Excursion to the large island of Waiheke
Situated in the Gulf of Hauraki

[From the diary of John Telford, December 1849. Manuscript in the Alexander Turnbull Library.]

5th Dec. Arrived at the Huruhi (W. Jowett’s village) on Wednesday 5th Dec. 49, per the “Undine”, in company with the Bp. [Bishop] the Govr. Capt. Symonds & others. Passed the night there. Next morning, after prayers with the native people of the place, assembled all the children and had school with them. Both the men & women were present, and came in for their share of what was taught. Jowett – Hoete – the chief knows a great deal more than the generality of his countrymen, and he seems to be of an extremely pleasant temper.

6th. The “Undine” sailed on the evening of the 5th for Hauraki to convey Revd. Mr. Lanfear to his station in company with the Bp. who went to look over the Mission property and to inspect the state of the house, preparatory to Mr. L. & his wife taking up their permanent residence.

Same day. Started about noon the same day for Rarohara, one of the villages of the chief Patene, who is the elder brother of W. Hoete of the Huruhi. Passed by the way the small village of Onetangi. Reached Rarohara in the evening: found Patene and all his men from home; but pitched my tent nevertheless, and entered into conversation with the ladies, which proved extremely interesting and pleasant, for the native females are always ready to talk & to listen. Before supper was cooked, assembled them all for evening prayers. They were very attentive. My four faithful companions, whom I found at the Huruhi, say that as love alone lead them to come with me on this journey, so the same principle will unite them to me as long as I require their services.

7th. Rose by break of day. Having assembled the women & children, had service with them, and afterwards school. Then breakfast. After breakfast sat down in the door of my tent, around which they speedily collected to look at me, and talk. Started in about two hours for the villages Whairua & Kowhitu, where I am told the men are. Reached the first of these places after an easy walk of one hour. The path wended over high cliffs facing the sea, whose clear glassy surface heaving heavily far beneath, was a sublime sight to look down upon. Found only two men at Whairua, but as at the Huruhi, an abundant turnout of women and children. They had the usual lamentation to make under such circumstances, viz. that their husbands & fathers &c. had gone – some to the sea to fish – some to one place & some to another. Made but a short stay. Reached Kowhitu about 1 o’clock P.M. Saw old Kaipo the chief who has five names. He was civil in the Extreme. His daughter-in-law, a very pretty young woman, prepared me some tea, which the she served up to me with bread prepared in a way – certainly still unknown to any but those of her own nation. I won’t describe the process. It would no where be adopted out of New Zealand. The old gentleman expressed himself much pleased with my visit, and said that I did not need to go forward to fatigue myself as he would proceed at once himself to tell the people of the next village that I had come & wished them to assemble themselves here on the ensuing Sabbath. I thanked him, & told him that in that case I would return to Rarohara, and wait for as many there as he could collect. Got back to Rarohara again in the afternoon. Had evening prayers with the ladies as before in front of my tent. After Tea, wrote my Journal, and then commenced my evening school – that is to say – had conversation with such as liked to talk, about Christ & religion. There are few found in a native village who are not fond to talk on any subject. They kept me up on this occasion to a late hour, until, in fact those who, not able to find a place large enough to sit down within my tent, had formed themselves round it on the outside, with their ears close to the canvass, began to fall asleep upon its sides.

8th. Rose early. Had prayers as before in front of my tent. I am happy to find that many of my hospitable female friends here can read very well; but the children are miserably ignorant. They have had neither teacher nor school for the last three years since Mr. Preece was removed from Hauraki to the interior at Ruatahuna. The parents greatly lament their sad condition. To a European Missionary it becomes peculiarly painful when he considers that they live within three hours sail of the capital town & of the Bishop’s college. I feel that I could live contentedly here among this poor people six months out of the twelve, altho’ with no better accommodation than a native hut, and cockles and potatoes for every day’s food – to lead them on in the paths of instruction. I asked such of the women as could read well, why they did not try and teach at least the girls. They all appeared to wonder at the idea, “for who”, said one of them, “would put us right if we went wrong; and we should be going wrong every day.” I felt that there was much truth in the remark. I assembled the children – the larger ones in a circle in the open air round the entrance to my tent – the smaller ones I ranged round it inside, and heard them repeat what they had learned of the Church catechism and ten commandments &c. then tried them in native words & spelling and in the arithmetical tables – multiplication and addition. When these were finished I gave them an idea of the form of the globe, and a brief outline of geography – spoken to them also of the sun, and the stars &c which eficently afforded them great delight. But as Patene the chief afterewards truly observed – my teaching them these things now but once, and going away again perhaps never to return, was like a parent bird that would lay its eggs in the desert, and never come back again to hatch them – until cold and rotten. (I promised to return soon again. When I spoke to the Bp. of it, he got in an anger, desiring to know whether the island of Waiheke stood as much in need of instruction as other places at a greater distance of.)

