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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


The determination of the Maori tribes to establish a King was not in the beginning hostile to the white Government. On the contrary, Wiremu Tamehana, of Ngati-Haua, a man of lofty ideals and altogether admirable character, continually emphasised the fact that the kingdom must be on a footing of friendship with the pakeha; it was simply to govern the Maoris within their own district and to ensure a measure of peace and order which the Queen's Government could not maintain. The King movement was originated in 1851–52 by Tamehana te Rauparaha—son of the great Rauparaha—who had been on a voyage to England and returned with ideas for the betterment of his race, and by Matene te Whiwhi, of Otaki. The difficulty was to select a suitable chief as King, and one man after another declined the honour, until at last Matene and his fellow-chiefs persuaded the aged warrior Potatau te Wherowhero, of Waikato, to take the position. Potatau, like Tawhiao his son after him, was merely a figurehead; the destinies of the native confederation were decided by the runangas or tribal councils at Ngaruawahia and Kihikihi. Tawhiao succeeded Potatau on the latter's death in 1860.

A variety of elements, social and political, combined to produce a war feeling in Waikato. Iwikau te Heuheu, of Taupo, on his way to a great Waikato meeting in 1857, stayed at the mission station and gave Mr Morgan his reasons for supporting the King. He contrasted the uncouth and inhospitable treatment of Maori chiefs when visiting the towns with the kindness shown by the Maoris to even the lowest grade of pakeha who came to their settlements. Tamehana pointed to the inability of the Government to preserve peace and order among the tribes; this could only be done by means of a native king, and he quoted Scripture and modern history in support of his argument. The blundering of the Government in offering civil institutions and then withdrawing them without a fair trial, the construction of the military road from Drury to the Mangatawhiri River, and finally the heavy losses of the Ngati-Haua and Ngati-Maniapoto in the Taranaki War had a cumulative effect in hastening the outbreak in Waikato. It was when this feeling page 24 was simmering in the Waikato that Mr John Gorst—as he was then—was induced by the Government to undertake the difficult task of staying the growing tide of anti-pakeha agitation and of diverting the energies of the Kingite tribes to peaceful industries and crafts. He came several years too late. The institutions and the measure of home rule which Sir George Grey offered to the Kingites in 1863 only to have them rejected would have met with a cordial acceptance had they been put forward five or six years previously. But Grey was in South Africa then, and his predecessor, Governor Gore-Browne, and his advisers went from blunder to blunder in their determination to stifle the natives' legitimate desire for local self-government.

Mr John Gorst arrived at Auckland from England in 1860, and, being a young man of brilliant University attainments, he attracted the attention and friendship of Bishop Selwyn, Sir George Grey, and other notable people of the day. It was Mr (afterwards Sir William) Fox, then Premier of the Colony, who determined to establish him as resident magistrate in the Upper Waikato, and a house was procured for him at Te Tomo, about half a mile from the centre of the present town of Te Awamutu. (Te Tomo is now marked by an acacia grove in a field south of Te Awamutu, near the Kihikihi Road.) This establishment was built on thirty acres of grass land which had been sold to the Crown many years before the war began. Here Mr Gorst set up his home in the beginning of 1861; later he removed to the mission house opposite the church.

During the first part of his residence in Te Awamutu district Mr Gorst was a magistrate and a kind of intelligence officer for the Government. During the latter part he was styled Commissioner of Upper Waikato, and lived at the mission station in charge of a technical school and hospital. In the early period, as Gorst narrated in after years, he was rather the officer of Mr Fox's Ministry than of the Government. He was a magistrate, but as a matter of fact his jurisdiction was derided by the Maoris, and he found none except a few pakehas to obey him. “The Maori from the first,” he said, “refused to consent to my exercising any kind of authority among them.” Even his great friend Wiremu Tamehana, though anxious to receive advice and instruction, objected to the admission into the Kingite district of a magistrate who received his authority from the Queen. page break page break
The Right Hon. Sir John E. Gorst (Died 1916)

