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The Taranaki Question

II. The Waitara Purchase

II. The Waitara Purchase.

1. The Valley of the Waitara River lies about 10 miles to the Northward of the Town of New Plymouth, in the Province of Taranaki, and about 4 miles beyond the Northern boundary of the land settled by the English.

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Previously to the year 1827, the Waitara valley and considerable tracts, both North and South of the valley, were occupied by the Ngati-awa Tribe. They held it by unbroken descent from remote ancestors.

About the year 1827, part of the Tribe migrated to the Northern side of Cook's Strait, (Waikanae, and the neighbourhood,) being desirous of trading with the European vessels which were beginning to visit those parts. William King's father was the leader of the party.

2. About 1830, the Waitara and a large tract of country to the Southward of it was over-run by an invasion from Waikato. A large pa of the Ngati-awa, Pukerangiora, 4 or 5 miles up the Waitara valley on the Southern side of the river, was stormed with great slaughter. Of those who escaped, the greater part fled to Cook's Strait to join their brethren. A few, about fifty or sixty, found a refuge in the Sugar Loaf Rocks, near the site of the present town of New Plymouth. It is said that the Waikato invaders intended to occupy the land which they had over-run—that a partition amongst the conquering Chiefs was actually made immediately after the conquest, and the boundaries marked. But it is quite certain that such intention was never carried out. The Waikato invaders did not occupy or cultivate the Waitara valley. The refugees in other places, wheresoever they were scattered, never abandoned their claim or their intention of resuming page 12 possession of the land of their fathers. One instance of this feeling is recorded by Colonel Wakefield.

“The Natives here (Queen Charlotte's Sound) some of the ancient possessors of Taranaki, are very desirous that I should become the purchaser of that district, in order that they may return to their native place without fear of the Waikato tribes. (Journal, 2nd Nov. 1839.)

Another instance occurred about the year 1842, when Te Pakaru, one of the Waikato invaders, proceeded to the Waitara for the purpose of taking possession, and commenced felling timber. William King sent a deputation from Waikanae to warn him off; upon which, Te Pakaru withdrew and returned to Waikato.

3. In 1841, the settlement called New Plymouth, was planted. The circumstances are thus stated by Mr F. A. Carrington, (formerly Chief Surveyor of that Settlement,) in a letter to the Earl of Shaftesbury, dated New Plymouth, 12th July, 1858. (Taranaki Land Question, p. 9.

“I arrived in New Zealand in December of that year [1840], and after conferring with Colonel Wakefield, the Agent of the New Zealand Company, and having explored several hundred miles of the coast of the Northern and Middle Islands, I finally selected the Taranaki district, now known as New Plymouth, for the Company's settlement. Prior to this, however, Agents of the New Zealand Company landed on the coast and treated with the page 13 resident aboriginal inhabitants—the only people then occupying the country—agreed with them as to price, and paid them in part for the land.”

“Quickly it became known to the Waikatos that white people were settling in this part of New Zealand; then some two hundred of them made a descent on the country, put forth their claim to the land, and, in the name of their Chief, threatened to occupy it. This threat was averted by Governor Hobson purchasing from them their rights and claims to this territory.”

In 1841, Potatau, (then commonly called Tewherowhero,) received, in satisfaction of the claim of his Tribe, money and goods to the amount of about $500.

4. The fear of a second invasion being now removed, the refugees began to re-occupy the land. Many disputes arose between them and the settlers who claimed under the New Zealand Company.

In 1844, the Land Claims Commissioner, Mr Spain, investigated the New Zealand Company's title, and reported in favour of it, recommending that a Crown Grant should be issued to the Company to the extent of their claims. Mr Spain had assumed that the enslaved or fugitive members of the Ngati-awa Tribe had, by their captivity or absence, lost all claim to the land. This doctrine was denied by the Governor's Chief Adviser in Native Affairs, Mr Clarke, then Chief Protector of Aborigines. The Governor acted on the opinion of Mr Clarke. Accordingly on the 3rd of August, 1844, a large Meeting of English page 14 and Natives was assembled at New Plymouth, to hear the final decision of the Governor. The Governor informed the Assembly that “he did not take the same view of the question as Mr Commissioner Spain, and that he should not confirm the Award.” “He would allow in all their integrity the claims of those of the Ngati-awa tribe who were not parties to the sale in 1840.” (Papers E. No. 2. p. 13,)

In consideration of a further payment, the Natives interested in the piece of land on which the town had been planted, gave up all claim to that site, and the adjacent land, 3500 acres in all. The Governor publicly and officially recognised the right of the ancient owners to resume the rest of the district, including the Waitara.

