Accompanied by Mr. Baker, I set out to go to Waimate, a settlement formed by the missionaries with the view of introducing agriculture and mechanical arts among the natives, in addition to the truths of the Gospel. Entering one of the numerous creeks (Waitangi) by which the north-eastern shores of New Zealand are intersected, we went a little way in a boat, then landed and got on horseback. Two natives, who had been waiting with the horses, ran by their side during the rest of the day with much ease, though we trotted or cantered rather fast. One of them even carried a bundle weighing about thirty pounds. The men did this by choice, for the sake of riding back from Keri-keri, a place we were afterwards to visit, and whence Mr. Baker and I would return by water. While running thus easily and cheerfully, by the side of our horses, they reminded me of men at Madeira; and still more of the Maltese, whom they both resembled in feature, figure, and colour. To see fern every where, was a remarkable peculiarity. In some places it grew thickly, and to the height of a man, in others it was scantily scattered. It is said to be an index to the quality of the soil, which is productive in proportion to the quantity of fern. After ascending the first low hills, I was a little disappointed by the uniform and unpicturesque appearance around me. A rather level or irregularly undulating country, in which extensive plains were more remarkable than hills—every where verdant, in many places wooded, and intersected by numerous streams of water—pleased by its supposed capabilities, though not by the picturesqueness of its appearance. From seeing the remains of forest, or rather irregular-looking woods, in a variety of situations—at the summits of hills, as well as in the hollows of vallies; and from the prevalence of fern instead of grass, I was led to think that the whole land had once been thickly wooded, but that the natives had cleared away the trees by burning.
We passed by a native village, around which were many acres of well cultivated ground, with maize and potatoes in a thriving state. They were planted in little heaps of earth (like mole-hills), at exact distances, laid out by line. For planting the sweet potato (cumera), a kind of yam (taro), or the lately introduced potato, a wooden stake is used as a substitute for a spade, in preparing the ground. The natives acknowledge themselves much indebted to the white men for pigs and potatoes; but they speak angrily of the 'liquid fire'—and diseases which they brought. One old native also made a shrewd remark about certain seven-barrelled guns sent among them by some of our countrymen, even while others were preaching the gospel of peace, and trying to check their inclination to quarrel.
Abundance of the flax plant was growing on the low moist ground, and also on higher, apparently dry soil. I was told that the flax plant does not like a swamp, but thrives where the ground is rather moist. With leaves like those of an iris or large lily, whence the fibres are obtained which are 'called' flax, this plant has always been of great consequence to the natives. Those immense nets which are mentioned in the faithfully descriptive accounts of Cook, are made with the leaves split into long narrow shreds, not scraped or peeled. For the manufacture of smaller cordage and thread, the leaves are scraped by a shell, which removes the upper or green part and leaves the strong white fibres, that run longitudinally along the under side. With these fibres, in less or greater numbers, and twisted more or less, the New Zealand cordage has been made, which was so much liked at its first introduction, but is now said to be of a quality very inferior to that made with European, or even Chilian, hemp. The principal objection I have heard urged against the New Zealand rope is, that it does not endure frequent bending; not being sufficiently tenacious if used where its pliability is much tried. In sailor's language, 'it soon goes in the nip.' Perhaps this objection might be removed by a peculiar mode of treating the plant, or by another way of seasoning and preparing the fibres. Very fine mats for clothing are made with these fibres, which, when properly prepared, are of a fine silky texture, extremely durable, and capable of withstanding a great deal of washing and wear. I have one by me which has been in constant use sixteen years, and frequently washed. This being the case with respect to the mats, how does it happen that rope made by white men, of the very same material, has not been found to answer? Surely, it can only be because the material has not been properly treated by those who are, perhaps, little acquainted with its nature, with the best season for cutting it, and with other peculiarities probably well known to the natives. Do not many of our own handicraftsmen make a mystery of their art, and, in consequence, are not the secrets of most trades hidden to those who have not learned them, and cannot read?
An open-sided house, or rather shed, standing apart from the little village, I was told was a chapel, which the natives had lately built of their own accord, and without telling the missionaries of their intention: when it was completed they applied to Mr. Williams for a teacher.
