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

Disputes Over Decisions

Disputes Over Decisions

A busy period opened on the East Coast in the middle 1870's as a sequel to the activities of several Native Land Courts. For some months a dozen surveyors had been at work in almost unknown country. At Wai-o-matatini hundreds of scantily-clad and poorly-provisioned natives remained, week after week, close to the courthouse. Influential natives moved among them, advising them to bring their lands before the court. Members of Wiremu Keiha's hapu, who were opposed to the system of courts, hurled stones on the roof. One burly native, who was determined to stop the proceedings, had to be ejected by Captain Porter. A buxom native threw her arms around the assessor's neck and told him that she would be his alone if he would help her with her claim. When she tried to embrace the Judge he ordered her out of court. Consequent upon the Crown buying several large blocks, additional hotels, accommodation houses and stores sprang up.

Serious trouble arose at Wairoa in 1880 when Judge Heale gave his decision in the Opoho case. His minute states: “A great number of persons were evidently drunk, especially young women. The court had to be adjourned on account of the excessive uproar.” Next day a native named Hirini claimed a sole right to put in a list of owners. Violence became imminent; a page 312 woman attempted to seize the lists which had been handed in; and the court had again to be adjourned. A few days later the malcontents fired off guns and burnt whares belonging to the other side. They were required by the local chiefs, supported by some Napier chiefs, to hand over 50 horses and some goods as compensation.

The decision given in the Waipiro case in July, 1885, led to a grave quarrel. At the original hearing Pineamine and his people were awarded the block; upon a rehearing Tuta and his relatives were granted 10,000 acres; and, now, upon a second rehearing, the original decision was upheld. Tuta sent a letter to Pineamine warning him that, if he and his folk did not clear out, he would slay them. Pineamine refused to budge. When Tuta, with 60 armed followers, invaded the block, Pineamine also got together an armed band. As a battle seemed imminent, 13 constables and 12 artillerymen, under Police-Inspector Emerson, were hurried down from Auckland. Tuta's party greeted them with a spirited rendering of “God Save the Queen,” and handed over their guns.

The difficulties which confronted the courts were appreciably added to when European lessees of blocks began to acquire the individual interests of some native owners, but were held up by non-sellers. If every seller in a block had made an application for the boundaries of his or her portion to be determined, the courts would soon have become congested with work, and the blocks would, in time, have resembled checker boards. Some lessees at last hit upon the shrewd idea of getting the native sellers to transfer their rights to one of their number, who, in turn, called upon a court to partition off within the block his or her cumulative interests. When this was done, the area so allotted was transferred to the pakeha buyer. Most of the lessees, however, delayed in approaching a court in the hope that they might first obtain the interests of all the native owners.

There was much rejoicing on the part both of natives and of Europeans in August, 1875, when a long-standing dispute over portion of Makauri block was settled. Non-sellers had hotly contested Captain Read's claim, on the ground that it was excessive. Riparata Kahutia, on behalf of her section of owners, made an offer of 200 acres from its interests and Wi Pere, on behalf of his group, asked Read to diminish his claim against its interests by a like area. Read said he would leave the matter in the hands of Judge Rogan. The compromise was approved. In the evening Read entertained the Judge, the assessors and representatives of the native owners at a banquet.

Much more solid progress in settling titles dated from the passing of the Native Land (Validation of Titles) Act, 1893, which page 313 was required because many native blocks had been the subject of loose negotiations between pakehas and natives. In most instances both vendors and purchasers had pledged their far from clearly denned interests, and, for some time, Poverty Bay had had a bad name on account of so much land being held under imperfect titles. Provision was made for the establishment of a Validation Court to settle all conflicting interests. The early judicial work was carried out by Judge G. E. Barton, who was regarded as somewhat eccentric, but who had a high reputation for his courage and for his wide knowledge of law. For a number of years before—as well as for a long time after—the establishment of the court, legal work, surveying and interpreting were among Poverty Bay's principal “industries.” As early as 1885 there were 16 solicitors, 18 surveyors, and 17 licensed interpreters in practice in Gisborne.