The Women of New Zealand
1 — Before Waitangi
The History of New Zealand as a British colony begins officially with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840; but even if we disregard, as we must do in view of the limits set, the work of exploration and survey so admirably performed by Captain Cook, its roots are to be found in earlier years; and the story of the women of New Zealand opens on a day in the summer of 1814, when, on 22 December, the brig Active arrived off one of the many beaches of the Bay of Islands with the three missionaries sent out at Marsden's earnest instigation by the Church Missionary Society. They were Thomas Kendall, who had been a schoolmaster in London; William Hall, a carpenter, who had been sent by the Society to Hull to learn something of ship-building and navigation; and John King. John King was a shoe-maker by trade, but before being sent out to Marsden he had been instructed in flax-dressing, twine-spinning and rope-making. These three men were to be the forerunners of the page 2missionaries proper; they were, in the words of the Society's report, merely 'to prepare the way and lay the foundation,' Hall and King by the application of their crafts and trades 'to the immediate wants' of the Maoris, while Kendall's work was to be largely concerned with the language and its reduction to some systematic written form. Any spare time was to be used 'as schoolmasters and catechists, to the religious care of the youth, and through them to the enlightening and instruction of the natives themselves.' If they were successful in the establishment of a small Christian community, 'living together in habits of industry, piety, and love,' the Committee's intention was to send out 'a suitable clergyman further to prosecute their design in the formation of a regular mission.' This was in accordance with Marsden's ideas as to the kind of mission most suitable for New Zealand.
Hall and King were the first to leave England, in 1809, Kendall remaining to study the latest methods of teaching. The prosecution of Marsden's scheme was in the event held up for some years. After the Boyd massacre and the revenge taken on the Maoris by the whalers, masters would not risk their ships in New Zealand waters; and it was not until 1813 that Kendall was sent out to join his fellow missionaries, and not until the end of 1814 that Marsden's experiment could be tried.
These then were the pioneers of organised white page 3settlement in New Zealand, and they were accompanied by their wives. Kendall had been married for some time before he left England. He had five children (a sixth was born soon after they arrived in Sydney, but the child did not live); and the three sons came with their parents to the Bay of Islands, the daughters being left temporarily at Port Jackson. Hall was married shortly before he came to New South Wales to 'a young woman of suitable character and temperament' for a missionary life; and when they came to New Zealand there was one son; and King married while in Australia, and he and his wife also brought one son to New Zealand. The three women therefore already had some experience of early colonial life; but Mrs Kendall and Mrs Hall at least had left the known ways of England with the full intention of making their homes in a country of which they can have heard but little, and that little not very encouraging. Their inevitable ignorance of what lay before them may well have made the initial steps easier for them. The Halls and John King were given passages to New South Wales in a convict ship in return for work to be performed (by the men certainly, possibly by the woman as well) on the voyage. And the voyage lasted six months, from 25 August 1809 to 27 February 1810. They were greeted on their arrival with the news of the Boyd massacre. Kendall and his wife and family were comparatively lucky. Their ship was a transport, and the voyage to page 4Port Jackson was one of only four and a half months. When at last they left the comparative familiarity and civilisation of New South Wales, thenceforth to be the nearest place to them peopled by men and women of their own race, the journey occupied four weeks and five days. Kendall and Hall had already paid a brief visit of five or six weeks to the Bay earlier in the year; and all had made the acquaintance of a few Maoris, who had been at the school established for them by Marsden at Parramatta. The chief Ruatara had in fact travelled from England with Marsden and the Halls and King; and had like them been obliged to remain in New South Wales for some considerable period, owing to the refusal of shipmasters to make the voyage to New Zealand. And Hongi the powerful had with four others, one of whom was Ruatara, been a passenger with them from Sydney in the Active. It must, nevertheless, have been strange and alarming enough to be set down in a country inhabited by a little-known race, stories of whose warlike and cannibalistic customs they had heard in plenty, and to be entirely dependent on their goodwill for the safety—comfort was at first out of the question—of themselves and their families. It is not possible to know what were the feelings of those women* when they landed on the beach that day in December 1814; it is not possible adequately to imagine them.
