1877 - Pratt, W. T. Colonial Experiences - CHAPTER II: A STEP DOWNWARD.

E N Z B       
       Home   |  Browse  |  Search  |  Variant Spellings  |  Links  |  EPUB Downloads
Feedback  |  Conditions of Use      
  1877 - Pratt, W. T. Colonial Experiences - CHAPTER II: A STEP DOWNWARD.
Previous section | Next section      


[Image of page 33]



AFTER a brief period of enforced idleness, or rather of odd jobs about the house that brought no return, I suggested to E. the expediency of my applying to the Company's agent for work on the roads, until more work in the boatbuilding line offered, as at this time the weekly wages paid to single men was 18s. without rations. The family strongly objected, as with their English notions they could not disabuse their minds of the idea of such employment being derogatory; but I, feeling their objections were entirely unselfish, and advanced solely on my account, they not wishing me to engage in such new and uncongenial employment, thought it my duty to be firm,

[Image of page 34]

as no other means offered by which I could avoid being a burden upon them, and at the same time, in a small degree, assist the house expenses. To lessen the unpleasantness I knew this resolve would cause them if I were employed anywhere in the neighbourhood, I applied to be sent to a working party engaged about eight miles from town.

This involved an enforced banishment from the house, from very early on Monday morning until the following Saturday afternoon, which at that time was to me by far the severest part of the undertaking, as it left the course clear for the machinations of my rival, whose designs I intuitively began to suspect.

Matters being all arranged, and with a thick rug, and a week's supply of provisions, consisting of two home-baked loaves about 5 lbs. each, 7lb. piece of salt pork (cooked), some tea and sugar, and a small tin can for making tea in, the whole compactly stowed in a Maori kit, and carried on the back with Maori flax-made slings, like a soldier's knapsack, I started about 4 o'clock on Monday morning for the scene of my new employment.

[Image of page 35]

And thus ended my boat-building career, for circumstances soon occurred that effectually prevented any future resumption of that employment. A considerable part of the road I had to travel lay across mud-flats covered by the tide at high water, and into which I sank over my boots at each step, and occasionally to the knees in crossing the numerous water-courses that intersected the flats.

Arrived at the scene of operations, wet and weary from the difficulties of the road and the load carried, I found the party of men with whom I was to work numbered sixteen including myself, besides an overseer or ganger to direct operations.

The work consisted in cutting a siding road round the base of hills washed by the tide at high water. Only two or three of the men appeared to me to be of the regular navvy type, the rest like myself had not been accustomed to this kind of work.

The habitation to which the party retired, upon the conclusion of the day's work at 5

[Image of page 36]

o'clock, had been formed by digging into the side of the hill in a small gully, thus forming three sides of the house, while the fourth side or front being the lowest, was built up with sods, the roof thatched with toi-toi, and sloping from the highest part of the cutting to the front wall, following the slope of the hill so nearly that it was almost invisible at a short distance.

In the back wall a fireplace was excavated, and a shaft sunk to it from the hill above, which formed an excellent chimney, and on either side wide benches of the earth had been left when excavating, about two feet in height and extending the width of the house from front to back; upon this a thick layer of New Zealand feathers (dried fern) was laid and formed the sleeping quarters of the inmates.

I suspect it was due to the presence of the navvies that such a compact and comfortable residence had been provided.

Brief as my colonial experience had been at this time, I had become accustomed to many things that were new and strange, and in

[Image of page 37]

some instances not altogether to my taste or inclinations, and simply from a desire to make the best of what could not be altered or avoided; but when I saw the sleeping accommodation I instinctively recoiled from such a communistic arrangement.

As soon as tea was disposed of, I set about the construction of a bedstead in a spare corner of the appartment.

In the immediate neighbourhood was a wooded gully from which I procured six forked stakes about 30 inches in length; these, when driven into the ground at suitable distances and at a uniform height, to form the framework, received the side-pieces in the forks, and by lacing it across with broad leaves of flax, a very easy and comfortable couch was provided that quite excited the envy of my companions.

Occasionally I experienced the inconvenience of a break-down in the night, when the flax got dry and tender.

I remember that at this time I was gifted with an enormous appetite, which might under the circumstances be deemed a very question-

[Image of page 38]

able advantage; I know it required some self-denial to make my provisions last their appointed time. Working in the open air, and the very fact of having to allowance the consumption of each meal, there is no doubt tended to increase a desire that never seemed thoroughly appeased.

