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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter IV A Stormy Passage

page 57

Chapter IV A Stormy Passage

I waited in vain until July for my debtors to pay me what they owed. I could not delay my intended journey to the North Island any longer, so I asked Dr. von Haast to take over their collection for me, and fixed the day of departure with Captain Grundy.

On the 17th the schooner Torea weighed anchor and ran out of Lyttelton Harbour. The night was calm and the sea glowing with millions of phosphorescent fireflies. My bed was a hard bench, for the little ship was carrying a good cargo, and there was little free space available. Towards midnight we passed Cook Straits, when a gale sprang up from the south-east, and we saw nothing save mountains of water. Sails were reefed and all made fast against the storm, and two men were posted at the wheel.

By the 20th the sea had somewhat abated, and we found ourselves some 40 miles from the Kaipara River. We hoped to run in next day, but a vigorous nor' — easter drove us still farther out to sea. I had the greatest difficulty in keeping my feet, and once, had the skipper not been there to grab me by my legs, I should have been washed overboard. This accident persuaded him to confine me to the cabin, and I was told not to come on deck any more.

For four days more we tossed about on the open sea without daring to approach the land. At length we page 58stood in to within 12 miles of the mouth of the river, but the breakers were so high that we had to put out again. A sou' — wester now sprang up, and the little ship rolled alarmingly. In the little cabin, in which there was scarce room to stand upright, the air was suffocating, for everything was fastened down against the water. Another attempt on the 26th, but near the coast the fog, became so thick that we had to stand out again.

July 28 found us making yet one more effort to run in, as conditions got better, but we were scarce among the sandbanks at the river-mouth when the whole sky blackened. The captain gave the order to put out to sea again, and high time it was, for almost as soon as we were clear of the sandbanks the weather became worse than ever. To add to our troubles, water, light, and coal were at an end, and the crew seemed utterly exhausted.

Captain Grundy, however, decided to make a last attempt that evening, and sent for me to come upon deck.

The spectacle was overpowering. Breakers were dashing like thunder over the many sandbanks, dotted here and there by the remains of stranded ships. The current, too, wound bewilderingly, making navigation exceptionally dangerous, particularly for a skipper unacquainted with the coast. A couple of men were posted forrard with axes to knock away the foreplanks, should that prove necessary to prevent us getting swamped crossing the bar.

Like a bird the Torea swept into the sheltered river-page 59mouth. The Kaipara, navigable for some 75 miles, became muddier the farther we proceeded. The flats, lined with mangroves, are a great place for flounders, which the natives are fond of spearing.

I saw the remains of good-sized pas on the hill-tops, while in the valleys were kaingas, or open Maori villages, with one or two isolated farms. We anchored at Whakahara, where our goods were unloaded, and in the evening the captain and I supped with Mr. Clark, the station owner. The evening passed with tales of early settlement among the natives; for Clark, as one of the first settlers, had many yarns to tell about their customs and habits, wars and cannibalism.

Early next morning we sailed upstream to Kopuru, a little township consisting of a saw-mill, some workmen's houses, a store, and a boarding-house. Here were lying mighty kauri trunks up to 12 feet in diameter. A second large saw-mill lay farther up the river, belonging to the Union Sash and Door Company. There we loaded a cargo of timber, and I made the acquaintance of Mr. Harders, a Holsteiner, who greeted me like a brother.

On the 30th we went upstream again as far as Mangawara, where we came upon several native canoes laden with kauri gum, which they were bartering for food and clothing. The women were carrying the smaller children in mats slung across the back, but they took little notice of them, and sat quietly smoking their pipes. If a kiddie cried too much, a pipe was thrust in its mouth to keep it quiet. Of the adults, the men were tattooed on face, shoulders, page 60and thighs, and the women only on lips and chin. They amused themselves with singing and dancing, and were drinking some horrible concoction which had been sold them as waipiro (spirits).

After unloading we continued on to Dargaville, an English settlement, where the brothers Mitchelson had large stores and ships. The Torea was one of these. Dargaville was the largest place in this district, with two hotels, bank, post office, English church, library, and so on. In the neighbourhood were mighty kauri forests, and a kainga where old Chief Parori was living. His face was so richly tattooed that scarce an inch of skin was visible.

By August 1 we were back at Aratapu, where we were to take on a load of timber for the south. The captain now gave the vessel over to the first mate, and he and I left by the little river-boat Zino for Helens-ville, which we reached the same evening. A narrow-gauge line took us on to Riverhead, where we got a steamer down the Waitamata River to Auckland.

