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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XVI — The Tragedy of the Waitara

page 69

Chapter XVI
The Tragedy of the Waitara

Mr. Maclean accompanied Governor Gore Browne from Auckland to New Plymouth in H.M.S. Iris in March 1859, and a meeting with the Maori owners of land between the town and the Waitara was held. Maclean, on behalf of the Governor made a speech to the assemblage, counselling them to refrain from the inter-tribal wars which were reducing their numbers and interfering with the peaceful cultivation of their lands. In future all offenders against peace within the European boundaries would be dealt with by pakeha law. As to the land, the Governor thought the Maoris would be wise to sell the areas they could not use themselves, but he would not buy any land without an undisputed title. He would not permit any Maori to interfere with the sale of land unless he owned part of it, and on the other hand, he would take no man's land without his consent.

It was at this meeting that Te Teira Manuka, a minor chief of Waitara, offered to sell his land, called Pekapeka, on the south side of the Waitara. He described the boundaries and asked if the Governor would buy the land. The Governor, through Mr. Maclean, replied that he would. Teira then laid a parawai, a fine white flax robe with decorative border, at the Governor's feet, and this His Excellency accepted. That was the beginning of the fatal dispute over the mana of the Waitara. Teira was an enemy of Wiremu Kingi te Rangitake, the paramount chief of Ngati-Awa, who was a non-seller, and who strenuously desired to keep the Waitara district intact as Maori territory. The investigation of the title to the block was left page 70 by the Governor to the Chief Commissioner, but as Maclean had to leave New Plymouth to attend to native business in other parts, he had to delegate the details of the enquiry to a subordinate. This official was Robert Parris, who now first became prominent in native affairs in Taranaki.

Unfortunately in those days there was no Land Court in which titles could be investigated thoroughly by competent judges. Parris made the enquiries in his own way. As he was anxious to see his fellow-settlers provided with more land, and as he was naturally an opponent of the politely obstinate Wiremu Kingi, the result was readily foreseen. He reported that Teira's title was good and that he was entitled to sell. Wiremu Kingi, at not only the meeting mentioned but on several later occasions, emphatically forbade the sale; the land was the patrimony of the whole tribe.

“I do not agree to our sleeping-place being sold,” he wrote to the Governor in April 1859, “this bed (Waitara) belongs to the whole of us.” He warned the Governor that if money was given secretly—that is without the whole of the people being consulted—the Government would get no land for it. “The land will never be given to you, never, never till I die!” This should surely have been sufficient to convince the Governor that the Waitara negotiations had better be dropped. But in November Parris paid Teira and others an instalment of £100, notwithstanding the paramount chief's opposition. Teira was a land-owner, it was true, but the native title was so intricate, and the hostile feeling between sellers and non-sellers so great, that Waitara was the very last place the Government should have attempted to buy at that moment. The area involved in the dispute was only six hundred acres. Certainly it was not worth the waging of the costly and disastrous war which presently began and which dragged on for a year, and led to further wars.

Had Maclean been on the spot all the time and himself investigated all the details of the title it is tolerably certain that he would have shown his. customary discretion and caution and have cut off the negotiations, notwithstanding his strong desire to see the white colony provided with the needful additional land for the expansion of the settlement page 71 and production. He was not in Taranaki when the Government precipitated fighting by attempting the survey of the Pekapeka block and by marching troops to the Waitara and occupying a part of the disputed block. The miserable war which followed—the first shots were fired on 17 March 1860–advanced the cause of settlement not a bit. It enlivened the pages of colonial history and gave plucky sailors and soldiers a V.C. or two; it gave the map of Taranaki many a battlefield and dotted the country from the Waitara southward with redoubts and stockades and Maori entrenchments. It set the province back ten years, in destruction of property and interruption of country work.

Exactly a year of that costly war over the six hundred acres of the Pekapeka block, then a flag of truce went up over the Maori entrenchments at Te Arei—the famous Pukarangiora pa on that glorious bend of the Waitara River where the Maori loved to look out over the beautiful country spread for miles upon miles, far away to the sea, and to the inland ranges, and chant his patriotic haka song that begins with the declaration:

“E kore Taranaki e makere atu!”
(“Taranaki shall not be cast away!”)

