1866 - Hunt, F. Twenty-five Years' Experience in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands - Chapter XIV. Conclusion, p 60-64

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  1866 - Hunt, F. Twenty-five Years' Experience in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands - Chapter XIV. Conclusion, p 60-64
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MY narrative now draws onward to a close The Chatham Islands of the present day are totally different from the Chatham Islands before described. The old bay whaling parties have long ceased to trouble the Islands; and M'Latchie, the leader of the banditti, has departed from the scene in one of the wildest nights that ever darkened the Island; he was driven out to sea and perished miserably. Some very old settlers still remain on the Main Island, men truly hospitable in their humble way; in their abodes friends and strangers share alike: the step on the threshold is a signal for the pot to be put on the fire; but the poor or destitute ensure a double welcome; indeed a wayfaring man could scarcely offer them a greater insult than pecuniary recompense; and this has been a general custom: in fact, either my house or theirs is open to all comers, and the best that can be produced is placed before them. This is a very good custom for an Island like the Chathams, where a person has occasionally to travel forty miles from settlement to settlement. During my wanderings, those hospitable houses of call have always been hailed with deep thankfulness.

"Still tramping onward, weary and foot-sore,
I hail at length a hospitable door;
Well pleased before the generous host I stand,
And grasp with flowing heart an honest hand.
Thank the kind stars that brought me to the dome,
Draw near the fire, and find myself at home.
Here weary travellers dread no fiercer frown
Than plenteous 'tucker' and a soft 'shake-down.'
No freezing welcome drives him from a door
That always opens widest to the poor."

For about eight years a resident magistrate has been appointed by the New Zealand Government. This office, until very recently, was filled by A. W. Shand, Esq., a gentleman who has left behind him many sincere well-wishers. His courtesy and kindness to the white settlers, and his ardent desire to ameliorate the condition of the natives, cannot be too warmly appreciated; and for his personal kindness, good counsel, and friendly advice upon every important occasion, he has a strong claim upon my gratitude. His estimable and accomplished lady, with a numerous family, still resides upon the Main Island, universally respected, with a kind and gentle word for all, irrespective of class or colour: few can approach her dwelling without a glow of pleasure. The peculiar duties of this excellent lady are many and pressing; but not unfrequently has she, like some ministering angel, attended the sick couch, cooled the fevered and parched lips, and calmed the struggling soul on its passage from time to eternity.

"When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou."

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At present the magisterial chair is most ably filled by Captain Thomas, a gentleman eminently qualified for the office. In the various litigious cases occasionally brought before, him, his decisions, just and impartial, are invariably carried out with military promptness.

The Chatham Islands is a most desirable locality for steady working men who wish to earn a comfortable livelihood by honest labour, and a few such settlers would be really an acquisition. Parties from New Zealand have evinced a desire to purchase land, but as the Chatham Islands land titles were undetermined, the purchases could not be carried out. One enterprising young sheep farmer, Mr. Thomas Ritchie, has made a beginning in the right direction; he has taken a lease of land as a sheep-run, and his flock already promises a speedy return of expenditure; with most plodding industry he is improving the run, burning off the flax, and sowing grass; indeed, his steadiness of character, unassuming deportment, and good principles, have won golden opinions from all classes, Pakeha and Maori. And now a word or two regarding my old friends the Maoris: they are in many respects an interesting race. Of all the inhabitants of the South Pacific, they have enlisted the largest share of our sympathies: their independent bearing and indomitable courage, their fixed tenacity of purpose, and their eager thirst for knowledge, have been well appreciated by the Anglo-Saxon race; and the romantic heroism of their warriors, who have defended their native fortresses against overwhelming numbers, has excited, even in their foes, a chivalrous feeling; but it cannot be denied that great vices are mingled with their virtues; they are cunning, treacherous, avaricious, and cruel: nevertheless, they have all the characteristics of the noble savage, and they have been so bepraisod, eulogised, carressed, and petted, that they have never realized their real position; and here, in my humble opinion, a great mistake has been made; our policy has been visionary in the extreme: we have presumed to interfere with the laws of nature, and it has been an unfortunate failure: we have endeavoured to blend the savage with the civilised race, not by a long course of judicious training and salutary discipline, but by immediate transformation. To effect this, tempting allurements have been held out, and the most intractable savage has been bribed into submission; in fact, the sop has invariably fallen into the mouth of the noisiest demagogue. For a time the experiment looked promising; the blanket was discarded, the spear and tomahawk were flung aside; they came forth arrayed in faultless paletot and florid trousers--were invested with magisterial honours, and offices for which they were totally unfit-- and became so elated and self-important, that the relative position of Pakeha and Maori became entirely reversed; they began to assume airs of superiority, dictate to the Government, and finally