Auckland was then a town of 44,000 inhabitants. On the many volcanic hills surrounding its beautiful harbour could still be seen the remains of ancient Maori pas, which now formed a peaceful pasture-ground for sheep and cattle. But once ùp there, I thought to myself, the bloodiest fights have been fought, and gruesome cannibalism indulged in.

We went to a little boarding-house, for a poor naturalist cannot afford to stop at first-class hotels. The walls of my rooms were filthy, and the jug and wash-basins, judging from the rings round them, had page 61weathered many a storm. I had hardly turned in when heavy steps approached, my door was shoved open, and a heavy body fell on me. It was a drunken man who had mistaken his room. I cleared off to the courtyard, where rats were scampering about. I found the cook still up, so drank a strong cup of coffee with him, and went back to wake my friend. He likewise had been unable to sleep, as he had been uninterruptedly bitten by fleas. We therefore shook off the dust of this inhospitable place, and strolled into the town, where I called for my letters, and continued our way, through a fruitful farming district, to Onehunga.

Onehunga I found to be a respectably sized township inhabited principally by pensioners and seafaring people. Captain Grundy took me to his home, and introduced me to his wife and children, who fell on his neck for joy, for his long absence and the stormy weather had made them anxious.

On August 5 I settled some business with Mr. Cheeseman, Director of the Auckland Museum, and a few days later the captain and I went back to Kaipara. Reaching Kaihu at eleven o'clock at night, we stayed till early morning with a party of men who invited us to join them. Returning to the ship, we stole un-perceived into a ladies' cabin, where we made our-selves comfortable, until all of a sudden I was, roused by the sound of female voices. Hurriedly waking my companion, we slipped out noiselessly before any one had the chance of swooning at sight of us.

At Aratapu, Mr. Basit, a local farmer, took me to page 62some old burial-grounds — mounds of stone on a fern-covered plain which could only be seen when the fern was brushed aside. The remains of a pa lay in the neighbourhood, and a raupo (reed) swamp. I found only broken bones, and was told later that sailors had wantonly destroyed these remains, which comprised human skeletons, and bones of Maori rats, seal, ocydromus, and kiwi.

Another excursion took me to Mr. Webb's farm along the river, where the farmer's son escorted me to another burial-ground — leaving me, however, to investigate alone, as the natives threaten every violator of the grave-tapu with death. Here in the first cave I found four complete skulls and many broken bones, but for all my pains could not succeed in piecing a complete skeleton together. Digging, I came across an ornament carved out of a leg-bone, on one side of which was represented a face, and on the other, the head of a lizard. In one hole I found the half-rotten remains of a stretcher made of manuka branches bound together with mats, with a pile of bones.

I made the acquaintance of the Maoris of the district, and Chief Pairama told me the tribe formerly living here had been people very good at working and cultivation, but who knew little about fighting. His forefathers had conquered them, eating those they killed, and enslaving the rest. After much bargaining, and at a good stiff price, I managed to get from him a magnificently carved prow (tanihu) of a canoe of the Uriohau tribe, which came out of the page 63swamp, and a second one with the stern-part (tauro). Altogether Kaipara and North Wairoa proved a good collection-ground for me.

On August 12 I went to the swamp to look for larks (katata), and also found the kauri grub (Helix busby), only to be seen in the kauri area. I got thoroughly wet through in so doing. Days later the steamer Zino took me to Te Awamutu, where the river narrows between thickly wooded banks whose trees stretch mighty arms across the water. Creeper-vine and lichen hung down like garlands, and as the steamer puffed busily upstream she disturbed swarms of wild-duck and shags. Soft-sounding blows echoed from the hills — signs that the destruction of the mighty bush had commenced. It seems that wherever the white man goes, a part of Nature must die.

Maoris and bush-fellers were making merry in the cabin on whisky and other liquor, which they drank like water. Things came to a free fight, a few black eyes resulting, before we reached Te Awamutu in the evening. Here I handed out my packages and sprang ashore, but, as there was no landing-plank, I jumped short and finished in mud up to my thighs, so that I had to be pulled out.

I found a haven with Mr. Wilson at his bush farm, which was only connected with the outside world by water. Two Maori villages, however, were within reach. On August 14, 1879, my host and I went up the Wairoa some distance, and plunged into the bush till we came to the remains of an old pa, now tapu. We had a good look round before entering, and found page 64inside many fine stone tools and carvings, which Mr. Wilson thought it would be unwise to take away. I determined to do so alone, when I had the opportunity, which was why, a few days later, I left the station with saw and lantern, and my dog Cæsar. Unfortunately a group of shag, scared by my movements, got up and betrayed me to the Maori settlement near by, and before long two prying Maoris came to ask me inquisitively what I was doing. When I told them I was hunting, they seemed satisfied and went away, but I had ah idea they were following, so I darted into the bush over a rocky slope and climbed a tree. Cæsar, lay down among the bushes. From this vantage-point I could, see-the whole pa of Marikuru. A low growl from Cæsar warned me that somebody was about, and soon I saw the two Maoris. They had lost track of me, and now camped before the pa to keep a look-out. I remained quiet where I was.

