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