A very fine-looking native passed us, whose air and manner of carrying his gun reminded me of an Albanian's. Every man now carries a gun or musket, who, a few years since, would have been armed with a war club, or patoopatoo, and a mieri.
So accessible is the country between Waimate and the Bay of Islands, that, except across a few small ravines, which require log bridges, a cart might travel easily; though there was at this time no road: water conveyance also is every where at hand, so intersected is the land by arms of the sea. Fresh water, in rivers, brooks, and springs, is plentiful, and never fails.
There is a rare and curious bird in New Zealand, which few persons have seen. It is shy, and seldom visible in the daytime: the natives are said to chase it by moonlight. It is of the bustard or emu kind, unable to fly, though provided with short wings; it is said to be more hairy than feathery, and about the size of a small emu.
On rather a high plain, or very flat-topped hill, stands Waimate—the agricultural establishment of the Church Missionary Society. After so long an absence from every similar sight, and in New Zealand, the sudden appearance of three English houses, surrounded by outhouses, gardens, and cultivated fields, was striking and delightful; I looked at it as a fragment of Old England, small indeed, but apparently genuine. About twenty acres of land, judging only by eye, seemed to be cultivated. Corn was in full ear, and looked well. The buildings showed at a distance to greater advantage than on a nearer approach; because they are built in the form of gentlemen's cottages, but entirely of wood, and were then unfinished. There were also nice gardens, which had evidently profited by much industrious care, and knowledge of gardening: my hasty survey was however stopped by the approach of a person, whose appearance and manner showed that he was an essential actor in this English scene; and whose intelligent, kind, and truly respectable demeanor was of that description which at once excites esteem and goodwill. This was Mr. Davis, the superintendant of the farming establishment. He told me that Mr. Wm. Williams (the brother of Henry Williams) and Mr. Clarke, were gone to Hokianga, at the opposite side of the island, to attend the last hours of a young Wesleyan missionary.
I have hitherto spoken of missionaries in general terms, as if they formed a distinct and undivided class. That as a body they are distinct, in the scale of worldly divisions, is true; their self-devotion, their habits of life, peculiar education, and incessant anxiety, attach them to a class, of which the good, and therefore truly great Bishop Heber was one of the leading members. But of course they are separated, among themselves, by distinctions which are a natural result of more or less education and of early habits.
The Church Missionary Society have distinguished by the term 'missionary' only those educated, well-informed men who have taken holy orders, and they are styled 'reverend.' Those who are not in orders are termed 'catechists.' Without an idea of finding fault with the present conduct of any individual belonging to either of those two classes, it has occurred to others as well as to me, that a third class might be added advantageously, that of 'visiting' or 'inspecting missionaries.' A clergyman of Heber's character, embarked on board a man of war, might advise and assist those who are now too much on an equality to give free advice to one another, or readily to see the small defects from which no human beings or institutions ever can be free.
Human nature, tried during a long course of years, has seldom steered a uniformly steady course; and may not slight defects, if unnoticed, increase into real blemishes? Difficulties have arisen in New Zealand, as well as in other parts of the Pacific, unnoticed by many people, because, till lately, they were but little felt. These difficulties particularly interfere with the missionaries, and if not remedied by timely measures, will lead to continual embarrassment.
To return from this digression. Near the houses a number of sheep were grazing: plenty of fowls, geese, and pigs; some cattle and horses; and several calves and colts, added to the comfortable, farm-like appearance. We accompanied Mr. Davis into his house for a few minutes, walked over the garden and farm, looked at the farm-yard, barn, and mill, and returned to dinner. The house was well constructed of wood; and though unfinished had a remarkably clean and neat appearance. The compact manner in which the walls were boarded or wainscotted struck me particularly, from being such a contrast to the manner in which a South American carpenter would have constructed a house of similar size. A little room, used by Mr. Davis, pleased me much; for, in addition to clever contrivances and good carpentry, it contained a collection of excellent books, and a frame on which an unfinished plan of the Society's farm bore testimony to the nature of the in-door occupations of our host. I did not expect to see much indication of reading, certainly none of drawing, in a newly-built house, standing in the midst of a tract of New Zealand, which two years previously was covered with fern.
