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CHAPTER XXXIII: The Town of Nelson-'The Mongatapu Murders,' the Great Event of the Town - Burgess' Confession - Summit of Mount Eden - Rotorua and the Hot Lakes and Geysers - Thermal Springs District - Kauri Gum - Tangariwa Mountains .
Let us be grateful to Adam our benefactor. He cut us out of the "blessing of idleness and won for us the "curse" of labor.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
We soon reached the town of Nelson, and spent the most of the day there, visiting acquaintances and driving with them about the garden - the whole region is a garden, excepting the scene of the "Maungatapu Murders," of thirty years ago. That is a wild place - wild and lonely; an ideal place for a murder. It is at the base of a vast, rugged, densely timbered mountain. In the deep twilight of that forest solitude four desperate rascals - Burgess, Sullivan, Levy, and Kelley - ambushed themselves beside the mountain-trail to murder and rob four travelers - Kempthorne, Mathieu, Dudley, and De Pontius, the latter a New Yorker. A harmless old laboring man came wandering along, and as his presence was an embarrassment, they choked him, hid him, and then resumed their watch for the four. They had to wait a while, but eventually everything turned out as they desired.
That dark episode is the one large event in the history of Nelson. The fame of it traveled far. Burgess made a confession. It is a remarkable paper. For brevity, succinctness, and concentration, it is perhaps without its peer in the literature of murder. There are no waste words in it; there is no obtrusion of matter not pertinent to the occasion, nor any departure from the dispassionate tone proper to a formal business statement - for that is what it is: a business statement of a murder, by the chief engineer of it, or superintendent, or foreman, or whatever one may prefer to call him.
"We were getting impatient, when we saw four men and a pack-horse coming. I left my cover and had a look at the men, for Levy had told me that Mathieu was a small man and wore a large beard, and that it was a chestnut horse. I said, 'Here they come.' They were then a good distance away; I took the caps off my gun, and put fresh ones on. I said, 'You keep where you are, I'll put them up, and you give me your gun while you tie them.' It was arranged as I have described. The men came; they arrived within about fifteen yards when I stepped up and said, 'Stand! bail up!' That means all of them to get together. I made them fall back on the upper side of the road with their faces up the range, and Sullivan brought me his gun, and then tied their hands behind them. The horse was very quiet all the time, he did not move. When they were all tied, Sullivan took the horse up the hill, and put him in the bush; he cut the rope and let the swags' - [A "swag" is a kit, a pack, small baggage.] - fall on the ground, and then came to me. We then marched the men down the incline to the creek; the water at this time barely running. Up this creek we took the men; we went, I daresay, five or six hundred yards up it, which took us nearly half-an-hour to accomplish. Then we turned to the right up the range; we went, I daresay, one hundred and fifty yards from the creek, and there we sat down with the men. I said to Sullivan, 'Put down your gun and search these men,' which he did. I asked them their several names; they told me. I asked them if they were expected at Nelson. They said, 'No.' If such their lives would have been spared. In money we took L60 odd. I said, 'Is this all you have? You had better tell me.' Sullivan said, 'Here is a bag of gold.' I said, 'What's on that pack-horse? Is there any gold ?' when Kempthorne said, 'Yes, my gold is in the portmanteau, and I trust you will not take it all.' 'Well,' I said, 'we must take you away one at a time, because the range is steep just here, and then we will let you go.' They said, 'All right,' most cheerfully. We tied their feet, and took Dudley with us; we went about sixty yards with him. This was through a scrub. It was arranged the night previously that it would be best to choke them, in case the report of the arms might be heard from the road, and if they were missed they never would be found. So we tied a handkerchief over his eyes, when Sullivan took the sash off his waist, put it round his neck, and so strangled him. Sullivan, after I had killed the old laboring man, found fault with the way he was choked. He said, 'The next we do I'll show you my way.' I said, 'I have never done such a thing before. I have shot a man, but never choked one.' We returned to the others, when Kempthorne said, 'What noise was that?' I said it was caused by breaking through the scrub. This was taking too much time, so it was agreed to shoot them. With that I said, 'We'll take you no further, but separate you, and then loose one of you, and he can relieve the others.' So with that, Sullivan took De Pontius to the left of where Kempthorne was sitting. I took Mathieu to the right. I tied a strap round his legs, and shot him with a revolver. He yelled, I ran from him with my gun in my hand, I sighted Kempthorne, who had risen to his feet. I presented the gun, and shot him behind the right ear; his life's blood welled from him, and he died instantaneously. Sullivan had shot. De Pontius in the meantime, and then came to me. I said, 'Look to Mathieu,' indicating the spot where he lay. He shortly returned and said, 'I had to "chiv" that fellow, he was not dead,' a cant word, meaning that he had to stab him. Returning to the road we passed where De Pontius lay and was dead. Sullivan said, 'This is the digger, the others were all storekeepers; this is the digger, let's cover him up, for should the others be found, they'll think he done it and sloped,' meaning he had gone. So with that we threw all the stones on him, and then left him. This bloody work took nearly an hour and a half from the time we stopped the men."
