1839 - White, William. Important Information Relative to New Zealand - CHARACTER OF THE NATIVES, p 34-52

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  1839 - White, William. Important Information Relative to New Zealand - CHARACTER OF THE NATIVES, p 34-52
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It might reasonably be supposed, that considering the direct mercantile intercourse that has existed for a number of years between this Colony and New Zealand, as well as the number of natives

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constantly arriving and residing among us for a time, a tolerably accurate estimation of the character of these intelligent people would have been formed; but it is no less a matter of surprise than of fact, that, notwithstanding these circumstances, a very imperfect knowledge of their real character very generally prevails, which has no doubt been the principal cause of retarding the attention that is but now beginning to be turned towards that country. This has arisen from several causes, but principally from the savage and unnatural character of cannibals that has been attached to them, since they were first known to us, by Capt. Cook's account of his reception amongst them, and which has been more than confirmed by the accounts of almost every subsequent visitor and writer on the subject, without a shade of those virtues they undoubtedly possess to relieve the dark main ground of that character. Consequently, the poor New Zealander has been too generally treated (both in his own country, and when he has come amongst us,) as a being to be contemplated with a degree of horror, or at best a few degrees above the condition of a beast of burthen, that might be made useful in adding to our conveniences and interests by his bodily labour, for which his natural superiority in strength and intellect better adapts him, than the miserable beings the natives of this country, who, even for such purposes, have been despised, as by nature and habit unfitted for all communication with civilized man. It is lamentable that this view of savages should be so generally entertained. It can only arise from an imperfect observation and study of the natural capabilities that frequently, like rough diamonds, lie buried under the more apparent mass of the worst feature of their character, which we are but too apt to assume the

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whole to consist of, without examining the brighter particles that only occasionally discover themselves on the surface. It is true, the natives of this Colony may be said to be, both physically and mentally, the lowest link in the chain of human beings that has yet been discovered; but, at the same time, it cannot be denied that our policy towards them, or treatment of them, has not been calculated to discover what natural capabilities they may possess, or to improve what little we have discovered in turning it to their own advantage in any way the most practicable, of changing the habits of a natural savage; in fact, they are the victims of a preconceived notion of their incapability for improvement of any kind.

The same idea has, to a considerable extent, prevailed with regard to the New Zealanders; until the residence of the Missionaries and other respectable Europeans amongst them, for a number of years, on the most amicable terms and with perfect safety to their persons and property, have proved how much their character has been traduced; for, with ordinary civility and common honesty, which we owe to the inhabitants of every country we visit, but more especially to savages, in all our intercourse and dealings with them, I would ask those who have resided in New Zealand for any length of time, in what country where no civilized Government or laws exist, the persons and properties of strangers are more safe, or where the native laws regarding civil rights are more justly or strictly observed than in New Zealand? This view of the native character may at first appear strangely to contrast with the many melancholy results of their hostile collision with Europeans in their first intercourse with them, and even within the last few

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years, during which a number of Europeans have lost their lives, and a considerable amount of property has been sacrificed, when the wild and unbridled passions of these men have been roused, but in almost every instance of this kind, the old adage of "one story being good until another is told," aptly applies, for on minute enquiry into the particulars of each parties' conduct on these occasions, it will almost invariably be found, that Europeans have been the first aggressors, either in practising the most wanton cruelty and premeditated deception, or in vioalating some of their most sacred laws, from ignorance or design, but most generally from a brutal gratification some men feel in totally disregarding the feelings of those they consider inferior to themselves. If the limits of this publication permitted, the truth of what has been stated, regarding the culpability of Europeans in instances where their lives have been sacrificed, might be amply supported by a statement of well-authenticated facts in every case that I am aware of, but the fact of a number of respectable Europeans engaged in business with the natives, and the whole body of Missionaries having lived amongst them for a number of years, and in the course of their transactions under every circumstance calculated to develope the native character on the most amicable terms, and with perfect safety, satisfactorily proves that with kind, honest, and judicious treatment, the New Zealanders would prove an useful auxiliary to the Colonization of his country by Europeans. It has, unfortunately for our future intercourse with the New Zealanders, happened that they have received their impressions of our general character, from a class of men whose conduct was not by any means calculated to give them a very favourable idea of it; and although their gen-