I was not singular in this respect, for generally by Saturday morning, there was not among the whole party, more than would have sufficed for a tolerable breakfast for one.

One Friday morning at breakfast time the overseer wishing to have a certain piece of road completed that week, offered the men the opportunity of finishing it as quickly as they liked for their week's work.

The offer was cheerfully accepted as we judged the work could be done in time to allow of our starting to town soon after noon. Upon the faith of accomplishing this there was a general consumption of the then remaining provisions at that breakfast without causing any very alarming symptoms from repletion.

The contract was finished by two o'clock; having worked hard and continuously from

[Image of page 39]

eight including our dinner hour, as having no dinner to dispose of, it was unnecessary to stop the usual hour.

As we were conveying the barrows and tools in the direction of our whare we were met by the Superintendent of Road who naturally enquired where we were going. The overseer could not explain the little contract he had made, so replied that we were going to lessen some of the abrupt curves in another part of the road; consequently instead of proceeding to the whare, and preparing for a start home, we were, to save the credit of the overseer, reluctantly obliged to set to work upon the part of the road he had indicated, until the superintendent returned from a visit he was making to a Mr. Jollie, some distance beyond the work upon which we were engaged.

He did not return until nearly five o'clock, and it being then almost dark, and too late to start for town, we retired to our whare in no very enviable state of mind or stomach. Next morning we started to town minus a breakfast.

Arriving about 11 o'clock I walked into the

[Image of page 40]

first small store I came to, and after disposing of a two-pound loaf and half a pound of butter, felt in capital trim for my dinner to which I shortly after did ample justice. I had not been many weeks at this work when news was brought to Nelson of the massacre at the Wairau.

It created a general feeling of insecurity and alarm, and heartfelt regret for the victims of this savage onslaught, among whom were many of the leading gentlemen of the settlement.

Being so near the scene of the tragedy, it was considered that the savage instincts of the natives having been excited and emboldened by success, they would probably attack the township; energetic measures were therefore made to meet such a contingency. Nearly all the adult males in the town and vicinity were enrolled, armed, and drilled, the hill in the centre of the town now crowned with a church was scarped and bastioned, and a considerable area on its summit enclosed with thick planks looped-holed for musketry, into which it was intended the women and children should retreat if the town was attacked. It was judged

[Image of page 41]

that any attempted attack would be by the natives approaching stealthily in the night, and for which the bay, at or near where the shore end of the Australian cable is now landed and an inland valley leading from it, offered great facilities for their getting very near the town unobserved. It was therefore deemed important to have a watch upon this part of the coast.

The road party that I had recently joined was constituted the watch, and we were sworn special constables, our duties being to keep a vigilant watch upon the bay by day, and the inland opening of the valley by night, until recalled; and to signal to the town, distant about nine miles, anything portentous by lighting a signal fire upon a lofty peak upon which we had collected a large quantity of firewood, dried fern, etc. I think we had been engaged upon this duty nearly three weeks, when news reached Nelson that Rauparaha and his party had crossed Cook's Straits, and the watch was withdrawn.

During this period there was no panic, but a cool and firm resolve to make a determined

[Image of page 42]

stand against the expected assailants, however numerous and savage they might prove, and only such precautionary measures were adopted as circumstances appeared to render necessary and judicious.

The friendly natives living at the Motueka, on the opposite side of the bay, were in great fear lest they should be held accountable, and made to suffer for the doings at the Wairau, as in accordance with their savage notions such reprisals were usual and customary among the various tribes of native inhabitants.

It required considerable tact and exertions on the part of those having influence over them to allay their fears and convince them of the more just and humane policy of the Europeans.

It may not be out of place to notice here an occurrence prior to, but closely connected with this tragic event, as in none of the accounts published has any reference been made to it that I am aware of.

Some time in the month of February, 1843, Rauparaha and Ranghiaita and a numerous following visited Nelson and had a long and

[Image of page 43]

angry korero with Captain Wakefield respecting the land at the Wairau, maintaining that it had not been included in the land sold to Wide-awake (Col. Wakefield) for the new settlement (Nelson) and threatening to mati moi (kill or tomahawk) any one going there to put in the rakau (wood, meaning the surveyor's pegs).