The Right Hon. Sir John E. Gorst (Died 1916)

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The Last Canoe Voyage Sir John Gorst and party in the “Tangi-te-Kiwi” at Ngaruawahia, December 6th, 1906

The Last Canoe Voyage Sir John Gorst and party in the “Tangi-te-Kiwi” at Ngaruawahia, December 6th, 1906

The Rev. B.Y. Ahwell's Mision Station, Kaitothehe, Waikato River The site of this pre-war mission station was on the left bank of the Waikato, opposite Taupiri. this picture is a sketch made shortly before the war in 1863, by Lieut. (afterwards Colone) H. S. Bates of the 65th regiment, who was an A.D.C. to Sir George Grey and Staff Interpreter to General Cameron. Governor Grey's camp, on one of his Waikato Expeditions, is shown on the river bank (see Note in Appendices, p. 103.).

The Rev. B.Y. Ahwell's Mision Station, Kaitothehe, Waikato River
The site of this pre-war mission station was on the left bank of the Waikato, opposite Taupiri. this picture is a sketch made shortly before the war in 1863, by Lieut. (afterwards Colone) H. S. Bates of the 65th regiment, who was an A.D.C. to Sir George Grey and Staff Interpreter to General Cameron. Governor Grey's camp, on one of his Waikato Expeditions, is shown on the river bank (see Note in Appendices, p. 103.).

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In 1862–63 Mr Gorst was rather the officer of Sir George Grey than of the Ministry (then Mr Domett's). The Church Mission estate of about 200 acres, with school buildings and dwelling-house, was lent to the Governor for Maori educational purposes. Describing the establishment then formed, Gorst wrote:

“Everyone in the school was clothed, lodged, and fed in plain but wholesome and civilised style. Clothes and bedding were regularly inspected and kept scrupulously clean. A schoolmaster was appointed, who taught reading, writing, and arithmetic to all, and besides this each young man was employed for five hours daily in one of the various mechanical trades carried out within the school. Thus each had an opportunity, not only of acquiring a sound elementary education, but of fitting himself to gain a livelihood by practising some handicraft taught at the school. The trades carried on were those of carpenter, blacksmith, wheelwright, shoemaker, tailor, and, later on, printer. A few were employed in agriculture and in tending cattle and sheep upon the school estate, some as regular occupations and others as an occasional change from indoor employment. English artisans employed as teachers were chiefly men who had been living in the neighbourhood and were familiar with the Maoris and their language. Most had previously been exercising their trades for the benefit of the district, and the only difference was that they were now more systematically at work and were instructing native apprentices. The Maoris of the district had therefore to resort to the Government establishment for the repair of their ploughs and carts and for their shoes and clothes. The demand for all these services was far greater than the supply, so there was a prospect of being able to supply a great number of Maori apprentices in every department with certain profit. Even Rewi and Tamehana themselves visited the school. The latter extended his patronage so far as to be measured for a pair of trousers, for which he paid £1 in advance, but Te Orion intercepted them on their way to Matamata, and was so charmed with the fit that he refused to part with them, and told Tamehana he would agree to take them as a present.”

The school establishment certainly did very useful work, and thus far was appreciated by the Maoris; but they could never forget that Gorst was a Government official.

It was presently decided by the Government that a native hospital should be erected on an area of Crown land about three-quarters page 26 of a mile from Te Awamutu. The position of Medical Commissioner of the Waikato was offered to and accepted by the Rev. A. Purchas, of Onehunga. At the same time Sir George Grey sanctioned the establishment of a Maori newspaper to reply to the “Hokioi,” the Kingite print issued at Ngaruawahia. Mr E. J. von Dadelszen* (afterwards Registrar-General of New Zealand) was appointed printer; he had learned the trade on Bishop Selwyn's printing-press in Auckland.

A press and type were bought in Sydney, and set up in Te Awamutu early in 1863. This was the beginning of the end for Mr Gorst's establishment.

