John Rutherford, the White Chief Part 1

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John Rutherford, the White Chief.

by George Lillie Craik, et al.


Eighty years ago, when the story told in these pages was first published, "forecastle yarns" were more thrilling than they are now. In these days we look for information in regard to a new land's capabilities for pastoral, agricultural, and commercial pursuits; in those days it was customary, with a large portion of the British public, at any rate, to expect sailors to tell stories

Of the cannibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders,

and to relate other particulars likely to arrest the attention and excite the imagination. Men then sailed to unknown lands, peopled by unknown barbarians, and their adventures in strange and mysterious countries were clothed in a romance which has been almost completely dispelled by the telegraph, the newspaper press, cheap books, and rapid transit, and by the utilitarian ideas which have swept over the world.

It was largely to meet the public taste for something wonderful and striking that John Rutherford's story of adventures in New Zealand saw the light of publicity. In fairness to the original editor and the publisher, however, it should be stated that the story was given also as a means of supplying interesting information in regard to a country and a race of which very little was then known. It was embodied in a book of 400 pages, ent.i.tled "The New Zealanders," published in 1830, for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, by the famous publisher, Charles Knight.

He was a versatile, talented, and ambitious man; but all his ambitions ran in the direction of the public good. From the time of his early manhood, he wished to become a public instructor. At first he tried to achieve his end by means of journalism, which he entered in 1812, by reporting Parliamentary debates for "The Globe" and "The British Press,"

two London journals. Later on he started a publishing business in London. Dealing only with instructive subjects, he established "Knight's Quarterly Magazine," and other periodicals, to which he was one of the prominent contributors.

He was not a business man, and in 1828 he was overwhelmed by financial difficulties. In the meantime he had become acquainted with the brilliant but erratic Lord Brougham, who had completed arrangements for putting into operation one of his great enterprises for educating the ma.s.ses. This was the establishment of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It began a series of publications under the t.i.tle of "The Library of Entertaining Knowledge," which Knight published. The first volume, written by Knight himself, was "The Menageries"; the second was "The New Zealanders." Other publications were issued by the society until it was dissolved in 1846. Knight continued to send works out of the press nearly to the end of his useful life, in March, 1873.

Some of these were written by himself, some by friends, and some were translations. His "Penny Magazine," at the end of its first year, had a sale of 200,000 copies. Amongst his other publications are Lane's "Arabian Nights," "The Pictorial Bible," "The Pictorial History of England," and--the object of his highest ambition--"The Pictorial Shakespeare." In "Pa.s.sages of a Working Life," he wrote his own biography. In spite of his strenuous life he died a poor man. He was an enthusiast, but his impetuous nature induced him to attempt to carry out his schemes before they had matured. He had a quick temper and an eloquent tongue. The esteem in which he was held by his friends is shown by the admirable jest with which Douglas Jerrold took leave of him one evening at a social gathering. "Good Knight," Jerrold said.

The "New Zealanders" was published anonymously, and for many years the authorship was attributed to Lord Brougham. There is no doubt now, however, that the author was George Lillie Craik, a scholar and a man of letters. He was born at Kennoway, Fife, in 1798. He studied at St.

Andrew's, and went through a divinity course, but never applied to be licensed as a preacher. Like Knight, he was attracted by journalism, which he regarded as a means of instructing the public. When he was only twenty years of age he was editor of "The Star," a local newspaper. In London he adopted authorship as a profession. In 1849, he was appointed Professor of English Literature and History at the Queen's College, Belfast, and later on, although he still resided at Belfast, he became examiner for the Indian Civil Service. All his literary work is distinguished by careful research. Perhaps his best effort is represented by "The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties," published in the same year as "The New Zealanders." With a colleague he edited "The Pictorial History of England," in four volumes. Amongst his other works are "A Romance of the Peerage," "Spencer and his Poetry," "A History of Commerce," "The English of Shakespeare," and "Bacon, his Writings and Philosophy." He had a flowing and cultured style, and he embellished his work with many references to the cla.s.sics. He was one of the best read men of his time. His extensive reading and the simplicity of his style made him a very welcome contributor to the "Penny Magazine," the "Penny Cyclopaedia," and other popular publications. He had a paralytic stroke while lecturing in Belfast in February, 1866, and he died in June of the same year. It is said of him that he was popular with students and welcome in society.

