As Captain Cook sailed from Doubtless Bay in the North Island to pursue
his survey of the coast, Admiral de Surville, of the French navy, cast
anchor therein. Unlike his great rival, De Surville remained only long
enough to quarrel with the natives and to kidnap the chief who had
hospitably entertained him.
Three years later, in 1772, Captain Marion du Fresne, with Captain
Crozet as his second in command, anchored in the Bay of Islands. Du
Fresne, or Marion, as he is usually styled, was received with great
friendliness, and for a month Maori and Pakeha excelled one another in
politeness and generosity. Then, quite unexpectedly occurred a shocking
Marion landed one morning with sixteen officers and men, intent upon
pleasure, and with no foreboding of evil. Night fell, morning broke
again, and found them still absent. Yet Crozet felt no suspicion,
for there had been no quarrel. But there had been a clear sign that
something was gravely wrong; only neither Marion nor Crozet was
familiar enough with the Maori mind to perceive it.
The light brightened and, ere the day was many hours old, twelve men
went ashore for wood and water. There was no appearance of unrest;
everything seemed at peace. So the day wore on.
Suddenly all was violently changed. The restful quiet vanished in a
whirl of wild commotion. What had happened? Who was the terrified
creature who, dripping wet, with torn clothes and blood-streaked face,
wearily dragged himself over the rail and dropped exhausted upon the
He was the sole survivor of the twelve who had gone so confidently
ashore; and he told a dreadful tale.
The natives on the beach, he said, received the boat’s crew with their
usual kindliness, chatting and laughing till the sailormen dispersed
and got to work. Then the blow fell. The wretched Frenchmen had scarce
time to become aware of their murderers ere club and spear had done
their work, and all but one lay dead.
This one hid himself, but could not hide from his sight the horrid
sequel; and he told with shaking voice how the Maori had dismembered
his unhappy comrades, taken each his load of human flesh and hurried
from the scene.
Incredible all this sounded in face of that pleasant month of
dalliance; yet the proof was there in that terrified wretch, and
incredulity gave way to wrath and sentiments of vengeance. The
prolonged absence of the commander now took on a sinister aspect, and
Crozet, too, with sixty men, was gone inland to procure a _kauri_-pine.
With such a force he could defy attack; but he must be advised of what
A boat crowded with armed men was pulled ashore, and the march began to
the spot where Crozet was making a road for the hauling of the giant
pine. One can imagine his feelings when his comrades arrived with their
intelligence–the ghastly certainty, the terrible hypothesis.
Sorrowful, but grim, the company marched back to the boats, unmolested
by the mob of natives who shouted the dreadful news that Marion du
Fresne and his escort of sixteen had all been killed and eaten.
Not a word said Crozet until he reached the beach. Then, as the dusky
crowd surged forward, he drew a line upon the sand with the butt of a
musket. “Cross that and die!” he cried. No Maori dared to brave the
dreaded “fire-tubes,” and the Frenchmen embarked and pulled out from
Then began Crozet’s revenge. Safe now from attack, he poured volley
after volley into the mob of Islanders, until the last of them had
fled, shrieking, beyond range. This was not enough. Day followed day
and Maori were shot and villages burned, until Crozet, his vengeance
only partially satisfied, turned in wrath and disgust from the land he
had begun to love.
It all sounds very dreadful. It seems an act of atrocious treachery on
the part of the Maori to have masked their hideous design under an
appearance of friendship; and this was Crozet’s view. But was it the
The sign which he and his unfortunate commander had failed to read was
this: the Maori, after a month of uninterrupted intercourse, _suddenly
ceased to visit the ships_. It was equivalent to the withdrawal of an
ambassador before the declaration of war. Captain Cook, if he had not
understood, would at least have noticed the sign and been on his guard.
Crozet professed to know of no cause of quarrel, yet the Maori had
found one, though not until many years later did the truth come out.
The French, both officers and men, had carelessly–in some cases
wantonly–intruded upon sacred places, destroyed sacred objects,
treated with disrespect certain sacred persons. In other words, they
had violated _tapu_, and the Maori of that day viewed such behaviour
as unpardonable and only to be atoned for by death. Bad as the horrid
business was at the best, it is well to remember the old advice, “Hear
the other side.”
Crozet’s utterances against the Maori were charged with such bitter
execration, that for decades no French ship ventured near the island
homes of those fierce and terrible cannibals. More, the lurid story
spread across the Channel, effectually checking any desire on the part
of the British for closer acquaintance with the wild men of the south.
The reputation of the Maori still had power nearly ten years later to
scare off all but the boldest intruders. Even the worst of criminals
were held undeserving of so outrageous a fate as exposure to the chance
of being devoured by cannibals; and a motion to establish convict
settlements in New Zealand was strongly denounced in the House of
Commons and defeated.
