Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran
Visit of H.M.S. Lizard—Peace and goodwill—Wreck of the Jessie Readman—I build a yacht—Bridge over the Waitangi—The Institute—Visit of H.M.S. Rapid—Our regatta—Visit of the Governor, Lord Glasgow—A month in New Zealand—Severe hurricane—Our race meeting—Building the jetty—Constant illness compels me to resign my office—The Massey government—Military pensions—Farewell.
Early on 10th December, H.M.S. Lizard, Captain Hancock, dropped anchor off Waitangi, and left for Port Hutt in the evening. She returned on the 12th, when I paid my official visit on board, and Captain Hancock and four of the officers came ashore with me. The ship sailed for Dunedin that evening, taking a mail for us.
The school children of the European parents had a grand picnic just before Christmas; so to make things even we gave a picnic to all the Maori children and parents. It proved a great success and pleased the latter immensely. Thus the year ended in peace and goodwill between the races.
On 23rd December I was informed that the wool ship Jessie Readman, 960 tons, Captain Burton, had struck at 4 a.m. in a dense fog at Wharekauri on the east side of the island, and was hopelessly wrecked. Being too ill to mount a horse, I sent Mr. Raynor, the clerk of the court, across the island to see the wreck and collect information in view of the inquiry which would have to be held.
Eventually I sent a full report to Wellington. I wished the final inquiry and finding of the court to be held there, because I could not myself exonerate the master of the ship from the blame of rash navigation.
On 7th January, 1894, the mail steamer brought a party of Napier page 154 acquaintances, Messrs. Frank Bee, Russell Duncan, Newton, Dempster, and Master Todd. They were holiday-making, and were able to give us much interesting news about mutual friends in Hawkes Bay.
At the end of February we had the usual spell of bad weather. Much rain fell, and there was a succession of heavy gales between west and south until the middle of March.
I had started to build my yacht, and having got the loan of an empty boat-shed on the beach from the Maoris, I was able to work in shelter and got on well with the job. I was also collecting money and timber to build a bridge over the Waitangi river, about 300 yards from the mouth, where we were able to get a width of about one hundred feet. When at length the New Zealand Public Works Department, who approved my design and measurements for the bridge, advanced £500, I was in a position to commence driving the piles for the structure. But it was some time before our two carpenters could be induced to undertake the contract for the work. They had no experience of bridge building and were afraid of the risk. Finally I had to give them my personal guarantee against loss should the time required for the job exceed my estimate. I used 20ft. piles, 12in. by 10in., heart of totara, and the caps and stringers also were heart of totara, 8in. by 12in., for though the bridge was for the use of equestrians in the meantime, I intended the underwork to be strong enough for a cart traffic deck when such should be required.
I kept a record of the strength and direction of the wind, barometric and thermometric readings and weather conditions daily throughout 1894, and Mr. Cox kept the rain gauge, for the information of the Weather Department in New Zealand.page 155
At about this time I called a public meeting to consider the possibility of building an institute and hall at Te One. The settlers responded to the idea very well. One gave a site for the building; most of them promised money or labour assistance; and I undertook to get help from the Government towards the cost of building, with the result that, when finished, the Chatham Islands Institute, with its hall and library, was a piece of work to be proud of, and one that proved to be a boon much valued by the inhabitants. Mr. Foster, the schoolmaster, Mr. Raynor, my clerk, and Messrs. Wishart and Fougere assisted me loyally in carrying out this enterprise, and the size and importance of the building added greatly to the appearance of the village.
Mr. Odman, my friend and brother fisherman, had an exciting experience at this time. He was out in the bay fishing in the smaller of my two punts, when he saw a huge shark considerably longer than the boat—about 18ft.—which came close alongside with the evident intention of capsizing it. Luckily the boat was not anchored, so Odman snatched up the oars and pulled smartly for shore, but the shark followed him up closely until he got nearly to the beach.
Two men, Williams and George Clugh, were reported as missing, and the surmise that they were drowned in the big lagoon proved to be correct.
On 28th June H.M.S. Rapid, Captain Sir Henry Ogle, arrived at 4 p.m. She was searching for the missing schooner Ocean Wave. Sir Henry landed and had tea with us. Lieutenant Martin, Paymaster Alton and Surgeon Sparrow also landed, and next day the captain and Lieutenant Martin dined with us, and we went aboard for afternoon tea. Dr. Sparrow and Lieutenant Alton spent the evening with us, and the following day the Rapid sailed for Lyttelton at 4.30 p.m. page 156 Sir Henry gave a subscription, as well as some books, a swing lamp, and four water-colour paintings to the Institute.
