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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

The Mission Station

The Mission Station.

Writing to the society a year later (June 18th, 1846) Mr Colenso speaks very bitterly of his location: "We larely get any news here until it is very old. The place is quite out of the way, low, damp, cold and unhealthy, surrounded with morasses, and having snow upon the mountains and hills for several months in the year. The bishop said lie thought it was the most disagreeably .situated mission station in all New Zealand. In fact there is nothing whatever to recommend it—no wates, no wood, no good harbour, no shelter from stormy winds—not having hill or tree or bush near us—no female domestics to be had among the natives, and worse than all, no well disputed natives. All my stores, cases, etc., from England have always come to hand more or less rotten and my loss has been very great. In another letter (December 31st, 1816) he described it as "the coldest mission station in New Zealand, where in the winter the milk freezes in the pantry and the water in the bedroom." He had to pay several pounds for firewood during the winter, and all water had to be fetched in casks from a consirerable distance at the rate of 1s a cask. (Journals June, 1847).

On one occasion after a flood the chief Tareha said to Colenso, "No one ever dwelt on this spot before; it has always been the dwelling place of an eel." No wonder Colenso suffered severely from rheumatism as a result of the damp situation. Later on (Journals. July, 1852. Letters October 12th, 1852) he acquired a site of 100 page 13 acres at Rotoatara—the Te Aute Lake—where he proposed to remove the station, and probably would have done so but for the termination of his connection with the Missionary Society. He gives an interesting account of the ceremony of purchase, which included the presentation of a spadeful of earth, a calabash of water from the lake, and a fern root, a ceremony of interest to students of law. This was probably the origin of the Te Aute trust estate.

In his printed paper on his first visits to the Ruahines (page 4), Mr Colenso describes the site of the mission station, and his words may be quoted here. "Words would fail me to knew the original state of that land I At this time, I resided at Waitangi, a place near what is now called Farndon—the two large fir trees, and also the row of cabbage trees, raised from seed and planted by me there mark the spot. The principal native villages near, me were at Waipureku (East Clive) and Taanenuirangi, Whakatu, and Pakowhai on the banks of the river Ngaruroro; this last village though greatly reduced and altered, still remains. In those days there was no communication overland between these villages and Waitangi and Te Awapuni (the large Maori pa, or village, near by on the west bank of the Waitangi creek where Karaitiana and his sub-tribe long resided) simply because it was impossible to travel through the dense interlaced jungle of cutting grass and other swamp-loving plants, as the flax, which grew there. The Maoris generally came in small parties almost daily (indeed too often) from those villages to the station; everything being new and strange to them, and having nothing to do; but they invariably came and returned in their small canoes, taking advantage page 14 of the tide to paddle up and down the river. I have travelled a good deal in New Zealand, but I never knew a worse piece of country to get through; neither anywhere else have I seen 'cutting grass' of so large a size, and growing go closely together, and forming such a dense mass, so that a man, a cow or a horse, could not be observed even in looking down from a height (as the top or a house, or a long ladder, or a chimney) when among the immense tussocks. Hence, too, it was that I lost some of my few first cattle before the place got cleared. The whole of the low delta or tongue of land, lying between the two rivers, Ngaruroro and Waitangi was rigidly tabooed by the Maori owners as a wild pig and swamp-hen and eel preserve; hence it had never been cleared or burnt off, and the sun did not shine upon the soil, which was just as wet at midsummer as in winter, with water and slippery mud in the narrow, deep pig channels or ruts and pools among the tussocks. I well recollect on two occasions when out visiting sick natives at Pakowhai, also having domestic natives from the neighbourhood with me, and having lost the tide when returning overland rather late in the day, we were actually obliged after much further effort and sorely against our wills (being utterly un-provided with anything) to remain out in the swamp all night—with wet feet, hungry, no fire and sadly cut hands—through not being able to find our way through the imperious jungle. I have often of late years asked myself when contemplating from the hill (Scinde Island) the rising township of Napier, and the inland level grassy plains, with their many houses, gardens and improvements, and the fast-growing town of Hastings—which of page 15 the two wonderful alterations or changes—the building of the town of Napier, or the great transformation in those swamps—I considered the most surprising, and I have always given it in favour of the plains. And this great change was brought about much earlier than I could reasonably have anticipated, through several causes operating together, viz—my own few cattle—the introduction of grain and clover seeds, and also of wheat, for the natives—and through the natives around generally embracing Christianity, the chiefs taking off the tapu from the land, and so trimming off the jungle—then catching their numerous wild pigs which infested it, and then cutting and scraping the flax for sale to the shipping and traders—who soon lifter my residence came to Ahuriri to trade." Mr Colenso explains that the site was selected because it was tapu and common to all the chiefs. Had he chosen a better site elsewhere lie would have been regarded as the special property of the chief of that locality.