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

A Thrilling Maori Episode

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A Thrilling Maori Episode.

The Provincial System of Local Government had been in force for some considerable time throughout the Colony when the thrilling incident which I am about to relate, occurred.

For this advanced and liberal measure the colonists had to thank that astute and able statesman (twice Governor of the Colony) the late Sir George Grey, who was the first to conceive and practically work out the problem of Local Government, afterwards embodying his ideas in writing and then placing them before the Imperial Government for their approval and enactment by Parliament, prior to their becoming the law of the land.

It had long since then passed the initiatory or trial experiments of its usefulness, being acknowledged on all hands, and by all parties, to have proved a perfect boon to the distant and scattered settlements of the Colony at that time, leaving them untrammelled in local affairs by crude, ill-advised, or mischievous action on the part of the Central Government, enabling them to raise their owo local rates, and to expend such in the formation of roads and bridges, opening up the country, and the furtherance of immigration and general settlement of the lands within their respective Provinces.

The means of Inter-provincial Communication between the centres of white population at that early stage of the Colony's history being few and far between (however strange it may appear to the Colonists of these later times, with their great conveniences of daily communication between the ports of the Colony) it was no uncommon circumstance for six weeks or two months to pass before news could be had from some of the Southern Provinces, and then only did the opportunity occur when page 9a coasting or other vessel would, unexpectedly or otherwise drop into some of their ports, affording the postal authorities there the opportunity of forwarding their mails, which may have been delayed for many weeks for want of the desired facilities.

It will thus be seen at a glance how well this liberal system of Local Government (as distinct from the Central or General Power), suited the cirumstances of these small communities, enabling them to thoroughly develop their own local resources, and settling upon the waste lands of their respective provinces a healthy yeomanry, and populating the country with an industrious and well selected class of immigrants, each and all carving out a power and a destiny, which is recognised and felt up to the present day, whilst, at the same time, greatly advancing the well-being of the Colony, and its prosperity as a whole.

We will now turn to those places and scenes where the interests of our story concentrate.

Amongst the powers assigned to Superintendents of Provinces was the nomination and appointment of officers and men of the Provincial Police,—although the Chief Inspector, held his appointment, in the first place, from the Superintendent of the Province direct, that important appointment had necessarily to be affirmed by the Governor of the Colony afterwards.

As by far the larger proportion of the aboriginal population of the Colony were resident in the Auckland Province, it is only reasonable to suppose that a small portion of its Provincial Police would be of the Maori race, which, in reality was the case, although a few years later that system was abolished.

Although these Maoris were enrolled as Police, under native non-commissioned officers, with all the power and responsibility of such, they were for native purposes alone, having no authority to interfere with the Pakeha (foreigner) whatever, the European Police retaining that power in their own hands, and wisely so, for many reasons.

It were well to illustrate this in another way, the better to be understood.

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Should a European, unfortunately, make himself amenable to the law or render himself liable to be locked up, the white policeman alone was allowed to interfere; but should he require assistance, whilst in the execution of his duty, he could call upon his Maori comrade to help him, and this was the only time whereupon the Maori police could act in such capacity, where whites were concerned.

On the other hand should it be a Maori who was the offender, the white police generally stood by, and left the matter in the hands of their Maori compeers, not feeling bound to interfere, unless it was quite apparent that their Maori companions could not manage without their assistance.

This may seem, to the general reader, a strange digression from the original tale, nevertheless it is quite necessary to the better understanding of the tale, asmust be apparent hereafter.

The volume of native trade that was then poured into Auckland by the coastal and inland tribes of the Province was a very important factor in the commercial development of the City; the Maoris being almost exclusively the sole providors of the food supplies (with the exception of dairy produce) of its industrious citizens, who left the field open to the former, and in lieu thereof, took to native and other trade, whereby they made money rapidly.

Those items could be enumerated thus:—Wheat, maize, potatoes, vegetables, poultry, eggs, fruit, pork, and fish in great variety and abundance, whilst the supply of the whole of these commodities enumerated was almost inexhaustible.

Although the Maoris, in all cases, sold for cash, it is not to be supposed that they carried much of this money away, for most, if not all, soon found its way into the pockets of the native traders, in lieu of clothing, boots, blankets, cutlery, cooking utensils, agricultural implements, harness, and seeds of various descriptions, with many other articles, the use and value of which the Maori was becoming quite familiar with, appreciated, and sought to possess.

To show the industry of the native population, I might state that the residents of many of the large page 11villages throughout the Province were cultivators of wheat upon an extensive scale, and crops of from fifty to three hundred acres, might freequently be seen growing to perfection; whilst, at the same time, many of the coastal tribes were possessed of handy coasting craft, of fifteen to thirty tons manned and sailed by themselves, to their credit and profit.

