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Poenamo
Book the Fourth - Chapter XII.
An Episode.—Our First Maori Scare. — Conclusion


It was at a very early stage of the existence of the embryo capital, when we were all squatters, and the survey lines of the town were only half cut, and when we were all helping each other to do nothing until the first sale of town lots should come off, that we w-re turned aside from the even tenor of our do-nothing ways by the startling intelligence that the Maories were going to drive us all into the sea, not to mention the possible, much worse fate of being killed on dry land, then eaten, and- O Sydney Smith! author of the saying—disagreeing with the Maori who had devoured us.

Early one morning the shadow of a stranger darkened my tent-door; he was not of the capital, for I knew every man, woman, and almost every child, in the place.

"Here is a letter from Motu Korea, sir; I have just come up from the island"

The letter told me the bearer had a story to tell, and when told it amounted to this:—A party of natives had called at the settlement where dwelt this messenger of evil tidings, then living in peaceful and happy vegetation with the Maori wife of his choice, or rather of the chief's selection for him, and who, on arrival of the visitors, had, of course, gone to smoke the accustomed pipe of gossip with them.

Part of the gossip was that a certain tribe had heard from some other tribe that a great massacre of all the Pakehas had taken place at Kororareka, and that the perpetrators were in full march to sack the young capital, intending some fine morning to breakfast off the settlers and carry off the unconsumed remainder into captivity for future cannibal feasts. The particulars of the past massacre and intended future proceedings had been given with such careful details, that, of course, there could be no doubt of the thing. The very speeches of the different chiefs were repeated with the most faithful accuracy. Now, unless these speeches had been delivered, how could the very words be known? And so this Pakeha Maori swallowed the whole tale as told him by his darker half, and having got the idea into his head it grew and magnified, and took such form and shape, that in the darkness of the night the frightened couple took to a dingy and pulled away for dear life to warn the authorities at the capital, and run the risk of, at all events, being eaten in good company.

He had arrived at Motu Korea in the middle of the night, told his tale, and now he was passed on to me. I had to tell my visitor, even as he had been told at the island, that I believed the whole thing to be a cock and a bull story, and the best thing for him to do was just to go away quietly home again. But he had been feeding so long upon the story, and it had taken such hold upon him, that nothing would do but he must unburthen himself of the tale to the Deputy- Governor.

A couple of hours might have elapsed since my unexpected visitor had proceeded to warn the authorities of the impending danger when a visible excitement began to prevail in the settlement, and groups of people could be seen in earnest conversation collected here and there. I had previously noticed one of the Government workmen passing down in a great hurry to the Government store, and then he returned with the storekeeper to Exclusion Bay at an equally smart pace. Then the storekeeper returned with one of the Officials, in whose countenance was plainly depicted a mysterious importance, "for the settlers were not to be thrown into a state of alarm until the Government had determined what steps ought to be taken in such a serious emergency."

Presently this Official—he had been taking stock of the rusty brown-bosses in the store—hurried past again at a brisk pace.

Now even if I had known nothing about the story of alarm, and had seen this Official getting over the ground at such a pace, I should immediately have exclaimed, "Hullo! what's up? what's happened?" for nothing in those days, except an innocent shower of rain, caused any one to be in a hurry. There were no offices opened at certain fixed hours requiring punctual attendance; no counting-houses, no banks, no court-houses—except those "under the canopy of heaven," and even these, by-the-bye, were still in the future—no anything requiring the presence of any one at a given hour, except, perhaps, the workmen at the Government sawpits—no hurrying into town in the morning and bolting midday dinners—half-an-hour only allowed for same—all that, was far, far in the future, when children still unborn would not need to postpone their breakfast on rainy mornings until the weather cleared up, and if it didn't, get no breakfast at all and only cold potatoes and a drink of water for dinner. So when I saw the Official whisk past I said to myself, "Ah! the story begins to work." And so it had, and it was very useless for the Official to wear that mysterious face, for he had told the whole story to the store-keeper when taking tally of the rusty muskets, and of course, having been told in the strictest confidence, that secured its immediate transmission from the storekeeper on the same conditions to the first person he encountered, and it went all through the settlement like wildfire.