Only by reading the letters and journals of their husbands can we form a guess at the sort of lives they had to lead. At first and for some months at least, they lived in huts put up for them by the Maoris—huts made of raupo, without flooring, chimney or window, and neither wind-proof nor rain-proof. These were perhaps all that was necessary while the weather was fine; but the early part of 1815 seems to have brought rain, and when it rained nothing could be kept dry—the water on the 'dirt floor' was 'half over' their shoes; food, bedding and clothes alike suffered; and while the wet weather lasted they had simply to endure, as best they might, damp clothes and bedding; they could have no fires in their huts, and the out-door fires were inadequate to the situation. It was bad enough for all; for Mrs King, whose second son was born on 20 February, it was particularly hard, and her husband seems to have been alarmed for her and to have complained to Marsden a few days before the event of the conditions under which his wife was forced to live. It is not easy to see what could have been done immediately to improve matters, and Marsden's reception of King's complaints was evidently unsympathetic. 'He says,' wrote King on 15 February, when it had been raining for three days, and speaking of their dripping hut, 'he says it is very comfortable indeed; it will do very well.' That the 'fine boy' (Marsden's description) born page 6five days later died at the age of three and a half 'of a consumption' is hardly surprising.
It was, of course, not intended that the raupo huts should be permanent residences, and as the settlement progressed the missionaries and their families were able to live in comparative comfort. 'We expect,' King said in the same letter, 'to have a good house before long, but I fear not before winter.' It was not an easy situation. Timber, plentiful enough in many parts of the Bay, but not in that in which the missionaries first settled, had to be bought standing, felled, conveyed a matter of twenty miles to the site chosen, and sawn, before building could be begun. Hall was the only man among them with expert knowledge of all the processes involved; and although in these first days the little community included seven or eight other white men, one of whom was a smith and two were sawyers, the difficulties were immense. Everything was to be done. Not only had houses to be built; ground had to be prepared and wheat and vegetables grown. And Marsden, whose dream the mission had been for so many years, was perhaps a little impatient that its work should be begun. His comment on King's leaking hut would seem to suggest it, and so does the fact that a school had been started in Kendall's 'house' even before Marsden left New Zealand in February 1815, that is, during the first eight weeks of the settlement. So that the already great difficulties page 7were increased by the impossibility of the men's giving their whole time to one piece of work, and the women must have suffered in consequence.
* The wives and children of the smith and one sawyer (the other was a single man) had been sent over by Marsden on his return to New South Wales; so that there were now six white women in the settlement.
On the whole the relations between these earliest settlers and the Maoris were good. The Maoris were quick to see the advantage that might be gained by having among them people of a more advanced civilisation than their own; they were eager to obtain the axes and other implements that the white men used and would barter for food, timber and other requirements; and the smith was kept always busily at work. But there were inevitable difficulties. The settlers very soon came to the conclusion that, poor in worldly goods as they might be considered by ordinary standards, they were yet too wealthy for their situation. For the Maoris, as Kendall reported, could not 'bear to see property before their eyes without coveting it.' And they did not stop at coveting. For many years there were not infrequent clashes owing to the natives' pilfering habits; and the women had sometimes, in the absence of their husbands, to face angry and threatening demands for page 11blankets or tools. To maintain the calm and apparently unmoved bearing to which the Maori was so quickly responsive, in the sight of a naked and painted warrior brandishing his weapon as he climbed your fence or pushed his way into your unprotected house, can have been no easy matter, even when you knew from experience that it was the safest way. But there are many recorded instances of such occurrences and of such displays of courage by the women. All had constantly to be on their guard too lest they should offend against the ancient customs of the Maoris, which it necessarily took time to learn; though as far as one can learn the Maoris seem on the whole to have been very forbearing in this matter.
Food of sorts was in the quite early days in fairly plentiful supply. Pork was the staple meat diet, varied with wild pigeons and ducks, and with fish. With these earliest families in the Active had been brought, besides a stallion and two mares, 'one bull, and two cows … a few sheep and poultry of different kinds.' Whether these were intended for the use of the settlement or as presents for the Maoris I am uncertain. It was probably the latter. But in any case there was little time at first for systematic farming, and it was not for years that even an occasional supply of beef or mutton could be had by an organised hunt for the creatures that had necessarily run wild in the bush. Except for the Halls' page 12brief time of plenty at Waitangi, vegetables seem to have been confined mainly to potatoes and kumara. Flour, until substantial crops of wheat could be produced, was procured from Sydney, or from visiting whalers and other ships; so too were rice, sugar and tea. Fern-root was a substitute for bread; but even the Maoris preferred bread when they could get it. Milk and fresh butter they cannot have had until they had time and opportunity to look after such cattle as they were sent.
