Chapter VI. Mr. Marsden's visit to New Zealand--Death of Ruatara
THE summer sun was setting; and his departing rays shed a flood of light on the dark bold rock that forms New Zealand's northern promontory, when, on December the 15th, 1814, the Missionary vessel first came in sight of land. Mr. Marsden stood on deck, eager to catch the first view of the country for whose welfare he had prayed, and laboured, and waited for so many years. His delighted eye rested with admiration on the scene before him; and as he watched the sun-beams gliding from point to point, his heart glowed with the hope that ere long a brighter and a never-setting sun would rise, and chase away the moral darkness that enveloped all around him.
As the Active neared the cape, several chiefs came off in their canoes; they were very friendly, and seemed somewhat interested when Ruatara explained to them the intentions of Mr. Marsden, but the party did not come into actual intercourse with any body of natives till the 18th, when finding themselves becalmed near the small islands of the Cavalles, off the north-eastern coast, they determined to go on shore.
The New Zealander in a foreign land, dressed in European clothes, and conforming himself with a remarkable facility to the manners and conversation of the persons among whom he is thrown, is a very [53/54] different being from the Maori chief, clad in his native mat, proudly treading his own native soil, and conscious that he may bid defiance to all intruders; and nothing that Mr. Marsden had seen or heard at Port Jackson had at all prepared him for the savage wildness of this people when free from the restraint of Europeans. The party were however courteously received, and had any evil intention been entertained, the presence of the chiefs they had brought with them would have prevented the execution of it.
The meeting of one of these chiefs, Koro-koro, with a relative who resided on the island, gave rise to so extraordinary a scene, that we will not pass it over in silence. This was a "tangi," or ceremony performed on the meeting or parting of friends or relations; it still partially retains its hold upon the people, but was then universal, and attended with such curious circumstances that we shall give the account of it in Mr. Marsden's own words. "After we had landed," he writes, "and while we were talking to Koro-koro and some of the natives, his aunt came to welcome him, accompanied with some other women and children. She had a green bough twisted round her head, and another in her hand. When she came within a hundred yards, she began to make a very mournful lamentation, hanging down her head as if oppressed with the heaviest grief, and advancing towards Koro-koro with a slow and measured step. He, on his part, appeared much agitated, and stood in deep silence, leaning on the top of his musket. As the aunt advanced, she prayed very loud and wept exceedingly. Koro-koro remained motionless till she came up to him, when they laid their heads together, the woman leaning on [54/55] a staff and he on his gun. Thus they stood, repeating short sentences aloud, which, we understood, were prayers, and here they wept aloud for a long time, the tears rolling down their cheeks in torrents--it was impossible to see them without being deeply moved. A daughter of the aunt also sat at her feet weeping; and the women who accompanied her joined in the lamentation, cutting themselves in their faces, arms, and breasts, with sharp shells or flints, till the blood streamed down. We thought this an extraordinary mode of manifesting their joy, but afterwards found it was universal." Our readers will join with Mr. Marsden and ourselves in wondering at these tokens of Maori joy!
While lying becalmed off the Cavalle Islands they heard that some of the Whangaroan chiefs were encamped with a large party of their followers, on the opposite coast. We have before mentioned those people, and the blood-feud that since the massacre of the Boyd had existed between them and the tribes of the Bay of Islands: we have mentioned also Mr. Marsden's anxiety to establish matters on an amicable fooling for the safety of the intended settlement, well knowing that the forty miles of wood and swamp that would separate it from these savages, would of themselves prove a very ineffectual protection.
The present opportunity seemed a favourable one for endeavouring to accomplish this; and unmoved by Ruatara's entreaties, who knew the unscrupulous ferocity of the tribe, and trembled for the safety of his benefactor, he determined to visit them. Finding him fixed in this resolution, Ruatara not only engaged to [55/56] accompany him, but in his own generous way, and regardless of his own personal danger, volunteered to make the first advance. The party consisted of Mr. Marsden, Mr. Nicholas, Mr. Kendall, Mr. King, Mr. Hanson, the master of the ship, Hongi, Koro-koro, and Ruatara; and they had no sooner landed than they saw the body of armed men stationed on an opposite hill. Ruatara went forward, and after explaining to them that some white men desired to visit them, rejoined his own party. There was a pause, and our friends doubted what reception they were to expect, when they saw a woman advance from the Whangaroan band, flourishing a red mat round her head, and crying out, "Haromai, haromai," "Come hither, come hither." This they were told was a welcome, and proceeding onward, they soon found themselves in the midst of the Whangaroans. The chiefs were sitting on the ground surrounded by their warriors, who were standing with their spears, fifteen or twenty feet in length, fixed upright by their side. Both chiefs and men were dressed inftheir native mats, some of them very handsome, and all had their hair neatly tied in a knot at the top of the head, and ornamented with long white feathers of the gannet. Some wore round their necks ornaments of green jade, some the teeth of their slaughtered enemies, while some, as if proud of the atrocious destruction of the Boyd, were adorned with dollars taken from that ill-fated ship. But who can realize the description of the sights and sounds that followed! The warriors seized their spears and brandished them, as if in fury, one against the other; yells, shrieks, and roars rose on every side; while the frightful gesticulations and [56/57] variety of horrible distortions of face and limb were enough to strike terror and dismay into the most resolute. It was a war-dance of welcome!
