1848 - Byrne, J. C. Twelve Years' Wanderings in the British Colonies [New Zealand sections] - NEW ZEALAND - CHAPTER I, p 47-62

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  1848 - Byrne, J. C. Twelve Years' Wanderings in the British Colonies [New Zealand sections] - NEW ZEALAND - CHAPTER I, p 47-62
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BEGINNING with New Zealand, that colony furthest removed from England, the author will proceed to describe the other British settlements, as their distance from Europe decreases.

New Zealand lies to the south-east of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, whence it is distant about fifteen hundred miles. It consists of three islands, and extends from latitude 34° 25' S. and longitude 172° 35' to latitude 47° 20/ S. and longitude 167° 10'.

For upwards of thirty years, it has been the resort of traders and others, who went there from New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land; some for the purpose of trading with the natives, others in order to establish whaling stations; whilst not a few were debtors, taking refuge there from their creditors in the colonies, and escaped convicts. Of these the greater part settled in the northern parts of New Zealand, but many preferred the neighbourhood of the Bay of Islands and River Thames, where large numbers of whalers were in the habit of

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calling to procure refreshments, and a few odd stores, which were supplied to them by the natives and white traders. The refreshments thus provided, generally consisted of pork, yams, and sweet potatoes. The natives breed vast numbers of hogs, which they partly feed on fish.

Calculated by its position to be of value to any of the three great maritime powers--England, the United States, and France--whose subjects extensively carried on the pursuit of whaling in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand was made at different periods the subject of claims by the three powers, but was ultimately acknowledged as independent. Consuls were, from time to time, appointed by the three named powers, to watch over the interests of their subjects in the islands, and a Mr. Busby performed that office, on behalf of Great Britain, for some years.

The attention of Missionary Societies, particularly the Wesleyan, had been early attracted to this, as well as others of the South Sea Islands, and numbers of missionaries were, at different periods, introduced amongst the natives; with what success for the interests of religion, it is unnecessary for the author to say.

These gentlemen, many of whom were Americans, did not always confine themselves to the duties of their sacred office; they traded, bought and sold, first goods, then land, till they became purchasers, from the natives, of vast tracts of country.

At first, these purchases were made for little more than a nominal consideration; a few beads, a musket, some blankets, and a little powder and ball, were sufficient to purchase tracts which were measured, in the language of the missionaries, by miles. As the demand improved, so

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did the price required by the natives increase, although their own title only consisted of tenure by force of arms; so that frequently many native chiefs claimed the right of disposing of the same tract of land.

Trade extended as land was acquired, and white settlers came down from New South Wales; many of the merchants and proprietors of which extended the circle of their operations to New Zealand, and became purchasers of land from the natives.

The traffic in New Zealand flax also progressed, the natives bartering it for the commodities of the whites. This flax, which grows wild in a great measure, is first dressed roughly by the natives, before being disposed of. Its fibre is particularly fine, fully equal, if not superior, to the best Manilla. Of late years, the production of it has actually decreased, particularly since the dominion of the British Crown; the plant from which it is produced has not as yet become an object of culture with the European population, and the natives now pay little attention to it.

In consequence of the annual large increase of British subjects in New Zealand, the attention of the Home Government became more and more attracted to the settlement, until it was finally resolved to take possession of it by the Crown.

In order to give a colouring to this violation of the former recognition of its independence, Captain Hobson, a gentleman who had previously visited the islands, in command of the 'Rattlesnake' frigate, was sent out nominally as Consul, with extended powers, but in reality as Governor.

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On his arrival in New Zealand, in the 'Druid' frigate, he lost no time in drawing together a number of natives, some of them chiefs, whom he easily conciliated, by the distribution of a few presents. Those natives were assembled at Waitanga, and, although they did not represent a tithe of the native population, yet a treaty, known by the name of the place where it was concluded, was signed by them, surrendering the sovereignty of the islands to Great Britain, in which treaty was also conveyed to the latter, a right of pre-emption over all lands disposed of by the natives. No sooner was the treaty of Waitanga concluded, than British authority was proclaimed, and Captain Hobson announced as Lieutenant-Governor, under the jurisdiction of Sir George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales, and the council of the same place.

