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Life in Early Poverty Bay

Maori Rule on the East Coast — Stirring Incidents of the Early Days British Authority Defied — Settlers Fear Expulsion

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Maori Rule on the East Coast
Stirring Incidents of the Early Days British Authority Defied
Settlers Fear Expulsion

‘In the Maori kingdom as in all other Native districts in N.Z. the supreme authority, legislative and judicial, resides in the village runanga. When making laws, the runangas have no idea of any limits to the province of Government. Their regulations extend to the minutest details of private life. They make laws about behavior on Sunday; laws against falsehood, whether slanderous or not; laws to fix the price of pigs, corn and potatoes; laws to fix the payments for which people shall carry the mails. In short, the runanga is a generous tyranny and would be insupportable if it only possessed the power to carry its decrees into execution… But any Native who feels strong enough to redress wrongs received from pakehas, without troubling the runanga, will help himself to a horse or a cow and obtain satisfaction. Any such action will, too, be approved and susstained by the runanga if the original claim to compensation is considered just… . Whilst a runanga may not have power to enforce a sentence, it has the power to banish a man from society until he voluntarily submits… . During the time that I was stationed in the Waikato the Maori king was visited by leading chiefs from Taranaki, Wanganui, Hawke's Bay, East Cape, Tauranga and even from the Ngapuhis in the Far North.”—J. E. Gorst M.A., in “The Maori King, 1860.”

For much of the information that follows concerning the effects of the runanga rule established by the Maoris in the 50's in defiance of British authority in this portion of New Zealand, as well as in most other portions of the North Island, we were indebted to the proprietors of the “Hawke's Bay Herald,” who very kindly placed their early files at our disposal. That journal, for instance, in April 1858, published the following letter from the Resident Magistrate at Gisborne to the Government.

Magistrate in a Difficulty.

Resident Magistrate's Court, Turanga, April 8, '58.

“Yesterday Watane Motu, Hira Kingi, and Pana, all of Taru Horu (Taruheru), in consequence of Kahutia being dissatisfied with the decision of the amount in the case Manahi v Newnham, deliberately entered Newnham's house and removed from it all his clothing and bedding; a new double barrelled gun was taken and several other articles; indeed, they completely stripped the house.

“A cause of the dissatisfaction referred to was that I insisted on deducting from the amount recovered from Newnham by Manahi for Kahutia the price of a sledge which the latter some time since had most unjustly taken from Newnham. You are aware that, in this district, from the want of sufficient power, the only means which I can employ to obtain even restitution of these goods, are derived from moral influences.

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“In these circumstances, I request your co-operation in manifesting to all the Natives belonging to Taruheru that in the opinion of right-thinking people, such conduct as that described and over which they must collectively be considered morally responsible renders them the object of contempt and aversion and that until goods so unjustly taken are returned they can look for no friendship or assistance from the Europeans.

“It is very desirable that the manifestation of this feeling should be universal and continued until the goods are returned and I suggest that, in the meantime, the offenders should be spoken of as ngati muru wahine—a term of contempt amongst themselves and one which they partly observe as at the time the goods were taken Newnham's wife was alone in the house and against her some violence was used.

“I shall be glad if you will exercise your influence with those Europeans and Natives with whom you are connected in order that a general feeling of disapproval may be manifested. It is absolutely necessary that these acts should be treated very gravely or the effect on the minds of the Natives may lead to disastrous consequences.

Herbert S. Wardell.

In June 1858 were received in Hawke's Bay accounts that were not favourable concerning Poverty Bay. The Natives were not working well with the Europeans, but, on the contrary, some were still disposed to resist British authority.

A private letter stated:—

“There is a movement among the Natives here the wrong way. They object to the prayers offered for the Queen. They have, in several instances, taken the law into their own hands in defiance of the Resident Magistrate.

“You will perceive that we have retrograded to the old times when we had to apply to the one tribe to obtain protection against the others.

Hold-up of Produce.

On June 29 1858 it was found necessary to petition the Governor in respect of the Native movement in Poverty Bay.

“As yet, on account I presume of no mail having arived, we are,” wrote a correspondent, “ignorant of its fate, although privately we learn that the Governor has said that we must manage the best way we can, despite the fact that we have no adequate means of enforcing the law. So I suppose we must wait a little longer under the idea that there is a good time coming.

“We are still under tapu—the decision of the Runanga still being in force. The Natives demand 12/-per bushel for wheat, in consequence of which the Natives here are poorly clad. Most of them, indeed, are heartily sick of this stupid movement—a movement for which they will feel the ill-effects for some time. There will not this season be one-tenth of the land that there was brought under cultivation.

