Transition points – a comparison

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 186-194)

While at the Open Bay conflict where sealers Perkins, Boultbee and their companions interacted with Kāhaki and his kinsmen over the ‘theft’ of a boat, so at Whareakeake, Kelly, Tucker, Viole, Dutton and Whallon interacted with Te Matehaere over the exchange of some potatoes. Later, at Kaiapoi (Chapter four) Te Pēhi Kupe, Te Rauparaha and their taua (war party) interacted with Tamaiharanui and Hakitara over the bartering of greenstone. In each case the interaction developed into a violent episode because of particular points in the discussions where an individual or individuals decided to act in a certain way, and eventually decided to act violently. The transition points are those at which decisions are made to change the mode of action and therefore move the interactions to a situation that may lead to violence. Where these points are located in an interaction sequence have been shown for Kaiapoi and Open Bay to hinge around matters of personality, kinship, rights to resources, strategy and provocation. The Sophia affray confirms this. What eventuates from the decision-making transition-points depends greatly upon how the actors understand the transactions and the motivations of those with whom they are interacting. When the interaction is intercultural the


potential for misunderstanding is high, and in the case of Europeans interacting with Māori, the key issues are their deficiencies in understanding around the Māori practices of mana, tapu, and utu.

One specific preliminary initiating circumstance for setting in train a possible violent response for the Sophia affray has been identified by Entwisle as a ‘theft’ when some sealers were trading in pigs and potatoes aboard the sealing ship Sydney Cove on a prior occasion. One Māori chief took a red shirt and a knife belonging to a sailor, which suggests that Maori perceived that the barter was unbalanced. After failing to respond at the time, and waiting till the chief was back ashore, the sailor and other crewmen carried out some extravagant revenge attacks, disembowelling and killing the chief with a cutlass. The killing took place either at Port Molyneux or the village of Whareakeake, later the scene of the Sophia tragedy. They then went by boat to another village and killed another chief, for which Maori exacted utu in the form of two Europeans killed (‘Creed’ MS). Neither Kelly nor his crew were involved in this prior issue of the ‘red shirt’, and neither was their ship, but they were Europeans and therefore liable for utu retaliation because in the Māori world they were guilty by kinship association. One of Kelly’s crew (Tucker) had also been involved in the theft of a tattooed head from Riverton in 1810. This was later sold at Sydney and Entwisle has investigated this matter also and suggested that it may have come to the attention of Māori in Sydney. If so, this would also have been a cause for utu (2005). However, the Creed manuscript appears to negate these two reasons as initiating circumstances because it describes a completely different issue:

About 1 year another Ship came from Hobart Town. Anchored in Otago the European (Taka) chief… lived 2 years at Wariakiaki – sheep & goats – afterwards went to Hobart town remained a long time 3 or 4 years – Another ship came – another, the Captn afterwards he returned called in at Molyneux – took in 4 women the wind increasing brought them on to Otago sent them home overland…(my emphasis). If Tucker was seen as having been involved in the European retaliation over the red shirt affair, or the theft of the tattooed head was known about, it seems unlikely that the people of Whareakeake would allow a man who had committed such grave errors to stay and live in their village with one of their women for several years, setting up and building a house with livestock (as the marginal note says) if they considered that they needed to exact utu for his misdoings. These facts appear to eliminate the ‘red shirt affair’ and the ‘ tattooed head affair’ as the cause of Te Matehaere’s apparent ‘utu attack’. The initial triggering circumstance appears to me, to conform to Ellison’s analysis: “ The trouble at Whareakeake was through Captain Kelly’s men interfering with the Māori girls” (in Beattie, 1920: 229; Entwisle, 2010:


230). After all what were the 4 women doing aboard the vessel at Molyneux when no men are mentioned? Furthermore, the quote from Creed (above) seems to me to imply that since he had been living several years with a Māori woman in the village, she was waiting for him to return – hence the counting of the boat arrivals until he did. The time was described as long because that is how it seemed to her, because she was waiting. It should be noted also that this was the village whose patriarch was Te Matehaere who became the key actor in the whole Sophia affair.

Never-the-less whichever of the arguments is invoked as the cause of the utu attack against Kelly in Matehaere’s whare, each possible initiating scenario, involves a perception of some kind of theft – of a shirt, a knife, a human life, unfairness in barter, or attacks on integrity of human relationships. All of them required the utu to be balanced – and hence had the

potential for provoking violence if the human actors chose to make that interpretation. As the turning points and actors of this violent sequence are identified in this next section it will be possible to see their role more clearly and the implication of discourse in provoking their violent responses.

In this period there were also several instances of sealers absconding with ships’ boats, and either disappearing, being “killed and devoured” (Entwisle, 2005: 69-71) or living as Māori. The issue here is that these kinds of activities appeared in reports of the Hobart Times and Sydney Gazette, and would have been well known to the sealers visiting Southland. Some had never been there before. Such stories increased their anxiety, and became embellished with a Western interpretation about barbarity and savagery.