So New Zealand, fortunately for herself, never knew the convict stain,
and rogues were packed off to Australia with leave to reform if they
could. Some, perhaps, did. Others, pestilential ruffians who could not
be tamed even by five hundred lashes on the bare back, were weeded out
and sent to Norfolk Island, another of Captain Cook’s discoveries,
lying some three days’ sail to the north of New Zealand.
This charming island ought also to have escaped the convict infamy,
for it was already occupied by honest settlers. Oddly enough, it was
this very occupation, associated with the needs of commerce, which
helped to overcome the shyness with which men regarded New Zealand,
and eventually induced them to people her beautiful bays and fertile
The new product, the now famous _Phormium tenax_ or New Zealand flax,
samples of which had aroused the greatest enthusiasm in England, set
manufacturers longing for a substance which would lend itself to so
many useful purposes.
The manufacturers had to go longing for many years; for the prospect
of forming the _pièce de résistance_ at the dinner-table of a Maori
chief failed to attract traders, who left New Zealand severely alone.
Then came the settlement of Norfolk Island, and men of commerce were
immensely cheered; for the much-desired _Phormium tenax_ was found
growing there, wild and in profusion.
But the Norfolk Island people failed utterly to manipulate the fibre
as cleverly as the brown men to the south of them, and there was
little use in exporting the fibre in the rough. Besides, their failure
rendered them uncertain whether they had the right plant.
Twenty years after the death of Marion the effect of his tragic story
had not worn off; but instruction being absolutely necessary, and as
only Maori could give it, a couple of them were coolly kidnapped and
carried off to Norfolk Island.
But the biters were bit. One Maori is very like another in the eyes of
the Pakeha, and the kidnapper ignorantly carried off an _ariki_ and a
_rangatira_, men utterly unused to manual work. During the six months
they spent among their abductors not a word had these two to say upon
the all-important subject of cleansing flax-fibre.
“It is women’s work,” they declared with lofty contempt. “What should
_we_ know of it?”
Governor King had some compunction at the manner in which things had
been managed, and at last redressed the wrong. He had treated the chief
and the gentleman with scrupulous courtesy and unvarying kindness
during their enforced stay, and now, after heaping presents upon
them–not the least of which were a bag of seed corn and a drove of
pigs–he took them back with honour to the Bay of Islands.
Generous themselves, the Maori responded heartily to Captain King’s
advances, and their behaviour, together with his own perception of
their unusual intellectuality, induced the Governor to write home
glowing accounts of the New Zealanders, and warmly recommend the
establishment of friendly relations with them. For this good man was
far-seeing, and recognised the capacity for civilisation which lay
beneath the crust of savagery. Therefore, in agreement with Benjamin
Franklin’s previously expressed opinion, he strongly advised that
shiploads of useful iron articles be sent to induce the Maori to
barter, and not beads and such gewgaws, which they most surely despised.
So “out of evil came forth good” and, as the news of the better
disposition of Maori towards Pakeha spread, it was not long before it
began to take effect. And here also Commerce had her say.
Ever since the days of Cook a few bold fellows had ventured upon an
occasional visit to the Dangerous Land in search of whales; for the
regular fishery had not come so far south. Others now began to follow
these adventurers, feeling their way to the good graces of the coast
tribes. There were no more massacres, whales were found in plenty, and
word went forth presently that seals, too, abounded on the coast of
this new and wondrous land.
The news brought more hardy fellows in pursuit of fortune, until,
whereas in 1790 scarce a white man dared show his face off the coast,
the earliest years of the nineteenth century saw a regular trade
established between the whalers and the Maori. The whalers brought the
delighted Islanders iron nails, fish-hooks, knives, axes, bracelets of
metal and many other articles which pleased them well. The Maori in
return brought pigs, fresh vegetables, flax and tall, straight trees
for masts and spars.
Always brave and bold, delighting to ride the waves in their canoes,
and in some cases taking a positive delight in danger, the coast Maori
showed the keenest interest in whaling, regarding it as splendid sport,
to enjoy which they readily shipped as harpooners.
There is no doubt about their aptitude; none about their enjoyment in
the pursuit of the monstrous sea mammal. More than one tale is current
of impatient Maori, fearing to miss the whale even at close quarters,
hurling themselves astride the creature and driving the harpoon deep
into the yielding blubber as the animal dived in a frenzy of terror.
Then from the reddened foam that crested the tumbling waves the brown
men would emerge, clamber aboard the boat and sit dripping, but happy,
while the line ran out like lightning as the stricken whale raced to
So there were bold fellows on either side, each compelling the other’s
respect and admiration by acts of high courage. In this way confidence
grew and friendship followed; so that some of the whites took to
themselves Maori women, and dwelt with the tribes to which their wives
Coarse though this particular variety often was, there is no doubt that
these adventurous Pakeha-Maori (or Strangers turned into Maori) sowed
the earliest seeds of civilisation among the Maori, though it was long
before the plant became acclimatised and brought forth good fruit.