The Maoris, like the soldiers, had had enough of it; they were unconquered but they wanted a rest, and they were ready for peace—but peace on terms that would not deprive them of their lands.

The peace of 1861 was due in the first place to Wiremu Tamehana, the King-maker, who was requested by Bishop Selwyn, the ex-Chief Justice Sir William Martin, and later by the Governor, to intervene in the dispute. Tamehana, always an earnest advocate of peace, went to Waitara early in March, and as the result of his conference with his compatriot Hapurona Pukerimu, the leading war-chief of Ngati-Awa, hoisted the white flag as an indication of his desire to discuss terms of peace. The Government heads accordingly went to the scene of General Pratt's tedious campaign. The Governor was there, Mr. Weld (Native Minister), Mr. Whitaker (Attorney-General), Donald Maclean in his capacity of Native Secretary, and Tamati Waka Nene, the great chief of Ngapuhi, from the Bay of page 72 Islands. The Rev. J. A. Wilson, Church of England missionary, assisted Mr. Maclean in the negotiations which followed. Maclean and he went into the Maori entrenchments and for several days the discussion continued. The end of it was that hostilities ceased on the Waitara, on the understanding that the investigation of the title to the disputed land should be continued and the survey completed, all plunder taken from the settlers to be restored, Ngati-Awa to submit to the Queen's authority, no land to be confiscated but the sites of blockhouses and redoubts built by the troops to be reserved. Hapurona, and Patu-Kakariki were the leaders who signed the agreement. Wiremu Kingi, who was absent in the Waikato, refused to make peace while Waitara was occupied by the pakeha. The Waikato warriors in Taranaki agreed to return to their homes. Ngati-Ruanui, however, remained out of the agreement, pending a conference with Waikato.

Sir George Grey, writing to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 24 April 1863, said in detailing the reasons for the renunciation of the attempted purchase:

“My settled conviction is that the natives of the Waitara are in the main right in their allegations regarding the Waitara purchase, and that it ought not to be gone on with. … It does not involve any new acquisition of territory for Her Majesty and the Empire.” The Queen, he pointed out, had no legal title to the land, and it seemed more than doubtful if any title could ever be given to her; and the block had never been paid for. Teira Manuka had only received a deposit of £100, and this the Government decided to relinquish.

In further despatches and minutes the Governor said that Wiremu Kingi's own home at Te Kuikui pa and the homes of 200 of his people were destroyed by the troops in 1860; the houses and the surrounding cultivations were burned. The Waitara Maoris therefore retaliated by burning an exactly corresponding number of settlers' houses.

“Ought Her Majesty,” Sir George Grey asked in a memorandum, “to make such a purchase in which she gained for an inconsiderable sum a property worth much more, and acquired against their will and consent, the homes page 73 of more than two hundred of her subjects, which they had occupied in peace and happiness for years, and who were not even accused of any crime against her Majesty or her laws, but some of whom had, on the contrary, risked their lives in rendering her service in former wars?” (This last remark referred to the fact that many of the Ngati-Awa who were driven out of the Waitara had actually served on the British side in the war at the Hutt and Porirua, Wellington, in 1846, when Rangihaeata and his warriors were in rebellion. Wiremu Kingi at that time fought for the Government.)

The Governor further showed that the forcible occupation of the Pekapeka block in 1860 had convinced the Maoris that a new system of obtaining lands had been established by the Government, and that they would all be despoiled like Waitara if they did not make general resistance. They became convinced that their destruction was decided upon, and thus there arose an almost universal belief that the struggle was one for house and home. Such was the Maori viewpoint, and certainly the Government action of 1860 gave every justification for the belief.

Grey and his Ministers, however, made a most grave blunder in delaying this announcement of renunciation so long. The troops on 4 April took possession of the Tat-araimaka block to the south of New Plymouth, which the Maoris claimed by right of conquest from the white settlers. The Ngati-Ruanui and Taranaki tribes had determined to retain possession of the land unless the Waitara was first given up. As the result of the movement of the troops, and the reoccupation of Tataraimaka, the war was renewed on 4 May, by an ambush at Wairau. The Governor's proclamation abandoning claim to the Waitara block was not promulgated until 11 May. The delay was to cost many lives and give a further set-back to the unfortunate province.