2. Further Evidence re the Korotangi, or Stone Bird. (Transactions, p. 499.)
Mr. Tregear said that he had no paper to read on the subject, but that he had received some documents bearing on the question, and would make some remarks thereon. He would first recall the main points of
the case to the attention of the Society. Some years ago, having noticed in the Wellington Museum the cast of a stone bird called the Korotangi which was labelled as purporting to have been brought by the Maoris from Hawaiki, he had induced the owner of the original bird to write a paper on the subject. The owner, Major Wilson, J.P., of Waikato, had intrusted the reading of the paper to him (Mr. Tregear), and he had read it at a meeting of the Society two years ago.* In this paper Major Wilson had repeated the description given by Dr. von Haast previously; had written out the Maori song supposed to refer to the Korotangi (with the translations, by the Ven. Archdeacon Maunsell and Mr. C. O. Davis); and had stated that very distinguished natives, including Tawhiao, Rewi Maniapoto, and Te Ngakau, had recognized the bird as a genuine and long-lost Maori treasure. After the reading of the paper a letter was received from Major Gudgeon, enclosing another letter from Lieut.-Colonel McDonnell, in which it was stated that the bird was a fraud perpetrated by Mr. Albert Walker upon Major Drummond Hay, who considered himself an expert in Maori curiosities, and by Major Hay had been sold to Major Wilson for £5. In the face of this doubt, at Sir James Hector's suggestion Mr. Tregear had withdrawn the paper until he could communicate with Major Wilson as to the truth of the statement. Major Wilson had, upon this, forwarded the documents which he (Mr. Tregear) now laid upon the table, being telegrams, receipts, &c., proving that the negotiation had been conducted solely between Major Wilson and Walker (as owner of the bird, for the natives, Walker's wife being a Maori woman of rank); that Hay had no part whatever in the transaction; and that £50 (not £5) had been paid for the bird, thus proving the entire bona fides of Major Wilson in the matter, he stating that had the price asked been £500 instead of £50 he would have paid it for so unique a relic, attested, as he believed, by the best native evidence procurable. Mr. Tregear added that he had no partisanship in the matter further than that he desired to affirm in the fullest manner the good faith of Major Wilson, who had, in response to Mr. Tregear's oft-repeated request, told the Society the whole truth he could discover as to the identity of this carving with the Korotangi mentioned in Maori song. His earnest desire was to ascertain the truth, and to ask the Society as to their opinion respecting the conflict of evidence, and the weight to be assigned to the statements made on the different sides.
Major Gudgeon said he quite accepted that Major Wilson believed the Korotangi bird to be a genuine Maori relic of the past, and that the Maoris had recognized it as such. Moreover, the documentary evidence produced by that gentleman showed that Mr. Walker had not spoken quite truthfully when, in conversation with Colonel McDonnell, he described the finding of the bird and the manner in which he had sold it. At the same time, he did not consider the evidence in favour of the antiquity of this carved bird satisfactory. As for the waiatas, who could say that they really did apply to this particular bird? They might apply to a Korotangi; but was this bird the Korotangi? If this bird was genuine, and really was brought from Hawaiki, then it would have been regarded almost as a deity by the tribe to whom it belonged. It would have been placed in charge of a great tohunga in trust for the tribe, and would have been carefully hidden by the custodian; and if this man happened to have died suddenly from any cause no doubt the said atua would have been lost to the tribe; but in such case all the circumstances of the loss, even to the name of the man who lost it, would have been carefully preserved by tradition, in order that, if at any time the treasured relic should be found, the rightful owners might thereby be enabled to reclaim their own. (Here instances were given as to how valuable meres, &c., had
[Footnote] * “Transactions,” vol. xx. p. 450.
been lost, but in every case the circumstances of the loss had been preserved and handed down.) If this bird was genuine, and all that it was alleged to be, then there should be no difficulty in ascertaining how or in what manner it had been lost, who was the original owner, and who the man was that died without disclosing the hiding-place of this rara avis. He would not say that he thought all Maori traditions reliable, especially where they related to affairs of the other world or matters connected with far Hawaiki; but when the traditions related to the acts or omissions of men he thought they might be accepted not only as reliable but without question—provided always that they did not appear in the form of a waiata: in such case he would be suspicious; for who could translate it satisfactorily? Probably not three men in New Zealand; for to do so one must know the exact circumstances under which it was made.
Mr. Coleman Phillips said that if the bird had really been brought over in the Tainui canoe, as alleged, similar carvings should be found in some of the South Sea islands, whence the Tainui came; but he was not aware of any. He would look the matter up upon his return home; but he was certainly unaware of any carvings in the islands similar to this one. The bird did not look to him at all like a native carving; there was an appearance about it of some hand used to sculpture in our own way. Not that the South Sea islands afforded no traces of stone-workers. There were the stone images of Easter Island, the monoliths and trinoliths of Tonga, the cyclopean remains of Strong's Island, and certain remains of aqueducts in New Caledonia.