“You are doubtless aware of the Native character, quite a “follow my leader” impulse in almost everything they do. Far and near in this locality they have been carrying on a war of extermination against the wild pigeons by way of preparation for a grand feast to come off in Sept. next and at which I believe two matters regarding the terms on which we shall be allowed to trade are to be finally settled.

“One blessing is that the Natives are quiet just now. Would they only remain in such a state of coma as regards the pakehas they might for what we care continue that tapu till the end of time.”

“I am of opinion that much of this trouble has arisen from advice given the Natives here in 1851 by the Rev. Grace “to hold back their produce, by which they would raise prices in Auckland.” They in a measure acted upon this advice. Gold was discovered in page 74 page 75 California and subsequently in Australia. Prices in consequence ruled high and the Natives supposed that Mr. Grace's advice led to this state of things.

The New Bridge at Peel Street.

The New Bridge at Peel Street.

“There being no cargo there is of course no inducement for vessels to call. The Ann and Queen from Napier and the Emerald Isle from Wellington on their way to Auckland have been only once during the month. The Ann took a cargo of wheat and oil, the latter amounting to 2¼ tuns of sperm and the produce of a whale stranded near Nick's Head. The wheat had been purchased prior to the Runanga.”

Further evidence of the contempt in which British law was held in Poverty Bay is supplied by a correspondent under date October 20, 1858—

Powerlessness of British Law.

“We have,” he says, “been rather excited in Gisborne lately by the following occurrence. Some time ago a European here was convicted of giving spirits to Natives and sentenced to a fine of £10. This was not paid and some cattle were distrained said to belong to the defendant (they ultimately proved to be the property of another person and were restored) on which the Natives, accompanied by defendant's wife, demanded restitution. This being refused they proceeded to the government property, broke down the fence, and drove away some 13 head of cattle, belonging, it seems, to our Resident Magistrate and others. There the matter rests—a pretty state of things, you will say, for a so-called British colony.

“The fact is there has been such a temporising policy adopted in all matters appertaining to the Natives the government is (here at least) treated by them with the utmost contempt. It is in fact a farce—a piece of most unmitigated humbug to place a paid magistrate anywhere without power to enforce his decisions. He can mulct the unfortunate European who has committed some trifling fault that never would have been noticed had there not been a court to apply to, but he is fairly bullied and laughed at by the Natives if he endeavours to coerce them. They use language most insulting to him when on the Bench and at other times both in and out of Court.

“Another instance of the powerlessness of the law. A store here was broken open on June 24 last and property taken away amounting to more than £50. The perpetrators were known, and the case put into the Magistrate's hands, and a decision given to amerce the parties concerned in £150 which, of course, has never been paid. I have no hesitation in saying we manage the Natives better when left to ourselves. The Court has now shared the fate of all scarecrows by being openly laughed at and defied by all parties.

“Why place a paid magistrate at the expense of the Colony of at least £500 a year in such a district—a district where he and his office are already scorned by the Natives. He is in a fair way to being equally scorned by the settlers. There have been numerous cases of crime, including one case of abduction. The latter actually took place in the Court-house in the very face of the magistrate whither a woman (a native) had gone to be married, and to whom the female clung in her terror vainly imploring that protection he could not offer. The scene that followed was magnificent. Our Resident Magistrate (notwithstanding the assistance of his clerk) the would_be bride and the bride-groom abductor and one or two others rolling on the floor together.”

On Oct. 20 1858, the Poverty Bar correspondent of the “H.B. Herald, wrote:—

“Our runanga is still in full swing. The members have now for the last few days been in full committee, taking cattle and other things from those parties who have sold in defiance of their fiats. They now say they will prevent the sale of everything, including timber, firewood, etc., unless we come to page 76 terms. At present we don't know what turn things will take. All sorts of reports are rife even to the closing the river here against vessels and not allow us to take away produce now on hand. Is it not cruel that the settlers in a British colony and supposed to be living under British rule should be subjected to such laws and annoyance without our government taking (as far as we are aware) the slightest notice.

This was followed on Dec. 3, 1858, by the following report:—

“I hear that the committee of the runanga have agreed to allow the sale of wheat provided it never rules at a lower rate here than 5s cash, but as they say we have been making a profitable ‘spec’ by sending timber to the Napier market. they have stopped that branch of our trade by stopping the sale of all timber, firewood, etc. either for sale or for home consumption. With their usual liberality they will not allow us to use the standing timber though the trees have been purchased and marked but still unused to the amount of perhaps £1000. So much for the honour of the Natives by many so loudly proclaimed.

