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

Chapter XVII — The Old Land Claims

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Chapter XVII
The Old Land Claims

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.

Harris's Homestead Site

The earliest purchase of land in Poverty Bay was made by Captain J. W. Harris on 30 June, 1831. It was a property of a little over one acre, situated on the western bank of the Turanganui River between a creek (which joined the river close to the site now occupied by the Turanganui Hotel) and the southern boundary of Heipipi pa (now the site occupied by the chief post office, the Government Buildings and the Courthouse). Its vendors were: Paratene Turangi, Kahutia and others. The consideration was: 29 lbs. of powder, 1 axe, 48 pipes and 6 lbs. of tobacco. No written agreement was made at the time of the sale, but, when it became known, after British sovereignty had been proclaimed, that all pakeha claims to land would require to be investigated, the vendors, on 1 November, 1840, signed a memorandum of sale. Here, Harris built a house and store, first in Maori fashion, and then in wood. It is believed that these structures were the first to be erected in wood in Poverty Bay.

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When the Poverty Bay Crown Grants Commission sat in 1869, Paratene and Kahutia were dead and Paora (a younger brother of Kahutia) opposed the claim. He averred that Harris had received permission merely to occupy the land. If the claimant had paid any money for it, he (witness) would have been given a share. Asked if he had any witnesses to support his protest, Paora walked abruptly out of the court. Henare Turangi (a relative of Paratene) upheld the claim and Wi Pere, who had intended to oppose it, withdrew his opposition. A Crown grant was awarded.

A property known as “Wai-o-ngaruwai,” which stood at the junction of the Taruheru River with the Turanganui River, was acquired by Captain Harris and Robert Espie from Kahutia on 5 May, 1838. It comprised 2 ac. 1 rd. 14 p. On the sale note Harris was described as “late of New South Wales” and Espie as “late of Van Diemen's Land.” The consideration was: 50 lbs. of powder, 5 lbs. of tobacco, one musket and one blanket “of a total value of £10 in lawful money of Great Britain and Ireland.” Kahutia attached his name to the agreement by means of a cross and the witnesses were: Thomas Halbert, Wm. Brown, Richard Horsely and Paratene Turangi. An endorsement read: “Signed, sealed and delivered; no stamps being used and none to be obtained.”

Harris described the land as under: “Bounded on north side by the Wai taruharu River; on the east side by that part of the river called Wai Turanganui; and on the south and west sides by a native fenced village [Heipipi].” He added that he had built a weather-boarded store, cottage and other buildings and fences on the land. Samuel Loane bought the property on 15 May, 1857, but it fell back into Captain Harris's hands and, subsequently, was acquired by Captain Read “on a settlement of a/cs.” Captain Read added other buildings, built a jetty alongside and established his main place of business there. A Crown grant was awarded to him in 1869.

The claim which was most strenuously opposed was that which was made by Captain W. B. (“Barney”) Rhodes to a block of 300 acres, lying between Karaua Creek and the edge of Poverty Bay, and known as “Karaua.” He said that the purchase was made in February, 1840, in the name of Daniel Cooper, of London, merchant; James Holt, of Sydney, merchant; and of himself. The consideration was: four blankets, three guns, ten pairs of duck trousers, ten shirts and £4 in money. His vessel, the Eleanor, was at the time lying off Wherowhero. He also bought, for two pairs of blankets and two shirts, a property of 1½ acres at Wharetunoa, Muriwai. Both properties were perambulated page 141 by himself, several other Europeans and the vendors, and marked by having holes dug and filled with charcoal.

Matenga Tamaioreao testified that the sale was made by himself and others, without consultation with the chiefs, because he had been left out of the distribution of goods made by another buyer in payment for another property. “I sold it,” he added, “in mistake or foolishly (pohehe); the land was not mine to sell.” Raharuhi (“Lazarus”) Rukupo confirmed this statement. The sale, he said, had taken place whilst he and other chiefs, together with between 200 and 300 members of the tribe, were away negotiating the sale of another property. In consequence of the sale, one of the vendors had been driven away. Witness's predecessor (Te Waaka Mangere) had refused to accept any portion of the payment.

The counter-claimant (Keita Waere, or Kate Wyllie) maintained that the land had been given to her by Te Otene te Whare. On behalf of Rhodes it was submitted that, as Te Whare was a Hauhau, any transaction between him and Mrs. Wyllie must be held to be illegal. Mrs. Wyllie admitted that Te Whare was a rebel, and that he was killed during the Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika, but she contended that there was no proof that he was a rebel when he made the gift to her.

It was held by the Commission that Mrs. Wyllie's claim must fail on the ground that Te Whare was one of the party which had previously sold the land to Rhodes and because the deed of gift to her was executed immediately prior to the donor going openly into rebellion. An area of thirty acres (including Pakirikiri) was cut out and awarded to Raharuhi Rukupo.

