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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter II — Maclean goes to Taranaki

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Chapter II
Maclean goes to Taranaki

Donald Maclean's first appearance on the colonial scene as an agent of the Government in dealings with the native race was in Taranaki in 1844. When trouble arose and war threatened in the winter of that year as the result of Mr. Spain's award in the New Plymouth land purchase dispute between the New Zealand Company and the Taranaki tribes, messengers were sent to the Governor, Captain Fitz-Roy, in Auckland, reporting the perilous state of affairs. The records of the day state that immediately on receiving the news the Governor despatched “a competent person, Mr Maclean,” with special instructions, overland to Taranaki, and himself embarked in H.M. frigate Hazard and sailed round the North Cape for New Plymouth. Bishop Selwyn, too, went to the disturbed district by way of Kawhia, a journey which took him eight days.

When the Governor and the Bishop arrived, young Maclean was already in New Plymouth. He had travelled from Auckland by way of the Waikato, Kawhia, and Mokau, calling at the station of the Rev. John Whiteley, the excellent Wesleyan missionary who a quarter of a century later fell victim to Hauhau hostility at Pukearuhe. Maclean carried a letter from the Governor to Whiteley asking him, on account of his long experience of the Maoris of the West Coast, to accompany the young official to Taranaki and use his best efforts to maintain peace. Whiteley, always ready to assist the Government in such a cause, did not delay Maclean long. In a few hours after the Sub-Protector of Aborigines arrived at his house at Te Ahuahu, the mission station on the south side of Kawhia Harbour, he was on his way on the long walk southward along the difficult page 7 coast. Maclean and his missionary companion arrived at New Plymouth on August 28th 1844. Next day began the career of peace-making, land-purchase negotiation and the promotion of British colonisation which was to keep the young Scot fully occupied, without a break long enough to enable him to visit his native land, until his death thirty-three years later.

The story of the quarrel between pakeha and Maori in Taranaki which necessitated this intervention by the Governor and his official and missionary helpers may be reduced to a simple summary.

The New Zealand Land Company of London, after establishing its pioneer colony at Wellington, negotiated with the Maoris of Taranaki for land for a settlement at Ngamotu, which presently was called New Plymouth, and obtained twenty-two signatures to a deed which was interpreted to the natives by Richard Barrett—the celebrated Dickey Barrett of whaler story, who in 1832 was the head and front of the gallant defence of Ngamotu pa against an invading cannibal army of Waikato. Barrett, however, was not a satisfactory interpreter. His knowledge of the Maori language was merely colloquial; his work as an interpreter in the Wellington purchase was severely criticised by Commissioner Spain when the Company's land claims were investigated. To the Company's loose methods and Barrett's inadequate interpreting may be attributed the misunderstandings and repudiations of bargains that soon arose.

It soon became clear that the Maoris did not realise what they were signing away. In the case of the Taranaki purchase the deed placed before the chiefs and signed so eagerly in return for some presents purported to convey to the company all the land from the Mokau district southward along the coast to Hauranga, several miles south of Ngamotu; the inland boundaries were the summit of Taranaki mountain (Mt Egmont), thence away eastward to the Wanganui River, thence northward and westward to the White Cliffs (Parininihi) on the coast. This immense territory, perfectly unknown (inland) to all pakehas except one or two missionaries, the company proposed to acquire; it was of course unsurveyed, its area no one could page 8 say, and it was mostly covered with dense forests. This was paid for, or claimed to be paid for, in blankets, muskets and gunpowder, iron pots, and other goods.

The New Zealand Company sold 60,000 acres of this domain to a colonising company formed in Plymouth, England, with the Earl of Devon at its head, and on this land the settlement of New Plymouth was founded by a band of Devonshire, Kent, and Cornish emigrants.

The Company soon was merged in the New Zealand Company, and the combined directors carried out the work of colonising the new land. The arrival of shipload after shipload of pakehas aroused perturbation among the Maoris; they disputed, and with some justice, the Wakefield concern's bargain. Complications, too, arose with the Waikato tribes; who claimed Taranaki by right of conquest, though they did not occupy it. A war-party of Waikato men, armed with double-barrel guns, went to Ngamotu in assertion of their claims. The Governor, in order to save the settlement, induced Te Wherowhero and Te Kati, the principal chiefs of Waikato, to give up their claims to Taranaki, in return for £250 in money, two horses, two saddles, and one hundred red blankets. This was in 1842. Disputes soon arose through the return of ex-captives from Waikato, who had not been parties to the sales to the Company, and who now found that their lands were occupied by the white settlers. The outcome of all these quarrels was the appointment of a British Commissioner, Mr. Spain, to enquire into the disputes and settle the areas and compensation. On June 8th 1844, Spain awarded the New Zealand Company 60,000 acres, upon the payment of £200. This decision, satisfactory to the pakeha, infuriated the Maoris dispossessed of the pick of their ancestral lands.

