The Maori King
Chapter VII — The Taranaki War
The Taranaki War
The country of Taranaki had originally been occupied by the Ngatiawa tribe, but in 1834 it was invaded and conquered by the Waikatos and Ngatimaniapotos under their chief Potatau, who at that time went by the name of Te Wherowhero, or the Red Man. The whole land was laid utterly waste; and of the original inhabitants, some fled away into other districts, others were carried captive into Waikato, and only a small remnant, who took refuge in the mountains of Cape Egmont, were left behind.1
In 1839, Colonel Wakefield, the agent of the New Zealand Company, determined to buy the rich but deserted territory, and made every effort to buy it fairly. It was first purchased from the exiled Ngatiawa chiefs, who were living on both sides of Cook's Straits;2 in the year 1840, the interest of the remnant of Ngatiawa, still resident at Taranaki, was also bought; and finally, in 1842, the rights which the Waikato tribes alleged as conquerors, were purchased from Te Wherowhero at the price of £150 in money, and about as much more in merchandise.
2 [By the Queen Charlotte Sound deed a few chiefs allegedly transferred to the New Zealand Company in 1839 all the land between the 38th and 43rd parallels of latitude, which included Taranaki. It was a worthless transaction.]
Such of the natives as thus repossessed themselves of their old lands at Taranaki, denied the validity or completeness of the New Zealand Company's purchase; but when the title of the buyers was investigated, in 1844, by Commissioner Spain1—a judicial officer specially appointed to investigate the fairness of the purchases of the Company from the aborigines—he pronounced this sale both valid and complete, and awarded the whole 60,000 acres, with the exception of certain burial grounds, cultivations, and reserves, to the New Zealand Company.
The Commissioner's award was received by the natives with such disappointment and anger, that the authorities became alarmed, and sent off an express to Governor FitzRoy,2 at Auckland, asking, in the most pressing terms, for military assistance, as the only security for life itself. The Governor immediately went down to Taranaki, assembled the Europeans and Maories, and informed them that he did not agree with Commissioner Spain's opinion, and should not confirm his award.3 After various impediments and delays, the block on which the settlement had been made, consisting of about 3,500 acres, was bought over again for £350, and the rest of the land was virtually abandoned to the native claimants.
3 [The great majority of Ngatiawa owners had received no payment for their land.]
Governor Grey, however, never did find himself in a condition to give effect to Commissioner Spain's award.1 Some of the natives, who were parties to the original sale, and had been amply paid for the land they disposed of, said that they should stand by the previous Governor's arrangement, and repudiate the first transaction, nor would they even for any further payment permit Europeans to occupy the land. The arrangement by which Governor Grey proposed to end the dispute was, that ample reserves should be marked out for the resident natives and those likely to return, but that the rest of the territory should be reserved for the Crown; whilst, in fulfilment of Captain FitzRoy's promises, the value of the land so reserved should be assessed, and those natives who established valid claims to any part of it, should receive corresponding sums of money in payment.
To this arrangement, however, the Maories would not assent. There was a good deal of talk on our side about an ‘intention to enforce it,’ and hopes were from time to time held out of the natives giving way, and of the European settlers being put in possession of their lands. But, relying on their numbers and strength, and on the declaration of Captain FitzRoy, the Maories persisted in their original determination to restrict the settlers to the 3,500 acres so ignominiously bought by the former Governor. Exiled chiefs from Cook's Straits, and slaves from Waikato, persisted in returning and taking possession of what they chose to call their own property. Among others, Wiremu Kingi, one of the principal chiefs of Ngatiawa, and a body of followers, made up their minds to migrate from Waikanae in Cook's Straits to their original possessions on the Waitara, a small river about twelve miles north of the town of New Plymouth. Governor Grey, who heard of this intention, sent word to them that a ship of war should stop their migration. Wiremu Kingi repudiated the idea of acting by stealth, and said he would let the Governor know when they were coming. The whole party finally went up to Waitara by sea, but Governor Grey did not send the threatened man-of-war.
