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Life in Early Poverty Bay

Savage To Statesman — Late Sir Jas. Carroll's Interesting Life Story — Great Link That Bound Pakeha and Maori

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Savage To Statesman
Late Sir Jas. Carroll's Interesting Life Story
Great Link That Bound Pakeha and Maori

Reprinted from “The Gisborne Times,” October, 1926

The birthplace of the late Sir Jas. Carroll, who was born at Wairoa, H.B., in August, 1857, is still marked by a vigorous cabbage tree (which has been enclosed by a tence) on the northern bank of the river near where his parents lived at Awatere, and for many years the spot has been one of special interest to visitors. His father was Mr. Joseph Carroll, who was born in Sydney in 1814, went to the Bay of Islands in 1841, and eventually settled at Wairoa in 1842. Of Irish extraction on his father's side, Sir James held the belief that Chas. Carroll, who was one of the signatories to the American Charter of Independence, came from the same family stock, which, in the 15th century, was headed by none other than the famous King O'Carroll. His mother was descended from a noted East Coast tribe, the line running back through Tapuke, Turiparira, Kopua, Te Patuwhakarawe, Whenua, Tapuae, Huhuti, Rangitaumaha, to Taraia.

Interesting Rite Upon Birth.

As befitted a descendant of such high Native lineage, Sir James, upon his birth, received the attentions of the high priests of the Maori people. He was himself the authority for the assertion that part of the rite performed on that occasion was that his unbilical cord was severed by one of the priests and thrown over a distant cliff. It seems also that his mother was unable to suckle him and this duty fell upon two specially chosen midwives. As a sequel to the special rites performed at birth Sir James was dedicated to his people and became eligible for instruction, later on in life, in a Whare Wananga (“School of Learning”). Ultimately he went through the necessary courses in Hawke's Bay it is understood. Speaking on the matter shortly before his death, he remarked that, to-day, the Whare Wananga was practically an institution of the past. As far as he was aware—and he was almost positive on the point—he and another were then the sole surviving links with what was the most notable type of “storehouse” of Maori religion, history and lore. It is interesting also to mention that Sir James was a firm upholder of the theory that Mesopotamia was the cradle of the Maori race er, in other words, that the progenitors of the Polynesians were Aryans.

Carried Off: the Ransoming

“As a Buddha came to earth under the shade of the mystic tree so came Carroll at the due hour into noble and simple being under the auspices of the benign tribal gods,” wrote a newspaper contributor, “Darius,” recently. “Yet, even at this hour, aye even before this hour he was devoted and dedicated to the highest callings—racial and human service. Ere yet his lips had been allowed to draw solace and strength from his mother's breast he was claimed and carried off by the tribe. There was no struggle in the motherheart against destiny. Her faith told her that all had been pre-arranged, even before Rangi and Papa were wedded, or the darkness and the light divided. The babe was carried into the mountain fastnesses about the source of the Ruakituri river in Hawke's Bay, and lodged in the tribal pa wherein he passed his babyhood and early childhood.

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Historic Tree at Wairoa. That sheltered Timi Kara at birth.

Historic Tree at Wairoa.
That sheltered Timi Kara at birth.

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“One can but faintly imagine the surprise and wonder of a darkskinned savage on first beholding a white man, but one cannot, even faintly, understand the feelings that arose in the mind of this infant savage when he, at the age of seven years, first beheld a white man, and that white man his own father.

“Joseph Carroll had come to claim the son he had not set eyes upon from the time of his birth.

“Negotiations for the ransom of the child now commenced, but even the great influence of the trader was not at first sufficiently strong to move the tribe to give up its adopted child and chief, and there were many long and serious talks in the meeting-house before the paramount claim of parentage was recognised.

“In the night time the sleeping child was carried to the canoe that had long waited for the finalising of negotiations, moored to a kowhai on the river's bank, and in the silence of the night “with its heaven full of stars” he took the backward way to the wharepuni near the encnanted palm. In the morning his wondering eyes opened upon a new and strange world, the world of the Pakeha.

“Taken from the fastnesses of the Ruakituri gorge, ignorant of the language and customs of those around him, and being, as he himself put it to the writer, a perfect little savage,' the Ishmaelite awoke in him, and he found himself consorting with the children of civilisation, so that it was deemed advisable to send him away from under the family roof-tree for a time, and place him under a guardian.

“George Richardson, or ‘Old Geordie,’ as he was affectionately called, was selected for the rather onerous trusteeship, as he was a partner of Joseph Carroll, and a kindly, capable business man, of strong character and rare integrity.”

Preferred Outdoor Life to School.

