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Taranaki: A Tale of the War

Chapter I. — Introductory

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Chapter I.

“Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.”


Most writers agree that, in this busy life of ours, each man who is or happens to have been actively engaged in it, has a tale to tell of his individual experiences more interesting than a tale of fiction or romance. Influenced by such opinion, and feeling its truth from our own experience, we again appear before our kind readers with a description, such as it appeared to us, of Taranaki and some of the incidents that befel this unfortunate Province of New Zealand during those eventful years, 1860 and 1861. But as many are, no doubt, engaged in a like undertaking, our attempt shall take the semblance more of a continuous diary, connecting the chain of events and intermingling those incidents which came under our observation, with our own impressions and descriptions of each; perehance, those impressions might have been more general—for page 4 that we care not,—but yet they may be of some interest in their perusal in after years, when the mind that viewed them so has vanished from the earth, and the hand that traced them be no more.

We shall freely use the liberty of a British subject and write of all as we found them; but, in order to prevent ill-feeling, we will in the outset pledge ourselves to avoid, as far as possible, any personal description likely to cause such, and that names of persons shall be fictitious, though, to make our work interesting, domestic scenes and traits of character must be introduced such as they were to be met with during the war.

So much angry discussion has taken place, both at home and abroad, relative to the origin of this outbreak of the Native tribes, that we refrain from dwelling on it, and therefore will only state, as far as we can judge, that the dispute about the correct ownership of a portion of land at Waitara led to its commencement being as a subterfuge only, to enable the Native tribes to assert their position in the affairs of the Island by having an authorised Chief or King, and that therefore the real origin of the War was “the King Movement.”

There is little doubt, as all the newspapers of the day, and opinions put forth at the various public meetings, letters published, pamphlets circulated, &c., shew, that the Church of New Zealand, more particularly its leaders, were instrumental in fomenting, for years previously, this policy of the King Movement amongst their adherents throughout the savage tribes.

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According to our own idea, under a blind zeal for the cause they belonged to, and to increase their own individual power over the Native population, it is most, natural also to infer that, after twenty-five years of hardship and labour amongst the tribes, they should feel anxious to inculcate into the minds of their followers a certain desire for equality with the British; whilst, on the other hand, they forgot that the tribes were not fit to obtain a proper view of those principles of freedom or equality with British subjects, being little more than savages, but lately changed from open and direct cannibalism. They, therefore, as we said above, blindly gave them an advantage over the settlers by drawing a contrast between them, the disastrous effect of which they could not or would not foresee, and which they now find they cannot control. Such, then, was the state of feeling towards the settlers previous to the commencement of the war. The English settler was looked upon as an usurper, and the English Government as tyrannical and grasping, aiming at naught but the immediate possession of their lands and extirpation of their race. With such ideas carefully disseminated through the warlike tribes by those who are ever at hand ready to create disturbance and confusion, it is not to be wondered at that the feeling spread far and wide amongst the savage hordes to whom war and depredation was a part and parcel of their nature. It was not long before this feeling began to shew itself, and the sad events that followed in a few short months rendered the smiling valley a desert, and the once happy home a blackened ruin.

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Amongst the sufferers were one or two families whose history and fate we purpose to follow, entwined, as it was, with all the incidents of this war, and from their story we may glean at least a correct account of how the war and its calamities affected many others placed in a similar position. Before, however, we introduce this family to our readers, we return to a short description of the Province one year previous to the war.

So many accounts and descriptions of the settlement are before the public, that ours will only be a cursory glance. Its geographical position, lying as it does between 38° and 40° South latitude, and 170° and 175° East longitude from Greenwich, might lead one infer that the climate was similar to that of New South Wales or Victoria; such, however, is not the case, for the heat of summer is considerably lessened by the frequency of South-easterly winds, blowing from Mount Egmont, which is generally covered with snow. These, and the fresh breezes from the sea, tend much to cool and purify the air.

From the height of Mount Egmont, 8,000 feet above the level of the sea, and the range of mountains surrounding, the fall of rain at all seasons of the year is of frequent occurrence, and from the deposits of snow on those ranges and the natural formation of the country, numerous streams, forming deep ravines and gullies, intercept in every part the plateau extending from the base of the ranges to the sea, over a distance of 150 miles from Wanganui to the cliffs beyond the river Waitara.

