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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Some Queer Characters

Some Queer Characters.

In the figurative language of the Maoris the first white men to visit our shores were dubbed tangata maitai, or the men from the sea. They were a very varied class, some of them being very good men, out for adventure, whilst others had not emigrated from England by choice, and still bore the marks of the leg-irons inflicted in the name of the law in those barbarous days. Others were escapees from visiting ships and who could blame them for forsaking the hellish life of shipboard when the sunny lands of New Zealand came in sight? Many such men settled in Wairoa, and even the very nicknames bestowed are illuminating when it is remembered that for very good reasons they seldom gave their own. There was "Johnny Wi Wi" (oui oui), a French sailor; "Bob the Wrinkler," whaler and captain of a Wairoa trader, so called because he was adept in giving his friends "wrinkles" for consideration in liquid refreshments. "Happy Jack," who was well known at page 70Mahia. There was "Flukey," a blacksmith at Mohaka; Barney Reed, with the nickname of "The Shuffler; "Pompey" and "Darkie Coon," and "Big Bill." There was Jack Hook, or "Flash Jack," and Jack Lewis or "Dirty Jack," or "Jack Muck," whose habits were such that he answered to either name. "French Louis" and "French John" have left descendants in this district to-day. Then there were two of a family called Hawkins, a brother and sister who bore nicknames suggestive of blasphemy. "Big Harry" was the chief of Kihitu, and not to be confused with "Black Harry," a Hindu. Then there was "Scotch Jock," and "Billy Looley," and "Stephen Debenture," the latter so-called because he endeavoured to "raise the wind" on debentures issued in his own name. There was "Shiloh" and "Tommy the Cow," a bullock driver, the latter so-called by the Maoris, who designated every horned beast a "cow." "Billy the Goose" was another, yet a good volunteer who fell to Te Kooti's rifle. There was "Jack Finch," or "Jack Musker," the bricklayer who built nearly all the first chimneys in Wairoa. Eccentric to a degree his last feat was an attempt to prove to the people of Wairoa that he could live on beer alone. Day by day he passed up and down the street, growing thinner each day till the Grim Reaper met him in an old out-house near Lockwood's point. Another character was "Old Spooner," as he was called, and after whom the first bend of the river was named. I was amused one clay to hear a lady inform a newer arrival that "Spooner's Point" was so-called because the young people of Wairoa were in the page 71habit of resorting thereto for their love-making! Spooner came to Wairoa in very early days from Poverty Bay, after having deserted from an American whaler in Sydney harbour. At Tolaga bay he had a hand blown off through his gun bursting, and his Maori wife carried him on her back twenty miles into Turanganui (Gisborne) for assistance. After coming to Wairoa he began trading with the Maoris, and also kept a boardinghouse at the Point. Spooner's boarders, when the Maori disturbances came about, were the officers of the military settlers, and the Resident Magistrate, Mr. C. Hunter Brown. Spooner, as may be easily believed, was a rough and ready chef, and very irritable. One day he was busy on his knees before a fire frying something on a pan when the R.M. rashly requested that some beans be supplied to his horse. Spooner, hardly believing his ears, had the question repeated, when he replied in characteristic fashion: "Beans! Is it beans you want? I'll give you beans!" He did, too, for he promptly hurled the pan and its greasy contents at the magisterial head, and lost some tasty rashers, no doubt. Then there was Captain J. H. Sturley, who sighted New Zealand in 1829; Tommy Ralph, who ran a ferry to and from the Wairoa Hotel. Scotch Jock, a rare character; Joe Burton, Thomas Bell, afterwards dubbed "the Hermit of the Kermadecs," and Joe Carroll, the uncrowned king of the Wairoa!

It was among the whalers living on the coast from Mahia to the "Iron-Pot," Port Ahuriri, that the greatest number of nicknames came. One man was up-ended in a pot called a "go-ashore" and page 72when his head swelled the pot had to be broken to free him. "Blind Charlie," for a wager, drank a large basin of rum at a draught and in a few minutes he was dead under the table. William Morris was, perhaps, the best of the whaling fraternity, a very religious man in fact, as well as a peace-maker, and he endured much persecution. One winter it was very cold at Waikokopu and his enemies decided he should remain cold. Every time he laid in a stock of firewood it was filched from him till at last he grew desperate, and, according to his own story, he fell from grace then. Selecting a nice tawa log he bored and charged it—then one stormy night there was a great explosion in a nearby hut, which went sky-high. No one was killed, but his property in firewood was, thereafter, respected.

There was once a member of the Wairoa County Council who prided himself on being a Progressive of the first order. Yet in the early days he spoke and voted against a motion to press on the attention of the Government the necessity of commencing the Napier-Wairoa railway. The local editor attacked him for his change of view, heading his article "Et Tu Brute," based on the shameful defection of a man who posed as Caesar's friend. The councillor attacked, knowing less of "Latinity" than the famous Father O'Flynn, and, no doubt, more about sheep-farming, kicked up a great bobbery, alleging that the heading really meant, "Eat the Brute."!!