Captain Wakefield regarded these threats as mere native bravado, and having entertained them for two or three days, by distributing a quantity of flour and sugar among them, and their departing in exuberant spirits, apparently well pleased with their reception, he concluded that having got all he supposed they came for, namely, a good feed, no more would be heard of these absurd claims.

This, be it remarked, was the first introduction of the flour and sugar policy, and how lamentably it failed upon this occasion to "soothe the savage breast" subsequent events only too sadly showed.

When Rauparaha heard the surveyors were at work at the Wairau, he re-crossed the Straits with a strong party and ordered them to leave,

[Image of page 44]

at the same time pulling down the tents, and firing the huts. Upon these proceedings being reported to Captain Wakefield, he thought all that was necessary was to make a display of force, to at once overawe a parcel of savages; and as the Government brig happened to be in the harbour at the time, he took the opportunity to assemble, and convey to the mouth of the Wairau river, in Cloudy bay, about 20 men from a road party working on the beach road. These were each supplied from the Company's store with an old Tower musket with flint lock, being part of the stock used in barter with the natives for their land; muskets, powder, and blankets were the chief articles of exchange, as being in great request, and most highly prized by the Maories. Many of the men had never handled fire-arms before, and so little did Captain Wakefield think of any necessity arising for their use that no instructions, it appears, were given even in the simple matter of loading them, as it was well known that several of the muskets were afterwards found loaded with the ball-end of the cartridge downwards.

[Image of page 45]

So weak and inefficient a force was totally unfitted to cope with such redoubtable fighting chiefs as Rauparaha and Ranghiaita and their numerous followers, well trained in many a desperate encounter with neighbouring tribes.

Several gentlemen volunteered to join the expedition; and to give it a legal colouring, a warrant for the apprehension of Rauparaha for arson was issued by Mr. Thompson, the resident magistrate, who with Malin, the chief constable, accompanied the expedition to execute it.

The sad catastrophe that followed is only too well known. After shots had been exchanged and several wounded on either side, Captain Wakefield, who with some of the gentlemen had become separated from the remainder of the party through a little delay in re-crossing the river, was anxious to unite his forces on the rising ground a short distance from the river; but part of the guard on retiring for this purpose continued their retreat up the hill, gradually accelerating their speed, disregarding Captain Wakefield's orders and entreaties

[Image of page 46]

to stop. After following them for a short distance, Captain Wakefield, the gentlemen, and a few of the guard that had remained together with him, halted on the side of the hill, and faced about to the Maories, at the same time holding up his white handkerchief as a signal for a cessation of firing. The natives immediately rushed up the hill to where they had halted, Ranghiaita stopping on the way to tomahawk those who had fallen on the hill side wounded. Mr. Cotterill, one of the surveyors, had halted before Captain Wakefield and his companions, and was sitting down on the slope, about half way between his own party and the Maoris, coolly filling his pipe, when he was brutally despatched. The natives disdained to follow the fugitives up the hill, having got all the Rangatiras in their power. What followed was told me by an eye-witness, who surrendered with the rest, and escaped by a miracle almost, and was for some time working in the same road party as myself. His name was Bamford, and while the Maori who was mounting guard over him had his attention absorbed in watching the

[Image of page 47]

sanguinary scene that was being enacted, he quietly slid into the high fern, and creeping a short distance down towards the gully, fortunately remained undiscovered.

On surrounding the party, and taking possession of their arms, an attempt was made to take off Captain Wakefield's coat; this he resented by snapping a pistol at the offender, but it missed fire. Mr. Howard, who was standing near, said, "For God's sake, Captain, be calm, don't excite them." The natives, far outnumbering their prisoners, then contrived to isolate them by insinuating themselves between them, and Ranghiaita nimbly stepping behind each in turn, his tomahawk did its deadly work.

I was working for some time in company with one of the party who accompanied the Rev. Mr. Ironsides from Queen Charlotte Sound to the scene of the massacre, a few days after its occurrence, to inter the bodies of the unfortunate victims. He told me it was a ghastly sight; Brooks the interpreter could only be recognised by his clothes. They appeared to have wreaked special vengeance

[Image of page 48]

upon him as there were no distinguishable features remaining; and with savage irony they had placed a damper (flour cake) under Captain Wakefield's head, and laid his pistol across his throat. The threat made four months previously had been only too literally fulfilled.