The Government Maori newspaper was called “Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i Runga i te Tuanui” (“The Lonely Lark on the Housetop”—the Maori having no word for sparrow), and it set about briskly replying to the Kingite propaganda of “Te Hokioi e Rere Atu Na” (“The Soaring War Bird”), which was edited and printed by Patara te Tuhi, afterwards a great friend of Sir John Gorst. The first number of the “Pihoihoi” was published at Te Awamutu on 2nd February, 1863, and was widely distributed over Waikato, arousing intense interest among the Kingites.

The “copy” for the first issue was revised by Sir George Grey himself, and was published under his authority. It contained an article which greatly excited the resentment of Rewi and the more truculent section of the Kingite natives. The article was entitled. “The Evil of the King Movement,” and it criticised a letter from King Tawhiao—or Matutaera (Methusaleh), as he was then generally known—to the Governor, dated 8th December, 1862, which had been printed in the “Hokioi,” and which inquired what evil had been done by the King and on what account he was blamed. The “Pihoihoi” gave an answer to these inquiries from the pakeha Government point of view; Gorst's leader was translated into forceful and idiomatic Maori by Miss Ashwell, daughter of the missionary at Kaitotehe, opposite Taupiri. The strong criticism of the Kingite aspirations quickly provoked action among Mr Gorst's neighbours, who asked, “Why is this troublesome printing-press allowed in our midst?” Only five numbers of the “Pihoihoi” were printed before the indignant Rewi intervened with his war-party.

The coup planned by Ngati-Maniapoto in the tribal council-house “Hui-te-Rangiora” at Kihikihi was executed on 24th March, page 27 1863. A war-party of eighty men and lads, most of them armed with guns, marched into Te Awamutu that afternoon, led by Aporo Taratutu, and accompanied by Rewi Maniapoto, and also by the old Taranaki chief Wiremu Kingi te Rangitaake. (The unjustifiable seizure of Kingi's land at Waitara by the Government had been the cause of the first Taranaki War.) Rewi and Wiremu Kingi remained at Porokoru's house, which stood in the middle of the present town of Te Awamutu, while Aporo led his taua down to the mission station, halted them there, and had prayers by way of sanctifying the afternoon's operations. Young von Dadelszen and a Maoni youth were busy at the time in the little printing-office printing the fifth number of the “Pihoihoi Mokemoke.” Mr Gorst was absent; he had ridden over to the mission station at Te Kopua, on the Waipa, to inquire about some bullocks which were being purchased for the Governmen station. A report had reached him that a taua from Kihikihi would visit Te Awamutu that day, but he treated it as an idle rumour.

The actions of Ngati-Maniapoto are described by Mr von Dadelszen in the following report which Mr Gorst sent to Sir George Grey with his own account of the breaking-up of the station:

“About 3 o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, 24th March, while the newspapers for that day were being printed, a number of natives arrived, about 50 of them armed with guns, and the remainder with native weapons, and stationed themselves in front of the printing-office. I locked the door before their faces, put the key in my pocket, and went a little distance off. After a short prayer, they broke the door open, and proceeded to take the press down, and carry it outside to some drays they had there. While they were doing this, Patene, the Ngaruawahia chief, arrived, and partly succeeded in stopping them, turning about six out of the printing-office (it being then quite full of natives). After some time, however, he came away, and the work went on. Everything connected with the printing was taken away, together with a portmanteau belonging to Mr Mainwaring, and a box containing some of my clothes. When all was gone, they stationed sentinels at the door, and allowed no one inside. Before breaking open the door they had a scuffle with the native teacher, who placed himself before it, and was dragged away after some resistance. They also broke down about twenty yards of the fence between the printing-office and the road. They camped all round the house, but about 6 o'clock

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allowed us to enter and take our clothes from the little bedroom at the back. They did not attempt to touch anything in the main building. In the evening they stationed their soldiers all round the house. About 8 o'clock, Mr Gorst, Mr White, and Mr Mainwaring arrived. There was some talk of setting fire to the place, and one or two fire-sticks were brought, but they determined not to do it in the end. A good many guns were loaded with ball, but none fired. A great many slept in the printing-office that night. During the remainder of the afternoon, Taati, Patene, and Te Oriori on one side, and the leaders of the soldiers on the other, talked a great deal in the road. William King [Wiremu Kingi], Rewi, and a few others stayed some distance off, and gave their orders from there. The mail box, etc., were also taken, with the mail money.—E. J. von Dadelszen.”

