THE STORY OF QUEENIE
Caroline PERROTT was born in Taranaki on 10th September 1866. Her father, William PERROTT, had arrived in New Zealand on 23rd February 1842, having sailed in the Timandra. He later married Mary Ann HURLSTONE and they settled in the Manutahi district which became known as Lepperton. By the end of the 1860's their four children were William, George, Mary Ann and Caroline, the latter being known to the family as Queenie.
William PERROTT was a small farmer who also did contracting work between his home and New Plymouth which was about 8 miles away. In 1874 he was successful in tendering for the job of clearing the Maori burial grounds at Sentry Hill in preparation for the railway which was to run through that area.
Sentry Hill, the site of an early Maori pa, had been the lookout post for the Manutahi Maoris early in the Hauhau wars. A settlers' redoubt was later built on the knoll and it became the scene of bloodshed on 30th April 1864 when 200 Maoris, confident that the faith of Te Ua would protect them from harm, advanced upon the redoubt to meet a heavy volley of gunfire which killed fifty and wounded sixty. The rest fled in disorder.
There were later skirmishes on Sentry Hill and the site should have been preserved as a national monument, but in the summer of 1874 William PERROTT began digging round the sacred burial grounds. He had always enjoyed friendly relations with the Maori people and they now told him not to tamper with this tapu place where their dead lay buried. Trouble would come to his family, they warned
PERROTT had been in the country long enough to understand the importance of their warning, yet he brushed it aside, telling himself that the war was over. A short time later a messenger came hurrying to where he was working, bearing the news that his beloved little Queenie was missing.
By that time Queenie, fair-haired and blue eyed, had turned eight. Her mother suffered indifferent health and on this day had sent the child to fetch the cows grazing in a nearby pasture. The animals had wandered (or perhaps had been driven) a fair distance, and as Queenie went towards them she had no suspicion of the large brown men who crept stealthily towards her. Suddenly she was surrounded by terrifying tattooed faces and as she turned to run the circle closed to block her way.
The last person to see Queenie was Dick Bridle, a bushman, who had been splitting posts in a lonely clearing separated from the Perrott homestead by at least three miles of standing bush. The child, he said, was standing on a log, crying bitterly, and was surrounded by Maoris. They caught sight of him and the next moment both natives and child had disappeared into the bush. It is possible that a blanket over her head stifled the repeated screams of terror that must have come from the child.
Taranaki New Zealand
A search was organised where men crashed through the undergrowth, examined the swamps, followed many trails through gullies and along riverbanks, and forced their way up heavily wooded hillsides. Night and day for many weeks false trails were followed and the countryside threshed without success.
Queenie's mother became temporarily unhinged of mind. At times, bordering on dementia, she wailed loudly for the child, and at other times she spent periods lying in a coma. Eventually the strain proved too much and she died within a short time of Queenie's disappearance. (This is untrue as her mother's death certificate states she died 1886 - C Harris)
William PERROTT and his sons continued the search by following up every rumour, at times their hopes being falsely buoyed by people with a malicious turn of mind. The weeks turned to months and the months to years, but with subtle cunning the Maoris always kept Queenie out of Pakeha reach. Many times her father and brothers left their work to comb the King Country, pushing their way through rough wastelands, penetrating virgin bush areas and visiting pas, but as they moved within reach of the missing Queenie the wily natives moved her further away.
In the meantime her sister, Mary Ann, had become Mrs Marchant and was nursing in the northern province. One day she met a surveyor named Coxhead who asked her if she had a sister who had been stolen by Maoris. He told her how he had come across a young white woman who had been splitting wood not far from a Maori pa, but as he tried to question her the natives had called her away. He recalled that he had noticed a scar on her neck.
Mary Ann's excitement rose as she explained that Queenie when small, had fallen from her high chair on to the hot bars of the kitchen grate and that in fact she had two scars that would identify her. The search was set in motion with renewed vigour, a reward of £150 being offered for information, but the natives were not to be tempted.
