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Poenamo
Book the Second - Chapter I.
The King of Waiou


We are sailing into Waiou Harbour. It was known in the long-ago days of which I now write as Wramou, because Maori prevailed so much more than English that native names earned the day. Besides, there were but few places which had been christened in English, those only which had been named by the great circumnavigator. This will prove to you that I am writing of a time when Poenamo was just born to Great Britain, and was her youngest child.

What a fair and beautiful child she was, and how the youthful promise of her early years ripened into an adolescence which has brought worshippers to her shore from many and far-distant lands!

Where could be a brighter sky or more gorgeous colouring in land and sea, where could Nature more prodigally surround you with the beautiful in scenery, or give a more noble seaboard, or more lovely snow-crowned mountains clothed with richest verdure to their base? Where are grander fords with glaciers from eternal snows sheer into the ocean, or lakes more picturesque and beautiful, or geysers—hot springs—warm lakes, solfituras like hers? And the fairy work, as if reared by an enchanter's hand, of her white and pink terraces, with ever-boiling waters streaming o'er—wonders that no tongue can describe, that the cunningest limner's brush cannot paint, that no imagination can conjure up; the eye must gaze on the marvellous sight, from which none has ever turned away disappointed.

Such was the land of which I write—forty years ago.

We are sailing into Waioh and turning sharply to the left; in a few minutes we have dropped our anchor.

We are in a beautiful little land-locked circular harbour, but with hardly deep-water anchorage for more than half a dozen large ships to swing clear, though room enough for a large fleet of small craft. The shore shoals suddenly all round, where it meets the flat land at the base of the high range of hills forming the background; a steep range more than a thousand feet high, timber-covered to the very summit with evergreen foliage. Snow never falls on these hills. Between the spurs sloping down towards the shore are tiny, beautiful valleys, in which native villages can be seen nestling picturesquely. We are lying off a small island which forms part of the small harbour; we can see not far off a narrow passage between the island and the mainland, so narrow that I was often afterwards navigated across it on the back of a Maori wahine when none of the male sex were at hand. Abreast of us there is quite a pretty little bay and fine beach. We can see an incongruous collection of buildings, some weather-boarded, some evidently of native construction; then again there are quite a number of log-huts, and there is the frame of a small craft on the stocks with all her ribs nearly completed. This little bay rejoiced in the name of Herekino (be pleased to pronounce the word thus: He-ree-kee-no) when I knew it in those days of yore.

And here lived and reigned the King of Waiou. The king was not a Maori king - he was a Yankee one, known as big W____ by the Pakehas, and as Waipeha by the Maories.

Waipeha reigned supreme, not only in the harbour of Waiou, but along the whole shore of Te Hauraki, even unto the mouths of the Waiho and Piako rivers, if not a good way up them.

Waiheki, Ponui, and adjacent islets owned his sway, and in not a few places utterly unknown to Pakeha the name of Waipelia was a power.

From whence this power, which extended over so wide a territory, came, I shall in due course explain.

Waipeha was a big man he was, though a Yankee, as burly as a veritable John Bull. He was not only big in body but also in brain, whence came the retaining of the power he wielded, though not the power itself.

Waipeha had taken a wife—native fashion, and "without the benefit of clergy"—from the tribe of the great chief Tanewha, who could muster his "three hundred"- I don't mean wives, but fighting men. Under the shadow of the great Tanewha, who was known by the sobriquet of Old Hook Nose, from a certain resemblance to Wellington—under his shadow lived and reigned Waipeha.

But he ruled through the talismanic effects of two words, and throughout his dominions no two words were more often, repeated by his subjects than the "whare hoko" [Trading house.] of Waipeha. His strength lay in an unpretending-looking little building in one corner of Herekino beach—this whare hoko.

Yes, it was before the contents of Waipeha's store that the natives bowed the head and bent the knee!