The printing-press, the Kingites' bete noir, was carried out, with all the type, reams of paper, and printed copies of the fifth number of the “Pihoihoi,” and the whole plant was loaded on to bullock drays and carted off to Kihikihi. Nothing else, however, was taken; some private belongings, such as boxes of clothes, were scrupulously returned as soon as it was discovered that they were not part of the printing plant. Then the leader of the war-party surrounded the mission buildings with a cordon of sentries, and awaited Mr Gorst's return. The Maoris camped on the road and in the adjacent field opposite the church, and their watch-fires blazed as evening came down.

Mr Gorst rode in after dark, and was permitted to pass unmolested. A. message was sent in to him that if he refused to go away in the morning he would be shot. Resistance was impossible, for although the youths in the school establishment declared that they would stand by “Te Kohi” there were no arms, and in any case a conflict could only have ended in the victory of Rewi's veterans of the Taranaki war and in the slaughter of the Government people.

Next morning there were scenes of intense excitement on the gathering road between the mission station and the church where the present main road runs. Mr Gorst was ordered to depart. He replied that nothing would induce him to leave his post but orders from the Governor. Rewi for his part declared that he and his men would not stir from the spot until his object was accomplished.

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Presently, through the intervention of the Rev. A. Reid, the Wesleyan missionary at Te Kopua, Rewi, at a personal interview with Mr Gorst, agreed to withdraw his men and give the Commissioner three weeks in which to communicate with Sir George Grey. Rewi then in a speech gave his reasons for raiding the station. The Governor, he said, had shown himself hostile to the Maori King movement, and had been ceaseless in his machinations against the confederation of the tribes. Sir George Grey had begun to make a military road to the Waikato, and finally at Taupiri he had made a speech in which he said he “would dig around the King until he fell.” They looked round to see where the spades were at work, and they saw “Te Kohi”; they were resolved to have no digging of that kind in Waikato, and so they had determined to remove him from the land of the Maori.

Rewi then, at Mr Gorst's invitation, went into the house and wrote the following letter for transmission to the Governor:

“Te Awamutu,
“March 25, 1863.

“Friend Governor Grey:

“Greeting. This is my word to you. Mr Gorst has been killed [has suffered] through me. I have taken away the press. These are my men who took it—eighty, armed with guns. The object of this is to expel Mr Gorst, so that he may return to town; it is on account of the great trouble occasioned by his being sent here to stay and beguile us, and also on account of your words, ‘I shall dig at the sides, and your kingdom will fall.’ Friend, take Mr Gorst back to the town; do not leave him to stay with me at Te Awamutu. Enough; if you say he is to stay, he will die. Enough; send speedily your letter to fetch him in three weeks. It is ended.

“From your friend,

“From Rewi Maniapoto.”

Mr Gorst also wrote a letter, informing Sir George Grey of the occurrences, and saying that the natives had beaten him utterly, and that Rewi said if the Governor left him it would be to certain death. The letters were sent off to the Governor, who was then in Taranaki. While an answer was awaited, Wiremu Tamehana came to see Mr Gorst, and sorrowfully told him that he and others of the friendly-disposed party could not protect him now. The Governor did not answer Rewi's letter, but sent instructions to Mr Gorst that in the event of there being any danger whatever to life he was to return at once to Auckland, with the other Europeans in the employment of the Government.

As the Upper Waikato was now inflamed with the war feeling, page 30 Mr Gorst realised that the evacuation of Te Awamutu was the only possible course. He left the station on 18th April, 1863. It was more than forty years before he set eyes again on the olden scene of his labours for the Maori.