The immediate initiating circumstance was the decision by Captain Kelly to go ashore at Otākou. Captain Kelly of the brig Sophia had therefore taken precautions by bringing a trusted and experienced man, William Tucker, who had been to Otago previously with an 1809 Brothers sealing crew. At 26 years old Kelly was a reasonably experienced sailor, having already been at sea since he was 13. His motivation for going ashore was to barter iron for potatoes, so, leaving seven of his crew aboard, Kelly took a boat ashore with three officers and six crewmen. They first visited the settlement of Otākou where they were welcomed, believing that this was because one of their men, Tucker, had lived in the vicinity previously and was an esteemed visitor. A number of other Māori from nearby villages on the other side of the harbour had gathered there when they saw the ship, and a request was made to Kōrako, the senior chief of Otākou, to provide canoes for them to come across, but this request was


refused, so after waiting two days for a response Kelly and his men rowed over there and round to the village of Whareakeake which had formerly been Tucker’s home.

The second transition point was the decision of what and whom to take along. After some discussion, and according to Tucker’s recommendation, it was decided that they would take no guns but Kelly took the precaution of bringing along a sealers billhook. One crewman, Nathaniel Robinson, was left to look after the boat and Kelly and the other five crewmen proceeded on to the home of chief Matehaere where the intention was to barter for potatoes.

The third transition point was the decision by Captain Kelly to separate from his crew. It seems that Kelly went inside the chief’s house while the crew waited in the gated yard outside, along with a large number of locals. Inside the house was a former Lascar sealer who had survived the 1814 Matilda tragedy, when they had absconded with the ship’s boat and most of the remaining crew had been killed and eaten. Lascars had had a raw deal on European boats, being underfed and underpaid in relation to European crew, so those that survived stayed on and assisted Māori with undermining the functioning of the sealing enterprise. De Blosseville reported that they “taught the Māories how to dive and cut the anchor cables of ships”, for example (McNab, 1907: 216). It is therefore uncertain how Te Anū regarded the Sophia’s crew or their mission and whether he was mediating or being a double agent. When Captain Kelly asked about the Matilda’s boat that had gone missing, he was told. Te Anū spoke Māori and offered to negotiate and interpret the bartering process. Almost exactly one month prior to their visit, there had been a total eclipse of the sun visible from the village, which could easily have been interpreted as a premonition of danger and put Māori on alert for ships that might be visiting to exact utu for the killing and eating of the Matilda’s crew. The reports about the visit to chief Matehaere’s house are accompanied by a loud silence about what else was talked about, and as with many translators, there is often no way of knowing what Te Anu or Matehaere actually said. Needless to say, no potatoes were obtained. Tucker did not have the opportunity to report because he died in the fracas that ensued. It is argued here that the reason why the bartering deal ‘fell through’, most probably had complex origins, including

apprehension about possible retribution for the Matilda deaths, and kōrero that Tucker, but also other crew members, and even other sealers from prior expeditions had been

‘dishonourable’ according to both Māori and European understandings of the world at that time, and utu was required to address the imbalance. It is suggested here that what has been described as dishonourable behaviour, is actually a form of theft.


The fourth and key turning point is when, for whatever reason during the discussions in the house, Te Matahaere became distressed and it seems that his behaviour was sparked off by Tucker entering the house:

Ko te Matehaere i pouri tona ngakau69. When Taka went into the house to see the things the old man

seized the Captn to kill calling and then to kill at length the Captain his billhook (sic) and struck the old man on the head – the old man lost his hold – the Captn fled to his boat. The son of the old man seeing his father wounded slew two Europeans a third wounded (‘Creed’, c.1849, ATL. MS-Papers-1187-201) [my emphasis].

There are several versions of what happened based upon one European narrative, probably Kelly’s70 published a year afterwards, and ten Māori sources including the above which was collected (probably) by the missionary Charles Creed at least 25 years afterwards. Peter Entwisle’s extensive re-examination of all the available related eyewitness – and what he calls ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ – sources (2010: 210-231) have all been considered in this interpretation, as has the so-called “Creed manuscript” (ATL. MS-papers-1187/201-2). This excerpt, from the earliest European version, was published in the Hobart Town Gazette on March 28th 1818:

Mr Kelly went in his boat with six men… to Small Bay – outside the harbour’s mouth and distant from the vessel about two miles. The natives… received them kindly… Tucker…[who was known] by the name of ‘Wioree’[sic.]71. Mr Kelly made the chief of the village a small present of iron and proceeded to his dwelling to barter for potatoes – leaving one man to look after the boat. On reaching the house… Mr Kelly was saluted by a Lascar, who told him that he had been left there by the brig ‘Matilda’… [from which, seven] men had been killed and eaten… The lascar then offered his services in bartering for potatoes and appeared familiar with the native tongue. By this time… about sixty… were in the yard of the chiefs house where the boat’s crew were standing…

The story goes on to say that Kelly fought his way out of the ensuing fracas with a billhook, they ran and got away to their boat, where Nathaniel Robinson who had been

guarding it had a head wound. Tucker and two others were killed, Tucker being dismembered. Then they rowed quite some distance to the main ship from Whareakeake. There they found about 40 natives and the Otākou chief ‘Corokar’ [Kōrako] on board the Sophia.