“The idea of turning the whole of the Europeans off their properties and expelling them from the district has again been mooted. “This state of things is calmly viewed by our paternal government without even raising its voice on our behalf. We are told the poor fellows (the Natives) are in a transition stage. This has been the cry far and wide for the last 18 years i e back to 1840. How much longer it will take to transform the Native grub into a civilised butter-fly remains to be seen.

“In the interim, we pay our share of the expense of being governed without receiving the slightest advantage. In fact as a member said in the House, they have no sympathy with the ‘tobacco and blanket man.’ If so they can have none for themselves as the Government gave two or three cases of tobacco for the Treaty of Waitangi and paid the Natives here and at other places in blankets and other trade to obtain their signatures to that Treaty.”

Grave Charge Against Magistrate.

In 1859, it was reported, under date Feb. 19, that,

“The runanga law is still going on and the settlers are not allowed to remove even wheat grown before it same into existence. The effect of the runanga will probably be felt up to the East Cape. They (the Maoris) will not allow any grain to be moved till (they say) the prohibition on trade is removed, and which is not to take place till the traders succumb to their terms. But, subsequently, a section of the settlers came to the conclusion that a better state of affairs would never be reached until a charge was brought about in connection with the Resident Magistrate. And they were by no means half-hearted in their condemnation of the then occupant of the office. For example, the late Capt. J. W. Harris, on April 19, '59, published his views as follows:—

“A young protege of the Government was sent here direct from England. He could not be supposed to know enough about the Colonies or of the usages therein which are in many instances at variance with those of the Motherland. On receiving his appointment he probably supposed that he became the great man of the district and that the settlers would look at him with an awe inspired by his situation and never attempt to civil at his proceedings.”

Mr. Wm. Scott Greene, it seems, was chairman of a public meeting of protest against the magistrate, when numerous complaints were voiced:

“The Natives,” it was reported, “don't apprehend the nature of an oath and the responsibility thereunto attaching. The testimony of the Natives should be received with caution and no conclusions page 77 drawn therefrom unless such testimony tend to corroborate or elucidats facts already given in evidence, sworn to and of which there could be no doubt. A malicious charge has been laid against Capt. Read. Our clerk or interpreter has considered it his duty to carry to the magistrate anything he hears. It was a case of felony but it was dismissed. Captain Read attended a whole day at Court to answer any charge that might he laid against him. He was told there was none. The same evening he went to Napier, when it was immediately reported by Mr. Thorne, the magistrate's brother-in-law, that he had bolted On his return and the case being dismissed Capt. Read complained to the magistrate but the magistrate simply said that he had brought the trouble on himself by going away.”

Series of Allegations.

On June 4, 1859, a petition by W. S. Greene, James Dunlop, George Goldsmith, Geo. Poulgrain, Robert Newnham, G. E. Read, John Tarr, Richard Horsley, J. Hervey, Joseph Cross, Thos. U'Ren junr., Wm. Tarr, James Mackey, Wm. Brown, J. W. Harris, James Wilson, J. Wyles, Wm. Howard, R. H. U'Ren, Thos, Halbert, Thos. U'Ren senr., Robt. Read. John Edwards, was published in the “H.B. Herald.” It said:—

“That the gentleman holding the office of Resident Magistrate here appears to consider himself more in the light of a Public Prosecutor than an impartial administrator of the law of the Colony, and that he tends to improve his activities as a magistrate by procuring as many cases as possible to be brought before his Court.

“That the Resident Magistrate has on more than one occasion used threats towards some of your petitioners by threatening to turn them off the land on which they are living.

“That the clerk or interpreter often uses leading questions in his examination, thereby obtaining answers not always consistent with the truth. On more than one occasion he has threatened to throw discredit on Native evidence when given in favor of Europeans by telling them (out of Court) they were endeavoring to screen the Europeans. His general conduct is exceedingly mischievous and irritating and having by birth and education nearly all his sympathies on the side of his Native countrymen and little if any with the European population, he is unfit to fulfil his present office in a purely Native district.

Governor Has a Surly Reception

The “Southern Cross,” under date Jan. 28, 1860, says:—

“The reception of His Excellency the Governor by the Natives of Poverty Bay was just what might have been expected from the reception given to the Land Commissioner as lately described by us.

“At the school those who were under pupilage were of course polite enough, but the main body of the Natives showed themselves surly and disaffected to the last degree. They freely ask in the district what business the Governor has there bringing the Queen's flag amongst them.