It is not known if Craik met Rutherford. He probably did not. He may have had "The New Zealanders" partly written when the ma.n.u.script describing Rutherford's adventures was placed in his hands. In that case, he wove it into his book, using it as a means of ill.u.s.trating his remarks on the Maoris' customs. His work bears the stamp of honesty and industrious care. He collected all the information dealing with New Zealand available at the time, and he produced a fairly large book, which, for many years after it was published, must have been a valuable contribution to the public's store of "entertaining knowledge."

Rutherford, as his narrative shows, was ten years amongst the Maoris. He was an ignorant sailor. He could not write, and the account of his adventures, it is explained, was dictated to a friend while he was on the voyage back to England. Craik says that if allowance is made for some grammatical solecisms, the story, as it appeared in the ma.n.u.script, was told with great clearness, and sometimes with considerable spirit.

Knight evidently knew him, as it is stated in "The New Zealanders" that "the publisher of this volume had many conversations with him when he was exhibited in London." It is probable, too, that Brougham knew him.

Brougham, indeed, may have "discovered" him and introduced him to Knight. Rutherford was just the kind of man in whose company Brougham delighted to spend hours. He would listen to the recital of the thrilling adventures with the Maoris with breathless interest. A story told of the madcap days of Brougham's youth gives some idea of the welcome he would extend to Rutherford. One evening, after Brougham and some other gay spirits had supped together in London, they saw a mob of idle scoundrels beating an unfortunate woman with brutal ferocity. The young fellows went to her rescue. Their interference increased the tumult, and all the watchmen in the neighbourhood were soon about their ears. In return for their chivalry they were lodged in the watch-house.

Amongst their fellow-prisoners there was an old sailor, who sat cowering over the embers of the fire. He had been in the American War. Brougham picked up an acquaintance with him, and all night long the young man held the old one in conversation, ascertaining the strength of the forces in the engagements, the scenes of the battles, the nature of the manoeuvres, the advances and reverses, and so on, until his avariciousness for knowledge was satisfied.

Neither Brougham nor Knight, nor even Craik, had sufficient means of testing the accuracy of Rutherford's story. Unfortunately there are many points on which the narrative is not only inaccurate but misleading.

Craik concludes that Poverty Bay, where Cook first landed in New Zealand, is the scene of the capture of the "Agnes." Rutherford, however, gives the name as "Tokomardo." This corresponds with a bay some miles further north, and about forty miles from the East Cape. The Maoris call it Tokomaru, which Rutherford evidently intended. His description of the place might represent Tokomaru almost as well as Poverty Bay. The strangest part of the affair, however, is that the Maoris on that coast have no knowledge whatever of the "Agnes," the vessel which, according to Rutherford, was captured in the bay he describes. Eighty years ago the arrival of a vessel at New Zealand was an advent of the utmost importance. The news spread throughout the land with surprising rapidity, and whole tribes flocked to the port to see the "Pakehas" and trade for their iron implements and guns. The Maoris of the district know of three white men, whom they called Riki, Punga, and Tapore, who lived amongst them for some time in the early days, before colonization began; but they have no knowledge of Rutherford. The chiefs to whom Rutherford frequently refers did not belong to that district. The chief who takes the princ.i.p.al part in the story, "Aimy,"

cannot be traced. The name is spelt wrongly, and it is difficult to supply a Maori name that the spelling in the book might represent. This is surprising, as the Maoris are very careful in regard to their genealogical records.[A] While Rutherford was in New Zealand some terrible slaughters took place in the Poverty Bay district, but he does not refer to these, although they must have been one of the princ.i.p.al subjects of conversation amongst the Maoris for months, perhaps years.

Near the end of the narrative, Rutherford gives an account of a great battle, in which the chief Hongi was a prominent figure. His description of what took place is incorrect in several respects. Victory went to Hongi, not, as Rutherford says, to the people of Kaipara and their allies, although they were victorious in the first skirmish. The battle is known as Te Ika-a-rangi-nui, that is the Great Fish of the Sky or the Milky Way, and it took place in February, 1825. As Rutherford states, Hongi was present, and wore the famous coat of mail armour which had been given to him by His Majesty King George IV. when he was in England in 1820. The strife was caused not by an attempt to steal Hongi's armour, as Rutherford suggests, but by a thirst for revenge for the death of a chief of the Nga-Puhi tribe, to which Hongi belonged. The chief Whare-umu, evidently identical with "Ewarree-hum" in Rutherford's narrative, did not belong to the party that Rutherford was connected with; he was related to the man whose murder was avenged, and seems to have been Hongi's first lieutenant. Some authorities, notably Bishop Williams, of Waiapu,[B] and Mr. Percy Smith,[C] believe that Rutherford was not present at the battle, and that he obtained all his information from others. Bishop Williams, who knows the Poverty Bay district as well as anyone, has come to the conclusion that Rutherford must have spent his years in New Zealand in the Bay of Islands district; and Mr Percy Smith, in a letter to me, says that he has always entertained the idea that Rutherford was one of the men taken when the schooner "Brothers"

