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Authentic and genuine: Why you might sidestep the histories and read the voices of the past

November 4th, 2019 By Richard McIntosh

I'm often asked by people to recommend a book to read that'll connect them to He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirani or Te Tiriti o Waitangi. A single text to make sense of the joys, cynicisms and contradictions of our country's politics and history. My reply is always, ‘Have you thought about reading the accounts of people who were there?'

These first-hand accounts are scoured by historians for nuggets of support to place into their books and support their view of history. Reading histories is a great start to understanding who we are and how we got here but even more interesting is looking at the material the historians used in writing a history and allowing yourself to make your own judgements.

So I say to people you'll learn from the histories but you'll seethe, laugh, meditate, time-travel or all four at once when you dive into the original texts. And anyway my favourite bits never made it into the history books. I'll have hit the mark with this blog if it encourages you to connect with times past through the eyes and ears of those who were there.

Foreign view

A glimpse of New Zealand after 1769 from Charles Terry's New Zealand, its advantages and prospects as a British colony reveals foreign nations' view of the status of the country before He Whakaputanga. Māori are absent — he could have been talking about Antarctica:

During this long period, the Islands being under no ostensible government or authority were universally considered by vessels of all nations neutral ground and free ports. (Terry, 1842, p.5)

Charles Darwin's burns

I never connected Darwin with New Zealand until I read The Voyage of the Beagle and discovered to my surprise and delight that he had been in the Bay of Islands a few weeks after the signing of He Whakaputanga. Surprise became amusement to discover he mostly hated it and upon leaving summed up his time here with this elegant burn:

In the afternoon we stood out of the Bay of Islands on our course to Sydney. I believe we were all glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place. Amongst the natives there is absent that charming simplicity found at Tahiti; and the greater part of the English are the very refuse of society. Neither is the country itself attractive. I look back to but one bright spot, and that is Waimate, with its Christian inhabitants. (Darwin, 1839, p.158)

Certainly contra my fond memories of growing up in the North and playing rugby league there. However, any disappointment I may have harboured about the great naturalist's verdict disappeared at the end of the following chapter:

After several tedious delays from clouded weather, on the 14th of March, we gladly stood out of King George's Sound on our course for Keeling Island. Farewell Australia! You are a rising child, and doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South; but you are too great and ambitious for affection; yet not great enough for respect. I leave your shores with neither sorrow or regret. (Darwin, 1839, p.182)

A drink of water in New Zealand

Where Darwin revealed himself unable to cope with anything beyond the mission station garden Ulsterman Frederick Maning survived and even prospered.

Richard Maning
Artist unknown. F. E. Maning, 1841?. Ref: 1/2-007899-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The many lessons he learned, gained through years of adversity in 1830s Hokianga, populate his Old New Zealand: Being Incidents of Native Customs and Character in the Old Times by A Pakeha Maori . Here the problem lies in identifying the correct line of conduct when asked for a drink:

A native whose personal tapu was perhaps of the strongest, might, when at the house of a pakeha, ask for a drink of water; and the pakeha, being green, would hand him some water in a glass, or, in those days, more probably in a tea-cup; the native would drink the water, and then gravely and quietly break the cup to pieces, or otherwise he would appropriate it by causing it to vanish under his mat. The new pakeha would immediately fly into a passion, to the great astonishment of the native; who considered as a matter of course, that the cup or glass was, in the estimation of the pakeha, a very worthless article, or he would not have given it into his hand and allowed him to put it to his head, the part most strongly infected by the tapu. Both parties would be surprised and displeased; the native wondering what could have put the pakeha into such a taking, and the pakeha “wondering at the rascal's impudence, and what he meant by it?” (Maning, 1863, p.115)

