The Maori King
Chapter II — Waikato
‘Waikato’ is used indifferently as the name of a river, a confederation of Maori tribes, and the country inhabited by them. The basin which is drained by the great river and its tributaries is occupied by a very large number of tribes, distinct though intimately related. They are divided geographically and politically into three sections—Ngatimaniapoto, Ngatihaua, and a group of small tribes called Waikato, over which Ngatimahuta, the king's tribe, is dominant. The name Waikato is, however, often applied to the whole confederation which the three sections have formed, not only by the colonists, who do not trouble themselves about nice tribal distinctions, but even by the Maories themselves.
The Maories of the Waikato confederation have been for many years regarded as the most important in New Zealand. Their pre-eminence over other tribes is due not to any intrinsic merit of their own, but solely to their geographical position. Their greatness has grown up with the settlement of Auckland—the richest in the North Island—which lies at their feet, and has been for many years at their mercy. The land on which they live is fertile and difficult to be invaded; while at their backs they have a rugged inaccessible country, a retreat where they can set our civilized armies at defiance. When New Zealand was first colonized, no one supposed that in the end we should have to fight the Maories for the possession of the soil. The early settlers confidently pushed their way into the heart of native page 10 districts: homesteads of a few hundred acres, isolated in the midst of Maori villages, were bought without apprehension by European farmers, and inhabited in security by their wives and children. The Government did not hesitate to purchase blocks of land cut off by intervening native territory from the main settlements, which were retailed in small farms to settlers without a suspicion that the latter were being thereby doomed to ruin. And now that a quarrel has at last arisen between the races, the consolidation of our own territory and the formation of a defensible frontier between European and Maori land imperatively demand conquests which must entail bloodshed and suffering upon both sides.
The outsettlers of Auckland are mostly small farmers who live in rough wooden houses, scattered about the country, and surrounded by a few fields. The adjoining land is commonly an unenclosed tract of fern and forest owned by Maories or European speculators. The loneliness of a colonial life forces nearly every man into matrimony, and a family of stout hearty children is the usual result. Compared with Australian or Middle Island squatters, the Auckland outsettlers are poor; in the eyes of their native neighbours they are rich. The cattle, horses and sheep, which form their wealth run at large in the open country outside their fences. If the land is Maori, rent varying between £1 and £20 is demanded for this privilege; and when the title to the land is disputed by different owners it is necessary, in order to enjoy quiet possession, to pay them all. At times the wandering cattle, in their search for food, come upon native cultivations of wheat, potatoes, or green juicy maize, wholly exposed, or defended only by a rickety fence of small sticks tied up with flax. As these cultivations are often remote from human dwellings, the cattle of the settlers may and often do commit a great deal of mischief before they are found out. On the other hand, gaunt long-legged Maori pigs, roaming at large, feed in the settler's potato-fields and root up his grass paddocks, setting hedges, ditches and dogs at defiance. A fence that is secure against a Maori pig is a thing still to be invented. So long as Europeans and Maories continue to farm on antagonistic principles—the one fencing their crops and letting their cattle run at large; the other, tying up their cattle or driving them to other regions, and leaving their crops exposed—there must be disputes when- page 11 ever the two races come in contact. If the white man is intimate with native ways and can command his temper, he will generally, but by no means always, get justice. I have known cases in which even missionaries of twenty years' standing have only avoided a quarrel by submitting to grossly unfair demands. But when the white man is unskilful or passionate, there is invariably an affray, in which the Maori is sure to get the best of it. The European either has no weapons, or, having them, dares not use them; the Maori is well armed with guns and ammunition, has a dozen uncles and cousins to back him if he wants help, thinks nothing of flourishing his tomahawk a few inches off his adversaries' heads, and generally closes the argument by helping himself to a cow or a horse as ‘payment,’ which the Englishman may get back again as he can. In New Zealand it has been hitherto so notorious that a European has no chance but submission in a native quarrel, that it has become the common opinion of settlers that they are safer when unarmed. Even when the present war broke out, settlers showed very strong reluctance to take weapons into their hands. Raglan, a small settlement on the west coast, sixty miles south of Auckland, was in danger of attack from the Waikato. A shipload of arms for the defence of the settlers was sent down from Auckland. But they held a meeting, resolved that to arm was dangerous, that it was safer to trust to the friendliness of the Raglan, and the forbearance of the Waikato, natives, and so the ship was sent back to Auckland without being allowed to unload her cargo. When it is considered how entirely the rich white men have been at the mercy of their poor Maori neighbours, how the latter are without, and yet long for, almost all the articles of wealth which the former have, the only wonder is that there has been so little robbery and violence, and that redress could ever be obtained at all. The position was hurtful to the morals of both races; Europeans were continually smarting under a sense of wrong, and Maories grew insolent and contemptuous, filled with an overweening confidence in their own powers and the unresisting patience of the oppressed race. But though every Maori in New Zealand, and especially every Waikato, despised the single European as an enemy, it did not follow that the British Government, which had always an army at command, should be as little regarded. The reason why the Waikatos never have feared and do not fear us page 12 now, even though we have invaded their country with 20,000 men, to whom they have little more than 2,000 to oppose, is the extraordinary resources their country offers for resisting invasion. It is impossible to understand the attitude taken up by the Waikatos towards the British Government without such a description of their country as will show what those natural defences are in which they place so strong and apparently so just a confidence.
