Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XXVIII — A Waikato Frontier Crisis — Judge Maning's Warlike Advice

page break

Chapter XXVIII
A Waikato Frontier Crisis
Judge Maning's Warlike Advice

The new generation of farmers on the Upper Waikato old frontier does not realise, perhaps, the condition of anxiety which prevailed in that zone of settlement in the Seventies, when all the country was wondering whether there would be another Maori war, and when redoubts and blockhouses were manned all along the borderland.

The murder and decapitation of a farm worker a few miles from the base of Maungatautari mountain—about mid-way between Orakau and Cambridge—caused a crisis which all but developed into fighting. It was a semi-political murder; a deed designed as a dramatic protest against pakeha attempts to acquire Maori land for settlement. The savagery of it sent a thrill of horror along the border, and the general belief was that it was the prelude to a concerted Kingite invasion of the frontier farming country. Soon, however, it became known that it involved only a few people, and that there was a certain amount of justification for the deed, from a Maori point of view.

page 122

A farming firm engaged in breaking-in operations on the border was that of Grice and Walker, managed by E. B. Walker and Richard Parker. The pioneers of settlement were working blocks of land at Moana-tuatua (now Mona-vale) and Roto-o-Rangi, close to the border, and had leased an area of Maori land near Pukekura, just over the Aukati line, the boundary of the Waikato land confiscated by the Government after the war. Some of the Maoris were agreeable to this leasing and had received payment for it, but there was one man, Purukutu, who claimed a share of the money but did not receive any. He hated the pakeha tribe, and he agreed to carry out the wishes of the anti-pakeha faction. First, one or two cattle were killed as a protest, and others were driven across the border. As this did not have the effect of making the whites keep to their side of the frontier, Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-Haua decided to kill a man. The injustice done to Purukutu would provide an adequate také or pretext and basis for the killing.

A young settler, Tom Qualtrough, had taken a contract to plough an area of unbroken land on Grice and Walker's run at Roto-o-Rangi and Puahue and on towards the Maungatautari ranges. Part of this large stock run lay on the Maori side of the war-confiscation boundary and was held on leasehold from some of the Maori owners. One day in April 1873, he drove his team afield, to begin his ploughing, when a party of armed natives suddenly appeared from the fern and manuka. They pointed their guns at him; they ordered him to go back. “This is our land,” they told him; “off with you or you will be killed.”

The young ploughman did not argue the point. He turned his team about, and presently reported to the manager of the station. The warnings were disregarded by the manager of the station, but not by our ploughman. He did not return to the attack.

page 123

A day or two later, the 25th of April, several employees of Grice and Walker were employed in draining and road making across a swamp to give access from Roto-o-Rangi to the Pukekura leasehold land on the east. Three of the men, Timothy Sullivan, Charles Rodgers and David Jones, were laying manuka fascines on the marshy line of road, and Richard Parker (the manager) and a man named Lloyd were carting the manuka from where it was cut—a considerable distance away. A party of Maoris armed with guns and tomahawks fired on Sullivan and his companions. They ran towards Roto-o-Rangi and two escaped, but Sullivan, exhausted, sat down to meet his fate. He was shot and tomahawked, his head was cut off and his heart was cut out, the old pagan offering to the god of war. Parker and his companion were attacked by the same men in ambush later on, but got away and Parker rode into Cambridge township and gave the alarm.

Purukutu and his party carried their trophies of war to Aotearoa, the headquarters of the Ngati-Raukawa, on the edge of the bush in the direction of Wharepuhunga mountain. Thence they travelled to the main Kingite village, Tokangamutu, close to where the present town of Te Kuiti stands. The Maori country was in a ferment of excitement, the fanatic Hauhaus urging war and the more prudent chiefs opposing it. The principal people in Tawhiao's council advised peace and repudiated Ngati-Raukawa's desperate deed. But for a long time many pakehas of the frontier fully expected a raid, and the Upper Waikato border was practically in a state of war for many weeks. Jackson's Waikato Cavalry Volunteers were called out for active service. The Cavalry was a highly competent body of frontier men (established by Maclean as Defence Minister, 1871), well mounted and armed with carbine, revolver and sword. Most of the work devolved on Te Awamutu troop, under the veteran Forest Ranger Major Jackson. The Cambridge troop attended to the Pukekura-Maungatautari side. Jackson's men were out every night, divided into patrol parties, riding the frontier tracks and watching the fords of the Puniu River. The Armed Constabulary engaged in garrison duty and road-making were reinforced, and co-operated with the Cavalry in patrol duty.

