Pākehā Māori were early European settlers who gave up European ways to live among the Māori. They often found a welcome, took wives and were treated as Māori, particularly in the first two decades of the 19th century. The rarity of Europeans in New Zealand and the importance of trade in European goods (particularly muskets) made Pākehā Māori highly prized for their trading skills. Some achieved a degree of prestige among the Māori and fought in battle with their adopted Iwi in the New Zealand wars, sometimes against European soldiers. A few Pākehā Māori such as James Caddell, John Rutherford and Barnet Burns even received moko.
Kimble Bent was one such Pākehā Māori, a soldier and adventurer, who deserted from the British Army during the New Zealand Wars he lived with the Ngāti Ruanui in Taranaki.
Bent was born in Eastport, Maine USA. He ran away to sea at 17 and spent three years travelling the Atlantic seaboard as a sailor in the US Navy. He returned to Eastport but was restless and sailed to Liverpool, England. Still in his early 20s and, by his own account, penniless through drinking, Bent enlisted in the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot on 18 October 1859. He served in India and his unit was posted to New Zealand in 1861.
He wasn’t known as a good Soldier and he was repeatedly disciplined for various infractions including disobedience and drunkenness. This discipline included a prison sentence in Wellington, and after receiving 25 lashes in front of his company Bent decided to desert, June 1865 while serving in the Taranaki.
He fell into the hands of Ngati Ruanui leader Tito Hanataua, in 1865, who kept him as a servant and protected him. He remained with the Maori forces and fought with them against the colonists helping to build and defend numerous pa, in what has become known as Titokowaru's War until their eventual defeat in 1869. During this time he was married twice, having a child with his second wife.
Bent's military service was limited to cartridge making and the repair of arms. He had a reputation in the 57th as a gunsmith supposedly he displayed some ingenuity in extracting powder from captured grenades, and finding substitutes for cartridge paper. Bent claimed that he took no active part in the war parties. When the last pa was abandoned, Bent took refuge on the upper Waitara River.
Bent considered a traitor, went into hiding first in the backblocks of Taranaki and later in Wairau, Blenheim. He spent his remaining years working in several trades including as a builder, fisherman, horticulturist, tattooist, traditional healer using Maori medicine and even a confectioner. He remained a wanted deserter with a reward on his head for many years, but eventually the authorities stopped looking for him. In 1903 he was rediscovered, and a book was written about his life by James Cowan. Entitled The adventures of Kimble Bent: a story of wild life in the New Zealand bush, it was something of sensation at the time.
He died in Wairau Hospital on 22 May 1916.
More recently, his tale has been fictionalised by New Zealand author Maurice Shadbolt in his 1990 historical novel Monday's Warriors and in the 2011 graphic novel, Kimble Bent Malcontent: The Wild Adventures of a Runaway Soldier in Old-Time New Zealand by Chris Grosz.
Thomas Adamson with Wiremu Mutu.
Adamson was a keen bushman and a Pākehā–Māori, a European attracted to the Maori way of life. He was befriended by Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp), leader of the pro-government Wanganui Native Contingent. Adamson often served with Te Keepa's warriors, going barefoot like his comrades and in 1868 he joined the Wanganui Cavalry Volunteers.
An effective bush scout, Adamson was just the type of man Colonel George Whitmore was seeking in his fight against the resistance movements of Titokowaru and Te Kooti. In 1869 he joined Whitmore's Corps of Guides.
The government had offered a reward of £1,000 for the capture of Titokowaru, dead or alive. Te Keepa persuaded Whitmore to offer a bounty of £10 a head for chiefs and £5 for others. Unfortunately the men interpreted this to mean that they had to decapitate their prisoners and bring in the heads to get paid, many of them preserved in the traditional way over embers. When first presented heads Whitmore immediately issued orders to stop the practice.
In 1869 Tom and Steve Adamson went with Whitmore's expedition to the Urewera in search of Te Kooti. Tom was in the advance heading for Ruatahuna when the group was ambushed and he was shot through the right wrist. A second shot struck a revolver slung across his chest, and he received a cut where the bullet was deflected.
In 1870 Adamson returned with Te Keepa's Wanganui contingent to the Urewera, and took part in the attack on Waipuna pa in March. The men, including Adamson, were brutal in their treatment of the defeated and the principal captives were summarily executed.
Thomas Adamson possessed courage and skill as a bush fighter but also demonstrated a ruthless streak in the treatment of prisoners. He was awarded the New Zealand Cross in 1876 'for good and gallant services as a scout and guide throughout the campaign of 1868–69.'
In later life Adamson took up farming on the Wanganui River. From about 1873 he lived with Nika Waiata. They had no children of their own but adopted a boy and a girl. Having moved back to Wanganui, Tom Adamson and Nika Waiata were married there on 22 November 1910. He died there three years later on the 29th December.
‘If you do “go into the bush”, be on your guard against the common danger of relapsing into barbarism’.
Arthur Clayden, 1886 handbook for emigrants.
Colonial New Zealanders associated the bush with rough behaviour.
The Māori equivalent word for the bush is ‘te ngahere’. As migrants from Pacific Islands, they were initially a coastal people but developed a detailed knowledge of the foods, medicines and other resources found in the bush. While they never lived within the forest, they learnt to travel through it and use the resources it had to offer.
When the first Europeans arrived they found the sunless and impenetrable character of the bush rather frightening. Because it was evergreen, they often described it as dark, monotonous and lacking the seasonal variety of European trees. They found it silent and damp, with few obvious sources of food. Despite this NZ become a popular place for ships to get repairs, native trees made great masts as they were tall and straight and flax fibres made strong rope for the rigging.
The later 19th century saw the rise of a romantic view of nature, and of wild, untamed environments. In New Zealand this led to a new respect for the bush. Recreational walks such as the Milford Track and international tourism encouraged a more positive view of the forests as unique and beautiful.
During the first half of the 20th century, hunting and tramping became popular activities, and a network of tracks and huts was built through the forests, mostly by Forest Service deer cullers. Because it was wild and ‘uncivilised’, the bush was now seen as a welcome escape from urbanised routines and polite conventions.
Before humans arrived around 1250–1300 AD, 80% of the land was covered with trees. Early Māori cleared the forest in some areas, but when Pākehā arrived in the 19th century, some 50% of the country was still native forest.