Anyone who reads that confession will think that the man who wrote it was destitute of emotions, destitute of feeling. That is partly true. As regarded others he was plainly without feeling - utterly cold and pitiless; but as regarded himself the case was different. While he cared nothing for the future of the murdered men, he cared a great deal for his own. It makes one's flesh creep to read the introduction to his confession. The judge on the bench characterized it as "scandalously blasphemous," and it certainly reads so, but Burgess meant no blasphemy. He was merely a brute, and whatever he said or wrote was sure to expose the fact. His redemption was a very real thing to him, and he was as jubilantly happy on the gallows as ever was Christian martyr at the stake. We dwellers in this world are strangely made, and mysteriously circumstanced. We have to suppose that the murdered men are lost, and that Burgess is saved; but we cannot suppress our natural regrets.
"Written in my dungeon drear this 7th of August, in the year of Grace, 1866. To God be ascribed all power and glory in subduing the rebellious spirit of a most guilty wretch, who has been brought, through the instrumentality of a faithful follower of Christ, to see his wretched and guilty state, inasmuch as hitherto he has led an awful and wretched life, and through the assurance of this faithful soldier of Christ, he has been led and also believes that Christ will yet receive and cleanse him from all his deep-dyed and bloody sins. I lie under the imputation which says, 'Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' On this promise I rely."
We sailed in the afternoon late, spent a few hours at New Plymouth, then sailed again and reached Auckland the next day, November 20th, and remained in that fine city several days. Its situation is commanding, and the sea-view is superb. There are charming drives all about, and by courtesy of friends we had opportunity to enjoy them. From the grassy crater-summit of Mount Eden one's eye ranges over a grand sweep and variety of scenery - forests clothed in luxuriant foliage, rolling green fields, conflagrations of flowers, receding and dimming stretches of green plain, broken by lofty and symmetrical old craters - then the blue bays twinkling and sparkling away into the dreamy distances where the mountains loom spiritual in their veils of haze.
It is from Auckland that one goes to Rotorua, the region of the renowned hot lakes and geysers - one of the chief wonders of New Zealand; but I was not well enough to make the trip. The government has a sanitorium there, and everything is comfortable for the tourist and the invalid. The government's official physician is almost over-cautious in his estimates of the efficacy of the baths, when he is talking about rheumatism, gout, paralysis, and such things; but when he is talking about the effectiveness of the waters in eradicating the whisky-habit, he seems to have no reserves. The baths will cure the drinking-habit no matter how chronic it is - and cure it so effectually that even the desire to drink intoxicants will come no more. There should be a rush from Europe and America to that place; and when the victims of alcoholism find out what they can get by going there, the rush will begin.
The Thermal-springs District of New Zealand comprises an area of upwards of 600,000 acres, or close on 1,000 square miles. Rotorua is the favorite place. It is the center of a rich field of lake and mountain scenery; from Rotorua as a base the pleasure-seeker makes excursions. The crowd of sick people is great, and growing. Rotorua is the Carlsbad of Australasia.
It is from Auckland that the Kauri gum is shipped. For a long time now about 8,000 tons of it have been brought into the town per year. It is worth about $300 per ton, unassorted; assorted, the finest grades are worth about $1,000. It goes to America, chiefly. It is in lumps, and is hard and smooth, and looks like amber - the light-colored like new amber, and the dark brown like rich old amber. And it has the pleasant feel of amber, too. Some of the light-colored samples were a tolerably fair counterfeit of uncut South African diamonds, they were so perfectly smooth and polished and transparent. It is manufactured into varnish; a varnish which answers for copal varnish and is cheaper.
The gum is dug up out of the ground; it has been there for ages. It is the sap of the Kauri tree. Dr. Campbell of Auckland told me he sent a cargo of it to England fifty years ago, but nothing came of the venture. Nobody knew what to do with it; so it was sold at 15 a ton, to light fires with.
November 26 - 3 P.M., sailed. Vast and beautiful harbor. Land all about for hours. Tangariwa, the mountain that "has the same shape from every point of view." That is the common belief in Auckland. And so it has-from every point of view except thirteen. Perfect summer weather. Large school of whales in the distance. Nothing could be daintier than the puffs of vapor they spout up, when seen against the pink glory of the sinking sun, or against the dark mass of an island reposing in the deep blue shadow of a storm cloud . . . . Great Barrier rock standing up out of the sea away to the left. Sometime ago a ship hit it full speed in a fog - 20 miles out of her course - 140 lives lost; the captain committed suicide without waiting a moment. He knew that, whether he was to blame or not, the company owning the vessel would discharge him and make a devotion - to - passengers' safety advertisement out of it, and his chance to make a livelihood would be permanently gone.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXIV: The Bay of Gisborne - Taking in Passengers by the Yard Arm - The Green Ballarat Fly - False Teeth - From Napier to Hastings by the Ballarat Fly Train - Kauri Trees - A Case of Mental Telegraphy