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Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race

Hoolahan and the Gin-Bottle

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Hoolahan and the Gin-Bottle.

It was drawing towards the close of the Forties, when the following ludicrous but highly amusing incident occurred, and to any of those old colonists now living (but few are they indeed) who witnessed the scene or else had it described to them shortly after its occurrence, should the name of the hero of this story be mentioned incidentally by any of the old identities in relating incidents of the past, this, of all others, would be the signal for uncontrollable and side-splitting laughter, showing, thereby, that it still remained fresh and green in their minds after so many years had elapsed since its occurrence.

Now it must be born in mind that at that time the Maori was in that happy state of transition between savagedom and barbarism, and not, as he now is, a civilised and intelligent man.

During those early days of the Colony's progress, a very large proportion of the native population did not understand the intrinsic value of money, or the difference between a shilling and a sixpence.

They were two pieces of coin, certainly, and that was about all they could comprehend, but to distinguish between them they called them nui and nuki, or translated, "big" and "little" fellow.

The fact of one being worth two of the other, they had, as yet, in very many cases, to learn.

Three and four penny pieces looked like sixpences, but the more silver coins they had, they were all the better pleased.

Half crowns and five-shilling pieces had about the same value in their eyes, for they looked so much alike, but to distinguish between them, they were called "big white fellow." and "little white fellow."

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Whenever they got hold of any such they invariably put a hole through them to suspend from either ears or arms as ornaments, of which they were very proud.

However incredible it may appear to the general reader, there are several authenticated cases on record of those early days where Maoris have exchanged sovereigns for shillings, preferring the white money to the yellow, as more becoming, and contrasting better with their own bronzed skins.

Their trade, as yet, with Europeans, was confined principally to barter, from two reasons: first, from the fact that there was very little money in circulation amongst the settlers of those times of the Colony's history; and secondly, the Maoris, in trading with Europeans, always sought to acquire those articles which were of everyday and hourly use amongst them, which contact with civilization had taught them the necessity and utility of, and which could easily be procured from the European traders in exchange for whatever surplus produce they had been able to raise from their cultivations, as well as pork and fish, which formed no inconsiderable portion of their barter.

The Maoris, at this time, were the principal providors for the European population, for very few of the latter thought it worth while to compete against the native's superabundant and cheap labour, the Maori being able to produce all the food supplies that were necessary, and that at a much cheaper rate than the European could attempt, so the latter left the field open to the native, and took to trading instead, thereby making money out of the Maori's necessities.

Few native institutions, or schools, had, as yet, been planted throughout the country, and the effect or result of the education acquired in those scholastic institutions was hardly yet felt, so that the larger proportion of the native population trading with Europeans could be too easily imposed upon by designing and dishonest traders, in tendering them payment for their produce in small coins, which was, to many of them, confusing in the extreme.

But, be it said, to the honour of the general body of the Europeans of those early times, that they were an honest easy-going set, being content to make a fair page 3bargain, and live an easy indolent life—"live and let live" was their motto, and most of them carried this out to the letter.

The Author has been rather particular in this introduction, deeming it necessary to the better understanding of the story that he is about to relate, as will, no doubt, be fully comprehended further on.

As I have already stated, there were exceptions to this rule, and the incident, and person who was the hero thereof, I will now endeavour to describe, though the latter's proper name, for obvious reasons, I suppress.

Now, in this easy-going contented community there lived a mad-brained, whisky-drinking, riot-living Irishman, whom I shall name "Hoolahan," from the fact that he has left behind him a large number of descendants, who inherit some of their worthy grandparent's fighting characteristics; for, should they become aware of the fact of any one having made unwarrantable use of that, to them, revered name, there might, possibly would, be an early and unexpected funeral, so I shall omit the correct one for prudential reasons.

This worthy had few friends in the community, and was feared by all.

He was a butcher by trade, but there being few cattle or sheep in the county then, and those being too precious for stock-raising purposes, and at fabulous prices, he was, of necessity, compelled to confine himself to pork butchering.

He had to depend for the greater part of the supply of that useful animal upon the Maoris, for few of the European traders cared to have any dealings with him, as he was deemed a rogue, and gloried in being so considered by his neighbours, whilst priding himself for sharp practices.

He was in the habit of paying the natives for their live pigs in small coin, which, most certainly, was confusing to them in their reckoning and division of money afterwards.

Having carried on these disreputable practices, successfully, for a considerable period, like many others of the same kidney, he was bound to be found out at last, but not before he had made money out of it.

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Latterly, several transactions that had taken place between himself and the Maoris had not turned out satisfactory to the natives, but to the people of one hapu (tribe or family) from the coastal districts, particularly so.

