This is the latest in John Robinson’s popular series. To see the earlier articles, scroll down to August 10, 14 and 21.
Maori living in a time of change
By John Robinson
My first few articles on New Zealand history have dealt with the big picture – the total culture and population. The focus now turns to the actors – the people whose ideas and actions defined early events.
Their lifetimes spanned two very different societies and social systems.
They were born into a world of violence and bloody intertribal warfare, and came to see the steady, if slow, establishment of law and order.
They lived through a most extraordinary cultural revolution within Maori society, a complete transformation from a time when disputes over land ownership (taonga) were settled by might (with the spear, tao), to a rule of law.
They left behind the old culture and moved towards another, very different way of life.
Two who lived in Kapiti were
- Wiremu Kingi (William King, Te Rangitake; referred to here as Kingi) of Waikanae
- Tamihana Te Rauparaha (son of the renowned Ngati Toa warrior) of Otaki.
Wiremu Kingi: coming south
Kingi played a key role in the rebellion that led to war in Taranaki and Waikato. The story of Tamihana is the very opposite, a peacemaker who came to live in comfort as a country squire.
Kingi’s story is told in two parts: his coming to Waikanae and his decision to go back to Waitara, and then his refusal to accept a Commission decision that a fellow Te Atiawa chief, Teira, could sell land at Waitara even though Kingi acknowledged that the land was his.
The story starts in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. Intertribal warfare had driven weaker Maori tribes from their land.
Many Te Atiawa had moved from Taranaki where they had been attacked and killed by Waikato, and joined Ngati Toa (led by Te Rauparaha) in a move south, driving out tribes living in Kapiti and settling there. Kingi was one of them.
Te Atiawa sell land for protection?
In those turbulent times, many Maori across the country were eager to sell land for guns, both to protect themselves and with which to attack others.
The incoming settlers also provided welcome protection against threatening neighbours.
In 1839, the New Zealand Company made a number of purchases. The Te Atiawa leader Warepori, who had come to Wellington in the 1832 migration, sold all the land between Rimurapa (Sinclair Head) and Turakirae, and from the sea to the summits of the Tararua Range.
Te Atiawa did this partly from insecurity: no more of their tribe were joining them, and many Taranaki people had left.
Selling a huge area to the New Zealand Company
That year Te Atiawa chiefs at Waikanae sent Wiremu Kingi with Colonel William Wakefield to Queen Charlotte Sound, where he signed the deed of sale of a huge area, of 20 million acres, the southern third of the North Island (including Taranaki) and a substantial northern part of the South Island.
Te Atiawa, previously driven out of Taranaki by Waikato, had become fearful of the Ngati Toa of Te Rauparaha.
According to Wakefield:
The natives here, some of the ancient possessors of Taranaki, are very desirous that I should become the purchaser of that district, in order that they may return to their native place without fear of the Waikato tribes.
The harassed Nga Motu eager to sell in Taranaki
At the same time a part of Taranaki was purchased (a second time) from a different group of Te Atiawa, Nga Motu at New Plymouth.
These were the few left in occupation after slaves had been taken to Waikato, and a group of warriors and their families had gone south.
This small remnant, perhaps one hundred, of the original natives of Taranaki led a wretched existence, often harassed by the Waikato, seeking refuge on one of the Rocky Sugarloaf Islands or dispersed into the impenetrable forests at the base of Mount Egmont, always regarded as an enslaved and powerless tribe.
They were grateful of the opportunity to sell as the new settlers promised security.
William Spain checks the validity of sales
After 1840, the new Government fulfilled the promise of the Treaty and appointed a Land Claims Commissioner, William Spain, to investigate the validity of previous sales.
The first sale of Taranaki (signed by Kingi) was never taken seriously, but the sale by Nga Motu was confirmed. Spain’s 1844 decision in favour of the Company was a rare occasion, for once in favour of the Company.
The award upholding the 1839 purchase was for 60,000 acres to the New Zealand Company, with 6,000 acres to Maori (the tenths, native reserves) as well as 120 acres currently in cultivation, and 100 acres to the Wesleyan Missionary Society for mission land.
In making his judgement, Spain had recognised, and explained, the need to formulate and follow a set of guidelines so that decisions would be clear and consistent in law; that was his job.
His solution was to recognise the claims of those who were in occupation, for “a period of nine or ten years”. He had previously followed that criterion when he ruled in favour of Te Atiawa concerning Port Nicholson.
Kingi gets the governor to reverse Spain’s decision
But this decision did not please the Te Atiawa at Waikanae, who remained fearful of Ngati Toa, and thought of a return to Taranaki.
Soon after Spain’s ruling, Kingi (who had sold that same land at Cloudy Bay) wrote to Governor Fitzroy of his determination to hold on to land at Waitara, with a threat of armed action:
Waitara shall not be given up; the men to whom it belongs will hold it for themselves.
The Government had insufficient forces to uphold the law. Indeed in those days the colonial regime only existed with the support, and general concurrence, of Maori.
The threat was effective, and Governor Robert Fitzroy reversed Spain’s decision, refusing to confirm the award.
George Grey replaces Fitzroy
This was one of several reasons that Fitzroy was replaced as governor by George Grey.
The Secretary of State, William Gladstone, wrote to Grey of his unhappiness with the reversal of Spain’s decision, together with criticism that Fitzroy had not explained his reasons clearly.
Grey’s efforts to purchase land for dispossessed settlers were partially successful, and a total of 61,740 acres were sold in Taranaki between 1844 and 1854. But not Waitara.
A peaceful partnership: Kingi and Hadfield
Kingi was converted to Christianity by the English missionary Octavius Hadfield and was initially friendly toward Europeans.
Throughout the unsettled years that followed the 1843 Wairau Affray, he supported Hadfield against the warlike proclivities of Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, no doubt influenced by the fear of Te Atiawa for Ngati Toa.
The peacemaking efforts of Hadfield and Kingi influenced Tamihana Te Rauparaha, and Matene Te Whiwhi at nearby Otaki.
These two chiefs argued for a Maori king to bring settled government to Maori, before turning against that movement when some joined in the violence at Waitara that was initiated by Kingi.
For despite his backing for the colonial government, Waitara continued to dominate Kingi’s thoughts. His decision to return was opposed by Governor Grey who hoped the earlier sale (where he supported Spain’s initial decision) could be affirmed or repeated.
After negotiations, Kingi wrote to Grey agreeing that he would settle only on the north side of the Waitara River – although they were still bent upon going to that district, yet they repudiated the idea of doing so by stealth, or before consulting with the Governor, and learning the time he would permit of their removal; adding, that the Ngatiawa tribe had always been friendly to the Europeans, and it was their desire to continue on the same amicable terms they have hitherto been.
Kingi moves north but breaks his word
Kingi first tried to sell the land at Waikanae but turned down a Government offer, which was low as much of the land was foothills of little value for farming.
Thus when he and his followers (a total of 587 people) moved out in 1848, Waikanae was left in possession of the remaining Te Atiawa and their friends.
Questions of tribal boundaries and land ownership in Kapiti were settled by negotiation – completely different from the feuding and fighting in Taranaki.
The discussions resulted in the later leadership of Wiremu Parata in Waikanae, while Tamihana Te Rauparaha continued as the paramount chief at Otaki.
Kingi immediately broke his word and 264 settled in Waitara, south of the river. This added another group to the complex mix of Te Atiawa who made conflicting claims on the land.
That decision, along with Kingi’s continuing intransigence, led to rebellion and war, as outlined in the next article.