1 AJHR, 1860, E-2, pp. 20–22.
1 [Until the feuds of 1854–8 they engaged in an extensive trade in agricultural produce and were very prosperous indeed.]
2 [The Taranaki feuds began when Rawiri Waiaua, a government assessor and a chief of the Puketapu (a branch of the Ngatiawa tribe) was shot by followers of Katatore, another Puketapu chief. The former was attempting to sell land to which the other had claims. Ihaia Te Kirikumara (d. 1873) was leader of the land-selling party and a chief of the Otaraua hapu. All three had been slaves of the Waikato tribes.]
3 Taranaki Herald, 16 January 1858. [The ‘Rawiri’ killed in this (second) crime was Rawiri Karira.]
4 AJHR, 1860, E-2, p. 27. [His name was Tamati Tiraurau.]
5 Ibid., p. 28.
At length, after many years of bloodshed, Wiremu Kingi succeeded in establishing a close land-league2 (not connected with the Maori King), and in the beginning of 1859, gave notice to Governor Browne that no more land was to be sold in a district extending from the settlement of Taranaki to Mokau, and advised him to pay no attention to any offer of land within that district.
Soon after receiving this notice, Governor Browne visited Taranaki, and made a speech to the assembled Europeans and natives, in the course of which he stated, that he never would consent to buy land without an undisputed title, but that he would not permit any one to interfere in the sale of land, unless he owned part of it.3 Upon this Teira got up, and offered his land at Waitara for sale, which the Governor agreed to buy, provided a good title could be made out. Wiremu Kingi then rose and said: ‘Listen, Governor! Notwithstanding Teira's offer, I will not permit the sale of Waitara to the Pakeha. Waitara is in my hands, I will not give it up!—Never!—never!—never! I have spoken!’—and he and his followers rudely and abruptly left the meeting.
The subordinate official who conducted the inquiry,5 came to the conclusion that Teira and his friends were the sole proprietors of Waitara, and had a perfect right to sell. Accordingly, in the spring of 1860, Governor Browne tried to take possession. Wiremu Kingi resisted. Military force was called in, and the Taranaki war was the immediate result.
1 Ibid., p. 30.
2 [See above, p. 48 note.]
3 AJHR, 1860, E-3, pp. 19–20.
4 [No official record; but the relevant private correspondence has been preserved. (See K. Sinclair, The Origins of the Maori Wars, (Wellington, 1957), Chapter X).]
5 [Robert Reid Parris (1816–1904).]
The real circumstances of the case were such as would inevitably irritate a passionate man to madness. At the time of the original migration of Wiremu Kingi's party from Cook's Straits, there was still considerable fear of an invasion from their old enemies, the Ngatimaniapoto. It was, therefore, agreed by the whole tribe, that instead of Wiremu Kingi settling on the north bank of the Waitara, where his own possessions were, the whole tribe should live together upon Teira's land, on the south bank, for mutual protection against the common foe.4
1 [Most historians who have studied the case have come to the opposite conclusion; so, too, did a Royal Commission in 1927. (AJHR, 1928, G-7.)]
2 [Kingi did, in fact, assert that the land belonged to the whole tribe, not merely to the sellers—the essential point made by Martin and others. (See K. Sinclair, loc. cit.)]
3 [In1861, when Gorst first met Kingi, he described him in a letter as ‘a pleasant-looking, white-headed old man, of genial and affable manners’. (New Zealand Revisited, p. 163.) He seems to have changed his attitude towards the first Taranaki war after becoming a friend of F. D. Bell.]
It seems quite incredible that circumstances so material to the case should have escaped the notice of the officials concerned in the purchase, and have remained undiscovered for three years, until they were accidentally found out, by Sir George Grey's interpreter, in private conversation with the Waitara natives.1 The facts were certainly unknown, not only to Governor Browne, but even to Wiremu Kingi's advocates. It will be readily believed, that had the Governor been informed of a circumstance so material, the Waitara block would never have been purchased.
