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The Maori King

Chapter XIV — Rumours of War

page 184

Chapter XIV
Rumours of War

No progress was made by Sir George Grey's plans in settling any of the matters in dispute between the Maories and the English Government. The Waitara still remained in the occupation of our troops, and Wiremu Kingi was obstinate in his determination to reject all proposals for investigation into the title. It was in vain that his European friends, who had upheld his cause against the late Governor, represented that their advocacy had been based on the assumption that no opportunity had been given him of appealing to any impartial tribunal, and that, such an opportunity being now offered, his refusal to avail himself of it was shaming all who had supported him. Wiremu was stolidly indifferent to every remonstrance. ‘Waitara is in my hands. I will not give it up’ was his ultimatum to Colonel Browne, and it was his ultimatum still. His reply to every one who argued the question with him was, ‘If Governor Grey wants peace, let him give back Waitara to me.’

Rewi and the Ngatimaniapoto chiefs, with whom Wiremu Kingi was living, half-guest, half-prisoner, were delighted at his firmness. Rewi never liked either the award of Wiremu Tamihana, or the stoppage of the war at Taranaki, and had striven from the very first to upset the one and re-commence the other. He now declared that Wiremu Tamihana's proposal had never been carried out; Tamihana had said, ‘Let all parties withdraw, and let Waitara be left under the protection of the law,’ whereas the Governor's soldiers still held in their possession, page 185 not only Waitara, but other native lands—lands that had been placed under the Maori King—to which the Governor had no sort of claim. As for Tataraimaka, it was held by the Maories, said Rewi, as a security for the Maori land in the Governor's possession, and would be given up whenever that was restored. Rewi denied that the absolute disposal of Waitara was in Tamihana's hands; whatever the latter proposed would be considered by himself and Wiremu Kingi, and if it did not appear good to them, they should keep Waitara in spite of it. The best way Rewi could see of settling the dispute, was by the English Government confessing their error, and restoring Waitara to the lawful owners.

Wiremu Tamihana himself was very reluctant to stir in the matter at all; he had, he said, little hope of getting his proposals adopted by the rest, and when there were so many grounds of quarrel unsettled between Pakeha and Maori, what good was there, he asked, in making himself unpopular, by advocating a trial about Waitara, in opposition to the wishes of his countrymen? Suppose the Waitara dispute was settled, the strife about the King would still remain. It was quite plain that Sir George Grey intended war; his Pakeha friends might talk to him about the commercial advantages of roads, but he knew Sir George Grey better than they. The road from Drury to Mangatawhiri was being made, to bring great guns to the Waikato river, and for no other purpose. A letter was sent to Tamihana by the tribes of Hawke's Bay, who had sympathized warmly with Wiremu Kingi during the Taranaki war, expressing their surprise at the Governor's offer of legal investigation being refused, and urging Tamihana to accept it. This letter never got beyond Kihikihi, where it was read by Rewi, who prudently determined to let it go no further. Tamihana was, however, informed of the letter and its contents, and that all his friends wondered at his inaction, and were beginning to doubt the sincerity of his proposals at Waitara. To these representations he at last yielded, and formally proposed that the Governor's offer about Waitara should be accepted; but as he had foretold, only a few would listen to him, and the majority sided with Rewi.

In the mean time, Sir George Grey's military road was rapidly progressing. The old one, designed and partially made by the Provincial Government, came direct to Te Ia, where the page 186 Mangatawhiri joins Waikato. But while completing the old design, Sir George Grey added thereto a new branch, which diverged at a distance of three miles from the Waikato, and was thence carried in a direction pointing up the country, until, on arriving at the bank of the Mangatawhiri, at some distance from Waikato, it came to an abrupt end. As soon as this new road was finished, timber was conveyed along it to the bank of the Mangatawhiri, to make a landing-stage: the Maories thought a bridge was to be built at once, and their excitement became intense; but the Governor assured them he had no intention of building a bridge until the following year, by which time he was sure their opposition would be withdrawn. A large fort, called the Queen's Redoubt, capable of containing 1,000 men, was constructed in the midst of the plain, near the termination of the new branch; and a second fort, in which it was reported that cannon would be mounted, was built upon a bluff, overlooking and commanding the Waikato river at Te Ia, the end of the old road. These works proved to the Maories how correct had been their original suspicion of the purposes for which the Governor's operations had been designed.

