Early in the morning we entered the Bay of Islands, being becalmed near the mouth for some hours; we did not reach the anchorage till the middle of the day. — The country is hilly but with a smooth outline; & it is deeply intersected by numerous arms extending from the Bay. The surface appears from a distance as if clothed with coarse pasture, but this in truth is nothing but fern. On the more distant hills, as well as in patches in some of the valleys, there is a good deal of Woodland. The general tint however of the landscape is not a very bright green, but resembles the country a short distance to the Southward of Concepcion in Chili. — In several parts of the Bay, close down to the waters edge, little villages of square tidy looking houses were scattered. Three Whaling Ships were lying at anchor; but with the exception of these & of a few canoes now & then crossing from one shore to the other an air of extreme quietness reigned over the whole district. — Only one single canoe came alongside; this & the whole scene afforded a remarkable & not very pleasing contrast to our joyful boisterous welcome at Tahiti.
In the afternoon we went on shore to one of the larger groups of houses, which yet hardly deserves the title of a village. It's name is Pahia; it is the residence of the Missionaries, & with the exception of their servants & labourers there are no native residents. — In the vicinity of the Bay of Islands, the number of Englishmen including their families amounts to between two & three hundred; all the cottages, many of which are whitewashed, & look as I have said very neat, are the property of Englishmen. The hovels of the natives are so diminutive & paltry that they can scarcely be perceived from any distance. — At Pahia it was quite pleasing to behold in the platforms before the houses so many English flowers; there were roses of several kinds, honeysuckle, jessamine, stocks & whole hedges of sweet briar.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
At daylight we were about four miles from Cape Brett, and nearly the same distance from Point Pococke; while in the north-west the Cavalle islands showed themselves indistinctly. A light easterly breeze enabled us to steer towards the Bay of Islands.—Few places are easier of access than this bay: excepting the Whale-rock, whose position is well ascertained, there are no hidden dangers: and within the line of the heads, there is little or no current deserving notice: outside that line, the current generally sets to the south-east about a mile an hour.
Compared with mountainous countries, the northern parts of New Zealand are not high; but they cannot be described as low land. Perhaps the expression, 'moderately high land,' may convey an idea of such as is more than two hundred, but less than twelve hundred feet above the level of the sea; which are the limits I have in view. In distant profile the land inclines too much to regular and convex outlines to be picturesque. It is only along the sea-coast that steep cliffs, and a more broken boundary, cause enough variety to please the eye of a lover of landscape. Approaching nearer, the interior of the country, varied by hill and valley, with an agreeable mixture of woodland and cleared ground, makes a favourable impression upon the mind, from the natural association of ideas of capability and cultivation; but whether it pleases the eye, as a picture, must depend probably as much upon the kind of scenery lately viewed, as upon preconceived ideas. With us the recent impressions caused by Otaheite, rendered the view of New Zealand, though novel, rather uninteresting.
Cape Brett is a bold promontory, higher than any neighbouring land. When first seen from a distant offing, while no other land is in sight, it makes like a quoin-shaped island. As the sea around is free from danger, it is an excellent landfall for shipping approaching this part of the coast. Detached from, but near the cape, is the rock, with a hole or archway through it, named by Cook, 'Piercy Islet.'
Point, or rather Cape Pococke, is a steep cliffy headland, of a dark colour, rather picturesque in its appearance: near it there is a conical rocky islet. Numerous islands, small and large, are scattered over the bay; an expanse of water really about ten miles square, though to the eye it appears much smaller, because so many islands intercept the view.
Near the middle of the west side of the bay is the opening of Kororareka Harbour, a secure but shallow port; better adapted to merchant shipping than to the use of men-of-war.
After passing Cape Pococke, and advancing about a mile, a small settlement appeared in the northern bight of the bay; and the English look of the houses was very gratifying to us. This, I found, was Tipuna, or Rangihoua, the place where the first settlement of white men was made upon the shores of New Zealand. On the farther side of Kororareka other houses were then seen—neat, and apparently comfortable dwellings, well situated under the lee of the western hills, while close by, on our right hand, a curious line of flat-topped black rocks, a few feet only above the water, reminded us of the remains of a great mole.
Within the line from Cape Pococke to Cape Brett there is not more than thirty fathoms of water; and every where, excepting close to the rocks, the bottom is soft and tenacious, so that an anchor may be let go in any part. We saw small straggling villages of native huts in many places, and around each of them a substantial fence of palisaded posts and rails. These fences, and the cultivated spots of ground which appear as you proceed up the bay, might give a more favourable idea of the native habits than they yet deserve; for the fences are fortifications—defences against intruding men, not cattle.
In a conspicuous solitary position, opposite to the entrance of Kororareka harbour, a single English house, without another building within a mile of it, nor any protection except that of a tall staff, on which waved the British Union-jack, presented a contrast to the fortified villages; and forcibly impressed one's mind with a conviction of the great influence already obtained over the formerly wild cannibals of New Zealand.
