Monday, 20 February 2017

A History of the Township of Kawhia

An Historical Interlude
in which
the Author Presents
the Histories of
the Township of Kawhia
and Its Harbour,
Poorly Imitative of the Manner of the
Grand History
of the
French Revolution
by Thomas Carlyle, Esq.

It is well to remember this—that the Present is no more than all the happenings of the Past bundled hurriedly together and viewed at a single glance. So what Fancy to think that had but one moment of the Past been altered, that the Present would itself be seen to be so very different—verily a thing beyond any cognisance! If this man here or that one there were to have spoken differently, if that storm had blown with fuller fury or if night had been day, then what might have been now? Who can say—but all can conjecture!

And so it is with the history of the vast and lonely waters of this cove-covetous harbour. So it is with these hills without habitation, these byways without footsteps. How different might it all have been if history had turned left and not right at that fork along its way! How might the hills now be hidden beneath the sprawling anywhereness of house upon house, street upon street, neighbour upon neighbour! How might the silent and somnolent village be a noisy, riotous, bustling city! And how might that drowsy and solitary old wharf that reaches ever hopeful into the waters barren of ships be instead a multiplicity of wharves upon which would be concentrated all the endeavours and industry and toil that modern man can bring to bear, a receiver of cargoes from far-flung lands, a dispenser of merchandise to worlds beyond the horizon! Ah, yes, Grand Inquisitor that seeks ever the Truth, so very different could it all have been!

So let us peruse awhile the facts to see how the Past is bundled together to form the Present, to understand the Great Contingency of All Things, to comprehend the Truth that the Vision of the Present is no presentiment of the Future. Let us wind back Time’s Great Clock, lo, it is the early years of the eighteen hundreds, and here we are on the Kawhia harbour as it stands in its epochal springtime. The great and indomitable—for now they are indomitable, unvanquishable, undeniable in their sovereignty—Maori tribes rule ruthlessly over the sacred land and sea. Their settlements are scattered in every nook and cranny, their number, if not legion, then very great. They sit here as if upon the pot of gold, upon a wealth of riches comprising the sacred land and sea and all they contain of creatures that crawl and swim and beat in futility their miserable stunted wings. They sit upon the pot—but for how long? For now, yes, but for ever? What thing under God’s Heaven lasts for ever? So for now, and as for the rest, we must wait to see.

But who is this who comes in the year eighteen hundred and twenty four? Why, it is the wily captain Amos Kent, come to do business with the Maori overlords! Greetings! he calls and lays down his goods. A shift of excitement is seen to run through the native watchers—for the mighty Kent brings muskets! Give me your flax, says Kent, and I will give you my muskets. And so it is done and done and done again, until the natives can stand no more under the merry burden of death and can bend their backs no more to the bone-aching toil of harvesting, dressing, bundling and hauling all that flax. But no matter, for the wants of the white man are many—it is not only the flax he wants. So now Maori take to slaughtering pigs, roasting the succulent juicy bloody meat and then barrelling it up in fat so to send it to the hungry spittle-soaked mouths of the convicted multitudes waiting across the great sea dividing this land from Terra Nullius. But man does not live by suckling pig alone! No, he needs must have his bread, so in no short order Maori tear down the trees that are now a useless burden lying heavy on the harbour’s hills—these trees make us no money, they must be gone!—to make way for waving fields of golden wheat! See how they shimmer in the noon-time sun, from north to south and all to the east, a shimmering, moving, swaying, softly soughing land of wheat! It is dreamy and golden, and the natives dream of gold when they watch the wheat in the noon-time sun!

Yes, the fields are full of golden wheat, but it is not wheat that is wanted—it is flour! So now mills spring to life as Maori set to grinding their wheat, they grind and grind. Some labour with their backs to the wheel, but some are more enterprising—they enslave water to the task! And so the hills resound with the cracking and smashing and grinding, grinding, grinding of the husky wheat until all that remains is the dust of the harvest. 