Cooking was generally difficult. If they wanted chimneys they must first make bricks; and cooking was for long done out of doors. Even in good weather dry wood was probably not always easy to obtain; in cold, windy or wet weather, the cook's sufferings must have been extreme, and she would have no substitutes to offer—no fruit nor vegetables, often no bread; the meal must be cooked, or men, women and children must go hungry. When it is considered that these women had not only their own families to provide for, but frequently large numbers of natives as well, sometimes amounting to a score or more, who were variously employed about the settlement, it will seem even more remarkable that they found time and energy for other occupations.
Yet this they must do. It was part of their undertaking to the C.M.S. that wives, and children as soon as they were of an age to be useful, should be page 13employed in the interests of the mission. And these women had Maori girls in their houses 'to instruct in writing, sewing, making any sort of clothing, to knit and spin … to wash and cook and clean the house.' 'These things,' one of the husbands wrote of his wife, 'she will do with pleasure provided the means are put into our power. Those children will need food and clothing, and some little things besides to encourage them, such as a knife, scissors, comb, nails, chisels, small hatchet, plane-irons' (he is speaking now of the boys he was intending to teach 'to spin [twine] and to make shoes, to read and do anything else that may be useful') 'files, fish-hooks, etc. One of these articles would satisfy one of them for a week, sometimes for two weeks….'
Clothing for these children they expected to get either from Sydney or from England; and as long as their teachers were able to provide clothing and food, there was little difficulty in obtaining pupils, although discipline was unknown and the children were apt to be withdrawn by their parents on the least pretext—to help with the gathering of fern-root, with the fishing, the preparation of the ground for kumara, or other of their pursuits. Kendall reports that they were sometimes obliged to follow their pupils into the bush. 'They are so very lively and playful,' he adds, 'that it is not easy to hold their attention.'
Generally speaking, lessons were given to the Maori page 14children in the morning and the evening, the middle part of the day being devoted to the white children. Marsden had seen to it that school work began within the first few weeks; but after his departure, Kendall found it impossible to carry on with any regularity. In fact Hall, writing in January 1816, reports that the 'school' was 'dispersed' as soon as Marsden left and had not at that date been restarted. In August of that year, however, the first school-house in New Zealand was opened with thirty-three pupils, a number which had risen to seventy within the next few months, and remained at that for about three years, the ages of the children, half of them boys and half girls, ranging from seven to seventeen. As long as food was plentiful, the plan worked fairly well, though with the multifarious employments that must occupy the daylight hours of the teachers, we may suppose the schooling provided for the pakeha children to have been scanty.
* It happened also more than once that the houses of the mission settlement were attacked, because, either through inability or unwillingness, the desired muskets were not supplied.