But another striking fact that can be mentioned is, that shortly after this time, considerably over five thousand pounds sterling was invested by Maoris in flour mills, the larger proportion of which were located within a radius of fifty miles of Auckland City.

Looking backwards at the Maori of those times, and contrasting him with the native of to-day, one is pained and shocked by the sight of the only too palpable change which has taken place for the worse amongst a too numerous portion of the Maori race, they having become, during these latter times, indolent, given to vice and debauchery in all its phases and aspects, whilst at the same time they neglected many of the commonest laws of sanitation in their native homes, engendering diseases of many kinds, encouraging death to stalk unrestrainedly throughout the land, decimating the tribes to an alarming extent, and carrying off by hundreds, an already much reduced and unfortunately still diminishing noble race, whose ultimate fate, if not checked in time, must mean extinction, to the deep and heart-felt regret of all civilization.

All well-wishers of this noble and interesting race must long to see the day dawn whereupon the scales will fall from the eyes of the Maori people, so that they may be enabled to see themselves and their failings clearly, in all their nakedness, enabling them to so change their mode and manner of life as to allow them to take their stand, shoulder to shoulder, with their fellow white citizens, and become more active participators in the onward march of progressive civilization.

Most earnestly do we all wish, as behoves a Christian People, to witness such a regeneration of the Maori from his idle and vicious habits as must prompt him to become a more earnest and active associate in all the various vocations of life of his fellow whites.

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We would sincerely like to see him extract a leaf from his brother Pakeha's book, and so put his house in such order that life in his native home might be conducted under the simple and safe rules of health, which, undoubtedly, would have a most beneficial influence in staying the progress of that mortality now decimating his race.

All this we most fervently wish to see accomplished, and that, indeed at no very distant date.

An unusually large number of Maoris had assembled in Auckland, from the coast and inland villages, for miles around the City, their encampments of numerous sailcovered tents, dotting the sandy beach, above high-water mark, whilst a large fleet of canoes, of all sizes, as well as other craft, which lay at easy anchor on the placid water, or else were drawn up on the beach close by, one and all being filled to their utmost carrying capacity with a varied assortment of native produce for market, the whole of which formed a picturesque sight to uninitiated eyes; whilst others, again, were camped along the banks of the lower portion of the Lygar Canal, which was at that time an open rivulet, running parallel with Queenstreet, from its intersection with Victoria street, near the Old Gaol, to its outlet upon the beach, a landmark which has long since disappeared from public gaze through necessary modern improvements, having, of later years, been converted into and is now forming a portion of the main sewer of the City.

It was not to be expected otherwise, considering the antagonistic tribal interest here represented (many of the sections of the tribes having, during former years, been deadly enemies of each other), but that the native constabulary would find ample employment in keeping the unruly elements in subjection, or else in quelling the petty rows that would sometimes break forth amongst them—especially after the wai kaha (strong water or spirits) commonly termed wai piro (stench water) which had, by some surreptitious means, been procured from one or other unscrupulous publican began to take effect, necessitating extra watchful care on the part of the native guardians of the peace.

One such disturbance, more serious than usual, did thus take place, necessitating the employment of the page 13whole strength of the police force, whites and Maoris alike, to cope with and suppress, which was not accomplished before several natives had been locked-up for safe keeping.

During the fray, a Chief of position from the Thames country interfered, and with several of his own particular followers endeavoured to rescue one of the prisoners the police had in charge, who happened to be a member of his tribe.

But, owing to the seriousness of the disturbance, and the very rough handling they were experiencing, as well as the savage demeanour displayed by those opposed to them, the police, in the execution of their duty, were compelled to draw and use their batons freely, which, unfortunately, drew blood in several cases.

A misadventure happened when the disturbance was at its height, whereupon the Chief before mentioned was struck by a baton wielded by a Maori constable, and with such will that the Chief bled freely from the effect of the blow; however, the Chief particularly noted the constable, and was determined to have his utu (pay or fine), afterwards.

What aggravated the case in the eyes of this Chief was the fact that the constable was a Ngapuhi, a member of that great warlike nation which were his own people's hereditary foes therefore, to put up with an indignity from one of such a hated tribe he felt death would be preferable, so he was determined to have his revenge, be the cost what it may.

Now, it has been the law of the Maori, from time immemorial, that for he who draws blood, his own shall be the forfeit; but the crime is much more magnified in their eyes should the sufferer be a Chief, the punishment for which was invariably the death of the offender.

In due time the Chief waited upon the Authorities, demanding of them an equivalent recompense for the indignity.

But, it was pointed out to him that he had made a grave mistake by interfering with the police whilst in the exercise of their duty; also, that he had laid himself open to have been locked up as well, and that therefore page 14he could not lawfully claim compensation for his mishap, as he had brought it upon himself by his own thoughtless conduct.

