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The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement

Chapter III — Plough and Flour-Mill.

page 14

Chapter III.

Plough and Flour-Mill.

An illuminating account of the growth of agricultural enterprise among these Upper Waikato people and the position about 1850 is contained in an unpublished manuscript journal written by the Rev. John Morgan.* The missionary prefaces the narrative of the temporal side of his labours at Te Awamutu with the statement that wheat was introduced among the natives chiefly by the missionaries. The Ven. Archdeacon Williams encouraged its cultivation in his district of Waiapu, East Coast. “It was small in quantity,” said Mr Morgan, “for it was contained in a stocking, but it was sown and re-sown, and at the present time the increase from the little seed contained in a stocking is being sent by the natives to the Auckland market. Much is also ground by the Maoris in steel mills for their own use.

“Shortly after the formation of the Otawhao (Te Awamutu) station,” the missionary's story continued, “in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining supplies of flour from the coast I procured some seed wheat. After the reaping of the first crop I sent Pungarehu, of Rangiaowhia, a few quarts of seed. This he sowed and reaped. The second year he had a good-sized field. Other natives now desired to share in the benefit, and the applications for seed became so numerous that I could not supply them all, and many obtained seed from Kawhia and Aotea (West Coast), where wheat had been introduced either by the Wesleyan missionaries or the settlers,

“As a large quantity of wheat was now grown at Rangiaowhia, and the natives had not purchased steel mills, I recommended them to erect a water-mill. At the request of Kimi Hori, I went to the millwright who was then building a mill at Aotea. In March, 1846, the millwright arrived, and I drew up a contract for the erection of a mill at a cost of £200, not including the carriage of timber, building of the mill dam, and the formation of the watercourse, all of which were performed by the natives themselves. Seven men

* MS. journal lent to the writer by Mr E. Earle Vaile, of Broadlands, Waiotapu.

page 15 were set to work, the natives promising to pay the first £50 instalment within a very short time. Instead of leaving immediately for Auckland with pigs to raise the required amount, they began to take up their potatoes and then the kumara to store them for winter use They then promised to leave for town as soon as the crops were secured. An invitation, however, arrived from Maketu, and the entire tribe left Rangiaowhia to partake of a feast at that place, the millwright threatening to give up the contract. On their return they accepted a second invitation, and went to another distant village. It was with the greatest difficulty that I now detained the millwright. In this manner four months passed away. The millwright demanded compensation for loss of time, and a chief agreed to give him a piece of land of about 200 acres, but for which no Government grant has as yet been made. Still the natives delayed. The required sum (£200) was large for a tribe of New Zealanders to raise. The Aotea mill was now useless, and many feared that this (Rangiaowhia) would also be a failure, and there were several Europeans who had come up to trade in pigs who from interested motives freely gave their opinion that the whole scheme would fail. In this way two months passed away, and it required many personal visits to Rangiaowhia—first, to persuade the millwright, who was several times on the point of leaving, to remain, and, secondly, to urge the natives to take their pigs to town. At length they started. In a few weeks the £50 was raised, and paid into my hands to be paid to the millwright. After this I had no more trouble. The work went forward while the money was being collected, and the last instalment of £50 being paid into my hands, I had the pleasure of handing it to the millwright the day the work was completed.”

This water-driven flour-mill, it may be explained here, was built at Pekapeka-rau, the lower part of the swampy valley between Hairini Hill and Rangiaowhia, through which a watercourse flows toward the Mangapiko. Here a dam was constructed, and a lagoon was formed; the water collected here turned the mill-wheel.

Later, another mill was constructed, on the watercourse called Te Rua-o-Tawhiwhi, on the eastern side of Rangiaowhia village.

Mr Morgan, continuing his story of the new flour-mills, wrote:

“The Rangiaowhia mill was not completed before other tribes became jealous and wished for mills. I drew up two more contracts, one for the erection of a mill at Maunga-tautari, and the other at Otawhao, at the cost respectively of £110 and £120, not including page 16 native labour. Both of these mills have been erected. A new difficulty now arose at Rangiaowhia, that of finding a miller to take charge of the mill. In the arrangement I experienced more vexations and difficulty than in the erection of the mills. There was a person ready to take charge, but the natives, not knowing the value of European labour, refused to give him a proper remuneration. One old chief offered one quart of wheat per day! At length, after two months, this knotty point was settled. On the following day the miller commenced work. In the year 1848 the natives of Rangiaowhia took down some flour to Auckland, which they sold for about £70. The neighbouring tribes, seeing the benefit likely to arise from the erection of mills, began earnestly to desire them. One was contracted for at Kawhia, and the sum of about £315 has been paid on account. About 1850 a contract was entered into for the erection at Mohoaonui [near Otorohanga], on the Waipa, of the largest mill yet built, at a cost of £300. The natives of Kawhia are anxious for the erection of a second mill, and the natives at Whatawhata and two other villages on the Waipa, and of Kirikiriroa and Maungapa, on the Waikato, and also Matamata, propose to erect mills; at several of these places the funds are being collected.

“Wheat is very extensively grown in the Waikato district. At Rangiaowhia the wheat fields cover about 450 acres of land. I have also introduced barley and oats at that place. Many of the people at various villages are now forming orchards, and they possess many hundreds of trees budded or grafted by themselves, consisting of peach, apple, pear, plum, quince, and almond; also gooseberry bushes in abundance. For flowers or ornamental trees they have no taste; as they do not bear fruit, it is, in their opinion, loss of time to cultivate them.”

The missionary, concluding his interesting narrative, described a visit paid to the district by Sir George Grey, Governor.

“His Excellency,” wrote the missionary, “spent half a day at Rangiaowhia, and expressed himself much pleased with the progress of the natives at that place. He visited the mill, which was working at the time. Two bags of flour were presented to him for Her Majesty the Queen, and they have since been forwarded to London. The Governor has since that time presented the Rangiaowhi'a natives with a pair of fine horses, a dray and harness, and a plough and harness. He also requested me to engage a farm servant to instruct page break
The Old Mission ChurchesSt. John's Church, Te Awamutu

The Old Mission Churches
St. John's Church, Te Awamutu

The English Church at Rangiaowhia

The English Church at Rangiaowhia

page break page 17 the natives in the use of the plough, etc.* The value of the flour sent down this year from Rangiaowhia and now ready for the Auckland market may be estimated at about £330. Of this sum upward of £240 was, or will be, spent in the purchase of horses, drays, and ploughs. Each little tribe is now endeavouring to procure a plough and a pair of horses, and the people expect during the next year to have at least ten ploughs at work. The rapid advancement in cultivation is the fruit of Sir George Grey's kind present to introduce the plough at those places. One of the chiefs at Rangiaowhia has erected a small boarded house. He has also several cows, one of which he generally milks in the morning.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Such is the story of the very practical missionary work in this district. “Te Mokena” truly tamed the people; old cannibals followed the plough and spent days in discussing the Auckland market prices of wheat and flour. Distant white communities, too, came to depend largely on the Maori farmers of the Upper Waikato for their breadstuffs; and when the great gold rushes began in California and Victoria, in 1849–52, the cargoes of New Zealand produce sent to far-away San Francisco and to Melbourne often contained shipments from Rangiaowhia and other Maori farm-villages.

* The old man Pou-patate Huihi, of Te Kopua, told the writer: “Before we procured European ploughs we made wooden ones, and these were sometimes drawn by men—Ko te tangata te hoiho tuatahi (Man was the first horse).”

Pou-patate also said that when wheat-growing was at its height on the Waipa, before the war, his people received as much as ten or eleven shillings a bushel for the wheat in the Auckland market.