Giving any further history of the Waitara controversy, or expressing any opinion thereupon, is a task which I gladly avoid, as not relevant to my subject. Volumes have been written on the subject, which are certainly calculated to produce a strong conviction on most people's minds that the ‘undisputed title’ which Governor Browne required is not possessed by the Waitara block, and, probably, not by any native land in New Zealand. I pass on to the point with which we are more immediately concerned, namely, upon what grounds, and in what manner, the Waikatos mixed themselves up in the quarrel.
1 [These facts were not unknown in 1860. See, e.g., AJHR, 1860, E-3A, p. 3; E-4, p. 13.]
2 AJHR, 1860, E-3A, p. 3.
3 [Te Whaitere, a Ngatimaniapoto chief.]
While these men were still at Ngaruawahia, the news of the outbreak of war at Waitara arrived there. The principles of the King party now required that they should interfere actively to prevent the alienation of land, which had come under the King's ‘mana.’ A southern chief, named Wi Tako,2 was commissioned to visit Taranaki on his return home from the Waikato, and report upon the case. He gave as his opinion that the quarrel, of which he had carefully ascertained the grounds, concerned Wiremu Kingi alone, and that the rights of the Maori King were not involved therein. But Wiremu Kingi, who had hitherto kept aloof from the Maori national party, was now glad enough to get the help of such powerful allies as the Waikatos in his contest with the British Government. He accordingly wrote a letter consenting to join the league, and praying for help against his enemies.
A general meeting was held at Ngaruawahia in May, 1860, to consider the Taranaki question, and determine whether the Waikatos should join in the war or not.3
Wiremu Tamihana, who was one of the first speakers, said:—
1 AJHR, 1861, E-1, p. 22. [The Ngatiawa lived in north Taranaki; the Ngatiruanui in south Taranaki.]
2 [Wiremu Tako Ngatata (1815–87), a Ngatiawa chief living in the Wellington Province; appointed to the Legislative Council, 1872.]
3 AJHR, 1861, E-1, p. 41.
The whole discussion finally turned upon the question whether the Governor bought the land before or after it came under the Maori King's ‘mana.’ ‘The question is,’ said one of the latest speakers, ‘was the flag first or the money first? If the land was paid for before the flag reached it, the Governor is right, if not, then the matter cannot rest where it is. If the mana and flag went before, we must contend for our land.’
Mr McLean, the Native secretary, who attended this meeting on behalf of Government, gave a very clear account of the Waitara purchase. He was listened to with great attention, and his speech was apparently producing a great effect when Te Heu Heu, of Taupo, rose, and with the remark—‘It is night,’ broke up the meeting.
Many of the Waikato chiefs were heard to say that Mr McLean's words were quite correct. Old Potatau also corroborated his statements, and was very angry with Te Heu Heu for so rudely interrupting the speech. The Ngatihaua offered to light large fires, that he might have an opportunity of completing his statement that night, for they had resolved on other grounds to leave the meeting early the next morning. Unfortunately this offer was not accepted, because Mr McLean fancied that he would have an opportunity of continuing his statement to the whole assembly by daylight. However, when the morrow arrived and Ngatihaua had gone, he found the other natives so busy preparing to erect a new flagstaff, that they could not be induced to assemble. After waiting some time in vain, Mr McLean struck his tent and departed.page 94
It is not the custom at Maori meetings to pass definite resolutions; indeed, it would be useless to do so, as the majority have no means of forcing the minority to conform to their decision. The only use of these gatherings is to make public opinion heard, so that each man, in determining for himself what he will do, may know what chance there is of being supported therein by comrades.
The speeches delivered on this occasion made it clear that the whole body of Waikato were not yet prepared to back Wiremu Kingi's quarrel at all hazards. Still, much passive sympathy had been expressed, and many had shown great eagerness to pick a quarrel as soon as possible with the Pakeha, and have a trial of strength. This party had a strong though secret supporter in Rewi Maniapoto, whose intrigues were so successful, that, at length, a band of volunteers form Waikato went down to take part in the Taranaki war. Epiha, a Waikato of Kihikihi,1 was the leader. Rewi persuaded him that Potatau and the chiefs of Ngaruawahia wished some of them to go. The untruth was eagerly received by Epiha, who longed to take part in a war in which he hoped to gain personal distinction. Before, however, actually setting off, he wrote a letter to Potatau, saying that if Potatau disapproved, though he should be already on the way to Taranaki, he would return. It is said that, in fact, an imperative order was despatched by the Ngaruawahia Council to recall the too zealous chief; but Epiha always denied having received any such order, and it is more than probable that Rewi intercepted the letter.