After the Rapid left we held a regatta. The Maoris won the sailing race for big boats with their large surf boat; my whaler finished second; but the weather became so rough that we were compelled to postpone the last three sailing races.
At last I got Mr. Daymond and William Bowke to sign the contract for building the Waitangi bridge; the work to be completed by 26th November. The weather during the first half of September was dreadful. There were furious gales from the south-east with snow, hail and much rain; and it was near the end of October before the under-work of the bridge was finished, leaving a bare month to complete the decking, railing and painting within the contract time. The bridge, however, was actually finished on 24th November in a most satisfactory manner, thoroughly good work being put in every part; but as the men had not previously done any bridge building, I had to be clerk of the works and superintend every detail and explain the right position of every brace and bolt used in the construction.
About this time a weather prophet in New Zealand predicted a huge earthquake wave, and the islanders got busy removing their heavy boats on to high ground. Several of the settlers on the sea front at Waitangi brought boxes of valuables up to the Residency, requesting me to give them room for safety in case the dreaded tidal wave came along.
We finished the year with a grand fancy dress ball in the Te One Hall in aid of the library. It was a great success and we netted £16.
At the end of January we had notice that his Excellency the Governor, the Right Hon. the Earl of Glasgow, G.C.M.G., etc., would visit the island in the course of the next month; so I called a public meeting to arrange for giving him a good reception.
On 15th February, H.M.S. Ringdove, Commander Bremer, anchored in Port Hutt, and brought a mail for us.
Four days later the Government steamer Hinemoa, Captain Fairchild, arrived with Lord Glasgow on board, and the assembled population of the island gave him a loyal reception, with speeches of welcome from both races. His Excellency, who honoured us with a visit to the Residency, offered to give us a trip to New Zealand. Of course we accepted joyfully and began at once to pack up.
On the following day Lord Glasgow and his suite lunched with us to meet the principal settlers, and after seeing the regatta got up in his honour, we all went on board the Hinemoa. Early next morning we steamed round to Te Wakaru and landed to call on Mrs. Shand, the widow of the first magistrate of the Chathams. It blew very hard during the night, and the ship sheltered under the lee of Wakaru Point. At 8 a.m. H.M.S. Ringdove left for New Zealand, and early next morning we steamed round and lay to off Owenga, as his Excellency wished to see Tapu, the last of the old men of the Mori-ori race.
We left the Horns at noon for Lyttelton in fine weather, but during the night a heavy sea from the south was encountered, and our ship rolled so tremendously to the beam sea that our three lady passengers were very ill. We reached Lyttelton at 10 a.m. on the 24th, page 160 and after a visit to the mission ship Southern Cross, left for Wellington in the afternoon and arrived there next morning.
We spent a most enjoyable month in New Zealand, visiting relatives and friends, exchanging news and experiences, and attending to sundry business matters. But my interviews with departmental officials were depressing. I felt convinced that the Justice Department intended to keep me at the Chathams as long as possible, and the death of Mr. Ballance made my chance of a transfer to New Zealand, in accordance with his promise, a very remote possibility. In fact I had succeeded in producing too good a state of affairs in regard to the Maori inhabitants of the Chathams, for the realisation of my desire for the magisterial charge of a native district in the North Island.
On 1st April we left Lyttelton to return to the Chathams, and owing to very bad weather had a most miserable trip across, arriving at Waitangi anchorage at 10 a.m. on 4th April, all more or less ill and weak from the effects of the passage.
Our island friends, including the Maoris, were genuinely glad to welcome our return, and a very few days sufficed to settle us down in the old grooves.
Early in June we were much saddened by the death from pneumonia of Effie, the youngest daughter of Mr. A. Cox. I did not know of her illness until too late for my limited knowledge of medicine to be of use. I feel sure that had the services of a doctor been available when the young lady was taken ill, she might have been saved. Her father was much grieved at her untimely death.
On 30th July we had a severe hurricane from the north-west with a tremendous sea; but though the waves ran up the river as far as the new bridge it stood the combined force of wind and sea without damage. The gale ended in heavy rain, and was the worst experienced page 161 at the Chathams for many years: barometer 28 40, thermometer 46. The weather continued cold and miserable until the end of August, with a low barometer and a temperature frequently down to 40° and 38°.
There was much sickness on the island during the latter part of this year, chiefly among the children. I was kept pretty busy acting as doctor, and was happily successful in pulling the little ones through.