But all this flour, all these pigs in barrels, and let us not forget the potatoes and even still the toil-heavy flax, it all must go elsewhere if Maori are to realise the fruits of their endeavouring. It must go to Australia, it must even go to South America! So now they are needful of big ships, and lo, the big ships have come. It is the middle of the century and great, gold nuggets are being pulled from the ochreous Australian earth. Adventurers and traders, vagabonds and harlots, all manner of humankind is finding its way there, and all manner of humankind wants pigs and flours and potatoes and flax. So they send to Kawhia with big boats laden with all the paraphernalia needful for the keepers of the little shops, they send boats heaving with clothing and trinkets and gewgaws to delight the native eye, they deliver up tobacco to dull the native nerves and, o sleepless death!, they send ships heaving with arms so the natives can slaughter and be slaughtered.

Now the harbour is filled with ships, the streets—as yet but muddy paths, but streets all the same—are filled with traders and all manner of folk—everyone is being drawn to Kawhia by the sticky, sweet smell of success, the good and the doubtful and even those who are just—‘no thing in particular’. The Great Governor of all these Lands himself, Sir George Grey, even he comes a-visiting and declares this to be the Grandest of Ports, for which he orders a Survey be made for a Railway to run through the troublous hills that keep the still-to-be-born town from the places beyond. And now they are even building boats here—it is become the Centre of the Universe, or at least—a Place of Note! See there goes Curly Jack Grundy, captain of the cutter Maid o’ the Mill. Put out to sea already is Captain Hellfire Jack, he of the barque Tory. And now here comes Captain Pumipi—look how even the natives are getting in on the import-export racket!—under whose watchful eye sails the schooner Nebuchadnezzar. But surely not everyone can gorge themselves at this banquet? Are there not always the quick and—the dead? Must not some sink while others swim, some live while others—drown? Never a truer word spoken! So Captain Black Jim sails cheerfully with the ill-fated Karewa, only to strike the shifting, swirling, vanishing, avenging sands of the restive, merciless bar and—he turns like a turtle!—over he goes with a great big splash! And there is, too, the iller-fated Thistle, whose passengers and crew, each and every last one of them, King Neptune will drag down into his heaving briny deep.  

But what of God, where is He in the midst of this infernal stew of commerce and industry, truck and barter, profit and loss? Is there no accounting for souls in Mammon’s theatre? Is the Word not to be recited on this gaudy Stage? Lo, Salvation is at hand! The Men of the Cloth have been here all along, their voices ringing high above the sound of money changing hands. Look, see here is the good and hopeful Reverend John Whiteley, preaching in earnest to the natives concerning the City of God, a city so much grander than any that might be raised on this fiendish earth. Regrettably, if this be true, then the Reverend Whiteley will walk that City’s streets soon enough, when his heart stops a projectile fired from a native gun, while he, on bended knee, the better to pray to his God, seeks in vain to establish lasting peace between the native and the white man. That truculent and fractious Warlord Wi Kingi declares that he will blast the white plague into the sea—perhaps he has a point? ‘Go back my children, go back’ Whitely will plead with them—if Kingi has a point, Whiteley will not see it—and in time go back they will, or at least, they will be forced back down the rabbit hole from which they dared to poke their faces. But God’s minions are many, and when one falls, another rises—the Eternal Truth of the Perpetual Resurrection. So here comes the good and hopeful Reverend Schnackenberg to take Whiteley’s place—take comfort, Friend, for God’s Word will endure For Ever and Ever, and no number of projectiles will ever be sufficient to render It silent!

So, it is well in this happy land! There are riches to be made and there are souls are to be saved—the soothsayers and the augurers, peering with their narrowed eyes and furrowed brows at the curling, bulging, stinking entrails, they all prognosticate the Future to be—Good!

