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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.


Early Purchases in Poverty Bay and on the East Coast—Alleged Deal at Hicks Bay in 1825—Trouble in Establishing Titles—Natives Adopt Obstructive Tactics.

Prior to the erection of the colony in 1840, only a small number of land transactions had taken place between Europeans and natives in Poverty Bay, and fewer still on the East Coast. All claims had to be sent to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales. Some were investigated by Colonel E. L. Godfrey (who had served under the Duke of Wellington) during his visit to the East Coast districts in 1844. Commissioner Dillon Bell (father of Sir F. D. Bell) made a visit in December, 1859, but obstructive tactics on the part of repudiationists among the natives prevented him from making any real progress. He told Captain Harris and others that it might be better to delay matters until the illfeeling which had led to the disputes had died down.

Only about thirty claims were presented when the Rogan-Monro Commission sat at Gisborne in 1869. Others had either been rejected by earlier commissioners, or had been abandoned. As part of a plan to have all the early transactions quashed, objections were raised by natives to each of them. In every case, inquiry was directed to ascertain the date when the property had passed from the natives. Some of the original pakeha buyers were dead; others had left the district; and, in a number of instances, properties had changed hands several times. It was pleaded, in some cases, that the agreements had been produced before Commissioner Bell in 1859, and that they were among the public documents which were lost when the White Swan foundered on 29 June, 1862, about seventeen miles south of Castlepoint. In some other cases, it was explained that the missing documents had been destroyed in homes set on fire by Hauhaus in 1865 or by Te Kooti rebels in 1868. As a rule, however, there was found to be sufficient verbal proof to enable the history of a claim to be reconstructed.

The earliest claim in respect to a purchase of land on the East Coast dates back to a transaction which was alleged to have taken place in 1825. It was put in by Captain William Stewart (of Stewart Island fame) in 1844. He was then a resident of Mercury Bay. The property was described as being of 500 acres more or less and as known as “Warika Hika [Wharekahika, or Hicks Bay] situate at or near East Cape.” No indication was page 139 supplied as to its boundaries. Stewart alleged that he had purchased it from chiefs named Takaioki, To Toeringa and Pura-haki. The consideration was stated to have been a quantity of merchandise, but the total value was not shown. Claimant added that a native ornament had been given to him in proof of sale. A Crown Grant was issued to Stewart, but in November, 1845, it was called in, and, not being produced, the transaction was declared void on the ground of uncertainty. Stewart also submitted claims to properties at Akaroa (bought in 1825), Tauranga (1825) and Hokianga (1826).

All the other early claims to land on the East Coast were also rejected. Frederick (later Sir F.) Whitaker unsuccessfully put in a claim to 2,000–5,000 acres at “East Cape” which, he stated, had been bought by Captain Thomas Bateman on 16 December, 1839, for £100. Bateman swore that the original document was lost when the Trent was driven ashore at Coromandel in November, 1843. Whitaker did not say how or when he came by the property. Pre-emptive claims by John Hart and William Christie to lands at “East Cape” were also disallowed.

Two claims were made by Robert Espie: (1) to 100 acres at St. Patrick's Cove, Mawhai, which, he stated, he had bought in May, 1838, from a chief named Pati for 50 lbs. of powder, a piece of dungaree and four pieces of calico, the total value being £16; and (2) on behalf of his daughter Margaret to 300 acres at Warepunga [Whareponga] which, he said, had been given to her in June, 1839, by Tueki, the wife of a chief. The Land Commissioners decided not to recommend the issue of Crown grants to Espie, because he had failed to appear before them at Auckland.