A race meeting in December was so successful that we formed a club and decided to hold a meeting every year in future. We had excellent sport and absolutely straight running, every jockey trying his best to be first past the post. Hurdles were barred on account of the lack of a surgeon to set broken bones.
The beach at Waitangi is firm sand and runs up to the foot of the cliff under the Residency plateau which here juts out at right angles to the shore. In the corner about a quarter of an acre of paapa rock is exposed at low water, with plenty of depth for a laden boat up to the edge of the paapa. So I set a couple of men to work with shovels and crowbars to jump holes four feet deep in the soft rock at low tide. Into these holes I dropped the ends of 8in. by 6in. piles of iron-bark, 10ft. apart, in two rows. The wash of the tide packed the spaces round the piles tightly with sand that acted like cement and held them rigid. When these were braced and connected by stringers bolted about a foot below their tops, with strong decking bolted across the stringers, we had a good strong landing jetty, about four feet above high-tide mark, and running out to water deep enough to float a laden boat at less than half-tide.
The oldest inhabitants were very sure that, except at an enormous cost, no wharf could be built that would last through a northerly gale. Twice in years past, they told me, a rough landing stage had been built, page 162 but both structures had been swept away by the first northerly sea of any force.
Both of these stages, however, had the piles sunk in sand and placed where the full force of the waves broke on the beach. But the position which I selected was partly sheltered by outlying rocks; the paapa ledge extending fifty yards beyond the jetty broke the waves before they reached it, and so the run of the seas lost half their force.
This jetty has proved most useful. It is well built with the deck clear of waves even in heavy seas, and will last until the iron-bark piles rot, when they can easily be replaced as required. Since I left the island the structure has been enlarged, and it has stood the heaviest seas without damage.
My frequent attacks of illness now warned me that it would be unwise and even impossible for me to retain my post at the Chathams, and accordingly we left for New Zealand by the mail boat on 10th June after a stay of nearly seven years on the Chatham Islands. We had made many friends there among all ranks of both races, and felt much grieved at parting from many whom we could not meet again.
A few days after reaching Wellington I was taken ill with congestion of the lungs, and had to lie up for so long that I was compelled to ask for an extension of sick leave without salary. I also applied for a transfer from the Chathams to a New Zealand district. Both applications were refused. The retired Auckland grocer who posed as minister of the Justice Department, the Hon. Something Thompson, declared that he had never heard of “leave without pay” being given to anyone, and that I must return to my post or resign my appointment. Being too ill to fight the matter, I resigned on the understanding that later I might be appointed to a native district in the North Island.
When I was well enough to travel, we went to eke out a living on page 163 five acres that I owned in Hawkes Bay, and we have resided at Hastings since my resignation in 1897.
The Massey Government has the grateful thanks of all the veterans of the Maori war for having given effect to their petition that a special military pension might be given to the men who actually were under fire. The Ward Government, being too ignorant and careless to understand the wide difference between a public reward for good service done and a dole for which the sole conditions of claim were advanced years and poverty, considered that the old soldiers' claim on the country ought to have been satisfied by the charitable old age pension.
Although the petition was only on behalf of such veterans as had served as privates and non-commissioned officers, the Massey Government went one better and made the pension payable to men of all ranks whose possession of the medal was proof that they had been under fire from the enemy. This enabled officers to participate, and was a boon to those of narrow means. Of course a pension according to rank would have been more equitable and more in accordance with military usage, but even two shillings a day for an old major may be very welcome.
I can hardly believe that it is nineteen years since I retired from the service of the Government. The time has passed with little more of interest and excitement to mark the years than the irksome endeavour to keep out of debt to the butcher and grocer.
Old friends and acquaintances have passed away with appalling rapidity, and the loss of them reminds me forcibly that I must hear the “last post” before very long.
Hoping that these reminiscences will not prove too tedious for younger friends to peruse, I will just add from my heart, Farewell!page 164
A synoptical narrative of the Maori war, from the middle of 1865 to the end of 1872, must necessarily include a history of the prolonged pursuit of Te Kooti through the rough and difficult country of the Urewera tribes; and I wish to record my gratitude to Captain G. A. Preece, N.Z.C., for his interesting story of a year of very arduous work, in which he was one of the chief actors. He kept notes of the continuous bush fights and marches, and is one of the few men now living who can give a trustworthy account of the forces employed and the work done by them.
With much pleasure I add the following notes contributed by himself, as an appendix to my book.