At this crisis in frontier affairs it was fortunate that such a man as Maclean was Minister for Native Affairs and Defence. He was not carried away by the frenzied demand made in some quarters for an immediate punitive expedition into the King Country. Had some Ministers of a later day been in command of affairs the country would have been plunged into war. One remembers the methods of John Bryce. It was not through any effort of Bryce that war was not renewed in Taranaki in 1881. On the contrary, it was Bryce's enemy, Te Whiti, the apostle of peace, who prevented the Maoris from giving battle when the Native Minister so grossly provoked them by invading Parihaka.

page 124

In the Nineties, Seddon's one and only method of arguing with the Maoris over a survey dispute was to despatch an armed force to overawe them, irrespective of what rights the Maori side possessed. Had Seddon reigned twenty years earlier he would have had a racial war waging over some trivial misunderstanding. But Maclean, living in the midst of alarms, was a very different type of man, the man that fitted the times. In this Waikato frontier dispute he adopted the necessary defensive measures but he contented himself with the defensive. He was wise too, in his selection of an agent to take charge of affairs on the spot. James Mackay, who was appointed Civil Commissioner for the Waikato, had been in close association with the Maoris since his boyhood in the Nelson country. He had been pioneer settler, bush explorer, goldfields warden, diplomatic agent in war days; a man of powerful physique and great courage and resolution. He could be trusted to conduct the nervous work of the frontier with discretion and to advise his chief accurately. Mackay took charge; had patrol roads made along the frontier, had additional blockhouses and redoubts built, and set the border in a condition of readiness. He did one thing which stamped him as a man of bravery and bold decision. He rode alone across the border and in to Tokangamutu, there he demanded from the Kingites the surrender of Purukutu. But the Hauhaus were in no mood to give up a man who was the hero of the moment, and Mackay was attacked in his tent one night and had a narrow escape from being killed; a priestess from Kawhia had demanded his head as a sacrifice for the opening of a new carved prayer house. Rewi Maniapoto, Manuhiri and other better-disposed chiefs protected Mackay and escorted him to the frontier—without a prisoner.

page 125

All this time the political orators and the newspapers were hotly discussing the crisis; the further from “the front” the more insistent they were on sharp military measures. Even some men long versed in Maori matters thought that war was inevitable. One of these was that famous figure in our history, Judge F. E. Maning (“Pakeha-Maori,” author of Old New Zealand). Here I shall quote a hitherto unpublished manuscript, a letter written to Sir Donald Maclean by Maning at his home at Onoke on Hokianga Harbour, containing “Pakeha-Maori's” private views on the critical state of Waikato, and his suggestions as to the course that should be adopted by the Government. Maning and Maclean were great friends; no two men in New Zealand knew the Maoris more intimately, and the Judge of the Native Land Court was in a position to keep his official head well posted confidentially in many matters, especially as regarded the North Auckland Maoris.

Judge Maning fully expected a renewal of the Maori War, as this letter shows, and he advocated measures that, had they been adopted on the Waikato frontier that year, would inevitably have provoked fighting. It was just as well that Sir Donald Maclean was of a calmer temperament; had he lived in a later day his methods would probably have been described as a “Taihoa policy.”

In his letter from Onoke, Hokianga, under date 5 July 1873, Maning wrote:

My dear Maclean,

I have received your seafaring letter of the 25th ultimo…. Now, as you say, anent Waikato, what is there to be said about it. You have done all a man could do for years back to maintain peace and stave off the evil hour, but nevertheless, as you know, I have always believed we should have another serious war. Be that as it may, you have also in this case done all that could be done, all that was possible to do, to get over the untoward occurrence without making an actual war of it, which is to be avoided for many reasons if possible. You have also, from what I have been able to observe, been feeling the pulse of the native tribes to see who can be depended on to assist and who will keep neutral. What the result is I of course do not know, but on the whole I hope it to be favourable. What then is the position?