In his home town of Wairoa, then a very isolated township, Sir James could not, even if he had wanted to, have secured what is now termed a higher education. The teaching in those days was restricted mainly to the three “Rs.” His parents, it seems, were insistent that the family should take the fullest possible advantage of the meagre educational advantages offering. Here it is interesting to mention that, when School Inspector Colenso visited the Wairoa school in the early 60's, he went out of his way to praise the school work done by the Carroll family. In a special report he pointed out that Mr. Carroll would, on no account, allow his children to be absent from school and what is more he always supported the master's authority—a thing that was worthy of imitation by other parents. As to the children, he said that they read and wrote well and ciphered pretty well, doing compound multiplication and division.

On his part, however, Sir James does not appear to have had as much schooling as other members of the family. Indeed, he once told a gathering of friends that he stayed at school only between the ages of 8 and 10 years. In other words, he did not like school, preferring the outdoor life, spending his days riding about on a horse! When his schooling was over, he was unable, he also often smilingly confessed, to piece even two or three sentences together correctly in English.

A Soldier of the Queen at 14 Years.

Sir James Carroll first came prominently into the limelight of the European residents when, as a lad of 14, he volunteered for service against Te Kooti in the Urewera Country. Shouldering his carbine, he joined up with a war party of about 300, of whom only a few were pakehas, and into the way-back bush the force went. In due course he became bootless and that state of affairs added to the hardships experienced by him, as the country was very rough. It fell to his lot too, to belong to a party, page break page 177 which also included the late Lieut. J. W. Witty, that narrowly escaped being overwhelmed in an ambush. In the course of his story of the fighting. Lieut. Witty, it may be recalled, specially mentioned how bravely young Carrell (as Sir James then was) took sheiter behind a tree and blazed away for all he was worth in the thick of the tussle. In all he was on active service for six months and, on the cessation of the fighting, he was accorded with others the thanks of Parliament and, besides, a special vote of £50 and the N.Z. War Medal.

Gladstone Road in the 90's.

Gladstone Road in the 90's.

Born a Bohemian.

Possessed of the true Bohemian spirit, Sir James then filled in several years on neighboring stations. He was happy when mounted on a sturdy gee-gee and the mustering of sheep and cattle proved an ideal life for him. It so happened, too, that he began at that time to develop a strong thirst for knowledge. Around the camp-fire at night he had, amongst his companions, a number of well-educated young fellows from Home. He proved a good listener, and there were debates on all manner of interesting subjects and argument often waxed fierce and long. Sir Jas. found that he was now receiving a college education without having to stir abroad. But, at last, the day came when his father decided that young Carroll was cut out for something better than a station hand, and he was bundled off to Napier to be a cadet in the branch of the Native Land Department there under Mr. Samuel Locke, Disrict Native Commissioner for the East Coast. Sir James wearied of the office stool, but found pleasure in perusing books by eminent authors which he found lying about.

An Introduction to Politics.

It was owing to the great interest which Sir Donald McLean, then Native Minister, took in Sir James that he received rapid promotion. He went on a trip to Port Awanui with that gentleman in connection with a Native dispute and, on the return to Napler (this was in 1870), the party called in at Gisborne, then only a small, scattered village. From Napier, Sir James was transferred to headquarters at Wellington, where he remained for about a year. Then he went back to Wairoa and again indulged in the outdoor life. It was in 1879 that he heard another call from Wellington and he accepted a position as a Native Interpreter in the House. Those were the days when New Zealand could boast of oratorical giants and, in due course, he added greatly to his growing stores of knowledge. Within him yearned a desire to become an active participant in the political arena.

Only Member to Represent Both Races.

After acting as an interpreter for close on three years, Sir James decided to contest the Eastern Maori seat against Wi Pere, the sitting member, but Wi Pere won by 23 votes. If he had entered upon a more lengthy campaign—he was only a fortnight in the field—the contest might have resulted differently. As matters stood, he had no chance of covering an electorate which extended over nearly a third of the North Island! In the interim, until the next election came round, Sir James acted as interpreter for Judge Rogan of the Native Land Court. Then came another appeal to the electors and, this time, in 1887, he turned the tables on Wi Pere. On the occasion of the succeeding general election, he was again successful. In 1893 Sir James decided to be an aspirant for the Gisborne electorate. His opponent was Mr. C. A. deLautour, and both were Liberals. Sir James was successful, winning the seat by a majority of 500. He continued as the representative of Gisborne in the House until 1919 when, in a threecornered fight—Mr Lysnar and Mr Brindle being the other candidates—he lost the seat to Mr. Lysnar. Subsequently he was appointed to the Upper House.

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Poverty Bay's Fine war Memorial.

Poverty Bay's Fine war Memorial.

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Top Rung of Political Ladder.

