While people are aware of the atrocities of the black slave trade around the world, few are familiar with the enslavement and trafficking of Europeans in 19th-century New Zealand.

For Māori, the sailors, convicts, missionaries, traders, whalers and sawyers who were captured were viewed as the property of their chiefs and existed primarily to serve their masters.

Trevor Bentley's new book, Pākehā Slaves, Māori Masters, details the slave trade in 1800s New Zealand which, as he puts it, was "not something that only white people did to black people".

Children were also sometimes captured - often in retaliation against Pākehā doing the same, as the extract below details.

Lawless sealing and whaling crews frequently kidnapped Māori women and girls and took them to sea as sex and labour slaves before abandoning them on Pacific Islands and at the Australian ports. As late as 1841, before sailing from Otago, the crew of the French whaleship Oriental carried off a Māori woman and child by night "for the captain's use".

Māori, on the other hand, rarely kidnapped Pākehā settler women and girls from their homes during times of peace and war with Pākehā. One exception was Caroline Perrett.

Following the kidnapping of a Māori child by Pākehā at Taranaki and destruction of Māori graves by her father at Lepperton in 1874, 8-year-old Caroline was kidnapped from her parent's farm by a band of dispossessed Māori seeking utu. Spirited away to the Northern gum fields, her captors always remained one step ahead of government and private search parties.

A rangatira investigates the first sailing vessel to anchor in tribal waters, depicted in Angus McBride's Natives and Captain Cook.
A rangatira investigates the first sailing vessel to anchor in tribal waters, depicted in Angus McBride's Natives and Captain Cook.

Māori often adopted the children of defeated enemy tribes. Renamed Kuīni (Queenie), Caroline became their whāngai (adoptee). Though the men woman and children of her hapū shared the hard work equally, Caroline found her initial treatment distressing and the unfamiliar tasks of digging and back-packing gum and provisions exhausting.

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She later said, "They didn't treat me too kindly in those days. I don't mean to say they beat me a lot, or actually ill used me, but they were harsh, and I had to do whatever they told me ... Some of the women were not very kind, and my life was not a happy one, but I can't remember it very clearly ... Our camp was 10 miles from this place [the trading store], and when I was only a child, I used to walk this distance with about 60lb of gum in a sack. It was backbreaking work ... A pīkau of gum is not a light load for a girl, and I was not as strong as they".

Sensationalised newspaper reports following her discovery by her niece portrayed her life as one of tribulation and misery, akin to that of a slave. Caroline recalled, however, a kindly Māori woman, her matua kēkē, or stranger parent, who guided her as she was assimilated into their world. Though compelled to work hard like every child in the hapū, Caroline's captors never exploited her labour for their own gain. She recalled, "About one pound was allowed me each time I sold my gum, the balance in accordance with Māori custom went toward the camp food".

Book cover of Pākehā Slāves, Māori Masters.
Book cover of Pākehā Slāves, Māori Masters.

Caroline bore the name Kuīni for 50 years, during which she forgot her original name. Recognised in 1926 (55 years later) by her niece while standing with a group of Māori women in the main street of Whakatāne, Caroline chose to remain with her Māori husband, children and relatives. In the first interview following her discovery, Caroline made the point that she finally had a name and identity: "I am content that the mystery of my birth has been solved, and that I am no longer a woman without a name".

In 1929, Mary Murray, a Poverty Bay settler, recalled a "fair haired, white-skinned girl in her early twenties ... of distinctly British parentage", who also may have been kidnapped or abandoned among Māori as a child. The young woman had previously lived "for years" at the local pā and was well known to Europeans in the district.

Older Māori refused to discuss her origins and, like Kuīni Perrett, she worked alongside her hapū, in this case journeying from shed to shed with the gangs of Māori shearers engaging in the work of fleece-picking with the rest of the women.

White female slaves continued to fetch much lower cash prices than their white male counterparts in the post-Treaty of Waitangi era. Māori sellers and Pākehā buyers spoke of their trade in female slaves as if they were buying and selling pigs. The callousness of this process was evident in Auckland during the early 1840s when two white female mōkai (pet slave) were actually sold alongside their masters' pigs.

Some of the lowest cash prices were by paid by butchers at Auckland's meat market during the 1840s. Among the Māori traders transporting agricultural produce to the town's thriving markets aboard their sailing vessels in 1842 was a Pākehā-Māori and his Pākehā female companion. They had sailed their little vessel to Auckland from the distant East Coast to sell a cargo of pigs and potatoes.

After a good deal of haggling with a butcher near the corner of Shortland and High Sts, the Pākehā-Māori offered to sell his pigs alive at 4 1/2 pence per pound, which was agreed to by the butcher on two conditions. Firstly, the Pākehā-Māori had to put his woman on the scales with the pigs as part of the sale. Secondly, a sixth part was to be deducted for offal from pigs and woman alike. The Pākehā-Māori agreed and the money was paid "down on the nail". The sale, reported at the time as "singularly novel and altogether unique in the history of social economy", was followed by two further sales.