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eral intelligence enables them to distinguish between good and bad characters, by the simple rule of their practice, it will no doubt be some time before their previous impressions will be so far removed as to have any considerable degree of confidence in their transactions with us. This kind of distrust is at present generally manifested by them in all their first transactions with strangers, but gradually disappears in a great degree on further intercourse, if the parties conduct in all his transactions and general demeanour merit it in their estimation; and once some degree of confidence is established on their part, they equally manifest an open confiding disposition; but anything calculated to dissipate this confidence, ought to be particularly guarded against by Europeans; for if once deceived, all future confidence is at an end, and there is probably nothing more calculated to rouse their passions or lead to insult, if not outrage, if within their power at any time.

The New Zealanders are an entelligent and industrious people, and every day becoming more so, as they become more acquainted with the arts of civilized life; they show a quickness in comprehending, and a laudable ambition in imitating, whatever they consider of utility amongst Europeans, for although they are generally strongly prejudiced in favour of their own old method of conducting their own affairs, they are sufficiently acute to perceive and adopt any improvement from us that tends more readily or satisfactorily to attain the same object, which shows how much they might be improved by a judicious direction of their attention to useful objects of industry. They are industrious, compared with their limited knowledge of profitable objects of employment, and they will no doubt,

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rapidly improve in this respect, as the example and enterprise of Europeans instruct and directs them, and this has to a certain extent been already attained in the numerous articles of trade which now occupy a large portion of their time and attention, which formerly were not thought of, such as planting a surplus quantity of provisions for sale, cleaning flax, cutting timber, rearing pigs, &c., besides which, they pay constant attention to providing themselves with comfortable houses and enclosures, building canoes, fishing, curing fish in the proper seasons, and in planting and reaping the necessary provisions for themselves and families, all of which is as regularly attended to and form as much a part of the business of their lives as similar objects amongst ourselves. They also possess an equitable code of laws, regulating the conduct of every man towards his neighbour, as regards character, person, and property, which are now strictly observed and insisted upon; and although their decisions sometimes appear rather more severe, in proportion to the offence, than our ideas of justice would be willing to admit of, and partaking a little of might being right--upon the whole, they are well adapted to their simple circumstances, and bespeak a considerable degree of civilization amongst these people even in their original condition.

They have also a regular system of religion in which men, especially educated in all its mysteries, are appointed as priests for administering its rights and ceremonies, and inculcating its duties, which, although lamentably tinged with superstition, exercises a salutary control over their conduct, and greatly tends to preserve peace and good order in their society. They are not idolators, and would despise the folly of worshiping stocks and stones, but

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may truly be said to worship the 'unknown God,' for although the various operations of nature, and works of divine Providence they daily see going on around them, impress them with the idea of a supreme Being as the first cause and regulator of all these events, their ideas of the nature of that Being or their own connection with Him, otherwise than as agent for the punishment of evil, or whether there is one or many of such beings, their ideas are very vague. They are generally strict in the observance of every duty connected with their religion, and apparently sincere in what they do believe, with the exception of the priests, who, although great sticklers for the most strict observance of every religious ceremony of their religion on all occasions in their power, (and they possess no small share,) so much depends on the general belief in the superstitious notions they inculcate, many of which the priests themselves must know are rank impositions on the credulity of less tutored flocks, such as commanding the winds and the waves at sea; curing all manners of diseases, many of which are of the most miraculous nature, such as extracting from the bodies of sick persons large sticks and stones, without the appearance of any wound, and even taking away the life of any individual, who may offend them by apparently no other means than the efficacy of their prayers alone. For all this they are well paid by their credulous countrymen, and by this means are generally enabled to live with greater ease and comfort than the rest of the tribe; they have consequently the greatest interest in keeping up a religious belief in all the superstitious nostrums they inculcate, whether they believe one iota of it themselves or not; and, indeed,their conduct on many occasions prove that they really do not. The Priests are also great prophets in foretelling future