It is often the fate of a new country to receive at first the very
worst elements, and this was the experience of New Zealand. As soon
as it became known that a man might enter her gates without thereby
qualifying for the cooking-pot, an eager crowd of depraved humanity
rushed jostling through. The sealers and whalers were rough, but not a
few were honest fellows, while, as a class, they were refined gentlemen
beside the mob of escaped murderers, thieves, and panderers to moral
filth, which overflowed from the convict-swamped shores of New South
Wales. Had not the Maori, despite their grave faults, been capable
of much better things, they could never have shaken free from the
garments of impurity in which some of the earliest settlers endeavoured
to clothe them. But there was good stuff in the Maori, and, though
they fell often, they continually rose again. One innate virtue they
possessed–that of sobriety. It was rarely that the Pakeha could induce
them to indulge in the “fire-water”–“stink-water” was their name for
it–which has been the ruin of more than one coloured race.
But many years were yet to elapse before the Maori threw off the worst
of their own bad manners, much less improved upon those of their
white instructors, and scenes of violence and bloodshed were to be
enacted before the sons of Maui should dwell together in peace among
themselves, or bend their stubborn necks beneath the yoke of the
Pakeha. From time to time there were terrible outbreaks, and one of the
worst of these was that which is evilly remembered as “The Massacre of
As early as 1805 an English gentleman had induced an adventurous Maori
to accompany him to London, and not a few chiefs had since then paid
visits to Sydney, while others of lower rank had embarked under the
masters of vessels which touched at the Islands. These last were, of
course, subject to the same discipline as the sailors; but, free and
independent as they had always been, this seems to have been a hard
lesson for them to learn. Hence arose misunderstandings, and from one
such was developed the tragedy of the _Boyd_.
On her voyage from Sydney to London in 1809 the ship was to call at
Whangaroa, near the Bay of Islands, to load wood for masts and spars.
Consequently, several Maori who were stranded in Sydney embraced the
opportunity to work their passage back to their own country.
Among these was Tarra, a chief’s son, and he, too proud or, as he
averred, too ill to work, refused to do his duty. Starvation was tried
as a means of cure; but this failing, young Tarra was twice tied up and
Boadicea, bleeding from the rods of the Romans, had not more
indignation than had Tarra when he showed his scars and called upon his
tribe to avenge him upon those who had inflicted them.
Ready enough was the response, for the law of the Maori required them
to take revenge for every injury. The lure was spread, the master of
the _Boyd_ went ashore at Whangaroa with part of his crew, and every
man of them was slain and eaten.
Even then Tarra’s vengeance was not glutted. With his tribe at his
back he boarded the _Boyd_ and killed every person on the ship with the
exception of four. A woman and two children hid themselves, and Tarra
spared the cabin-boy because of some kindness the youngster had once
Singular contrast! The savage, who could go to the most appalling
extremes to satisfy his hate, was, even at the very height of his
murderous wrath, capable of gratitude.
This awful massacre set back for years the clock which had seemed
about to strike the hour for beginning Maori civilisation, while the
resentment of the whites led to a slaughter as wholesale as that which
it was intended to revenge.
On hearing of the massacre of the _Boyd_ a chief named Te Pahi, whose
daughter was wedded to an English sailor, hurried to Whangaroa, and was
instrumental in saving the lives of the woman and two children. His
good deed done, Te Pahi returned to the Bay of Islands, where he lived.
Terrible danger menaced him. In some unexplained way he had got the
credit of having engineered the _Boyd_ affair, and the crews of
five whaling ships, accepting the rumour for truth, condemned the
unfortunate chief unheard, and took bitter vengeance upon him.
Their task was easy, for the village was unfortified and the Maori
wholly unsuspicious. Fully armed, the whalers fell upon the innocent
people, sorely wounded the chief, and slew some two-score persons
without regard to age or sex. Te Pahi himself escaped in the confusion,
only to be killed not long afterwards by some of his own race because
of the help he had given to the survivors of the _Boyd_. Doubly
unfortunate was poor Te Pahi.
Thus bad began and worse remained behind. During the next decade
numbers of tribesmen fell beneath the weapons of casual white visitors,
while the Maori, on their side, smote with club and spear, and gathered
as deadly a toll.
The country seemed drifting back into that state of savagery whence it
had promised a short time before to emerge. It might have done so, but
that at this juncture occurred an event which laid the true foundations
of civilisation, and heralded that peace which, though long in coming,
came at last.