And thus it came about that I saw the dreadful news being discussed by knots of my friends here and there. I had kept cautiously inside my tent, but I could see all round about by peeping through the folds of the canvass opening. I was waiting the return of my informant, but he did not make his appearance. The fact was the Officials had him in safe keeping until they had determined upon the course that was to be taken, and the bane and the antidote were to go forth together. But the indiscretion of the Official's "in strictest confidence" had fairly got the start, and by the time the original bearer of the story was released from Exclusion Bay supervision, every soul in the place knew that the infant capital of their adoption was threatened with extinction, and themselves with death by the tomahawk, and something worse afterwards, in gratifying the alimentive peculiarities of their murderers.

My Patience had at last become exhausted waiting for the return of III)' morning visitor, and seeing so much excitement prevailing outside I was on the point of tying up my tent-door when the Deputy- Governor stepped in.

Well," said he in cheeriest tone possible, "what do you think of our Pakeha Maori's story, eh? serious, very!"

"Very," replied I in the most serious tone I could assume. "I almost feel as if I were half-digested already."

This was too much for the Deputy, and drawing the tent-door together, he burst out laughing. I kept him company.

"I really would treat the whole story with ridicule," he continued, "but I am not alone, and my official colleagues, with whom I must consult, and who do not know the Maories, consider that certain precautions ought to be taken, and I have had to waive my own opinion. The decision come to is that all hands are to be asked to turn out and keep a nightly patrol of pickets to skirt round the ridges of the different bays, and in case of anything suspicious being seen the alarm is to be given, when all are to fly and take refuge at the Barrack Point, and as it is a very defensible spot, we are there to make a stand for dear life," concluded the Deputy in a mock tone, looking woefully at me, when we both had a good laugh for the second time. Seeing that both he and I knew that the one desire of the Maori at that epoch was to get the Pakeha to come and live at their settlements, we might be excused for being merry.

"The patrols will commence to-night, and meanwhile we are sending to warn our few outsettlers into town, and I have now come to offer you my gig and crew to go to Motu Korea to place it in the power of its solitary occupant to join you here."

Well, to the island I went, and reported the great furbishing of muskets which had followed the telling of the Pakeha Maori's story, but as I could tell no more news than that which had been first told last midnight on the island itself, I was only the bearer of a message back to the Deputy-Governor that if there was nothing more to go upon than the original story, Motu Korea was just as safe a place to live in as the capital; that at the former there would be no patrol work to break in upon a comfortable night's rest; and that as to the island furnishing the wherewithal for any whetting of cannibal appetites, that contingency was going to be risked without any fear, and many thanks to the Deputy-Governor."

On my return to town I found that everything was in full swing, and that I had been put on the first watch of pickets to patrol along the ridge between Store and Waipirau Bays, and our duty was to watch for the enemy coming down the harbour to attack us. The other extreme point was the lowest side of Mechanics' Bay, from whence any enemy coming up the harbour could be seen. From these two points a cordon of pickets would encircle the entire settlement. Certain centres of communication were fixed on where the sentries were to meet and report and change guard. If anything in the shape of Maories appeared the sentinel was to fire off his musket as the signal of alarm, when the women and children were to hasten to Barrack Point, and all the male population capable of bearing arms were to muster at Exclusion Bay, and then those who had not got firearms would be furnished with them—so far as such were forthcoming. The patrols were all to fall back on the muster-place, where the united army would be taken command of by the Commander-in-Chief.

And thus it fell out that one morning we all arose in blissful ignorance that before set of sun we should all be in martial array with shouldered arms going our rounds and swearing on our rusty muskets that we would die the death, if necessary, in the defence of the wives of our bosom, of the children of our loins, and of the dear household gods of our tents and breakwind huts against the attacks of all Maories with cannibal thoughts intent!

And so that night the infant capitals denizens retired to get what slumber and rest they might, watched by the faithful patrols, and the patrols paced their rounds, bringing their reports to headquarters that "All was well."

And so the night passed and the sun rose smiling as brightly as ever with his morning rays of salutation over the waters of the Waitemata and the still- extant infant capital.

We got no more news that day; some Maories arrived with their ordinary canoe-load supplies of pigs, potatoes, pumpkins, and maize for sale; but some how, instead of allaying suspicion, it only seemed to arouse it. Their coming was a mere blind to put us off our guard; they were evidently constrained in their manner, and had not one of them positively refused to sell a pig unless he could get powder in exchange?—that spoke volumes.