Considering the weakness and isolation at that time of the two small settlements of Wellington and Nelson, it would not have been politic, nor indeed practicable, to have attempted the arrest of the perpetrators of these savage murders, as they had retired to their stronghold; but on the other hand, the attitude of Governor Fitzroy and the two Clarks, father and son, called the Protectors of "Aboriginees" forsooth! in not alone condemning the proceedings of the settlers, but in a manner justifying the actions of the natives in this affair, was an outrage upon the sympathies and common sense of the entire community; knowing what a pernicious effect was likely to be produced upon the native mind, by the publicly notified approval of their actions by the Governor. The result

[Image of page 49]

was soon apparent, as the astute Maori, construing the impunity for the past as evidence of fear and weakness, made a raid upon the settlers in the Hutt Valley, near Wellington, and many valuable lives were lost before they were finally quelled. At the time the New Zealand Company began the colonization of these islands, there arose an influential party at home, distinguished as the "Exeter Hall Party," whose sympathies were enlisted on behalf of the native inhabitants, whom they were instructed to regard as a weak, simple-minded race, and the English settlers as a lot of rapacious, land absorbing native destroyers, from whose advent in New Zealand a wholesale demoralization, and rapid depopulation of native districts would result, and in a comparatively brief period the final extinction of the "Noble Savage" unless energetic measures were taken to avert it. In pursuance of this philanthropic object the party was organised, large sums subscribed, and there is no doubt considerable influence brought to bear upon the Home Government in the colonial appointments made, and they were represented in the

[Image of page 50]

colony by two salaried officers, styled the "Protectors of Aboriginees."

It was the knowledge of the ruthless manner in which the American Indians had been dispossessed of their hunting grounds, and almost exterminated, that originated a movement that had for its object a laudable desire to avert such evils in the new field being opened for colonisation; but, like many other benevolent schemes, it was traded upon to a considerable extent, and had a natural tendency to run into extremes.

In the case of New Zealand, with a remarkably intelligent and warlike native race, that could neither be cowed nor overreached, and were quite capable of taking good care of themselves, much mischief resulted to the settlers, and also the natives, from the officious interference of irresponsible officers. But their mischievous antics in the colony culminated upon the burning of the town of Russell at Korororiki; and upon a full knowledge of the facts reaching the Home Government the colony was relieved of the incubus, by the governor and protectors being summarily swept away.

[Image of page 51]

At the time of the founding of the Nelson Settlement there were very few natives located in the middle or what is now called the Southern Island; Rauparaha some years before having swept it from end to end, killing and burning all before him, and his savage ferocity not being satiated, he pressed an English ship into his service for the conveyance of his fighting party to the Chatham Islands, where a further war of extermination was carried on. There were consequently only some two or three hundred of the refugees living at the Motueka, Wakapuaka, and Queen Charlotte's Sound, and these were friendly and of great service in supplying needful produce to the settlers. They were remarkably shrewd at driving a bargain, had a very appreciative opinion of their commodities, and a critical knowledge of the value of the "utu," (money) and the goods taken in exchange. As they much preferred the Pakeha's blankets to their ordinary dog-skin, or flax mats, this was the only change of costume that had at that time been adopted, and they were to be seen in all the varied shades, and stages of

[Image of page 52]

wear, from the well worn and tattered specimen, to the snowy-white with resplendent border just out of the store. One storekeeper who did a large blanket trade with the Maoris and whose knowledge of their language was limited to the word kapai (good), was accustomed to express various degrees of excellence by a single, double, or treble repetition of the word kapai, to the great amusement of his swarthy customers, by which he acquired among them the sobriquet of "old Kapai."

Some of the native names of places were curiously transformed into familiar English words by the early settlers, for instance, Wakapuaka and Motueka, were Anglicised into Hokeepokee and Muddy-wake. Occasionally the natives when encamped in the township, either for their own amusement, or to please or terrify the on-lookers, would range themselves in a row, and sing or chant in a monotonous tone, what we supposed was a native song or poem--with a kind of chorus in which the arms were thrown alternately to the right and left, with a spasmodic twitching of the fingers, all acting in perfect time and

[Image of page 53]

concert; and with lolling tongues, and hideous contortion of the features, of which the carvings that adorn their houses and canoes were not very exaggerated fac-similes, at the same time producing a gutteral hissing sound from the chest, reminding one of the steam escaping from the cylinders of a locomotive engine when just starting.

Previous section | Next section