Morning dawned as calmly and
serenely as the preceding evening, had sunk into night.
Daylight came struggling
faintly and indistinctly into the tent when I awoke that morning from one
long unbroken slumber.
I well remember—so vivid had
been my dreams of home—that when I first awoke I could hardly realise that I
lay on a bed of fern, but I thought that I must still be at home, and that
my life since I left it was a dream from which I had not yet woke up.
But rub my eyes as I would I
still saw the tented roof overhead, and the Maori language fell on my ear
from without the tent, and the hound snuffing up the morning air stretched
himself out with a yawning whine, and ended by giving a suppressed short
bark, and putting his cold nose into my face, as if wishing me the most
affectionate of greetings in my new home—which greeting he administered also
to my still sleeping companion, and so awoke him.
"I suppose we are lying in a
tent on a fern bed on the round—that that is the sea out there—that this is
Motu Korea, our new home, though I have been dreaming my old one so vividly
that it has taken me some time to realise the true position of my life and
precise time of its existence."
It was thus I awoke, throwing
off my blanket and jumping up.
And I also would most
certainly have believed that I awoke in 'Auld Reekie,' only on such pure air
as this is to be had there, and one is not in the habit of having the cold
nose of a dog pushed into ones face in one's bed in a civilised land, so I
suppose I must confess to being really where I am, however difficult that
very simple problem may be. I had better follow your example and get up, and
as I do not hear any waves breaking on the beach, it will be a splendid
morning for us to paddle round the island and examine all its nooks and
corners in our canoe.
On issuing from the tent we
found the dawn fast chasing away all traces of night from the east, but to
the west we still saw some lingering stars "with lessening rays" shining "to
greet the early morn," ushering in the lovely day when Motu Korea to us was
born—that is a little bit of a travesty of Burns's loveliest of poems, but
it reads naturally enough if it does not smack of true poetry.
The sky was cloudless, not a
breath of air stirred, the reflection of the little mountain glassed itself
in the smooth surface of the surrounding water.
The dew-scent rose fresh on
all sides, for the vegetation around glistened with the pearly drops and
seemed struggling through a crystal bath, so heavily lay the dew.
We might have washed
ourselves in dew, but we were not quite nymphs, and were not enacting the
poetry of life, so a tin basin, on a lump of scoria rock for a washstand, if
neither poetical nor romantic, was much more practical and appropriate for
the work we had before us.
Whilst our open-air toilet
was being performed, the Maories were launching the canoe for us into deep
water, the tide having left it high and dry on the beach.
As we took our places in the
canoe, Tartar—for the good old Kanini had given us the hound as a parting
gift—scrambled in, and wished to make one of the party; but as he might, by
jumping on the side, make the canoe rather unsteady for safe paddling, We
dispensed with his company and made him jump out again. Seeing that the
canoe skirted inshore, lie scampered along the beach in close attendance.
In the course of a couple of
hours we had made the complete circuit of our little sea-girt possession,
and had explored every little bay.
We sat down on a scoria stone
with a keen relish for our breakfast. Pork and potatoes never tasted
better—tea was hardly wanted to wash down the meal. A good wholesome
appetite, whetted by our morning's paddle, had also a relish given to it by
time knowledge of what our morning's excursion had disclosed to us, for we
were enchanted with all we had seen along the shore of the island, and we
were in full hope that our inland exploration would confirm our first
impression that we had fallen on quite a little prize, and that our new and
lonely home would excel our fondest hopes and expectations.
After breakfast we saw Pama
start in the boat with his crew bound on a visit to Waipehmais station at
the Manukau. This, mission from Waiomu, determined upon by Waipeha very soon
after our arrival at Herekino, had been a very opportune one for us as it
afforded us the opportunity of crossing the gulf in the good new boat of
Pama's building, which was large enough to take our canoe in tow, and thus
bring us comfortably to the island. But though we had arrived safely we had
not done so without having encountered some risk of losing our canoe.
The fact was, the boat was
much too deeply laden, and a strong breeze blowing up the gulf, with a
strong tide flowing down it, had raised such a "jabble of a sea" that we ran
some risk of being swamped, and we had to throw overboard some bags of salt,
destined for Waipeha's station, to lighten the boat. We were very near being
obliged to cast off the canoe, which, of course, became too heavy a drag in
Pama was to call again at the
island in a day or two on his way back to Herekino, and I promised to be
ready to accompany him part of the way. I was bound on a small voyage down
the inlet to present certain credentials with which Kanini had armed us.
