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Volume 23, 1890
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Art. LII.—The Story of John Rutherford

[Read before the Auckland Institute, 6th October, 1890.].

Having occasion recently to look up the story of John Rutherford, I thought that additional interest might be imparted to it if it could be illustrated by the native traditions of the circumstances attending his capture, and of any events connected with his enforced residence of nearly ten years among a savage people. As many interesting details of Captain Cook's visit to these parts are still current among the natives, it was to be expected that the capture of the “Agnes,” which occurred forty-seven years afterwards, would be the subject of a tradition quite as circumstantial and as interesting as that relating to the great navigator, especially as this event would acquire additional importance, from the fact that they became possessed thereby of a considerable number of much-coveted firearms. The object of this paper is to place on record the results of inquiries made among the natives, and the conclusions to which they lead.

Rutherford states that he left New Zealand in 1826, and, after a sojourn of nearly a year at Tahiti, and of some further time at Port Jackson and Rio de Janeiro, arrived in England early in 1828. Being himself unable to write, he got a friend to commit the story of his adventures to writing, at his dictation, in the course of the voyage from Rio to England. The substance of this story was published in 1830 by Charles Knight, in “The New-Zealanders,” a volume of the Library of Useful Knowledge, which is said to have been revised and in part written by Lord Brougham. As this book is long since out of print, and now seldom to be met with, I will extract from it such a brief sketch of Rutherford's personal adventures as may suffice for my present purpose.

After several voyages in different parts of the world, Rutherford shipped on board the “Magnet,” a three-masted schooner trading among the islands of the Pacific Ocean. This vessel having put in at Hawaii, in the Sandwich Islands. Rutherford fell sick and was left on that island. Having re-

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covered however, in about a fortnight, he was taken on board the “Agnes,” an American brig of six guns and fourteen men, which was then engaged in trading for pearl- and tortoise-shell among the islands of the Pacific. On her return from Hawaii the “Agnes” approached the east coast of New Zealand, intending to put in for refreshments at the Bay of Islands. A gale of wind, however, drove her some distance to the south of the East Cape, and on the 6th March, 1816, she was opposite a large bay which is called Takomardo (or Tokamardo, as spelt on page 274). Being in great need of water, the captain somewhat reluctantly determined, to stand in for this bay, and ultimately came to anchor off the termination of a reef of rocks, immediately under some elevated land which formed one of the sides of the bay. Canoes soon came off from all parts of the bay, paddled chiefly by women, who gave much trouble by their pilfering propensities. In the morning a chief named Aimy came on board in a large warcanoe carrying above a hundred men, and trading proceeded with such vigour that by the close of the day about two hundred pigs had been purchased, with a large quantity of fern-root to feed them on. The captain had also arranged with Aimy that he should take the ship's boat on shore for a supply of water. This having been hoisted on board, the boat was sent again for a further supply, but did not return till the following morning, when the captain paid Aimy for his trouble, giving him two muskets, with a quantity of powder and shot. There were now about three hundred of the natives on the deck, and the captain, being apprehensive for the safety of the ship, ordered the sails to be loosed and preparations to be made for putting to sea as soon as the crew should have had their dinner. Just as this order was being carried out, there being none of the crew on deck excepting the captain and the cook, the natives commenced an attack upon the ship. The captain was killed at once with a tomahawk, and the cook, who ran to his assistance, was despatched in the same manner. The chief mate was next struck down as he came running up the companion-ladder. Four of the crew jumped overboard, but, being picked up by some canoes that were coming from the shore, were bound hand and foot. The rest were soon secured, and all were taken on shore. The ship was then plundered and the cable cut, so that she was soon stranded on the beach, where she was set on fire. Six more of the crew were killed on the following day, and their bodies together with those of the captain, cook, and chief mate, were cooked and eaten.