In the garden, European vegetables seemed to thrive, and the farm-yard was quite English; a large barn, built entirely by natives, under Mr. Davis's direction; a blacksmith's shop; carts and farming implements, successively engaged our attention. In the barn, a surprising work for the New Zealanders, two natives were thrashing, and a winnowing machine was attended by a third. The mill and mill-dam were well worth examination, as good works of their kind, independent of the interest occasioned by their locality. An embankment (made entirely by natives) had changed the upper part of a small valley into a large pond; and on the middle of the pond-head, or embankment, stood the mill.
A powerful water-wheel, equal to the performance of far more work than the mill required, seemed to be easily turned by only a part of the stream admitted through the mill-dam or sluice. In answer to a remark upon the surplus power, Mr. Davis said that the Society contemplated erecting a thrashing machine, and that Mr. Coates* had encouraged him to anticipate its arrival. A thrashing-machine might be worked easily, in addition to the mill, and yet there would be power to spare.† When embanking the pond, an unfortunate accident occurred, which almost stopped the work: one of the natives, incautiously digging under an overhanging mass of earth, was smothered by its sudden fall. Superstitious and easily excited, the natives abandoned their allotted tasks, and not without much difficulty could the missionaries induce them to resume their employment. When at last the mill was finished and in full operation, nothing could exceed the surprise and delight of the natives, especially those who had assisted in the work. They called it a 'ship of the land.' "Wonderful white men!" said they; "fire, water, earth, and air are made to work for them by their wisdom; while we can only command the labour of our own bodies!"
Many natives have visited Sydney; some have been round the world; and, of course, their ideas and descriptions have been imparted to their countrymen; but nothing, not even that, to a savage, awfully-mysterious object, a steam-vessel, has yet effaced their early-formed opinion, that a large ship of war is the greatest wonder of the world.
Returning from the mill, Mr. Davis showed me where Shunghi was buried. No monumental mark indicates the tabooed place in which the remains of the slaughter-loving cannibal were deposited; a few dark-leaved trees and some thickly-growing fern alone point out the spot.
While looking about, highly gratified by all we saw, we met Mr. W. Williams, who had just returned from his attendance upon the young Wesleyan before-mentioned. The sufferer had been released from painful illness by death.
A thriving young English oak, near Mr. Davis's house, augured well; for where English oaks succeed, many other useful trees will certainly grow. Several younger saplings, just fit for transplanting, occupied a part of Mr. Williams's well-stocked garden; and these interested me more than all the other plants and trees in the garden taken together. Englishmen one now meets every where; but a living, healthy, English oak was a sight too rare, near the Antipodes, to fail in exciting emotion.
I was much struck by the harmony and apparent happiness of those families whose cheerful hospitality I was enjoying. An air of honesty, and that evident tranquillity of mind which can only be the result of a clear conscience, offered a forcible contrast to the alleged gloom and selfishness of which some missionaries have been accused by those whose society was not, perhaps, even tolerable to them, because of their vicious habits and indulgences. It was also very gratifying to me to mark the lively interest taken by Mr. Williams, Mr. Davis, and Mr. Baker in every detail connected with the Fuegians, and our attempt to establish Richard Matthews in Tierra del Fuego. Again and again they recurred to the subject, and asked for more information; they would not hear of my calling the attempt 'a failure.' "It was the first step," said they, "and similar in its result to our first step in New Zealand. We failed at first; but, by God's blessing upon human exertions, we have at last succeeded far beyond our anticipations." Their anxiety about the South American aborigines generally; about the places where missionaries might have a chance of doing good; and about the state of the islands in the Pacific Ocean, gave me a distinct idea of the prevalence of true missionary spirit.
In the minds of Mr. Williams and his brother I should have expected high and generalizing ideas, similar in a great degree to those of the 'Apostle of the South'—the 'heroic Marsden,' as he has been most deservedly styled; but I was unprepared to find all the members of this missionary body anxious to hear about, and talk of Fuegians and other distant tribes of savages, rather than to draw attention to themselves, to their troubles, and ultimate success, or to their own interests.