But a project for a second road, to be made not on Crown but on Maori territory, produced still more excitement and alarm. Wiremu Nera and his tribe had been persuaded to consent to a road being made from Raglan, through the forest ranges, to Whatawhata on the Waipa: the Government eagerly offered to supply money and employ Nera's natives at high wages in its construction. When the project became known to the Waikatos, they were greatly concerned: the peril was extreme: the intended road, if made, would place Ngaruawahia at the mercy of troops landed at Raglan. For months, meetings were held between Nera's tribe and other natives who had, or asserted, claims upon the land over which the road was to pass. Every influence was brought to bear upon the road-makers to persuade them to abandon the project, but in vain. At last, a day was fixed upon which the work of cutting down trees along the line was to be commenced on the Whatawhata side of the ranges. Rewi and his men began to arm, King's soldiers were assembled, and war-meetings were held at various places on the Waikato. Things went so far, that a party, with guns and ammunition, actually set off from Kihikihi to fire upon Nera's men; but, on arriving page 187 in Whatawhata, they met a stern message from Tamihana, saying that Wiremu Nera was his father's companion in arms, and that any one who attacked the old man would also have to fight Ngatihaua and their chief. The question about the road, said Tamihana, was between Nera's tribe and the Ngatihaua, and would be sooner settled if the Kihikihi warriors would go back and mind their own business. The crest-fallen war-party, on meeting such a rebuff, had no alternative but to sneak home again. Yet the opposition to the road, though carried on without further warlike demonstration, was as strong as ever. Tamihana wrote a most eloquent letter, begging Wiremu Nera to abandon a scheme that would place Waikato at the Governor's mercy; and Te Paea with her own hands pulled up the stakes which had been used to mark out the road. Finally, Nera, finding that he had all Waikato against him, and that he could get no pledge from the English Government of support in arms, made up his mind to begin at the Raglan end, upon Queen's land. To this all agreed. A road from Raglan to the sea-slopes of the dividing range would not much hurt Waikato, and, being on Crown land, could not with justice be opposed. Nera got his men employed at 3s. 6d. a day, which was what he and they most cared about. The Government, though spending large sums with a very inadequate return in the shape of labour, purchased a great deal of very demonstrative loyalty from Nera's tribe. Thus all parties were for a while satisfied.

During the whole time that the leaders of the King party were thus disturbed by threats from without, they had to struggle also against dangers from within. The Waikato district was in a state of lawlessness, which made collision between different tribes, as well as war with the Pakeha, daily imminent. The young men who had fought at Taranaki roamed about the country with arms in their hands, tyrannizing over Maories and Europeans, seizing cattle and horses on the most flimsy pretexts, and paying not the slightest respect to either King or Queen. The principal chiefs, who had lost all their power, still clung to the authority which their King nominally possessed, but which his Council dared not exercise lest the whole fabric of their Government should break down, and their interference result in internal war. To cure this state of anarchy, the Colonial Government was appointing officers at random, frequently men of page 188 neither education nor good manners, who went about the country giving away large salaries to their favourites among the natives, and calling their proceedings ‘the establishment of law and order.’ To the lawlessness of the ‘organized’ districts the Government was wilfully blind; but what they would not see, the Maories jealously scrutinized, and refused to exchange their King, weak though he was, for a system which, in their eyes, had so evidently broken down.