Sir James Hector.—And the chalk figures from New Ireland.
Mr. Phillips said, Yes; but he had often thought that the New Ireland Islanders were taught that kind of carving by the Spaniards, it being now some four centuries since the Spaniards first landed there. However, he would look up the question of modes of carving. With regard to Mr. Albert Walker and Major Wilson, he knew them both. It was now some eleven years since he met Mr. Walker, whom he then considered an honourable man. Major Wilson was a thoroughly honourable man. Mr. Walker might have treated this finding of the Korotangi as a joke, but not as a fraud. If the members of this Society thought differently, he would write to Mr. Walker himself, and ask him to explain the matter if he would. The history attached to the bird might be a fraud; and Mr. Walker might have been personally deceived. He remembered reading a short paper some years ago in that room upon a curious method of arrow-propulsion that he had observed amongst the Maoris.* He was told by Mr. Colenso and others that the Maoris had been taught this custom by some whalers.
Mr. Phillips.—Indeed! Then he was glad to find that his paper was correct. He would write to Mr. Walker about this bird.
Mr. Maskell said that in one way this was rather an important question, as affecting the honour of the societies affiliated to the New Zealand Institute. In 1880 Sir J. von Haast, accepting the story of the finding of this bird in the North Island, and of its antiquity, laid a model of it before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury; and in vol. xiv. of the “Transactions” might be found a short paper by him, in which he attributed the carving to Japanese artists.† Since that time the stone bird had been accepted as a genuine relic, and models of it appeared in all the museums of the colony. Now, if the whole thing was a fraud, all of our societies had been, practically, taken in by a modern edition of “Bil Stumps his mark;” and it did seem that, as a matter of honour,
[Footnote] * “Transactions,” vol. x., p. 97.
[Footnote] † “Transactions,” vol. xiv., p. 104.
this question should be cleared up. For this purpose he ventured to suggest that Mr. Walker should be communicated with, and asked to make a definite statement on the matter. Mr. Tregear maintained the genuineness of the bird; Colonel McDonnell declared that a direct fraud had been perpetrated. One or other of these statements was true; but if the latter was true, then all the scientific societies of New Zealand had been most unworthily deceived, and their honour was involved in the matter. But it seemed to him, also, that a further and much more important question was raised in connection with this bird. The asseveration of the Maoris, as adopted by Mr. Tregear, was that the bird was brought by their ancestors from that mythical place Hawaiki, and that it was an object of intense veneration amongst them. For his own part, he attached no value to Maori legends and traditions beyond the date, say, of a man's grandfather. Within such a period a Maori would probably know many actual facts. The memory of savages did not, as a rule, go much further back; and as to occurrences of earlier date, the speaker inclined to the belief that a Maori would manufacture legends by scores to order—not, perhaps, about actual deeds of warfare or domestic life, but certainly as to relics such as this bird, or anything in connection with gods and heroes; much more especially if “Hawaiki” came into discussion. But, leaving these old women's fables aside, it seemed not impossible that the bird might be accounted for in another way. From the date when Vasco di Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope to the arrival of Captain Cook in New Zealand somewhere near 350 years elapsed. During that period the eastern and southern seas were traversed by hundreds of ships—Portuguese, French, Spanish, Dutch, and English—manned by hardy navigators, who thought nothing at all of braving the terrors of unknown seas. As regarded the Portuguese and the Dutch, the speaker had reason to believe that the captains of their early ships were not allowed, except in special cases like Tasman's, to publish records of their voyages. These records were sent in only to their respective Governments, and he felt convinced that in the archives of Lisbon and Amsterdam there might be found numbers of such unpublished “ships' logs.” In the 350 years just mentioned there was room for any number of ships to have touched at New Zealand, and from any one of these the stone bird might have been stolen by the Maoris, and afterwards made the subject of songs, of legends, and all sorts of rubbish. On these considerations he ventured to move, “That the Council of the Society be requested to open communications with the Governments of Portugal and Holland, with a view of ascertaining whether there are to be found in the archives of those countries any records of ships which may have touched at New Zealand prior to the visit of Captain Cook, besides those of the expedition of Tasman.”