Meanwhile the white population of the Bay, even apart from the grog-shop proprietors, deserting sailors, ex-convicts and general riff-raff who congregated mainly at Kororareka, was increasing. The original mission-settlers' families grew in size, and they were joined by others, some like themselves under the C.M.S., others to establish a Wesleyan mission. The ranks of the women in New Zealand were swelling. Mr and Mrs Carlisle and Mr and Mrs Gordon came in 1817; the Butlers, the Kemps and the Puckeys arrived in 1819; the Shepherds in 1820; the Leighs in 1822; in 1823 Mr and Mrs Henry page 16Williams, Mr and Mrs Fairburn, and Mr and Mrs Turner joined the two missions, and young Samuel Butler brought a wife to Kerikeri from Port Jackson; and the Clarkes and the Davises came in 1824, the tenth year of missionary work in New Zealand. There may have been others during this first decade whose names are not recorded: there certainly were other men, but mention of their wives has not been found. Not all of these remained—the Carlisles, the Gordons, the Kendalls and the Butlers, for example, had all left before the end of 1824. But in spite of defections and dismissals, the number of settlers steadily increased; and besides the members of the two missions, there were others, who were engaged in trade of various kinds, and their wives and families. As the numbers increased, so did the scope of the work. The Wesleyans went to Whangaroa, while the Church Missionary Society spread first to Kerikeri, and then to Paihia. There must have been some comfort in this growth of the more respectable part of the settled population. Still, however, the several little communities, though all except the Wesleyan station were for long within the Bay of Islands, were widely enough separated. The Maoris, whose quick intelligence had noted the internal dissensions of the mission, and in certain notorious cases the inconsistencies between preaching and practice, presented still as many difficulties as at first—more indeed, for their desire for the forbidden page 17muskets and powder was greater than ever, and the observed weakness of some of the settlers led to an increased insolence and violence. Not the women only were at times reduced to tears. And as the new settlements were formed, the earliest conditions were in large measure reproduced; and the later arrivals had dangers and difficulties to endure almost as great as those of the pioneers of 1814. For creature comforts they were something better situated. The Butlers, for instance, had in 1821, eighteen months after their arrival, an excellent vegetable garden and 'a pretty good stock of young fruit-trees', and they were also milking their cows. And Mrs Henry Williams comments in her journal on the goats and fowls that she found awaiting her at Paihia. To a certain extent material comfort now rested with the individual. The Butlers had settled at Kerikeri, and lived at first in the building intended for the storehouse. They had two rooms, about fourteen by ten, and eight foot high, according to Hall, with floors, and 'glazed sashes hung with hinges', and 'a detached kitchen, with enclosed fowlyards, pigsty, and every other convenience.' But they felt themselves exceedingly ill-used, 'saying they lived in a pigsty, and that everyone could get a house but them, and that nobody had been so ill off at New Zealand as they had been.' Hall was, not unnaturally, unsympathetic. The truth was that Butler's ideas were a deal too big for the position; page 18and the house he wanted, still according to Hall, admittedly rather a hostile witness, was of a size and grandeur quite unsuited to the conditions of life at the Bay. Hall, the carpenter, would give little help; there were other things for him to do that he felt to be more important; and Butler had to turn to himself, and carry out plans more modest, necessarily neglecting meanwhile his more specifically missionary duties to an extent which apparently brought some protest from the Committee.
The Henry Williamses on the other hand were content to live for seven years in their raupo hut. In the Journal of 1830, under date 20 April, Marsden, who was at the Paihia settlement, wrote: 'I have been very unwell today, having got a severe cold in the night attended with a sore throat owing to sleeping in a room open to the wind and rain. All the clergy are miserably accommodated as to their houses. They are about building some now. What they have are as bad as cowsheds. They have been exceedingly inattentive to their own comforts in these respects.' The Williams hut, however, was obviously larger and more comfortable than those first occupied by the three pioneer families. Mrs Williams describes it as she found it on her arrival at Paihia. 'The entrance … was dark, and within were two rooms with no floors, and boards nailed up where sashlights are to be placed.' But a boarded floor was laid in the bedroom before night, 'and I page 19never reposed more comfortably.' "On Sunday,' she goes on, 'Mr Williams opened another raupo hut for a chapel.'
In fact Henry Williams was the man the settlement needed. Before taking orders and joining the mission, he had served in the Navy; he was a disciplinarian, a man of immense energy, sparing neither himself nor others. His convictions were absolute, and nothing, neither considerations of personal safety or comfort, nor differences of opinion with his colleagues, even with Marsden, was allowed to stand in the way of what he saw as his duty. Ultimately this worked untold good to the mission, and was perhaps the greatest single factor in preparing the way for colonisation. But it bore hardly at times upon his wife, though one gathers that she would not have had him at all different.
Resolutely he set his face against the trade in muskets. 'Not long ago,' Mrs Williams wrote, 'we heard that thirty pigs were brought down the river to exchange for muskets. The captain had so much pork that he refused to buy, and they were all taken back again. We had lived upon salt beef from Sydney for three weeks, and fish when time could be spared to catch it.' Strengthened by the example of this natural leader, the other members of the mission grew equally firm; and before very long it was evident that this consistent refusal was all that had been necessary. The Maoris at length accepted the page 20situation, and gave up demanding firearms from the mission. This matter of muskets and powder had been one of the chief causes of trouble and dissension among the settlers themselves. By 1827 Marsden was able to rejoice, after all the wretchedness of spirit that the mission had caused him, that he now at last found them 'living in unity and godly love'.