On the third day Rutherford and his five surviving companions were taken about ten miles inland, to a village which was the residence of a chief named Rangadi, and on the follow-

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ing day each of them was stripped of his clothes, and, being laid on his back, was held down by five or six men, and tattooed. At this village Rutherford and four of the others remained for about six months, one of them, named John Watson, having been taken away by a chief, named Nainy soon after their arrival there. After this they set out, in company with Aimy and another chief, to pursue their journey further into the1 interior, one of their number, however, whose name is not given, being left with Rangadi. On their arrival at another village, the chief of which was called Plama, another, whose, name was John Smith, was left with him. When they had travelled about twelve miles further, they stopped at a third village, and here they remained two days. The chief of this village Ewanna, treated them very kindly, and one of the white men, named Jefferson, was left with him. From thence Rutherford and his remaining companion resumed, their journey with Aimy and another chief until they came to Aimy's own village, which thenceforth became their home

The first event of importance which occurred at this place, was the death of Rutherford's companion, more than a year; perhaps, after their arrival, though the time is not distinctly, marked. It occurred on this wise. Aimy and his family went, to a feast at another village a few miles distant, and while, they were away the chief's mother, who had been ailing for some time, died. On Aimy's return there was much discussion as to the cause of the old woman's death. After hearing all the circumstances from the tohunga who had been in attendance on the invalid, an old chief gave it as his opinion that it was clear that the immediate cause of the old lady's death was that she had eaten potatoes which had been peeled, with a white man's knife, after the said knife had been used for cutting rushes wherewith to repair a house; on which ac-count he thought that the white man to whom the knife belonged should be killed. Rutherford ventured to plead for his comrade's life, but it was all in vain. The chief who had pronounced the sentence proceeded to execute it by striking the poor man on the head with his mere, and so killing him.

Rutherford was now left alone among the natives, and, his clothes being all worn out, he had to adopt in his dress the fashions of the country. For the first sixteen months of his residence at Aimy's village he kept a reckoning of days by notches on a stick; but when he afterwards moved about with the chiefs he neglected this mode of tracing the progress of time. At length Aimy proposed, in the presence of the tribe, that he should be made a chief. To this proposal he consented; whereupon his hair was cut in the most approved fashion, his head and his face were adorned with red-ochre and oil, and his newly-acquired dignity was further marked by

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presents of some mats and a handsome stone mere. He was invited, moreover, to select a wife from among the marriageable, young ladies of the tribe. His choice fell upon Aimy's daughter, Eshore; whereupon Aimy insisted on his taking her younger sister, Epecka, with her.

Some time after this he took a long journey with the chief Aimy, attended by a suitable retinue. In about a month they arrived at a place called Taranake, on the coast of Cook Strait, where they were received, by Otago, a great chief, who had come from near the South Cape. Here he saw an Englishman named James Mowry, who was the sole survivor of a boat's crew which had been cut off by the natives, had lived eight years among them, and had married Otago's daughter. This man had been well tattooed and made a chief, and had become so thoroughly at home with his people that he had no desire to leave them. He had heard, Rutherford says, of the capture of the “Agnes,” and gave him an account of the deaths of Smith and Watson. “On leaving Taranake,” the story continues, “we took our way along the coast, and after a journey of six weeks arrived at the East Cape, where we met with a great chief named Bomurry, belonging to the Bay of Islands. He told us that he resided in the neighbourhood of Mr. Kendal, the missionary. He had about five hundred warriors with him, and several war-canoes…. They had plundered and murdered nearly every person that lived between the East Cape and the River Thames; and the whole country dreaded the name of Bomurry…. He and his followers having taken leave of us and set sail in their canoes, we also left the East Cape the day following, and proceeded on our journey homewards, travelling during the day and encamping at night in the woods. In this way we arrived in four days at our village.”

In the course of time another important expedition was undertaken, the account of which shall be given mainly in Rutherford's own words: “One day a messenger arrived from a neighbouring village with the news that all the chiefs for miles round were about to set out in three days for a place called Kipara, near the source of the River Thames, and distant about two hundred miles from our village. The messenger brought also a request from the other chiefs to Aimy to join them, along with his warriors; and he replied that he would meet them at Kipara at the time appointed. We understood that we were to be opposed at Kipara by a number of chiefs from the Bay of Islands and the River Thames, according to an appointment that had been made with the chiefs in our neighbourhood.” After describing the preparations for the journey, the narrative continues: “We were five weeks in reaching Kipara, where we found, about eleven

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hundred more natives encamped by the side of a river. On the opposite side of the river—which was about half a mile wide and not more than 4ft. deep in any part—-about four hundred of the enemy were encamped, waiting for reinforcements.” With these people was a white man, “who,” says Rutherford, “told me that his name was John Mawman, that he was a native of Port Jackson, and that he had run away from the ‘Tees’ sloop-of-war while she lay at this island. He had since joined the natives, and was now living with a chief named Rawmatty, whose daughter he had married, and whose residence was at a place called Sukyanna, on the west coast, within fifty miles of the Bay of Islands.”