The natives from inland and elsewhere had been in the habit of offering and selling to him a dozen or more pigs in one lot, but all belonging to different individuals, so that after the purchase-money had been received, and an adjournment made to their encampments for the purpose of dividing the proceeds equally amongst themselves, it was found impossible to do so, as the amount of payment, in nearly every case, was far short of that bargained for.

A party of natives, from the coast, having brought a number of pigs to this worthy to purchase, and after they had stated the price they expected to receive for them, Hoolahan thereupon produced a plethoric bag of small coins, nothing larger than a shilling being found amongst them all, the majority being much smaller, and parading its contents before their astonished gaze, he commenced slowly emptying a portion of its contents upon the block beside him, but all this while ostentatiously counting up an apparently considerable sum which he offered the natives for the whole lot of pigs.

They, however, not being satisfied, refused to sell at the price offered, whereupon the butcher put more money down, as an inducement for them to sell, but they were still dissatisfied, and would not part at the price proffered.

Hoolahan once more took some money out of the bag, and calling the spokesman forward, asked him to stretch forth both his bare arms and palms of his hands, then taking some of the money he placed it in double line, along both arms and palms, as an Irish apple-man would at a country market, quickly counting the money meanwhile, in the Maori language, of which he was a fluent speaker.

By rapid manipulation of the coins, whilst counting, and sleight-of-hand trickery, in laying down one he took up two, all this apparently correct and in good count, parading, all the time, a large number in his left hand, as if he were going to increase his offer handsomely, thus completely confusing and mystifying, but nevertheless page 5making the unsophisticated natives believe that he had given them the full amount asked for.

In this manner did he cajole and hoodwink the Maoris to sell and it is not to be wondered at that they invariably found themselves short in their divisions of the money afterwards.

This same party of Maoris after arrival at their encampment called in an educated native a member of one of the scholastic institutions lately established in the country to count up the money and divide it equitably amongst those concerned.

This individual after counting it up carefully and correctly found that it totalled about half the amount agreed upon thus showing them clearly that they had been grossly imposed upon.

They all returned this man included to seek Hoolahan being determined to make him refund the amount deficient.

But that arrant rogue was not to be found anywhere, his shop being closed and no one seen about to inform them of his whereabouts.

Great was the "hubbub" they kicked up and loud the expressions of revenge they intended to take upon the dishonest Pakeha (white man) if he did not give them their proper utu (payment).

A considerable crowd of onlookers had collected by this time to see the fun that was going on and some of them from sheer devilment whilst others having a heart-felt wish to see this detested butcher punished, gave such advice to the natives which would have made things lively for Hoolahan if they had caught him there and then.

That worthy was all the time ensconsed within his house but took good care to keep out of sight of the angry crowd of natives nevertheless he was listening attentively to all that transpired without

It is necessary for me here to state the better to understand the story that of all things a Maori dreads most is a drunken white man.

One such at that time would have put to flight with fear and trembling, fifty Maoris.

They consider anyone in that state haurangi (mad, and thereby tapu (sacred).

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They would rather die first than hurt one hair of a mad person's head.

Hoolahan well knowing this peculiar trait of the Maori, took his cue accordingly.

He possessed himself of a square gin-bottle, and filling it with water to represent whisky having also, secured the longest and largest butcher's knife he possessed, which had all the appearance of a small sword, waited patiently an opportunity for the fulfilment of his design.

Before putting this into execution he gave forth some blood-curdling yells from within his cabin, that would have put to shame the attempt of a Red Indian to excel.

At the proper moment he suddenly opened his door, and making a dash out, gave utterance to some ear-splitting yells whilst leaping here or capering there drawing copious draughts from the black bottle all the while, occasionally shaking it and spilling some, making believe that it was full of whisky.

All this time he made pretended frantic attempts to strike the natives with the knife, but they, poor victims, were careful to keep at a respectful distance from the deadly weapon.

The oaths and yells this "supposed mad drunken vagabond" gave expression to, with the capers he cut, would have warmed the heart of a Donnybrook fighter to have witnessed, and very soon he had the field all to himself, and free from usurpation, the poor duped natives having beaten a hasty retreat, being only too pleased to get clear away with whole skins.

These unfortunate and victimised Maoris gave up the task of ever again seeking redress from this wild and incorrigible Irishman, returning to their village sadder but wiser men.

The news of this incident spread rapidly amongst the native tribes, and its effect, from a business standpoint, was severe upon Hoolahan, it being long before any more pigs were offered to him for sale by natives.

This incident and its after effect were the cause, in a great measure, of compelling him to mend his ways and page 7trade more honestly before he could resume his business again, and, as the proverb has it, "that out of evil good emanates," was proven by his better conduct afterwards.