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

Chapter XXIV — Disaffection Precedes Bloodshed

page 208

Chapter XXIV
Disaffection Precedes Bloodshed

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.”

Pakeha-Maori Relations Deteriorate

The relations between Europeans and natives deteriorated very appreciably during 1851. In order that they might obtain the full market price for their produce in Auckland, both the natives of Poverty Bay and those on the East Coast began to acquire fleets of small schooners and cutters so that they might transport it themselves. Thefts by natives became common, and the stripping of a pakeha's property not an infrequent occurrence. Writing to Mr. McLean, Captain Harris (24/3/1851) cites a dispute which was occasioning much difficulty. The natives claimed page 210 to have sold to Robert Espie 340 baskets of potatoes. Espie acknowledged the receipt of only 200 baskets, and counterclaimed for six umbrellas. Acting as arbitrators, Harris and Rich decided, and the natives agreed, that Espie's offer of 100 yards of calico should be accepted in full settlement. When the potatoes were sold the market price was 500 baskets for 100 yards of calico. The natives went back on the settlement. “I understand,” Harris added, “that Mr. Grace says that the payment offered is not nearly enough, and I cannot but think that it would be well if that gentleman would confine himself to his religious duties and not interfere in matters that have been quietly settled.

In a letter to Mr. McLean (12 June, 1851) Harris expressed regret that the excitement caused by Mr. Grace's action in advising the natives to make a charge of 5/- per year for grass consumed by each head of pakeha-owned stock had not subsided. Horses had been stolen from P. Simpson, J. H. King and R. Espie. He added: “Lazarus informs me that it has been mooted by Waaka Perohuka that the Europeans should be turned out of the district. Perohuka (he says) has plenty of ammunition and is inclined for a brush. Either the Government must obtain the land here or we must leave. Written agreements with the natives here are useless, except as binding the European. The principal parties to the outrages have been: Perohuka, Paiaio, Wiremu Kingi, Ruatapu, Piri Turuka and Manutai.”

On 10 September, 1851, Harris could only report that conditions had worsened:

“A runanga,” he wrote, “has determined upon charging vessels a fee for entering the river … They would not let the schooner Wellington have water at a lower rate than 2/6 per bucket … Kahutia told me that he intended to resume my Turanganui property as, he said, I had had it long enough … They have sent a letter to the Governor for advice on the following matters: (1) What they are to charge per ton for all vessels entering the rivers; (2) what they are to charge for water; (3) what prices they should obtain for wheat (they want 10/- per bushel) and for pork; and, lastly, whether they ought to turn all the Europeans away. Nevertheless, they say (kind creatures that they are!) that they should be sorry to have to drive us away.
“They also wish the Government to appoint some person to arrange all difficulties which may arise here. This would be a most excellent plan if they would abide by that party's decisions. Captain Cole gave Rawiri £5 for the right to repair the Queen in the Turanganui River, but the natives are demanding £400. In effect, they are doing all they can to annoy us. They talk of making us pay for our boats and canoes going up and down the rivers and for driving sledges across the country. I am happy to say that Lazarus is behaving very well, taking our part in all these affairs. Most sincerely do I trust His Excellency will purchase this district. I think a large portion of it will soon be offered.”
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Many of the natives in Poverty Bay did not sow any wheat in 1851. Mr. Grace says that their inactivity was due, in large measure, to their inability to obtain ploughs. According to the traders, however, much of their previous season's crop still remained on their hands, as they had rejected the price offered for it.

Te Kani-a-Takirau and the Maori Kingship

Many conjectures have been made as to why the Poverty Bay and East Coast tribes stood aloof from the Maori king movement in 1856 and 1857, seeing that most of their members denied allegiance to Queen Victoria. Mr. Wardell, R.M., was of the opinion that it was because they were jealous of the Waikato tribes. He says that the chiefs along the East Coast did discuss the propriety of appointing a king of their own, but that rivalry among the principal leaders prevented them from doing so. Te Kani had died in 1856.

James Cowan informed the writer that, when Tamihana Kuta and Matene te Whiwhi began their crusade in 1852 in support of the appointment of a Maori king, Te Kani was, he understood, the first great chief to whom the kingship was offered. At any rate, his name was mentioned as that of a suitable chief for the position. Personally, he had never made any inquiries on the subject from the East Coast natives. He added that Potatau te Wherowhero was chosen at Taupo in 1856, and that his appointment was confirmed in the Waikato in 1857. On the other hand, the Rev. T. S. Grace (then stationed at Pukawa, Taupo) states, in his annual report for 1856, that no selection was made at the Maori Congress in 1856. He adds: “Our great chief (Te Heuheu), whom they wished to appoint, declared himself on the side of the Queen.”

Among the East Coast natives it is firmly believed that Te Kani was approached. One of their versions states that the envoys were Tamihana and Matene and another that Te Heuheu himself visited Uawa. No reference to any such visit appears in the writings either of W. Williams or of W. L. Williams. J. G. Baker (a son of the Rev. C. Baker) was emphatic that, long before hostilities broke out in Taranaki or in Waikato, deputations from Taupo, Waikato and elsewhere visited Te Kani, whose reply was that it would be impossible for anyone to confer upon him a title greater than that which was his birthright, and, therefore, he could not accept any new—and what to him would be only a hollow—title!