* There were three women in the party, one of whom was still weak after the birth of her baby, and another had been for some time 'extremely ill, and was hardly able to move at all.' The third was a visitor from the C.M.S. station at Paihia. Some of the hills on their route were so steep that 'but for the roots of trees', which formed 'a sort of steps, they would be almost inaccessible.' James Stack had somehow managed, travelling all night, to get through ahead to Kerikeri with the news of the disaster.
The next few days were ones of continual anxiety, as reports, frequently conflicting, came in of the movements of Hongi and of his adversaries. The missionaries were anxious to stay at their posts, but page 23recognised now, as they had not done before, to what dangers they were exposed from plundering parties of warriors, and they felt that they must be prepared to leave. The Sisters was in the harbour, ready to sail for Sydney, and passages were taken aboard her for the Turner family. 'Rose at daylight,' is the entry in Mrs Williams's diary for 15 January, 'to pack box after box, and case after case: a great fatigue.' Still the conflicting tales were brought in. On 18 January 'a part of the floor was taken up to bury some linen, clothes laid ready to be put on, etc.', and next day, 'we cling to the hope of weathering the storm, and being able to stay. We have shipping in the harbour to flee to, in case of necessity.' In a few days the crisis, however, was over; the women and children from Kerikeri were able to return to their homes, and the following weeks were weeks of delight to the children as 'the disinterring of hidden treasures' took place.
This sort of thing did not, of course, happen every day, but it was liable to happen any time in those years of acute restlessness among the Maoris. Gradually their confidence in the missionaries and in the justice of their dealings increased so greatly that they took to seeking their help as mediators in their numerous quarrels. And from this time onward, until 1840 and even later, a new care and anxiety was added to those the missionary women already had in abundance. Their husbands were now frequently page 24absent with the Maori armies for weeks at a time; and 'you,' Mrs Williams wrote, 'who live in favoured England, the land of roads, and coaches, and posts, know not what it is either to say "good-bye" or "how-do-you-do?" Your post office preserves you from the feeling of separation which a journey in New Zealand occasions.'
If there were fighting at all near at hand, the care of the sick and the wounded became a part of the women's duty. Writing to her sister on 20 March 1830 Mrs Williams says:
'A most eventful month has passed; I think a journal of it would afford quite a new interest; but so constant has been the excitement, so crowded the incidents, and so great the bodily exertion, both of the Missionaries abroad, and their wives at home, that nobody has written at all…. It is a fortnight today since the day of the bloodshed at Kororareka— just on the opposite side of the bay—all in view, and within hearing from our settlement. The women and children fled in their canoes to this beach for refuge, and the wounded came here to be dressed. Magnified reports were brought of the really many slain, and to increase our agitation, Henry started as soon as he discerned by his glass the state of things, and landed amidst the balls flying; he had, with William, Mr Davis, and Mr Brown, spent the whole of the preceding day persuading the parties to peace, and had, they thought, succeeded. On this occasion we page 25all thought him rash; but Henry thought himself in the way of duty. He was preserved and certainly did much towards stopping the firing…. Since this day our beach has been a most busy scene. We have had no quiet.'
Small wonder that this woman's husband wrote of her, ten or eleven years later, when she was yet only in her forties, 'My wife begins to flag. She gets older every day.' Throughout her diary and letters there constantly recur such statements as: 'Henry saw a movement among the canoes; was off and up the river in his dressing-gown before we knew he was gone.' 'Henry was off before the breakfast bell rang; I had terror and anxiety to endure again.' 'Henry moved off between 5 and 6 without waiting for a cup of tea. I was all anxiety.' On the longer peace-making expeditions there were all the dangers of the sea in small vessels to be faced as well; and on at least one occasion Henry Williams was saved from shipwreck, on a coast where none could have survived it, by what seemed to him, old sailor as he was, hardly short of a miracle.