Tell me not of missionaries as civilising agents compared to a whare itoko. The poor missionary could only raise on high his Bible and threaten the casting out into outer darkness, which the Maori in his early days of childhood had not learned to fear. But Waipeha, if a tribe offended him, simply shut the door of his whare hoko in their faces; he tabooed all his blankets and guns, his calico and spades, his cotton prints and tomahawks. It was terrible enough to have to stand this dire punishment but when there was also included the ambrosial weed and the clay pipe, human nature could stand it no longer, and the proscribed humbly sued for pardon at the whore koko door of Herekino that they might again be admitted within its dearly-loved precincts and be at peace with its master.

Although Waipeha was a king of his own creation, he nevertheless did pay a small tribute—a sort of black-mail on the sly—to his father-in-law, who, in consideration of permitting his daughter to remain Mrs. Waipeha, periodically invaded Herekino whenever his stock of tobacco ran low, or he had broken his clay pipe. In fact, had King Waipeha adopted aboriginal customs and gone in for polygamy, an equivalent from out the whare hoko would have secured a plurality of wives, as well as covered any breach of the proprieties. To the Maori the word "ulu" [payment] covered any multitude of sins. True, amongst themselves the word sometimes meant "payment" in blood, but with the Palšeha money or money's worth generally condoned everything.

Very nearly up to the date of which I am writing Waipeha had hospitably entertained any Pakehas who had found their way to his small kingdom. But Her Majesty, in taking possession of Poenamo, had caused such an exodus of land-sharks from Sydney that the King of Waiou all of a sudden found himself inundated with visitors to such an extent that keeping open house became too much for him. As public-houses did not exist, the king, to prevent himself from being eaten out of house and home, had no alternative but to convert one of the outhouses of his regal establishment into a barrack-room by fitting it up with bunks all round like a ship's forecastle.

And so he solved the problem of keeping open house by opening the barrack-door to all corners who chose to have the privilege of occupying a bunk therein, and a seat at the table d'hote, and paying six dollars a week!

The current coin of his realm was the dollar. Waipeha being a Yankee, the whole thing "fixed" itself off in quite a natural way.

There was a grand promenade in front of the Herekino establishment; it is true it was only a step, and a jump from one end of the beach to the other, and, therefore, it did not take many persons, after all, to give the spot an animated appearance. It was on its wane when I first graced the promenade with my presence, and commenced paying my six dollars a week. An untimely blow had been dealt at the rising prospects of the table d'ote at which Waipeha presided, and by the time I took my seat at it there was no scramble for places. In fact, the bulk of the sitters—Sydney land-sharks—had been completely dished by a proclamation issued by the Government, declaring that all purchases made from the aborigines after the date thereof would be illegal, null, and void. This thunderbolt had fallen shortly before my arrival, and evidently must have created a most disorganised and reckless frame of mind amongst the would-be land purchasers by latitude and longitude. Like Othello, "their occupation was gone," and awaiting the arrival of some chance vessel to bear them away from the disappointing pastures on which they had hoped to revel, they meanwhile found it hard work to kill time. The recklessness I have alluded to made a deep impression upon my juvenile mind, for I was young and verdant—very. I had seen little or nothing of the world. It was a small eye-opener to me when I put my foot on shore, for the first time, on Herekiro beach, to be greeted by the sight of a knot of young fellows tossing for sovereigns! I am sure it was not more than five minutes after I had landed from the ship's boat that I might have been seen with not only my eyes, but mouth too, wide open with astonishment, when a sovereign fell upon the veranda-thatch over the barrack-door. The owner of that sovereign, too excited in his game, did not take the trouble to stop and look for the lost coin!

Such was my introduction to Herekiro, the royal domain of King Waipeha. By the way, it was his black brother-in-law's prerogative to fish out and pocket that sovereign tossed on to the thatch. Not such bad diggings for him.