In the political arena, Sir James had a wonderful record. Whilst member for the Waiapu seat he became, in 1892, the representative for the Native race on the Executive. The Ballance Government was then in power. Four years later, when Mr. Seddon was political “king” he was placed in charge of the Stamps Department. In 1900 he was promoted to be Native Minister. This was the first occasion on which a member other than a European had been made a Minister of the Crown. Sir James retired from Ministerial office in 1912 when the Ward Government resigned and did not accept a portfolio in the short-lived Mackenzie Government that followed. Whilst a member of the Ward Government he was chosen on two occasions to take up the position of Acting-Prime Minister during the lengthy absence of his leader from the Dominion in London and carried out the important duties in a very dignified and careful manner.

A Born Political Strategist.

As an orator, Sir James was, when at the height of his career, unexcelled in the Dominion. He had an easy flow of speech and his choice of words was most happy. Thanks to his Native ancestry on the one side, he held a fine command of appropriate metaphor and imagery and his coloring was never overdone, although plentiful. Seeing that he was also of Irish extraction, one might have expected he would be inclined to be somewhat fiery, but his disposition was to remain mellow unless, of course, called upon to answer an unjust accusation. Sir James had other political qualifications, which were even more valuable to his party than his debating abilities. He was, first and foremost, an able political general. Only those who have been behind the political scenes could know what a great tower of strength Sir James was to the Ward Government. He could anticipate every move on the part of the then Opposition, which was increasing not only in numbers but also in political sagacity, resource and fierceness. Lying back in his bench Sir James may have appeared to the unsophisticated to be taking little interest in the proceedings. As a matter of fact, he was noting, for the benefit of his chief, every fresh or intended move on the political chess-board.

Sir James and the “Big Guns.”

The late Sir James Carroll made but few trips outside his native land. Only on the occasion of the inauguration of the Commonwealth, when he accompanied Mr. Seddon to the celebrations, did he pay a lengthy visit to Australia and he had a great reception from its people. In 1918 he was selected as one of the members on the Liberal side to join the Parliamentary party to visit the Western battle-fronts in France and Belgium. On his return he expressed the utmost delight in connection with the trip and he always retained most pleasant memories of the splendid treatment accorded the party, both in England and in France. Of the British statesman of that day the one who impressed him most was Mr. Bonar Law, whom he described as most earnest and most direct in debate. Mr. Bonar Law, indeed, appealed to him as being the strongest man he had ever had the pleasure of listening to. Mr. Asquith, then Prime Minister, attended only one of the many important functions tendered in honor of the party. The occasion was a banquet at the Giuldhall, when 1500 scions of the British race were présent. In his address Mr. Asquith said that his main object in being present was to give the visitors a message to take back overseas as to how England was faring in the great fight. Sir James was one of the visitors selected to reply, and, referring to Mr. Asquith's remark, he slyly said that it would be regarded as very good of him to give them such a message, but he was afraid the visitors had formed their own impressions and would take back a message of their own! Mr Asquith, after the gathering, went along to him and told him that he realised that he (Sir James) was perfectly right. On the occasion of another important banquet Mr. Lloyd George, addressing the visitors, said: “You, who have climbed up page break page 181 from the Antipodes to the cradle of the race …” Again Sir Jas. was amongst those who were chosen to reply for the party, and he caused much amusement by reminding Mr Lloyd George that it was better to climb up than to climb down! The presence of Sir James in the party did much to cheer the Maori soldiers in France and on leave in Britain.

Main Street fromthe New Kaiti Bridge Looking North.

Main Street fromthe New Kaiti Bridge Looking North.

A True Sportsman.

There was no truer sport in the Dominion than Sir James Carroll. No matter what form of outdoor exercise happened to be in season, he took an interest in it, if he were not an active participant. In turf circles he was always prominent. For many years he had been the patron of the Gisborne Racing Club, and the members at last decided to create a new office, “Ariki,” and it, of course, was intended for him. Sir James owned several horses, which acquitted themselves well. In bowling circles he was also a great favorite, and when at the height of his form he was no mean exponent of “Drake's game.” His great interest in the Kahutia Bowling Club was once again shown just before his death when he joined Lady Carroll in making a handsome donation to its new pavilion fund. He was. too, a great favorite on the local bowling greens. In his young days Sir James was a noted athlete, displaying remarkable strength as a wrestler and in other field games. He was an ardent boxing “fan” and it is recorded in the history of the early days of the town that, on one occasion, he accounted for a pakeha braggart in great style. Another pastime of which he was particularly fond was billiards, and in his younger days he proved a doughty opponent in many a hard-contested match. Sir James had the true sporting instinct, for he always gave credit where credit was due.

Mr. Geo. Poulgrain.

Mr. Geo. Poulgrain.

Mr, Ezra Smith.

Mr, Ezra Smith.