Joel Polack's observations

So things were different here! But there seems to be a widely-held view that the Māori didn't know what they were doing when the Treaty was signed. I think this must have begun with self-serving missionaries and officials thinking they had to treat Māori as children. This notion is skewered by Kororareka businessman Joel Polack — who shared with missionaries neither beliefs nor interests — in New Zealand: Being a Narrative of Travels and Adventures During a Residence in that Country Between the Years 1831 and 1837:

The natives, within the last five years, are fully alive to the value of land from the daily increasing intercourse with foreigners, and travelling themselves, as they do throughout every part of their country, besides frequently visiting the Australian Colonies, Great Britain, the United States, and in several instances the Continent of Europe. I have met with many New Zealanders in the various whaling parts of North America. (Polack, 1838, p.215)

Tāreha rejects the bait

A prominent Bay of Islands critic of missionary effort, Tāreha of Ngāti Rēhia, was at Waitangi on the 28th of October to sign He Whakaputanga and was there again on the 5th and 6th of February 1840 to debate Te Tiriti. 

Sketches in New Zealand, 1845 by Rev. Philip Peters Agnew. File Number: FL496324. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

William Colenso, in his Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, recorded the chief's symbolic and rhetorical rejection of the British proposal:

“To think of tempting men — us natives — with baits of clothing and of food! Yes, I say we are the chiefs. If all were to be alike, all equal in rank with thee — but thou, the Governor up high — up, up, as this tall paddle” (here he held up a common canoe paddle), “and I down, under, beneath! No, no, no. I will never say, “Yes, stay.' Go back, return; Let me see you all go, thee and thy ship. Go, go; return, return.”

Tāreha was clothed with a filthy piece of coarse old floor-matting, loosely tied around him, such as is used by the commonest Natives merely as a floor mat under their bedding. He was evidently dressed up in this fashion in order the more effectually to ridicule the supposition of the New-Zealanders being in want of any extraneous aid of clothing, &c., from foreign nations. (Tāreha quoted by Colenso, 1890, p.25)

Sardonic genius

Feel the sarcasm in this remark wash over you via the diary of Robert Burrows, CMS superintendent at Waimate North.

Hone Heke
Joseph Jenner Merrett, 1846. The warrior chieftains of New Zealand. Hone Heke is the centre figure. Ref: C-012-019. Alexander Turnbull Library.

This conversation with Hone Heke Pokai can be found in his Extracts from a Diary during Heke's War in the North in 1845:

Monday, May 26. — Saw Heke to-day. The Treaty of Waitangi came under discussion. To my reply that I fully concurred in what Archdeacon Williams had again and again told him, namely, that that document was their salvation, he looked at me and said: “I suppose those rockets and guns fired at our pa at Mawe must be taken as evidence of the truth of what you say.” (Burrows, 1886, p.32)

The Empire tastes defeat

So the Treaty ended in war five years after its signing and remains a frozen conflict: many battle sites unmarked and its voices mostly unknown. Cyprian Bridge commanded a storming party in the British defeat by Kawiti at the battle of Ohaeawai.

A formal painting of Cyprian Bridge dressed in his army uniform. He is standing with his hand on a chair.
Cyprian Bridge, colonel 58th Regiment. Online Cenotaph. Auckland Museum.

Read his Journal of events on expedition to New Zealand at the Alexander Turnbull Library. These from the day of the battle, July 1st 1845:

At 3 all fell in & the attacking parties one under my command & the other under Major McPherson were marched off to our respective stations preparatory to making the attack. What were then the thoughts of many a brave fellow whose spirit might soon be wafted into eternity? — as for myself I only thought of my darling wife and poor old mother & how deeply they would feel my loss if I fell in this engagement. & I offered up a prayer to almighty God to grant me his protection for their sakes. (Bridge, 1847, p.59)

And in the aftermath:

It was nearly dark before we returned to Camp — tired & dispirited & disgusted beyond expression by having been defeated by a Mob of Savages & with such fearful loss too – exclusive of officers there were found to be 74 n.c. officers & Privates wounded & 36 killed or missing. (Bridge, 1847, p.60)

Painting a picture of the past

Thank goodness things like Cyprian Bridge's diary have survived to paint a picture of the past. Who knows what's been lost? The fact is we all deal with the weight of the past whether we are conscious of it or not. It's much easier to live with it when you have a relationship of sorts with the people who were there.

