Why leave home

Why did European people want to come to Rēkohu?
  • They believed that Rēkohu was a pacific paradise, with plenty of natural resources
  • Rēkohu had no law or regulations and settlers could take what land they needed
  • There were plenty of opportunities to make a good living on Rēkohu
  • The natives wouldn’t resist Europeans settling wherever they wanted
  • There wouldnt be any upper class people bossing settlers around
  • It turns out that New Zeland was becoming just like the old country, whereas they had heard that Rēkohu was free
  • It was just far enough away from society, but close enough when needed
What was the boat trip like?
  • The boat trip there was horrendous. Heaving seas, endless fog or spirited Sou’West gales provided the worst conditions.
  • Nearly everyone got seasick.
  • Not everyone survived, especially on those long trips from America. The dead were hastily ‘buried’ at sea.
  • Some of those that only came from New Zealand fared better, but the conditions when they arrived were pretty primitive.
  • Weather conditions were unpredictable.
  • The on-shore winds while on the anchorage caused mayhem and many were caught out.
  • The food was abysmal and depending on what was served and how long since setting  off, could usually be summed up by at least two of the following terms: rancid, rotten, damp, mouldy or ‘alive’.
  • When we left Boston, we took aboard a  plentiful supply of  foods. There were dried peas and beans, potatoes, rice, hard tack biscuits, salt pork, salt beef, salt fish, dry fruits, and hogsheads of molasses. We also shipped crates of pigs, chickens, ducks, and goats.  It transpired that these animals were better fed than the steerage passengers. Better even than the crew. They were there to keep the Cap’n and  his wife and the officers fed, while we were given gruel and and dried bread, complete with a free helping of maggots, weevils, worms or roaches, depend’n on the menu.  Many a time dislodging them was forgone in favour of consuming them to supplement the meagre fare.

What was Rēkohu like for those early settlers?

After the disastrous start to the European presence on the islands, the next “white” visitors were a little more careful to not get off to such a bad start, so used bribery and largess to establish their foothold on Rēkohu.

By careful management and not an insubstantial amount of deceit, misrepresentation, brigandry and manipulation, the Europeans quickly established their claims (irrespective of the lack of understanding of this concept among the local Moriori ) to whatever lands they liked. They set about clearing land, building shelters and making the most of their new domain.

Wasnt no-one using it side from some aborigines making camp in passing there. They didnt seem inclined to object, so we just stayed. Of course we cleared some trees and dug ground for planting necessities. They seemed fretful about the trees but we needed the wood.

The lack of commodities and time between ships visits was the hardest part, but it was only  a matter of a few years and suddenly Rēkohu was literally awash with visiting ships, calling in on the hope of getting fresh supplies (and fresh water) before (or after) heading for the rich whaling grounds to the south.

We built our second hut using the punga which grew in abundance over the islands. Lashed together with the flax strips and caulked with moss and mud and topped with a thatched roof, it was quite weather proof and a welcome respite from the endless winds that beset these islands.

Life was particularly  difficult for the families of those few settlers that had brought them with  them to these far flung shores.  Often, the whole family lived in a singe room rough hut. Food and supplies were scarce until crops could be established and harvested.

We built our hut the same as those we were raised in back in the old country, for generations. Half dugout with cob upper walls and a thatched roof. Obviously we had not the soils for good cob, but we did have the peat sods. Whilst we were pressed for time, we still took every care to ensure it was worthy, but every downpour turned the floor to mud.

Some settlers quickly found that some staple crops would not grow easily, yet others thrived.

Our hut never ever had glass windows and I lived there for 25 years before I moved. Our nearest neighbours had lived there since before my family settled there and their hut never had a tin roof, so in the wildest of storms they had a leaky roof as water made its way in through the thatching.

Oddly enough, it was discovered that there were several places where wheat grew easily, but there was little free-draining land available and even less cleared land. That New Zealand tuber, the ‘Kumara’ would not grow on Rēkohu, as it preferred the sandy soils of the North Island of New Zealand. Whaler’s potatoes, cabbage and umbelliferae, such as carrots seemed to thrive here.

Many settlers lived in isolation.

