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

Judges Hooted and Hissed

Judges Hooted and Hissed

During 1873 that section of the Poverty Bay natives which favoured the repudiation of all transfers of land to the Crown and to private individuals became more active. Henare Matua (the leader of the Hawke's Bay Repudiation Party) arrived at Gisborne just prior to the opening of the Native Land Commission's sitting on 15 August. When the first case—the Okirau block—was being investigated, exception was taken by some natives to the evidence which was being given by Mrs. Wyllie, the principal claimant. Judge Monro, who was associated with Judge Rogan, then suggested that the business might be expedited if only those natives who were directly concerned were permitted to remain in court.

“On a preconceived signal given by someone in the crowd,” the Standard states, “the natives rose en masse and, amid cries of “Korero parau!” (false evidence!) and ‘Kokiri! kokiri!’ (Rush! rush!) effectually put an end to all hope of further business being transacted. Captain Richardson and his small force were active in their efforts to eject the more prominent among the rioters and they got a little rough usage in the scuffle. Sergeant Shirley's head came in contact with a square of glass and the noise when it broke added to the tumult outside, giving rise to a suspicion that the Maoris really intended to carry out their threat (pretty freely expressed) to attack the courthouse and destroy the maps and other property of the commissioners. Captain Porter rendered good service, and, eventually, the court was cleared and the doors locked. Outside, however, the excitement became intense, and it was certainly only due to the fact that business had been entirely suspended that open hostilities did not break out.”
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The settlers met under Major Westrup and decided to urge the Government to adopt a firm stand. They blamed Henare Matua for instigating the disturbance, and deplored the fact that the Judges had been hooted and hissed. It was agreed that a like scene of disorder had never before been witnessed in any court in New Zealand. In the hope that the unrest might subside, the Government instructed the Judges to adjourn the sittings until November. Reinforcements were rushed to Ormond and Wairoa, and the Luna was held in readiness for coastal service. Some outsiders who had intended to settle in Poverty Bay took their departure, and the Standard sorrowfully commented: “… and there has also been an exodus of their capital.” When Major Ropata turned up from Waiapu, Henare Matua quietly slipped away.

Just before the Commission was due to resume its sittings early in November, 1873, H.M.S. Basilisk (Captain Moresby, after whom Port Moresby, New Guinea, was named) anchored in Poverty Bay. What the Standard described as “a politico-naval demonstration” was staged on 31 October. The district's defence forces were called upon to repel efforts by the marines to land within Turanganui River. At 10.30 a.m. the attackers entered the river under cover of the warship's guns and opened fire on reaching the clear space opposite Read's wharf. When the first cannon was discharged, some of Captain A. F. Hardy's mounted men were thrown off and their horses broke away. Under Captain Winter, the infantry kept up a smart fire whilst the boats were being beached. The demonstration failed to achieve its main object, inasmuch that only a few natives turned up. However, the Standard held that the awed talk among that section of the residents proved that it had had a salutary effect, and it hinted that the Basilisk would probably return ere long and make a longer stay.

When the Commission held its delayed sitting, Mr. Locke (for the Crown) told the natives that he had come to give back to them all their lands except Te Muhunga, Patutahi and Te Arai, and those smaller blocks the ownership of which had been determined by the Commission. Commenting upon this decision, the Standard remarked that, if Mr. Atkinson (the former Crown Agent) had effectually done in 1869 what Mr. Locke had just done, “fours years of irritation and annoyance would not have happened; suspicions on the part of the natives in regard to the Government's intentions would not have been aroused; and much of the land included in the arrangement might already have become the homes of new settlers.”

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Several investigations have taken place in regard to a complaint by the natives that the Crown received more land than it was entitled to. It obtained a total area of 56,161 acres in the three blocks that were ceded. The Royal Commission of 1920 (presided over by Chief Judge Jones) held that the Crown should not have received, in the aggregate, more than 30,000 acres. It used for a measuring rod not the areas that were shown on the plans, but a statement attributed to Mr. McLean [August, 1869] that the land given up … would be divided into three equal parts—one for Ngati-Porou, one for Ngati-Kahungunu, and one for the Crown,” coupled with the fact that Ngati-Porou received only 10,000 acres as their share. The Commission reckoned that there was a surplusage of 26,161 acres, from which should be deducted 5,825 acres, which the Crown had either returned or had paid compensation for. No action has, so far (1949), been taken on the report.