Polynesian Resource Center

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The Unfortuate Slave by Augustus Earle

From a Narritive of a Nine Month's Residence in New Zealand in 1827

After Earle; meeting the dying Hongi Hika

The next day we received a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Butler, English people, who had taken up their residence here for the purpose of trading, and we returned with them on shore, taking our female passengers with us, and leaving them in charge of Mrs. Butler. I determined to stroll through the village, which is, in fact, a collection of rude huts, huddled together without system or regularity. Dock leaves and weeds of every description were growing luxuriantly all round them, and in many places actually overtopping the houses, few being more than four feet high, with a doorway about two feet. Scarcely any of them were inhabited, as at this season of the year the greater part of the population prefer living in the open air to remaining in their small, smoky ovens of houses.

I had not rambled far before I witnessed a scene which forcibly reminded me of the savage country in which I then was, and the great alteration of character and customs a few days' sail will make. The sight to me so appalling was that of the remains of a human body which had been roasted, and a number of hogs and dogs were snarling and feasting upon it! I was more shocked than surprised, for I had been informed of the character of the New Zealanders long before my arrival amongst them; still, the coming suddenly and unexpectedly upon a sight like this completely sickened me of rambling, at least for that day, and I hastened back to Mr. Butler's, eager to inquire into the particulars of the horrid catastrophe.

That gentleman informed me that the night of the arrival of our ship, a chief had set one of his kookies (or slaves) to watch a piece of ground planted with the kumara, or sweet potato, in order to prevent the hogs committing depredations upon it. The poor lad, delighted with the appearance of our vessel, was more intent upon observing her come to an anchor than upon guarding his master's property, and suffered the hogs to ramble into the plantation, where they soon made dreadful havoc. In the midst of this trespass and neglect of orders his master arrived. The result was certain; he instantly killed the unfortunate boy with a blow on the head from his stone hatchet, then ordered a fire to be made, and the body to be dragged to it, where it was roasted and consumed.

It was now time to return on board, and we walked down to the beach for that purpose, but it was quite low water, and the boat was full two hundred feet off. She lay at the end of a long, slimy, muddy flat, and while we were debating how we should manage to get to her, the native chiefs took up the females in their arms, as though they were children, and, in spite of all their blushes and remonstrances, carried them to the boat and placed them safely in it, each seeming to enjoy the task. They then returned and gave us a passage, walking as easily with us upon their backs as if we had been no heavier than so many muskets. We took care not to shock the feelings of the females by letting them know the tragedy so lately acted in the village, or horrify them by telling them that one of their carriers was the murderer! It would have been difficult to have made them believe that such a noble-looking and good-natured fellow had so lately imbrued his hands in the blood of a fellow creature.

We had now been lying here two days, and the curiosity of the people did not diminish, nor were our visitors less numerous. Parties were hourly coming up and down the river to pay their respects to our captain, and the report of there being numerous passengers on board greatly increased their desire to hold intercourse with us. They all appeared anxious to make themselves useful, some chopping wood for our cook, others assisting the steward, in order to get what might be left on the plates, others brought small presents of fish; in fact, all availed themselves of any excuse to get on board; yet, notwithstanding the crowd, and the confusion attending their movements, there was scarcely any thieving amongst them. They have seen the detestation that theft is held in by Europeans, and the injury it does to trade, and have, in consequence, nearly left it off. None but the meanest slaves will now practise it, and they do so at the risk of their lives; for, if caught in the act, and the charge is proved against them, their heads are cut off!


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