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events, which they pretend is communicated to them direct from some genii or spirit that is supposed to have taken them under their especial care; and, although some remarkable instances of correct conjectures sometimes occur, which affords them great cause of triumph; their prophecies sometimes also fail to be realized, and on which occasions the ingenuity and hypocrisy of the Priest shews itself in the exercises and subterfuges he is obliged to resort to, to account for it; and when entirely at a loss, throws the whole blame on his good protecting spirit, for deceiving him. By these means, the Priests exercise a great degree of control amongst the people, and which has a most injurious tendency to debase the minds of the young people, but when they arrive at the years of maturity, they seem to throw off some portion of this yoke. And, to make large allowances for the fallibility of their priests, however their laws and religion are so intimately connected, and the influence of the priests is so useful to the chiefs in maintaining good order and obedience, that the latter in all cases support the former in all their absurdities. However, the labours of the Missionaries and increasing intercourse with Europeans are happily tending to dissipate the baneful example of the native priests, and it is to be hoped that in a few years their occupation will be gone.

What has more than any other cause tended to foster the savage character of the New Zealanders, has been the system of war carried on by the different tribes against each other, which has not only been the means of keeping in a continual state of excitement and exercise of their worst passions, familiarising them from their youth upwards, with the most revolting scenes consequent on the hostile

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meetings of such savages, but has in a great degree depopulated the country.

To the demoralizing influence of this passion may be traced every other bad feature in their character; but it is to be hoped as civilization progresses, and their attention is turned to more worthy pursuits, that this lamentable state of things will soon disappear. Indeed the progress of such a happy event is, even now, quite evident; for notwithstanding the more deadly means of the fire arms they now possess, with which Europeans have so abundantly supplied them, it is an undoubted fact, that there is not now so frequent and general wars in New Zealand as took place formerly, and there can be no doubt but that it is a mistaken notion, although very generally entertained, that the great quantity of arms and ammunition that they have obtained of late years have tended either to increase war, or that the results of the wars have been so disastrous, or even so much so as regards the loss of life as when they only possessed their old weapons of clubs and spears, except in some instances, at a time when fire arms were only partly introduced, which gave the parties possessing them an almost certain advantage over their enemies; but since they have been upon a footing of equality in this respect, it does not appear that one-fourth the number is now killed as there were when they came into closer contact and fought man to man, and hand to hand, as was formerly the case, when almost invariably the one party or the other were destroyed. They have little skill in useing fire arms, and seldom come into close combat with each other in their wars, but it rather resembles skirmishing, which is frequently kept up for months without much harm being done to either party; and

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their wars now much more frequently terminate by the mediating influence of mutual friends, when peace is again restored. The writer would not have it supposed that he is the advocate of supplying them with any means of continuing these sanguinary habits; but he certainly considers the general introduction of fire arms a lesser evil than doing so partially, that would enable any one party to make an easy prey of another; indeed, he sincerely hopes to see the day, at no distant period, when the mild influence of industry will render them he longer an article of trade to be desired by the natives, or at all events only for their legitimate use, that of rightful protection. It is, even now, pleasing to perceive that this state of things is gradually acquiring the wished for ascendancy in the estimation of the natives themselves, and what has hitherto been the all engrossing passion of their lives, the object, end, and aim of their existance-- to which the child is trained to look forward as the great object of his manhood, and to measure the estimation in which he would wish to be held, by the distinction he gained in avenging the wrongs of his forefathers, resenting insult and aggression, from whomsoever it might be offered, seems rather to have resulted from the circumstances of their situation, than any innate savage love of murder and depredation; for it is a singular fact, that in all their desperate conflicts there is scarcely any instance of unnecessary or refined cruelty, in depriving their enemies of life practised amongst them. They seem to perceive, clearly, the many evils that result from these harassing wars, one-half of which are occasioned by the bad conduct of single individuals, for whom, unfortunately, their laws do not sufficiently provide for individual punishment, but whose single crimes are charged

