

How came they to be entombed in this place? will be a natural inquiry. In order that the reader may more readily understand the explanation offered, he is reminded that bars at the mouths of rivers are formed by materials brought down by their waters, and deposited where their velocity is checked by the opposing force of the waves of the sea; the heaviest page 138a page 139 bodies subsiding first, and the lightest, where the forces of the river-current and the waves counteract each other, so as to cause still water.

By examining the annexed sketch of the bay and river of Waikouaiti, it will be seen that the rocky headland, to the west of which the river now discharges itself, is separated from the adjacent table-land by a narrow space of sand, elevated but little above high water mark. If, now, the dotted lines traced at the base of this table-land, be supposed to represent the course of the river in times past, the spot marked D, where the bones lie, would correspond with the former position of a bar at its mouth; and, if these bones, or rather the birds whose skeletons they formed, were at some time or other—perhaps at the season of an extraordinary flood, perhaps on different occasions—swept away from some resort inland, they might have been brought down by the river, and deposited in this position, together with other matters of a similar specific gravity, such as the peat-like substance above described appears to have been.

page 140

The birds whose bones * were found here, belonged to wingless species, like the ostrich, and might therefore easily have been surprised by the waters of a flood, in a place whence their escape was impossible.

* Similar bones have been found in other parts of the Middle Island, and on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand; but none, I believe, to the northward of the East Cape. Professor Owen, who has examined a great number of those which have, at different times, been carried to England, has determined them to have belonged to several varieties of two distinct genera of struthious birds, named by him Dinornis and Palapteryx. The native name, “Moa,” is the same which, in Polynesia, commonly signifies the domestic fowl. It would seem, therefore, that some of these birds must have been still in existence, when the ancestors of the New Zealanders first colonized these islands; and so their traditions relate.