Missionary James Buller. Photo / National Library of New Zealand
Missionary James Buller. Photo / National Library of New Zealand

At one Māori village in 1869, English missionary James Buller found an 18-year-old "European lad" who refused to leave his Māori whānau, as "He had lived with them from a child". It was not uncommon for babies born out of wedlock to be abandoned by desperate Pākehā mothers near Māori settlements, in the knowledge that, when found, the children would be raised as whāngai or adoptees. Others were directly handed over to Māori families to raise and a 1909 law, prohibiting the adoption of Pākehā children by Māori parents, was, in part, a response to this practice.

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One female child found abandoned on the edge of the Waitematā Harbour by a Māori trading party during the 1840s was named Jenny and raised as a whāngai among her adoptive people on Waiheke Island.

In later years, several young men became smitten with Jenny. Their quarrels over her so disrupted community life, the elders decided that she should be returned to the Pākehā world. Twice, Jenny was taken to Auckland and left there. Twice, she managed to find her way back to Waiheke, where the quarrels continued.

Recalling, perhaps, the sale of the Pākehā woman to the Auckland butcher in 1842, the exasperated elders decided to enslave and sell Jenny. A Māori trading party loaded their living chattel and a drove of pigs aboard two canoes and set off for Auckland. After setting up camp near the town, a party of Pākehā butchers arrived and offered to buy their pigs. The Māori traders refused to sell unless the butchers also bought their white slave.

Chief Kamariera Te Hau Takari Wharepapa as painted by Gottfried Lindauer.
Chief Kamariera Te Hau Takari Wharepapa as painted by Gottfried Lindauer.

After some haggling, one of the butchers agreed. Like her predecessor, Jenny and the pigs were hung up on steelyards, weighed and paid for at the rate of two pence, half penny per pound.

After remaining with the butcher's family for two years, Jenny was reported to have married "a fine, strapping bushman". She returned to Waiheke Island where she worked beside her husband, "sawing in the pit as well as any man, and a living very happily for years". Whether the bushman was Pākehā, Maori or Pākehā-Māori is not stated.

The last-known white female slave sold in New Zealand was Georgina Meen, an Englishwoman and former Londoner. Sold at Mangakahia in the Kaipara district in 1872, her story is a poignant one. When Mr DG Fraser, an Englishman, arrived in New Zealand in 1870, his surveying work took him to many remote districts.

Wiremu Pou, pictured far left, married an Englishwoman who later became a slave. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
Wiremu Pou, pictured far left, married an Englishwoman who later became a slave. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

While surveying in Northland, his party arrived one evening at a kainga [home] in Mangakahia and were surprised to encounter among the party of welcoming Māori, two Englishwomen, one of whom translated for the visitors and their hosts. The women were former Londoners, who had married the tattooed chiefs Kamariera Te Hau Takari Wharepapa and Wiremu Pou when they visited London with a travelling show.

Accompanying their husbands back to New Zealand, the women lived for 14 years among their husbands' hapū. Mr Fraser stated that of the two Englishwomen, the translator, Elizabeth Reid [married to Kamariera], "was of a more refined nature and took her stand among the tribe". Georgina, however, had become a slave following the death of her husband Wiremu and had recently been sold to a European bushman for the sum of £2.1.

Pākehā slave Kimble Bent. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
Pākehā slave Kimble Bent. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

At Taranaki in 1864, the Hauhau warriors (of the Māori religious movement) seized private Kimble Bent, who deserted the British 57th Regiment after receiving 25 lashes for insubordination.

An American, Bent had run away to sea at 17 and served three years in the American Navy before joining the 57th in Liverpool in 1859 and seeing action in India. Bent was seized at a time when the Taranaki tribes were engaged in a brutal guerrilla war with British, colonial and kūpapa Māori troops.

The deserter was harshly treated for months, his conditions only improving when he proved adept at making cartridges and repairing the muskets and pistols of his Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Ruahine masters.

Bent recalled, "I lived exactly like a Māori, worked like a n*****, and always went about bare-footed." He was also compelled to work in the plantations and helped to construct ditches and palisades for the fortifications.

New Zealand writer James Cowan. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
New Zealand writer James Cowan. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

Following an interview with the deserter during the 1890s, New Zealand writer James Cowan wrote: "Now began for the runaway an even harder life than that which he had endured in the army. He found that he was virtually a slave amongst the Māoris. He had had fond imaginings of the easy time he would enjoy in the heart of Māoridom, but to quote from his own lips, 'they made me work like a blessed dog'.

"Soon after his arrival at the pā ... he was set to work felling bush, clearing and digging, gathering firewood, and hauling water for the camp. Tito was his master – not only his master, but in fact his owner, with power of life and death over him. Bent divined the Māori nature too well to refuse "fatigue duty," as he had done at the Manawapou [military] camp. There would be no court martial in Taiporohenui – just a crack on the head with a tomahawk. So he bent his back to the burdens.

Author of Pākehā Slaves, Māori Masters, Trevor Bentley.
Author of Pākehā Slaves, Māori Masters, Trevor Bentley.

Pākehā Slaves, Māori Masters
By Trevor Bentley
RRP: $39.99
Published by New Holland Publishers (NZ)