Augustus Earle.

A Narrative of a Nine Months' Residence in New Zealand in 1827 online

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A few days after the departure of the brig I witnessed a specimen of
their summary method of executing justice. A chief, resident in the
village, had proof of the infidelity of one of his wives; and, being
perfectly sure of her guilt, he took his patoo-patoo (or stone hatchet)
and proceeded to his hut, where this wretched woman was employed in
household affairs. Without mentioning the cause of his suspicion, or once
upbraiding her, he deliberately aimed a blow at her head, which killed
her on the spot; and, as she was a slave, he dragged the body to the
outside of the village, and there left it to be devoured by the dogs. The
account of this transaction was soon brought to us, and we proceeded to
the place to request permission to bury the body of the murdered woman,
which was immediately granted. Accordingly, we procured a couple of
slaves, who assisted us to carry the corpse down to the beach, where we
interred it in the most decent manner we could.

This was the second murder I was very nearly a witness to since my
arrival; and the indifference with which each had been spoken of induced
me to believe that such barbarities were events of frequent occurrence;
yet the manners of all seemed kind and gentle towards each other; but
infidelity in a wife is never forgiven here; and, in general, if the
lover can be taken, he also is sacrificed along with the adulteress.
Truth obliges me to confess that, notwithstanding these horrors staring
them in the face, they will, if opportunity offers, indulge in an



As there were two roads across to the Bay of Islands, and I was anxious
to see as much of the country as possible, I determined that my second
journey should be by the longest route. I set off, accompanied only by a
native boy to carry a small portmanteau and to serve me as a guide. As,
on my former journey, we travelled many miles through thick tangled
forests, fatiguing beyond description. In the midst of our toilsome
progress, night frequently overtook us; then, by means of my
fowling-piece, I procured a light, the boy made a fire, and we passed the
night in this vast wilderness, far from the habitation of any human
being! At daybreak we resumed our journey, and at length (about ten
o'clock) we emerged from the wood, and entered upon extensive plains.
These were not naked deserts, similar to the ones I had passed through on
my former route, but were diversified with bush and brake, with a number
of small villages scattered in various directions. At mid-day we arrived
at what in New Zealand is considered a town of great size and importance,
called Ty-a-my. It is situated on the sides of a beautiful hill, the top
surmounted by a pa, in the midst of a lonely and extensive plain, covered
with plantations of Indian corn, Kumara and potatoes. This is the
principal inland settlement, and, in point of quiet beauty and
fertility, it equalled any place I had ever seen in the various countries
I have visited. Its situation brought forcibly to my remembrance the
scenery around Canterbury.

We found the village totally deserted, all the inhabitants being employed
in their various plantations; they shouted to us as we passed, thus
bidding us welcome, but did not leave their occupations to receive us. To
view the cultivated parts of this country from an eminence a person might
easily imagine himself in a civilised land; for miles around the village
of Ty-a-my nothing but beautiful green fields present themselves to the
eye. The exact rows in which they plant their Indian corn would do credit
to a first-rate English farmer, and the way in which they prepare the
soil is admirable. The greatest deficiency which I observed in the
country around me was the total absence of fences; and this defect
occasions the natives a great deal of trouble, which might very easily be
avoided. Hogs are the principal part of their wealth, with which, at all
times, they can traffic with vessels touching at their ports. These
animals, consequently, are of the utmost importance to them; but during
the growth of their crops, the constant watching the hogs require to keep
them out of the plantations consumes more time than would effectually
fence in their whole country; but I have no doubt, as they already begin
to follow our advice and adopt our plans, they will soon see the utility
of fencing in their land. I have at various times held many conversations
with different chiefs on this subject, all of whom have acknowledged the
propriety of so doing.

A few miles after leaving this beautiful village we came to a spot
covered with heaps of cinders and hillocks of volcanic matter. I found
all these hillocks small craters, but none of them, burning; and for
miles our road lay through ashes and lava. These fires must have been
extinguished many ages since, as there is not the slightest tradition
among any of the natives of their ever having been burning.

