Title: Henry Lawson Among Maoris

Author: William H. Pearson

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1968, Wellington

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Paul Millar

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Henry Lawson Among Maoris


page 121

page 121

16, and to Habens about 17, and in his Autobiography, 'about 20 a [s] big as I am'. His last guess is the more accurate. Kaikoura parish baptismal records, so far as any contemporary records can be trusted in such a matter, give her year of birth as 1876. As Mere Ratima she is on Stack's list, made in December 1877, of children likely to attend school-which would make her (since the school wasn't yet built and children started attending when they were 3 or 4) about 2. She would have been about 6 or 7 at the time of her mother's death. She was baptised on Boxing Day, 1886 as Mere Ratima, daughter of Ratima Waruhe and Herina Haura, and her sponsor was Martha Taki. A sister, Josephine Ratima, was baptised the same day, with the same sponsor, and most probably wrongly, the same year of birth. I can find no other reference to Josephine and suspect she may be the same as Para or Parahi who at the end of 1885 won a scholarship entitling her to secondary education at Napier. (A separate entry in the baptismal register of Josephine Ratima on the same day and with the same year of birth as Mary must be seen as a mistake. Josephine was in fact Mary's second baptismal name.) Another Jacob who enrolled at the school in its first year was Para or Parahi who at the end of 1885 won a scholarship entitling her to secondary education at Napier. But in fact she was Mary's cousin, shown on Stack's list as daughter of Ratima's brother Reweti (or Tereweti) Ihaia. Parahi Jacob was one of Danaher's better pupils, gaining full or nearly full marks at every examination. Assuming she was 13 or 14 when she passed Standard IV (the average age for this pass for Maori pupils in 1894 was 13 years 6 months)3 she would have been born 1871- 2, and so would have been 10 to 12 at the time of the murder.

Ratima had five children.4 It is possible from school records to give an account of the rest of the family. The name Annie Jacob appears on the examination schedules 1881-3. She did not do well and was sick or absent during two of the examinations. She enrolled a year after Mary and Para and left school before them, so that it is impossible to tell whether she was younger or older. I suspect she might have been the 'sick sister' of Lawson's story and the sick woman Bertha attended and called 'Mrs Jacobs'.

A brother John was as distinguished at school as Parahi and won a scholarship that took him to Te Aute College in 1887. A descendant by adoption of Ratima's remembers him as Jack Tuha Jacob and he was commonly known too as Hoani Terewiti Jacob and it is necessary not to confuse him with his cousin Hoani Terewiti Jacob, brother of Parahi; he can be recognised on Stack's 1877 list as Tuwhaitauira Ratima. Te Aute College records show his birthday as 20 June 1874; if correct, he was 8 at the time of the murder. He was possibly the Teoni (Johnnie) Ihaia, using his grandfather's name, who signed the 1894 petition; and as Terewiti Ihaia John Jacobs he was on the school com- page 122 page 122 mittee in 1898 and probably in Lawson's year too (for which there is no inspector's report). He would be the model of the 'brother or someone' that Lawson's fictional teacher took the shotgun to.

The age of another member of the family can be calculated from her death certificate. Elizabeth or Irihapeti who started at the end of 1887 must have been 9 or 10 at the time, though the reason for her late enrolment can only be a matter for speculation. She was also known as Maud.

The fifth member of the family provided Lawson with a suggestion for the fictional name he gave Mary-'August'. Her name was Oketopa or October Okeroa playfully known as Oketopa or October, by which name she appears on examination schedules. She began school in 1885 and since she could have started as young as 3, she was probably born 1880-1 and would have been between 1 and 3 years when she was orphaned. The petition of 1894 lists her as still of school age but though she might have been at school in Lawson's time her name does not appear on examination schedules after the school closed in 1889 (there was none for Lawson's year). Either Para or Annie was also known as Maud

During Steel's time the spelling 'Jacobs' first appears. Two 'Jacobs' children can be ruled out by age. There was an Elizabeth or Irihapeti who started at the end of 1887 and might have been a daughter of Ratima's brother Karipa who married in 1881. Another of that name can be ruled out by age. A John 'Jacobs' who began school at the age of 2 or 3 in 1894 must have been a son of John Terewiti Jacob, returned from Te Aute. He was at school in Lawson's time.