I have said that, to a great extent, the glory had departed by the time I arrived at Herekino, and the rapidity with which the beach promenade changed from being thronged with visitors to an almost deserted appearance was like the result of some magician's spell. Barrack-bunks were at a deplorable discount; the long table d'h˘te became a mere mockery and a shame to poor Waipeha, who still sat at its head. Alas for the recipient of six dollars a week per visitor! he was at last supported only by two pairs of bond jide intending settlers, a brace on either hand. The foot of the table faded away into an unoccupied distance dreary to behold. Of course I was one of the four supporters of the now-dethroned table d'hˇte king. But I must say he bore his dethronement with a right royal grace, genial, jovial, brimful of good-humour, of a temper simply imperturbable as a Maori. A Pakeha with the Pakehias, a Maori with the Maories, was this great .John Bull of a Yankee, so like an Englishman, although an American. Of his antecedents it matters not; the only thing I ever heard whispered against him was that he had run away from his whale-ship; whether a friendly mate lowered his tool-chest into the boat he escaped in he best knows, but he had first wielded his axe in the forest before he developed into the King of Waiou.

I speak of him as I found him—a fine, right- hearted, easy-going, kind fellow, with plenty of brains, and knowing how to use them, he had worked himself into quite a fine trade, such as it was in those days, preparing cargoes of timber, buying pigs, potatoes, and maize from the natives, and ship-plug this produce off to Sydney and Molbourne to feed the too-rapidly-arriving immigrants who were flowing into Australia in 1839-40. I remember my fancy was tickled the first time I ever heard the King of Waiou's name, for it came about after this manner:-

The ship in which I reached the Hauraki was in command of a skipper who knew not the land nor its shores nor the waters in the gulf, so we went creeping up Hauraki, looking for Waiou, and sunset found us half-way up to the mouths of the great rivers at the head, when we could do nothing but drop our anchor. Next morning, just after we had got under way, we saw a whaleboat bearing down upon us, and laying to, we were hailed with the question, "Is Mr. Waipeha, the pig-merchant, on board?" What a designation for the King of Waiou! He wasn't, of course, but we got the inquirer to come on board and pilot us into Waiou.

One day at dinner we had something to talk about, for a schooner had arrived from Kororareka, bringing us the last news from the Government headquarters there, and we were discussing whether or no, in our wise opinion, the governor's future town would be a success. We were busy also discussing a remarkably fine boiled leg of mutton and caper-sauce, which was pronounced an inimitable success, for Herekino boasted a chef-de-cuisine who had once worn his white paper cap of office on board the great smack service between London and Leith before steam drove them off the face of the seas. This so disgusted the chef' that he swore roundly at civilisation, and betook himself to the antipodes thereof. I found him exercising his genius in serving up the hind leg of a pig so cleverly skinned and trimmed with caper-sauce that the King of Waiou carved it round to us all as—mutton.

We were all as loud in our praises of the mutton as we were loud in our censure of the governor for fixing himself at such an extremely northern out-of-the-centre place as kororareka. Why had he not come to such a grand locality as Te Hauraki, with its grand rivers flowing into it, and fixed the capital there? Waipeha listened in silence, no doubt saying to himself, "Much you greenhorns inland know of what you are talking about, as if there were no other better places than Te Hauraki," and he let us expend our quartett wisdom.

We were four canine Scots, and were all four hardly a match for one shrewd Yankee. Ponderous Waipehia, when we had expended our talk, quietly put in his oar by saying, "The mouths of the WailIo and Piako might be capital places for wild-duck shooting and mosquitoes, but he knew a better place, rather, he guessed, for a capital, and that was the point at issue."

There was a something in the manner in which he gave utterance to this that caused a simultaneous "Where?" from us all to echo through the room.

But the king for the moment gave no response. He had just filled his mouth with the last morsel of skinned hind leg of pork-mutton, and we saw by the deliberative way in which he put his knife and fork down on his plate, and still more deliberate manner in which he consigned that last mouthful to the capacious but now well-filled receptacle which was to receive it, that the king was about to deliver himself of something in the way of speech beyond his common wont.

"Wait till you see the Waitemata."

These were the words he spoke and all that he said, but the words were so oracularly spoken that we all held our breath, staring expectantly at the oracular spokesman for some further wonderful revelation.

But he spoke only, and repeated slowly, these words "Wait until you see the Waitemata."


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