Mr. S. Percy Smith said he considered the question of the authenticity of the Korotangi a matter of great importance in relation to Maori history, and hoped the Council would endeavour to clear up the doubts that existed as to the real facts of the finding of it. No doubt the means still existed for ascertaining these facts, and if inquiry were directed to the proper source the matter would be cleared up. It had been mentioned in Major Wilson's paper that several well-known chiefs had recognized the bird as one of their ancient atuas; amongst them were Rewi Maniapoto, Tawhiao, and Te Ngakau. The two former were still living, though the latter was dead; and application to them, or to Wahanui or Taonui, all descendants of those who came over in the Tainui canoe, would soon elicit the fact as to whether the Korotangi was known to them by tradition. There could be no doubt, as pointed out by Major Gudgeon, that, if the Korotangi was a bond fide Maori relic of ancient times, the tribe to whom it formerly belonged would have exact traditions of it. Rewi Maniapoto, though now a very old man, was well acquainted with the history of his tribe, and could certainly throw light on this subject if
the matter were put to him in the proper way. With regard to the doubts which had been thrown on the value of Maori traditions, a study of the language and history of the race extending over a period of thirty years had convinced the speaker that, with some allowances, they were very reliable, a fact which was proved by the slight divergences in the same traditions as gathered from tribes inhabiting the extreme ends of the islands, and which had been separated from one another for many generations without any communication. He thought that it required an intimate knowledge of the language and people to be able to decide on this question. Korotangi was one of the three peculiar articles in the possession of the Maoris which, if their origin could be cleared up, would also throw a flood of light on Maori history. The other two were the ‘Tamil bell,* in Mr. Colenso's possession, and the stone “kumara god,” in the Auckland Art Gallery. He hoped the Council would take steps to clear up the doubts which at present seemed to exist with regard to this matter before it was too late.
Mr. Travers said, if the bird was meant to represent Prion vittatus, as had been suggested, then the image must have been made south of the line, and not lower in latitude than about 40° south, because that bird was very rarely found north of that parallel, and therefore the carver of the bird could not have seen it if he lived either north of the line or within tropical areas. Mr. Walker was not likely to admit anything now, if he was guilty of misrepresentation in the first instance. He thought, with Major Gudgeon, that the proper course was to make inquiries of the natives and others as to how the image was lost sight of, and so forth. Major Gudgeon would no doubt, assist in this. It was easy to make Maori stories fit in with what it was desired to prove, especially in regard to old traditions.
The President said that if the Korotangi was genuine there should be no difficulty in tracing the persons who found it. Referring to Major Gudgeon's remarks on the translation of waiatas, Mr. Brandon called attention to the two translations of the same song, by Mr. C. O. Davis and Archdeacon Maunsell respectively, which were in Major Wilson's paper.
Sir J. Hector thought this discussion proved that the Governors had acted prudently in deferring the publication of the Korotangi paper until reliable information could be obtained concerning it.
Mr. Tregear, in reply, said that he considered Mr. Maskell's suggestion, in regard to communications being opened with the Governments of Holland and Portugal, was a very valuable one. Now that the jealousy had passed away which a few centuries ago was rife concerning discoveries and explorations of new countries, it was very possible that information of a valuable character in a geographical sense might be brought to light if access could be obtained to national archives. He did not think much good would result from the other inquiries proposed. Mr. Albert Walker was, he believed, roaming somewhere in the South Seas, and, even if applied to, would be scarcely likely to acknowledge having perpetrated a fraud. Rewi had already expressed his belief in the relic; and Mrs. Wilson (whose death had been imputed to witchcraft from the possession of the bird) was Rewi's niece. He disagreed with Mr. Maskell (as he always did on this particular point) as to the worth of the native traditions, and would go further than Mr. Percy Smith in his evidence as to the legends being common from the northernmost to the southernmost points of New Zealand, by saying that the Maori traditions were known from the most eastern island of Polynesia to the most western, although language, customs, worship, &c., had infinitely changed. Thus, any tradition in which the Korotangi was mentioned
[Footnote] * “Transactions,” vol. iv., p. 40, pl. iia.
was to him a valuable piece of testimony. The evidence given by natural science on the subject appeared only to land them on the horns of a dilemma. One geologist stated that the stone of which the bird was composed was the pipe-stone of the North American Indian; another asserted that the carving was Japanese; while the ornithologist pointed out that the bird (whose species was unmistakable) was never found north of the equator—not even far north in New Zealand. He did not desire that the paper should yet be printed, but that the question should be left open; and he would endeavour to obtain sworn evidence from those who were present at the finding of the carving, if it should turn out that Mr. Walker's assertion as to his having purchased it on board some New Zealand coaster should be proved to be incorrect.
The resolution proposed by Mr. Maskell was carried.
3. Sir James Hector read an account by Mr. Skeet of the appearance, observed from the coast at White Rock, of what appeared to be rocks far out at sea. A sketch was shown, giving the position of the supposed rocks.
Mr. Travers said that it was most probably a large log, with birds upon it. Such a sight had been observed once at Nelson, and had caused some excitement.