Fear of The Other

In June 1853, a settler from Tasmania, Australia, called Edwin Meredith scouted the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand for suitable land to graze his sheep. June was the first month of winter and he was forced to take shelter from the rain wherever he could find it.

I had only about 20 miles to ride to reach Waipukurau but ….. my poor horse was completely knocked up as the result of his previous day’s experience [stuck in a bog and dragged out with difficulty]. There was nothing for it but to put my saddle and bridle in a flax bush and walk on in the hope of finding shelter before dark, for I was wet through.

It was raining steadily and the country around did not afford a tree or bush to break the wind and rain, or fuel for a fire. With my rug on my back I arrived at the Waipukurau Pah. Having satisfied myself that there was no European habitation in the neighbourhood, I had no alternative but to take refuge from the rain and cold of a winter’s night in one of the many whares* within.

Maori Pah

I made for a large one, about the low entrance to which I saw a number of men standing or going to and fro. It was my first experience of being in a large Maori Pah [fenced or fortified village] and I can hardly recall the circumstance without a shudder. Not that I feared any evil treatment but to be the only European in the midst of about 300 savages, the majority of whom were, or had been, cannibals and whose every feature was made hideous by tattooing – to witness the gesticulations which accompanied loud and rapid utterances in harsh gutteral tones emphasised by savage excitement might, or might not, be the prelude to something still more exciting. I was subsequently informed that there had been a pig-hunt that day on a large scale, and in all probability I had been listening to a somewhat theatrical recital of the adventures of the day’s sport.

I sat crouched upon my rug and, though occupying a conspicuous position near the doorway in a large room occupied by perhaps 50 men, none appeared to take the slightest notice of me – till my eye lighted on a man who had been especially voluble and, from the time he subsided and sat down, never took his eyes off me. Every atom of his face was tattooed and I could not help tracing in the expression of his disfigured features something malignant. I had remarked, while he was tossing his arms about in delivering his address, that he had only one hand.

Having scrutinized me long and intently, to my great relief he disappeared. I hoped that he would not return and, as no one seemed to notice me, I was about to roll myself in my rug, wet and cold as I was, when suddenly I was startled by a tap from behind upon my shoulder. On looking around, there stood the man whose gaze had been so repulsive to me, holding in his hand a clean new shirt and a pair of trousers. With the stump of the other arm he touched my wet clothes, motioning to me by signs to take them off and put on those he had brought. Never in my life had I been so rebuked for my misjudgment.
‘Reminiscences and experiences of an early Colonist’, Edwin Meredith, 1898.

*whare = house, building, residence.

There is a town at Waipukurau today but there was only the Pa in 1853.
Follow the link to learn more about Ta moko – Maori tattooing.

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Bush travelling

Approaching Taranaki, what sight more beautiful than Mount Egmont’s snowy peak, seen just before the dawn of day, slowly tinged with rosy light – the plain around still lost in gloom-like morning rising from the bed of night?

Egmont

To be encamped for the night, too, in the forest at its base, the blazing watch-fire fitfully lighting up the surrounding gloom, and disclosing to momentary view the stately stems and leafy canopy of gigantic forest trees; and to awake at early dawn, listening with bated breath in charmed surprise to a chorus of sweet sounds (too sweet almost for earthly melody), would prove a poet’s and a painter’s Paradise!

fern leafBut health, also, as well as amusement, is gained by a journey in the bush. By change of scene, the dull routine of daily life is broken, and its business and care for the time forgotten. Almost constant mental excitement, gentle in degree, and agreeable in its kind; exposure to the open air, active exercise, and plain and scanty diet, all tend to health. The appetite is sharpened, the nerves are braced, the blood is purified, the cheek is bronzed, and the traveller commonly returns from his journey a stronger and a better man. What wonder that bush-travelling, then, should be a holiday amusement?

But a lengthened expedition into the interior of a new country, cannot of course be undertaken without some preparation. The pleasure which the traveller will derive from his journey, will greatly depend upon the character of his native party. Nor should a stranger, or a novice in bush travelling, ignorant of the language, and unaquainted with the manners of the people, be advised to start alone. On the contrary he should, if possible, secure as a companion some experienced bush traveller.

There being no wayside hostelries, the traveller, if he be not content with the skies for a canopy and the earth for his bed, must snail-like carry his house upon his back; or, which he will probably prefer, must persuade some other person to undertake the labour for him.

bush path

For a traveller who intends to live bush-fashion, three natives, for bearers, are a sufficient complement. On a long journey, when expedition is an object, the weight of each load should not exceed thirty pounds. Tent, bedding, clothes, and food, need not altogether exceed ninety pounds, or thirty pounds each man. This does not allow of bottled beer, wines, &c.; but nothing will surprise a bush traveller more than the indifference with which he will regard these enjoyable home luxuries, after a few days’ free exposure to the open air : itself an all-sufficient stimulant.
‘Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand’, W. Swainson. Smith, Elder & Co. London, 1853.

Note : Auckland was the capital of New Zealand until 1865, when the “Seat of Government” moved to Wellington.
The author, William Swainson (1809-1884), was Attorney General of New Zealand based in Auckland, not the naturalist William John Swainson who died in Wellington in 1855.
Mount Egmont’s name has reverted to the original Taranaki.

Jail break

An extract from a letter written from Wellington, New Zealand, 24 April 1843, when the settlement was just three years old.

Wellington has been in a state of great excitement for the last few days.
On Wednesday last six convicts who had been sentenced the previous day to ten years’ transportation, broke out of gaol and took possession of a boat lying on the beach.

Wellington Courthouse_Brees

Wellington courthouse on the right c. 1843.

They were half-way across the harbour before anybody went after them. It was blowing a tremendous gale from the N.W., and it soon became dark ; many of the boats returned the same night, but the sheriff [police magistrate] meeting with a small schooner entering the harbour, pressed her in the Queen’s name, and went in pursuit of the prisoners. He returned unsuccessful on Friday morning ; but in the evening everybody was agreeably surprised by the arrival of some Mauris [Maori] in a canoe with the six prisoners.

It appears that the prisoners were wrecked on a reef near Palliser Bay, and got ashore in a most extraordinary manner, each man having from twenty to thirty pounds of irons about his legs. They wandered about the beach in quest of another boat, but they soon fell in with the Mauris, by whom they were captured, and who had been informed of the escape of the convicts by some of the constables. The Mauris behaved well, and will receive £5 for each of the prisoners. It was a daring thing to break out of the gaol in a town where there are 5,000 inhabitants in broad daylight.
‘The New Zealand Journal’, London, 30th September 1843.

Image details – [Brees, Samuel Charles] 1810-1865 :Courts of Justice, Wellington [ca 1843]
Reference Number: B-031-009 http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=4577