The entrance to the harbour is narrow, even to the eye, but it is still more confined by shoal water. In entering or leaving it, a ship ought to keep close to Kororareka Point: after rounding that point, at the distance of a cable's length, the sheltered part of the port is seen, looking like the mouth of a navigable river. On the western side, the native village of Kororareka, a straggling collection of low huts, strongly palisaded; on the eastern, three or four English houses, the head-quarters of the missionaries; on the rising ground, near the water, far up the harbour, several more houses and villages—gave an appearance of population and successful exertion as surprising as satisfactory. Near a detached house of European form, a large white ensign excited our curiosity; and we found it was the flag of New Zealand; differing only from the ensign of St. George in the upper 'canton,' next the staff, where, instead of a Union-jack, there is a red cross on a blue field; each quarter of the blue field being 'pierced' by a white star.
We anchored between Kororareka and Paihia (the missionary settlement): farther up the harbour were several whale-ships which had anchored there, I was told, in order to avoid the spirit-shops of Kororareka.
From this anchorage the view on all sides is pleasing. An appearance of fertility every where meets the eye; but there are no grand or very remarkable features. There is nothing in the outward character of the country corresponding to the ferocious sanguinary disposition of its aboriginal inhabitants. The British resident, some English settlers, and two of the native chiefs came on board during the afternoon; and in the evening I made acquaintance with Mr. Baker, a missionary residing at Paihia. The resident's boat was manned by young Zealanders, whose smooth faces, cropped hair, Scotch caps, and jackets and trowsers, were much approved of (perhaps hypocritically), by a chief whose long war-canoe was well-manned by athletic savages with half-naked figures, faces deeply-scarred—rather than tattowed—and long curly hair.
We were amused by finding that the Beagle had been mistaken for a ship of the (so called) Baron de Thierry. Her small size; the number of boats; and her hoisting a white ensign (thought to be that of New Zealand), so completely deceived them all, that one boat only approached reluctantly, after we had anchored, to reconnoitre; but as soon as it was known that the expected intruder had not arrived, visitors hastened on board. Had he made such an experiment, he would hardly have escaped with life, so inveterate and general was the feeling then existing against his sinister and absurd attempt. He would indeed have found himself in a nest of hornets.
In walking about the missionary establishment at Paihia, I was disappointed by seeing the natives so dirty, and their huts looking little better than pigstyes. Immediately round the dwellings of the missionaries I expected a better state of things; but I was told, that their numerous and increasing avocations engrossed all their time; and that the native population were slow in adopting habits, or even ideas, of cleanliness.
My first impression, upon seeing several New Zealanders in their native dress and dirtiness was, that they were a race intermediate between the Otaheitans and Fuegians; and I afterwards found that Mr. Stokes and others saw many precise resemblances to the Fuegians, while every one admitted their likeness to the Otaheitans. To me they all seem to be one and the same race of men, altered by climate, habits, and food; but descended from the same original stock.
Of a middle size, spare, but strong frame, and dark complexion, the New Zealander's outward appearance is much in his favour; hardiness and activity, as may be expected, he eminently possesses. The expression of his features indicates energy, quickness of apprehension, without much reflection; and a high degree of daring. Ferocity is a striking trait in the countenances of many among the older men, and it is increased considerably by the savage style in which their faces are disfigured, or, as they think, ornamented by lines cut in the skin with a blunt-edged iron tool, and stained black. These lines are certainly designed with as much taste, even elegance, as could possibly be exerted in such disfiguring devices. The expression which, it appears, is anxiously desired, is that of a demon-warrior.
The lines upon the face are not, however, arbitrary marks, invented or increased at the caprice of individuals, or the fancy of the operator who inflicts the torture; they are heraldic ornaments, distinctions far more intelligible to the natives of New Zealand than our own armorial bearings are to many of us, in these unchivalric days. Young men have but few: slaves, born in bondage, or taken young, have scarcely any marks; but the older men, especially the more distinguished chiefs, are so covered with them that the natural expression of face is almost hidden under an ornamented mask. One object of the tattowing, is to prevent change of features after middle age. Some of the women, whom the missionaries endeavoured to persuade not to follow this practice, said, "Let us have a few lines on our lips, that they may not shrivel when we are old."
Every one has heard of, and many people have seen the war-dance. What exaggerated distortions of human features could be contrived more horrible than those they then display? What approach to demons could human beings make nearer than that which is made by the Zealanders when infuriating, maddening themselves for battle by their dance of death!
The hair of a New Zealander is naturally luxuriant, though rather coarse; its rough, free curliness in an unadorned, almost untouched state, heightens that expression of untameable ferocity which is so repulsive in the older men, especially in those of inferior degree. Many of the young women are good-looking; and they dress their hair with some pains, and not a little oil.
Although cannibalism and infanticide have ceased in the northern parts of New Zealand, the aboriginal race is decreasing. The natives say frequently, 'The country is not for us; it is for the white men!' and they often remark upon their lessening numbers. Change of habits, European diseases, spirits, and the employment of many of their finest young men in whale-ships (an occupation which unhappily tends to their injury), combine to cause this diminution. Wearing more clothes (especially thick blankets), exposes them to sudden colds, which often end fatally. We were surprised at seeing almost every native wrapped up in a thick blanket, perhaps even in two or three blankets, while we were wearing thin clothing.
