Project Canterbury


By James W. Stack

Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin, N.Z.
Melbourne and London: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1909.

Chapter III. Koro Guardian of the Mission-house

When the captive South Islanders were sent back by their Christianised masters to their own part of the country, they preferred to live on Banks Peninsula, partly because they felt safer amidst its hills and forests than on the open plains, and partly because they could not bear the thought of going back to their old homes, which were associated with scenes of slaughter and disaster still fresh in their memories. But when the Canterbury Settlement was formed, ten years after their return, the Maoris felt that their safety was assured, and at the same time they began to realise the advantage of living in closer proximity to the English settlers; and so one family after another removed to the land reserved for them at Kaiapoi by the chiefs who conveyed the rest of the country to the Crown, until at length the majority of the native population wasjtransferred from the peninsula to the plains.

While living on the peninsula the Maoris were visited by Bishop Selwyn in 1842, and they were for many years afterwards [22/23] dependent upon him for the administration of the sacraments, for which they often had to wait for a long time, as his visits were necessarily few and far between. The only other European missionaries who ministered to the Southern Maoris were the Rev. Mr. Wholers, the devoted Lutheran clergyman who lived on the island of Ruapuke in Foveaux Straits, and the Wesleyan missionaries, who resided at Otago Heads and Waikouaiti. But they were all too far away to be of much service to the natives of Canterbury; and no special provision was made to supply their spiritual wants till the year 1859, when the Synod of Christchurch constituted the "Maori Mission," and a missionary was appointed to take pastoral charge of all Maoris within the diocese.

Bishop Harper convened a great meeting of Maoris which was held at Kaiapoi on September 10th, 1859. [N.B.--See Lyttelton Times, September 17th, 1859.] Besides the Bishop, who presided, the following Europeans were present: the Rev. H. Jacobs, the Rev. G. Cotterill, the Rev. C Bowen, the Rev. W. Willock, Mr. Hall, Resident Magistrate of Christchurch, and Mr. Revell, Inspector of Police. I acted as interpreter.

The result of the meeting was that the headquarters of the Mission were fixed at Kaiapoi, and the Maoris allowed me to select twenty acres, anywhere I chose, as a site for the Mission premises.

[24] Knowing how desirable it was to keep the Maoris as far away as possible from public-houses, I chose a site in the middle of their large reserve, hoping that, in time, the people would settle round it. Upon this piece of land a four-roomed cottage was built during the year 1860, and to it, early in the following year, I took my young bride--née Miss Jones, of Llynon in Anglesey--to whom I was married in Auckland by Bishop Selwyn on January 28th, 1861. The situation was most picturesque, being close to the native forest and with a beautiful view of the snowy mountains towards the north-west. But though a beautiful, it proved for many years a most inconvenient and lonely place of residence. The only way of getting to or from it was by muddy tracks, ploughed up by the heavily laden timber-waggons which daily passed over them. They were never quite dry, even in summer, for, wherever a stream crossed the tracks, muddy pools were formed where the water collected. Every time we went to church, or to visit the Maoris, we had to walk through mud, which in places was quite up to our knees.

Tussock-grass, which grew everywhere then as far as the eye could see, waved up to our very door, and nothing broke the force of the east and north-west winds, which during many months of the year whistled round the unprotected angles of our dwelling, and through every keyhole, making the most [24/25] doleful and melancholy sounds. The only living creature about us, except wild birds, was the misshapen steed which the Maoris presented to me. This creature felt the want of companionship so much, that at nighttime--unless tethered sufficiently far from the house to prevent his doing so--would keep backing up against the front door, seeking to force an entrance. One night he startled us out of our slumbers by his efforts to enter through one of the windows, which he completely destroyed.

At first my dear wife and I enjoyed our lonely life at St. Stephen's. We spent most of our spare time fitting up our cottage with such furniture as we could make out of packing-cases and glazed calico; a piano and a few chairs being the only articles of furniture we brought with us into it.

When I had to visit the Maoris in other parts of the diocese, Mrs. Stack accompanied me, and cheerfully submitted to the trying experiences to which an English guest--and especially a lady--was subjected who at that time accepted Maori hospitality. The very means employed by our kind entertainers to show us how pleased they were to have us with them, and their desire to give us of their best, often added to the difficulties of the situation.

As, for instance, on the occasion when our host, with great ceremony, at the public feast given in our honour, presented us with a [25/26] highly prized kelp-bag full of potted mutton-birds, opening it before us, and placing on each of our plates a bird, covered with clotted lumps of congealed fat, which emitted a very peculiar smell, and expected us to eat his choicest viand with zest, and to remark between each mouthful upon its deliciousness. Or when well-meaning persons, who wished us to benefit by their superior knowledge of "white people's ways," became our self-appointed attendants during our stay in any Maori house. Such a person was "Spun-yarn," who had been "cook's mate" on board a whaler. When our hostess put before us a large camp-oven-baked loaf of bread, he said to her, "Oh, that's quite wrong. English people like their bread cut in slices and buttered." And there and then he took up the loaf, and, pulling out the sheath-knife which he wore in his waist-belt, he passed it between his lips, and then rubbed it upon his shirt-sleeve, and proceeded to cut and butter thick slices of bread for us.

The same man undertook to "wash up" our cups and plates after meals, "European fashion"--which meant that he dried them with anything that came to hand, after they had been rinsed in water. Mrs. Stack found him one day busily polishing them up with the leg of a very dirty pair of old moleskin trousers.

When Mrs. Stack could no longer share my itinerating work, we did not at first know [26/27] how to secure her protection during my absence from home, which sometimes lasted for weeks together. We kept no indoor servants, and had no near neighbours. On mentioning our difficulty to our friend Koro, he immediately volunteered to take care of "Mother" while I was away; and she very bravely consented to trust herself to his keeping.

On the day of my departure, Koro did not appear at the time agreed upon. And, when darkness set in, my poor wife became much alarmed at being all alone in such an out-of-the-way place, and made up her mind to sit up all night. But about ten o'clock she was startled by a tapping on the window of the room she was sitting in, and by the sound of a man's voice, speaking in Maori. Her fears were all dissipated as soon as she felt sure that it was Koro, and she gladly opened the door and let him in.

He brought with him a bundle of blankets, which he proceeded to spread out on the passage floor, outside Mrs. Stack's bedroom door, and, having obtained from her two whole candles, he persuaded her to retire to rest, promising to keep guard over her all night through. And, true to his word, he spent the night audibly reading his Testament and praying,--in order, as he afterwards explained, that if "Mata" woke, she might know that her guardian was on the alert.

Koro continued to come night after night [27/28] till I returned, and on many subsequent occasions when my duties called me away from home he helped us in the same way, in order that I might have no anxiety on my wife's account while away from her, ministering to the spiritual wants of his countrymen.

The fact that a young English lady, to whom everything Maori was comparatively new and strange, could fearlessly trust herself to be alone, night after night, for weeks together, in a house far removed from all human help, with a man who, only twenty years before, was a cruel, pitiless cannibal, who used to hunt human beings, as an English sportsman hunts game, for food, affords satisfactory evidence of the reality of the change wrought by Christianity in the character of the Maoris who accepted its teaching.

In spite of our close intimacy with Koro, and his ignorance of all polite usages, he only once treated either of us with undue familiarity. On that occasion he startled us at daybreak one morning by tapping at our bedroom window, and calling out very loudly, "Shay-msh, Shay-msh, Shay-msh! Get up. I want you." But he never repeated that familiar mode of address after being told that I did not like any one but my wife to address me by my Christian name.

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