Māori voices

Most of the voices mentioned in this blog are European voices or Europeans reporting on Māori voices. Where are the Māori voices I hear you ask? Māori remember and not much of what they said in the early 1800s has made it into print. There are some examples  including Hone Heke’s letters to Fitzroy and Grey, but more importantly, his mōteatea (traditional chant) and whakataukī  (proverbs) are widely recited in the North. Shane Jones recalled one of these at the opening of He Tohu. 

Hone Heke's letters to Fitzroy and Grey

Another example of the printed Māori voice is Renata Kawepo's book Ko te haerenga o Renata . This book is the earliest Māori writing of significant size. Written in te reo Māori and later translated to English, the book is an account by Renata Kawepo Tama ki Hikurangi of an arduous journey undertaken in 1843-44. Renata was a member of Bishop Augustus Selwyn's party visiting Anglican mission posts throughout the North Island and Nelson Province. Well worth a read.

Renata Tama Ki Hikurangi Kawepo
Renata Tama-Ki-Hikurangi Kawepo. Ref: 1/4-022121-G. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Seek out voices of the past

That's why you should seek out their voices. Most of the voices I've mentioned are connected with the Treaty. There are other voices from that time talking about a variety of things. They include Maria Atkinson. Gilbert Mair, Renata Kawepo, Sir William Martin, and Octavius Hadfield.

Also of interest are the papers of Sir Donald McLean on Papers Past. The papers include almost 3000 letters from Māori correspondents, which are the largest surviving series of nineteenth-century Māori letters. McLean was a fluent Māori speaker and was a confident participant at the many Māori hui (meetings) he attended throughout the country.  His work took him on many expeditions to meet with Māori leaders, which he carefully documented in his diaries and notebooks. The papers, therefore, provide a particularly rich record of interactions between Government and Māori at this time.

The list goes on. Most of them can be read online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre or Early New Zealand Books.

Owing to being the nearest British outpost, there is also loads of early New Zealand material - like the picture of Tāreha above — in the State Library of New South Wales. And of course, all of them are at the Alexander Turnbull Library or in the links I've mentioned in this blog. Read on ...

National Library catalogue

Turnbull archival collections

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Gavin Pascoe
11 February 2020 12:52pm

I should have supplied the source: New Zealand. Further papers relative to the affairs of New Zealand. Correspondence with Governor Grey. HMSO 1848

Gavin Pascoe
11 February 2020 12:51pm

One of my absolute favourites: This is a letter Waka Nene wrote to Cyprian Bridge:

Te Ahuahu, February 14, 1848

Friend the major:

Hone (Heke) and I am here at the Ahuahu ; we are waiting for you and the captain of the man-of-war to come and see "Hone Heke:" come you two to-morrow and likewise bring some tobacco.

Come, do not you delay, bring some tobacco. Oh, captain of the "Calliope," let there be plenty of tobacco.

From Waka Nene, Tamati Waka.

Megan Hutching
8 November 2019 4:22pm

Nice piece, thank you, but thinking that it would be good to ‘hear’ some women’s voices, too, how about:
Cath Ross, _Missionary Women: Rediscovering missionary wives in early New Zealand_, Penguin, 2006, which has some quotes from missionary women about their experiences in the early 19th century.
Also, at the Turnbull: Juliette Deane - her memoirs as a girl, covering the years 1842-55 in Wellington
Mary Ann Petre - her diary from 1842-44
Catherine Ralfe’s reminiscences
And at the Kinder Library at St John’s Theological College in Auckland, Eliza White’s journals covering the years between 1829 and 1836
I’m sure there are many more.