As the years passed the discovery of Queenie became a frantic obsession with William PERROTT, but near the turn of the century he died without seeing his daughter again. By that time he was a broken man. The revenge for disturbing the sacred burial grounds was complete.
Mary Ann's life also changed. She lost her husband and later became Mrs KAY and lived in Lower Hutt. Her daughter became Mrs HAYWARD and went to live at Taneatua, a farming district nine miles south of Whakatane. One day, more than fifty years after the kidnapping of Queenie, Mrs HAYWARD, while shopping in Whakatane, saw a woman who looked so like her own mother that she followed her along the street and then spoke to her. The miracle had happened, Queenie had been found.
The story of Queenie appeared in the magazine section of The Sun, Auckland, on the 27th July 1929. It was communicated exclusively to Mr. J.R. SHEEHAN for The Sun by Mrs NGOUNGOU, née Caroline PERROTT, of Poroporo, in the presence of an old family friend, Mr A.F. MONCUR. No doubt the mental blank concerning her earliest years can be attributed to prolonged terror and the extreme shock of being snatched from her parents, and the hardships which followed. To Mr. SHEEHAN, Queenie said:
I have no recollection whatever of my early life at Lepperton. Neither is it true, as has been read to me from the newspapers, that I can remember being taken across the sea in a great canoe by Maoris. My first conscious memories begin from the time when, as a small girl, I was digging gum with a band of wandering Maoris in the Kaipara district, north of Auckland.
I could not speak Maori then so it must have been shortly after I was kidnapped. The Maoris were very unkind to me at the time, though I was never truck or beaten. They simply ignored me, and had it not been for the kindness of one or two of the womenfolk, life would have been miserable indeed. Their method of teaching me the language was very simple. Pointing to some article on the ground they would order me to pick it up, and in a very short time I was able to speak Maori as fluently as any of the tribe.
It was then I discovered that the Maoris with whom I worked belonged to no special tribe, but were drawn from all over the Waikato and Wanganui districts and banded together for the common purpose of digging for gum. They were split up into about forty camps scattered all over the Kaipara district. We lived in raupo whares and the life was hard and comfortless. Every morning at daybreak I used to go out with a spade and spear and dig until sunset. All the children worked just as hard as their parents, and though it may seem hard to Europeans we thought nothing of it. In the evening we sat in the camp and scraped the gum. The dust and scrapings we flung on the fire which blazed up and lit the darkness. There were no candles at all.
There was plenty of gum in those days - great lumps of it was easy to find. When we had enough we took it down to the store and sold it. What the name of the settlement was I never found out, but there was actually no township, only a shop or two. Our camp was ten miles from this place and when I was only a child I used to walk this distance with about 60 pound of gum in a sack. It was backbreaking work but I did it for years and it doesn't seem to have done me much harm because I am still hale and hearty and working hard at sixty-three years of age. After selling the gum we would each carry a 56 pound bag of flour back to the camp.
As to clothes, I got just enough to keep me covered and no more. Print dresses, bought ready-made, were what I usually wore. Boots I never saw at all. In fact it was not until my second marriage that I wore boots. My feet were as hard as iron and nothing could hurt them. About £1 was allowed me each time I sold my gum. The balance, in accordance with Maori custom, went toward camp food.
The storekeeper to whom I sold my gum never passed any remark about my white colour. Perhaps he was an Austrian or a Dalmation, but newly arrived in the country, and thought I was an albino Maori, a freak of nature. I do not know. In any case I did not stop to consider I was different from the Maoris to whom I belonged. I saw my face in the river often but did not seem strange that I was of a lighter colour. That seems difficult to explain but nevertheless it is a fact.
I remember a Pakeha speaking to me one day when I was a young girl and he offered me some biscuits. Of course what he said was meaningless to me. Since the mystery about me has been cleared up I have been told his name was COXHEAD, a young surveyor. He had heard of a white child being kidnapped from Lepperton and he thought I might be the missing child. This was what he told my sister, Mrs Kay, of Lower Hutt, some years afterward. The Maoris were very annoyed about my talking to the young surveyor and called me away. "Never speak to any Pakehas at all," they said.