Mr. Marsden had much conversation with the chiefs, of whom the principal one, who had assumed the name of George, had taken the lead in the affair of the Boyd. They did not deny the barbarous deed, but justified it as only retaliation for wrongs inflicted on their chief by the master of the vessel.
Evening was drawing on apace, but the most important subjects had not yet been discussed; and Mr. Marsden, fearing he might not again have so favourable an opportunity, determined on the bold step of staying there during the night. Mr. Nicholas volunteered to remain with him; Hongi did the same, but it was thought better that the rest of the party should return to the ship; and thus, alone, unarmed and unprotected save by the shield of faith in Him for whose Name's sake they were there, these two Englishmen prepared to pass the night in the midst of well-armed and ferocious cannibals. Must not He in whom they believed, have endued them with special strength for the occasion?
"George," writes Mr. Marsden, "directed me to lie by his side; his wife and child lay on his right hand, and Mr. Nicholas close by. The night was clear, the stars shone bright, the sea before us was smooth; around were the warriors' spears stuck upright in the ground, and groups of natives lying in all directions like a flock of sheep upon the grass, for there were neither tents nor huts to cover them. I viewed our present situation with feelings I cannot describe; surrounded by cannibals who had massacred and devoured [57/58] our countrymen, I wondered much at the mysteries of Providence, and how these things could be. I did not sleep much; my mind was occupied by the strange circumstances in which we were, and the new and strange ideas the scene naturally awakened."
Among the starry groups that on that night visited Mr. Marsden's wakeful eyes, the Southern Cross shone out with its own soft lustre; and is it likely that he beheld it with unmoved feelings? Would he not greet it as a fitting emblem of the purpose that had brought him hither? And then, as before the morning dawned the diadem of the South [Corona Australis] rose from its ocean bed, and, climbing the steep of heaven, added its bright circlet to the "spangled" firmament, must it not have cheered his heart with hopes of future triumphs and unfading glory, even for these dark savages that lay around him?
Whether the sight of these constellations really suggested such thoughts to him we cannot tell; the thoughts themselves were there; and we know that that evening and that night were fraught with important consequences to the mission; for the chiefs, wrought upon by Mr. Marsden's arguments, and moved, no doubt, by the fearless intrepidity of his conduct, not only promised to forbear from molesting the settlement, hut agreed to come to terms of peace with the chiefs of the Bay of Islands. In the morning several of them went with Mr. Marsden on board the Active, where, after a good English breakfast, with which they were much delighted, they entered into a peaceable compact with Ruatara and Koro-koro as representatives of the rest.
The wind was now favourable, and the Missionary band soon found themselves at the entrance of the Bay [58/59] of Islands. Standing out towards Cape Brett, they passed the conical rock, that, rising midway between the headlands, seems to guard the approach; and as they proceeded were struck with admiration at the beauty of the scene. In the foreground, the bright sea was studded with islands; some barren and rocky, others clothed with trees and verdure. Far beyond, the dark grey promontories stood boldly forward, divided from each other by the rivers that are everywhere to be found; while the distant horizon was bounded by mountains of various forms. One sorrowful sight however arrested their attention--it was the island once the favourite resort of the murdered Tippahee, where, in advance of his neighbour chiefs, he had taught his people something of European cultivation. Now all was desolate--the burnt ruins of the huts, and the uncultivated plantations, still told the cruel tale. Only one house was standing, it was the one that Governor King had had built for the chief himself.
The Active anchored in a little cove on the northern side of the Bay, over against Rangi-houa, the chief village belonging to Ruatara, and was speedily surrounded by canoes, full of men and women anxious to welcome back their respective chiefs, and, as on the Cavalle Islands, testifying their joy, the men by weeping, the women by cutting themselves in all directions.
