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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

Chapter 26: The Waikato War and its Causes

page 231

Chapter 26: The Waikato War and its Causes

Ka ngapu te whenua;
Ka haere nga tangata ki whea?
E Ruaimoko
Kia ita!
A—a—a ita!
Kia mau, kia mau!

The earthquake shakes the land;
Where shall man find an abiding-place?
O Ruaimoko
(God of the lower depths),
Hold fast our land!
Bind, tightly bind!
Be firm, be firm!
Nor let it from our grasp be torn!

Kingite War-song.

THIS CHANT, OFTEN heard even at the present day, embodied the passionate sentiment of nationalism and home rule for the Maoris which developed into a war-fever in Waikato. From first to last the wise and patriotic Wiremu Tamehana was a restraining force, and with him a few of the more temperate-minded of the Waikato chiefs, such as Patara te Tuhi, nephew of the old King Potatau te Wherowhero. Potatau was a firm friend of the pakeha, and, had he been a younger man, his undoubtedly great influence, born of his warrior reputation and his aristocratic position, probably would have prevented the Waikato throwing themselves into a test of arms with the Government. In the beginning of the King movement, as has already been explained, there was no desire to force a war. The great meetings at which the selection of Potatau as King was confirmed were attended by numerous Europeans. Government officials, missionaries, and traders were alike welcome guests at Ngaruawahia, Rangiaowhia, and the other centres of the home-rulers. The more intelligent of the Maoris saw clearly that page 232 there was nothing to be gained by a rupture of relations with the pakeha. But the irritation caused by the inevitable friction over European encroachment, the treatment of the natives by the lower class of whites, the reluctance of the authorities to grant the tribes a reasonable measure of self-government, and, lastly, the sympathy with Taranaki and the bitterness engendered by the loss of so many men in the Waitara campaign, all went to mould the Waikato and their kinsmen into a powerful foe of the Colonial Government.

In the beginning the natural desire of the natives for a better system of government could have been turned to beneficial account by a prescient Administration. At a large meeting at Paetai, near Rangiriri, on the 23rd April, 1857, Potatau, Te Wharepu, and other chiefs asked the Governor, Colonel Gore Browne, for a Magistrate and laws, and runanga or tribal councils. To this request the Government responded by the experimental establishment of civil institutions in the Waikato, under Mr. F. D. Fenton, afterwards Judge of the Native Land Court. The new machinery, however, was not given time to develop into a useful and workable system before Mr. Fenton was recalled, and the field was left free for the exponents of Maori independence to develop their own schemes of government.

An account has been given in a previous chapter of the first meetings in connection with the establishment of the Maori kingdom. The Paetai meeting of 1857 was a highly picturesque gathering. The Lower Waikato people were assembled to meet their guests from up-river, the Ngati-Haua and Ngati-Maniapoto and some of the Waikato hapus, who came sweeping down the river in a grand flotilla of nearly fifty canoes. Wiremu Tamehana and his Ngati-Haua set up on the marae or village campus the flag of the newly selected King; this ensign was white, with a red border and two red crosses, symbolic of Christianity; it bore the words “Potatau Kingi o Niu Tireni.” The speeches breathed intense patriotism. “I love New Zealand,” cried one old blanketed chief. “Let us have order, so that we may increase like the white man. Why should we disappear from the land? Let us have a king, for with a king there will be peace among us. New Zealand is ours—I love it.” Another, Hoani Papita, of the Rangiaowhia people, Ngati-Hinetu and Ngati-Apakura, made an eloquent plea for independence and nationalism. “Fresh water is lost when it mingles with the salt,” he said. “Let us retain our lands and be independent of the pakeha.” And he began the chant which heads this chapter, “Ka ngapu te whenua.” The whole two thousand natives gathered around took up the song and chanted it in a tremendous chorus. That old heart-cry of nationalism still holds power to electrify the Maori.

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The formal investiture of Potatau with the dignity of King of the Maori Kotahitanga, or confederation of tribes, took place in 1858 at Ngaruawahia, and was followed by a large gathering at Rangiaowhia, the great granary and orchard of the Upper Waikato, not far from Te Awamutu, where presently Mr. Gorst (afterwards Sir John Gorst) was placed by Sir George Grey as one of the “spades” wherewith to accomplish the downfall of the Maori national flag. The aged King Potatau died in the winter of 1860, and his son Tawhiao, grotesquely baptised Matutaera (Methuselah), became the figurehead of the kingdom in his place.