But then what is this? Why are the shop doors clanging to a close? Why is the Customs Officer, just lately appointed by Her Majesty the Queen to ensure She receives Her fair slice of this richly gooey pie, why is he hurriedly leaving town? Where are the big boats whose comings and a-goings were as the pumping of blood through the body, that is, were—Life itself? Where the traders and merchandisers, the proprietors and the hoteliers? Why are they all leaving when the Future is—Good? Even the drunkards and the ne’er-do-wells are rousing themselves enough that they might up and leave! What calamity is unfolding before us! What calamity, my friend? It is the Calamity of all Calamities, it is—War! The natives, always somewhat wilful, are now become obstreperous and belligerent. They will not hearken to the plain and perfidious words—o wilful natives!—the British speak that give Reason and Sense to the despoliation of the native lands. So now the despoliators will make them understand—by other means! And so now it is not only the shops that are being closed—now the natives will close—even the land itself!

For nearly twenty years it is better, if your skin be white, that you not enter into the lands of the Rohe Potae, the Country of—the Maori King! If you do, you will be politely told to leave, or else you might be—shot in the back. The country is divided, the country at war. So gone now are the fields of wheat waving softly in the noon-time sun. No man is here to till the fields, to work the sod, to hold back the past. All are gone to war, gone to kill and die. Just boys and old men remain—the boys play at killing, the old men dig up their past glories, revel in imagined victories and then? and then suffer the torments of Death foreseen. And meanwhile, like the Shadow of Death itself creeping coldly across the land, the Past returns, the dark forest returns, it swallows up the remnants of wheat that waved softly in the noon-time sun, it plunges the land into darkness. And the town? What of the town? What else but that Kawhia now lies bereft of that feverish getting and spending that seemed to have no end! All the traders and the merchants and the harlots and the boarding-house ladies are gone, even the men who were no thing in particular have left. In short—Mammon has gone in search of quieter climes. 

But what’s done is done! And the past is done, only now is now, and many terrible and splendid things have happened since the white man arrived. So the past returns but it is not the same. And because Nature abhors a Vacuum, when Mammon scampers, in comes what? for the vacuum needs must be filled. And so, the land is closed, the past is dead, the white man gone, but here are Four Horsemen to fill this Vacuum—Penury, Hunger, Misery and Disease! Above all, Disease, for Death wears many Masks, and it is not only wars that kill. A gift from the white man to the native, along with the trinkets, the baubles and the gewgaws, and not a penny asked for it! The Maori knows not what ails him, he feels feverish, he throws himself for relief into the cooling waters of the harbour, the sacred waters of the harbour, and in the cool clasp of the waters—he dies. The past is done, only now is now, and many indeed are the terrible and splendid things that have happened since the white man arrived.

It is an Age of Darkness across much of the Land. Here and elsewhere, so much killing, so much destruction of crops, burning of villages, hunting to the death, heads removed, torsos dismembered, mothers without sons, daughters bereft of fathers. But even the darkest night must have a morning. So now the war is done, and the King declares, ‘Let the Door to this Land be opened once more!’ And so Mammon returns its gaze of flinty green to these darks hills, to this vast and sprawling harbour, and—smiles. 

But not so fast, ye men of trade and commerce, truck and barter, first the Government must make things right, put things on a proper footing—before the war, there had been too much Chicanery, too much loose trading with the natives. Now settlement will proceed according to right Order and sound Regulation, and all will be treated with Justice and Fairness. Probity shall be the Cry! And so the Government offers the natives a right fair sum for forty acres of prime land for a township. Later the Government will sell this land for ten times the sum it paid—it is a good thing to do Business when you establish the Rules! And it is Fair and Just, Probity is still the Cry! Who else could buy from the natives? No one! But who can buy from the Government? Anyone! So the deal is done and the deal is Fair and Just! The past is the past, now is now and please step aside for here comes Progress!

Life again is bustling through the town, the port is pulsing again with energy—the resurrection is at hand! But there must be right Order and sound Regulation, so the Government sends in the Marine Department to erect Beacons, lights of hope and symbols of prosperity, to welcome ships to the hungry port. Yet now, in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-three, the light does not seem to be falling on the natives. Disgruntlement, disaffection, disturbance of the Mind—the natives are troubled! So they tear down the beacons, symbols not of hope and prosperity, they declare, but hated emblems of destitution, pillage, robbery and dispossession. Such a bewailing will not go unanswered. The Rule of Law will speak in the voice of the Armed Constabulary, one hundred and twenty men under the sturdy command of Major Tuke, one hundred and twenty men who will build a redoubt in Kawhia to Keep the Peace! Mammon will not be hindered by truculent natives, trade, thy will be done, even if in the deadly shadow cast by one hundred and twenty muskets! 