The treaty was effected in the northern part of the north island, with a few chiefs of that neighbourhood. No representatives from the middle or south islands, the latter of which is commonly called Furneaux Island, were present; although it was a notorious fact, that scarce two tribes in New Zealand were at perfect peace with one another, yet the act of a few natives of a distant part of the north island was accepted as a sufficient authority for the British Crown to take possession of the three islands.

No sooner was dominion assumed, than agents were dispatched to various parts to obtain further signatures to the treaty, and numbers attached their marks to pieces of parchment, of the tenor of which they understood but little, it being frequently not even read to them. The

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author has heard it asserted, that a piece of tobacco, a little powder or lead, easily induced the natives to put their sign manual to that which willed away the liberty of their country; but which they did not understand at the time. Witnesses were not wanting, many were easily procured to perform this part of the ceremony, one of the principal agents being the commander of a small trading vessel, well acquainted with the bays and coasts of New Zealand.

Previous to the departure of Captain Hobson from England, public attention had been much attracted to those islands, and a company was formed for the purpose of purchasing lands from the natives, and colonizing them. An expedition for that purpose left England in the beginning of 1839, under the management of Colonel Wakefield, and was quickly followed by a large number of emigrants, many of whom were persons possessing considerable means. Captain Hobson did not sail till much later in the year 1839, arriving at New Zealand, after visiting Sydney, in the January of 1840.

The climate of New Zealand very much resembles that of the south of England, in spring and summer, although the northern island is much warmer; no portion of it is visited with the severe frosts usual with us at home.

The three islands are particularly temperate, which is accounted for in a great measure by no portion of them being at a greater distance than sixty miles from

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the sea. So pure is the atmosphere, that no danger exists from sleeping in the open air, at any period of the year.

New Zealand is visited by frequent rains, none of which are of any long continuance, as the strong winds that prevail, and the narrowness of the land, prevent any very large masses of vapour from condensing over the islands.

Numerous small rivers and brooks of pure water descend from the interior, which contribute much to the health of the inhabitants.

The produce of New Zealand has not been as yet fully developed. The agricultural portion of it consists of maize, wheat, oats, and yams, the sweet potatoe, the common potatoe, pumpkins, and the ordinary European vegetables; little or no fruit exists, but from the soil and climate, there is no doubt that all kinds of fruit and vegetables, of the tropical and temperate climates, will flourish here as soon as a sufficient time has elapsed to admit of their cultivation.

Of timber, New Zealand possesses many exceedingly fine specimens: that most known and appreciated is, the Kauri tree, which grows to an immense altitude, and produces some of the finests spars and masts for ships in the world. Although not what may be called a hard wood, it is somewhat of the pine species, but more durable and tougher. Timber of many other species covers most of the islands, amongst which, are some beautiful woods suitable for cabinet purposes, and others fit for ship building.

The native flax, which formerly was the staple article of the island trade, is much esteemed in the home market, and will, no doubt, when labour is more plentiful and

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the country more settled, be generally cultivated, on account of its soft silky texture.

The animal produce is extremely limited; before the settlement of the Europeans, it may have been said to be confined to pigs, with which the island abounds. They are supposed to be the produce of animals left there by Captain Cook, and other early discoverers.

Cows, sheep, and horses are now becoming general, being imported in considerable numbers from New South Wales and Port Phillip; yet their increase must for a length of time be limited, owing to the nature of the country.

The mineral wealth of New Zealand has only been very partially explored. Iron-stone exists in many parts, and copper mines have been discovered towards the northward, at a place called the Barrier Reefs; the produce, however, is, as yet, neither very large nor very rich.