Governor Browne and his Ministers consistently declined to recognize the Maori King or Maori nationality, but when Sir George Grey became Governor, and a peace Ministry was formed under Mr. Fox (afterwards Sir William Fox), efforts were made to conciliate Waikato. In 1861 the Governor sent John Gorst into the Waikato as Magistrate and Commissioner to watch the native political feeling and to establish European institutions in the heart of the Maori country. Grey and his Ministers introduced also a system of local government; under this plan the Maori country was to be divided into districts and “hundreds,” over each of which a Civil Commissioner was to be placed to grapple with the task of governing the natives in his zone of influence, with the assistance of salaried Maori Magistrates, assessors, and policemen. The New institutions were first introduced in the Ngapuhi country and on the Lower Waikato, where the salaries and privileges were received with enthusiasm, but it was too late to entice the Kingites into the Government fold with such devices. The King's runanga of chiefs at Ngaruawahia told Mr. Gorst that if some plan of the kind had been carried out five or six years previously there would never have been a Maori King. Still they were willing, if the Governor was willing to let their King and flag stand, to adopt his plans and work with him for the good of all. But the Kingitanga was the stumbling-block. Grey, for all his kindly feeling towards his native friends, would have nothing to do with an alien flag, and he declared at last, at a Waikato meeting, that although he would not fight against the Maori kingdom with the sword, he would “dig around it” until it fell. This ominous figure of speech, combined with the always suspicious presence of a Government agent in the heart of the King's country, and, finally, the commencement of the military road from Drury through the forest to the Waikato River, fostered the Maori disbelief in the friendly intention of the pakeha.

The Kingites' suspicions of the Governor and his Ministers were aggravated by the attempt to establish a Government constabulary station at Te Kohekohe. Grey's plan was to police the Lower Waikato district by this post, which was close to Te Wheoro's page 234
Sir George Grey (Period about 1860)

Sir George Grey
(Period about 1860)

page 235 settlement on the west bank of the Waikato River, a few miles above the mouth of the Manga-tawhiri, but on the opposite side. The station or barracks was planned so as to be converted readily into a defensible place in the event of war. Te Wheoro, who afterwards became a major of Militia in charge of the contingent of Ngati-Naho friendly natives, espoused the Government's side. The Lower Waikato people were sharply divided in politics. Most of the Ngati-Tipa also favoured the Government, and their chief, Waata Kukutai, became an assessor like Te Wheoro. Ngati-Tamaoho and Ngati-Pou, on the other hand, were staunch Kingites; these were the people who inhabited Tuakau, Pokeno, and other parts close to the great westward bend of the Waikato. Two songs, current to this day among the Waikato, voice the opinions of the two factions. In one “Te Kohi,” as the natives called Mr. Gorst, was urged to make the Manga-tawhiri River a close frontier against the Kingites.—

Koia e Te Kohi,
Purua i Manga-tawhiri,
Kia puta ai ona pokohiwi,
Kia whato tou
E hi na wa!

In other words, the Civil Commissioner of Waikato was requested to “plug up” the boundary river between pakeha and Maori lands, and prevent the King's followers passing below its mouth to trade in Auckland, so that presently they would be reduced to a ragged condition for want of European clothing. To this piece of political persiflage the Kingites retorted with a waiata prompted by the Government proposal to establish a police-station at Te Wheoro's village:—

Kuini i Te Kohekohe,
Whakaronga mai ra nge,
Ka pohutu atu nga papa,
Kei Te Ia.
Mau na wa!

O Queen at Te Kohekohe,
Listen to me!
Presently we'll send your timbers splashing,
To float down to Te Ia.

This threat was soon fulfilled, for a party of King supporters came down the river, took possession of the sawn timber that had been stacked at Kohekohe for the construction of the Government station, threw it into the river, and rafted it down to Te Ia-roa (“The Long Current”), called by the Europeans “Havelock.” There they landed it in front of a trading-store kept by a young Scotsman, Mr. Andrew Kay.