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threaten and strike. Now, I most respectfully submit, that had a less temporising policy been shown, and a determination not to be trifled with boldly carried out, many of the recent calamities might have been avoided. During an intercourse of many years, it has been my constant rule to deal with them honestly and fairly; indeed, I can truly say, in no matter of business did I ever seek to deceive them; upon this position I have taken my stand. In return they have been generally honest and punctual; but whenever a noisy brawler would seek to intimidate, I have met him with a bold front, face to face, and eye to eye, and the ebullition never failed to subside very quietly. The Chatham Island Maoris, like all the Pacific races, are in their decadence. At one period they numbered above nine hundred; the present census shows but little more than four hundred. To what physical or moral cause this may be attributed I know not; but, like all other startling events in this hemisphere, it may be the mysterious means of creating a channel for the vital stream of civilization which is flowing towards the Pacific. There is no chance, as Darwin beautifully observes, "When God made the world, he weighed the dust and measured the water." The first quantity is here still; for though man may gather and scatter, and mix and unmix, he can destroy nothing; the destruction of one substance is the life-bloom and beauty of another; one hand gathers up all; nothing is lost. I can never treat a Maori unkindly, neither can I look upon him without a feeling of sympathy for the expiring race. The Chatham Islanders are as hospitable as Arabs. I have never entered their whares but food was produced, the best and choicest their humble dwellings could boast, and at night the cleanest blankets and mats have been spread for my repose. In return, a Maori never enters my house without a welcome, nor does he quit without a good repast. Almost all inhabitants are professing Christians, punctual in their attendance at karakia, and paying great reverence to the Sabbath. The household work, oven to peeling their potatoes, is done on the Saturday night; nothing is left for the morning. Nevertheless, they have been frequently termed great hypocrites. With such a sweeping assertion I cannot agree; on the contrary, there must be some great principle at work within their hearts that thus softens and humanizes. Many of the Chatham Island Maoris have repudiated brutalizing and degrading vices, and have become exemplary members of society. Indeed, their daily lives, as presented to the world, are salutary lessons for men of any class or colour. Occasionally the darker shades of their nature will become developed. Granted that such is the case, shall we reproach them if we, with all our superior advantages and attainments, cannot repress or keep down our own evil propensities? Shall we unkindly cast the first stone at our dusky brother? It is very certain they are not immaculate; but let any person of calm and unbiassed judgment reside amongst