The countenances of some of the men (independent of the tattowing) are handsome, according to European ideas of line beauty. Regular, well-defined, and high features are often seen; but they are exceptions, rather than the usual characteristics. Generally speaking, the New Zealander has a retreating and narrow forehead—rather wide, however, at the base; a very prominent brow; deeply-sunk black eyes, small and ever restless; a small nose, rather hollow, in most cases, though occasionally straight or even aquiline, with full nostrils; the upper lip is short, but that and the lower are thick; the mouth rather wide; white and much blunted teeth; with a chin neither large nor small, but rather broad. Some have higher and better heads, and a less marked expansion of brow, nostrils, and lips; others, again, are the reverse: usually, their eyes are placed horizontally; but some are inclined, like those of the Chinese, though not remarkably; indeed not so much so as those of a Scotchman whom I met there. Among the women I noticed a general depression of the bridge of the nose, and a flat frontal region.
Few engravings, or paintings, show the real expression, features, or even colour of the Polynesian tribes. They give us a half naked, perhaps tattowed man or woman; but the countenance almost always proves the European habits of the artist. The features have a European cast, quite different from the original, and the colouring is generally unlike; especially in coloured engravings.
The general complexion of both women and men is a dark, coppery-brown; but it varies from the lightest hue of copper to a rich mahogany or chocolate, and in some cases almost to black. The natural colour of the skin is much altered by paint, dirt, and exposure. Before closing this slight description of the personal appearance of the Zealanders, I must allude to the remarkable shape of their teeth. In a white man the enamel usually covers all the tooth, whether front or double; but the teeth of a man of New Zealand are like those of the Fuegians, and at a first glance remind one of those of a horse. Either they are all worn down—canine, cutting-teeth, and grinders—to an uniform height, so that their interior texture is quite exposed, or they are of a peculiar structure.
The New Zealanders' salutation has often been talked of as 'rubbing noses,' it is, in fact, touching, or crossing them; for one person gently presses the bridge of his nose across that of his friend. Mr. Darwin informed me that when a woman expects to be saluted by a person of consequence, in the 'nose pressing' manner, she sits down and makes a droll grunting noise, which is continued, at intervals, until the salute has been given.
The usual manner of the native is very inferior. Accustomed to a low, wretched dwelling, and to crouching in a canoe, his habitual posture of rest is squatting on his hams, or upon the ground, with his knees up to his chin; hence, also, his limbs are rather inferior in their shape. But arouse his spirit, set him in motion, excite him to action, and the crouching, indolent being is suddenly changed into an active and animated demoniac. The Zealander is extremely proud; he will not endure the slightest insult. A blow, even in jest, must be returned!
Every one has seen or heard so much of their weapons and canoes, that it is almost superfluous to speak of them; yet, in examining one of their larger canoes—seventy feet in length, from three to four in width, and about three in depth—I was much interested by observing what trouble and pains had been taken in building and trying to ornament this, to them, first-rate vessel of war. Her lower body was formed out of the trunk of a single tree—the New Zealand kauri, or cowrie—the upper works by planks of the same wood; the stem and stern, raised and projecting, like those of the gallies of old, were carved and hideously disfigured, rather than ornamented, by red, distorted faces with protruding tongues and glaring mother-of-pearl eyes. Much carving of an entirely different and rather tasteful design* decorated the sides. Beneath the 'thwarts,' a wicker-work platform, extending from end to end, served to confine the ballast to its proper position, and to afford a place upon which the warriors could stand to use their weapons. From forty to eighty men can embark in such canoes. But their day is gone! In a few years, scarcely a war-canoe will be found in the northern district of New Zealand.
Judging only from description, the largest canoes ever seen by the oldest of the present generation, must have been nearly ninety feet in length; formed out of one tree, with planks attached to the sides, about six or seven feet wide, and nearly as much in depth. Several old men agreed, at different times, in this account; but perhaps each of them was equally inclined to magnify the past.
New Zealand much requires assistance from the strong but humane arm of a powerful European government. Sensible treaties should be entered into by the head of an over-awing European force, and maintained by the show, not physical action, of that force until the natives see the wonderful effects of a changed system. Finding that their protectors sought to ameliorate their condition, and abolish all those practices which hunger, revenge, and ignorance probably caused, and alone keep up; that they neither made them slaves, nor took away land without fair purchase; and that they did no injury to their country, or to them, except in self-defence—even then reluctantly—would give the natives satisfaction and confidence, and might, in a few years, make New Zealand a powerful, and very productive country. I say powerful, because its inhabitants are very numerous, and have in themselves abundant energy, with moral, as well as physical materials; productive also, because the climate is favourable; the soil very rich; timber plentiful, and very superior; minerals are probably plentiful; flax is a staple article; corn and vines are doing well; and sheep produce good wool.