This then was the family of Ratima and Erina when Erina was murdered on 26 January 1883: Parahi of 10 to 12, Elizabeth of 9 or 10, Annie of unknown age, John of 8 to 9, Mere of 6 to 7, and Oketopa Okeroa of about 3. Lawson's account of the tragedy, depending on gossip fourteen years afterwards, in inaccurate. From the judge's report and the press report of the trial, the evidence was as follows: Ratima and Erina, according to Eliza Poharama, 'had never been good together.… He was always quarrelling with his wife, and she quarrelling with him'.6In the week before the murder the runanga had met to consider a charge of adultery between Erina and Ratima's brother Karipa. Ihaia te Awanui presided, and Paratene was 'the magistrate'.7 Karipa was ordered to pay a fine but refused and said they could take everything off his back. The trial finished about midnight, but they stayed talking till dawn. Erina refused to go home with Ratima and said she was not afraid of death. According to Ihaia te Awanui, Erina had already been before the runanga twice and Karipa once. On the day of the murder Ratima and Erina were seen talking near their house from morning to noon, he was 'jawing, jawing all the time, and slapping her page 123 page 123 face'.8 At lunch-time Danaher saw Ratima dragging his wife by the hand and intervened; Ratima, grey-faced with emotion, told him she had annoyed him again and had been a bad woman a second time. Danaher advised him to calm himself and went home for lunch. When he got home there was an immediate outcry that Erina was dead and he rode back to the kainga. Ratima had stabbed her five times in the neck with a hunting-knife. When he saw Ihaia te Awanui and Paratene coming he covered her body with a blanket. Danaher found the women washing her wounds. Asked why he had done it, Ratima said 'Ko ahau te utu', interpreted in the court as 'I shall be punished for it'. When the Kaikoura constable came at 3 p.m. Ratima sat quietly waiting to be arrested.

Ratima was found guilty after a jury retirement of 28 minutes; but the jury added a recommendation of mercy: in view of his wife's infidelity, 'we trust the term will not be a life one.'9 The judge sentenced him to death, but recommended that the sentence be commuted to penal servitude for life, and at the concurrence of the Minister of Justice and the Colonial Secretary, the Governor formally commuted the sentence.

Three years later Mu Wahaaruhe who was Ratima's uncle, wrote to T. W. Lewis, Under-secretary to the Native Office, enquiring about the possibility of Ratima's release for good behaviour; but the reply was negative.10 Mrs Walsh thought he saved the life of a warder in gaol, but such an action would normally have been mentioned in the Department of Justice Annual Reports and there is no such mention.11 Yet he was in fact released, according to Lawson, shortly before June 1897, though he was not living in Mangamaunu. Nothing can be known of the circumstances and date of his release, which would have been recorded in the journals or logbooks of Lyttelton Prison, since they cannot be located.12Mrs Walsh thought he was released on parole and married a woman from Kaiapoi or Little River who had a son by a previous marriage; this son was adopted and took the name of Jacob.

By the murder the children not only suffered the shock of losing their mother; they lost their father too. In a community of about eighty living in small huts, and with many of the men absent on seasonal work, there was no permanent provision for them. Pope noted in his report of 26 February 1883:

page 125

page 125

The fact that it was Martha Taki who sponsored the baptism of Mere and Josephine in 1886 and that theirher grandfather Ihaia Wahaaruhe was not himself baptised till eight months later, suggests that Ihaia was no longer their guardian and that Martha Taki was. The fact that the runanga decided in February 1886 that Para Jacob and Emilia Taki should decline the scholarships entitling them to secondary education since they were needed to help in 'household duties' suggests that Mrs Taki had a good reason for needing help, as she would have done if she were rearing two families.19

Lawson might well have feared Mary with her 'eyes like a hawk' watching for his mistakes in arithmetic: she had had over nine years longer at school than he had, though she had not made much use of them. She enrolled when the school opened and for her first three examinations she got no marks at all. In February 1884, like the two other Jacob children at school, she was given full marks (and passed Standard I) — presumably a charity pass, since they had influenza at the time. It took her a further two years to pass Standard II. When at the end of 1888 (under Beck) she failed, Kirk named her as one of those 'of good working age' who had 'attended well on the whole' who should have passed. She must have been thought too old to be listed in the 1894 petition (she would have been 17 or 18); but she re-enrolled when the school reopened. That this is not another girl called Mary Jacob is evident first from Lawson's guess at her age, and second, from her being credited on the examination schedule, December 1894, with having spent '36 months' at school. This is wrong and may be all that Steel could make of her answers to his inquiries; but there had not been any other Mary Jacob at the school when it closed in 1890. At the end of that year, aged about 20, she passed Standard II. Presumably, since according to Bertha she was considered strange and moody, she was sent to school for something to do.

It was possible under the Native Schools Code for teachers to take Maori girls to board with them, with the object of teaching them European house-keeping. For this they could claim £2 for every three months the girl stayed with them. It was specifically provided that such girls 'shall be treated as