Under the Southern Cross
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We are told by the early missionaries that the Maoris possessed an oral mythology rudely resembling that of the classics. They firmly believed in a future state of existence, and built rude temples to a Great Spirit, but could see no harm whatever in making war upon neighboring tribes for the purpose of replenishing their larder. So late as 1840 their greatest delight was the war-dance, the cannibal feast, and the boasting war-song. The braggadocio of their fighting songs would do credit to Falstaff; but the Maori affords us the anomaly of a braggart who is not by any means a coward. Now and then there is seen among them a face of so unmistakably a Jewish cast as to set the imagination at work to find some possible connection, far back among the by-gone ages, between this race and the Hebrews. When this peculiar cast of features is seen among the girls or young women, it forms a face strikingly attractive.
The Maoris when first discovered had many games and sports which were identical with our own, – such as flying kites, skipping rope, cat's-cradle, gymnastic pole-exercise, hide-and-seek, dancing, and walking upon stilts. They are represented to have been good orators, and have handed down proverbs from generation to generation, – terse sayings, which are still preserved among them, and which are in spirit similar to many of those of Confucius. Captain Cook estimated when he first visited them that the Maoris had passed the period of their best days. He thought that in the century previous to his coming hither they had eaten about one fourth of their number. The race now numbers only thirty-six or thirty-eight thousand, though it is certain it aggregated a hundred thousand and more one century ago. It seems that a half-caste man or woman rarely lives to the age of forty years, and of the pure-blooded we saw comparatively few old persons. Now and then one was met, hideous of feature, whose deeply indented wrinkles rivalled the lines of tattoo, and who was bent in figure, decrepit, and bereft of most of the human faculties. Such a one, perhaps, was not so extremely old in years, but was prematurely aged. They are all most inveterate smokers, men, women, and children; and you can give a Maori maiden of "sweet sixteen" nothing more acceptable to her taste than a pipe and a plug of smoking-tobacco.
We were told before going among these New Zealand aborigines that they had been Christianized; that is to say, they had discarded idolatry and the doctrines of their fathers, and accepted the gospel as propounded to them by the white missionaries. But this was not found to be exactly true. If large numbers of them have at times professed Christianity, many of the "converted" have also returned to their mumbo-jumbo faith. Half of them, we judge, have never even pretended to be Christians. Before you can convert savages, you must in a degree humanize them; and this humanizing process has yet to be accomplished among this race. The Maoris live nearly like the lower class of animals, preferring that sort of life even after half a century of intercourse with the whites.They may for policy's sake listen to, and pretend to accept Christianity, as many of the Chinese are known to do; but both races, it is well understood, return to their original faith at the first opportunity. The modern Maori accepts the creed of the missionaries because it is the easiest thing for him to do; but he still believes in witchcraft, the evil-eye, and sorcery as openly practised by his designing priests. The Roman Catholic faith, which addresses itself so palpably to the eye by form and ceremony, is most popular among them, and has by far the largest number of professed adherents of any denomination.
The Maoris isolate themselves mostly in what is called the King's Country of the North Island, which embraces the Hot Lake District; and here they live under their own rule and customs. Their king is absolute in the domain claimed by them, which is held inviolate by treaty with the English Crown. Their decrease in numbers is as rapid in the King's Country as it is where they are brought into more close connection with the whites. As a people they have manifestly fulfilled the purpose for which Providence placed them upon these islands of the South Sea; and now, like the Moa, they must pass off the same and give way to another race of beings. So it is with the Red man of America, and so was it with the now totally extinct natives of Tasmania. No philanthropic effort can stop the fulfilment of the inevitable. It is Kismet.
The town of Napier is made up in the business portion of one-story houses, though in the main street there are found some establishments rising to the dignity of two stories. A skeleton frame of wood, covered on roof and sides with corrugated iron only, forms the material of many of the stores and dwelling-houses. There is a long esplanade just back of the town, within three minutes' walk of the centre, which has a most superb sea view. It borders upon a shelving beach two miles long, and though not suitable for bathing purposes on account of having a dangerous undertow, it is very charming as a promenade. Iron seats are arranged here and there upon the crown of the roadway, where one can sit at leisure and enjoy the hoarse music of the waves, at the same time looking off upon an immense area of wave-tossed waters, the scene occasionally being varied by the sight of a passing steamship leaving her long trail of smoke upon the distant horizon. It was a cool and somewhat boisterous winter's day when we were there, and yet the seats upon the beach were occupied by some romantic couples who seemed rather inclined to force the season by imitating turtle-doves, except that the latter are not supposed to mate until the genial spring-time.