9th. Sunday. Rose by day break. Had an early breakfast. I find that a numerous party of men have arrived during the night from their fishing excursion. Have consequently had a pretty good congregation both at morning prayers & forenoon service. As they have no church, service has been held in the open air. After forenoon service, had school with both old & young. They all evince the most gratifying desire to learn; but complain much of the Bishop’s forgetfulness of them although living so near his door. They compare themselves to orphans, and to sheep running at large in the wilderness without any shepherd to lead them or care for their souls.

10th. Had prayers again as usual, and school. After breakfast had a conversation with Patene. Find him to be a most agreeable person. He is perhaps the plainest speaker of the Native language I have ever met with. His ready knowledge too of old words & forms of expression now getting much out of use among the rising generation, led me to get quite in love with him at once. It grieved me that my stay in his society could not be prolonged. – Started the same day about noon for the village of the old chief Kaukoti. Altho’ my stay in this interesting place – Patene’s village – has been but of a few days duration, the striking of my tent to depart, was quite a scene. Both the women and children flocked round me to make lamentation. “How large” they said their love was, and how much larger it would yet grow until my return… Poor dear natives of Waiheke, you have looked long for me; shall I ever be able – ? My faithful companion Ruepene goes along with me; and Patene, to do me honor, conducts me in person, as far as Whairua, and from thence sends on Tokata, Pakuru, and Hape, to carry my things. Arrived in the evening at old Kaukoti’s village drenched with rain. After prayers sat down with the old gentleman himself and a large party, in his hut, to a supper of potatoes and boiled fish, which for want of cutlery, we ate with our fingers out of the huge pot in which the whole had been prepared. We had both dogs, cats, and fowls, and a great sow, as large as a donkey, in immediate waiting, to catch what they could. It does not require much discernment to discover that the people of this village are living in a state of extreme ignorance and wretchedness. Oh that it would please the Lord to send forth more laborers into these dark abodes of sin & misery. Nothing but the Gospel will enlighten them – nothing but the Gospel will civilize their rude untutored children.

11th. It has rained all night. I have been lying on the ground under a shed, the wind blowing furiously around me and the rain oozing through the roof upon me the whole time. Rest or sleep I have had none; and the stinging and biting of sandflies, mosquitoes, fleas, and other vermin, has been worse than ever I before experienced anywhere. Rose early, and having assembled the people in an old boat house – for here they have no house of prayer – I had prayers with them, & thereafter school. Found them – both old and young – in the lowest stage of intellectual darkness. I inquired whether there were any sick people in the village. Was lead to a low miserable hut, where lay a poor woman, whom filth, starvation, & disease had given over to death. Such a spectacle as she presented I hope never to see again. Her state was enough to bring tears even from the heart of her thoughtless husband, who stood by me whilst I knelt by her side, and offered up a prayer to the great & good Physician that he would have mercy on her soul, and open his (her husband’s) blind eyes. I hunted the dogs, pigs, and fowls out of the house where she was lying – they were busy scraping up the earth & ashes around her in search of bones & potatoes peelings – and got him to fetch some water to wash her, which he did, and promised to do so every day for the time to come, and when the weather is fine, to carry her outside that she may breathe the fresh air.

The Bishop, when we parted, said he would endeavor to call round to this place on his return with Mr. Lanfear from the Thames, to take me back to Auckland. I learn today that he is not likely to do so. Old Kaukoti has therefore offered to convey me thither himself in a large whale boat which I find he possesses, as soon as the rain clears off.

