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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XXVI — Maclean and the Kingites: Frontier Conditions

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Chapter XXVI
Maclean and the Kingites: Frontier Conditions

In 1869 Mr. Maclean went into the King Country, in response to invitations from the Chiefs, and met the principal men at Otonohanga. A beginning was then made in the work of racial reconciliation. But there were still elements of strife. The period 1870–75 was an era of many alarms among the settlements and farms along the frontier. In 1870 a Government surveyor, Richard Todd, was killed by a party of Waikato Maoris when in camp in the bush at the base of Pirongia Mountain, a few miles from Alexandra township (now Pirongia).

Maclean went again up to the border in the early part of 1871 and tried to induce Waikato to surrender the murderers. They refused; and although Tawhiao and his fellow chief Manuhiri disapproved of the killing, their attitude indicated that they would shield the killers; it was a matter of Maori nationalist policy.

The white settlements were decidedly unsettled; no one knew what the next day or night might bring. There were hundreds of armed Maoris at Te Kuiti, and in villages a few hours ride across the Puniu. Still, there was a one-sided traffic across the border river. Many Maoris rode in confidently, bought what they wanted in the stores and publichouses, and returned to their kaingas. But they enforced the “Aukati” order of the Kingite chiefs against the pakeha. “Stop—No Admittance” it signified. After the killing of Mr. Todd, the settlers considered the time had come for retaliation.

In a “Confidential” memorandum to the Premier and page 114 Ministers at Wellington, Donald Maclean wrote from Alexandra, 4 March 1871, discussing the confiscation boundary Aukati, and saying that many of the Upper Waikato settlers had signed a petition to the Governor praying for the establishment on their side of an Aukati against the Maoris of the King Country, to prevent them crossing the frontier into pakeha territory.

“Their grounds for this application,” Maclean commented, “have some justice in them, as it is no doubt a source of irritation to see natives avowedly hostile within the boundaries; in two cases coming into actual conflict with Europeans, and in most returning to their own country laden with property and information. It appears, however, that the majority of the petitioners repudiate the idea of shooting trespassers across this frontier, as originally proposed, and contemplate restricting to imprisonment the penalty to be incurred.

“Even this would be impracticable. The Native Rights Act would, in the first place, put a bar in the way of any such action; and the enforcement of a measure of the kind would necessitate the employment along the frontier of a very much larger body of troops than the country can afford.”

Maclean described the spirit of Hauhau fanaticism which prevailed among many of the Maoris, and the anxiety which this gave the pakeha settlers along the border, who had reason to fear sudden raids on the outlying homesteads.

“Many of the natives,” he wrote, “while subject to the influences of the Hauhau superstition, appear to behave as if distracted and unaccountable for their actions. The name of porewarewa (madman) given by themselves to a phase of this belief pretty well defines the mental state of the persons affected by it. The interval of peace which has lately passed has done much towards the decline of the Hauhau religion; but its professors still regard it as a bond of union, and as a means of uplifting the National party, of which Tawhiao and Manuhiri are looked upon as the heads; and there is but little doubt that a war with the pakeha would rekindle the spirit of fanaticism now gradually expiring. A large proportion of the friendly and page 115 neutral tribes regard the murder of Mr. Todd as a violation during peace time of the relations subsisting between the Government and the Waikatos. I consider that at no time has there been a better casus belli, should the Government feel disposed to take up the matter. Justice, in this case, is so clearly on our side that some tribes who have hitherto remained neutral would in the case of a conflict co-operate with us. The most intelligent among the friendly natives are, however, of opinion that efforts should be made to obtain the murderers by negotiation before proceeding to hostilities.”

There was one comforting gleam of hope for settled peace at that period. Rewi Maniapoto met Maclean at Te Kopua, on the Waipa, six miles from Alexandra, and discussed matters in a frank and friendly spirit. The chief of Ngati-Maniapoto strongly disapproved of the murder; the slayers of Todd were not men of his tribe. In the end, when peace was assured at last, it was in great measure due to that long interview between the sage and diplomatic Scot and chivalrous Rewi at Te Kopua on 6 March 1871. But the gunmen of Waikato who shot the surveyor went free; the Rohepotae was their sanctuary.