One day was quite sufficient time to pass in such a place as Napier. We had come hither by steamer, and were glad to get on board ship once more as night came on, which found us directly steaming away northward. Next morning soon after sunrise we cast anchor in an open roadstead off the town of Gisborne, where we took on board a couple of hundred of sheep transported to our ship from the shore by means of a lighter, and which were to be landed at Auckland. It was a cold, dreary, foggy Sabbath morning; the ship rolled heavily, and the appearance of the little steam-tug, which was lifted at one moment above our bulwarks and the next plunged almost beneath our keel, was not sufficiently inviting to induce us to land, so we know nothing personally about the town called Gisborne, except that no place can ever amount to much commercially which depends upon such an exposed roadstead for its shipping facilities. The disagreeable smell, the dirt, and the discomfort generally caused by those poor sheep on their way to be slaughtered, is remembered with a shudder. They were so closely packed together upon our open and uncovered deck, as to be unable to lie down at all; and when the hour of slaughter came it must have been to them – thirsty, hungry, and weary as they were, after two days and nights on board – a great relief from suffering. The outrageous inhumanity exercised toward these poor helpless creatures rendered us quite miserable through those forty-eight hours.
From Gisborne we were bound to Auckland, and when we arrived off that port we passed Sir George Gray's island, which has a Maori name signifying Shag Island. It is situated over twenty miles seaward from the city of Auckland, at the entrance of the Hauraki Gulf. Here Sir George has pitched his tent for life, being now well advanced in age. As a young man, when in the engineer corps of the English army, his rare ability and conspicuous talents commanded general respect, and he was rapidly advanced through the several stages of promotion. He received public honors at an early age, being Governor of South Australia at thirty; afterward he was Governor of Cape Town, Africa, and later on was made Governor of New Zealand, though he is now only a member of its House of Assembly. His name is held in great reverence here by all classes, as that of one who has ever been a true promoter of the best interests of these colonies.
Sir George has a refined literary taste, and is a profound ethnological scholar. Probably no European has so thoroughly mastered the Maori tongue as he, or done so much toward producing a correct impression concerning the race. In any serious trouble between the aborigines and the colonists, both parties are always ready to abide by his settlement of the matter. The natives know he has their best good at heart, and follow his advice under all circumstances. He was Governor during the last and most serious war which occurred between the Maoris and the whites, and to his influence was chiefly due its successful and amicable end. While he was firm and energetic during the war, at its close he saved the remnant of the race from beggary by securing to them the large tract of country which they now occupy. This left them still free and independent, though as victors Sir George's government might have confiscated all the native lands.
Sir George's home upon this spacious island, which he owns, is a most delightful retreat, where he has gathered his household gods about him, consisting of many books, works of art, and curiosities relating to these islands. Here, surrounded by a pleasant family circle devoted to his happiness, he has elected to live to the close of his life. He formerly possessed a library which he had been many years in collecting under peculiar advantages, and which numbered over ten thousand volumes, mostly historical works. This collection he has recently presented to the corporation of Auckland for the benefit of the public, and it has been added to the Public Library of the city.
Shag Island is now a tropical garden, producing the fruits of all lands and the flowers of all latitudes. Oranges, lemons, and bananas were seen growing down to its very shores, while its sloping sides were covered with palms, cocoanuts, and various tropical trees flourishing side by side with those of hardier climes. Sir George is an enthusiastic gardener, and has here met with phenomenal success in the acclimatization of plants, trees, fruits, and flowers of all regions. There is a peculiar tree which thrives on the seaward side of this island, named by the Maoris pokutukawa, which signifies, "wet in the ocean's spray." It bears a profusion of crimson flowers; but both its roots and its willow-like boughs seek the water with a very obvious natural inclination, and to them adhere the sweet little oysters native to the Hauraki Gulf. Thus it has been said, half in fable and half in truth, that the trees in New Zealand bear oysters!