The point of the Waikato River nearest to Auckland is between thrity and forty miles to the south. The river, which from its source in the snows of Tongariro has followed a northerly course for about 200 miles, here makes an elbow and turns to the west and south-west, falling into the sea through a narrow opening in the coast line, about twenty miles south of the entrance to the Manukau harbour. At the elbow a swampy creek, called Mangatawhiri, entering the Waikato from the east, forms the boundary between the Government and native land, or, as the Maories have long thought, the frontier of their king's dominions. Mangatawhiri is separated from the open country round Auckland by the Hunua forest, which consists of a range of broken hills clothed with luxuriant wood, stretching from the Hauraki gulf on the east coast to Mangatawhiri, and thence in a westerly direction between the Waikato and the Manukau harbour. The forest is about thirty miles long and ten broad; the soil is a soft clay, intersected by many swampy streams, which in the absence of bridges are almost impassable. There are many English farms and native villages in the forest and on its fringes, and the country is traversed by several tracks, passing through wood so deep that armies might lie in ambush amongst the leafy undergrowth within a few yards of the path. The summer after Sir G. Grey's return to New Zealand, a broad metalled road was made by General Cameron1 and the British army through this forest, terminating abruptly at the bank of Mangatawhiri, and a large redoubt was built near the road end. A pretty wooded bluff overhanging the Waikato, at a place called Te Ia, just below the junction of the Mangatawhiri, was at the same time stripped of its trees, and an ugly-looking stockade perched upon the top.
There are two ways of going up the country—by water or by land. The former is very tedious. The Waikato is a broad rapid stream, and canoes must crawl along under the bank, brushing past the luxuriant vegetation, and creeping under dark overhanging trees, to avoid the worst of the current. The river-bed is full of snags and shifting banks of soft pumice sand. About twenty miles above Mangatawhiri, the stream expands to a width of more than half a mile, and becomes so shallow, that, except in time of floods, even the lightest canoes have to plough their way along the sandy bottom, which in places rises so close to the surface that the crews have to jump overboard, and lift and shove their craft across the bar. There is one channel three of four feet deep, even in summer-time; but this is stopped by numerous stumps of trees, formerly growing in what is now the bed of the river. Occasionally it is possible to relieve the monotony of the journey, by getting out of the canoe and walking along narrow tracks leading from one Maori village to another; but the banks generally abound in forest swamps, high fern, and ‘toetoe’ grass, eight or ten feet high, and are intersected by deep muddy tributaries, so that the unwary stranger often finds himself entangled in a maze of vegetation, with an impassable swamp between him and his canoe, and no sign but the shouts of his Maori rowers to tell him that the river is so near at hand. It takes two long days to ascend by water from Mangatawhiri to Ngaruawahia, a distance of forty-five miles; whereas the return down-stream requires only about seven or eight hours of easy paddling. The Waikato natives, therefore, before the recent innovation of bullet-proof steamers, were secure from attack by river; while a descent from Ngaruawahia on the settlers in the Hunua ranges and neighbourhood has been always quite possible and easy.