The Runanga of Kihikihi, in particular, constituted itself patron of all malefactors whose misdeeds exhibited contempt for Pakehas, or defiance of the English Government. ‘Yes!’ said Ngata, a tall hairy chief, with a merry face, who had fought like a lion at Taranaki, and was eager to fight again—‘It is quite true! We are much worse than we ever were before. We are showing off our independence.’ Ngata, when he made this confession, was spending the day galloping about Otawhao, from one European's house to another, announcing, with great glee, that his Runanga had passed a law the night before, that every horse, cow, or sheep, that got out of the Pakeha's fences, if only for five minutes, was to pay a fine of sixpence; and that he and his comrades were going to spend their leisure in watching the fences, and pouncing on the stray animals. All this was said without the least passion or malevolence, as rather a good joke; and, after gossiping awhile on current events, Ngata rode down to Te Awamutu, to consult the magistrate on a point of law incident to a case coming before the Kihikihi Runanga the next evening.

Ngata had just before been ‘showing off his independence’ by stopping Her Majesty's mail. He had quarrelled with the Rev. J. Morgan, 1 the postmaster, about the pay he was to receive for carrying the Napier mail-bag, and thereupon declared that no man should carry the mail over his land until his demands were acceded to. After the Napier mail had several times slipped past Kihikihi, in the bags that were to be carried to Taupo, Rotorua, and elsewhere, Ngata grew so angry, that he extended his prohibition to all mail-bags whatsoever, and gave due notice thereof to the postmaster. The next mail-man tried to traverse Kihikihi by night; but Ngata, who was on the look-out, pounced upon him, and carried him, bag and all, before the Runanga. The assembly gave the mail-man some tea, set the bag on end

1 [John Morgan (1810-65), Church Missionary Society missionary.]

page 189 in the midst, and, sitting around, held a solemn court thereupon. It was unanimously resolved that the postmaster should be fined £5 for his breach of injunction and attempt to over-reach them; and that the bag should be retained until the fine was paid. Ngata rode down, next day, to announce the sentence to Mr Morgan, and used all his powers of persuasion to induce him to pay the £5, but in vain. It was, of course, quite in Ngata's power to have seized upon property to the value of five pounds; but he never did so, and retains the leather bag, stuffed with old newspapers (the letters were safe in the mail-man's pockets), to the present day.

Ngata and his lawless rollicking comrades soon ceased to feel any animosity against me, though I had been forced in amongst them as magistrate. They found the peaceful measures recommended by Tamihana and the King's Runanga, as a substitute for violence, eminently successful in reducing me to a condition of perfect harmlessness. They ceased entirely to express any wish for my expulsion. On one occasion, I rode 150 miles, to rescue a flock of 500 sheep, belonging to an Englishman, out of the hands of some half-dozen Maori depredators among the hills, and was finally referred, by the Runanga of Ngaruawahia, to a couple of young fellows, about twenty-two years old, who, in the absence of Rewi, called themselves ‘the Runanga of Kihikihi.’ They told me to mind my own business, and leave them to settle the matter. It is fair to add, that they threatened to bring a war-party on the thieves, who were thereby frightened into restoring the greater part of the flock. Only once did a Maori venture to bring a case into court. On this, the defendant, who was a half-caste, 1 at once appealed to the Kihikihi Runanga for aid, saying that his mother was of their race, and he was an adherent of their King. The appeal was successful: a large party came down to the trial, denied the jurisdiction of the court, and by main force carried off the defendant. No notice was taken by the Government of this act; and the half-caste who so successfully set the authority of the law at defiance did, and does still, visit the English settlements with perfect impunity.

1 [His name was George Gage. The incident occurred in April 1862. In 1861 Gage had been tried by Reihana and had claimed exemption from the jurisdiction of the King's magistrate on the ground that he was a European. (AJHR, 1862, E-9, III, p. 8. Cf. an account in the Southern Cross, 30 July, 1864, which criticises Gorst's handling of this case.)]

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The Government of the Maori King, however, took more notice of the affair. The rescue was discussed at a large meeting, held on the Piako, when both Wiremu Tamihana and Ti Oriori argued that the rescue had been illegal. In this opinion the whole assembly, including Rewi himself, agreed. A collection was therefore made, and the sum of five pounds was subscribed, to be offered as a recompense to the English Government for the offence. This sum was unwisely entrusted to Rewi, who, instead of carrying out the intentions of the subscribers, appropriated it to some purpose the exact nature of which I could never discover.