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On a nearer view, these mountain streams, as they may be called, deeply indented as they are, cause a considerable change in what at the first glance seems a level plain, for there is no portion of the earth more interspersed with hill and dale than Taranaki, or which Nature has embellished with a greater number of charming glens and lovely valleys, deep ravines, and retired nooks, from the tortuous windings of these mountain torrents. Equally beneficent has Nature been as to its soil, rich and loamy, with the peculiarity of great depth and without rock or stone. The thoroughly cleared land does not extend in any place beyond three miles from the sea, and in many parts not one; but numerous clearings and homesteads have sprung up within this continuous belt of wooded bush land, extending along its entire face, and, at the time we speak of, the year before the war, there was every prospect of its being a wealthy and fast improving settlement.

Most of the settlers had been men of capital, and had laid out large sums in reclaiming their lands and erecting homesteads, so that, even in spite of the lack of a harbour or port for shipping, it was progressing favourably,—the greatest impediment being the difficulty of purchasing land, and the most injurious principle of Maori reserve, or the law directing that a tenth part of all lands sold or purchased from them should be so reserved.

Of the nature of this arrangement, or the policy of its introduction, we cannot speak; but there cannot page 8 be the slightest doubt that it has been the means of lessening the chance of reclaiming the Natives to civilization or accustoming them to the manners of the settlers located among them, thus keeping them wedded to their rude and savage customs, herding together in pahs, as they did one hundred years before. In addition to this was the fatal mistake, so contrary to the time-honored principle of colonization, teaching our own language to the Natives of a new Colony, that of actually making a language, or, at least, forming it into character by an infinity of research, difficulty and labour, by upwards of twenty years' close application and study of the oral powers of those employed in its compilation, and then the teaching to the savage population those characters as the expression of the words and sounds of their native tongue, which was, and has proved a far more tedious and difficult task than the teaching to them a language thoroughly known and understood by the teachers as their native tongue, for, after all, what was the consequence: first, you had to teach the character, which was the English character, then the sound, as learnt by the teacher orally, then the grammar concocted from English, whereas, if at the outset the English itself had been taught, far easier would have been the labour, and vastly more important its results, not only in the facility by which, after the full knowledge of the language was obtained, you could communicate with them universally as a nation akin to us, but also by the breaking down of the savage customs page 9 so prejudicial and opposed to those of the Colonists, and other evils felt to this hour.

There are, no doubt, many arguments in favor of forming and teaching the Maori language, but all such are set at rest by the simple reply, “'tis against the interest of Great Britain as a nation, and contrary to the fundamental principles of Colonial polity,” as followed by every colonizing nation since the world began. We need not go back to ancient history as a proof of the soundness of the foregoing policy, and how the Greeks and Romans in their new-founded Colonies invariably taught, and, by the strong arm of might, compelled the Natives to learn their language. But, let us take one single instance in our own times. The philanthropy of England, rescuing from slavery hundreds of the negro population of Africa, do not set to work to cause their officers and agents over those rescued blacks to learn their languages and customs, but employ every means to teach them English, whereby they are now gradually becoming English in their customs and character as a nation. Those who have chosen the soldier's life are, and have ever been, found honest, true, and devoted to their colours as British soldiers: the customs of their fathers forgotten, they lose their nationalty in becoming loyal adherents and staunch defenders of British supremacy. Such, we affirm, would have been the case in New Zealand if the time, labour, and expense, for the last five and twenty years employed in forming a useless and imperfect language, was used in the teaching English and its customs, page 10 and using every endeavour to change the native and savage ones to ours, instead of giving way to them in every iota, permitting their customs to be their law in defiance of British law, and cherishing their habits and peculiarities, contrary to moral and revealed religion. Our space does not permit us to enter more at large into this subject, for our object is merely, from individual experience, to write a story, pleasing, beneficial, and truthful for our readers, that they may be led therefrom to form not only a correct impression of the war, but see the real cause in its proper light, of its origin and continuance.