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


Natives Object to British Rule—Land Transactions Repudiated—Demand For Higher Prices For Produce—Rigid Control by Runangas (Native Councils).

The incipient symptoms of the grave unrest which marred relations between Europeans and natives in Poverty Bay and on the East Coast in the 1860's made their appearance at the opening of the previous decade. Not only did many of the natives continue to deny that they were subjects of Queen Victoria, but they also opposed the sale of any further land to Europeans and advocated the repudiation of all previous sales. Here, then, was fertile soil for the seeds of disaffection which afterwards spread far and wide consequent upon the establishment of land (antiselling) leagues in other districts, the setting up in the Waikato of a Maori king, the outbreak of war in Taranaki and in Waikato, the rise of Hauhauism and the Te Kooti revolt.

Discontent with the prices offered by the traders for produce became very marked in 1850. It was, of course, inevitable that, sooner or later, the natives everywhere would gain a better idea as to true values and become less open to exploitation. In the case of the Poverty Bay and East Coast natives, transition from gullible barterers to shrewd bargainers came almost overnight. The traders blamed the Rev. T. S. Grace for instructing the natives in business methods. Before he had joined the Church Missionary Society he had been a very successful businessman. On 1 October, 1850, he had come to Poverty Bay to deputize for W. Williams during his absence in England.

In his reports to the Church Missionary Society Mr. Grace explains the part which he took in advising the natives on the land question and with reference to business matters.

“I cannot help seeing,” he wrote in 1851, “that there was a providence in my being away from home at the time of the land agent's [Mr. McLean's] visit, as I learned from Mrs. Grace that he was most anxious for, and hoped to have, my co-operation. Had I been here, I must have come into direct contact with the gentleman and, through him, with the Government … I can do nothing but use any little influence I may have with the natives against the principle of the sale of their lands.”

Mr. Grace's report for 1852 is even more illuminating:

“The natives,” he states, “have attained a degree of [business] intelligence beyond what might have been expected in so short a period. Their motto is now: ‘Ploughs, sheep and ships,’ to establish a civilisation like unto that of the pakeha. I had had much conversation with some of them individually, but now they appear in a body to page 209 lay hold of these ideas with a giant grasp, and, so far, I must say they have continued to work them out with a steady determination such as I never thought them capable of.”

Even as late as June, 1858—five years after Mr. Grace had left Poverty Bay—the traders and settlers, in a petition to the Governor, returned to their attack upon him. At that time the runanga (native council) system of control was in full swing. The price of the previous season's wheat had been fixed by the natives at 12/- per bushel. Wheat had continued to soar in price throughout the decade, and, according to the petitioners, the natives believed that the advance had been due not to the increased demand that had arisen on account of the gold rush in California, followed by the rush in Australia, but to the fact that Mr. Grace had, in 1850, advised them “to hold back their produce, by which action they would cause prices in Auckland to rise.”

On the East Coast the natives also adopted price-fixing shortly after Mr. Grace's arrival in Poverty Bay, but nothing has been traced to show that he acted as their adviser. The Rev. C. Baker, in his journal (4 November, 1850), says:

“At Mataahu I found two Europeans in a state of fright from the circumstance of a native having been to them this morning with a firestick in one hand and a knife in the other. He had declared his intention of burning the house of one of them who is a Frenchman [French Louis] for the simple and sole reason of his having bought some corn contrary to some arbitrary law some of the Waiapu natives have made among themselves. It appears that some of them have made a confederation not to sell their produce except under fixed prices and these are too high for the English traders to purchase at. Other natives who have not entered the confederation maintain their right to sell at their own discretion….”

When Mr. Baker reached Korotere two days later he had a long talk with Porourangi and others on the subject of barter with the English. His diary note states: “He (Porourangi) has been a great originator of dissatisfaction on the part of the natives at the prices given by the Europeans. I told him that the demand must regulate prices here as elsewhere.”