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them and witness the every-day life of such men as Tangari, Wiremu Naera, Peteri, Paramene, and many other Chatham Island Maoris, and he will become impressed with the truth of my conviction, that the good seed has not been sown on barren soil. They have been reproached, and justly so, for suffering their places of worship to fall into ruin. Many years ago the Waitangi Maoris, under the auspices of Pomare, an influential chief, erected a most imposing and beautiful edifice; the exterior was of flax, and the interior walls were tastefully covered with reeds of the toe-toe, interlaced with green flax, and the roof, woodwork, and timbers were painted in their peculiar style. Maori arabesque rows of large windows were neatly put in by an experienced workman; and, when completed, the effect was grand and solemn. Whilst Pomare was in existence, the house of God was kept in good repair; after his death it was neglected, and year after year became more and more dilapidated, until the very swine desecrated their graves, and thrust their unclean snouts under the pulpit. This was a great scandal, and seriously grieved our good Bishop. The late Resident Magistrate, Mr. Shand, ofttimes implored them to restore their place of worship; and his successor, Captain Thomas, has entreated them with all the eloquence of a Christian; in fact, he never allowed the subject to drop. Whether those arguments have awakened them from their apathy, or the neat little Wesleyan Chapels arising around have touched them with shame, I know not; but the words of their modern Nehemiahs have gone forth-- "Come and let us build up the walls of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach:" --they are now busily at work repairing and renovating the House of God, and neither time, labour, material, nor funds are bestowed grudgingly; this indeed is a step in the right direction. In the virtue which the Apostle classes next to godliness, they are miserably deficient; soap and water is held in positive contempt. Their women, who are much lower in the scale of humanity, will sit as contented in the midst of dirt and disorder, as a well ordered person in a swept and garnished mansion; reproach one with personal uncleanness, and she will reply indignantly, "we wash ourselves once a week; surely that is enough." Their children, from the period of their birth, are kept in a state of perpetual filthiness, and throughout the length and breadth of the Island fleas and lice are the rule, not the exception. If it were possible to reform the women in this respect, the men would very soon acquire and appreciate the blessings of cleanliness and good order. Then, and not until then, can we hope for the regeneration of the Maori. Much odium has been thrown upon them from their habit of purchasing goods from traders on credit, or as they very appropriately term it ronga taima (long time), and neglecting to pay for them in due season. I have known traders supply persons with goods to a very large amount upon the sole security of their forthcoming crops, a succession of which, for years, would scarcely pay the debt. To a certain extent

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they are honest in intention; that is, they never shirk payment; but it takes such a long time to close the account, that profits are either absorbed by interest, or the debt is totally sacrificed by the fluctuations of the market. I have seen hundreds of tons of (long time) produce rotting upon the Island during one season; for this, however, the traders are more to be blamed than the Maoris; they are, in fact, so anxious to dispose of their own goods, secure present and future cargoes, and keep rival competitors from the market, that they will do so at any risk or sacrifice. This system is carried on to the present day; yet I never heard that it worked well, or brought any amount into the exchequer. However, the trade being generally managed by paid agents, to whom very little loss can accrue, they play at the game with impunity.

I have spoken kindly and candidly of my old neighbours, my motto being--

"Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice."

No one will be more truly delighted than myself to see them emerge from habits which have hitherto kept them aloof from the Pakeha in their domestic economy, in the culture of their soil, or in mechanical pursuits. I should be thankful to see them work side by side with the white man, with no other rivalry than honest labour--no other feeling than praiseworthy emulation. I have now, thank God, emerged from the difficulties of my early life, and can look around on my family with complacency. My children have never suffered a real privation, and I have been enabled to afford them the benefits of a useful English education. From earliest youth they have boon trained to habits of industry and economy; may they ever make a right use of the privileges they have enjoyed.

Many years ago my aged parents came from New Zealand to spend the remainder of their days near me. My father, now seventy-eight, and my mother seventy-nine, still hale and strong, though sometimes visited by affliction incidental to advanced age, reside in a most pleasant little cottage within sight of my dwelling; and the same old English spirit of independence which placed them above many others in their rank of life is still strong within them, --they will rarely allow another to do for them what they can do for themselves.

And now a few parting words of advice to those young fellow-labourers who may have left their native soil to become the pioneers of their own fortune. Do not linger around the outskirts of society, or allow yourselves to become contaminated and enervated by the vices around you; but boldly hew out a path for yourselves. Be not discouraged by temporary difficulties; but, when they come, face them with manful resolution. Above all, deal openly and honestly with your fellow-men of every caste or colour, and, with God's help, you cannot fail of success.

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