Topic: An Old Settler’s New Zealand Yarn by Julia Maria Tovey-Tennent
Julia Maria Tovey (nee Martin) and her husband, Captain Alexander Charles Hughes Tovey, arrived in New Zealand in May of 1862 from India with the 70th Regiment. Julia wrote this account of her experiences, which include arriving in Tauranga. The family assumed the arms and name of Tennent of Pool, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on 30 November 1896 and became known as Tovey-Tennent. Many thanks to Ellen McCormack who provided the original of this document so it could be reproduced here.
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We landed in Auckland early in May 1862, the regiment H.M. 70th having been sent from India to assist in the war with the Maori.
When we arrived the pilot informed us the war was over; but he was greatly mistaken. The authorities came on board with quite different news, the officers were told to be in readiness to march with the men the following morning to camp at Otahuhu. None of the men were permitted to land, only a few of the officers, but as it was Sunday nothing could be bought in any case. My husband landed and found a lodging for me, and the baby boy and his nurse.
Next morning they were all marched off in a steady drizzle which changed gradually to pouring rain. The camp had not been formed, but was covered with green tea-tree which was cut down to form their beds. When the tents were up no rations arrived (not ‘til later that evening), and no firewood or cooking utensils to cook the beef steak. The biscuits that were very hard with only rain water to moisten them. Not a warm welcome!
It so happened that we had taken a few things on board, and my husband was provided with a teapot, some tea and a cup or two, also a tin of biscuits, so he held a small reception in his tent. The war in the Waikato had only just begun and he was on active service all the year, but he was a good walker and got in on leave occasionally.
He took a little cottage in Onehunga for us, as it was a pleasant country place in those days, and nearer for him to walk to. But it was rather risky walking alone on the Great South Road, Maori picked off many a pedestrian.
One evening in 1863 I was sitting writing to my father about these occurrences when I began to feel nervous, the regular troops and the young fighting men had all gone to the front, and we were very close to the Maori, who had by no means left the district. So I got up and went round to see if all the doors were locked and the windows latched. I had scarcely returned to my writing a few minutes when somebody tried to open the door! I sang out as gruffly as possible “Who is there?”. I could hear two or three men in the porch and one of them answered something unintelligible, which did not sound like Maori or English. I immediately blew out the lamp, crept to the kitchen, and warned my servant, Matilda, not to speak above a whisper, blew out her light, told her to deaden the fire, and drew her attention to the fact that the men were going round and trying every door and window!
Presently we heard them going away muttering and grumbling. A moment later a gun was fired, a man staggered into the road and screamed and fell, continuing to groan until the cries grew fainter and fainter. We heard a lot of noise and the dogs barking at every house down the road. We felt sure that it must be a Maori attack. We resolved not to undress and we armed ourselves; I had a dagger (perhaps it was a surveyor’s knife?) and Matilda had the kitchen poker. The boy and his baby brother were sleeping peacefully and we lay down on the bed but got very little sleep.
I was up at daybreak and told Matilda to stand with the door ajar, ready to lock it behind me if I ran home, as I would go out and make inquiries. Everything looked quiet and peaceful, and at the R.C. Convent (back to back with our place) a maid was hanging out the clothes. I ran up and asked them if they had been disturbed, but she said nothing had happened to alarm them, they had not heard the gun.
Then I went along the main road to the house of Doctor Weeks, whose wife was my great friend, the Doctor was in the garden, and looked very serious over my tale. He said he had noticed an unusual amount of noise in the village that night but knew nothing more, however he told me he would go at once to the village, interview Constables etc, and if I went straight home he would come in a very few minutes and report.
When he came he looked very serious, and said it was lucky I had shut all the doors and windows, for we might have had great unpleasantness. It appears that the men of the place had been classified for military purposes into three divisions. First unmarried men, second married and third old-age military pensioners. These latter were very troublesome, and some had been hotly declaring they would never be called out, they would stay, and each fight for his own home, and wife and children.