What a change has come over this island, which not long ago was covered with a tangled forest, making one of the special strongholds of the aborigines! It was the aggressive tribe of Momona that so long and so successfully held Shag Island, whence their chief made daring raids upon the mainland to keep his larder supplied with the flesh of his enemies. At last, however, the tribes of the mainland joined together and attacked the island in a body, putting its thousand defenders to the sword; and after feasting long upon their bodies, the successful invaders returned to celebrate their victory at the foot of Mount Eden, whose giant proportions overlook the present city of Auckland.
Auckland is the northern metropolis of New Zealand, and to us seemed to be its most representative city. As we have before mentioned, it was formerly the capital of the country until Wellington was selected for the headquarters of the Government, as being the more central and accessible from the various islands. So beautiful and picturesque are the bay and harbor of Auckland that we were not at all surprised to hear its citizens call it the Naples of New Zealand. Before the European settlers came hither, this was the locality where the most savage wars were carried on by the natives, and where the most warlike tribes lived in fortified villages. Though the country has virtually no history that is known to us, it has a recognized past extending back for some centuries. When the missionaries first came here, about the year 1814, the main subsistence of the natives who lived around what is now Auckland harbor, was human flesh. The first white immigrants, as well as the seamen of chance vessels driven upon the coast, were invariably killed, cooked, and eaten by the Maoris, until the white men became more wary, and by superior intelligence, backed by more effective weapons, proved themselves to be the masters. Thus the time soon came when the natives dared not attack the whites; but they still carried on their cannibalistic wars against one another, apparently determined upon mutual destruction. Not only did cannibalism prevail here at the time of the early discoveries, but also in Brazil, in the West Indies, in the Pacific Islands, along the coast of North America, and among the Indians of Chili, who ate the early navigators that landed upon their shores.
This province bears the same name as the city, and is a region of grand forests, fertile plains, and majestic rivers, – the very opposite of arid inland Australia. The variety and value of its trees suitable for timber are exceptionally noticeable; it was this fact which first drew to New Zealand the attention of European traders. Hence come the famous kauri spars, or ship-timber, the best for this special purpose which can be found in any land. The kauri-tree belongs to the pine family, yet is quite distinct from all other conifers, bearing a lance-shaped tapering leaf, and growing to great heights. It is only too well known, however, that the activity of this export trade is fast denuding these grand kauri-forests.
The isthmus upon which the city of Auckland is built is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable volcanic districts in the world, though the agency of subterranean fires is visible enough to the eye of the traveller all over New Zealand. Mount Tongariro, six thousand feet in height, is even now in constant activity, with occasional vigorous outbursts. The violent earthquakes which occur in both the North and South Islands cause alternate depressions and elevations. The severest modern earthquake took place so late as 1855, raising the coast-line four feet higher for many miles. As in the peninsula of Scandinavia, we here find a grand longitudinal mountain range extending from the extreme of the South Island through the Auckland district to the far north, forming a backbone, as it were, to the country. We were told that within a radius of ten miles from the centre of Auckland there are sixty-three volcanic cones, or points, in this range where eruptions have taken place. These hills vary in height from two to seven hundred feet; each of them was fortified and occupied by native tribes a century ago, the highest of all being Mount Eden, close to the present town. On this there are abundant evidences still left of the native fortification; but of the large Maori population that once covered the peninsula, and lived securely in these pahs, or fortified villages, not a soul remains.
Auckland is spread over a large territory; its villa-like houses, each with a pretty garden attached (except in the business section), cover the sloping hillside and valley from the foot of Mount Eden to the waters of the bay. Queen Street is the main thoroughfare of the town, – a broad avenue extending from the wharves to the suburbs, lined with a rather motley collection of buildings, some of which, however, are large and have fair architectural pretensions. There are upon this street a dozen or more fine stone buildings occupied by banks, insurance offices, warehouses, and some very handsome stores. Besides these there are several of brick, four stories high, with handsome fa?ades. But the town is mainly constructed of wood, and – as we noted was the case in Wellington – has more than once been nearly swept away by conflagrations; so that a less inflammable material is now universally being adopted for building purposes. The principal public edifices are the Post-Office, Supreme Court House, Government House, Public Library, and the Hospital, while churches are to be seen in all sections of the town. There is also a University, a college for boys, and a high school for girls, with numerous primary schools.