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to the whole tribe to which they may belong; and once a single spark of this description ignites, the whole body is quickly inflamed, and satisfaction must be had of the aggrieving party, whether from the innocent or guilty. But for these and many other circumstances arising from the unsocial, independent, state in which the various tribes live, added to the natural jealousy of the balance of power amongst all small communities, there is little doubt but that they would rather be inclined to live in peace and turn their attention to more profitable industry, for they are far from being regardless of the improvement of their present condition or the acquisition of property, as the great anxiety they have hitherto manifested, to avail themselves to the utmost extent, of the few opportunities, the trading of Europeans amongst them sufficiently proves; and limited as that intercourse has been, and consequently small the degree of the attention it has yet attracted, compared to what in a few years may be expected, it has greatly tended to turn their attention to such pursuits; increased habits of industry, and in some proportion to diminish their warlike propensities, as well as leading to a greater intercourse, intimacy, and better feeling amongst the tribes generally, although it cannot be denied that there has not been wanting some wicked Europeans who, from motives of gain, or the gratification of more savage feelings than the natives themselves, have encouraged a contrary feeling, and in many instances succeeded but too well in their iniquitous designs, but we may now hope that such parties will not again be permitted to continue such conduct without meeting their merited punishment.

It would be difficult to account for the small num-

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ber of native population, in proportion to the extent of New Zealand, possessing so favourable a climate, and producing such an abundance of food with the rudest cultivation, besides many natural resources, as, fish, fruits, and roots, all suitable for the food of man, but for our knowledge of these desolating wars. Melancholy proofs of which every where present themselves to the traveller, throughout the country; in the numerous deserted villages and fortifications that are to be met with--proving beyond doubt that the population of New Zealand has been much more numerous than it is at the present day. The New Zealanders are not a wandering race, but on the contrary, are generally much attached to the place of their birth, and seldom change their residence without being compelled by their enemies, and that has been the case with almost all the deserted settlements throughout the country, as fully corroborated by the natives themselves; for on inquiring into the history of any of these places, it will be found they have been the scene of a well contested or treacherous battle, and the invariable reply to your inquiries is, that the former inhabitants have been all, or in most part, killed, and the few who have escaped driven to some other part of the country.

The number of the native population has not been very accurately ascertained; but from the information of those who have visited most parts of the Islands, it cannot be estimated at more than from thirty to forty thousand souls. At least seven-eighths of the number inhabit the North Island, probably from the mildness of its climate, that of the middle and and South Islands being severe in winter; indeed it may be doubted if there are above three thousand souls on the middle Island at the present time, ex-

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cept those from the Northern side of Cook's Straits, who occasionally pass over to the Middle Island in the whaling season. The males and females are in pretty equal proportion, there being rather a preponderance of the former. The natives live in tribes of from one hundred to one thousand in number, generally on the coast, for the convenience of fishing and trading with the shipping, and at considerable distances from each other, and are seldom on intimate terms. There are also a few large tribes residing in the interior, on the banks of the extensive Lakes that lay about the centre of the North Island, holding little intercourse with their neighbours on the Coast, except for the purposes of trade, once or twice a year. These inland tribes have not suffered so much, either from war or from the demoralizing influence of abandoned Europeans, and are the finest specimens of the natives in their original character, and who might be rapidly improved by judicious treatment, and made a useful class of men.

There is comparatively little intercourse between the different tribes on the coast, there being generally some jealousy, old grudge, or actual hostility existing that creates such a degree of distrust as to prevent it. Hence there is frequently some inconvenience felt in travelling in New Zealand, in procuring guides or the necessary assistance from one tribe to another, unless where they are on a friendly footing. However, they act with great liberality towards even their enemies, who may accompany an European in travelling, and except in very rare instances hold them harmless under such circumstances, and very rarely interfere with any single native, who visits them from another tribe, upon whatever terms they may be with his tribe at the time; and any breach of this rule among them, is

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looked upon as an unpardonable offence; for which nothing will atone but a similar retaliation, and is frequently the cause of a war between the tribes in which it may happen. Their character abounds with many interesting traits, which the limits of this work do not permit of being touched upon. Interwoven with some of an opposite character, the most disgusting to Europeans, is that of cannibalism, which, although formerly very prevalent, and even now notorious, is greatly on the decline, and will no doubt entirely cease with their wars, with which alone it is connected, as it seems to have originated, and is only continued, under the influence of superstition, rather than any predilection for this unnatural practice.