So again that night the "sentries paced their weary rounds," only there was no weariness about it it became quite a pleasant interlude in our monotony, and we all waxed exceedingly brave, and some were heard to say, "They only wished the savages would come, and wouldn't they catch it and get a warm welcome!"

In my patrol we had some very choice spirits—in more acceptations of the term than one–and instead of going home after three hours duty on guard the Store Bay headquarters found many collected there singing in grand chorus, "We won't go home till morning"—and, what is more, they didn't. What self-sacrifice thus to watch over the innocent slumbers of their beloved in their homes.

And again the sun rises, lighting up with his morning rays the little white tents still peacefully imbedded among the high fern.

But the time, approached, and the night was at hand, when these valiant spirits, who constituted the protection of the infant capital now struggling into life, would be put on their mettle when the dread cry, "The foe, they come!—they come!" would break upon the stillness of the night.

I had just returned to my tent after the first night's watch, and had lain down on fern bed, when there rang on my ear the report of a musket from the very point where I had just given over my sentinel duty on the western cliff overlooking Store Bay, and from which you could see up the harbour.

The signal of alarm was taken up, and I could hear it sounding along the whole patrol line.

What! had I been mistaken?—the Maories coming to attack us? Impossibl !—won't believe it--a gun gone off by accident, and the signal has been caught up through this mistake.

I went forth. There, already, through the darkness, I saw a rush being made to the place of rendezvous— not that there were so many to make any great rush, but I saw the dark figures going at the double-quick!

"The Maories are coming!—the Maories are coming!" was the cry.

"Where? where? in vain asked I.

"Don't know--Maories are coming! - Maories are coming! - down the harbour," came from a voice.

And on the7y rushed—women in haste, with dishevelled hair and scant attire—luckily it was the height of summer—pressing to their bosoms their last-born, men with older offspring in their arms, and lugging after them older still, in hot baste through the darkness of the night to the Barrack Promontory.

I rushed down to the beach at Store Bay, but could see or hear nothing—"darkness there and nothing more" except myself, and I took that off away over the hill to Exclusion Bay. There I found the mustering of the forces and the serving out of the old brown-besses, and the colonial surgeon (an old army doctor) busy drilling all squad, and then pop the guns began to go beside me.

"The Maories?" said I "where—which way are they coming?

"Down the harbour—down the harbour; they will be in Store Bay by this time."

And whisk went a ramrod past my ear!

"By Jove! Maories would be safer than this," I said to myself. "The sooner I'm off the better." And off again I bolted, and made a rush back again to Store Bay.

There I found some one peering through the darkness.

"What have you seen?"

"Something slowly pulling round the point for Exclusion Bay."

"The devil you have! You don't say so." And away I rushed like a madman up the hill again to the other bay; and as I gained the height, and was speeding down the hill, I saw the brave advanced guard make a rush-to the beach, and bang—bangbang went a volley.

And then there came a terrible and fierce cry from the enemy from out the darkness of the waters.

"Hullo on shore there! 'What the devil are you p to, bang, banging away with bullets in your guns? Do you want to kill some of us?

And a great huge mass came floating on to the shore.

It was a raft of timber from the Manukau ranges brought down the harbour by a sawyer, with a native boat's crew, and it was the song of the Maories which had caused the signal-gun to be fired.

And thus it fell out that the infant capital was permitted still to wear its swaddling clothes, and was not blotted out from off the race of this fair world and numbered amongst the things that were, but the sun continued to rise and smile upon her with his morning rays glancing along the sparkling waters of the Waitemata. Soon all that was remembered of the frightened Pakeha Maori's story was the jollification of the patrollers who didn't go home till morning, and a little bit of spicy, scandal against one frighted couple, who, having miscounted the number of their too numerous progeny, discovered in a corner of their whare, on getting home from the Barrack Point, one little pledge of love sweetly sleeping over the danger, the innocent's absence never having been missed.