After passing over this lava, our journey lay through a very swampy
country, intersected with streams. I got completely wearied with
stripping to wade through them, so that at length I plunged in clothes
and all. At the close of a most fatiguing day's march, we arrived in
sight of the bay, having travelled over an extent of about fifty miles
since the morning! No canoe being in sight, and we being too distant to
make signals to our brig, we had to pass another night in bivouac on a
part of the beach called Waitangi; and as it did not rain we slept pretty
comfortably. The next morning I procured a canoe, and went on board our

The day following the brig took her final departure from New Zealand, and
we bade farewell to Captain Kent. We now formally placed ourselves under
the protection of King George, who seemed highly pleased with his charge;
and in a few days three good houses were ready for our reception - one for
ourselves, a second for our stores, and a third for our servants. But our
pleasant prospects were soon obscured by a circumstance totally
unexpected, which placed us in a most critical situation, and which we
had every reason to fear would lead to our total destruction.



I was roused one morning at daybreak by my servant running in with the
intelligence that a great number of war canoes were crossing the bay. As
King George had told us but the evening before that he expected a visit
from Ta-ri-ah, a chief of the tribe called Ngapuhis, whose territory lay
on the opposite side of the bay, and given us to understand that Ta-ri-ah
was a man not to be trusted, and therefore feared some mischief might
happen if he really came, the sight of these war canoes naturally caused
us considerable alarm, and we sincerely wished that the visit was over.

We dressed ourselves with the utmost expedition, and walked down to the
beach. The landing of these warriors was conducted with a considerable
degree of order, and could I have divested myself of all ideas of danger
I should have admired the sight excessively. All our New Zealand
friends - the tribe of Shulitea - were stripped naked, their bodies were
oiled, and all were completely armed; their muskets were loaded, their
cartouch boxes were fastened round their waists, and their patoo-patoos
were fixed to their wrists. Their hair was tied up in a tight knot at the
top of their heads, beautifully ornamented with feathers of the
albatross. As the opposite party landed, ours all crouched on the ground,
their eyes fixed on their visitors, and perfectly silent. When the
debarkation was completed I observed the chief, Ta-ri-ah, put himself at
their head, and march towards us with his party formed closely and
compactly, and armed with muskets and paddles. When they came very near
they suddenly stopped. Our party continued still mute, with their
firelocks poised ready for use. For the space of a few minutes all was
still, each party glaring fiercely on the other; and they certainly
formed one of the most beautiful and extraordinary pictures I had ever
beheld. The foreground was formed by a line of naked savages, each
resting on one knee, with musket advanced, their gaze fixed on the
opposite party, their fine, broad, muscular backs contrasting with the
dark foliage in front, and catching the gleam of the rising sun. The
strangers were clothed in the most grotesque manner imaginable - some
armed, some naked, some with long beards, others were painted all over
with red ochre; every part of each figure was quite still, except the
rolling and glaring of their eyes on their opponents. The background was
formed by the beach, and a number of their beautiful war canoes dancing
on the waves; while, in the distance, the mountains on the opposite side
of the bay were just tinged with the varied and beautiful colours of the
sun, then rising in splendour from behind them.

The stillness of this extraordinary scene did not last long. The Ngapuhis
commenced a noisy and discordant song and dance, yelling, jumping, and
making the most hideous faces. This was soon answered by a loud shout
from our party, who endeavoured to outdo the Ngapuhis in making horrible
distortions of their countenances; then succeeded another dance from our
visitors, after which our friends made a rush, and in a sort of rough
joke set them running. Then all joined in a pell-mell sort of encounter,
in which numerous hard blows were given and received; then all the party
fired their pieces in the air, and the ceremony of landing was thus
deemed completed. They then approached each other, and began rubbing
noses; and those who were particular friends cried and lamented over each