They were addressed to a sub-tribe, who were commanded to go to the island
and build his Pakehas a whare.
The letter was not an
absolute command, but was in reality equivalent to one, so I knew I was not
starting on a wild-goose chase, without a certainty of being able to get
back to the island within a given time—always making due allowance for Maori
So we saw Pama pull away
round the reef—the very reef which Waipelia had bumped us in the dark that
night when a certain number of visionaries were township-site-hunting and
came to grief, as it has been my task to tell you.
How little did "we twa" then
think how well we should come to know that reef, and how many would be the
dish of oysters we should gather off it.
Here, then, we were, with
Tartar as company, all alone in our glory to lord it over each other in our
own small dominion. In order to get a complete view of this in a coup d'hote
we at once determined to ascend our little island's little mountain. A
quarter of an hour's rough scramble from the base, and we stood on its
summit. We were not a little surprised to discover, en route, signs that the
island had once been inhabited. There were long lines of stone walls here
and there, and the usual six-foot-high fern was replaced by a short
dry-looking grass—a sure sign that the land had been cropped for many and
many a year, so as to have completely eradicated the fern. The sides of the
hill were so thickly covered with scoria that the fern was comparatively of
As we approached the very
summit, the scoria became much smaller, redder, and burnt-looking, and on
fairly gaining the top all doubt of the island's volcanic origin was set at
rest, for we found an extinct crater at least a hundred feet deep, its sides
all round as regular in shape as a punch-bowl. The upper rim had a radius of
some hundreds of yards. On the outer slope of the hill which we had
traversed in our ascent we had crossed several well-deflned terraces scooped
out with great regularity, the lowest some fourteen feet in width, each
higher one narrowing successively.
There was no doubt whatever
that the island had been used as a stronghold and place of refuge in long-
bygone days, and the terraces were the points of defence. In these later
days, when the scrub and thick fern have given place to the bright green
verdure of the grass which now covers the slopes of these volcanic hills,
you can ride to the summits of many, and see extinct craters far surpassing
in size that of little Motu Korea, but none of more perfect form.
I am afraid the next forty
years will do as little as the past forty years have done in any light on
past history of the aboriginal people who actually terraced all those
volcanic hills. Traditions there are of battles fought by some great chief,
and the spots are localised by the names of volcanic mountains, but no
thrilling tale is ever told of how one terrace after another was lost or
gained, and the pah on the summit stormed.
I believe the generations of
a far earlier race, once thickly populating the land, and of whom we have no
traditions whatever, were the artificers who scarped the vast works on many
mountains. The only record is a stray skull or two, the cranial development
of which, compared with that of the Maori skull of the present day, shows as
great a difference as between that of the Briton of to-day and that of the
Briton of the days of Julius Ceasar. And the Briton of that day would not
compare with the Maori of our day; they had only one feature in common, I
think—both used war-paint.
As we walked round the crater
margin we could survey, lying at our feet, the whole of our little sea- girt
possession, and we were as proud of it as if it had been a small kingdom
instead of a speck of an island of some hundred and fifty acres, for such
proved to be its area.
We were surprised and
delighted to find that there was a good deal of level land, for when passing
the island it looked as if there were little save the crater-hill arising
from the water. We now saw, however, that fine rich land lay all around the
base of the hill, and quite a long level flat stretched away from one end
towards the mainland.
Altogether it was a lovely
place—pretty little bays were inclosed by picturesque headlands, all having
some distinctive peculiarity. Then there arose from the level land near the
base of the crater several little sugarloaf hills covered with rich
brushwood. These hills could only have been formed by some immense shower of
ashes vomited forth by the volcano, which, coming down vertically, had
concentrated on one spot, forming these small pyramids.
One thing afforded us immense
satisfaction—we saw a small pool of water in the centre of the level land.
Old Kanini had told us of a spring on the eastern shore, but had not said
anything about water in the centre of the island. The landscape from all
points of view appeared to us as lovely then as it does now, and when you
return with me to that far-off land, my children, you shall one day stand on
the same spot and feast your own eyes on the landscape.
We saw Orakei Bay, and
remembered our "ragout the Incomparable," and behind the bay arose Mount
Remuera, from which we had first seen and coveted Motu Korea, and now,
behold! we stood on Mount Motu Korea the owners of the soil, and our hopes
were realised that we should pitch our tent on its shore and abide the
wished-for event—the foundation of the capital of the colony by the Crown of
Descending from our "high
estate," we began exploring all the bays from the land point of inspection,
having already done so by water, so as to determine the best locality in
which to raise the roof-tree of our future home.