One of the most important land deals, at the outset of pakeha settlement in Poverty Bay, was the acquisition by Thomas Halbert of a block known as “Pouparae” on 18 December, 1839. His claim, which was dated 4 November, 1840, stated that the property contained 1,004 acres, and that the consideration in cash and goods represented £315, made up of: Cash £80, four d.b. fowling pieces, 40 shirts, 36 axes, 32 plane irons, 60 blankets, 36 iron pots, 24 hoes, 400 lbs. of gunpowder, 10 pieces of print, 500 lbs. of tobacco, 36 hatchets, 130 razors, 30 knives, 40 spades, and 22 pairs of scissors. The property, he said, was being used for rearing pigs for export. Witnesses to the sale were: J. M. Jury, John Campbell and Frederick Spooner. “Pouparae” was the block upon which Barnet Burns had “squatted” in 1832.

When the transaction came before Commissioner Bell in 1859, the native witnesses agreed that Wi Pere, one of Halbert's sons, had been intended by them to benefit from it. Halbert scouted the suggestion. Wi Haronga said that his father had agreed to the page 142 sale, but that his mother had opposed it, and that, in her anger, she had burned down the house of a pakeha named “John” [perhaps John Campbell, one of the witnesses to the signatures]. In a memorandum dated 6 April, 1871, Mr. Alfred Domett (who had been Premier in 1862–63) expressed the opinion that the land had originally been set apart, or sold to Halbert, for the maintenance of Wi Pere.

On 26 July, 1841, Halbert sold the block to the Rev. W. Williams and Captain Harris. Later, Harris disposed of his share to his clerical partner. When the claim came up for consideration in 1869, Wi Pere withdrew his opposition and a Crown Grant was issued to Bishop W. Williams. The area of the block was then estimated at slightly less than 500 acres.

Prices of Goods in 1839

An interesting feature of a land claim which Captain George Thomas Clayton (then of the Bay of Islands) presented on 10 December, 1840, was that he went to the trouble to set out the prices of the goods which he had used, on 17 December, 1839, to barter for a property, which was described as of 1,201 acres “in Poverty Bay, bounded by the native landmarks specified in the deed of purchase, and lying adjacent to and on the north side of that which Cooper, Holt and Rhodes subsequently bought at Karaua.” The vendor's name was given as Ko Pera Huka [Perohuka] and it was sold “in the name of and on behalf of the tribe.”

The goods which formed the consideration were valued at £341/9/- and included:. 500 lbs. of powder at 2/- per lb.; 40 iron pots at 10/-; 12 pairs of trousers at 5/-; 12 shirts at 5/-; 5 red shirts at 7/-; 4 pieces of print at 40/-; 20 handkerchiefs at 2/-; 56 lbs. of pig lead at 1/-; 9 gross of pipes at 12/-; 20 pairs of superior blankets at 60/-; 20 wood axes at 7/-; 20 hoes at 7/-; 20 spades at 7/-; 560 lbs. of tobacco at 5/-; 10 muskets at 25/-; one superior d.b. piece at £12; and sundry other property subsequently tendered.

Clayton indicated on his claim that he had erected several buildings for the curing of bacon, the preparing of pork and the collection of corn [maize] and that he had put down a quantity of land in grasses on which cattle were feeding. [There is no earlier reference to the sowing of grass in Poverty Bay.] The improvements (exclusive of cattle) had cost him “upwards of £1,100.” On 30 May, 1845, Francis Hodgkinson, who was about to pay a visit to England, notified the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales that he had taken over Clayton's interests and inquired when the claim was likely to be heard. Hodgkinson, in page 143 turn, sold to one Campbell [probably, Captain Alex. Campbell]. On 21 April, 1874, the Poverty Bay Standard stated:

“Those of the tribe who had not been consulted, and who had not derived any monetary benefit from the original transaction, subscribed £330 which was paid to Campbell [in 1851], and he then carried out a promise to cancel the sale to himself in favour of the natives. Subsequently, the land went through the Native Land Court and Rapata Whakapuhia, who had not subscribed to the fund to redeem the land, sold it to Major Westrup for £150….”

Clayton also submitted a claim (gazetted on 27 January, 1844) in respect of one acre more or less which, he stated, he had bought on 10 January, 1840. The land was described as being situated in Poverty Bay “upon the river Werawera [Whero-whero]” and as “being surrounded by a mudflat.” It was, he added, known to Europeans as “Morgan's Island.” Perohuka was given as the vendor, and the improvements were described as “large native buildings for stores and outhouses for receiving and curing meat, etc.” When the claim was renewed on 28 August, 1872, the islet was referred to as “Morgan's Land.” No early resident of the name “Morgan” has been traced; he might have worked at Harris's whaling station. An islet is shown in the Wherowhero Lagoon on the survey plan for 1880, but it does not appear on the 1870 plan. What became known as “Zinker's Island” could, therefore, not have been “Morgan's Island,” which, it would seem, disappeared before 1870.