Coal has very recently been discovered at Massacre Bay, close to the north-west extremity of Middle Island, in latitude 40° 35' S., and near the entrance of Cook's Strait.

The seas around New Zealand, as also its rivers, abound in fish of many kinds. A great portion of the food of the natives is procured from this source.

Whales, both sperm and black, visit the shores of the island at certain seasons, but not now in such numbers as formerly. Whaling stations have for years existed on various parts of the coasts, from which three or four boats are manned in pursuit of those monsters of the deep whenever they appear. These stations are owned either by Australian or Van Dieman's Land merchants, engaged in the whaling trade, who possess small vessels which carry the produce to Sydney, Hobart Town, or Laun-

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ceston. Numbers of South-Sea ships of every maritime nation knock about the coasts at certain seasons in pursuit of the whale.

These vessels were, at one period, in the habit of visiting the New Zealand ports in large numbers for refreshments; but since the establishment of customs' dues and regulations, they have almost ceased to enter them, calling now at some of the Pacific Islands, where they are not hampered or molested by such obstacles.

On the face of the globe there does not exist, in a natural state, a finer specimen of the human race than the New Zealander.

Formed in nature's finest mould, joining great height to immense muscular power and agility--erect as an arrow--no finer model for the sculptor could be obtained. Their colour is brown, not much darker than the Spaniards; the females are fairer than the men, but equally well formed.

Hospitable, generous, brave, and warlike, the character of these islanders has suffered only in consequence of their being addicted to cannibalism. This, however, was only practised upon the bodies of enemies killed in battle; it was never their custom to kill their prisoners or children, as has been asserted, for this purpose. Indeed, cannibalism was more practised as a rite, a form of thanksgiving, at their feasts for a victory gained, than for the gratification it afforded.

Of late years, since a more extensive intercourse with whites, cannibalism has very much decreased, if indeed it is ever practised at all now.

At all times the native New Zealanders have shown

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great generosity towards the whites, many of whom have taken wives amongst the former, and found them make good, virtuous, and constant helpmates.

Even the collisions between the British Government and themselves, since the occupation of the islands as a Crown colony, has not caused them to alter their behaviour towards those whites, who took no part in the military proceedings against them.

At several points where the military forces were checked, and met with severe loss at first, the natives, although victors, did not perpetrate a single injury to the life or property of any of the settlers within their power, and not one outrage on female virtue took place. They avowed that they waged war with the Government, and not with private individuals, who would be safe when in their power. So open, so manly are their habits, that even when about to attack an enemy, they will not do it secretly, but first send to apprize them of their intention.

In war, at present, they are a formidable body amongst the dense woods and precipitous hills, being excellent marksmen, and are all well armed with rifles, muskets, and fowling-pieces, obtained in trade from the white settlers.

Most fortunately, after several years' sad misgovernment, the judicious conduct of the present Governor, Captain Grey, has effected a general peace with the natives; so that it is hoped we shall in future, by just conduct, possess them as friends, and not have to oppose them as enemies.

The differences between the natives and whites originated with claims to land made by the latter; and led,

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in the first instance, to an ill-planned expedition, for the purpose of capturing two native chiefs, Raipuratra and Rangihoeta, who had pulled down and burnt a surveyor's hut, on some land to which they asserted the New Zealand Company had no right.

The expedition proceeded from one of the Company's settlements in Cook's Straits, to the neighbourhood where it was supposed the two chiefs were to be found. It was headed by a Mr. Thompson, a magistrate, Captain Wakefield, an agent of the Company, and several officials, surveyors, and other whites, who had been sworn in as special constables, and armed.