This was the position when Maclean, as Sub-Protector of Aborigines, found himself faced with the task of the conciliation of the Taranaki tribes in the interests of peaceful settlement.

Maclean and Mr. Whiteley, on August 29th 1844 went to the villages of the Taranaki and Te Atiawa tribes, at Ngamotu and the neighbouring settlements now part of page 9 the town of New Plymouth. There they found the Maoris in a state of excitement and of hostility to the pakeha authorities, “arising principally,” as Maclean wrote in his report, “from portions of their land having been occupied by the Europeans without the consent of the real owners, who were in captivity at the time the purchase was effected by the New Zealand Company, and from a small party of natives, whose claims I am given to believe were but to a limited portion of the lands now claimed by the Company.” Maclean obtained a promise from the people that they would be peaceable and not disturb the settlers before they had seen the Governor and put their case before him.

When Captain FitzRoy arrived a large meeting of pakehas and Maoris was held. The Maori case was made quite clear, and FitzRoy could not but admit that the owners of the soil had been treated with injustice. They explained that when they were overcome in war by the powerful Waikato and allied tribes, the conquerors did not occupy the land. When the spread of Christianity brought about the liberation of the people who had been led away captive, hundreds of the owners of Taranaki returned to their homes, to find them claimed and in many cases occupied by Englishmen. As for Waitara, there was not a single man of the Atiawa tribe, Wiremu Kingi declared, “who received the payment of Colonel Wakefield. Only the men of Ngamotu and Puketapu received Wakefield's payment and they had no right in Waitara.” “We desire not to quarrel with the Europeans,” the same chief had said in an address to the Governor some weeks previously, “but at the same time we do not wish to have our land settled by them.”

There was some pathos in the appeal of this unfortunate people, reduced by war and deprived of some of its olden cultivation grounds: “Friend Governor, do you not love your land—England, the land of your fathers—as we also love our land at Waitara? Friend Governor, be kind to the Maori people.”

FitzRoy soon announced his decision. He refused to confirm the award of Mr. Commissioner Spain. Mr Maclean was left to investigate the various native claims, page 10 and to prepare a report. In November the Governor returned to New Plymouth, and at a meeting he declared the Wakefield purchase forfeited, and the settlement area was fixed at 3,500 acres. For this the Maoris accepted £350 in goods and money as full compensation.

This complete reversal of the Company's schemes and Spain's award created consternation in the white settlement. The settlers who had to abandon their newly-broken-in farms were naturally seething with indignation. Yet if the Governor was to preserve peace there was no other course open to him. The Maori case was based on right; the pakeha case on the extraordinarily careless transactions of Wakefield and Company.

While Maclean remained in Taranaki he assisted in the task of arranging for the enlargement of the settlement by the purchase of various additional blocks. He was styled Sub-Protector of Aborigines until 1846, when the new Governor, Sir George Grey, abolished the Protectorship. Maclean was then appointed officer in charge of a small body of armed police with the title of Inspector.* Before the abolition of the office of Protector of Aborigines—Grey evidently disliked the title—and the creation of the Native Department, Maclean was engaged in several important diplomatic missions, in which he acquitted himself with credit and with benefit to the cause of peace between pakeha and Maori and also between the quarrelsome native tribes.

Maclean was instrumental in completing the purchase of the FitzRoy block, on which New Plymouth now stands, blocks for settlement at Tataraimaka and Omata, to the South of New Plymouth, the Grey block (Pukehe), near the town, and some land at Hua, eight miles out, sold by the Puketapu clan of the Atiawa tribe and called the Bell Block, after Frederick Dillon Bell, agent in the New Zealand Company's service (afterwards Sir Dillon Bell.) These purchases, totalling over 30,000 acres, enabled the Taranaki settlers to extend their cultivations considerably, and to page 11 build up a little province notable for the sturdy, industrious, and enterprising qualities of its English population.

The rapid increase of the pakeha population inevitably created apprehension among the Maoris generally as to the future of their race. This growing feeling culminated in 1852 in the formation of a confederation of tribes which came to be called the Land League, binding themselves, so far as Taranaki was concerned, to put a stop to all sales of land northward of the Bell Block (which was about half way between New Plymouth and Waitara) and south of Tataraimaka, on the coast. The development of this patriotic agrarian association and the conflict with the pakeha Government involved Maclean as Native Commissioner and Land purchase Agent for the Crown in a world of trouble and debate.

* A police force for New Plymouth District consisting of eleven privates or constables and a sergeant.