The slaves now commenced the labour of making fires to cook the morning
meal, while the chiefs, squatting down, formed a ring, or, rather, an
oblong circle, on the ground; then one at a time rose up, and made long
speeches, which they did in a manner peculiar to themselves. The speaker,
during his harangue, keeps running backwards and forwards within the
oblong space, using the most violent but appropriate gesticulation; so
expressive, indeed, of the subject on which he is speaking, that a
spectator who does not understand their language can form a tolerable
idea as to what the affair is then under debate. The orator is never
interrupted in his speech; but, when he finishes and sits down, another
immediately rises up and takes his place, so that all who choose have an
opportunity of delivering their sentiments, after which the assembly
breaks up.

Though the meeting of these hostile tribes had thus ended more amicably
than King George and his party could have expected, it was easily to be
perceived that the Ngapuhis were determined on executing some atrocity or
depredations before their return; they accordingly pretended to recollect
some old offence committed by the English settlers at the other end of
the beach. They proceeded thither, and first attacked and broke open the
house of a blacksmith, and carried off every article it contained. They
then marched to the residence of an English captain (who was in England),
and plundered it of everything that could be taken away, and afterwards
sent word they intended to return to our end of the beach. Our fears were
greatly increased by finding that our friends were not sufficiently
strong to protect us from the superior force of the Ngapuhis, and our
chief, George, being himself (we supposed) conscious of his inability,
had left us to depend upon our own resources.



We now called a council of war of all the Europeans settled here; and it
was unanimously resolved that we should protect and defend our houses and
property, and fortify our position in the best way we could. Captain Duke
had in his possession four twelve-pounders, and these we brought in front
of the enclosure in which our huts were situated, and were all entirely
employed in loading them with round and grape shot, and had made them all
ready for action, when, to our consternation and dismay, we found we had
a new and totally unexpected enemy to contend with. By some accident one
of our houses was in flames. Our situation was now perilous in the
extreme. The buildings, the work of English carpenters, were constructed
of dry rushes and well-seasoned wood, and this was one of a very
respectable size, and we had hoped, in a very few days, would be finished
fit for our removing into.

For some seconds we stood in mute amazement, not knowing to which point
to direct our energies. As the cry of "fire" was raised, groups of
natives came rushing from all directions upon our devoted settlement,
stripping off their clothes, and yelling in the most discordant pitch of
voice. I entered the house, and brought out one of my trunks, but on
attempting to return a second time I found it filled with naked savages,
tearing everything to pieces, and carrying away whatever they could lay
their hands upon. The fierce raging of the flames, the heat from the
fire, the yells of the men, and the shrill cries of the women, formed,
altogether, a horrible combination; added to all this was the
mortification of seeing all our property carried off in different
directions, without the least possibility of our preventing it. The tribe
of the Ngapuhis (who, when the fire began, were at the other end of the
beach) left their operations in that quarter and poured down upon us to
share in the general plunder. Never shall I forget the countenance of the
chief, as he rushed forward at the head of his destroying crew! He was
called "The Giant," and he was well worthy of the name, being the tallest
and largest man I had ever seen; he had an immense bushy black beard, and
grinned exultingly when he saw the work of destruction proceeding with
such rapidity, and kept shouting loudly to his party to excite them to
carry off all they could.

A cask containing seventy gallons of rum now caught fire and blew up with
a terrible explosion; and, the wind freshening considerably, huge volumes
of smoke and flame burst out in every direction. Two of our houses were
so completely enveloped that we had given up all hopes of saving them.
The third, which was a beautifully carved tapued one, some little
distance from the others, and which we had converted into a store and
magazine, was now the only object of our solicitude and terror. For,
besides the valuable property of various kinds which were deposited
within it, it contained several barrels of gunpowder! It was in vain we
attempted to warn the frantic natives to retire from the vicinity of this
danger. At length we persuaded about a dozen of the most rational to
listen while we explained to them the cause of our alarm; and they
immediately ascended to the roof, where, with the utmost intrepidity and
coolness, they kept pouring water over the thatch, thus lessening the
probability of an immediate explosion. About this time we noticed the
reappearance of King George, which circumstance rekindled our hopes. He
was armed with a thick stick, which he laid heavily on the backs of such
of his subjects as were running away with our property, thus forcing them
to relinquish their prizes, and to lay them down before his own mansion,
where all was safe. By this means a great deal was recollected. The fire
was now nearly extinguished; but our two really tolerably good houses
were reduced to a heap of smoking ruins, and the greater part of what
belonged to us was taken away by the Ngapuhis.