William King and his people still remained in Cook's Strait. In the year 1846, when Te Rangihaeata was in arms against the Government, William King took up arms in our favour, and was the leader of our Native allies. In 1848, William King and his people returned to the Waitara.

5. The Town of New Plymouth has no harbour. From the first Mr Carrington saw clearly the value of the Waitara. On the 15th Oct. 1841, he wrote as follows to Captain Liardet, then Agent of the Plymouth Company:—

“The boundary line which the Governor has been pleased to order for this Settlement excludes the most valuable, and indeed the very piece of page 15 country which was the cause of my giving preference to this part of the New Zealand Company's land. I told Colonel Wakefield at the time I chose this place, that I intended fixing the town at the River Waitara; but, from unforeseen causes, I was obliged to place it where it is, about two miles east of the Sugar Loaves, and ten miles west of the Waitara. If we are deprived of this river, we lose the only harbour we have for small craft, and also the most valuable district for agriculture; in lieu of which we shall have a dense forest which will require much capital, time, and labour to clear. Forest timber comes within a quarter of a mile of the town boundary, runs parallel with the shore for a few miles, then gradually bears away inland, and opens out the district of country round the Waitara, where I intended to lay out the majority of the sections. In fact I am now cutting a base line from this place to that river, for the express purpose of so doing.

“I close this letter entreating that you will submit for His Excellency's consideration the subject herein contained. If we are deprived of the Waitara district, and are obliged to cultivate the most impenetrable forest, I, in this case, see no hope for this Settlement. If, on the other hand, we are permitted to retain the Waitara land, we shall flourish.” (Land Question, 6.)

Efforts have been constantly made to induce the Ngati-awa to sell the Waitara, or some part of it, to the Government. They have all along steadily refused to sell.

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In 1844, (17th Dec.) Mr McLean wrote thus to Chief Protector Clarke:—“The Natives of the Taniwha and Waitara, who occupy the Northern portion of the land claimed by the New Zealand Company, have not shown at any time an inclination to dispose of the land in their neighbourhood; nor do they consider themselves empowered to negotiate for the same, without the consent of several absentee Chiefs, residing at Kapiti, who own the greater portion of the land. They do not acknowledge the claims of the Company to any part of that district; they never received payment, and were not cognizant of a sale thereof, and will not be induced to suffer European, settlers to establish themselves there.” (Parl. Pap. 8th April, 1846.)

6. At a Meeting held at Taranaki, in March, 1859, the Governor being present, the Native Secretary, on behalf of the Governor, stated: “The Governor thought the Maories would be wise to sell the land they cannot use themselves, as it would make what they could use more valuable than the whole; but that he never would consent to buy land without an undisputed title. He would not permit any one to interfere in the sale of land, unless he owned part of it; and, on the other hand, he would buy no man's land without his consent.”

At this Meeting, Te Teira offered to the Governor a block of land, about 600 acres, on the Southern bank of the mouth of Waitara. On the block stood two pas, in which William King and his people were then page 17 residing, and had been so for years past. William King being then present, said: “Listen, Governor. Notwithstanding Teira's offer, I will not permit the sale of Waitara to the Pakeha. Waitara is in my hands; I will not give it up. I will not. I will not. I will not.”

The Governor accepted Teira's offer, subject to his shewing a satisfactory title.

It does not appear that William King stated anything further at that time, as to the nature of the right which he claimed. Nor indeed was that the time or place for so doing. The question of the title to the land was not to be discussed then and there in the presence of the Governor. It was expressly reserved for inquiry.