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Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Provinces

Chapter 10 — Wars And Rumours Of Wars

Chapter 10
Wars And Rumours Of Wars

The principal fear in early Auckland was that of an attack by the natives. This was before their conversion to Christianity. Althqugh an actual attack was never made, there were two very serious threats. The first was when a resident of Epsom was murdered by a Maori who was captured, tried and convicted. He was hanged on the gallows in Victoria Street. This proceeding was quite new to the Maoris, and they decided to take utu. Several hundred warriors were collected, principally from the islands in the Gulf. Sir George Grey made a bold display of the very inadequate forces under his command, and bluffed the Maoris into going back home. However, this led to the building, in the late forties, of a strong loopholed wall enclosing what is page 18 now Albert Park, but then known as Barrack Hill. At a given signal every man of the Pakeha population had to present himself promptly at his particular loophole, and defend it to the death. A portion of this wall still stands in Princes Street adjacent to the University. The women and children took refuge in St. Paul' church.

The second serious threat was when several Northern tribes, alarmed at the great increase in Pakeha population, decided to have a great feast and terminate the town of Auckland in one hit. Again Sir George Grey proved his merits by assembling as many friendly natives as he could get and adding them to his pakeha forces. In the end there was no battle, but only a sham fight on the slopes between Mr. Eden and Mt. Hobson. The northern Maoris then went back to their own country. However, for a long time the Government maintained considerable forces on Barrack Hill, Point Britomart, and North Head.

There was a strange friendship between the Maoris and some regiments, mainly Irish. When the 65th came on to the battlefield the Maoris would shout “Kapai te hikatipifth” — good old sixty–fifth! This similarity and friendliness between the Irish and the Maoris persists in many districts; indeed I have heard the Maoris referred to as “Smoked Irishmen”.

In 1863 the Maori War broke out and dragged on for ten years. During that time several small men–of–war were stationed in the Waitemata and the Manukau harbours, and large bodies of troops were stationed in various parts of the province. So the armed forces completely dominated the civil population. Of this I will give three examples. On one occasion the local police summoned up their pluck and put some rowdy sailors in the lock–up. News got abroad, and a boatload of sailors came ashore armed with pieces of rope about six feet long. Picking up a kauri ricker lying on the beach they carried it up to the gaol; then one, two, three and the door was smashed to splinters, and the prisoners released. Another time the New Zealander newspaper had stated that our failure at the Gate Pa was due to the soldiers having shot their own officers. A squad of soldiers marched up Shortland Street, where the newspaper' offices were situated, and passed a great cable round the building. They demanded an apology within fifteen minutes or the building would fall into the street. The apology was produced in time. The third instance happened in my father' store at the corner of Queen Street and Swanson Street (then called West Queen Street). Some men–o–warsmen entered and offered to purchase page 19 all the chamber pots. Father objected that he must keep some of these harmless, necessary articles for his regular customers. The sailors remarked “Look here, old chap, the only question is whether you will accept payment for them. We shall take them anyhow”. Father decided to sell — doubtless at an adequate profit. The sailors then called at the nearest hotel, had a bottle of whisky emptied into each pot, and marched up Queen Street offering all foot passengers a drink, and partaking of the “distilled damnation” themselves.

In 1886 the terrible Tarawera eruption occurred about midnight. The noise could be heard plainly in Auckland, and there was much speculation as to the origin of it. That it was caused by a Russian man–of–war bombarding the Manukau was the popular idea. It was not until midday that correct news reached Auckland.

This incident illustrates the constant fear of Russia held in these days, and makes it difficult to understand why the British Government gave so much help to Russia in her recent struggle with Germany. Our plain policy, it seems to me, was masterly inactivity. If these two tiger nations had been left to fight it out like the Kilkenny cats, at the end the loser would have been helpless, and the victor so exhausted as to be harmless. By our help to Russia we have raised up a terrible enemy greatly worse than Germany.

When the Maori War was over some regiments were disbanded. All soldiers were awarded 50 acres of farm land and an acre township lot. Most of the men of the fighting forces proved not to be keen on farming, but to be very thirsty. So it came about that the 50 acres were commonly sold for £5, and the town lots for £1. These soldiers who did not wish to return to Britain were given one acre each in a series of military settlements undoubtedly intended for the protection of the infant town of Auckland. Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure were all good land, but Howick was then considered poorer. This was remedied by deliberately surveying the Howick sections to contain really 1 1/2 acres, but still called acres. Later on this caused much trouble. Besides these protective townships there were blockhouses built of stout hard timber. The best known was that at Blockhouse Bay, but there were others including one right in Freeman' Bay in what is now Sale Street.