There had been some trouble when the young men were sent off, some had run away and hid themselves. So, when No. 2 were wanted, it was arranged a party of men should go round and enter the houses unannounced; unfortunately the men selected were not reliable, and had all got drunk. The leader was a German-Jew, that was the man who spoke so queerly. They did not go to the Convent or the Doctor’s house because they knew there were no men to get there, but they were not sure about my house. When they burst in next door to us, the young man of the house seized his rifle and fired at the party, only powder I think, no bullets, but one man was so drunken that he believed he was killed, and made all the noise we heard. The same party went into another cottage where there were no men, and behaved abominably.
Some time after this my husband was shifted to New Plymouth, and I followed later on, and lived for some years on a bleak, bare plateau, called Poverty Flat, I did not like that place. Taranaki had not recovered from the war, the out-settler’s homes had been burnt down, and it was not safe, even then, to go two or three miles from the town.
I went to one picnic given by Colonel Warre, the Governor of the town, and the officers of the Garrison. We went to a pretty spot called the Meeting of the Waters. Whilst we were having our lunch, there was a sudden commotion and, looking up, we found ourselves partly surrounded by Maori soldiers. Every officer jumped up and produced a loaded revolver from somewhere; but the Maori were friendly natives and had come to warn us that it was not safe to be there – so we were “quittes pour la peur”!
Afterwards we came to live in Tauranga; the war seemed to be over, but nobody felt very secure. The British troops had all left New Zealand – there were some Colonial troops, the Armed Constabulary, the Forest Rangers, and four Waikato Regiments; but many sad things took place.
One in particular, the Poverty Bay massacre, had made us all uneasy. The settlers there had been warned by Maori but had not taken any steps for safety, and Te Kooti and his men murdered them all most cruelly; 38 chiefly women and children.
One day a young Maori came to our house, and gave Captain Tovey warning that Maori were coming that night across Hairini Ford to kill us all like the Poverty Bay folks. Of course, my husband started immediately for the officer in charge of the place, Colonel Harington, and he told me to make preparations to come to the redoubt for safety.
When we returned he brought an invitation for me and the children to share some rooms at the back of the old Government Buildings. All the ladies of the place were to be in the neighbouring houses, all in view of the Monmouth Redoubt. In our party were five women, nine children and a very old missionary, the Rev. S. Spencer. In the Redoubt that night, there were seventy women and children, and what troops we could raise. It was crowded like the proverbial (herrings in a barrel) and two additional babies were born that night.
My husband retired from the army, and was temporarily joined to the 1st Waikato’s. Our house was made a shelter for the few women who would not, or could not, walk into the town. A large bedroom, opening into the garden, was to be lighted and left open every night for their refuge. A guard of thirty men were to be posted in our large shed, and the officer on duty for the day, and Doctor Henry, the only medical man in the place, sat up with Captain Tovey and shared his vigil.
Down at the Government Building Colonel Harington advised us all to sleep comfortably, that he had posted sentries to watch over us, and the neighbouring houses, and in case of any alarm we should be escorted to the redoubt. As we had only a rug apiece to roll ourselves in, and had to lie on the floor with a wrap rolled up under our head for a pillow, I fancy very few of us got any sleep.
In the middle of the night Colonel Harington burst in and roused us up; he said the guards posted near the Hairini Ford had reported that Maori were really crossing the ford. We were to get up and sit as close as possible to the main entrance, but on no account to venture out till he sent the guard of men with orders to escort us and the parties from the two neighbouring houses all together. Some trouble was cause by a small boy being missing; but, at last, he was found in an empty room, kneeling on a big table, with hands and eyes uplifted, praying for our deliverance.
After some delay, Captain Harington reappeared and told us the natives had turned out to be “friendlies” and we could return to our slumbers, that all danger was over for that night, but we were advised to pack our clothes and valuables for the next day and be in readiness for further developments.
The next day we were told that the Government would give a free passage to Auckland to every woman and child, and desired them to avail themselves of it. It had been ascertained that there were not sufficient provisions in the place to last us all for three days. There were difficulties in the way of some, everything in Auckland was frightfully dear, almost double what it is now in wartime and as all the people from outstanding districts had crowded into Auckland, there were no houses or lodgings or even single rooms procurable. But I had a good friend in Auckland who would not leave us out in the cold, I felt sure; so I joined the party of refugees.