The next day the party landed, and fixed on a spot adjoining the village, for the residence of the settlers. Mr. Marsden's name was already well known here, and the people crowded round him with every mark of affectionate regard. [It was the same when, during his stay on the island, he made excursions to the more inland villages. His name passed from mouth to mouth, and the very children shouted it out with delight. So truly did this poor people appreciate the kindness shown to their countrymen at Paramatta Songs and dances were even composed to his honour.] We may imagine their astonishment [59/60] when the cattle were brought on shore, and they found the truth of Ruatara's description of "large corraddees;" but the sight of Mr. Marsden on horseback quite bewildered them; they seemed to think him more than mortal, and believed that by some supernatural power he had united himself to the horse.
Koro-koro had quitted the vessel as soon as she arrived, and now returned to give Mr. Marsden and the new settlers a welcome according to native etiquette, an etiquette however which it required no little nerve to witness without alarm. Ten of the formidable war-canoes we have before described were seen in regular line, and with colours flying, bearing swiftly down upon the Active. Every rower in the long line dipped his paddle at the same moment, so that the whole seemed like one stroke. The chiefs were standing up in their canoes, with their war-mats gracefully thrown over their shoulders, their hair neatly tied and adorned with white feathers, and in their hands were their tall spears, also ornamented with feathers. Their bodies were painted with red ochre, and their fierce tattooed countenances were rendered more fierce by the frightful contortions of their features. They sung the war-song as they approached, and their wild impetuous gestures, like those at Whangaroa, seemed to bid defiance to any other power, "None," says Mr. Nicholas, "but those who saw it can form a conception of the terrible appearance." They made as though they intended to [60/61] attack the ship; and a shudder must have run through some of the party on board, as they recalled the dreadful realities that had in former times taken place in that game Bay. But in a moment all was changed, the war-gong became a note of joyful welcome, and the countenances of the men resumed their usual expression. The chiefs came on board, each bringing some little present, while Koro-koro, with the greatest natural courtesy, introduced them to the several persons on board, mentioning, as he did so, the various kindnesses and attentions he had received from each.
Sunday, December the 25th, now arrived. Mr. Marsden had mentioned to Ruatara his intention of performing Divine service on shore, and the chief had spared no pains in making all the preparations in his power. The first sight that greeted Mr. Marsden's eye when he went on deck that morning, was an English flag flying at Rangi-houa, in honour of the day. [This flag was a present from the governor of Port Jackson, from whom the chief had begged either a flag, or a bell, or a drum, to collect his people together on the sabbath day.] The party went on shore, and were surprised to find with what ingenuity Ruatara had contrived his arrangements. He had enclosed about half an acre of ground with a fence, and in the centre had erected a pulpit and desk, and covered them with black native mats, to conceal the roughness of the materials, and had arranged the bottom of some old canoes as seats for the Europeans; himself and his companions not requiring any but the ground. Mr. Marsden's own account is as follows. "When we landed, we found Koro-koro, Ruatara, and Hongi, dressed in regimentals, given them by Governor Macquarrie, with their men drawn up, [61/62] ready to march into the enclosure to attend Divine service. We entered, and were placed on the seats on each side of the pulpit. Koro-koro marched his men in, and placed them on my right hand behind the Europeans; Ruatara placed his on the left. The inhabitants of the town, with the women and children, and a number of other chiefs, formed a circle round the whole. A very solemn silence prevailed. I rose and began the service by singing the Old Hundredth Psalm, and I felt my very soul melt within me when I viewed my congregation, and considered the state they were in. After reading the service, I preached from St. Luke ii. 10, 'Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.' The natives told Ruatara that they could not understand what I meant. He told them not to mind now, for that they would understand it by-and-by, and that he would explain my meaning as far as he could. When the service was over we returned on board, much gratified; and with the strongest persuasion that the time was at hand when the glory of the Lord would be revealed to these poor benighted heathen, and that the labours of those who remained on the island would be crowned and blessed with success."
Ruatara was delighted with the success of this first attempt to introduce the worship of the true God, and Mr. Marsden rejoiced with a holier, deeper joy: there was something singularly encouraging in its having occurred on Christmas Day, and that almost the first words from God's own book that fell on the ears of those barbarians should have been, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Would not "the zeal of the [62/63] Lord of hosts perform "yet greater things? Would He not manifest himself to the souls of these people as "Wonderful," "Counsellor," "the Mighty God?" and would not "the Prince of Peace "now establish His government where the darkest, fiercest passions had hitherto reigned?