At this interview it was fully decided that Richard Matthews should remain with his brother, a respectable young missionary mechanic, established at the northern end of the island, and lately married to Mr. Davis's daughter. Among many subjects of conversation we discussed the dress of the natives; and Mr. Williams assented fully to the inconvenience of their present awkward mode, and expressed an intention of trying to introduce something like the poncho and 'chilipã'* dress of South America. With sincere regret I took leave of the residents at Waimate. Instead of hours, I could have passed days with them, had other duties allowed of following my own inclination.
Riding across a valley close to Waimate, we passed some young horses of a good breed, though fitter for the saddle than for agricultural purposes. They were the produce of mares brought from Sydney. A picturesque wooden bridge, which had been thrown across the stream at the bottom of the valley, reminded me strongly of one well-known in England; and caused that rush of associated ideas sure to follow an unexpected meeting with the semblance of an object familiar in other days.
In a large wood I saw the noble cowrie (kauri) pine. The trunk of this gigantic offspring of New Zealand is in size and shape like an immense antique column. From the ground to the lower branches, more than ninety feet have been measured; and around the trunk, at a yard from the ground, more than forty feet; while thirty feet in circumference is not an uncommon size. But the upper portions are comparatively meagre, and utterly devoid of any of the beauties so remarkable in our English oaks, cedars, and firs. The woods of New Zealand have rather a naked appearance; for the branches seem inclined to grow upwards instead of spreading, or feathering.
Cantering along, across an open easy country, passable for wheel carriages, we soon approached Keri-keri. A deep ravine, into which a considerable stream falls over a precipice about a hundred feet in height, was pointed out to me as the limit of an arm of the sea which penetrates from the Bay of Islands. The waterfall is rather picturesque. Passing on over rounded hills covered with fern, I almost started at a thoroughly English scene suddenly exposed. In the valley beneath, a quiet little village; a church-like building of stone, with a clock on the tower; an English cutter at anchor, with her ensign flying, in the arm of the sea before-mentioned, close to the village; gardens full of flowers, surrounding the neatly-built and white-washed cottages; cattle grazing about the surrounding hills; and a whole school of little English children, hallooing and screaming to one another as they played in a field, quite transported me in imagination to the other side of the world. Recalled to the truth by our pedestrian companions asking us to stop for them, I enquired of Mr. Baker how long that respectable church had been built? and was disappointed to hear that the fancied church was a store-house. A small, low building, which he pointed out, was the chapel—it looked much more like a small school-house.
I was glad to see that our native companions took pains to dress themselves decently before they entered the village; as, while running along the road, they had carried their clothes in their hands; but of their own accord they put them on as soon as the houses were seen.
In the village of Keri-keri we found an English welcome, and an abundance of happy-looking, healthy children. Their parents seemed to bear the Church missionary character, open integrity, and the outward indications of a sincere wish to do that which is right. It may seem absurd to speak thus decidedly upon a hasty glance and first impression; but there is a talisman in a truly honest face, and a charm in the manner of one who 'thinketh no evil,' that to me is irresistible; and I have never yet found cause to think lightly of 'ten minutes sight.'
At about ten o'clock, Mr. Baker and I embarked in my boat, to return to Paihia. As we passed down a river-like arm of the sea by moonlight, but little idea of the country on either side could be formed. What I could distinguish was undulating, and rather low land. We were four hours on the water, though the boat moved fast with a fair wind.
I was glad to learn from all quarters that the natives are very fond of the white children. Mr. Davis told me, that his sons could engage the attention and assistance of natives a great deal more easily than he could himself. Speaking the native language more fluently may assist the young people in their intercourse; but they are liked chiefly because born in the land, and because of the naturally kind disposition of the New Zealanders. Many instances have proved that they are kind by nature, and that their feelings are keenly sensitive, as well as very strong. But there are opposing feelings, each powerful, in the same individuals; and upon education, habit, and the accidents of moments, depend their development and the ascendancy which either may obtain.