In the first place, it appears, as we had to expect from the first, that the murderers will not be given up and cannot be got at at all without fighting, and if we once begin fighting the chances are more than ten to one that it will lead to a most desperate war, a war which will require every item of strength we can raise, every man and every shilling of money, to ensure a successful conclusion for we must be perfectly successful or else perfectly ruined. I need not recount the evils both internal and external which a failure or want of full success would bring upon us, and a complete success, a complete subjugation of the enemy, would certainly in its direct and collateral effects fully pay us for all the cost, and put us in a position from which we could never again be driven.

page 126

In the second place, can we avoid fighting? To execute the warrants (for the arrest of the Ngati Raukawa party) is to begin the war, and to refrain from doing so would be to give the natives a triumph which would so much increase their already sufficient insolence and vanity that before very long they would force it upon us or oblige us avowedly to give up the assertion of sovereignty of the Crown over a large part of New Zealand. For the success of the King Party, as it would be looked upon, would bring many to their standard and there is much lurking disaffection all over the country. The affair is a miserable dilemma for which no man can be blamed, for it is the mere consequence of the contact of such two races being placed in the position in which they are with respect to each other in this island.

To demand a compensation in land for Sullivan's murder would be laughed at except backed up by the full force necessary to carry on the war to a successful issue. Under those circumstances a demand of that nature might be acceded to in a limited degree. But whether after going to the expense of preparing for war it would be worth while to take this course is doubtful, for the peace would last at best for only a few years and next time we should have to fight the whole Maori people in all probability. Besides, such a course would involve the inconsistency of treating the rebellious natives as a foreign independent nation (I wish we could) and not as British subjects.

Almost all our difficulties in this country have in reality arisen from our engrafting on the Treaty of Waitangi a theory which I think does not properly belong to it, that is to say, that, because the sovereignty is in the British Crown the British civil and penal law is also to be considered in force, and the only law recognisable in the country. This is not the case in some other of the British possessions, India for instance, nor always strictly, according to practice, here: yet it is undoubtedly the theory upon which all the proceedings of the Government and the Legislature have been obliged to act. I think that strict British law should have only been taken to be established in such districts as the Government should have seen cause to proclaim from time to time and that settlers living outside the pale should have done so at their own risk and only expecting such protection as the Government should see fit or politic to give.

It seems to me, therefore, from what I know of matters, though not very well informed, that while hoping and wishing for peace, we must prepare for war, and that in earnest and without any regard to expense, I think it has become necessary to make a demonstration of our whole force and march into Waikato, this itself might cause some decent composition to be made at the last moment which might serve as an excuse for not pushing things to the last extremity, and the salutary effect of a grand demonstration of force (the only thing respected by natives) might last a few years, and time to us is gain, but nevertheless I would not by any means count on such a favourable result, though our play should be to leave open to the last moment every possible chance of coming to a peaceable conclusion. It is fortunate as I gather that the natives are in no hurry to begin and this will give you time to perfect your plans and delay till a more favourable time of year but I think we must count on war and expect nothing else while determined to take any chance of avoiding it and therefore putting off the firing of the first shot to the last reasonable moment.

page 127

But now I come to the part of the subject on which I am quite without data to give an opinion upon. I have no idea whatever of what European Force you can raise for that must be our main trust at the last resort, nor do I at all know how many natives you can raise all along the East Coast and whether you can expect them to fight in earnest: to me it appears we want a large force and 1 count one Waikato enemy equal to four of the best friendlies you have—the Waikatos will fight with utter desperation well knowing their doom if defeated, and I know very well what the style of the fighting of the majority of the friendlies would be except when elated and excited by the consciousness of greatly superior numbers on their side.

