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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Early Struggles

Early Struggles.

The relations between the natives and the settlers in this, the Northern settlement, were at first most harmonious. Strange to say, the first serious difficulty arose from the operation of a measure which had been devised in the interests, as it was supposed, of the Maori race, viz., the treaty of Waitangi. Under this no settler could legally purchase land from the natives after 1840. Governors Hobson and Shortland had no funds to purchase with, and consequently had been able to buy but very little on behalf of the Crown. The natives being thus deprived of their usual supply of money from this source, complained of the injustice of the arrangement; the Governor, they said, would neither purchase land from them himself nor suffer others to purchase.

The murmurs of the natives became louder and louder, the situation was menacing and Fitzroy gave way. In March. 1844, a proclamation was gazetted authorising people to purchase land direct from the natives, on the purchaser paying 10s an acre to the Government. But this was looked upon as too high a price by the European purchaser, and only 1795 acres of land were purchased under the proclamation. The settlers were disgusted, and busied themselves in exciting discontent among the Maoris. They represented to the latter that as the Government claimed such a heavy price for the land, they were unable to give the owners of the soil the fair value they were enttitled to; that by the Governor's proclamation the Treaty of Waitangi was reduced to a mere deception, and that their land was virtually taken from their control. The Maoris around Auckland, who were most immediately concerned in the law, determined to strike a moral blow by a display of strength. A great gathering of the tribes was summoned to assemble at a hakari, a feast, feast the vicinity of Auckland, and crowds of armed warriors intimated to the Governor that unless the law were modified there might be a rising of the whole native race. The feast was given to the Waikato tribes, and the place of assembly was about two miles from the town on a fern plain between Mounts Hobson and St. John, a spot now covered with villas and gardens. Here a shed four hundred yards long was erected, and covered with Witney manufacture, and fifty yards from it there was a breastwork of potatoes, surrounded by a fence loaded with dried shark. As the warriors congregated, an uneasy feeling spread through the town. On the 11th May the Governor visited this Gargantuan feast by invitation. At the banquet there were away to the guests 11,000 baskets of potatoes, 9000 sharks, 100 full-grown pigs, 1000 blankets, and large quantities of wheat, rice, sugar, and tobacco. At a given signal each tribe seized the food portioned out for it.

Then came a grand war-dance, the greatest exhibition of the sort that Auckland has ever seen. Seventeen tribes took part in the pageant; sixteen hundred men armed with page 8 guns and tomahawks. The adverse bands occupied hills a mile apart. With muskets glittering in the sun, their tomahawks and clubs waving in the air, they stamped their wild war-dance, and then, alternately, rushed thundering down the slope. Halting as one man in front of their opponents, each party again defied the other in dances and shouts and yells. Then one body, the strangers, fled up the hill, halted, danced, rushed down again at their utmost speed and again halted, like soldiers at a review, at the word of their chief, within pistol-shot of the adverse party, who were crouched to receive them with spears, the front rank kneeling, the mass behind, about forty deep, having muskets and other weapons in readiness. Each body consisted of about eight hundred men in a compact mass, twenty in front, and forty deep, their movements absolutely simultaneous, like well-drilled soldiers.

One incident in connection with this great war dance is worthy of record. A native war dance is the most curious sight to be witnessed in New Zealand, and will soon be among the things of the past. A few of our country women on the occasion in question were unwittingly compelled to become spectators of a scene—as Mr. Swainson says—"hardly to be equalled in the uncivilised world." Many Aucklanders, including a few ladies desirous of witnessing the manners and customs of the natives, made holiday and walked out to pay a visit to the great Maori camp. It was not then generally known that a Maori war dance of the olden days was an entirely undress performance. A feather adorned the head, a patch of red ochre the cheek, and a handsome tatooed scroll was frequently embossed upon the hip; but the mat and blanket were thrown aside as cumbersome superfluities.

As soon as it was announced that a war dance was about to be performed, the space allotted for the purpose was immediately walled in by the eager and expectant bystanders, the ladies being politely accommodated with front places. Closely hemmed in by their countrymen behind, their escape or retreat was impossible; and when some hundreds of the tattooed warriors, with frantic shrieks, wild gestures, and hideous grimaces, rushed yelling into the arena, the ladies evidently thought that a New Zealand war dance was more honoured in the breach than in the observance, says our authority.

The soldiers in Auckland sunk into nothing before this display; and the settlers, for the first time, admitted that they lived in New Zealand on sufferance. Two hundred chiefs and men of influence returned the Governor's visit, and requested that their lands should be secured to them. After this interview the assembly dispersed.

The display produced the desired effect: terrified by the one race, and cajoled by interested parties of the other, Captain Fitzroy rescinded the ten shilling an acre proclamation, and issued another allowing purchase from the natives on the payment of 1d per acre to the Crown. Nor was this the last panic. After the destruction of Kororareka, consternation spread through the town of Auckland. When the penniless and haggard inhabitants of Kororareka, packed like slaves in Guinea ships, landed on the beach, the terror of the settlers, apparent to the friendly Waikato tribes, increased when the people heard that Heke was to attack Auckland next full moon. Out-settlers, dreading a war of races, congregated about Auckland; several colonists left the country, and property could be bought at a nominal price. Britomart Barracks were entrenched, and two blockhouses built; a militia ordinance was hastily passed, and 300 men trained to arms. Fort Ligar, an earthwork near the Roman Catholic Chapel, was thrown up, and the windows in St. Pauls Church were barricaded. Every day Heke grew more terrible in people's minds. A sentry was posted on the roof of the barracks to catch the first glimpse of his army. One night the firing of musketry was heard, the drumsbeat the Governor and troops ran to arms, the officers and men of Her Majesty's ship Hazard landed, and all remained in attitudes of defence until daylight, and then much merriment arose when it was found that the alarm originated in the firing of guns at Orakei to celebrate a chief's death. Te Wherowhero, seeing the terror of the inhabitants, offered to defend Auckland against Heke.

Again, after the defeat of the troops at Okaihau and Ohaeawai, yet deeper terror was struck into the hearts of our pilgrim fathers. With disorganised finances, a bankrupt treasury, and a defeated defence force—a body of troops seemingly quite unable to cope with the foe—matters did indeed look hopeless.

But there was a silver lining to this dark cloud. Captain Grey landed, and sunshine again beamed on the colony. Our disasters on the field were retrieved, our troops victorious, the enemy sued for peace, our credit was restored and finances were placed on a proper footing, Peace once more reigned over the land, and there was plenty in the town and settlement. What wonder that Sir George Grey should have been hailed as the saviour of the country, and that his name is still a power in the land.