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From a portrait by G. Lindauer, in the Auckland Municipal Gallery] Tawhiao, the Waikato King (Died 1894)

From a portrait by G. Lindauer, in the Auckland Municipal Gallery]
Tawhiao, the Waikato King (Died 1894)

The eviction of Mr. Gorst from the Waikato was the next step in the Kingites' clearance of all forms of European authority from their land. Mr. Gorst (who had at first thought of entering the Melanesian mission work under Bishop Selwyn) came under the magic spell of Sir George Grey's personality soon after his arrival in New Zealand and he became an enthusiastic instrument of the Government in the task of civilizing and educating the Maori youth. The Church Missionary Society lent its 200 acres of land at Te Awamutu, with school-buildings, to Sir George Grey as a technical-education establishment, and there Mr. Gorst for some time carried on a useful work, schooling Maori boys in the arts page 237 of civilized life and at the same time occasionally exercising his magisterial office.

The story of Gorst's little newspaper, Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i te Tuanui, or “The Lonely Lark on the House-top” (there being no sparrows in Maoriland), established by way of a counterblast to the Kingite print Te Hokioi (“The War-bird”), is a pivotal incident in the history of the Waikato. The pungent tone of the Pihoihoi particularly incensed Rewi and his fellow-chiefs, and the runanga at Kihikihi determined to suppress Gorst and his paper. On the 25th March, 1863, when Mr. Gorst was absent at Te Kopua, on the Waipa, Rewi and a war-party of Ngati-Maniapoto, numbering eighty, invaded Te Awamutu. Wiremu Kingi te Rangi-taake, of Waitara fame, accompanied Rewi. A minor chief, Aporo Taratutu, was the active agent in the raiding of the station. The Government printing-press, type, and paper, and printed copies of the fifth number of the Pihoihoi, were seized. Mr. Gorst was now ordered to leave Te Awamutu. When he refused, Rewi wrote to Governor Grey (then in Taranaki) requesting him to withdraw his official. Wiremu Tamehana sadly begged Gorst to leave. “If you stay,” he said, “some of the young men may grow desperate, and I shall not be able to save you.” Grey recalled Gorst, who left Te Awamutu on the 18th April, 1863. He took a last look at it from the heights above the Mangapiko as he rode away; and it was more than forty-three years before he saw it again, when he revisited Waikato (December, 1906), and was warmly greeted by some of the very people who had turned him away.*

So abruptly ended the Governor's effort to wean Waikato from the charms of kingism. Rewi was condemned by Wiremu Tame-hana, Patara te Tuhi, and others of the moderate party, but the great majority were delighted with Ngati-Maniapoto's coup, and Waikato was soon afire with the war-passion. The first shots were fired in less than four months after the raid on Te Awamutu.

The Kingite plan of operations was detailed by Mr. James Fulloon, native interpreter, in reports to the Government in June, 1863. (Mr. Fulloon, who was a half-caste, a surveyor by profession, was killed by the Hauhaus at Whakatane in 1865.) The original scheme of war against the pakeha, according to accounts given by the Maoris, was arranged in 1861, after Governor Gore Browne's threatening Proclamation. The Waikato were to come down in a body to take up a position at Paparata, in the Tirikohua district, making that their headquarters. Thence parties were to occupy Maketu, an old pa east of Drury—there was an ancient track to that spot from Paparata—and Tuhimata, the Pukewhau Hill (now Bombay), overlooking Baird's Farm; also the Razorback page 238 Range (Kakaramea). The Maketu position would menace Drury and Papakura, and from the Pukewhau and Kakaramea Hills the military traffic along the Great South Road could be attacked and the bridges destroyed. On the other side of the page 239
The Right Hon. Sir John E. Gorst (Died 1916)

The Right Hon. Sir John E. Gorst (Died 1916)

Sir John Gorst came to New Zealand in 1860, in the ship “Red Jacket,” from Liverpool. He was Civil Commissioner in the Upper Waikato, 1861–63. His life in the Maori country and his association with the Waikato chiefs are described in his books “The Maori King” and “New Zealand Revisited.”