1 [Epiha Te Hu, a Ngatimahuta chief.]
2 AJHR, 1860, E-3, p. 49.
1 [Wiremu Hoete Te Kumete.]
3 AJHR, 1861, E-1A, p. 7.
At this crisis the New Zealand Assembly met, in which a large and influential party, composed of the oldest settlers,1 and supported by the Bishop of New Zealand and Sir William Martin, late Chief Justice of the Colony, openly espoused Wiremu Kingi's side. Some declared that the seizure of the Waitara was the result of a conspiracy among the settlers of Taranaki, greedy for their neighbours’ land; others, that Wiremu Kingi had a perfect right, as chief of the Ngatiawa tribe, to forbid the alienation of tribal land; and others, that a dispute between the Government and Wiremu Kingi, about a question of title, should have been referred to some court of justice, that it was monstrous that the same individual should be both party and judge, and that the peace of the Colony was being imperilled upon an issue that had never been tried.
No attempt was made, nor would it indeed have been possible, to keep these opinions and the discussions that ensued secret from the natives. The Governor, it is true, issued a proclamation, urging all loyal subjects to abstain from publishing opinions tending to impugn the justice of the course he was pursuing, but that was not until long after it had become known to the Maories throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand, that in the opinion of the most revered among the Pakehas, Wiremu Kingi was an injured man. The desire to interfere in his behalf grew stronger on this evidence of the justice of his cause. The Waikatos had, moreover, according to their notions, other good grounds for remaining no longer neutral. The Governor, said they, had not fought out his quarrel with his own forces; he had sent over to his friends in Australia, and their troops were continually arriving in New Zealand to his assistance. It was, therefore, right that Wiremu Kingi's friends should imitate the conduct of the Governor's friends, by bestirring themselves to support in arms that cause which they believed to be just.
Among others, Wetini, a chief of the Ngatihaua tribe,1 inferior only to Wiremu Tamihana, whose relative and close friend he was, resolved to go. Tamihana by this time had ceased to doubt, and had become satisfied of the justice of Wiremu Kingi's cause, but he was not clear as to the right of Waikato to interfere in Kingi's behalf: at any rate, he strongly dissuaded Wetini from going. He used religious arguments against war; he called a meeting of the tribe, at which Wetini's proposals found only nine supporters, and for the time succeeded in holding him back. But three weeks later, a letter came from Wiremu Kingi, asking what was the use of sending him only a ‘disembodied flag,’ and why they did not personally come to help him. Wetini could bear it no longer, and in spite of his friend's arguments, denunciations, and prayers, set off with a considerable number of his tribe to the war. Tamihana's last words to him (for they parted at Tamahere almost in anger) were—‘Then go, and stop there.’
1 [Wetini Taiporutu (c. 1814–60).]
So soon as it was known that the Waikatos in considerable numbers had joined the Taranaki war, the excitement and terror in Auckland became intense. Ngatimaniapoto had several times distinctly proposed to carry fire and sword into that province, which lay, without troops, exposed, and at their mercy. At length the danger reached its height when the corpse of a Maori, with gun-shot wounds in the head and hand, was found in the woods near Patumahoe, a small native village lying between the Manukau Harbour and the lower part of the Waikato.