The fifth transition point was when the ship’s mate Kirk informed them that Māori meant to take the ship. Based upon this information a meeting was held in the Captain’s cabin and they decided to defend the ship, so formed up and fought the Māori off with sealing knives, killing a large number and “after cleaning up and washing down the decks we sat down and congratulated each other on the very narrow escape we had from being taken and murdered by these savages… ”. Their chief Kōrako was shot through the leg the next morning as he jumped overboard and into a canoe of his kinsmen Tukarekare, to affect an escape. Māori sources are


silent about whether or not they intended to take the ship, but there is evidence from a later period in time that Kōrako’s son Te Mātenga Taiaroa spent time and resources purchasing such a desirable item as he was one of the southern chiefs who perceived great benefits would accrue if their people could participate in the ‘foreign’ economic world (Thompson papers, HL. MS-4140/011). But with the retreat of the Māori boarding party, this was not the end of the affair.

The sixth transition point was the retreat of the Māori and it was followed soon afterwards by violent retribution of the European kind, in the form of attacks on villages, breaking up and burning of canoes and the destruction by fire of homes:

… we determined at once to land, set fire to the town and burn it to the ground… We landed nine men, but kept the boats afloat… the natives all ran to the rising hills…” (Hamilton, 1895: 145)72

The following day they set sail for the Chatham Islands. The utu was again unbalanced from the Māori point of view, but the Europeans had carried out their excessive revenge in which, apparently, no lives were directly lost.

They had missed the point really, because utu is about balance and not simply revenge.

Social Actors

In comparison with the Open Bay affair already described, the colonial brig Sophia’s visit was actually on a similar scale; a mother ship brought the equivalent of two sealing gangs, ie, 16 men, including the Captain. They were a similar crew, with similar backgrounds: Australians and some people of other nationalities such as Italian Vito Viole (who was killed). Part Australian aboriginal Henry Whallon escaped. Their working background and

environment was the same as that of the Open Bay gang, yet, from a Māori perspective they arrived ‘officially’ by anchoring off Otakou settlement, going ashore there and interacting with the senior chief Kōrako who actually took control of what they wanted to do by refusing to facilitate the arrival of their friends from Whareakeake. This would have been seen as acknowledging Kōrako’s mana and that of his people. As Kent has reported there was a

tension between rival chiefs on account of mana, so it is unlikely that Kōrako was very pleased when they went away to Whareakake. There the sealers were attacked – apparently in a matter of utu – because of misdemeanors showing disrespect for persons (women, the chiefs

connected with the ‘shirt’ affair, and the owner of the moko mōkai stolen by Tucker). All or any of these ‘sins’ could have been regarded as a type of theft of mana, which had to be paid


for, and it was, by the deaths of Tucker, Viole and Griffiths, and the wounding of Kelly and Robinson.

John Kelly was a celebrated Australian captain of humble origins who later became a wealthy landowner. He was the son of a convict, born in Australia and was apprenticed to sea at about 13 years. Thus he would have been accustomed to hardship, but like all sea captains in the southern ocean he was to some extent a risk-taker, though he appears to have taken

precautions when dealing with Māori because of the experiences that sealers had had at the time. Kelly subsequently discovered that on a previous voyage in 1811 Tucker had stolen a preserved head from some people at Riverton and sold it in Sydney. Entwisle has expanded upon the story of Tucker’s ‘checkered’ career in Sydney as a European thief (2005).

Captain Kelly regrets having listened to the persuasions of Tucker and the wish of the other men to go on shore the second day without firearms, to which the loss of three unfortunate men may be attributed. Tucker’s confidence, however deceived, was founded on some experience, and Captain Kelly has some reason to believe that these natives… were fired in their revenge by the recollection of two or more of their people being shot by Europeans

(Hobart Gazette, in Transactions & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Vol. 28: 141-7)

William Tucker, at age 14 was a London pickpocket, transported to Tasmania where he became a labourer and sealer. Entwisle has described him as having “ an element of contempt for people” (2005: 80) with his petty thefts of a woman’s cloak, owing his landlady money for food and drink, and for living beyond his means. Kelly, who seems to have initially trusted his judgement and experience, subsequently discovered the matter of the preserved head. He was a key actor in this whole affair, having advised his Captain not to take weapons, being over-

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 186-194)