Ah, how difficult to realise that the infant capital of that day. has grown to its present proud position, and that the incidents I have narrated are facts of the past! Few now are those left who were actors in the scenes I have described; and in yet a little time none shall be left to tell the tale of the infant capitals early days and early ways, but to you this manuscript may draw the curtain aside and reveal past scenes to all others shut out for ever.

Many and trying were the vicissitudes we pilgrim fathers had to pass through. At first, during the great excitement of the first founding of Poenamo, co-existent with the adventitious prosperity of Australia, we all fondly believed we should make grand fortunes in three or four years. Yet within less than half that time not only this colony but Australia had reached the lowest depths of despair. When sheep were sold in that colony for ninepence a head, and stations given in, you can well imagine what state we must have been in.

And then it was we were all put on our mettle, and had to prove of what quality it was. There are still one or two old friends who can well remember how I acted in my own person as master, clerk, and foreman.

And from no sordid motives did I fulfil these duties. The emergencies of the times we were passing through demanded every sacrifice.

We were struggling for very existence, there was no bright ray of hope, no silver lining to the dark cloud which overshadowed us, the future was a blank, and despondency was everywhere. Nearly every one of the young capital's first merchants came to grief and were blotted out.

I could turn up my journal and show you frequent entries of "Working at the books and accounts until two o'clock in the morning - up again at seven."

In such a crisis of one's fate, when it comes to the point of not making the two ends meet, is it right to keep clerks, and porters, and servants, and be grand, and trust to the future and a kind Providence to get one out of the mess? No, I never believed in that. Providence helps those who help themselves.

When things come to that pass my motto is, "Away with all false pride of station, put shoulder to the wheel, off coat, do the work, and fear not but your reward will come, for there is never degradation in honest labour."

And my reward having come, it is needless to say I have no vain regrets in the past, and I look back with pride, and pleasure to all I went through as a. pioneer settler, and I have now the proud satisfaction of feeling that I fought the battle with a hard-working hand and a willing heart, and if the prize has been mine I have earned it.

Yes, take back again these my grey hairs give me my last two score years to live over again, let me be but one score and two years once more, and gladly would I again be the early settler of Poenaino.

But now that these grey hairs have come, I console myself in the be of that the pilgrim fathers who first dwelt at the infant capital did not live in vain. We who watched over its birth and first foundation, Who, stood by it during all its early struggles and through all its varying fortunes, did our part in developing the resources of the land of our adoption.

And we whom God has been pleased to spare are proud, in this year of grace, to compare the city of to-day with what it was in that long-ago past of which I have now told you so much; to have lived to see the great fern wilderness reclaimed, to have seen the infant settlement unrobe itself of its first primitive garments of brushwood, and of its breakwind fern huts and tents, and outliving its bush mask and wild appearance, enter on the path of progress.

And we have our reward that to-day we see that infant settlement grown into a city and proudly marching along the great broadway of civilisation, and in all her young beauty growing up the slopes of her lovely shores—a city yet destined to be one of the fairest in the world, for what shores more beautiful than hers as they meet the glancing waters of her lake-like harbour? And from the crowning heights of these shores, what landscape more glorious than that which lies spread out in ever-varying beauty, stretching away in the far distance? To the eye it is a continual feast and joy for ever.

Proud am I to think on that shore I have made my home; content am I that on that shore, by the will of God, my own last long resting-place shall be.

CONCLUSION OF NO. 1 MANUSCRIPT.

It is even as I anticipated in my opening words to you, my dear children, and the conclusion of these my reminiscences has been penned in the land in which the scenes I have described took place.

Many years elapsed after closing the First Book before I again took up my pen to continue my narrative.

The banks of Deeside are now only to me a memory of the past. Never again shall I see her waters; never again on her banks shall a salmon rise to my rod; never again shall the grouse on her moors fall to my gun. The bracing moorland air of Braemar I shall never again inhale.

Memories of the past are they all—of a fatherland of long, long ago—memories which ever carry with them a halo of romance.

But a halo dimmed by the remembrances of the Romance and Reality of all that I have gone through in this land of my adoption.

I have told you only a "plain unvarnished tale;" no word of fiction enters into it.

And if the perusal of this manuscript shall be to you a pleasure, to me, the writing it, has been a great solace, when repining at your absence.

All that is left me now to say is, "'What is writ is writ; would it were worthier!"


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