The harbor is one of the largest and best in New Zealand, – indeed, we may say in Australasia. Though it is not so large or so varied in scenery, some unprejudiced persons compare it for beauty with that of Sydney. It has two dry docks, one of which is the largest in the South Pacific, being five hundred feet long and eighty wide. There is ample depth in the harbor for vessels of any size, and excellent wharf facilities. The shorter distance of Auckland from the ports of America gives it an advantage over any other seaport in Australasia. It is reached from London across the American continent in thirty-seven days, while to reach Sydney requires four days more of steam navigation.
This northern metropolis is situated, as already mentioned, in the centre of rich timber-lands, and also of abundant coal deposits. Should the Panama Canal be completed at some future day, Auckland would be the first port of call and the last of departure between Europe and the colonies of the South Pacific. Its present population, including that of the immediate suburbs, is something over sixty thousand; that of the whole province of Auckland is one hundred and thirty thousand.
The Ponsonby suburb and the village of Whou are composed of pleasant residences tastefully ornamented. Parnell, as it is called, forms another notable suburb, rendered attractive by hedge-rows, drooping willows, and prettily-arranged gardens. From this point one gets a fine view of the outspread bay lying below, exhibiting its various and busy craft. Steam ferry-boats are constantly gliding across the harbor, little white-winged cutters bend gracefully to the breeze, the tall masts of sailing-ships line the piers, and tiny row-boats glance hither and thither. The lofty marine-signal hill looms up across the harbor in its verdant garb, while volcanic cones, a little way inland on either shore, form an irregular line of background. Far away, and beyond all, the eye sees the swelling bosom of the restless Southern Ocean.
Both the level and steep streets of the town are "corded" with tramways, carried on at present by horsepower; but we were told that a cable-system with local engines was contemplated, and would doubtless soon be adopted, as the conformation of the town particularly favors this mode of transit. The pleasure-ground of Auckland is the Domain, with well-arranged walks shaded by an abundance of noble trees, both native and exotic; these grounds are bordered on one side by Parnell and on the other by the city. One pleasure-resort, the favorite of babyhood and nursery-maids, is called Albert Park, which is a small mountain rather than a park, as it is quite a climb to reach the summit, toward which zigzag paths are constructed, without which facility ladders would be required to reach the conical top. This reserve is but a few rods from Queen Street, and it rises therefore in the very centre of the town, which it overlooks in all directions; even Mount Eden, a mile away, loses one half of its commanding aspect when viewed from the top of Albert Park. On its highest point there is a tall flag-staff with signal halyards, which did not seem to be in regular use, except perhaps to raise the national flag on special occasions. Two or three large cannon were also found here, mounted upon awkward carriages; but it may be doubted if they could be made of much use under any circumstances.
As we have said, Queen Street contains many fine stores, and these are well stocked with a due mingling of a choice and a common class of goods. The necessities of life were found to be extraordinarily cheap. Meat, good beef and mutton, might be bought for four cents a pound; wearing apparel – all-wool goods – was offered at very low prices; the fish is good, in large variety, and cheap; oysters are abundant, and to be had all along shore simply for the gathering. These last are small, but of very sweet flavor.
The first excursion enjoyed after arriving at Auckland was a pleasant walk of a mile or more to Mount Eden, in the direction of the Khyber Pass. It is not a severe if a toilsome climb to reach the top, which is nearly eight hundred feet above sea-level. The terraced and pitted sides of the mountain show that it was formerly one of the Maori strongholds. At the top there is a hollow inverted cone of considerable depth, the sides of which are covered with creeping vines and ferns, the bottom being strewn here and there with rubble, slag, and hardened lava which looks as though it had not been cooled a very long time. Here we have clearly defined the mouth of an extinct volcano. If Vesuvius slept for centuries and then burst forth to overwhelm an entire city, why may not this mountain be expected in the course of time to do likewise?
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