It was well that, as the hearts of Mr. Marsden and his companions swelled high with all these glorious hopes, the intervening days of darkness, trial, and suffering were hidden from their sight. Had they foreseen them, how could they have had courage to face them! But we will not anticipate.
Every effort was now made to get raupo buildings erected that might serve as temporary dwellings for the settlers, and storehouses for the various European articles they had brought with them both for use and for barter; timber was procured from the opposite side of the Bay; the smith and carpenter set hard to work, every hand on board assisted, and the village of Rang-houa presented the novel scene of European industry.
As soon as the rude habitation was built and the settlers and stores safely landed, Mr. Marsden spent a week in visiting the eastern coast as far as the river Thames, 150 miles from Rangi-houa; and it is another instance of the fearless confidence he placed in these people, that with only five Europeans to navigate the ship, he ventured to take on board twenty-eight New Zealanders, all well armed to secure the party from any attacks from stranger natives. He afterwards made several excursions inland, rowing as far as he could up one or other of the four rivers that fell into the Bay, and continuing his journey on foot. In this way he [63/63] became acquainted with a large proportion of the chiefs of the surrounding country, was everywhere received with kindness and hospitality, and found every one pleased with the prospect of the settlement of Europeans on the island.
More than once on these excursions, Ruatara found occasion to testify his thoughtful anxiety for the comfort of his benefactor. Mr. Marsden happened to have been absent longer than he intended, and Ruatara, fearing he would feel the want of his usual English comforts, went to meet him with a supply of bread, tea and sugar, and any other little thing that occurred to him. Indeed, the whole conduct of this remarkable young man was such as to encourage the best hopes with regard to him. His anxiety for the welfare of his people filled his mind, and was the constant theme of his conversation. "I have introduced wheat," he often again would say, "into New Zealand, and it will become a great nation." He made arrangements for extensive cultivation among his people, and planned the building of a town on an English model. It was a beautiful spot that he fixed on, commanding a view of the Bay and the adjacent country; and as he took Mr. Marsden over it and pointed out the spot on which he intended to build a church, it was arranged that a few days after, they should again meet and mark out the streets.
Alas! before that day arrived Ruatara was stretched on his dying-bed. His seizure was sudden, and Mr. Marsden hastened to his dwelling, to minister to his bodily and spiritual necessities, but was denied admittance. His superstitious friends feared the vengeance of the Atua if a white man should approach. For [64/65] three days did Mr. Marsden endeavour to remove their prejudices, but in vain; till finding his poor friend was getting worse and worse, he threatened that the Active should fire on the village if they did not yield. This had the desired effect, and Mr. Nicholas and himself were permitted to visit him. It was a very painful scene. His favourite wife sat beside him bathed in tears, her dishevelled hair lying on her shoulders, and her face expressing the anguish she was enduring. He was himself so weak that he could scarcely speak; but his intellects were clear as ever, and his languid eye lighted up with joy at the sight of Mr. Marsden, as though it were a gleam of comfort to illumine his dark passage. They had brought with them medicine and English food, but he was tapued, and was not allowed to take them. He did not expect to recover; "and," writes Mr. Marsden, "at this awful moment he appeared not to know what to do. He wished me to pray with him, which I did, but the, superstitions of his country had evidently a strong hold upon his mind. His views of the gospel were not sufficiently clear to remove his superstitions, and yet he loved to hear what I could tell him of the love of Christ. As my stay was limited by the governor's orders, I was obliged to leave him in the midst of his affliction, and four days alter my departure he died." [It is a touching circumstance, that in the midst of his sufferings he did not forget some presents he had prepared for Mr. Marsden and Mr. Nicholas; he sent for and gave them the handsome mats he had set apart for this purpose.]
We learn from other sources, that the day before he died he was removed from his own house, according to the superstitious custom of the country, to a shed [65/66] erected near. Either by accident or by his own wish, which we are not told, it was on the very spot where not many days before, full of glad anticipation, he had stood and consulted with Mr. Marsden, as to his intended town, that Ruatara breathed his last. Whether as the bright, long-cherished prospects of future usefulness to his countrymen faded from his dying eyes, the love of a crucified Saviour was more clearly manifested to his soul, we do not know--no European was again allowed to see him. The veil is too closely drawn for us to see beyond it, and while contemplating the early death of this promising chief, we can only lay our hand upon our mouth, and say, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
To complete the sad tale, the poor wife put an end to her existence the following day; she could not endure this life without him whom she so fondly loved, for she knew not the God of all consolation.