Project Canterbury


By James W. Stack

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

Chapter IV. Koro's Interest in School and Church

The establishment of a boarding-school for boys and girls became our chief concern after our settlement at St. Stephen's; for we were convinced, by what we daily witnessed, that the only way to effect any permanent change for the better in the Maoris was by withdrawing the children from the bad influences which surrounded them in their homes, and placing them where they could be trained to adopt a higher standard of life than that which satisfied their parents.

But the difficulties which beset the carrying out of our purpose seemed for a time insurmountable.

In the first place, our house was far too small to admit of any addition being made to the number of its inmates, and no money could be got to enlarge it.

Few colonists in those days had much spare cash for anything, and the first claim upon what they had was for the support of their own churches and schools. Under such circumstances an appeal for help to the [29/30] general public was useless, and we had to confine our applications for assistance to those who openly avowed their sympathy with our special work. To one such sympathiser I was introduced by a sanguine friend, who felt sure I should receive from him a liberal donation; but, after exciting my hopes by exhibiting a lively interest in everything that we were doing, and especially in the proposed boarding-school, he cruelly disappointed them by saying, when I timidly preferred a request for his monetary help: "I make a rule never to give to anything that has not proved to be a success. When you have built your school, and got it into working order, then come to me, and I shall be happy to give you a donation for it."

Help came at last, from an unexpected quarter; the Provincial Council, in response to an appeal made by Bishop Harper, gave us a grant of £250. With that sum, and the gifts of timber made by the Maoris, a suitable building was put up adjoining our house.

Our next difficulty was to secure pupils. We found the parents very unwilling to part with their children, and still more so to pay anything for their schooling.

As the cost of clothing, feeding, and teaching a child exceeded by at least two shillings a week the allowance made for it by the General Government, we were obliged to make up the deficiency; and we fixed the [30/31] parents' contribution towards it at one shilling a week.

Innumerable meetings and interminable discussions were held for the purpose of overcoming the parents' objections, and we had to listen patiently to much silly and irritating talk about our motives and methods. One tattooed old chief, who thought he had discovered our secret aims, said:

"Now I know why you have been so anxious to establish a school. It is that you may enrich yourselves. Why, sirs, a shilling a week means two pounds twelve shillings a year. If there are one hundred scholars they would pay £262 to Te Takah."

The old man kept repeating the figures, as if he thought they represented fabulous wealth.

Fortunately, some of the parents had a better understanding of the value of money, and appreciated the advantages that would accrue to themselves by accepting our terms. And so we had the satisfaction at last of seeing the school opened.

The subdivision of the Kaiapoi Native Reserve by the Government, and the allotment of fourteen acres of land to each adult, led the Maoris to remove between 1861 and 1865 from the vicinity of the English township of Kaiapoi to the centre of their reserve, where they built a village of small wooden houses. The settlement of this population in our immediate neighbourhood made us feel [31/32] more than ever the want of a church. So we decided to obtain plans for one. But no builder could be found to carry them out for less than £600. How to get so large a sum together we did not know, but we were encouraged to make the attempt when we remembered how we were helped--in spite of our fears--to build the school.

The first contribution to our Church Building Fund came from our friends in England, who sent us £100. To this we were soon able to add a grant of £200 from the General Government, and the remaining portion of the required money was mostly collected by Te Koro. He, with eight other Maori chiefs, consented to canvass the city and neighbourhood of Christchurch for subscriptions, a separate district being assigned to each collector. At the close of the day on which they set out they all returned, with the exception of Koro, to report their want of success; for they had only collected £50 between them.

Koro did not return till late on Saturday night, when he brought back £30. He was very disappointed when he heard how little his companions had obtained, and expressed his determination to go on collecting till sufficient money was got together to build the church. Early on Monday morning he went back to Christchurch, a distance of seventeen miles, on foot. He might have gone by coach, but he could not afford to pay the fare, and refused to spend any portion of [32/33] the money collected for a "sacred object" for his own benefit. For his food, while engaged in collecting, he depended upon what hospitable people chose to give him, and for shelter at night he trusted to a friendly stable-keeper, who allowed him to spread his blanket upon the straw in an empty horse-box.