As I grew to young womanhood among the Maoris the feeling against me grew less and what remained of it was more conspicuous among the men. The women were very good to me and all the children played with me just as though I were one of themselves. They never asked me why I was white, not did I at any time hear any curiosity expressed or any reference as to my origin. Neither was I curious because I accepted the fact that I was Maori.
As night, sitting round the camp fire scraping the gum, my Maori brethren sang and laughed and told old legends that had been passed down from father to son for hundreds of years. They were a merry lot when work was finished.
Food was plentiful. We did not need the European butcher shop then. Tunas (eels), Kereru (wild pigeon) and pigs gave us all we wanted in the way of meat. The pigs we caught with our dogs. And fat! Nowadays we have to feed the ordinary pig up such a lot to get him fat and there is little fat on the wild pig. But in those days we enjoyed him very much. And the little pihipihis, the little bright-eyed silly birds, we caught them too. First one would be caught in the snare and kept alive. He would call to his mates who would flock round in scores to see what was the matter. Before they knew what was wrong a Maori would rise up from behind and sweep them to the ground with a big stick. Then he would put them in a bag and wait until some more foolish little birds came along. When enough were caught they were preserved in fat until such time as they were wanted.
We had a very crude way of making bread. We mixed the flour and water until a hard sticky mass was formed. It would then be pulled into a long roll and a stick was pushed through the centre of it and set in front of the fire. The stick was slowly turned until the bread was properly baked. Just flour and water and baking soda, but it was wonderful bread! I liked it better that I like European bread now. And the big, sweet tunas we used to catch were the finest I have tasted. Perhaps it was because I worked so hard that I thought they were so good. There is no sauce like the sauce of hunger.
We shifted our camps from place to place as we searched for gum. As to education, I didn't know what it was. There were no schools in that life, and I never heard of them at all. The education I got was the education of the out-of-doors, and though perhaps Pakeha children could read and write and add up figures I could have shown them a lot about real life - the life where to live was to work, and to work hard. I have never learned to read and write and I have never missed it. I don't know whether it would be a benefit to me but where I have lived it never has been necessary anyway.
On Sundays there was no work in the camps. That was the one day we could relax. We observed the same Sunday as the Christians worked because that was the one day when we could not sell gum at the store. That is how we came to fix on that particular day. We would lie round and eat and talk and laugh and make merry generally. Yes, Sunday was day to look forward to. And at Christmas we had a big feast and celebration. Though there was no Christmas pudding there was plenty of everything the Maoris like and we ate just as much as the Europeans do nowadays, though perhaps we did not feel quite as sick afterwards. I don't remember ever seeing any liquor in the camps. Sometimes Maoris would go away and get drunk, but that was very rare.
My memory is very indistinct because I have worked hard and passed through great troubles, so I must be excused if there are things I cannot tell. What religion we had I cannot say now because it is so long ago. I do not think we had any. We were just a tribe of nomads and all we thought of was working and eating, for they were the necessary things to do. I used to go down to the river with all the women and children and do the washing. Soap, of course, we had in plenty. We bought it from the store in great bars. At the riverside we would chatter and laugh and sing, just the same as other women.
My hair was cut short just like a boy's and my skin tanned by exposure to the weather as the years went on. I saw many Pakeha men who never suspected I was not a Maori, but I never saw a Pakeha woman. In fact it was not until after my second marriage that I first saw one, and I still remember how frightened I was. But I saw little of Pakehas generally until I came down to live here at Whakatane. Every little while we would go down to Maharani Heads to rest at the pa near Wairewa and Warkworth. There used to be hot springs there where we bathed. I have been told since that they have all been fenced in and are good hot springs. After spending a time at the pa resting after our labour and enjoying ourselves back to the gumfields we would go to work as hard as ever.