road (the west) the Ngati-Pou and other tribes were to attack Mauku and other settlements.
There was an alternative plan, which was favoured by most of the Kingites, and in the end was adopted; it was far more ambitious and daring than the first. The proposal was to execute a grand coup by attacking Auckland by night-time or early in the morning. The Hunua bush was to be the rendezvous of the main body, and a portion of the Kingite army was to cross the Manukau in canoes and approach Auckland by way of the Whau, on the west, while the Ngati-Paoa and other Hauraki coast tribes were to gather at Taupo, on the shore east of the Wairoa. The date fixed for the attack was the 1st September, 1861, when the Town of Auckland was to be set on fire in various places by natives living there for that purpose; in the confusion the war-parties lying in wait were to rush into the capital by land and sea. Certain houses and persons were to be saved; the dwellings would be recognized by a white cross marked on the doors on the night for which the page 240
From a photo by Mr. Boscawen, at Mangere, 1901] Patara Te Tuhi

From a photo by Mr. Boscawen, at Mangere, 1901]
Patara Te Tuhi

This chief of Ngati-Mahuta, Waikato, was one of the leaders in the Maori King movement, and was the editor of the Kingite paper Te Hokioi, printed at Ngaruawahia. He visited England in 1884 with Tawhiao and other chiefs. His attitude before the war was moderate and conciliatory, and, like Wiremu Tamehana, he endeavoured to avert hostilities.

attack was fixed. With the exception of those selected in this latter-day passover, the citizens of Auckland were to be slaughtered.

This was only a part of a general sudden blow against the pakeha race; similar attacks were urged upon the natives in the Wellington District. It was an exceedingly bold and hazardous scheme; nevertheless it would have been attempted had Governor Gore Browne remained in New Zealand. It was only the news that Sir George Grey was returning to the colony as its Governor that averted the general rising. The Maoris looked forward to his coming as the beginning of a different policy and a more friendly attitude towards their political aspirations. Then, when after all it was seen that war was inevitable, and when Governor Grey and his Ministers began an aggressive movement towards Waikato, the original plan of campaign discussed in 1861 was taken up—the raiding of the frontier settlements, with Paparata as a base of operations and camps in the Hunua forest.

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In 1860 Mr. C. O. Davis informed the Government that gunpowder was being made at Tautoro (near Kaikohe, in the Ngapuhi country), and in the Waikato territory. It was believed that a Maori who had been in Sydney had learned the manufacture of powder there, and that Europeans assisted in the work. It is known that later on in the wars a European (Moffat) made a coarse gunpowder at a settlement near Taumarunui, on the Upper Wanganui. But it is improbable that the Maoris relied on locally made gunpowder to any great extent; they had sources of supply from traders, and for several years before the Waikato War had been laying in stocks of powder, lead, and percussion caps. Large quantities of ammunition were traded to the natives at Tauranga up to the beginning of the war. Tauranga was, in fact, one of the avenues of supply for Ngati-Haua as well as the Ngati-te-Rangi and other coast tribes. A common trick to evade the authorities when the restrictions on the sale of munitions were in force was for a coasting-vessel to clear outward at the Auckland Customs for Tauranga or other ports with a cargo ostensibly of empty casks (for pork) and bags of salt; each cask as often as not contained several kegs of gunpowder, and the bags were filled with lead and boxes of percussion caps. American whalers calling in at East Coast ports were believed to have bartered ammunition to the natives in return for provisions, and Sydney trading-vessels surreptitiously supplied munitions, but most of the guns and powder reached the Maoris from Auckland trading-houses.

The war now waged was very different from Hone Heke's chivalrous tournament of 1845. It was a racial war; the Maori aim was to sweep the pakeha to the sea, as the pakeha Government's object was to teach the Maori his subjection to British authority. The Europeans were not without warning that the sharp and barbarous old Maori methods of warfare were to be revived. Wiremu Tamehana himself, deeply as he sorrowed over the inevitable conflict, was compelled to place himself in line with his countrymen. He warned Archdeacon Brown, at Tauranga, that he—meaning his race—would spare neither unarmed persons (tangata ringa-kore) nor property. In August, 1863, he wrote to the Governor cautioning him to bring “to the towns the defenceless, lest they be killed in their farms in the bush.” “But,” he concluded, “you are well acquainted with the customs of the Maori race.” The frontier settlers who remained on their sections did so at their own risk. No chief, not even the King or the kingmaker, could restrain a party of young bloods on the war-path seeking to flesh their tomahawks. They would quote the ancient war-proverb, “He maroro kokoti ihu waka” (“A flying-fish crossing the bow of the canoe”) in allusion to any luckless persons whom a fighting taua might find in its path, and in the stern logic of the page 242 Maori there could be no reasonable protest against the practical application of the aphorism by cutting short the career of the “flying-fish.”