Daniel Cooper (of Cooper and Holt, of Sydney) was conspicuous in the establishment of Australia's dairy export trade. Upon receiving a knighthood he left Australia in 1856 to settle in England. For the personal use of himself and his family on the voyage he took with him some salt butter in earthenware jars. The experiment proved so successful that he arranged with the settler to whom had sold a dairy farm for regular shipments to be made to him in casks. It was then worth 1/6 per lb. in London, but only 4d. per lb. in Sydney.

According to Terry's New Zealand (London: 1842), Daniel Cooper claimed to have bought 2,246,000 acres in New Zealand. The Rev. (later Bishop) W. Williams wrote to Willoughby Shortland (Colonial Secretary) under date 8 May, 1840, as follows:

“I take this occasion to send for the information of His Excellency the Governor some account of a most nefarious transaction which took place in January last, being an attempt on the part of a Captain Rhodes, of the barque Eleanor of Sydney, to dupe the natives out of a tract of land extending from Port Nicholson (Wellington) to the northern side of Ahuriri in Hawke's Bay and, again, from the north bank of the Wairoa River to the north of Table Cape (Mahia). For this land, embracing a coastline of about 160 miles, and intended, no doubt, to extend as far into the interior as may be convenient, property to the amount of about £160 has been paid to the natives…. Most of the native proprietors have never been consulted, and the transaction should not be recognised.”
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Earliest Land Claims: Poverty Bay and East Coast
Locality. Original Buyer or Donee. Date. Area. (Acres) Consideration. Claimant. Award.
Hicks Bay W. Stewart 1825 500 Goods W. Stewart Voided
Turanganui No. 1 J. W. Harris 1831 1 J. W. Harris Granted
Poverty Bay (S.W. side) R. Palmer 1832 5,000 & cash £52 R. Palmer Rejected
Wai-o-ngaruawai Harris & Espie 1838 2 (£10) G. E. Read Granted
St. Patrick's Cove, Mawhai R. Espie 1838 100 (£16) R. Espie Rejected
Whareponga 1839 300 Gift
Tutoko A. Selvey 1839 64 Goods (£12) Wyllie Children Granted
Opou III J. W. Harris 1839 57 J. W. Harris
Te Kupenga T. Halbert 1839 4 (£15) W. S. Greene
No. 1 1845 10 Gift
No. 2 1845 25 Horse J. Dunlop
East Cape T. Bateman 1839 2/5,000 Goods (£100) F. Whitaker Disallowed
Tahuni-o-rangi T. Halbert 1839 15 Goods R. Read Granted
Te Rua-o-taua, etc. G. T. Clayton 1839 1,201 (£341) Natives Rebought in 1851
Pouparae T. Halbert 1839 1,000 Goods & Cash W. Williams Granted
Morgan's Id. G. T. Clayton 1840 1 Goods
Matawhero III W. Brown 1840 58 Gift G. E. Read Granted
Tangotete P. Simpson 5 Steel Mill Natives Rebought part in 1859
Tangotete T. Halbert 1840's 69
Karaua Cooper, Holt and Rhodes 1840 321 Goods and £4 W. B. Rhodes Granted
Wharetunoa „ „ 1840 1 Goods W. B. Rhodes
Huruhuruhuta M. Yule 1840's 4 Coat, etc. G. E. Read
Papawhariki J. W. Harris 1840 200 Gift Harris's Children Outside ceded area
Tutae-o-rewanga R. Espie 1843 154 Goods J. E. Espie Granted
Matawhero IV J. W. Harris 1843 319 Pt. Gift, Goods G. E. Read
Kaiariki No. 1 T. U'ren Senr. 1843 22 Gift Greene's Children
No. 2 „ „ 1843 7 Pt. Gift „ „
No. 3 „ „ 1843 7 Gift „ „
Wainui, Pt. No. 2 W. S. Greene 27 Gift „ „
J. W. Harris 50 Pt. Gift, Goods Harris's Sons
Matawhero II T. Norcross 1845 51 Goods R. Poulgrain
Mangamoteo T. U'ren Senr. 1845 200 Mare and Cow T. U'ren Junr.
Huiatoa C. G. Goldsmith 1854 17 Gift R. Goldsmith
Kopuakairongoua R. Newnham 1850's 4 Goods, etc. Executor
Tauparapara Cadle and Blair 2 A. Blair