It was here on the Kaipara gumfields that I was first married. I was only about fifteen when my husband took me. I had known him and worked with him for years, he was a big, fine-looking Maori. Some of the papers have said that he was a Maori chief, but that is not true. He was just a nomad Maori, digging gum as we all were doing. His name was Ewa Ngaru, and he was much older than I was though I could not say what his age was. He had come up from Tauranga a long time before.
We were married according to Maori custom and went on with our work side by side on the gumfields. He was a very good husband to me. I kept working right up until the time my baby girl was born. After the birth my husband's mother looked after the baby and I went back to the gumfields. My first baby grew up fine and strong and healthy and was married years ago. Her name is Mrs Ngaruna Mikaere and she lives near Coromandel. She has ad thirteen children of her own of whom ten are not living.
Shortly after her birth my husband's health began to fail and he grew weaker and weaker as time went on until he could no longer work. His trouble was consumption. It was very sad and pitiful and eighteen months after the baby was born he died of the disease leaving me a young widow of about eighteen years of age. A great tangi was held for him and his body was kept for two days before he was put into a rough wooden box and buried. I was heart-broken and my hair was cut off close into the scalp as a special sign of deep mourning. This custom is kept up among the older people today, though the younger Maoris are letting all the old customs go. The cutting was done by the women of the camp who consoled me in my great loss.
Soon after his death I was stricken with typhoid fever and for eight weeks I was very close to death. I went down to skin and bone and all my hair fell out, leaving me quite bald. I must have looked a strange sight. My Maori friends were very good to me then and all the old feeling against me had completely passed away. They waited on me and did everything they possibly could to bring me back to health, even though they were busy themselves. It is hard to say how I caught the disease as it was not among the Maoris with whom I lived. Most likely it was drinking from some small stream on the fields. My Maori friends kept putting cold water on my head to keep me cool for I was parched and burning and felt that I was on fire.
However, though it was a hard struggle I eventually battled through, but it took me months to regain proper strength and condition. But I shall never forget my old Maori friends for their kindness then. It is burnt into my mind in fire. Though I never made fancy mats or did any of the finer work I used to make any number of potato kits with the rest of the women. I likes that work too. They were happy days indeed when we sat together and talked and laughed. Alas! most of my friends have gone from this world and I have seen none of my old acquaintances from the Kaipara gumfields for over forty years.
One habit I could never take up was that of smoking. The Maoris, both men and women, were always puffing away at their clay pipes but I could now acquire the habit though I tried once or twice. The torori, or Maori tobacco, was terrible stuff and burned my tongue. It was made from the proper tobacco plant, but had none of the usual ingredients of the prepared tobacco and was very bitter. Perhaps it was my forgotten white blood that rebelled against the habit. The rest of the camp thought it strange that I did not like it.
I was still on the Kaipara fields when I met Ngoungou, my present husband. I suppose I would be about twenty at the time. Ngoungou came from Wairoa and was a big fine-looking young Maori. He had come up from the south with his grandfather to pay a visit to some relatives and it was then he first saw me and wanted me to be his wife. On his way up to Kaipara, Ngoungou was in Te Puke on the night of the great eruption of Tarawera in 1886 and could see far off the glare of the great mountain that slew so many, both Maori and Pakeha. Then he came to Tauranga and took the boat to Auckland before travelling on into the Kaipara district.
I fell in love with Ngoungou for he was a very fine-looking Maori and he took me to be his wife according to Maori custom. There was feasting to celebrate our union. It was agreed I would go down to Whakatane with my husband, but first we were to have a three month holiday. So after about twelve years on the fields I left my Maori friends behind me forever and turned southward, never more to see Kaipara. My little daughter was left with the tribe.
With us we took the dead body of my first husband's brother which was to be taken to his home in Tauranga. From Marangi we came down to Tauranga by boat, quite a voyage in those days. On arrival at Tauranga a big tangi was held to do honour to the body of my brother-in-law, Pikake Ngaranui, and then we went on to Kaikari where we stayed for nearly two months. From there we came down to Te Puke, which was practically nothing in those days. There was only one hotel and the population was all Maori. We stayed there six or seven weeks before coming down through Whakatane to Poroporo where I have lived ever since, about forty-three years.