The steamer Southern Cross was a tiny boat whose weekly trips to Auckland were our only means of communication with the city in those days. We were somewhat uncomfortably crowded, but the weather was fine. Our party must have been announced by telegraph for when we arrived the wharf was densely crowded with men to see us land.
Some of the prominent citizens came aboard, and one of them who claimed acquaintance offered to take charge of my luggage till I needed it. I went straight to my friend’s house and she received me and my three boys very kindly and hospitably, but could only supply us with shakedowns for one night. The next day I found lodgings and removed to it but we did not stay long, for we found ourselves desperately uncomfortably. The landlady was cross and disagreeable and there were several cases of whooping cough in the Terrace, so the children had to be kept in, and they were used to freedom so were active and restless.
By and by complaints came from a delicate, consumptive girl next door, and a very irritable old gentleman at the other side so we decided to go back to Tauranga and face the dangers.
My father had sent me a very convenient tent and Colonel Harington allowed up to pitch it in his garden under some large trees. So for several weeks we trudged down to sleep there. The Government considered this place unsafe, and had been petitioned for assistance, so presently we were all truly thankful to see a man-of-war, H.M.S. Rosario, sent to protect us; and it came right up the harbour nearly as far as the head of the present wharf. We had no more trouble after that, the Maori being very much afraid of the British Blue-Jackets.
Captain Palmer was a very superior officer, a perfect gentleman, and an earnest Christian who had the knack of influencing all that surrounded him, so that the Rosario was a model ship. The ladies of the town were all invited at different times to “afternoons” on board, and we enjoyed the little parties immensely.
Later on, when we were better acquainted, we got up a series of picnics. The ladies found the provisions, the gentlemen of the town found the wine, and the officers of the Rosario found the boats and their crews. And with these pleasant memories I conclude this long account of my experiences in wartime. Salaam!
by Julia Maria Tovey-Tennent.
The children of Alexander and Julia Tovey:
- Alexander Martin Tovey (1860-1930). Born in India on 18 July 1860. He married Jessie Clare Roberts (1874-1946) in the Coromandel in April 1910. Alexander died in Auckland on 6 September 1930.
- Walter Hamilton Tovey(1862-1929). Born in Auckland, New Zealand on 7 September 1862. He married Jeanette Amelia McDowell (1866-1954) in Kansas, USA, on 17 June 1892. Walter died in Oregon, USA on 16 December 1929.
- Hamilton Dunbar Tovey (1868-1948). Born in Tauranga on 16 March 1868. He married Eva Lurline Clarkson (1879-1949) in Masterton in 1908. Hamilton died in Auckland on 17 August 1948.
- Edith Winifred Tovey (1872-?). Born in Tauranga on 5 March 1872. She married Thomas Chamberlain Tims (1866-1934) at her parents home 'Fairlight' in Tauranga on 19 June 1899. Edith died in 1954 (reg. 1954/26039) and was buried with her husband in the Karori Cemetery [in 1909 their last named changed to Chamberlin - change also to spelling].
- Kenneth Francis Tovey (1879-1960). Born in Tauranga on 14 August 1879. He married Vivienne Mildred Shearman (1876-1954) in Tauranga on 22 February 1908. Kenneth died in Auckland on 25 November 1960.
Bay of Plenty Times (27 November 1896): 'Captain Tovey gives notice that under the deed of entail by the late William Tennent he has assumed the name and arms of Tennent of Pool'.
Bay of Plenty Times (14 December 1917).
Bay of Plenty Times (29 May 1929).
Clement, Christine (2011). The Pioneers, Settlers and Families of Te Puke and District (pp. 346-349).
Jenkyns, Carlyon (1891). Hard life in the colonies, and other experiences by sea and land (pp. 212 & 224): 'under the command of a Captain Tovey, a one-eyed veteran'.
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