The after-history of the “Pihoihoi Mokemoke” press has been cleared up by dint of many inquiries. Practically the whole of the plant was restored to the Government after Mr Gorst's departure. It was placed in a canoe and taken down the Waipa and Waikato to Te laroa, just below the mouth of the Mangatawhiri River, near Mercer; there Mr Andrew Kay—later of Orakau—had a trading store. The press and other material were handed over to Mr Kay, who sent word to the Government, and carts were sent to take it to Auckland. The press was afterwards used for a time in printing the Government “Gazette.” A legend gained currency, and was repeated by writer after writer, each copying his equally ill-informed predecessor, that the Kingites melted the type into bullets to use in the war. The fact, however, is that the plant was returned to the Government very nearly complete. Sir John Gorst told me (1906) that some of Rewi's young men helped themselves to a little of the type as curiosities, but there could have been very little missing in that way. As for the “Hokioi” press, the Ngati-Maniapoto informed me that it was taken up from Ngaruawahia to Te Kopua for safe-keeping when the war began, and there it was lying, rusted and broken, when I last heard of it; some of the scattered type was now and again ploughed up on the bank of the Waipa.

Sir John Gorst, re-visiting New Zealand after forty-three years. set foot once more in Te Awamutu on 3rd December, 1906, and renewed his acquaintance with some of his old native pupils and travelled over the old familiar ground. He was welcomed with immense enthusiasm by pakeha and Maori alike, and there was a peculiarly pathetic touch in the speeches made by the few Maori survivors of the old regime in Waikato. Sir John, with Miss Gorst, visited Captain D. Bockett, one of the original military settlers of Rangiaowhia, who occupied the historic mission-house. He went through the old buildings and the well-remembered church. Then, with a large party, he visited Mr Andrew Kay at his farm at Otau-tahanga, and talked over the old Waikato days; and on the day's drive passed over the battlefields of Hairini, Rangiaowhia, and Orakau. At a great gathering at Te Awamutu to welcome “Te page 31 Kohi” one of the speakers was the veteran Tupotahi, one of the heroes of the Orakau defence; he had been a member of Aporo's war-party which invaded the Government station in 1863. Ngati-Maniapoto greeted with a quite extraordinary enthusiasm the distinguished manuhiri whom they had driven from their midst in the days of the racial quarrels, now happily buried for ever.

There was more than a touch of the poetic in the farewell to “Te Kohi” and his daughter at the railway station, Te Awamutu, when the venerable man bade good-bye for ever to his friends old and new. Two pretty native girls, Victoria and Ngahuia Kahu Hughes, daughters of William Hughes, of Kakepuku—one of Mr Gorst's old pupils at the mission station before the debacle of 1863—stood hand-in-hand on the platform and sang very sweetly this parting waiata:

Hoki hoki tonu mai
Te wairua a Te Kohi.
Kia awhi-reinga
Ki tenei kiri—ee—ii!
Ka huri koe i Te Awamutu
Ka tahuri whakamuri;
Mokemoke rere a te aroha—ee—ii!
Ka eke ki tereina,
Ka tahuri whakamuri;
Mokemoke te rere a te auahi—ee—ii!
Ka pinea korua
Ki te pine o te aroha,
Ki te pine e kore nei e waikura—ee—ii!


Return, return, the spirit of Te Kohi,
To greet me once again
In the shadowy land of dreams.
When you look your last on Te Awamutu
Send back your love to us,
To the lonely ones you ne'er will see again !
And as the railway bears you far away,
O backward turn your gaze;
Like the smoke that backward drifts—ah, me!
Farewell, a fond farewell !
We will pin you both to our hearts
With the pin of love,
The pin that will never rust!

It was a pathetic little song with something of the sentiment breathed in Tom Moore's beautiful old Irish melody:

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As slow our ship her foamy track
Against the wind was cleaving,
Her trembling pennant still looked back
To that dear isle ’twas leaving.
So loth we part from all we love,
From all the links that bind us;
So turn our hearts, where'er we rove,
To those we've left behind us.