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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Tall Story of Lengthy Journey

Tall Story of Lengthy Journey

The narrative is embellished with an account of a lengthy journey which, Rutherford says, he and Epecka took in company with Aimy. It was, he avers, made “sometimes by water and sometimes by land,” and, “in about a month,” the party “arrived at a place (subsequently described as a village) called Taranake, on the coast of Cook's Straits.” Twenty slave women, it is stated, were among the party. Each of them not only carried provisions, but also “drove before her a pig, which she held by a string tied to its foreleg.” As such a lengthy journey would have involved great hardships, also the perils incidental to passing through the domains of several tribes, the portion of the narrative dealing with it is widely regarded as a pure fabrication.

Rutherford claims that, whilst he was in the Cook Strait area, he met another tattooed Englishman named James Mowry [James Caddell] of Southern Cape [Stewart Island]. Caddell, he states, told him that, when he was a boy, he was on the Sydney Cove; that he went ashore in a boat near Southern Cape; and that the rest of the party were slain by the natives. He added that he had been in New Zealand for eight years. The tragic incident mentioned by Caddell occurred in 1810, so that the year in which they met—wherever the meeting took place—must have been about 1818. That they did fraternize during that year appears to be supported by the fact that Rutherford correctly estimated Caddell's age at that date at twenty-four years. When Caddell was in Sydney in 1823, he told M. de Blossville of the Coquille, that he was sixteen years old when he was taken into captivity.

It does not necessarily follow, however, that Rutherford lived in the North Island as early as 1818, or that it was in or about Cook Strait that he and Caddell met. He states that Caddell had heard of the capture of the Agnes, but he places too great a strain on the credulity of his readers when he adds that it was from him that he received accounts of the deaths of his shipmates, Smith and Watson. According to his own story, these men were held captive by chiefs who lived not far from Aimy's village, i.e. page 68 in a district in the North Island some hundreds of miles from Stewart Island, where Caddell lived.

No American armed vessel that answers to the description of the Agnes can be traced by the United States authorities. Rutherford states that her master was a Captain Coffin. This was not an uncommon surname among American master mariners in those days. A Captain Coffin was in charge of the Enterprise in May, 1817—just over twelve months after the Agnes is alleged to have been taken—when she called at the Snares and rescued a party of maroons. If Rutherford was on board her, he might easily have made the acquaintance of Caddell whilst she was in southern waters.

The description given by Rutherford of the return journey from “Cook's Straits” is of interest chiefly because it serves to indicate that the locality in which he lived among the natives was not, even according to himself, as far south as Tokomaru Bay. He says that the party, after travelling from Cook Strait for six weeks, arrived at “East Cape” [even Cook's East Cape is forty miles north of Tokomaru Bay], where they met Bomurry [Pomare], a great chief belonging to the Bay of Islands, “who had plundered and murdered nearly every person that lived between the East Cape and the River Thames.”

“He (Pomare) and his followers having taken leave of us,” says Rutherford, “we also left the East Cape, . . and proceeded on our journey homewards, travelling during the day and encamping during the night … In this way, we arrived in four days at our own village….”

That at some time Rutherford did run across Pomare need not be doubted, even although it is most unlikely that the locale was Cook's East Cape. Pomare participated in a number of expeditions—how many is not clear—in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century and touched at many points to the south of the Bay of Islands. However, interest attaches to Rutherford's further statement that he saw in one of Pomare's canoes a trunk bearing the name of Captain Brin [Brind] of the Asp. A whale-ship named Asp, whilst under the command of Captain Brind, used the Bay of Islands for a base in 1822–3. The year 1818 seems too early, therefore, for the meeting which Rutherford suggests he had with Pomare.

Stronger light on the question as to the locality in which Rutherford lived among the Maoris is shed in his imperfect account of the conflict known as “Te Ika-a-Ranganui,” which took place in the Kaipara district in 1825 between the Ngati-Whatua and the Ngapuhi. Some of his details are held to be correct, but his claim to have been an eyewitness is disproved by page 69 the fact that he says that Ngati-Whatua emerged victorious, whereas (although, at the outset, they had a temporary triumph) they were, in the end, routed by Ngapuhi.

The scene of the struggle is described by Rutherford as “a place called Kipara [Kaipara] near the source of the River Thames.” There, he says, he met John Mawman [Marmon], who lived at Sukyanna [Hokianga], and who had accompanied Ngapuhi. If (as he suggests) Kaipara was only two hundred miles from Aimy's village, further proof is afforded that he was not held captive—if he ever was a prisoner—below Whakatane.

According to The New Zealanders, Rutherford escaped from captivity on 9 January, 1826. An unnamed American brig (Captain Jackson) was sighted off “Takomardo,” and Aimy and the other chiefs resolved to seize her and murder the crew. He was sent out in a canoe to decoy her to the land, but he warned the captain and the vessel stood off. In his Glasgow pamphlet, Rutherford states that the vessel was the American discovery brig Avenger, and he gives the date of his escape as 18 January, 1827. McNab (Turnbull Library records) was informed by the secretary to the U.S. Navy that no such vessel could be traced in its lists.

The two accounts also differ as to Rutherford's movements after he left New Zealand. In the pamphlet version, it is made out that the Avenger carried him on to Brazil, but, in The New Zealanders, it is stated that he left her at Tahiti, where he stayed until January, 1827; that he then went to Sydney on the brig Macquarie; that he sailed from Sydney on the Sydney Packet (Captain Tailor), leaving her at Rio de Janeiro. In both accounts, he claims to have made the final stage of his journey to England in H.M.S. Blanche. Dr. G. H. Scholefield examined the logs and muster rolls of that vessel in London for McNab, but did not find Rutherford's name.