The land route formerly lay along the left, or western bank of the river, but this has now been abandoned for an easier road page 14 on the opposite shore, and the old track is choked up with fern. Five miles of low swampy country, with deep creeks to cross, and thickets of dense jungle and flax, interrupted by an abrupt hill on the river-bank, called Koheroa, separate Mangatawhiri from the village of Meremere. At this place the track leaves the river, and crosses twelve miles of barren undulating fern country, sometimes skirting clumps of forest, and sometimes passing between vast swamps, to the village of Rangiriri a rampart and ditch have been made, to stop an invading army; but nature has there placed an obstacle much more formidable.
The Waikato river and the Waikari lake, between which the road must pass, are here separated by an island of flax, the ground of which is sometimes only swampy, and sometimes entirely under water. The strong stiff leaves form so impenetrable a covert, that the natives are often days in finding cattle and horses that have strayed into it. I remember an occasion when an English girl, who was riding through this flax thicket, preceded and followed by horsemen, missed her way and was lost for an hour, although it does not take ten minutes to cross from side to side. In this island an army might lie hid, invisible and invulnerable, for the flax-leaves will turn a rifle-bullet, and unless completely surrounded by troops on the river-bank, above and below the island, and by boats on the Waikato and Waikari, would have a safe retreat in case of need.1 Beyond the Rangiriri flax swamp, the road runs by the river-bank through the village of Paetai, and over flat gravelly soil, presenting no difficulties beyond a few swamps and streams, deep and dangerous after heavy rains. Five or six hours will take a good rider from Meremere to the Taupiri range. The country passed over is poor and thinly inhabited: good land lies in strips along either bank of the river, and in the islands made by the branches of the stream; but the rest of the country, except a few fertile patches on the lakes, consists of barren fern, and large swamps in a state of transition from water to dry land.
1 In the battle at Rangiriri, the news of which has arrived while these sheets are passing through the press, the Maories trusted too long to the earth-work. A large body had their retreat to the swamp cut off, and were taken prisoners.
From this point the great Waikato plain opens out, bounded on all sides by distant mountains. At the southern and most fertile end are the chief villages and cultivations of the powerful Waikato tribes. The distant hills are their strongholds—refuges in which they could set an invading, or even an occupying, army at defiance.
Ascending the river, which here runs in a strong current at the base of the pretty wooded hills, through which it afterwards passes, Ngaruawahia, the capital of Waikato, distant five miles from the entrance of the plain at Taupiri, is at last reached. Here the river is divided into two branches, of nearly equal size: the Waikato, a deep rapid blue river, comes rushing down from the distant mountains of the south; and the Waipa, a dark sluggish stream, crawls slowly in from the west.
1 [toetoe, Arundo conspicua; resembles Pampas grass: tutu, Genus Coriaria.]
2 [A bulrush, Typba angustifolia.]
Beyond Ngaruawahia, the Taupiri range of hills curves gradually to the southward, and joins a chain of rugged limestone mountains, which runs parallel to the west coast, and rises to its greatest height in the peaks of Pirongia. At the base of these hills the Waipa flows in a singularly tortuous course, following on the whole their direction. It is a very deep river, full of snags; the banks are steep, and covered with rank vegetation. The soil along the course of the river, and especially on some of the alluvial flats between the reaches, is of the richest description. Small villages, with their cultivations, are nearly continuous for a distance of forty or fifty miles up the river. Whatawhata, the largest of these, about twelve miles from Ngaruawahia, though the distance by river is at least twenty miles, is only a few hours’ journey from Raglan, an English settlement on the west coast. However, the limestone ranges between the two places are of so rugged a character, that, although there are several horse and cattle tracks from Raglan to the Waipa, they are considered quite impracticable for all military purposes.
1 [It was rivalled, in this respect, by the Ngatiruanui tribe of southern Taranaki.]
2 [Rewi Manga Maniapoto (c. 1815–94).]