It was usually the job of the women and children to prepare meals and look after the young

Of course, initially there were no schools, but even after the first school was opened, harsh conditions, or the need for children to work alongside their families meant that some children never went to school.

As it turned out, growing vegetables like potatoes and cabbages was a lucrative alternative to the dangers and effort involved in chasing whales or seals. And of course, there was a source of very cheap labour around.

What was it like for the settlers once the Māori arrived?

When the Māori arrived, the settlers kept close contact with each other and it was a very scary time, even for them. They were told that they were safe and no harm would come to them, but they didnt feel safe and were seriously outnumbered…. and the settlers were not the only ones with muskets.

It was some time before the killing and the feasts stopped. Even then, every so often groups of Māori would find another Moriori that had hidden away from them. They were usually treated very poorly, but the Europeans could not do anything about it as they were initially fearful of their own situation and were out-numbered many times over.

Occasionally, in the aftermath of the initial onslaught, some lone survivor who had hidden away from the invading Māori , or some escapee bent on freedom (or death)  would be found and  dragged back to camp and berated, beaten or subjected to some demeaning punishment. One Moriori, called Koche (later came to be known as “King of Pitt Island”)  escaped multiple times and each time he was captured, he dared  and pushed his ‘owner’ Chief Matioro to kill him. Matioro was determined not to give Koche the satisfaction of dying (on his terms) and continued to mistreat him and ensure his abject misery. Koche had the last say though, as he eventually escaped by stowing away on an American whaler and his story was retold in print in an American newspaper in 1873.

As time passed the Māori settled into their new domain and each left the other alone.

The enterprising Māori saw the Europeans as a source of potential income as well and with their Moriori slaves began providing services and supplies for some of the Europeans and many of the visiting ships.

For many of those settlers that stayed the course, cultivated land, and began raising stock, the wait was worth it and some of the run-holders became very prosperous. Some acquired others blocks and became large landowners, conveniently forgetting about who really ‘owned’ the land.

Others, newcomers and agents alike, purchased their lands from the newer Māori ‘owners’. Some acquired significant holdings in this way from Māori that had no interest in ‘farming.’

What was Rēkohu like for Moriori once the settlers arrived?

Local Moriori were initially not certain what to do about these strange and demanding white men that elbowed their way in.

They seemed harmless enough and they came bearing gifts. They didn’t seem to mean any malice or mischief. Sure, they were rough and didn’t appear to show due deference to the atua, but perhaps they had their own ways of doing so , whence they came.

Initially, there were only a few…………….   Once other Moriori around the motu learned of these white men and in many cases, saw them for themselves, the die was cast and they became an accepted part of life. The novelty of these strange irreverent men faded as numbers increased.

The newcomers used Moriori for labour and rewarded them with gifts; material, an axe, fire making stones, and knives. In return they were shown where the best food sources were. Where the best grass grew, the tallest and straightest trees, the sweetest waters and the choicest sea fowl.

These men pushed their way in, further and further. They took our rakau, our shelters, they took our manu, our tuna. They did not thank the atua and they did not show enough respect to papa. They carried fires wherever they went and they cleared  much land. They did not understand how we lived.

Many of our people died once the whiteman came. It was sickness that killed them. We could not stop them dying. Hundreds died.

When the Lord Rodney anchored off Whangaroa in November of 1835 and disgorged its human cargo, there was some discussion among the Moriori as they were initially fearful of the New Zealanders, particularly the men who showed no understanding of their customs, language or beliefs.

Moriori knew their own status as the people of the land, the ‘normal’ people and they also knew that these people needed help. So they helped them. Many of them were poorly from their voyage.

What we did not comprehend at the time was their intent. We sensed that they wanted to stay, so we offered to share our world with them. It was a big enough world for all of us normal people, so some more would not matter. The white man was also living among us so we believed that we could cope with these newcomers as well.

It is strongly recommended that you read Chapter 3 of the Michael King Book “Moriori, A People Rediscovered” to get a better understanding of what this meant for Moriori and the chronological turns of events on the Islands.


Try this Cloze reading task to check on your understandings so far. 

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