Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The "Heavenly Dawn" and the "Wild Cabbage Leaf" Make War

"Rauparaha's war chant,

Rauparaha's fame song,

Rauparaha's story

Told on the harp-strings,

Pakeha harp-cords

Tuned by the stranger.

No wild hero of romance,

Born in dreamy poet's trance,

Cradled in some mythic fane,

Built up in a minstrel's brain

On imagination's plan!—

No such hero was this man.

He was flesh and blood and bone,

Standing forth erect, alone,

High above his fellows known!—

Hist'ry paints what he hath done,

Maori valour's bravest son—

Te Rauparaha, Te Rauparaha!

Quick of eye and lithe of limb,

Warriors bent the knee to him!—

Bold of heart, strong of hand,

Formed to rule and to command

Suckled on a breast that gave

Milk of heroes to the brave!—

Richest fruit of Toa's seed,

Scion of heroic breed,

Born to conquer and to lead!

Strongest branch of noblest tree

From Hawaiki o'er the sea,

Te Rauparaha, Te Rauparaha!"

Thomas Bracken.

After the signing of the treaty of Waitangi the Maoris lived in peace with the white people. The only quarrels were about land, but these were bitter indeed.

In the north of South Island there lay a beautiful valley called Wairau. This valley Colonel Wakefield claimed; but the chiefs, Rauparaha (the Wild Cabbage Leaf) and Rangihaeata (the Heavenly Dawn), to whom it belonged, declared that he had no right to it. "We have never sold it," they said. "And we never will sell it. We want it for our sons and their sons for ever. If you want our land you will have to kill us first, or make us slaves."

But Colonel Wakefield paid no attention to what the chiefs said. He called Rauparaha an old savage, and vowed soon to put an end to his rule. This, too, in spite of the treaty of Waitangi, by which the white men had promised to protect the Maoris.

Bent on having his own way, Wakefield sent men to mark out the valley of Wairau for farms. But Rauparaha and his followers turned the men off. They were quite polite and gentle about it, but quite firm. They did no harm to any of the white men, or to their belongings. They simply carried all their instruments and tools to their boats and left them there. Next the Maoris pulled up all the flags and stakes with which the land had been marked out, and burned them. They burned the huts which the white men had built, too. "I have the right to do this," said Rauparaha, "for they were built of wood grown upon my own land. So they are mine."

Very angry were Wakefield's men when they returned to Nelson. There they went to the magistrate and told him of the treatment they had received. From him they got a letter or warrant to take Rauparaha and Rangihaeata prisoner, for having burned their houses.

Armed with this warrant they went back to Wairau, accompanied by the magistrate and some workmen. Workmen and gentlemen together, they numbered about fifty; only about thirty-five of them, however, had guns. But even so they thought they would be a match for any number of savages.

When they came to the mouth of the Wairau river, however, they were met by a Christian chief. He warned them to be careful what they did. But they would not listen, and marched on up the river, until they came to where Rauparaha was encamped on the other side.

A few of the party boldly crossed the stream and asked for Rauparaha.

"Here I am," he said, rising, "what do you want?"

"You must come with me, to Nelson," said the magistrate, "because you have burned a house, which you had no right to do."

"I will not go," replied the Wild Cabbage Leaf.

"But you must," said the magistrate. "I have brought the Queen's book," he added, showing him the warrant, "that says you must go."

Then Rangihaeata sprang up. He was tall and handsome, his dark face was fierce with pride and anger. Behind him stood his wife Te Ronga, the daughter of Rauparaha. "Are we not in our own land?" he cried angrily. "We do not go to England to interfere with you. Leave us alone."

And so the quarrel waxed, and angry words were bandied back and forth. A pair of handcuffs were brought out. Rauparaha put his hands under his cloak and cried again that he would not go to be a slave.

Then from among the white people a shot was fired. It struck Te Ronga where she stood beside her husband, and she fell dying to the ground.

In a moment all was wild confusion. Volley after volley was fired. "Farewell the light! Farewell the day! Welcome the darkness of death!" cried Rauparaha.

Before the wild charge of the Maoris the British fled. A few stood their ground, but at last, seeing resistance useless, they waved a handkerchief to show that they surrendered.

Rauparaha then ordered his followers to cease fighting. But Rangihaeata was mad with sorrow and hatred. "Do not forget that they slew your daughter, Te Ronga!" he cried, and the unresisting Britons were slain where they stood. In all, twenty-two were killed: the rest, some of them sorely wounded, escaped.

As soon as the heat of fight was over Rauparaha began to fear the white man's vengeance. He had few followers in South Island, so, taking to his canoes, he and they rowed over Cook's strait to North Island, where his tribe lived.

The weather was stormy, and the waves dashed over the canoes as they sped along. But the Maoris were the vikings of the south. Little they cared for the dangers of the deep, for their hearts were hot within them, and as they bent to the oars they sang, their wild voices rising above the roar of the storm.

Wet and weary, Rauparaha landed, and with the salt spray still on his lips, with the song of the storm wind still in his ear, he spoke to his countrymen. Such wild, stirring words he spoke that they were ready to rise and sweep the white man into the sea.

"Now is the time to strike!" he cried. "Now we know what the smooth talk of the Pakeha is worth. You know now what they mean in their hearts. You know now that you can wait for nothing but tyranny at their hands. Come, sweep them from the land that they would water with our blood." And as Rauparaha spoke, he jangled the insulting handcuffs in the ears of his people.

Fortunately there were white men in New Zealand who both knew and loved the Maoris. They soothed the hurt and angry souls of the savages, and the white men, who had begun the quarrel, were told that what they had done was "unlawful, unjust and unwise."

When the new governor, Captain Robert Fitzroy, arrived in New Zealand, he went to see Rauparaha and Rangihaeata, and heard from themselves the story of their wrongs. He listened to all that they had to say, then he told the Maoris that they had committed a great crime in killing men who had surrendered, but because the white men were wrong in the beginning he would not punish them for their deaths. In this way peace was made. But many of the white men were angry that the blood of their brothers had not been avenged. Some of them were so angry that they wrote home and asked that this new governor, who so favoured the Maoris, should be called home again.

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