During the Taranaki and Waikato Kingite wars some of the leading natives conducted correspondence on war subjects by means of a cipher code. The following is the key to the cipher, which came into possession of the Governor, Sir George Grey, about 1863:—
WA mark resembling the symbol for “per.”
NGO followed by an S crossed like the American dollar symbol, but with one line only.

The figure 7 stood for both K and R, but no doubt there was some distinguishing mark or variation for one of the letters.

* Curious histories attach to the printing plants of the Pihoihoi Mokemoke i te Tuanui and the Hokioi. The Pihoihoi press and the type, after being seized by the Ngati-Maniapoto at Gorst's station, Te Awamutu, in 1863, were carted up to Kihikihi, the headquarters of the tribe. Several of the young men helped themselves to a little of the type from the cases as curiosities; otherwise there was no interference with the plant. A few days later the press and type were carted to the head of navigation and taken in a canoe down the Waipa and Waikato Rivers to Te Ia-roa (Havelock), at the mouth of the Manga-tawhiri, where they were handed over to Mr. Andrew Kay (later of Orakau), who was then a trader on the river. The property was stored in the trading-house, and Mr. Kay reported to the Government, whereupon it was sent for and carted off to Auckland. It was afterwards used in printing the Gazette and other Government work. A legend gained currency that the type of the Pihoihoi was melted down by the Kingites and moulded into bullets to fire at the British soldiers. Mr. Kay's statement and the testimony of the Maoris make it clear that the press was returned almost intact to the Government. The small quantity of type taken by Rewi's young men at Kihikihi would not have made many bullets.

The story of the Hokioi press is even more interesting. It goes back to the year 1859, when the Austrian frigate “Novara” was in Auckland Harbour on a cruise round the world. Dr. Hochstetter, the geologist of the expedition, was treated with much kindness by the people of Waikato when he made his tour through the interior; and when the “Novara” sailed two chiefs of the King's party, Hemara te Rerehau (Ngati-Maniapoto) and Wiremu Toetoe (Waikato, of Rangiaowhia), were taken round the world in her as guests of the Austrian Government. In Vienna they were introduced to the Emperor Franz Josef, and the Archduke Maximilian entertained them, and on parting asked the Maoris what they would like him to give them as a present. They answered, “A printing-press and type.” These were given them and brought out to New Zealand. The printing-apparatus was taken to Mangere, where King Potatau sometimes lived. One of Mr. C. O. Davis's nephews, who had learned the art of composing type at the New-Zealander printing-office, instructed some of the young Maoris. The plant was taken to Ngaruawahia, and was used there for the printing of the Kingite proclamations and the Hokioi e Rere Atu na, a name which bore reference to a mythological bird of omen, a kind of war-eagle. Patara te Tuhi (Tawhiao's cousin) was in charge of the Hokioi and wrote the Kingite articles, and his brother, Honana Maioha—who, like Patara, had taken a prominent part in the setting-up of the Maori King—was one of the compositors. When the troops advanced up the Waikato at the end of 1863 the Hokioi press and type were taken for safe keeping to Te Kopua, on the Waipa, and there they have remained to the present day. The rusted remains of the press lie on the river-bank; and a settler ploughing his land at Te Kopua has turned up some of the scattered type. The local Maoris turned the old hand-press to account in another way—to press their cakes of torori or home-grown tobacco.

The Hokioi is the rarest of all New Zealand prints; there are very few copies in existence. One in the writer's possession bears the date Hanueri (January) 13, 1863. It is a four-page paper, single-column, 1 inches by 9 inches.