An account of the engagement then follows: “Early the next morning the enemy retreated to the distance of about two miles from the river, upon observing which our party immediately threw off their mats and got under arms. The two parties had altogether about two thousand muskets among them, chiefly purchased from the English and American South Sea ships which touch at the island. We now crossed the river, and, having arrived at the opposite side, I took my station on a rising ground about a quarter of a mile distant from where our party halted, so that I had a full view of the engagement. I was not myself required to fight, but I loaded my double-barrelled gun, and, thus armed, remained at my post, my wife and the two slave-girls having seated themselves at my feet. The commander-in-chief of each party now stepped forward a few yards, and, placing himself in front of his troops, commenced the war-song. When this was ended both parties danced a war-dance, singing at the same time as loud as they could, and brandishing their weapons in the air. Having finished their dance, each party formed into a line two deep, the women and boys stationing themselves about 10 yards to the rear. The two bodies then advanced to within 100 yards of each other, when they fired off their muskets. Few of them put the musket to the shoulder while firing it, but merely held it at the charge. They only fired once, and then, throwing their muskets behind them, where they were picked up by the women and boys, drew their merys and tomahawks out of their belts, when, the war-song being screamed by the whole of them together in a manner most dismal to be heard, the two parties rushed into close combat. They now took hold of the hair of each other's heads with their left hands, using the right to cut off the head. Meantime the women and boys followed close behind them, uttering the most shocking cries I ever heard. These last received the heads of the slain from those engaged in the battle as, soon as they were cut off, after which the men went in among the enemy for the dead bodies; but many of them received-bodies which did not belong to the

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heads they had cut off. The engagement had not lasted many minutes when the enemy began to retreat, and were pursued by our party through the woods. In a short time our party returned victorious, bringing along with them many prisoners. One of our chiefs had been shot by Shungie, and the body was brought back, and laid upon some mats before the huts, The name of this chief was Ewanna. He was one of those who were at the taking of our vessel. There were, besides Ewanna, five other chiefs killed on our side, whose names were Nainy, Ewarree, Tometooi, Ewarrehuru, and Erow. On the other side three chiefs were killed — namely, Charley, Shungie's eldest son, and two sons of Mootyi, a great chief of Sukyanna.”

After this the party left Kipara in a number of canoes, and proceeded down the river to a place called Shaurakke (or Showrackee), from whence they returned to their respective homes. It was only a few days after their return that a vessel was announced off Tokamardo. It was arranged that Rutherford should go on board first to throw the captain off his guard, that the natives might the more easily seize the ship and murder the crew. As soon, however, as Rutherford had gone on board he warned the captain of his danger, persuaded him to put to sea again at once, and to take him with him. Thus, Rutherford says, he made his escape on the 9th January, 1826, after he had been ten years on the island all but two months.

The narrative an outline of which I have now given-is illustrated by many details of the manners and customs of the people, which are told in such a way as to leave a favourable impression on the reader and to enlist his sympathy. The bay which is mentioned as the scene of the capture of the “Agnes” is placed some distance south of the East Cape. The short description given of it does not fix the locality decisively, nor yet does the statement that the vessel came to anchor “off the termination of a reef of rocks immediately under some elevated land which formed one of the sides of the bay.” The writer of the book to which I am indebted for the narrative, comparing this description with that of Poverty Bay given by Captain Cook, concludes without hesitation that this is the place intended, and his conclusion is accepted by other writers. The name Tokamardo, however, suggests at once the bay, about thirty-five miles from the East Cape, which is called by the natives Tokomaru, and answers fairly to the description given in the narrative. The position, too, assigned to Aimy's village suits this locality, and there can be little doubt that Tokomaru, and not Poverty Bay, is the place intended. But it matters little which of the two we decide upon when we find that the