The numerous streams which unite to form the Waipa river rise in a rugged but fertile country, beyond the south-west corner of the great plain. This picturesque region of deep brooks and wooded hills is inhabited by wild and reckless men, of the same Ngatimaniapoto tribe; and here, deep embosomed in hills and forests, stands the village of Hangatiki, one of their chief strongholds, which has often been proposed as the capital of the Maori kingdom, instead of Ngaruawahia. The Ngatimaniapotos, in their inaccessible homes, are, and feel themselves to be, perfectly secure from attack; and being accustomed, in their visits to Waikato and Auckland, to outrage Europeans as they please, have come to regard us with the most sovereign contempt. I give one illustration of their audacity. A half-caste girl, whose mother was a Ngatimaniapoto of Hangatiki, was in domestic service in Auckland, where she had been educated. The tribe having, according to native custom, a voice in the disposal of all the daughters of their women, wished her to come up the country and marry a native. She refused. Upon this, a party of a dozen went down, carried her off in broad daylight from her mistress's house in the neighbourhood of Auckland, and took her in triumph past our police, our soldiers, and our redoubts, to Hangatiki. It is fair to add that, as she still persevered in her refusal, she was not forced into the match.
1 [He does not mention Kirikiriroa pa, the site of the present city of Hamilton. See map.]
Horotiu is a perfectly level plain of light rich soil, with a gravelly subsoil, extending inland from both banks of the river. Detached clumps of trees dotted all over the plain give it a beautiful park-like appearance, while the land between is covered with cultivations and villages, the chief of which is Tamahere, where Wiremu Tamihana was born and where he has large estates. This is the general gathering-place of the tribe. Large crops of wheat were grown in this district in the season preceding the outbreak of the present war, and the English grass and clover, which has spread over the plain, has turned it into an excellent grazing ground for cattle, horses, and even sheep, which several Ngatihaua chiefs were beginning to keep.
The eastern boundary of Horotiu is the Maunga Kaua, a rich wooded range of hills, in which are several villages. It takes three hours to cross Maunga Kaua into the upper valley of the Thames, which is another fertile district belonging to the Ngatihaua tribe. Upon the slopes of Maunga Kaua, looking down upon the Thames valley, is Peria, a large native village, the usual home of Tamihana. Two rivers, the Waiho and the Piako, run down this valley to the Hauraki gulf. The landingplace for large canoes is a day's journey below Peria, with which it is connected by a good cart-road, made by the natives themselves. The produce of the upper Thames valley is carried by this road to the landing-place, thence in canoes to the Hauraki gulf, and there shipped in Maori schooners, or, during summer, in large canoes, for the voyage across the sea to Auckland.
At the south of Horotitu stands Maunga-tautari, a mountain with many lofty peaks, clothed from base to summit with impenetrable forest. The Waikato river sweeps round its base to enter the Great Plain. On the slope of the mountain, high above the river, stands the village of Manunga-tautari, the residence of a powerful section of the Ngatihaua tribe, of which Ti Oriori is chief. The Maories have a proverb that Maunga-tautari page 19 is invincible. I have heard Ngatihaua chiefs, when warned that a war would end in their extermination, laugh, and pointing to the forest-clad summits of Maunga-tautari, ask how long it would take to exterminate them in there. Above this point the country through which the Waikato flows is wild, mountainous, and almost uninhabited. There are, however, patches of good land amongst the mountains large enough to grow food for the whole Maori race, and grass plains wide enough to support all their cattle and horses.
The Taupo lake is reached from the Waikato plain, after a three days’ journey through a most savage and broken country; from a narrow opening at the foot of the lake the Waikato rushes in a deep torrent. At the head of Taupo stands a group of snowclad mountains, called Tongariro, amongst which the river takes its rise. The same name, Waikato, is preserved from Tongariro to the sea: the natives assert that the stream flows through Taupo without mingling its sacred waters with the lake; though, as it enters a muddy glacier torrent, and issues bright and blue like the Rhône at Geneva, one would think they had ocular demonstration to the contrary.
Having thus followed the Waikato and Waipa to their sources, it remains to describe the triangle lying between them, at the southern part of which the best land and densest population in Waikato are to be found. The country is quite level and open, with pretty alternations of wood and lakes, and is intersected by numerous streams flowing into the Waikato or Waipa. The tributaries of the former run at the bottom of deep ravines, scored out in the pumice gravel which lies below the surface, and form the only obstacle to the advance of a hostile army over the plain itself.
