Maori Land Use 4: 1850s Missionary Report

Today we finish the series on the changing pattern of Maori land use and ownership. Historian Bruce Moon has done extensive research on this topic and sets out to dispel misunderstandings about what has often been a contentious area.

 (To read Parts 1, 2 and 3, scroll down to Jun 11, 19 and 26.)

Ironside’s observations

By Bruce Moon

Samuel Ironside

In 1842, Rev. Samuel Ironside was the pioneer Methodist minister of the Nelson settlement.  A plaque in Old St John’s church today commemorates the centenary of his arrival.

Some years later he moved to Taranaki and worked as a missionary there from 1855-1858.

Having retired to Sydney, he responded to intemperate criticism by a Church of England dignitary who had never been to New Zealand, his letter duly being published in the “Sydney Morning Herald” and the “Nelson Examiner”.[i]

Such objective testimony from an eyewitness, recorded soon afterwards, must be wholly superior to alleged “oral histories” passed down by word of mouth for 150 years by old men, “kaumatuas”, many of whom told what they wanted to have told and heard only what they wanted to hear.[1] 

Be it noted too that Ironside was witness only to the first round of hostilities in Taranaki.  Tribal violence increased thereafter, 177 settler homes and farmsteads being destroyed in little more than twelve months in 1860-1.[ii]

Ironside’s words, lightly edited

I have lived twenty years in New Zealand in the capacity of a Wesleyan Methodist Missionary, am tolerably conversant with the language and habits of the natives, was in and out among the poor people during many of their wars, and yield to none in a sincere desire for their welfare. …

During the whole of my twenty years’ experience in that country I cannot call to mind more than one instance of murder of natives by a white man. Not an acre of land has ever been purchased from the natives except at their own repeated request, and by the free consent, as far as could be ascertained, of every individual owner.

They have now millions of acres of land unappropriated, not one tithe of which they can ever cultivate. This land has been a fruitful source of quarrel, bloodshed and violence, among themselves; and the quietly-disposed among them, lamenting over evils which they cannot remedy, namely, the unceasing strife among the various tribes about ownership and boundaries, would gladly alienate the land to the Crown, being sure of equitable payment for all they sold, large reserves for themselves and families, and the presence of English emigrants, who would be a guarantee of peace and quietness, and also furnish an excellent market for all the produce they could raise.

If the Queen could purchase their lands it would be an inestimable blessing to themselves, by removing the fruitful source of war and strife. But the violent and disorderly among them not only refuse to sell lands of which they are themselves owners, but resolutely prevent their neighbours from selling theirs.

The stubborn Wiremu Kingi and inter-tribal violence

Wiremu Kingi

The noted Weremu Kingi [sic], in open conference with the District Commissioner, is asked by him if the land in dispute belongs to the parties offering it for sale.

 He replies, “Yes, the land is theirs; but I will not let them sell it.”

 In 1854 these violent men cruelly and in cold blood murdered seven of their fellow natives, who, unarmed, were engaged in cutting the boundaries of a piece of land which they wished Government to buy.

 If the Governor had had it in his power to punish those murderers as the deserved, I believe the present war would have been prevented. But they escaped through the weakness of Government, and ever since the lawless and turbulent have done things of this kind with impunity.

It is really too bad to charge the unoffending settlers with being “grasping, and unfair, and oppressive.” They are in no way responsible for the war, which is an Imperial question, but have many of them, suffered the loss of all. Husbands, and sons, and fathers, and even little children, have been cruelly murdered. The houses of the settlers are burnt; their pretty English homesteads, in which they had invested their all, and on which they had expended years to toil and sacrifice, are utterly laid waste by an unprincipled mob of natives; … .

Honourable dealings with the natives 

The emigrants of New Zealand are, as a body, wholly innocent of your censures. They are, and have been, honourable in their dealings with the natives. In fact, at Taranaki and its neighbourhood they dare not be otherwise, for they have been at the mercy of the natives.

Government for years past has been powerless to repress and punish native crime. Trespasses by the native cattle and horses upon the cultivations of settlers have been of necessity overlooked, while the settler’s horse or cow wandering upon the unfenced land of the natives, has been in many instances shot down or barbarously hacked with the tomahawk.

I speak … of things coming under my own observation, as a missionary.

Patient settlers and native rebellion

I lived from 1855 to 1858 in Taranaki, where the late unhappy war raged; and was an eye-witness of the patience with which the settlers there bore repeated instances of outrage, and insult, and wrong at the hands of the natives.

I hope I shall not be chargeable with want of sympathy with the natives of New Zealand in thus writing. I have given evidence of my sincere desire to their welfare during many years of toil and sacrifice among them; and were I younger in years, and able to endure the toil and exposure, I would gladly go back and labour and die among them.

But I cannot justify the rebellions in their present course, and I cannot allow the emigrants to New Zealand to be charged with fault of which they are wholly innocent, without replying to those charges.”

I am, reverend sir,

yours very faithfully,


Newtown, Sydney, January 18 1862.                                          Sydney Morning Herald, February 12.


Compare this eyewitness account with, for instance,  Rosemary McLeod’s recent guilt trip about “the English in the 19th century, their beliefs about their racial superiority, how they craved an empire, and what they were prepared to do to get it” and wonder.

[1]     False claims about which they are said to be “adamant”: that eye-swallower and murderer of missionary Volkner, Kereopa Te Rau was innocent and that there was church-burning at Rangiaowhia are examples.

[i]      Samuel Ironside, “Sydney Morning Herald”, 12th February 1862 and “Nelson Examiner”, 12th March 1862

[ii]    W I Grayling, “The War in Taranaki, during the years 1860-61”, 1862

I tried to say these things in 1984. Really that year. I was made a pariah at the University. The kiwis told me not to bother. That was old irrelevant stuff. Glad the blood libel against the first British settlers is now being exposed. But it will be now much harder. Rosemary McCleod epitomises what happens when you don’t defend your history.

Thank you Bruce Moon for a very enlightening series – The truth is no longer hidden, now people are hiding from the truth….


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.