This sensible action and serious reasoning on the part of the Authorities the Chief seemingly appeared not to comprehend, or, at all events, he would not, for immediately afterwards he demanded the person of the constable, the author of his wrong, stating that he would take him by force, if not given up quietly.

Here, again, he was told that the constable not only performed his duty well but did it withot partiality, for which he would receive the full protection of the law; whilst anyone interfering with or molesting him would render himself liable to be locked-up and afterwards proceeded against upon a serious charge.

The result of these rebuffs and distinct refusal was that the Chief now became very violent and excited, gesticulating and talking loudly, in a most voluble manner, which caused a large and mixed crowd of Maoris and Europeans to assemble—the latter being attracted by curiosity to learn the upshot of this strange drama.

The appearance of affairs had now become threatening and dangerous in the extreme, on account of the excitable state of the native mind, the police considering it necessary, for the public safety, to interfere, where-upon a sergeant and two constables appeared on the scene, who, marching up to the Chief, and tapping him upon the shoulder, told him peremptorily, in the Maori language, that if he did not keep quiet, and be off at once, they, the police, would be compelled to lock him up for the night, prior to his being brought up before the Resident Magistrate the following morning upon a charge f riotous conduct in the streets.

The Chief now recognising the futility of further argument, and possibly considering discretion the better course of procedure just then, gradually withdrew from out the throng but not before he had delivered himself, in dramatic strains and action, of a terrible threat to the following effect: —

"I shall return again soon, with a large taua (war-party) at my back and then demand, but if not given up quietly, will take by force, my enemy, the Maori constable, and so secure my revenge."

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Few Europeans present knew or understood the resolute nature of the man who uttered this threat, or of his ability to carry it out successfully, and few, indeed, there were, who placed any weight upon his utterances, considering them the natural outburst of an over-excitable temperament, which would, in a short time, exhaust itself, and evaporate like a summer shower.

Too soon, indeed, had these skeptics cause to reconsider their hastily-formed opinion of a man they knew nothing about whatever, when they, with their wives and families, and very many others as well, were compelled to flee precipitately from a threatening danger, and to seek a place of safety.

One morning, shortly after the foregoing incidents had occurred, the inhabitants of Auckland City were thrown into a great state of consternation, by the appearance of a large fleet of waka taua (war canoes), containing a very numerous body of nga rongo taua (warriors) on board, which had arrived in Mechanics' Bay, contiguous to the City, where the canoes were drawn high up on the beach, whilst the warriors themselves were preparing to immediately march into the City to demand the person of a certain Maori constable, accompanied with serious threats in the event of refusal to comply with such demand.

The imperative demand and conditions, put into English, would read as follows:—

"That the said Maori constable be handed over, peaceably, to the Chief and his people, to be dealt with by them afterwards, according to Maori custom and usage in such matters; also, that a substantial sum of money was to be paid as a solace for the indignity sustained, and the insults that had been heaped upon him, a high Chief of the Maori people, by the police; and, also that a further ample sum be paid over in satisfaction and for division amongst those accompanying their Chief to demand his just rights and satisfaction for the indignities and injuries sustained."

Upon a prompt and peaceable compliance with these demands the Chief promised that the warriors should, each and all, take their departure for their homes, and leave the town unmolested and safe.

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But, on the other hand, should their demand, with the conditions specified, be not complied with within a given time—

"The warriors would immediately proceed to pull down the gaol, and so secure the constable: but should they be molested whilst in the execution of this undertaking, they would afterwards fire the town and murder all those inhabitants who came within their power."

It is needless to state that this bold and brazen-faced demand was received by the Authorities with a blank refusal of compliance, whilst, at the same time, the natives were told plainly that they had better be cautious in their movements, or else worse would come of it to them if they did not withdraw.

The very serious aspect developed by this threatening incident, with the blood-thirsty threat thrown out, demanded prompt attention on the part of the Government, and with them the Military Authorities, the latter, immediately ordering all the military, who were then stationed in Auckland, under arms; also, all the Military Pensioners of the Pensioner Villages of Onehunga, Otahuhu, Howick, and Panmure, to hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment's warning to Auckland, should their services be required; whilst the wives and families of the citizens were also ordered to assemble in the Albert Barracks, for better protection and safety, whilst the danger threatened.

These splendid and well protected barracks and grounds attached, of over fifteen acres in extent (now the sight of the Albert Park), were situated upon a commanding position in the centre of the City, having ample accommodation to house the families of those who there sought shelter from a threatening calamity.

These barracks and grounds were surrounded in their entirety by a high and solid blue-stone wall, with flanking angles at proper distances, and loop-holed for musketry throughout its whole length.

Strange as it may seem, this extensive wall was built by the Maoris under the control and supervision of the Royal Engineers, a work which, in its construction, reflected the greatest credit to both builders and supervisors.