Therefore, looking at their character as a whole, and making a debtor and creditor catalogue of their virtues and vices, I think the balance will be found in favour of the former, and that that balance will daily increase from a more extended intercourse with respectable Europeans, I think there cannot be doubt.

The natives are now extensively employed by Europeans in all their business, in clearing and cultivating land, sawing timber, as labourers in stores, and house servants. They are especially serviceable in the coast whaling trade, in which great numbers are employed in pulling boats. They are considered quite equal, if not superior, to Europeans. They very soon become expert sailors, and considerable numbers are also employed in the coasting crafts and whaling ships, both Colonial, English, and American, which touch upon the coast, and by whom their services are highly valued; but unfortunately do not always pay them adequately

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in proportion so as to encourage them in this pursuit, or a very useful class of native sailors might he formed. New Zealand may, therefore, he said to possess at once many necessary requisites for successful colonization, in its soil and climate for agriculture, and in its situation, harbours, and ship-building timber for its commerce; but in none more so than its native population, in supplying the first requisite in every new Colony -- labour; and in pursuing both the former objects, they are by their natural intelligence and strength of constitution, well calculated to assist the labours of the more skilful European co-occupants of their soil, and when duly initiated and accustomed to such pursuits, they will readily perceive the advantage of "Peace and Plenty" over their former mode of life, and in a few years we shall hear of no more wars, murders, cannibalism, or depredations on property. And it is to be, sincerely hoped that whatever British authority may be established in New Zealand, it will take a lively interest in establishing such a state of things, and in-the event of that being kept in view, there can be no doubt of the success of New Zealand as a British settlement, and that the natives will greatly prefer the mild protection of an equitable code of British laws, adapted to their present circumstances; than be subject to the vicissitudes of every trifling circumstance that may affect their peace as at present.

At the present moment when New Zealand is attracting so much attention, as an eligible field for colonization, it is a pleasing prospect to look forward to the time when those we now regard as the rudest savages shall become civilized, and amalgamated with, and working side by side in all the arts of civilized life, and on terms of the most per-

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fect harmony with Europeans, who it is to be hoped will look upon the task as a pleasing one, to accomplish such a desirable result during their first intercourse with these people, and in which they will all feel interested, not only with a view to any profit that may be derived from their labour, but as a duty they owe to a less fortunate fellow-being.-- Much depends on the manner in which the natives are treated in the first instance, for if our policy towards them should compel them to look upon us as their conquerors and enemies, the indomitable spirit of the New Zealander once roused, and driven back to its old channel, of an all absorbing desire of revenge, it will be no easy task to overcome it; and although we may delay the reparation he seeks, by overwhelming numbers and greater skill in warding off his blow, it will not be the less sure, or he will sacrifice his life in the attempt. On the contrary, if treated justly, and like a child for a little time fed with the milk of human kindness, and in all his intercourse with us, we teach him to feel the interest of a son towards a father, there is much to be expected from him, as from his natural abilities he is eminently calculated to merge into civilized life.

Is it suprising that what I have anticipated should not, in some degree, have already resulted from their previous intercouse with Europeans. To me it is more surprising that any sympathy should have existed between them, or that the greatest proportion should have been allowed by the natives to reside in their country at all, and for which I think the natives entitled to much credit for their forbearance towards them, when their noto-

