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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Mr. John White

Mr. John White, A pioneer Colonist, was born at Cockfield, Durham, England, on the 3rd of January, 1826, and was the third son of the late Mr. Francis White, of Auckland, who arrived in New Zealand in 1835, and resided in the Hokianga district for about fifteen years. At an early age Mr. White cultivated the friendship of many of the leading tohungas, or prophet priests, and thus acquired a perfect knowledge of the Maori language. He was also initiated into all the priestly lore of Maoridom, with the sacred rites, mysteries and ceremonies, and obtained a complete knowledge of the customs, history and traditions of the Maori people. In 1850 he was appointed interpreter in the Native Land Office, Auckland, and acted as interpreter to Sir George Grey and Governor Gore Browne. Later on he was appointed to the Native Land Purchase Department, and was successful in extinguishing many native titles in Auckland. He acted as interpreter to Colonel Wynyard, Lieutenant Governor, in arranging for the Coromandel goldfields, and received his appointment as gold commissioner under Major Heaphy. Subsequently he was appointed Native Land Purchaser under Mr. Ligar, Surveyor General, and secured for the Government several large blocks of land in the vicinity of Auckland. On the outbreak of the war in Taranaki, in 1860, Mr. White was attached to the staff of General Pratt as Field Interpreter, and was present at the engagement at Pukeakawere. During Sir George Grey's second Governorship Mr. White was appointed resident magistrate at Wanganui, a post which he held for several years, during troublous times on the West Coast, and exercised great influence on the natives at Wanganui. In 1867, Mr. White returned to Auckland and was engaged in matters concerning Native Land claims. In 1874 he removed to Napier and took charge of a Maori newspaper named “Te Wananga.” In 1879 the New Zealand Government entrusted Mr. White with the onerous duty of writing a complete history of the Maori people, embodying all their ancient mythology and religion. The last years of his life were spent in working up this history. Six volumes have already been published, the remaining portions are in manuscript, and twelve volumes would make the “Ancient History of the Maori” complete. In 1891 Mr. White returned to Auckland, in connection with Government matters in regard to Native Land Courts, and was visiting one of his sons at Mount Eden, when he was seized with heart failure and expired before any help could be obtained. Mr. White was the author of “Te Rou,” or “The Maori at Home,” and had completed a Maori dictionary containing many thousands of words. He also wrote translations of many Maori legends and waiatas, and in the very early days of Auckland he gave two lectures at the Mechanics' Institute on “The Maoris.” As a public man, Mr. White left an untarnished reputation, and in positions of difficulty he acted with decision and success. In his private life he was respected and beloved by all, and was certainly one of New Zealand's most valuable pioneers. Mr. White was married in 1854 to Miss Mary E. Bagnall, of Parnell. He left four daughters and three sons, all of whom occupy responsible positions.