The chiefs were found up a small rivulet some eight miles from the coast, where a Government brig had conveyed the party and landed them. Some thirty followers and many females were with the chiefs, who were required by Captain Wakefield and Mr. Thompson to surrender as prisoners, which was declined; a conversation, but not of any violence, ensued, during which a shot--it has never been ascertained from which party--was fired; a melee followed, several were killed on both sides, but the Europeans, to the number of between forty and fifty, fled. They were pursued a small distance to the rivulet, which most of them had crossed by means of a canoe. Many were here killed, but those across the rivulet were pursued no further, but allowed to make their way to the coast, whence they were taken on board the 'Victoria' without molestation. Meanwhile, the officers and heads of the party, who had been deserted by their comrades on the far side of the brook, surrendered to the natives; but the wife of one of the chiefs, who was the daughter of another,

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having been killed by a shot, the prisoners were put to death by the natives, as soon as the chiefs were informed of their loss.

This was called the Massacre of Wairau, from the name of the place where it happened; upwards of twenty whites, amongst whom were Captain Wakefield and Mr. Thompson fell in the battle, or were cut down afterwards. A stigma has been thrown on the native character in consequence of this action, but they certainly do not deserve all the odium heaped upon them. It should be remembered that the whites were the aggressors in the opinion of the natives, in seeking to arrest their chiefs; that the beloved wife of one, and daughter of another, had been killed by the fire of the whites; that those who were across the rivulet were suffered to escape unmolested, although every one might have been destroyed before reaching the coast; and, above all, it should be considered that the deed complained of was done immediately after the heat of battle, and under the influence of revenge for the loss of a dear object, so powerful in the savage breast.

On the whole, the race of New Zealanders are much to be admired, and it is indeed to be hoped that they may be preserved, and not exterminated as has been the case with the Aborigines, in too many of the Crown colonies.

The constant internal wars amongst the New Zealand tribes have always kept their number very limited; at present, the total native population on the three islands is supposed not to exceed one hundred and twenty thousand, dispersed over an area of land exceeding in extent the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. Fond of a free life, and averse to much manual labour, many of the Abori-

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gines are yet to be found dispersed amongst the whalers in the South Seas. They make capital seamen for that purpose, being particularly expert at the use of the oar. Many are to be met with in the ports of the Australian colonies, and along the seaboard of the western States of South America.

Since the general settlement of the islands by the whites, the open generous character of the Aborigines has been, particularly in the way of trade, much deteriorated; and they are now as sharp and keen at a bargain, and as ready to take advantage of any one as many of the white traders, who are possessed in some instances of but a small portion of honesty.

Throughout the whole extent of the South Seas and Pacific, no Aboriginal race is possessed of such intellectual faculties as the New Zealanders.

When an imperceptible amalgamation of the race of whites with them was taking place, previously to British dominion in their islands, by means of intermarriages, this intellect was in general only used in promoting fair trade and mutual prosperity. But since the British Union Jack has waved over those shores, a change has indeed come over their spirit. Imbued by an incapable Protectorate with the belief that the interests of the white population were directly opposite to their own; and that the newly arrived colonists wished to obtain their lands for nothing, and procure every possible advantage over them; they have exhibited great ingenuity in resisting claims on land, advanced by parties who had in some way or other effected purchases of such land.

At one period, the natural high disposition and honour of

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the Aborigines would have led them to protect, if necessary, by force of arms, any one purchasing land from a particular tribe. Now, every possible obstacle is thrown in the way of the settler obtaining or retaining possession. Why is this change? How has it been caused?

Under the specious title of a Protectorate for the Aborigines, the chief and subordinates of this self-created body, lost no opportunity of fixing in the minds of the natives a superlative idea of the value of their land, and excited their opposition to the settlers, by reminding them of the small value they had originally obtained for it.

This was not all, the Government were represented to the shrewd and calculating natives, as their friends and the opponents of the settlers who had obtained land from the Aborigines before the official settlement of the islands. Native cupidity was excited; one step more and the Protectors satisfied the natives, that by asserting claims and setting forth rights, the Government would compel further remuneration to be accorded to them, for lands already disposed of. This was sufficient; honour was lost sight of by the native savage when cupidity was thus unwisely excited by some of the religious teachers of the white settlers. Thus, has the Aboriginal character suffered much in the way of fair dealing, from connection with those who should have been the very parties to inculcate it.