Here all the children of my second marriage were born, Maui, my eldest son, being born shortly after we arrived. Whakatane was a very small place at that time, containing only about four shops. It was very wild and desolate and, of course, Maoris were swarming in the district. The ship from Auckland used to anchor alongside the Pohatura Rock which now stands back quite some distance from the water. Where the hotels are now was the seashore. Many times I have seen the Pakeha sailors from the boats roll a keg along the waterfront and have a big haurangi there. Sometimes it used to end in a fierce brawl with blood and skin flying. Now the place is quite civilised, but in those days it was no place for a weakling.
My husband and his family owned a sixty-acre farm out here at Poroporo where we all lived. In those days it was all swamp though it has long since been drained. We lived down the banks of the Whakatane River in raupo houses. They were quite warm and snug, and I think in every way equal to the European houses as far as comfort is concerned. Often yet I think longingly of those old Maori huts and wish I was back in them again.
The white people around the district took no notice of me and never, to my knowledge, asked any questions as to the why and wherefore of my life among the Maoris. They just accepted the fact as part of the general scheme of things. In deference to the wishes of my husband's family, who belonged to the Church of England, my husband and I decided to get married according to the English law, though we were actually just as truly married by Maori custom. But a hitch occurred. The Maori girls around this district were very jealous about my marriage to Ngoungou and there was a good deal of bad feeling shown about the whole affair. The Maori minister of the Church of England refused to perform the Christian ceremony for us, influenced, no doubt, by the attitude of the rest of his race here. In any case he gave no definite reasons. We were determined to get legally married in some way so we approached the Catholic Priest and told him we would turn Catholic if he married us. He agreed and Ngoungou and I were duly married after we had been living together in Maori fashion for over a year.
There was a surprising change in the attitude of the local Maoris after the ceremony. Where, before, they had been making life miserable for us, taunting us, insulting us and behaving rude to us generally, they swerved completely around after the ceremony and were as good as they had been bad towards us before.
Another surprising thing for which I could not account was my strong objection to being tattooed. When I was quite a young girl girl tattooing was all the fashion and was considered to enhance the beauty of the young woman. The work, which was very painful, was always done by a specialist in that line. The flesh was cut into by the piece of sharp metal tapped by a block of wood, and the dyes which were made by the Maoris themselves, were affixed. The patients would bleed copiously after the operation which took a long time to complete. They were also warned against looking into water as it was said, if they did, the colours would not stick. It was a custom that is almost dead now, but in those days a Maori was not considered to be fashionable unless he or she bore some pattern of the tattooist's art on face or body. Though I was often pressed to be tattooed I refused vigorously. Why I do not know, but the idea repelled me.
I have no recollections of any of the events of the Maori wars. Perhaps I have heard the men speaking of them, I could not say now. My memory is so bad; and then again a Maori woman has plenty to do looking after her husband and her work without troubling about such things as wars. Not as far as I can remember have I ever heard Maoris say much against the white man. No threats or rebellious talk, not even away up in the gumfields where there was a collection of men and women of practically every tribe in New Zealand. The Maoris treat their women well and I do not know if I would have been happier living as a European. Sometimes the Maori gets very angry and scolds his wife soundly, but it is unusual for him to strike her. Nor do the Maori men fight much among themselves, though they often get angry and talk a great deal.
One of the greatest events of my life was when I first wore boots. That was when I came down to Tauranga with Ngoungou. They were lace up boots and I was very proud of them though I seemed to be tied up and could hardly walk. You must live for years without boots to understand how I felt. The way I staggered along the street must have amused the people.
It was in Tauranga too, that I first saw a Pakeha woman and I was very frightened of her. She was pretty, I thought, but she did not look hardy and healthy as I was. She had pink and white cheeks and a very clear skin and such beautiful clothes on I remember. She thought I was a great curiosity, dressed as I was in the roughest of garments. I felt so bashful I did not know what to do and ran away to my Maori friends again for comfort, but the lady passed on and forgot me very soon, I suppose.