Throughout all these alarms and terrors, and in spite of the extra burdens imposed by them, the women kept up their work in the schools. There were schools for Maoris wherever the missions settled, and in addition some conducted by native teachers which the missionaries superintended, and visited for examination purposes. Besides these page 26there were a boys' and a girls' school for Europeans, the latter, for the girls of the mission settlements, being the responsibility of Mrs Henry Williams. She was in charge for twenty years, during ten of which she had assistance—for eight years that of her sister-in-law Mrs William Williams, and for two of Mrs Ashwell. At the end of that time her husband insisted on her giving up this part of her work. 'It is heavy work,' he said, 'without English servants.' But her work among the Maoris she never relaxed to the end of her life, and she lived to be eighty-five.
Writing in the early days of her New Zealand life, she gives an idea of what being 'without English servants' meant. 'The missionary's wife must, for the sake of cleanliness and preservation from multitudes of fleas, wash and dress her children, make her own bed, her children's and her "visitors'." She must be housemaid and chambermaid and nurserymaid, and must superintend the cooking; for the best of the native girls would, if she were not watched, strain the milk with the duster, wash the tea things with the house-cloth, or wipe the tables with the flannel for scouring the floor. The very best of them also will on a hot day take herself off, just when you may be longing for someone to hold the baby, and swim; after which she will go to sleep for two or three hours.' Let it be remembered that 'the cooking' was not a matter of cooking for an ordinary household in a civilised country. There were ultimately page 27eleven children of her own house; frequently there were visiting Europeans (missionaries, ships' officers, other settlers from across the Bay) as well as numerous natives, to be provided for. In times of disturbance these numbers were greatly increased. On one occasion Mrs Williams notes that 'about sixty pots of rice were given out' and that 'our two breakfasts and numerous visitors occupied much time', and on another, 'Hone Heke and his party, to eat twenty pots of stirabout.' Even in more peaceful times 'superintending' the cooking must have been no sinecure. When in 1842 Bishop Selwyn arrived unexpectedly, he 'seemed surprised at the long tea-table of the two families of Williams, set for twenty-four.' To add to the arduousness of the position, these women could seldom know when to expect their visitors. The difficulties of the later missionary wives were in some respects different from those of the settlers of 1814—they were hardly less.
More and more the Maoris turned to such men and to such women, relying on them in sickness and in health—teachers, counsellors, housekeepers on a gigantic scale, 'fathers' and 'mothers' to hundreds besides their own large families, nurses and amateur doctors. They were a source of strength and comfort too to many among the more orderly and less law-defiant of the white population outside the missions, whose numbers rapidly increased in the last decade before Waitangi. It was to them that Busby page 28constantly turned in all the overwhelming difficulties of his position; it was Mrs Williams who was with Mrs Busby at the birth of her first child soon after their arrival at Waitangi; and the Williamses, husband and wife, who went to their assistance when, thirty-six hours later, the Residency was mysteriously attacked, and who remained with them until danger seemed to be past.
There was more coming and going, both of Maori and pakeha, in the Bay than in the laterestablished mission settlements, and a greater consequent strain upon the housekeeper. There was also, however, more comfort and convenience. Mrs Robert Maunsell, who arrived with her husband and landed at Paihia in November 1835, was able to say a week later in writing to a friend: 'My expectations of the trials [of a missionary life] are much disappointed and my anticipations of its pleasures more than realized.' She described the Williams house as 'a pretty cottage, a verandah in front through the trellis-work of which woodbines and roses most luxuriantly twine. What we consider beautiful roses in England grow here almost as weeds. There is a large garden in front, out-building and orchard at back.' The Maunsells were occupying the house recently vacated by the William Williams family, 'two storeys high, built also entirely with the hands of its former occupant. 'I am as happy as I can be,' she went on, 'my health quite good, and page 29enjoying innumerable comforts…. the choicest fruits and vegetables grow here in abundance. Peaches by loads, quinces, apples, mulberries, greens, asparagus, cauliflowers, etc., etc.'
* The Rev. William Williams, who arrived in the Bay of Islands in 1826, had studied medicine, and was able to be of considerable help to those, both Maori and pakeha, among whom he settled.
Yet four years later Mrs Maunsell could write: 'I am very happy, and would not exchange my lot with anyone on earth.'* The experience of these people was perhaps unusually unfortunate; but it was one to which all were constantly liable.
* This spirit carried her through another four years, when she died at the age of only thirty-seven.