The soil of New Zealand is varied, but taken as a whole, it may be fairly said that but a very small portion of it is calculated for cultivation.

In the vicinity of the coast, the land is broken into steep hills and deep valleys, so that access into the interior is

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very difficult. In the interior, where no settlements have as yet been attempted, high table lands exist at many hundred feet elevation above the sea; but with very few exceptions, these plains are covered with thick interminable forests, not such as those in Australia or America, but complete masses of vegetable matter, through which the human eye cannot penetrate.

Vast, noble trees, the trunks of which not unfrequently are eight or nine feet in diameter, rise above your head to an immense height, perhaps without a branch for eighty or ninety feet. Devoid of grass, the earth produces creeping plants of various denominations, which circling from tree to tree, form an impervious barrier, where native paths do not exist. So thick, so dense, so impenetrable are these forests, that it would be utterly impossible to pass a yard into them, without the use of the axe to hew your way.

There are here and there, amongst the table lands, small open spaces, but none of any great extent; and even such are covered with tall fern, which takes the place of herbage. The soil may be said almost to produce no grass in its natural state; cattle or sheep when introduced principally subsist on fern, and the leaves and branches of shrubs and trees.

The Aboriginal population seldom dwell in the interior, they are generally to be found on the sea coast, or in the neighbourhood of rivers which give an easy access to the sea, as they much depend on fishing for subsistence.

The spots of land cultivated by them are also in the same neighbourhood, in which may be said to exist the best soil. The banks of rivers or streams, and occasionally a

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sloping knoll or the bed of a valley, are the places most suitable for cultivation.

The number of the population, (Aboriginal) having at all times to which our knowledge extends, been extremely limited in comparison with the extent of territory held by them, they have experienced no difficulty in choosing spots where they could, with great success, carry on their cultivation of yams, potatoes, &c.

These good lands have in general been retained by them, and not sold; and it may truly be said, that they are annually becoming less disposed to part with the best soil, such as is available for cultivation, by being clear of timber.

The hills towards the coast are so extremely steep, that if even they were stripped of the superabundant vegetation that covers them, in the shape of timber and creeping plants, yet they would be of no value to the agriculturist, as the heavy rains that often prevail, would soon wash away from their sides the fruit of the husbandman's toil.

An extensive knowledge of the country enables the writer to state, that at present not one fiftieth part of the land of New Zealand would repay cultivation, and that not one hundreth part is available for that purpose, without such an expenditure as would, in most instances, cost as much to clear it as the fee simple of land in England could be purchased for. The rains, which so frequently prevail, together with the extreme temperature of the climate, are most favourable to the production of every kind of grain; and now that fruits of various descriptions are being introduced by the European settlers, there is no

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question but that they will fully answer every expectation, as vegetables have done. Native flax, which has been so well found to suit the soil, cannot at present or for some time be cultivated by the Europeans, on account of the scarcity of labour, and their distance from a market.

The vine has been tried as an experiment in the best soil, and has been found to answer so far as the trial went.

Some of the tropical productions, as sugar, cotton, &c, can never be grown at New Zealand, on account of the climate.

The soil does not produce grass, or any substitute, to such an extent, as to render it advisable to rear cattle and sheep as articles of export, either in their live state, or as wool, tallow, hides, &c. The dense forests also render the space over which they can roam very confined; so that, at least for ages to come, the colonists can never expect to realise wealth or competence from grazing and breeding live stock, the produce of which must, for a length of time, be confined to the mere supply of the wants of the inhabitants.

Throughout the soil of New Zealand, strong indications exist of a volcanic origin; the ironstone found there exhibits visible traces of having been, at some period, exposed to the action of fire. Coal has been, as already stated, recently found, and no doubt will ultimately prove of much value for smelting, and commercial purposes.

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