We finally fixed upon a spot
with a snug little beach, protected on one side by a reef—very necessary,
for our canoe, for it was the most valuable of all our worldly possessions.
From this spot, too, the mainland could be soonest reached, so we determined
that here we would have our whare built—provided we succeeded in procuring
water, for which we should be obliged to sink a well.
Water close at hand was the
one thing absolutely indispensable, for we should require to act the beast
of burden role quite enough, without having to carry water to a distance
from the spring, wherever we might find one. We should have to be our own
"hewers of wood," so the nearer we could do the "drawing of water" the
Having in our mind's eye
fixed on a spot for the house, we there and then cleared away the brushwood
and fern where we intended to begin sinking a well the first thing next
morning. As we had our hatchets with us, it did not take us much time to do
the small piece of clearing required. We then turned homewards to the tent,
collecting as we walked along the beach a back-load of drift-wood, which was
in due time deposited at the tent-door.
Sunset saw two great landed
proprietors, monarchs of all they surveyed—provided they did not look beyond
the island itself--busy cooking their own dinner.
And that same day that Motu
Korea was born to them, the day that they walked from sunrise to sunset over
their own broad acres, that day saw those great lords of the soil for the
first time in their lives acting as their own cooks and getting their own
And in after-life they
actually boasted of having arrived at this menial degradation.
Yes, they lived to see the
day when the well appointed coal-merchant's waggon deposited the black
diamonds of the colony's own production at villa residences where then grew
fern and nature reigned supreme—villa residences in the suburbs of the town
they were then waiting to see founded, whose locality even had not then been
Yes, they lived to see this,
and ever recalled with pride and pleasure that first day when they were
their own cooks in the little island of Motu Korea!
Next morning we "twa" had
risen before the sun, and shaking the dew from off the brushwood as we
pushed our way through it in going towards the well-site, we soon had our
coats off, and went at it with a will as well-sinkers. We thought it wise to
make the best of the cool of the morning for our new occupation; so, spell
and spell about, we went at it, digging through one foot after another of
beautiful rich volcanic soil, so that we began to wish with all our hearts
it was not so deeply rich and would but change to clay to give us some hope
Towards midday that rich soil
gave no indication of coming to an end, so we beat a retreat to the reef
close at hand, and as it was low water it had bared an immense oyster-field.
We went at that now for a change, and made an onslaught to the tale of a
terrible number could it only have been totted up—in fact, until we were
almost as tired of eating oysters as we had been in trying to get through
the volcanic soil in the well—that was never to be for, alas ! we dug, and
we dug, until we had both to take a spell—strolling through the brushwood
and then another turn at the well, and then another turn at the oyster-bed;
but the volcanic soil fairly got the best of us and drove us off
At last the slanting rays of
the setting sun, not down the well but aboveground, warned us we had certain
culinary duties to undertake before sunset, and having gone through some
twelve feet of soil with no indications of a change, we concluded that we
must go farther and try to fare better by trying a new locality quite away
from this rich flat and nearer the base of the hill.
If we had been disappointed
in not getting water, certes we had not been so in finding a depth of rich
soil, if that was any compensation.
And thus our second day was
spent on the island.
The next morning we chose a
much more beautiful spot for the house; it was charmingly picturesque,
facing straight up the harbour, but there was no shelter on the beach in
front for our canoe; but it would obviously be much better to have to go
some distance when we wanted our canoe, which would be but seldom after all,
than to have to fetch from a distance the ever-needed supply of water.
Good luck came to us on our
second trial, for we found a break in the land quite a short distance behind
the new site we had chosen for the house, and we had not sunk six feet
before we came to a clay subsoil, and before the day was done we rejoiced in
a well with water coming freely, and the next morning we awoke to find four
feet of fine clear water—a supply which never gave out, and withstood all
our household attempts to lessen the quantity.
On the afternoon of the
following day Pama made his appearance from Orakei on way back to Waiou,
fulfilling his promise to call for me and land me at the Ngatitais'
settlement at Omapuhia.
So I had to leave Tartar to
take care of his other master and the other master to take care of Tartar,
and both of them to see that the island did not run away before I came back
This I promised to do with as
much speed as was compatible with the take-it-easy and never-in-a-hurry
character of Tongata Maori.