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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XXIX — When Maclean met Tawhiao — King Country Home Rule offered

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Chapter XXIX
When Maclean met Tawhiao
King Country Home Rule offered

Waitomo, the heart of the Cave Country, is a place with a certain historical interest, unknown to those who tread its wonderful limestone halls and marvel at its fairy dome of glow-worm lights. Human associations enhance the pleasure of travel; beautiful scenes, without the values of story and legend and poetry, leave one with the feeling that there is something vital wanting. There is a satisfying plenty of this element of human history in such King Country scenes as Waitomo. Long before its limestone caverns had been explored by Maori or pakeha, it was a place of some importance. The Ngati-Maniapoto people prized its well-sunned valleys as a land where food-crops could be grown to perfection. There were large wheat-fields there before the Waikato War, in the era when the Maori found farming after the pakeha methods a profitable occupation for the man-power of the commune. The country in this limestone land carried a strong appeal to a people who always had a keen eye for attractive home sites—the sheltering hills, with their outcropping crags, the clear cool streams, the many tracts of white-pine bush and other forest patches, abounding in food for the pigeon and the kaka.

In this desirable land about Waitomo King Tawhiao and his exiled Waikato followers lived and cultivated the soil after they had outworn their welcome at Te Kuiti. They grew large quantities of food, under the patriarchal control of their hereditary chiefs. All this time, since the confiscation of the conquered lands of Waikato by the page break
Major Ropata Wahawaha, N.Z.C. The fighting Chief of Ngati-Porou.

Major Ropata Wahawaha, N.Z.C.
The fighting Chief of Ngati-Porou.

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Government, Tawhiao and his people were practically the guests of Ngati-Maniapoto, and they lived on that tribe's land, and sometimes there were indications that the general feeling of loyalty to Tawhiao was put to a severe strain by Waikato's long-continued occupation of their refuge camps. Many of the Waikato were apt to take it for granted that that occupation was to be a permanency.

It was at this stage of the King Country's story that the Native Minister of the day, Sir Donald Maclean, visited Tawhiao and his chiefs at Waitomo for the purpose of continuing negotiations for a resumption of friendly relations between the Kingites and the Government and settlers.

In 1874 that excellent intermediary between pakeha and Maori, Major William Mair, R.M., whose station was Alexandra township (named after Queen Alexandra), now Pirongia, succeeded in arranging for a conference between his chief, Sir Donald Maclean and the Maori King.

On 1 February 1875, the Native Minister arrived on the border. In those days the means of travel to Waikato were coach and river steamers. It took Maclean and his party two days from Auckland travelling from daylight till dark, to reach Alexandra. There, on the Waipa River, two large canoes were waiting for them, under charge of the old warrior chief Whitiora, sent down from Otorohanga to meet “Te Makarini” (“The Maclean”). On the second of February an early start was made on the canoe voyage. It was a pleasant change from the bumpy coach journey. The Minister and his friends reclined at ease while they were poled up the river by stalwart crews, heaving with their long tokos in unison. At it was the height of summer, the Waipa was rather low, and at the shallower places the crews got out and hauled the canoes along with ropes. With Sir Donald were Major Mair, Mr. R. S. Bush, R.M. at Raglan and afterwards in Auckland, and Mr. Kemp, Civil Commissioner. There were also several visiting chiefs, including Paul Tuhaere from Auckland, and Major Te Wheoro of the Lower Waikato.

The canoe voyagers landed for a meal at Te Kopua, near the foot of Mount Kakepuku, where they saw large fields page 132 of wheat, which had been grown from seed given to the Maoris by the Government in 1872. In the afternoon they reached Otorohanga, where Sir Donald and his party stayed at John Hetet's home at Marae-o-Hine. Next day horses were brought for them and they rode out to Waitomo. There they were received with ceremonial dancing and chanting at the large Kingite village, lying amidst its cultivations. Tawhiao was there to greet them. With him were his principal chiefs, including Patara te Tuhi and Honana Maioha and the great crator Te Ngakau. Toanui was there as the leader of Ngati-Maniapoto; another chief of that tribe was Hone Wetere te Rerenga, of the Mokau.

As the conference between the Native Minister and Tawhiao was by way of preliminary to further negotiations for the removal of the isolation which had so long bound the Kingite party, the speeches on the first day were chiefly in the nature of felicitations at the renewal of friendship between the two races. Sir Donald was greeted by Tawhiao as the good friend of his father, Potatau, the first Maori King. On the second day the Native Minister foreshadowed certain terms to which the Government would be willing to agree for the self-government of the people of the King Country. He had already mooted these proposals to the chiefs in 1869.

Most of the people were Hauhaus at this time, and the prayers and chants of Te Kooti and other spiritual leaders were repeated by hundreds of voices several times a day.

On the second day of the meeting Tawhiao asked that the Waikato confiscated lands should be returned to the Maoris, and that the fortified posts on the frontier should be abandoned.

Sir Donald Maclean said this was impossible. The Waikato was covered with pakeha townships and with the homes of settlers.

Tawhiao, of course, knew that the Government could not restore Waikato, but he was bound to make the request on behalf of his people.

The conference then dealt with the broad terms on which a scheme of control of the Kingite territory could be based. page 133 The tentative offer made by Maclean to the king and his chiefs was as follows:-

First—Tawhiao to exercise authority over the tribes with in the district of which he was recognised as the head.

Second—A certain number of chiefs to be selected by Tawhiao to assist in maintaining order and repressing crime among his people.

Third—The Government to support Tawhiao in his carrying out the duty which would thus devolve on him.

Fourth—A suitable house to be built for Tawhiao at Kawhia, and portions of land on the Waipa and Waikato Rivers to be granted to him.

With these general proposals Tawhiao expressed himself satisfied, and he and his chiefs repeated their sentiments of friendship and pleasure at the breaking down of the barriers between the two races. Sir Donald left Waitomo with the knowledge that something at any rate had been accomplished in the direction of restoring good relations and removing the old feelings of distrust on both sides of the frontier. In the border settlements, too, there was a feeling of relief when the news of the meeting was circulated. There would be no more alarms of coming raids on the frontier farms.

The most remarkable feature of the conference was the offer of virtual home rule for the King Country on behalf of the Government and the recognition of Tawhiao as the head of his people. This was to a large degree an admission by the pakeha government of the principle of self-government, for which the Maoris fought in 1863–64. The rights originally claimed by the Kingite party were not conceded in full, but in effect a special Maori province was proposed by Maclean. For various reasons this never developed beyond the proposal stage. The Ngati-Mania-poto chiefs, headed by Wahanui and Taonui, did not wish to see the Waikato tribes become permanent occupants of the Rohepotae. But Maclean's diplomatic visit of 1875 led to the final reconciliation for which he had laboured, though he did not live to see it.