Week after week, in obedience to what he felt was the call of duty, he continued his self-denying task till it was accomplished, and he was able to add the required £200 to the Church Building Fund.

However small the amount received, he always got the giver to enter it in a book which he carried with him. And each day's collection was carefully wrapped up by itself and placed in the folds of a large cotton handkerchief, which he kept for safety tied round his waist.

Every Monday morning Koro used to hand over to me the proceeds of the previous week's collection. This was done by his own request on our verandah, as he "could see better there what he was doing, and was less likely to make a mistake."

It was most amusing to watch the deliberation with which he opened the folded handkerchief he brought with him, and took from it six rag or paper packets, securely bound with string. After a great deal of fumbling (for all his fingers were thumbs) the packets were opened and their contents [33/34] counted and compared with the figures in the book.

But it was still more amusing to hear Koro's graphic account of how the contents of each packet were obtained.

I have already described his ungainly figure and peculiar mode of attire, and generally odd and unattractive appearance. [The reason why Koro was so untidy was that he could not rid himself of habits contracted during the time when he was a slave in the North Island. In heathen times slaves were distinguished from the rest of the population by their shabby clothing and unkempt appearance, and Koro bore this brand of servitude to the end of his days. For, in spite of his restoration to freedom, and his instruction in civilised ways, he always seemed more at home in shabby clothes than in neat ones, and never wore anything else except on Sundays and special occasions.] With a big stick in one hand, and his collecting-book in the other, he tramped about the country, asking every one he met to give him something for the Maoris' church.

On one occasion, when walking along the Ferry Road, feeling disheartened because so few persons that day had given him anything, he saw a dog-cart approaching. "Aha," he said to himself, "here comes some one who possesses a purse." Planting himself in the centre of the road, he waited till the carriage was close up to him, when he raised both his arms and waved them about wildly, shouting out at the same time: "Hae! Hae!" The gentleman who was driving, thinking him drunk or mad, turned off on to the side path, with the intention of driving past. But [34/35] Koro was too quick for him, and again got in front of his horse's head. To avoid an accident the gentleman pulled up and angrily inquired what he wanted. Koro at once pushed his collecting-book into his hands, saying: "Here, Tsartz, Tsartz."

Fortunately, he had stopped a friend, who, instead of resenting his conduct, rewarded him with two sovereigns.

On another occasion he called at a large house in the suburbs of Christchurch, and, finding the door open, went in, and walked about till he came to a room where two ladies were sitting, and to their astonishment and alarm sat down beside them and presented his collecting-book. A glance at it quieted their fears, for, in addition to the authority to collect, endorsed upon the cover, they recognised among the list of contributors contained in it the signatures of many of their friends. The ladies not only gave him some money, but a good meal, which was served out-of-doors, when, to their surprise, before touching the food he laid aside his hat and said a long grace.

But in his house-to-house canvass Koro did not always get a welcome. A woman, who opened the door of a small house at which he had knocked, on learning his errand, jeered at him, calling him a "black beggar," which made Koro very indignant. "I'm not a beggar," he said--"I am not collecting for myself. I do not ask you to give something [35/36] to the black Maoris, but to the great God of Heaven. It is to build a house to His honour. By and by you will die. God will say, 'Why you no give Koro some money for My house at Kaiapoi?' You love God, you go up," pointing with his finger to the sky: "you no love, you go down," pointing downwards.

"Oh, here's a shilling," said the woman; "you're not a bad sort, after all."

Two or three of the neighbours who witnessed what took place expressed their sympathy for Koro, and gave proof of it by giving him something for the Church Fund.

Project Canterbury