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Both Civil and Military Authorities lost no time in preparing for so grave a crisis, a strong force of special constables being sworn in and armed, whilst the military proceeded to throw up a small redoubt, which commanded the bay, its approaches, and the fleet of canoes there drawn up, in which was placed a couple of guns, with the usual detachments of artillery and a strong guard of soldiers, for their protection.

Strong detachments of soldiers were kept in readiness within the barracks, to patrol the streets and keep them clear of lurking Maoris, thereby, to a great extent, preventing them from firing the town; whilst, at the same time, the whole of the military were served out with ball-cartridge, which was to have been used freely in the suppression of the outbreak, if necessary.

The artillery in the small redoubt, their guns loaded heavily with grape-shot, stood ready, at an instant's notice, to pour forth their death-dealing discharges, which were intended to blow to pieces the fleet of canoes with their owners.

All these precautions and dispositions were ordered and taken with the promptitude and precision peculiar to the military.

The Chief and his warriors were now finally warned of the seriousness of their conduct, and the critical position and danger in which they stood, but were, at the same time, given a stated ample time to launch their canoes and depart peacefully for their homes.

At this juncture, leading gentlemen in the community, both clergymen and laymen, who possessed undoubted influence amongst the Maori people, actively exerted themselves on behalf of peace with the Chief and his warriors, endeavouring to the best of their power to bring both he and them to a proper understanding of the heinousness of the offence they had been guilty of, whilst strongly counselling a prompt compliance with the wishes of the Authorities, which would be far better in the end for all parties concerned.

These wise counsels had the desired effect at last, but it is much more probable that the strong show of resistance, with the determination shown by the Authorities to carry out their decision, had something more to page 18do with it; however, the Chief gave instructions for his warriors to proceed to launch their canoes at once, after which, to depart upon their return homewards.

Now was about to be witnessed the manner in which the Maori handles these large, but remarkably heavy war canoes, when wishing to set them afloat.

To give some slight idea of the size and weight of these monsters, I might state that one of them was quite one hundred feet long, whilst several others were over eighty feet, being four feet wide by four deep, and capable of carrying from forty to sixty warriors each.

As the tide in the Bay was at its lowest ebb when the warriors commenced to launch their canoes, and as this left them at least three hundred yards of beach to drag their canoes over before that could be accomplished, it, of course, afforded an excellent picture to those Europeans who were fortunate enough to have the privilege of witnessing so rare a sight.

Thirty or forty warriors, aside of each canoe, takes hold of the gunwale, raising and keeping it upon an even keel, then a warrior, with a long flat thin board in his hands, proceeds to the bow of the canoe, inserts the board beneath, for about twelve inches, whereupon all (this man included), at a given signal, and in excellent time, lift and seemingly carry the canoe with them, which, being frequently repeated, is by this means launched in an incredibly short space of time.

By this means were the whole fleet of canoes safely launched, whereupon the warriors taking their places therein, seized their paddles, and striking the water in unison, then departed sadder but wiser men; whilst their few Pakeha friends, upon the beach saluted them as they moved off, with the expression—E hoa ma. Haere marie, hei koe ra, which means "Friends, go in peace, farewell!"

Here had just taken place an excellent object lesson of what might have happened early in the wars of the Sixties, when all the troops were withdrawn from Auckland and sent to Taranaki, leaving that City totally unprotected, from a military point of view.

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A City, whose male population were entirely given up to the peaceful pursuits of industry and commerce would easily have become the victims of a savage on-slaught, being totally unarmed, undrilled, and helpless, and quite unable, in such case, to protect themselves, their wives, and children, from harm.

Ah reader! pause and consider well the situation, for at that time the Maoris of the Waikato, Thames, and Piako had threatened to make a combined attack upon Auckland City, which they might easily have done just then.

Arriving and landing there during the dead hours of the night, unushered and unknown, then scattering themselves over the doomed City, whilst at a preconcerted signal, to fire the town simultaneously in many places, and then, whilst the panic-stricken inhabitants were fleeing for safety or shelter, to be shot or tomahawked on the streets, in cold blood.

Oh! Such butchery is too horrible to contemplate for an instant!

That the blood of innocent men, women, and children, should be made to flow like water, dyeing the streets a deep crimson, whilst the perpetrators of so terrible a butchery could easily have escaped before morning, leaving behind them a charred and gore-soddened City, and would, no doubt, have been far upon their way homewards before a properly organised and equipped punitive expedition could have been dispatched in pursuit—if at all.

Fortunately for the inhabitants of the City, better and wiser councils prevailed, as many of the higher and more influential Chiefs of those tribes implicated in that war (to their lasting honour and credit be it stated), were utterly opposed to such cold-blooded murder.