This calamity had made us acquainted with another of their barbarous
customs, which is, whenever a misfortune happens to a community, or an
individual, every person, even the friends of his own tribe, fall upon
and strip him of all he has remaining. As an unfortunate fish, when
struck by a harpoon, is instantly surrounded and devoured by his
companions, so in New Zealand, when a chief is killed, his former friends
plunder his widow and children; and they, in revenge, ill-use and even
murder their slaves - thus one misfortune gives birth to various
cruelties. During the fire, our allies proved themselves the most adroit
and active thieves imaginable, though previously to that event we had
never lost an article, although everything we possessed was open to them.

When we questioned them about our property, they frankly told us where it
was; and, after some difficulty in settling the amount of its ransom, we
got most of our things back again, with the exception of such as had been
carried off by the Ngapuhis.

Upon the cruelty of this custom I shall make no comments. Probably I
should have remained in ignorance of this savage law, had I not had the
misfortune to become its victim.

By redeeming from the natives what they had purloined from the fire, we
had restored to us some of our boxes, desks, and clothes; but all our
little comforts towards housekeeping were irretrievably lost. When the
fire was over we received a visit from one of the missionaries, who made
us a cold offer of assistance. We accepted a little tea, sugar and some
few articles of crockery from them; but, although they knew we stood
there houseless, amongst a horde of savages, they never offered us the
shelter of their roofs. I am very sure that had the calamity befallen
them, we should immediately have offered our huts, and shared with them
everything we possessed. Here was an opportunity of practically showing
the "pagans" (as they termed the New Zealanders) the great Christian
doctrine of "doing to others as we would they should do unto us." I must
acknowledge I was sometimes mortified at being obliged to sleep (three of
us huddled up close together) in a small New Zealand hut, filled with
filth and vermin of all kinds, while at only two miles' distance from us
stood a neat village, abounding in every comfort that a bountiful British
public could provide; and we, members of that community, and, indeed,
partly contributors to the funds for its support.

The high state of excitement into which the savages had been thrown by
the late conflagration gradually subsided, and as we had escaped the
dreaded calamity of our magazine blowing up, we began to look with
calmness on our desolate condition, and draw comfort from thinking how
much worse we might have been circumstanced than we then were. I hope our
distress may prove a benefit to future sojourners in this country, by
showing them the great importance of forming a proper magazine for
powder. The agonies I suffered in contemplating the destruction which six
barrels of powder, each of an hundredweight, would cause amongst a mob of
several hundred naked savages, it is impossible to imagine!

King George, as well as all his people, were most anxious to build us a
new habitation entirely themselves. They requested us to give them the
dimensions of the various dwellings, and said we should have no further
trouble about them. A party accordingly proceeded to the bush to collect
materials. They first formed the skeleton of a cottage containing three
rooms, with slight sticks, firmly tied together with strips of flax.
While this was in progress, another party was collecting rushes (which
grow plentifully in the neighbourhood, called Ra-poo). These they spread
in the sun for twenty-four hours, when they considered them sufficiently
dry. They then thatched every part of the house, which for neatness and
strength was equal to anything I had ever seen. The doors and windows we
employed our carpenter to make, these being luxuries quite beyond the
comprehension of the natives. We were thus tolerably well lodged again;
and our time passed on tranquilly, almost every day developing some fresh
trait of character amongst these children of nature.