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natives have no tradition whatever of any such event as the capture of the “Agnes” and the murder of the greater portion of the crew having ever taken place anywhere in this part of New Zealand. The arrival of a ship for the purpose of trading, and the acquisition of firearms, to say nothing of the Capture of the ship and the slaughter of the crew, were event which would be much talked about in those days, and would not readily be forgotten. Besides, what we know of the people both before and since this alleged occurrence makes it extremely improbable that anything of the kind should ever have happened. It is true that the people whom Cook encountered at Poverty Bay were hostile; but when they found, from his treatment of the three youths whom he captured, that he had no desire to injure them, they were disposed to be very friendly, one of the first to come peaceably on board the ship as they were leaving the bay being recognized as one of the very men who were so exceedingly troublesome two days before. At Anaura, too, and at Tolaga Bay, a few miles-distant from Tokomaru, the people could not possibly have been more kindly disposed, though they were well aware of what had occurred only a few days before at Poverty Bay And only three years after 1826, the date which Rutherford gives for his escape, we find that there was a brisk trade-carried on all along this coast, the natives being everywhere engaged in the production of flax, which they bartered principally for firearms and ammunition. The articles required for this trade were supplied by Sydney merchants to their agents, who lived among the natives, and were always treated by them with the greatest possible consideration and kindness. The natives tell of three white men, whom they knew by the names of Riki, Punga, and Tapore, who lived for some time-among them before the days of the flax trade; but these men came and went of their own accord, and the circumstances of their sojourn in the district do not in the least correspond with those in which Rutherford places himself.

It is to be noticed that Rutherford mentions no names of places in the neighbourhood of Tokamardo. He purports to give the names of several chiefs, but none of these can be-identified with any of the names of chiefs now living, or of those of the generation which has recently passed away.

Another remarkable circumstance is that he does not make the slightest allusion to the ravages which were made in the district by the Ngapuhi Tribe, from the Bay of Islands, under the notorious chief Hongi. After Hongi's return from England in 1821, two expeditions were made by this tribe into these parts—the first, under Hongi himself, in 1823, and the second, under Pomare, two years later. The former was most disastrous to the people of Waiapu and the neighbouring parts,

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whose spears and meres were a very inadequate defence against the firearms of their assailants. Every pa that was attacked was taken with great slaughter, and the survivors, to the number of many hundreds, were carried off as slaves. There was great consternation throughout the district, and numbers of the people hid themselves away in their mountain fastnesses until their much-dreaded invaders had departed. The southernmost pa taken by the Ngapuhi was only about five miles distant from Tokomaru, and from this point they retraced their steps and returned home. Pomare likewise came as far south as Tokomaru, but he treated all the people to the south of the East Cape as friends, and formed a matrimonial alliance with them, taking as his wife Te Rangiipaia, daughter of Te Porioterangi. Rutherford mentions Pomare as being near the East Cape, on his way home, when he and his friends returned from their visit to Taranaki; but of Hongi's invasion he does not say a word. And yet, of all the events which disturbed the monotony of everyday life during those ten years, there could have been nothing to be compared with this. It is impossible that any one who was well acquainted with the circumstances of the district at the period in question should, in relating the principal occurrences of those years, pass over such a calamity as this without the slightest allusion.

The last event of importance in Rutherford's narrative is the expedition to Kaipara to take part in the war with Hongi; but the natives of the part of the country from which this expedition is said to have started have no knowledge whatever of anything of the kind. The account, too, which, he gives of the battle makes it very doubtful (to say the least) whether he was present at it, as he represents himself to have been; for he gives the victory to the wrong side. The Kaipara people and their friends, who were opposed to Hongi, were successful in the early part of the engagement, but were afterwards beaten with great slaughter, and fled to Waikato, whither Hongi followed them to avenge the death of his son.*

A close examination of the whole narrative leads very decidedly to the conclusion that Rutherford's account of his personal adventures is a mere romance; that he knew nothing of the locality in which he professes to have resided nearly ten years, beyond the name of Tokomaru; and that, whether the years which he spent in New Zealand were many or few, they were spent in the north, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Bay of Islands.

But what, it may be asked, could be the object of such a fabrication ? To this question I can only suggest a possible

[Footnote] * For the particulars of this battle, and its results, see the “Life of Henry Williams,” by Hugh Carleton, vol. i, p. 64, note.

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answer. It may be that Rutherford was a deserter from one of those ships which, in the early days, so often visited the northern part of the island for the purpose of procuring kauri spars. Supposing this to have been the case, it would be an object of supreme importance with him that he should escape detection; and it would be a great help to him in securing this object if he could induce the natives among whom he found a home to confer upon him the honour of a tattooed face; and it would be with the same object in view that he concocted the plausible story of the capture of the “Agnes,” and of his forcible detention in a distant part of the country, to account for his appearance on his emerging once more into the civilized world.