“The runanga partakes somewhat of the character of a judicial and of an ecclesiastical court as well as that of a council. It is over nearly the whole of the North Island and had its origin like the King Movement in the Waikato. The runanga is the most powerful of the supports of the King movement.

“It appears to exercise undisputed jurisdietion over all the Native lands and while it meddles with everything it will not allow its decisions to be re-considered or delayed. Lands which have been purchased from the Native owners and paid for have been said by this Council to be restored to Native possession by the re-payment of the purchase money whilst unpurchased lands we are told have been made over by the proprietors to page break page 79 the Maori King for the avowed purpose of preventing them from being purchased by the Crown. The runanga works under the guise of religion and for the Natives' good alone.”

The Port in the ‘70's.

The Port in the ‘70's.

Sympathy with Maori King Movement.

In some notes from Turanga (Gisborne) to the “Hawke's Bay Herald” under date August 5, 1862, it is stated:—

“We are quiet in this district. Still the Natives are, I believe, watching for events. They are decidedly averse to the settlers getting any further footing in Turanga. They profess to be Queen's men; but all their sympathies are with the Waikatos. I should not be surprised to see the King flag hoisted at any moment. We cannot disguise the fact that we are living under the rule of the runanga with which the laws of England have as much connection as with the laws of Timbuctoo.

“The Natives' foot is virtually placed in the neck of the settlers and we appear to have no other course but to worship the image set up by the authors in this miscalled British colony of New Zealand.

“Efforts are being made here to induce the Ministry to allow the sale of powder, shot and caps under certain restrictions, the plea being the unfairness of debarring the Natives from the the use of these articles for sporting purposes and the bagging of a few pakehas to be included of course in the list of game. Will the Government be mad enough to grant this?”

Thus the Wairoa correspondent of the “Hawke's Bay Herald' on May 13, 1863:—

“I cannot succeed in obtaining any reliable information concerning the feast at Turanga (Gisborne). There appears to have been a very large concourse of Natives; the Maoris say 2000 were there. The gathering seems to have been of a political nature, many subjects being discussed. Amongst others Henare te Apatere made a strong appeal in favor of the Maori king, but was not listened to; on the contrary, the desire was expressed that he should refrain from speaking on the subject. According to rumor there were consumed or given away—

1400 bags of flour 800 bags of sugar besides other articles of food in much profusion.”

High-Handed Action of Coast Natives.

The following alarming statement was handed to the “Hawke's Bay Herald” by the master of the Tawera on May 30, 1863:—

“The schooner Tawera, anchored off Kawakawa on the 12th inst. It was blowing hard from the south and we could not communicate with the shore.

“Next day a boat came out and we asked if we could get any water from the river. Being told that we could we sent a boat ashore with two casks to be filled.

“After they had been filled, and the boat had left, the Natives came to me and demanded one shilling per cask, threatening that if I didn't pay to take a boat as payment when she next came ashore. This demand I paid.

“On the 14th they went to the store of Messrs. Peachey and Collier and said that, if the magistrate, Mr. Baker, should come round that side of the Cape they would make him pay £100; if he should come by the inland route, the sum would be £200.

“They were determined, they said, to drive him away, as he was trying to buy over all the Natives to his side. Their next talk was that I should make it known to the masters of all vessels that if they wanted wood or water anywhere off the coast they should pay for the same or else they would take a boat for payment.

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“They next informed Messrs. Peachey and Collier that they should pay for the grass and water which their horses and cows had used, also for the water drunk by their ducks and fowls. This being refused, they intimated their intention of there and then taking away four horses the property of the firm and two belonging to Mr. Parsons left there to be shipped by the ‘Sea Breeze’ and of coming back for the cows and poultry.

“The Natives will not allow the Europeans to dig an inch of ground anywhere.”

A Doleful Story.

A doleful account of his treatment at a runanga held at Te Horo, Waiapu, was told by Henare Paeroa in Te Waka Maori of March 7, 1876. He says that he became intoxicated and on attempting to ride away from the settlement he fell from his horse, which galloped away, leaving him stretched senseless on the beach. Some person, seeing him in that state, coolly drew off his trousers and appropriated them to himself. As he lay in this pitiable condition, a woman named Harata Harete, pitying his condition, came up and covered him with a valuable Native mat. Some time later, she poured water over him, which restored him to consciousness. He then went into the presence of the Natives, who were holding a runanga in the village, to the number of some 300, and begged for a pair of trousers but they only laughed at his misfortune and suffered him to depart in his nakedness.

Late W. T. Best, A Pioneer local Tobacconist.

Late W. T. Best,
A Pioneer local Tobacconist.

Mr. James Rosie.

Mr. James Rosie.