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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 7 (October 1, 1934)

When Taranaki was an Armed Camp

When Taranaki was an Armed Camp.

It is strange at this time of day to recall the condition of the Taranaki frontier in that tense period, 1878–81, culminating in the advance on Parihaka and the arrest of Te Whiti on the 5th of November—significant date—1881.

In protest against the occupation of Maori land—which had been confiscated, but which Sir Donald Maclean, Native Minister, had practically returned to the Maoris—the followers of Te Whiti ploughed up some of the land of settlers near Hawera. There were demonstrations of military force, and many arrests were made, but the Maoris invariably contented themselves with passive resistance. The immediate cause of the trouble in 1879 was the action of the Grey Government, without having allocated certain promised reserves out of the confiscated land, proceeding to sell 16,000 acres of the Waimate Plains for settlement.

The survey of the Plains was begun because the Government was anxious to get the land into the market. “My belief,” the Hon. Mr. Macandrew wrote in a minute to Cabinet in 1878, “is that it [marketing the land] will place in the Treasury half-a-million sterling.” If the land had been ready, it was added, it would have placed the Crown in funds to a very large extent, as purchasers were waiting. And even before the Maori reserves had been marked off, the Government sent advertisements to Australia offering the choice lands of the Waimate Plains to selectors. Te Whiti and his people did not know exactly where they stood. A change of Government occurred, and Sir John Hall became Premier, with Mr. John Bryce as Native Minister. A Royal Commission recommended the setting aside of 25,000 acres of the Parihaka block for the Maoris. This was a totally inadequate provision out of a very large area which the natives considered rightfully theirs. The ploughing and survey obstruction continued as a protest. Te Whiti sat fast, and counselled continued protest without resort to arms.

Taranaki by this time was a great military camping ground. There were redoubts and stockades everywhere but at the Maori villages, and a force of about 1500 Armed Constabulary and Volunteers was assembled, under Major Roberts, with Mr. Bryce practically the commanding officer. The Maoris had no fortifications, had no arms except a few shotguns.