was attacked at Kennedy Bay in 1815. Bishop Williams sets up the theory that Rutherford was a deserter from a vessel which visited New Zealand, that he induced the Maoris to tattoo him in order that he might escape detection after he had returned to civilization, and that he concocted the story of the capture of the "Agnes" to account for his reappearance amongst Europeans. The weakness of this theory is that he evidently did not object to publicity, and that the tattooing would make him a conspicuous man who could not avoid public attention. If Bishop Williams is right in a.s.suming that Rutherford wished to escape detection, he took the very best course to defeat his object.

Whatever Rutherford's object may have been, and whether he deceived the author and publisher of "The New Zealanders," or merely erred through ignorance and lack of observation, there is no doubt that he spent some years with the Maoris in the northern part of New Zealand. His tattooed face is sufficient evidence of that. The pattern is the Maori "moko."

The tattooing on his breast, stomach, and arms, however, is not the work of Maoris; that was done, probably, by natives at some of the islands, or by sailors. I hardly think that those who read the narrative will agree with Bishop Williams's opinion that it is "a mere romance." It is more like the story of an ignorant, un.o.bservant, careless sailor, who entertained no idea that any importance would be attached to his statements. Many mistakes were probably made in the work of dictating the narrative to a fellow-sailor. If Rutherford had been bent upon making a romantic story, he would have told it in a different form.

There is no straining after effect in the ma.n.u.script reproduced by Craik. The faults are inaccuracies, not exaggerations. Some excuse may be found for Rutherford's mistakes in the description of the battle Te Ika-a-rangi-nui in the fact that modern Maori scholars cannot agree on important details, there being differences of opinion in regard to even the year in which the battle was fought.

[Ill.u.s.tration: A Maori's shoulder mat _Christchurch Museum_.]

It is felt that, with all its blemishes, the story has a good claim to be included in the list of New Zealand works that are now being reprinted by Messrs. Whitcombe and Tombs, to whom the people of New Zealand are deeply indebted. When Mr. Whitcombe first asked me to edit Rutherford's story for his firm, I proposed to take it alone, leaving out all the rest of Craik's work in "The New Zealanders." On reading the book again I came to the conclusion that many of Craik's remarks, although discursive at times, are sufficiently interesting to be read now, and I have included in the reprint a large portion of his original writings. I have retained his spelling of Maori words, but have made many corrections in footnotes. The book is not sent out as an authentic account of the Maoris. "The New Zealanders" was the first book that attempted to deal with them, and it has been superseded by many which have been written in the light of more extensive knowledge, and in them students will find results of much patient study and research.



February 13th, 1908.


[Footnote A: At my request, Mr. S. Percy Smith, the author of "Hawaiki, the Original Home of the Maori," endeavoured to trace "Aimy," but even his extensive knowledge of the Maori language and tribal histories failed to bring that man to light. Mr. Smith explains that "Ai" in Rutherford's spelling represents "E," a vocative, in the accepted method of spelling, and "my" represents "mai." The two words, combined, would be "E Mai." In this way, "Mai's" attention would be called. But "Mai"

may be the first, second, or third syllable of a man's name, according to euphony. The name supplied in the narrative, therefore, is no guide in a search for Rutherford's friendly chief.]

[Footnote B: Transactions New Zealand Inst.i.tute, volume xxiii., page 453.]

[Footnote C: "Journal of the Polynesian Society," volume x., page 35.]




John Rutherford, according to his own account, was born at Manchester about the year 1796. He went to sea, he states, when he was hardly more than ten years of age, having up to that time been employed as a piecer in a cotton factory in his native town; and after that he appears to have been but little in England, or even on sh.o.r.e, for many years.