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riously selfish, dishonest, and brutal conduct is considered. These men arrive in New Zealand, where they have no right even to land, without the permission of the natives, where they are perfectly in their power, and entirely dependent upon them for accomplishing every object for which they visit the country. Under such circumstances, one would suppose their first business would be to conciliate the natives, or at least treat them with some degree of deference, as a matter of common justice. But what is the fact! They no sooner land, than they commence to abuse the natives by the worst of language-- commit assaults upon their persons -- violate their laws and customs--practise every kind of deception in their dealings, and in many instances openly rob them of their property, by inducing them to bring it on board their ships, where, when it was safely stowed in the hold, the poor native found he must be satisfied with whatever amount of property was offered him, however inadequate to the value of his produce in his estimation, or what he had positively agreed to have for it, or be beaten out of the vessel. What would any civilized nation think of strangers coming to their country, under the pretence of trading and acting in this manner? Would the laws of that country not at once be appealed to, and would not the offenders be liable to whatever penalty they incurred under these laws? Then, why not offending Europeans in New Zealand be treated in the same manner, and made justly liable for their nefarious actions to the laws of that country. Under such circumstances, I would ask if it is at all surprising that such Europeans should lose their lives or be deprived of their property in satisfaction for

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such conduct by a people, who, amongst themselves hold life cheap, compared with submitting to insult or wrong; and it has always been a matter of surprise to me, that many more did not lose their lives through their own conduct, than the number of cases that have occurred. 1 However bad the conduct of the natives may have hitherto been towards Europeans, I hold it as no proof that respectable parties may not peaceably settle amongst them, but it is a direct proof to the contrary; for any man conducting himself with common propriety, will be almost sure of a good reception. I do not mean to sweep within the compass of my censures, every individual European on New Zealand, as many respectable parties have been connected with tiie trade for years past, and to whom I appeal for the truth of my statements; and their own experience bears me out, for in every in-

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stance where such men have had occasion to reside or visit the natives in any part of New Zealand, they have had no reason to complain of their conduct.

1   I need only mention one instance in illustration of my statement, but could refer to many more:--A certain captain of a colonial vessel, I believe now residing in New Zealand, having sold the whole of his trade for cash at the Bay of Islands, found it impossible to procure any return cargo there. However, he touched at a certain port, where the natives had sufficient flax ready dressed to load his vessel, but he not having any article of trade that suited them in exchange, so confiding were the native, that they gave it him, (about sixty tons,) on the credit of his receipts; some of which are still held by the natives until his return from Sydney, as he had frequently traded with them before, and they had no doubt of his return. The only guarautee they stipulated for was, that, two or three of their number should proceed to Sydney to select the trade they wished in exchange, which was agreed to on the part of the captain; but on his arrival in Sydney, he turned them on shore, and would not either account for any portion of the flax, or give them a passage back. Some considerable time after, one of these same natives found his way back to his own place by some other vessel, and informed his countrymen of the result of his journey to Sydney, that the captain refused to give them anything for the flax. This same captain had the temerity to again enter that harbour, without any means or intention of paying his just debts. The natives at first civilly demanded their rights, according to his written engagements, and not until they found he had no intention of complying with them, did they proceed to manifest any hostile intentions; but their first impulse was, to take the vessel by force and all she contained. Another party wished to include the life of the captain, who had so grossly deceived them, but through the timely interference of one or two influential and kind-hearted chiefs, the captain and his vessel were allowed to depart, upon the faith of his secoud promise to return to pay these debts, without the loss of anything, not even the expence of a trifling present to his preservers, but which he has never thought proper to comply with, nor again ventured into that port since. Now could it have been said that it was unjust in those natives, under these circumstances, to have taken that vessel? Or if their law demanded the life of that captain, could it have been surprising, knowing the facts of the ease, had they done so? Had one of their own countrymen been guilty of such a fraud, the whole of his property, if not his life, would have paid the forfeit. And is it to be expected that they should make any exception in our favour, when our conduct is even more atrocious? And in order to shew that these natives were not likely to proceed to such extremities without cause, there has been several Europeans living amongst them since that time, with property under their charge, and numbers of vessels have visited the same port, and traded with the natives without having in any way been molested. Therefore, let every one that intends proceeding to New Zealand, be aware how he attempts to deceive the natives, for the consequences will, sooner or later, fall on his own shoulders, and ia a manner he may be little prepared for.

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