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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter III — The Peacemakers: A West Coast Episode

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Chapter III
The Peacemakers: A West Coast Episode

The scene of this drama of peacemaking in which Maclean played a part was a fortified hold of the Waitotara Maoris, NgaRauru, the pa called Te Ihupuku. This long deserted fortress can be seen to-day from the main West coast road near the bridge on the Waitotara River, about twenty miles northward of Wanganui town. It is a high round hill surrounded by swampy country, on the river side; it was a place of great strength in the olden days of inter-tribal warfare.

In December, 1844, a taua or war-party of the Taupo tribe, Ngati-Tuwharetoa, descended the Wanganui River under their old chief Te Heuheu Tukino, on their way to the West Coast with the object of attacking the Waitotara and Taranaki people at Te Ihupuku in avengement of the deaths of some Taupo men who had recently fallen in battle at Patoka, near that place.

South Taranaki and the Waitotara were speedily in arms and about a thousand fighting men gathered at Te Ihupuku and adjacent pas to resist the march of their Taupo foes. The arrival and encampment of the taua at Wanganui settlement, close to the little pakeha town, created alarm among the people there, who feared that in the coming conflict the white settlers would suffer.

Accordingly a messenger was sent off along the coast to Wellington, with instructions to travel at his utmost speed and deliver a message for Government intervention. The British frigate Hazard commanded by Captain Robertson (who a few months later fell desperately wounded in the battle of Kororareka, Bay of Islands) arrived in a few days bringing as passenger Major Richmond, Superintendent of page 13 the Southern Division of the Colony. In the meantime Mr Maclean and another official acting as Protector of Aborigines, Mr. Forsaith, had arrived at Wanganui—Maclean walking down the coast from New Plymouth—and also Bishop Selwyn, the great head of the Church of England Mission, and who was on one of his long walking and canoeing journeys through the island. Selwyn had started from Auckland at the beginning of December, and travelled through Waikato and Taupo and down the Wanganui River. The Bishop's presence was particularly welcome at this juncture. He narrated in his journal some of the events that followed in the efforts to prevent a savage war along the coast.

The Native Department officials, with Major Richmond and the Hazard's captain, went to Te Heuheu's camp immediately after the arrival of the frigate. They insisted that the Taupo warriors must behave properly to the settlers, upon pain of being considered the Queen's enemies, action was left “to the discretion” of Robertson and the naval force under his command. The Hazard was blown out to sea from the Wanganui anchorage, and an anxious night was spent by the party on land. Arrangements were made in case of attack on the town, but the night passed without alarm.

After a few days of negotiation, conducted chiefly by Mr. Maclean, it was agreed that the war-party should go within sight of their enemies, fire off their guns, and dance their war-dance, in order to whakapata te aitua, that is “to allay the ill-omen,” and then to return peaceably to their own place.

In the hope of making peace between the two parties, the Bishop and Major Richmond walked to Te Ihupuku, where Mr. Maclean, Mr. Bollard, and the Revs. Skevington and Turton, Wesleyan missionaries, were engaged in communicating with the Taranaki natives on the same business. About midway to the Waitotara they found a present of food, and a letter addressed to Te Heuheu. The letter was friendly, but the food so scanty that it was considered by the taua an intentional insult, as they were not willing to believe that a force of a thousand men could have ex- page 14 hausted the provisions of the neighbourhood. As soon as Iwikau, Te Heuheu's brother, arrived there and saw the present, he became very angry, declaring that it was an intentional insult, and that the pakehas were the authors of it. In a few minutes the chief changed his tone to one of friendliness. An old priest then approached the pile of food, circling round it at first at a cautious distance, but approaching nearer and nearer at each turn, and muttering his prayers as he moved slowly along. When his karakia was completed, the suspected food was ordered to be burnt. (No doubt the Maoris believed that the food had been placed under the spell of makutu by their enemies in order to bewitch them.)

The Taupo war-party slept that night at Kai-iwi. Major Richmond, Forsaith and the Bishop went to the hill pa, where they found a meeting of 800 to 1,000 armed men of Ngati-Ruanui and Ngati-Maru. Mr. Forsaith gave an account of all that had taken place, and of the desire to make peace. General assent seemed to be given. Next morning a small body of Taupo men purposed making an attack. Richmond and Selwyn went to meet the warriors, four miles distant, and found them crouching as if awaiting the signal to attack their foes. Mr. Forsaith explained the purpose of the visit. Old Te Heuheu rose and said: “I hoki rangatira mai koutou,” (“You have acted like chiefs in returning”). Then he called upon his men to do honour to the pakeha. The whole body of warriors rose, fired a salute, and danced their war-dance and, in a few minutes, were marching along the beach back to Wanganui.

During most of this time Mr. Maclean had remained with the Waitotara and Taranaki people in their fortress at Ihupuku, endeavouring to restrain them from fighting. The joint action of Government officers and missionaries had the effect of preventing a battle which would have created turmoil all along the West Coast and perhaps have led to a counter-expedition to Taupo seeking revenge.