He served for a considerable time on board a man-of-war off the coast of Brazil; and was afterwards at the storming of San Sebastian, in August, 1813. On coming home from Spain, he entered himself on board another king's ship, bound for Madras, in which he afterwards proceeded to China by the east pa.s.sage, and lay for about a year at Macao.

In the course of this voyage his ship touched at several islands in the great Indian Archipelago, among others at the Bashee Islands,[D] which have been rarely visited. On his return from the east he embarked on board a convict vessel bound for New South Wales; and afterwards made two trading voyages among the islands of the South Sea.

It was in the course of the former of these that he first saw New Zealand, the vessel having touched at the Bay of Islands, on her way home to Port Jackson.

His second trading voyage in those seas was made in the "Magnet," a three-masted schooner, commanded by Captain Vine; but this vessel having put in at Owhyhee,[E] Rutherford fell sick and was left on that island.

Having recovered, however, in about a fortnight, he was taken on board the "Agnes," an American brig of six guns and fourteen men, commanded by Captain Coffin, which was then engaged in trading for pearl and tortoisesh.e.l.l among the islands of the Pacific.

This vessel, after having touched at various other places, on her return from Owhyhee, approached the east coast of New Zealand, intending to put in for refreshments at the Bay of Islands.

Rutherford states in his journal that this event, which was to him of such importance, occurred on March 6th, 1816. They first came in sight of the Barrier Islands, some distance to the south of the port for which they were making. They accordingly directed their course to the north; but they had not got far on their way when it began to blow a gale from the north-east, which, being aided by a current, not only made it impossible for them to proceed to the Bay of Islands, but even carried them past the mouth of the Thames. It lasted for five days, and when it abated they found themselves some distance to the south of a high point of land, which, from Rutherford's description, there can be no doubt must have been that to which Captain Cook gave the name of East Cape.

Rutherford calls it sometimes the East, and sometimes the South-East Cape, and describes it as the highest part of the coast. It lies nearly in lat.i.tude 37 42' S.

The land directly opposite to them was indented by a large bay. This the captain was very unwilling to enter, believing that no ship had ever anch.o.r.ed in it before. We have little doubt, however, that this was the very bay into which Cook first put, on his arrival on the coasts of New Zealand, in the beginning of October, 1769. He called it Poverty Bay, and found it to lie in lat.i.tude 38 42' S. The bay in which Rutherford now was must have been at least very near this part of the coast; and his description answers exactly to that which Cook gives of Poverty Bay.

It was, says Rutherford, in the form of a half-moon, with a sandy beach round it, and at its head a fresh-water river, having a bar across its mouth, which makes it navigable only for boats. He mentions also the height of the land which forms its sides. All these particulars are noticed by Cook. Even the name given to it by the natives, as reported by the one, is not so entirely unlike that stated by the other, as to make it quite improbable that the two are merely the same word differently misrepresented. Cook writes it Taoneroa, and Rutherford Takomardo. The slightest examination of the vocabularies of barbarous tongues, which have been collected by voyagers and travellers, will convince every one of the extremely imperfect manner in which the ear catches sounds to which it is unaccustomed, and of the mistakes to which this and other causes give rise, in every attempt which is made to take down the words of a language from the native p.r.o.nunciation, by a person who does not understand it.

Reluctant as the captain was to enter this bay, from his ignorance of the coast, and the doubts he consequently felt as to the disposition of the inhabitants, they at last determined to stand in for it, as they had great need of water, and did not know when the wind might permit them to get to the Bay of Islands.

They came to anchor, accordingly, off the termination of a reef of rocks, immediately under some elevated land, which formed one of the sides of the bay. As soon as they had dropped anchor, a great many canoes came off to the ship from every part of the bay, each containing about thirty women, by whom it was paddled. Very few men made their appearance that day; but many of the women remained on board all night, employing themselves chiefly in stealing whatever they could lay their hands on. Their conduct greatly alarmed the captain, and a strict watch was kept during the night.

The next morning one of the chiefs came on board, whose name they were told was Aimy, in a large war-canoe, about sixty feet long, and carrying above a hundred of the natives, all provided with quant.i.ties of mats and fishing-lines, made of the strong white flax[F] of the country, with which they professed to be anxious to trade with the crew.

After this chief had been for some time on board, it was agreed that he should return to the land, with some others of his tribe, in the ship's boat, to procure a supply of water. This arrangement the captain was very anxious to make, as he was averse from allowing any of the crew to go on sh.o.r.e, wishing to keep them all on board for the protection of the ship.

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