I went to reside for a short time at a village about half a mile distant,
where there was a pretty good house vacant. It was called Ma-to-we, and
belonged to a chief named Atoi, a relation of George's, but a much
younger man. His power was not so great, and he was every way subject to
the authority of the tribe under whose protection I had placed myself.
One morning, at daybreak, we were roused by the hasty approach of King
George and all his warriors towards Ma-to-we. All were fully equipped for
war, and each countenance looked fierce and wild. Our late misfortunes
having rendered us more than usually anxious, this hostile appearance
gave us considerable alarm. We left our house to inquire the reason
thereof, and saw George and his followers enter the village, pull down
several fences, fire a few muskets in the air, dance a most hideous dance
of defiance, and then depart; but not one word of explanation could we
obtain from him. In the course of the morning, however, the women
acquainted us with the cause of this mysterious proceeding, which
determined me to remove my things back again to George's village of
Kororarika as soon as possible.

The affair was simply this: Atoi had two wives. During the time of our
visit to his village, he was absent, and had entrusted these women to the
care of his brother; but he, instead of being faithful to the trust
reposed in him, had actually seduced one of them. This circumstance came
to the knowledge of George, and he, feeling for the honour of his absent
friend, immediately proceeded to the village, and thus gave the parties
warning that he was fully aware of the nature of their proceedings. He
had also dispatched a messenger to Atoi, to inform him of his disgrace,
and to request his immediate return. In the course of the day it was
expected he would arrive, and bring with him a strong party of friends,
all burning with revenge, and eager to punish his brother for his
unnatural perfidy. It was thought that unless George interfered, much
bloodshed might ensue; and it may readily be imagined how anxious we were
that this dreaded meeting should be over; yet I (for one) had determined
that I would be a witness of it. Therefore, when word was brought to me
that Atoi was crossing the bay, I hastened down to the beach. There I
found all parties assembled from both villages. George and his followers,
who were to act as mediators, sat immediately in front of the place of
landing; behind them were Atoi's brother and all his partizans; and in
the rear were all the women and children, with about a dozen white faces
scattered amongst them. The scene was picturesque and exceedingly
interesting. It was near the close of a lovely summer's day - the sun,
fast sinking towards the horizon, threw a warm and mellow glow over the
wide expanse of the far-spreading bay, whose smooth waters were only
disturbed by the approaching canoe cutting its foamy way. It was crowded
with naked warriors, urging their rapid course towards the shore; and we
heard the loud and furious song of the chief, animating his friends to
exertion; we saw his frantic gestures, as he stood in the centre of his
canoe, brandishing his weapons. As they came near the place of landing,
George ran into the stream, and as the canoe touched the shore, attacked
Atoi, but in a playful manner, splashing water over him. Thus irritated,
Atoi jumped on land, and, with a double-barrelled musket in his hand, ran
towards his brother, and doubtless would have killed him on the spot, had
he not been prevented. I now saw the advantage of George and his party
being present. He and three of his subjects seized upon Atoi, and tried
to wrest the weapon from his hands, which if they had been able to
effect, a mortal combat could not take place, such being the custom here.
Atoi was a very powerful man of about thirty, and those who attacked him
had a most difficult task; twice he broke from them; and I then watched
the countenance of his brother, which was perfectly cool and collected,
though the firelock was in readiness, and the finger on the trigger,
which might despatch him instantly. All parties sat perfectly quiet
during the desperate struggle; one of the barrels of Atoi's piece went
off, and the contents flew amongst us, without, however, doing any
material injury; and, finally, the musket was wrested out of his hands.
He then sat still for about twenty minutes, to recover his breath, when
he seized a club and rushed upon his brother (for mortal weapons were now
prohibited). The brother started up, armed in the same manner; some heavy
blows passed between them; when, having thrown aside their clubs, they
grappled each other firmly, and a dreadful struggle ensued. As they were
both completely naked, their hair was the only thing to take hold by; but

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Online LibraryAugustus EarleA Narrative of a Nine Months' Residence in New Zealand in 1827 → online text (page 5 of 14)