The hasty inference, that a Maori had been murdered by a European, spread like wildfire among the already excited natives. Those on the spot were with some difficulty pacified by the officers of the Native Department, and prevailed on to abandon their original intention of making a promiscuous onslaught on the neighbouring European villages to avenge their countryman's death. But no sooner was the danger of attack from the natives of Patumahoe over than a fresh alarm was raised as to the intention of the Upper Waikatos. It was just the case in which the King party felt bound to interfere. Their union had been ridiculed by the Governor as ‘child's play,’ and here was an opportunity for showing that they had the resolution of men. The only question they would entertain was, whether there were sufficient grounds to fix the crime on a European; should that be proved, they resolved to demand the surrender of the criminal for trial by them, or in default to declare war.
It was fortunate for Auckland that Rewi and the Ngatimaniapoto had already gone to Taranaki, so that the business fell into the hands of Wiremu Tamihana and the Ngatihaua. A large gathering was made at Ngaruawahia, whence a fleet of canoes, filled with from 300 to 400 armed men, under the leadership of Matutaera Potatau, the young king, and Wiremu Tamihana, went down the river, bent on holding an inquest upon the murdered body of their countryman.
1 [Ihaka Takaanini Te Tihi, a chief of the Te Akitai, a section of the tribe known in earlier days as Ngaoho or Ngaiwi and—by 1863—as Ngatitemaoho. He was a government assessor and keeper of the Native Hostelry in Auckland. He lived at Pukaki, on the Manukau Harbour.]
Immediately after the Patumahoe affair had been brought to this amicable conclusion, news arrived in Waikato of a dreadful disaster at Taranaki, in which Wetini and most of the Ngatihaua contingent had fallen. Wetini and old Porokoru, who led the party, having reached Waitara eager for battle, sent off a taunting challenge to General Pratt. It ran as follows:—
‘Friend, I have heard your word—come to fight me; that is very good. Come inland, and let us meet each other. Fish fight at sea. Come inland, and let us stand on our feet. Make haste, make haste. Do not delay. That is all I have to say to you—make haste.
From Wetini Taiporutu; from Porokoru; from all the chiefs of Ngatihaua and Waikato.’1
The challenge was accepted: the combatants met at Mahoetahi, and according to a preconcerted plan, Wetini's party were surrounded by an overpowering force and cut to pieces. Four men only escaped unwounded, a brother of Wetini's fled with a bayonet sticking in his body, which he afterwards preserved as a great trophy,2 and all the survivors declared their only wonder was that the soldiers had allowed a single person to escape. Wetini's body was carried to Taranaki and honourably buried in the church-yard. Equal respect was paid to some man unknown, who was taken for old Porokoru. ‘It is a curious fact,’ says General Pratt in his despatch, ‘that the two chiefs who signed the challenge were both killed.’ It is a still more curious fact that Porokoru must have come to life again after being thus dead and buried, for he still survives to fight us gallantly in the present war.
1 AJHR, 1861, E-1A, p. 8.
The fallen chief, who as a dashing leader was a general favourite in his tribe, and was more beloved than even Tamihana himself, was loudly lamented at his home in Waikato. Every evening, for months afterwards, the women of Tamahere met at sunset to raise the ‘tangi’ for the dead, and moaned forth the doleful dirge until nightfall. The traveller riding about the neighbourhood constantly came upon small parties, who, meeting each other, had alighted from their horses, and were sitting in the dust to howl and wail for Wetini.
But the general grief at the terrible disaster, so far from disheartening the Waikato tribes, and putting a stop to their interference in the war, as was expected by many, had the contrary effect of stimulating their zeal; and many who had disapproved of Wetini's expedition were now burning to join in the conflict, and avenge the blood of their kinsmen. Tamihana himself was strongly pressed by his tribe to lead them to battle, but though so far persuaded as to write a letter to the Bishop of New Zealand, announcing his intention of going to Taranaki, he appears to have been still restrained by reason, and did not carry out his design.
But others began to flock to Taranaki, not only from Waikato, but from Tauranga, Rotorua, and more remote places. The Ngatihaua tribe joined in great numbers, and signalized themselves by ill-judged and reckless assaults on the English positions, in which many lives were lost.
At the moment when every one expected that the petty quarrel at Taranaki must inevitably merge in a general war between the two races, the fighting was suddenly stopped by the intervention of Wiremu Tamihana, of which an account will be given in the next chapter.