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

First Court Sitting in Poverty Bay

First Court Sitting in Poverty Bay

Merely by chance a court sitting was held in Poverty Bay as early as 21 February, 1851. Mr. McLean, who was visiting the district, received, in his capacity of a Justice of the Peace, a petition (signed by J. W. Harris, T. U'Ren, senior, R. Espie, J. H. King and J. Dunlop) complaining that gunpowder was being sold by certain residents to the natives, and that, only on the previous day, there had been a transaction involving 15 lbs. Such sales, it was urged, should be stopped, “as they are not only a violation of the law, but may be the means of seriously endangering the lives and property of the Europeans.”

Upon Espie swearing to the truth of an information charging Thomas Halbert with selling gunpowder to a native named Paraone te Wae, Mr. McLean issued a summons requiring the accused to appear before him. He swore in U'Ren as a special constable and provided him with a search warrant authorising him “to seize any munitions of war he might find about the premises of the said Thomas Halbert.” A fine of £20 was imposed. Mr. McLean made it known that a reward of £5 would be paid to any native who furnished information concerning any future sale of powder.

Describing the sitting, Mr. McLean says that the attendance page 200 both of natives and Europeans was large; that the natives gave their evidence with directness; and that the respectful silence and the attention paid to the authorities was very noticeable. In a further entry (25/2/1851) he noted that he had learned that his decision had had a magical effect upon the natives. Many of them had since paid debts which had been given up for lost and were demanding from the traders what was due to them. However, on 22 March, Captain Harris (who, together with G. Rich and J. Dunlop, had been appointed as arbitrators to settle differences between Europeans and natives) complained to him that “some of the natives appear to suppose that your court was instituted for their benefit alone.”

According to W. L. Williams, H. S. Wardell was appointed first resident magistrate in 1855 at the express wish of a few chiefs who desired that steps should be taken to prevent the importation of spirits. His district extended from Mohaka to East Cape. In general, the natives did not welcome his presence. Whilst Mr. Wardell was talking the matter over with Lazarus he pointed out to him that the presence of a magistrate would be just as much in the interests of the natives as in those of the pakehas. Lazarus, after deep contemplation, replied: “There are two sorts of pigs—the tame kind and the wild kind,” meaning that Mr. Wardell would find that the pakehas would be much more amenable than the natives to a magistrate's influence. Mr. Wardell found that the Poverty Bay natives yielded obedience to the law, or defied it, just as it suited their purpose. On the other hand, the Waiapu natives desired the regular administration of the law in their midst.

In November, 1858, Mr. Wardell found it necessary to visit Puatai to enquire into a report that a pakeha named Fox, whilst suffering from delirium tremens, had murdered his pakeha mate. He interviewed four sawyers working in Pipiwhakao Bush and selected two to accompany him. It was then found that they worked for different employers and that the other two would have to remain idle until their mates returned. On that account he engaged all of the men. The prisoner was sent to Auckland.

How helpless Mr. Wardell was to enforce law and order may be gathered from some anecdotes reported in the Hawke's Bay Herald on 27 November, 1858. The case is cited of a pakeha who had refused to pay a fine of £10 for supplying spirits to a native. It was ordered that some cattle, which it was erroneously believed belonged to defendant, should be distrained. The real owners went to the “Government Paddock,” broke down the fences, and removed some cattle belonging to Mr. Wardell and others. In another case some natives, who had stolen goods to page 201 the value of £50, were fined £150, because it would have been too costly to send them to Auckland to serve a prison sentence. Nothing would induce them to pay the fine.