But after so much Closeting with Death, few there are who are eager to die. The natives retire and the muskets stay silent. But now work must be found for the hands holding the muskets, lest they become idle and begin to serve—the Devil! The constables put down their muskets to take up ‘stead spades and shovels—they will serve not the Devil but Mammon by building a road, for what good is all the gold in the world if it cannot travel! For the next several decades, this clay pass travailing its way up and over and around the serpentine hills of the harbour will be the only road in and out of the township. The only road? But one dusty, muddy, falling-from-the-hills road for a place marked out by Destiny? Marked out, certainly, but marked out for what?

The weighty Hands of Time now raise themselves up and over to tumble heavily into a new Century! It is the Twentieth since God appeared in the Form of Man to walk among us—what do the Augurs say? Optimism! Progress! A century of Unbounded Success! That is what they say and so let us be on with it! 

Kawhia again hums to the tune of commerce and trade! All manner of men and women again return to the town! It even hums to the tune of a piper who arrives by steamer to play his pipes on the black sands and bemuse the on-looking, hard-listening natives. Most of those who come to settle here are from Great Britain—Home as they dub it when deep in their cups and nostalgia has them by the throat. They left behind them the soot-stained cities of Home to discover their milk- and honey- soaked paradise in the Southern Seas! Here, for instance, comes the good Dr Campbell Jenkins, an Englishman who arrives by way of having tended to the bullet-broken and bloodied bodies of the brave Redcoats fighting the unruly Boers. Truth be told, the Hippocratic ministrations of the good doctor are seldom wanted. Time is not given the people who come here to indulge themselves in a Malady—that is to say, the sort of person who comes here is not the type to lie down until—dead. But when, as does happen occasionally, the doctor is wanted, then he will take up his bag of magic potions and mount his horse or board the launch and render what care he can with spell and incantation. And when his potions and mystical phraseologies are not needed, there are other things a doctor might do—for instance, he can stack bundles of flax in preparation for transport to distant ports. Often he is found of an evening talking and arguing at the St. Elmo’s boarding house, that wholesome establishment tended by the compassionate Mrs Walter Morgan, who flings its doors open to all-comers, feeds them a restorative supper and then beds them down with a snug blanket in every space imaginable, until there remains not even a corner nook into which a man might crawl to pass the night.

And who else do we find? Why, there’s Tom Scott, the storekeeper, and Turnbull, who owns the other store. Later a third store will be opened by Shiewery, who will come from the Balkans and desire to build himself a mausoleum on Motutara Point in which to spend all eternity—it is a fair spot indeed in which to pass such a length of time, but he will not get his mausoleum—the people instead will get a reserve. Now, if we turn down this side-street, here we will find the chemist, Wilson, who perhaps needs his medicaments more than his customers, on account of his wheezing, asthma-laden lungs. And as Time grinds on, Percy and Dick Ward will come to town and raise a great two-storey building to house their plumbing and engineering store on one floor, and a place for dances and entertainments on the other. And here comes the town policeman, Jack Morgan, a genial man of easy-going disposition who is happy to lock up the town drunk for a night in a lean-to without a lock—a wheelbarrow against the door works just as well! And the town now even has its own man in the Parliament, the more or less Honourable W.W. McCardle, who can speechify to the town’s interest and serve up its sausage and pork both, for the Member of the Upper House is also—the town butcher!

So now the town is again thriving and the men of business and the women of leisure must have news of the world, and so they turn the pages of Kawhia’s own newspaper, ‘The Settler’. Under Pettit’s punctilious eye, ‘The Settler’ offers a sober rendering of events both domestic and international. But then Pettit finds his talents demanded across the Tasman and so sets off to run his rule over the ‘The Melbourne Herald’, no less! The vacated editorship is filled ably by Schnackenberg. Descended of a man of the cloth who came to preach the Word of God, Schnackenberg has inherited the gifts needed to print the Word of Man.