Same day. Have thankfully accepted Kaukoti’s offer. But have preferred his large war canoe to the whale boat, as he is likely to be much better acquainted with the management of it in the open sea, than he would a boat. In walking through the village am glad to find that they are not generally so bad as I anticipated they would be – living as they do so near to Europeans. In the afternoon had school with the children, and with as many of the fairer sex, as felt inclined to attend. A considerable number of men gather also round to listen, and appeared vastly delighted. Had a conversation after school with an elderly man, named Ngarawhitumai, who related to me the history of the Gospel in Waiheke. This old man is most intelligent although he has not yet learned to read – he has got an extraordinary memory. Keeps a Prayer Book and Testament by him as a miser would his gold – turns them over daily as if he knew what they contained and lays them carefully past again. He always does this at his private devotions. He has learned the Lord’s prayer in part, and that is what he repeats, while so engaged with his two Books. I am told that he not unfrequently has them turned with the bottoms of each uppermost, but says his prayers over them nevertheless in the most solemn manner. He lost his wife by death about a year ago, and has since then been living entirely by himself. He must have loved her dearly from the affectionate manner in which he still speaks of her. He tells me that altho’ he cooks his own food, and prefers doing every thing for himself, now that his wife is gone, that I must consent to strike my tent, and pass my few remaining days here with him in his house. Told him I would do so with pleasure, and have accordingly taken up my abode under his hospitable roof. After evening prayers had tea, and invited as many as chose to enter, to do so, and join in conversation. The house was speedily crowded. Sat up till morning talking. About 12 o’clock the old chief Kaukoti dropped in, told me he had just drawn the neck of a fowl which he intended for my supper, as I must surely feel hungry after so much talk. I enquired where it was. He brought it out from under his blanket. I thanked him for his kind present, but told him I sh’d prefer eating it on the following day. They were all unanimous in thinking that this would be better than wasting time upon it just then, more especially as Kaukoti, it was believed, had something of importance to relate. This proved to be the passage of the Israelites thro’ the Red Sea, which he delivered at great length, to the admiration of every one present. I must acknowledge that in true native fashion, he introduced here & there a few of his own fancies, but those in the estimation of his auditors only tended the more to adorn the narrative.

12th. Had prayers as usual this morning in the boat shed. This was the day appointed for my leaving for Auckland & the college; but it has turned out so rainy, that I still find myself located here, living on the hospitality of Kaukoti, and his generous people. They have made a few repairs today on the canoe that is to convey me back. It is one of the largest size, and has often carried a hundred or more fierce warriors to the opposite side of the Gulph, to murder & plunder their fellow men. Those days of blood are, however, now at an end. All its present & future employments are of a peaceful kind. I have learned today that old Kaukoti has two wives alive, whom he still lives with. He tells me that they are both equally dear to him, and cannot think of putting away either; he says death must do it.

13th. Still rains & blows very hard. Shall not be able to get away. Kaukoti is still busy with his large canoe, getting it into proper sea order. Had services & school as usual. The children have already begun to know their Letters, and some of the larger ones the Multiplication Table &c. My wish is to remain with them for several months, if I could manage it.

14th. The morning looks clear in the East. There is every promise of a fine day. So that I am off about noon, if it please God. Had prayers & then breakfast. Great preparations still going on around the canoe. She is at length finished & ready about 9 A.M. It takes the united strength of every one in the place – men, women, & children, to launch her. The dreadful shouting they make about a work of this kind would strike terror into the hearts of any one unacquainted with their character and habits. The distant hills on the present occasion repeated the warlike sounds, and the very ground beneath our feet felt as if conscious of fear. Embarked about 10 o’clock & set sail. All the ladies, as is wont, seemed to be deeply affected at my leaving. May the Lord take care of them, and preserve their simple hearts from being ensnared by the wiles of our evil world which now lies so near them; and if I sh’d never see them again in the flesh, oh may I see them all in that happy land where they shall come from the East & from the West – from the North & from the South, and sit down at the great Marriage feast of the Lamb. To do me an honor, the two chiefs, Kaukoti & Kaipo accompany me. The noble canoe glides fast out of the beautiful little bay. The whole village sits gazing after us on the long white sandy beach. Leave them not, O Holy Spirit of God. Enlighten & comfort them by thy Truth – “Thy Word is truth.”

Reached Auckland after a pleasant sail of about two hours & a half. Have never perhaps enjoyed a more pleasing excursion in New Zealand, where so many pleasing missionary excursions are to be enjoyed – than this to the island of Waiheke.