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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

The Whalers

page 5

The Whalers.

Reference has been made to the European settlement in the Bay of Islands now bearing the name of Russell, then known as Kororareka, a little hell that spread its contaminating influence over the whole surrounding country. But even before the time of Kororareka many Europeans had settled on the coast who must not be confounded with the ruffianly rabble of idlers, beach-combers, and whalers, landed from their shins merely to enjoy riotous living for a few days, such as constituted the population of this Alsatia of the Southern Seas. The sealers, whalers, and even the runaway convicts who cast in their lot with the Maoris, were the first to implant the seeds of civilisation in the native race, and of these the whalers are generally allowed to have exercised the most beneficial influence They came in after the sealers, and in 1827 the first whaling station was established at Preservation Inlet, near the south end of the South Island, and in a few years there were twelve stations between that place and Banks' Peninsula. In Queen Charlotte's Sound, in Cloudy Bay, on the Island of Kapiti, and at other places in Cook's Strait, were large whaling establishments. On the North Island there were whaling stations in Poverty Bay, in the Bay of Plenty, and at Taranaki. These whalers were living in the country long before the missionaries ever visited the districts, and they purchased from the natives the exclusive right of fishing along a certain line of coast. Three hundred whalers were settled in New Zealand in 1840—men, as we have before stated, not to be confounded with the riotous liberty men of Korarareka.

Most of these whalers possessed native wives, many of them selected from the best families of the land, and from a tact peculiar to native women, these whalers' wives generally obtained strong influence over their husbands; they often acted as mediators in drunken quarrels, promoted good feeling between the two races, and occasionally turned the tippler into a sober man. The whalers, on the other hand, are acknowledged to have exercised a beneficial influence on the aboriginals, by creating new wants and introducing new customs. Everything used by them was coveted by the natives, and pigs, flax, labour, and land were readily given in exchange for tea, sugar, tobacco, blankets, and dress. Canoes were superseded by whaleboats. Chimneys, beds, and glass windows were introduced in native huts. The whalers taught their wives to sew, cook, and keep themselves clean, and they in turn invariably took a laudable pride in decking themselves out for their husbands' admiration. Impartial witnesses in 1840 admitted that the civilisation introduced by these men was more practically useful than that around the missionary stations. The whaler natives (says Thompson) could not read and write, but they knew more English, were better clad, and were more industrious than Christian natives. Bishop Selwyn also expressed the obligations that the cause of civilisation among the Maoris owes to the lessons taught by these pioneer settlers.