But all this spending and getting is productive of one thing in particular—wealth! But where is a man to put it? For with wealth comes fear! With nothing to lose, a man fears nothing. With everything to lose, a man fears—everything! But a rich man need not fear where there is secure bank vault into which he may deposit his gains, well- or ill-gotten as they may be. The Bank of New Zealand sees there is business to be done—it throws open its doors and says ‘Welcome—all ye with gold!’ It comes complete with a manager and two or three keen, young fellows ready to husband the town’s wealth. Surely no better sign exists to proclaim the health, happiness and prosperity of a town than this, the open doors of a bank! It is the town’s barometer. And its forecast?—fair weather!
Yet clouds are spied on the horizon, dark and ominous. But fear not, for they portend no rain! They are clouds of progress, clouds in fact not at all, but smoke, the smoke of a million trees going up in flames! The once-cleared land that then was lost is now found again, silently awaiting the sweat and labour of man. And as the year nineteen hundred and seven drowsily perambulates into the year that needs must follow, the sun shines with particular vigour and the burning is especially fierce. The work is hot, dirty and—dangerous. Men are hurt. Men even—die. Progress! A hospital is needed but funds are needed first. So an annual ball is got up to raise the funds. It is the finest and grandest event of the year and all the people of Kawhia, from north, south and to the east hasten to dance and be merry and to forget the daily hardships and sufferings and doings-without. Some come by horse, some on foot, many by boat. One boat will run aground on a sand-bank and be stuck there till the early evening when the beneficent tide will grant it its liberty. But no matter, the cheery folk on-board keep their smiles, for the dancing goes on until early morning and they will not miss out.

But wait, for what is that which gathers darkly on the horizon? Are they not clouds, real clouds, clouds full of rain and ruin? Clouds they be, clouds of an uncommon variety, for they encircle the very earth. The whole world has gone to war and again is heard the trumpet blast of vengeful Death! Let us look to our vaulted barometer to send our gaze into the futurity of undone doings. Alas, the glass makes for unhappy reading. Storms, tumult, collapse and decay. Silence. Somnolence. A futurity of nothing. How does a barometer, a bank, signal such things? It closes its doors and only opens them again—never!

And so it ends. Silence. Somnolence. This is how it will go now for Kawhia—for the next hundred years. The promised road to carry the wealth of ships will come too late. The railway will come not at all. Like the knelling of Death, only the far-distant lament of the train carrying goods to distant, prosperous Auckland will be heard here. The town slips slowly into the deepest slumber. In the year nineteen hundred and twenty-three, the judicious and sober ‘New Zealand Herald’ will observe, ‘There is probably no part of the Auckland province which has failed to fulfil its predicted future so markedly as the district and seaport of Kawhia’. But why? Why, when Fortune made such promises? Why, when the Cup of Hope had so sweetly over-spilled its rim? Why? Just ask that man who sits morosely on the silent, barren, do-nothing wharf. He will tell you sure enough. Jealousy. Envy. Machiavellian machinations. The slippery merchants and the double-dealing politicians of Auckland, they are to blame for Kawhia’s plummetous collapse into early senescence. That hideosity with its green-eyed stare could stomach no rival, so Kawhia was put to bed. The road will come too late, the railway not at all. The ships will cease their traffic, and the merchants and the traders will pack away their goods and do their money-making elsewhere. The town sleeps. So it ends.


  1. Enjoyed this!! I'd love to know the origin of the Shiewery reference - I'm looking at the Ward Bros sign in the Kawhia museum as I write this. cheers John Thomson (Director Kawhia Museum)

  2. Much obliged, John! A good deal of the information, including that about Shiewery, came from an account written by an early(-ish) settler, William 'Ted' Anderson. He began farming around Kawhia shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. The Alexander Turnbull Library has a copy of his account (and the reference for that is MS-Papers-10737-2). It's a good read!