It was a beautiful morning. Wild pigeons were flying high in the cloudless sky, somersaulting in the air and catching flies; parakeets were circling above the tree-tops in graceful curves, or sweeping down among the foliage; and I could also hear the bell-birds singing among the wild vines. I waited patiently, knowing well that with the coming of night my two Maoris would take shelter from the demons of darkness. I was not wrong. As the sun set, they got up and went into the village.

I then left my hiding-place and went carefully forward through the growing dusk. Following a ditch, my hand came into contact with some warm body, page break
Photograph of North Island coastline, showing rocks and surf

The Wild North Coast

page 65 which jumped up snarling. It was a wild boar, which fell back a pace or two, showing its tusks. It looked ready for a scrap, so I lay flat on the ground, and held the dog so that no movement should betray us. The boar stood still for a while, then turned and made off, and I went on again to the edge of the bush.

Before me lay a fallen hut, the one-time palace of the great chief, Ngapui Tirorau, one of the most fearsome cannibals of North Wairoa. His son and successor, now an old man, was no longer living here, and the silence was impressive, only broken now and again by the grunt of a wild pig. I waited for a time, listening, and then lit my dark-lantern. Little night-owls came fluttering towards the light, stopping in the trees near by, and calling out their lonely 'Morepork!' Leaving Cæsar to watch, I crept into the fallen hut.

Within lay two rotted and carved coffins, and close by were cases of death-offerings, wooden clubs, stone axes, tuki-tuki, etc. I took the stone and wooden tools with me and went outside. From the hut itself I took the long middle post made of totara, on which was a very beautiful tekateka, or carved figure, representing the face of Chief Tirorau fully tattooed. I carefully dragged the post to the river and sawed off the head. So that I should leave no trace, I let the sawdust fall into the water. I then packed the head and the other things into my rucksack, put out the lantern, and turned off homewards.

In the darkness I lost my way, and suddenly dogs began to bark near me — I had stumbled by mistake on the Maori village! I drew back into the wood and page 66waited. Maori voices called, but presently ceased. Clothes torn, and wet through from the swampy bush, I reached Wilson's paddock towards morning. I hid my booty, and then went into the house, where they seemed a bit anxious about my late return. After taking off my wet things and drinking a cup of tea, I went to sleep.

I did not sleep long, and directly I woke, at day-break, I went out and fetched in the things I had hidden, which I had conveyed to Captain Grundy for transport to. Christchurch.

At breakfast Mr. Wilson warned me I should have to leave the station, as the day before a Maori prophet had been along and had told him that it would go badly with me if I was seen again in the neighbourhood of the pa. This did not worry me much, and I went out hunting in the bush.

On my return I noticed a boat on the creek. At the farm I found the Maori chief and the prophet, to whom Wilson introduced me. Both of them displayed almost excessive signs of friendship, and said they were curious to examine my gun and the contents of my pack. Under different circumstances such curiosity would have been inconvenient, but on this occasion I was only too willing for them to look. In the tins I had poisonous spiders, centipedes, and lizards, of which the Maoris are greatly afraid. These specimen tins I now opened, carelessly letting their contents fall at the feet of the tohunga. The live creatures clung to the legs of the holy man, and full of fear and fright, both natives dropped their dignified page 67bearing and took to their heels. The prophet cried out: 'He has let the devil run loose at me!'

On the 20th I went up on the hills, where I had been told I should find a cave in which were some Maori bones; but although I searched all day backwards and forwards through the bush, I could not find it. Next day, a beautiful morning, I went to the Mangamohu hills. The deeper I penetrated into the bush, the quieter it became. The song of the birds ceased except for the gurgle of the wood-pigeon. I had to cut my way through mangimangi. Here the kauri trees were over 11 feet in diameter. On the 25th I visited the pa Tikotowaka, which lay in a bush clearing.

The day after. I explored the Mangakai hills until it began to rain, when I turned back and came upon a Maori village. The chief was friendly, and showed me over his house, built in European style, though he himself was living in the Maori hut alongside. The hospitable man did not want me to go away, but when he saw I was anxious to do so, he lent me a rain-cloak, or pureke, and sent some one along as guide. I remained in this neighbourhood until the 30th, and after thanking my good hosts, went downstream to Kaihu, whence I sent my collection to Mr. Harder's at Aratapu.