page 128

As to the conduct of the war, my rough idea is this—what we want the enemy to do, is to meet us on open ground where our European regular tactics can be brought into play, and where cavalry can act, and second to fight general engagements with their full force, such as would lead to decisive consequences. I think we can force them to do this by marching in force over the border into the best part of the Waikato country, declaring our object to take and confiscate all the land still remaining to the Waikato people or any others having land in that country who were not merely neutral, but who were not fighting on our side, we should take up and fortify a position as near the centre of the Waikato country as would suit our purposes and declare ourselves in possession, as we in part would be, this would put the onus on the enemy attacking us with all the force they could raise, a turning of the tables on them which, as I suppose our force superior in numbers, and acting on ground of our own choosing would in all probability lead to their ruin. In engagements of this kind there would be much loss of life and the enemy have not many men to spare and they would soon be shattered in the attempt to serve an ejectment on us, and we might then turn defence into attack, but if not attacked we could begin planting potatoes as a sort of assertion of ownership and at the same time harry the enemy every now and then so as to prevent him from settling or cultivating anywhere on the open or rich level lands of the Waikato, in these last mentioned services the friendlies would be of inestimable service. If the Waikato did not attack us the land would be gone before long, and if they did attack us on ground of our own choosing it would be our own fault if we did not beat them, but there is not the slightest fear but they would attack us; if we were met with on our advance before we had arrived at the happy land where we intended to take up our rest, no matter, all we want is to fight, and it would be as fair to one as the other, but the chances are that by a rapid march friendly natives probably in advance, we would have penetrated to where we wished to arrive without any opposition at all, no baggage, or roads, or anything else would be required at first, nothing but a herd of bullocks now and then driven after us, all the natives or anyone else ought to require for a while to subsist on would be plenty of beef, until we had gained an assured position, and if the natives went first and took up the ground the pakehas, poor things! could come on at more leisure. You would require cavalry but no artillery at all, it would only be a nuisance; this is a rough idea of what I think ought to be our first move in the war, if war it must come to, as I think likely, but there are many other things I would rather say to you than write. But all this time I do not know how many men you can raise and above all things if you can get the East Coast natives to join. I confess that if you cannot I would feel baffled for anything but mere defensive measures—and in speaking of a European force I mean men who know one end of a rifle from the other and who can shoot some, and at least to be officered and commanded by regular soldiers.

When I came to Auckland from Wellington I found that old Moses* was red-hot for a start with as many men as he could muster and a lot of Ngapuhi going wild to be off but this was not the feeling of the majority as I well knew, who considered Moses as in too great a hurry. I sent word on my own responsibility to old Moses not to make too much noise till the proper time came which we would be informed of soon enough when the island began to rock. The Ngapuhi are all willing to aid the Government but are not over willing to do so until they see that you can depend on the Arawa and Ngati-porou tribes whom they have old accounts with and who they fully believe would join the King if they, the Ngapuhi, were to march first into Waikato, you know best whether this would be the case or not, but I can tell you that the Ngapuhi believe it is general and so do the Rarawa and before I saw either of these tribes you will remember at Wellington I laid great stress on your first committing those natives, your old soldiers, against the King by actual fighting, before calling on the Northern natives. If the Government and the pakeha interest seemed in real danger the Northern natives would turn out without any conditions at once but they do not think it would be fair to call on them first in an offensive war. I tell you this as informatory of the feeling in general of the natives here. I was called upon the other day by all the chiefs of the Rarawa and this I can tell you was their general opinion as it is of the Ngapuhi. I care nothing for what you may be told by individuals or from any other quarter, I want you to know the truth but do not suppose that they would refuse to join. You can have the two tribes I am sure when you like but they would much rather, as I have said, see the East Coast natives and all others you can depend on join first, if once you do call them out, however, I shall consider that you have done so from a feeling that it is a necessity, and that you are going in for the last extremity of merciless unmitigated war, as it must be and ought to be seeing we have no mercy to expect from the enemy and never can hope for peace while enough of them remain alive to be dangerous—it is a great pity, but so it is …”

Fortunately, as it developed, this was avoided. James Mackay, the Government Commissioner, most competently handled the situation. No shot was fired. The head chiefs of the Kingites certainly did not want war, and it was wise of the Government not to provoke fighting by marching a force across the Aukati line. It was fortunate indeed that such a man as Donald Maclean was in charge of native affairs at this juncture. Cool and level-headed, he was ever a peacemaker; he was a great believer in the healing and pacifying influence of time. But had such a man as Judge Maning, with his impetuous, even fiery temper, been in the page 129 position of Native Minister, or in Mackay's position as Government Agent in Waikato, he would quite possibly have committed the colony to another ruinous war—a war that, to use his own phrase, would have been one of “utter desperation.”

* Mohi Tawhai, chief of Waima, Hokianga.