Thirty miles to the south of Ngaruawahia are Rangiaowhia and Kihikihi, the largest villages in the Waikato district. Part of Kihikihi belongs to the Ngatimaniapoto tribe, and Rewi, their principal chief, lives there. Indeed, Ngatimaniapoto claims a great extent of land about Kihikihi, concerning which there is a chronic feud between them and the Waikatos of that place and Rangiaowhia. The two villages are separated by the river Mangahoe and a belt of swampy wood not a mile wide, but passable only in the summer season. At other times it is necessary to make a circuit of about six miles along a page 20 cart-road, which crosses Mangahoe by an old and rotten bridge.
1 [The present town of Cambridge is on the Waikato river, a few miles above Hamilton. The town of Te Awamutu grew up round the mission station and Porokoru's pa.]
2 [The Awaroa stream. Sometimes the Maoris dragged their canoes into the Manukau harbour and took their produce to Onehunga.]
1 [In the Waikato, agriculture and trade with the settlers had been quite extensive in the eighteen-forties and notably thriving from 1853 to 1856, during the boom following the Australian gold rushes. Thereafter, both had declined, following a slump in food prices. Fenton regarded low prices as a cause of the King movement, and wrote, in 1857: ‘A speedy return of high prices of agricultural produce would do much to extirpate King.’ The missionary, John Morgan (as Gorst seems to do here) attributed the poverty of the Waikato Maoris to their neglect of agriculture in order to attend King meetings. The extreme Kingites opposed trading, sowing grass, or breeding sheep and cattle, as undesirable European customs. It should be noted that in most other parts of the country the Maoris do not seem to have become noticeably poorer until the wars of the’ sixties, so that the poverty in the Waikato cannot have been due solely to the depression. (See Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, Vol. 5, No. 18, K. Sinclair, ‘Maori Nationalism and the European Economy, 1850–60’.)]
2 [It is called kaanga-wai or kaanga-piro, and is still regarded as a delicacy by many Maoris—though it is definitely an ‘acquired’ taste. It is usually made by steeping maize in a running stream.]
On the other hand, the habits and customs of the natives qualify them for carrying on a long-continuous war—which was, indeed, their normal condition before the introduction of Christianity. The soil is so fertile, that, with ploughs and bullocks, very few days’ labour will produce food enough for the year. The time of agricultural labour is holiday in a native village; the grown men and elders sit lazily amongst the fern, smoking their pipes and discussing the latest manoeuvre of the wily European foe; while women are scraping potatoes to roast with a fat pig in the native oven, perhaps with the addition of a fragrant piece of dried shark, to give a relish to the dinner. Three or four pairs of oxen, driven by stout, clean-limbed lads, are dragging as many ploughs through the rich loamy soil; and smaller boys are following the plough, and putting in seed potatoes; while the children of the village, stark naked, are shouting and rolling about in the fern. In summer-time, you may come upon a threshing-machine, fixed on a sunny hill-top, to which all the oxen and carts of the place are drawing loads of wheat, from which the machine is noisily producing huge piles of straw, whereon the population of the village, except the few who are at work, lie basking in the sunshine, some sleeping, some munching peaches and apples, and some, in knots of two or three, discussing the everlasting King movement, and when the great war with Sir George Grey is likely to begin.
1 [Porokoru Titipa, a Ngatimahuta chief.]
1 [Assembly. See below, p. 83.]
The feeling of the people on this subject was clearly expressed to Sir George Grey, at the first meeting he attended in Waikato. Tipene said:‘The roads are not simply for fetching food from a man's farm; it is that fact which creates fear. At Taranaki, the road being there, your guns reached the pa. Our fear is, lest that strange cart, the cart of terror, should travel on it. But for this fear, roads would have been allowed long ago.’ Tipene,2 who was thus addressing Sir George Grey, was the chosen orator of the King party, and the feelings the expressed were those of nearly every native in Waikato. The fact that a whole race should, at a time when we were making the most friendly professions, believe us bent on war, proves the utter distrust with which the Maories had come to receive everything that issued from the British Government, and affords strong presumption of some radical mistake in our treatment of them. It will be my object, in the succeeding chapters, to trace the growth of this distrust in the minds of the natives, and to explain its causes.
1 [Te Paea, of whose great prestige and influence Gorst often speaks in the pages following found a worthy successor in modern times in the person of Princess Te Puea Herangi, C.B.E. (1884–1952), a relative of the present Maori King, who was noted for her social work and her remarkable influence in Maori affairs.]
2 [Tipene Tahatika (or Tahitika) of the Ngatimahuta tribe.]