The meeting on the Piako, here alluded to, was so universally attended by the King's adherents, that the villages on the Waikato were deserted during the fortnight it lasted. The meeting was an important one, and produced grave results. The cause of its assembling was as follows.

The citizens of Auckland, excited by the news of the rich gold-fields discovered at the other extremity of New Zealand, in the province of Otago, found, or thought they had found, a rival gold-field in a mountainous promontory on the eastern side of the Hauraki gulf, called Coromandel. The most extravagant accounts of its richness were published in the Auckland newspapers, and became immediately notorious to the Waikatos. Unfortunately, the richest veins were supposed to lie in Maori land, which the owners would not either sell, let, or even suffer to be examined, for any sum of money offered. The Auckland public began to put a pressure upon the Colonial Ministers, who made the most vigorous efforts to induce the native owners either to sell or let the land, but in vain. The press began to advocate force, and the diggers to talk of taking the law into their own hands, and driving both Maories and Government off the place. It was exactly a case in which the King party felt bound to interfere and protect their countrymen from injustice. They therefore endeavoured to persuade the owners of Coromandel to hand over the land to their league, by promising to protect them, if attacked. With this view a meeting was called at the mouth of the Piako, on the shores of Hauraki, which was attended by the King with a large bodyguard of soldiers, and by nearly every native from Waikato. On both the European and Maori side, war was thought to be imminent; a rush of diggers from Otago was expected, to ‘prospect’ the supposed auriferous page 191 country; and it was then thought that the owners would be forced into the Maori King-league in order to obtain protection, and that a collision between the diggers and the King's forces would ensue. The Government, in their alarm, could do nothing more than continue their efforts to acquire peaceably the territory which they feared their white subjects would otherwise seize by force.

The peril was most happily averted by the tact of the Governor. The obstinate owners were few, and the chief of them a woman: it was just a case in which personal influence could tell. Sir George Grey was hastily summoned up from the South, where he was engaged in visiting his old friend Wi Tako, and discovering how general was the native discontent, and how wide were the ramifications of the ‘King movement.’ He went down to Coromandel, and persuaded the hitherto obstinate owners to do just what he wished. A large sum of money was paid for the right to dig gold on land which, as it afterwards turned out, was not worth digging; and the Maori King and his army, finding themselves out-manœuvred, retired.1

A newspaper, called Te Hokioi, published at Ngaruawahia, in Maori, by the King party, soon after printed a very angry letter, which the Governor had sent to the King, finding fault with his going to Hauraki. The Governor said he should not permit Matutaera to march about the country with men whom he chose to call his soldiers, to the great terror of all welldisposed persons; a time would soon come when punishment should be inflicted for these evil deeds. The letter was published by the Maories, in conjunction with a reply, to the effect that, if the Governor would point out the portion of Queen's territory which had been invaded by the King and his forces, or let them know the European settlement which had been terrified, or the individual man who had suffered any damage from the soldiers going to Hauraki, the Maories would be ready to pay compensation for their conduct; but if nobody had been harmed, it was idle to talk of punishing the King for his evil deeds.

This letter of Sir George Grey produced at least one important result. It confirmed the opinion which was entertained by all the Waikatos, that the Governor was as strongly opposed to the

1 [This incident was reported in Grey to Newcastle, 29 June, 1862, No. 69 (GBPP, 1863, HC/467). This goldfield eventually proved quite profitable.]

page 192 Maori King as his predecessor had been, and that they would very probably have ultimately to fight for their independence.

In a letter written by Matutaera Potatau to the natives of Hawke's Bay, on August 21, 1863, six weeks after the invasion of Waikato, this passage occurs:— ‘Friends: The Governor has not only now made up his mind. He took his determination when I went to Hauraki. Though it was to Taranaki he went, his thoughts were all the time intent on Waikato.’