A monster runanga was held at Poverty Bay on 21 May, 1858. Mr Wardell described it to the Governor as “the most influential and most numerously attended that has taken place since my page 212 arrival.” In none of the speeches was there support for the Queen's authority. All that the leaders were prepared to receive from Europeans was Christianity. Rutene Piwaka complained about the changes that had been made in the prayer book. “The first prayer book,” he said, “contained a prayer for the rangatira Maori and their families. In the second edition the prayer was for the Queen and the rangatira Maori. The prayer in the third edition was for the Queen and her family alone. Let the pakehas pray for the Queen if they like, but we will not call her our Queen, nor will we recognise her authority.” There was a general feeling that the magistrate should be withdrawn.

The position grew steadily worse. In April, 1859, delegates from East Cape attended a meeting at Pawhakairo (H.B.) at which Tamihana was present. All the tribes were advised to cancel all leases to pakehas and to repurchase lands that had been parted with. Some of the Hawke's Bay chiefs proved unwilling to relinquish the rents which they were receiving. Towards the end of the year, Lands Commissioner Bell visited Poverty Bay, but his efforts to settle the outstanding land claims disputes were negligible, on account of the hostility of the Repudiationists, of whom he regarded Lazarus as the ringleader.

Governor's Surly Reception at Poverty Bay

Governor Gore Browne paid a visit to Poverty Bay on 11 January, 1860. At the courthouse at Makaraka, Captain Harris read a respectful address of welcome on behalf of the European residents. No formal address was presented on behalf of the natives, but several of them made speeches. Lazarus greatly annoyed His Excellency by telling him bluntly that the natives of Poverty Bay did not recognise Queen Victoria's claim to rule over them; that the Queen's flag should not have been hoisted on the magistrate's courthouse; and that the lands which had been obtained from the natives should be returned to them.

In a dispatch to the Duke of Newcastle, the Governor complained that the natives were lacking in courtesy to him. They had, he said, told him that previous Governors had been afraid to visit them, and they had inquired why he should have done so. “Unless you have come to restore the lands which the Europeans cheated us out of,” they had added, “you may return whence you came and take your English magistrate with you.” His Excellency also told the Duke that he had under consideration the matter of withdrawing Mr. Wardell. The Southern Cross (28/1/1860) described the natives of Poverty Bay as “surly and disaffected to the last degree.”

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According to Mr. Wardell, when the Waitara difficulty resulted in war in March, 1860, Wiremu Kingi (of Taranaki) appealed to the East Coast tribes for help, but, although they keenly supported his cause, they declined to send contingents on the ground that their fighting men were required to remain at home to protect their own lands. Towards the end of 1860 a delegation from Hawke's Bay ineffectually tried to persuade them to send aid to Kingi. The Poverty Bay tribes also declined to give a pledge that they would help the Hawke's Bay natives in the event of war arising over their land sales repudiation policy, holding that it was unreasonable for them to expect aid from tribes which had acted with greater vision. Soon afterwards Kingites in the Wairoa district began to interfere with European travellers. Some were forbidden to travel on Sundays; others were required to pay for the grass eaten by their horses; and, at Te Reinga, one man was fined for trespassing on the “King's highway.”

Maori King's Flag Hoisted at Waiapu

During 1862, Tamatatai, a Waiapu native, attended a Kingite meeting in the Waikato. He brought back with him two Maori king flags. As he had travelled back home along the shores of the Bay of Plenty he had proclaimed that the Maori king desired that all the pakehas, including the missionaries, should be sent away. When the Maori king flags were hoisted at Wai-o-matatini, Mokena Kohere raised the Queen's flag at Rangitukia. A Kingite delegation from the Waikato attended the consecration ceremony in connection with the new Anglican church at Manutuke on 19 April, 1863. They brought with them a Maori king flag. Henare Apatere—known as “Bottle of Smoke”—came from Wairoa in May, and delivered a series of fiery speeches in support of the King movement.

Shortly after the outbreak of war in the Waikato in July, 1863, between forty and fifty Ngati-Porou left Waiapu to assist the rebels. They were followed in January, 1864, by another contingent which had been recruited by Kingite emissaries. The Southern Cross (Auckland) published a letter from a Poverty Bay settler, stating that he and his fellow-residents “would give half they possessed in return for more protection.” Governor Grey wrote to Bishop W. Williams, W. L. Williams and Captain Harris for their views, which he sent to the Home authorities. They were agreed that Poverty Bay was not in danger of molestation and that, if an armed force were sent for its protection, the reaction among the natives might take the form of greatly increased excitement. In his reply, W. L. Williams stated that page 214 one old settler had told him “that he for one would be sorry to give one half of his possessions to make sure of losing the other half!”


Hawthorne (A Dark Chapter from New Zealand's History: 1869) says that Poverty Bay's earliest settlers found the natives good neighbours. Their morality was then of a high standard. “When the influence of the chiefs declined,” he adds, “another species of domination arose under which the Maoris (probably the most acute people in the world where their temporal interests are concerned) learned to prefer their rights before their duties.”

The copies of the Maori king's laws which were circulated on the East Coast in 1862 stated inter alia: “If a man sells a piece of land, he shall be scourged”; “If a Queen's summons shall be received by a subject of the king, it shall be destroyed by fire”; “If a subject of the king shall steal goods belonging to a pakeha, it shall be for the king to judge him”; “Concerning leases of land: these are not good”; “Should sheep come to any place, they shall be killed.”

The Rev. T. S. Grace's reports to the Church Missionary Society (London) are reprinted in A Pioneer Missionary Among the Maoris. It appears that, upon his arrival in Poverty Bay, he was informed by the chiefs that Archdeacon W. Williams had “made the land tapu (holy).” Mr. Grace told the chiefs that he was of Mr. Williams's opinion.