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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 1977

[James Mackay Junior and the Kaikoura Purchase]

page 5

The Nelson Historical Society is anxious to have the hut which is named after James Mackay Junior correctly spelt and pronounced. Unfortunately this hut on the Heaphy Track appears on maps as MacKay and is pronounced M'Kay. The correct spelling has no capital K and is pronounced Macki as in Mackay's Bluff and Mackay St, Greymouth. The Federation of Historical Societies has taken the matter up with the Geographical Board.

James Mackay Jr. came to New Zealand with his family in the "Slains Castle" in January 1845. His father settled at "Drumduan", Wakapuaka. James was then a lad of 13 or 14 and with his cousin Alexander, a couple of years younger, worked on the farm until he took up land for himself in Golden Bay in 1853. By this time he had become expert in the language of the Maori people, and also understood their character and way of life. Soon after gold was discovered in the Collingwood area he found that much of his time was taken up with the settling of goldfield disputes, especially those involving Maoris. Before this his natural curiosity had led him to make several trips exploring unknown parts of the province, looking for grazing land, for passes over the hills or finding out just what the West Coast was like, incidentally he was the first European who had anything good to say about it.

In 1859 the Governor proclaimed the Collingwood Goldfield and appointed James Mackay the younger as the first Goldfield Warden and Magistrate. His father was at this time writing to the Commissioner of Native Lands, his friend Donald McLean, recommending his son for the position of Assistant Native Commissioner. Mackay's best known achievement in that capacity is the purchase of the West Coast for three hundred pounds ($600), but this rather misleading statement refers to only one of his transactions.

Before 1856 Commissioner Spain had arranged the purchase of Marlborough, Canterbury and the West Coast, but payment had been made only to some of the tribes involved, usually to those who held the land by right of conquest, while it was later recognised that the surviving conquered also had claims. The task set Mackay was to "extinguish the Maori title", that is to settle with minor owners and to set aside reserves for their use. His first assignment was to complete the Kaikoura purchase and then to continue on to the West Coast and deal with the Arahura block. Donald McLean hoped that two hundred pounds ($400) would be sufficient to pay for both titles.

page 6

The Commissioner for Native Lands was definite that Mackay was to carry out his task as economically as possible—"You should be provided with a surveyor, whose duty it will be to define boundaries of each reserve…use natural boundaries where possible…to avoid future disputes. Secure the services of a competent person at Kaikoura if possible as much expense will therefore be obviated…if not possible engage a surveyor in Nelson… making the most economical arrangements possible…Bear in mind that strictest economy consistent with an effective performance of this duty will be required by His Excellency's Government …The total sum estimated for the completion of the Kaikoura and Arahura claims is two hundred pounds ($400) which amount will be placed at your disposal to be apportioned as you may deem most desirable. Great reliance is placed on your own judgement and discretion."

James Mackay set out from Nelson with two hundred golden sovereigns in his pack, and on the 25th of February he reported to the Chief Land Commissioner, Auckland, from Kaikoura.

"I arrived here yesterday bringing with me the whole of the natives residing between the River Waiautoa and the Peninsula. I have not yet met Kaikoura (Whakatau, the premier chief) but dispatched a letter to him by a messenger this morning. The natives are anxious to know how much money I intend to give them for the land…I have not yet told them what I have been instructed to pay…They are very exorbitant in their demands, asking no less a sum than £5,000 ($10,000) for their claims, they seem to have a thorough knowledge of the value of the land and seem acquainted with sums that have been paid by run-holders in the Amuri district…

"Land claimed by them commences at the Hurunui and is bounded in the south by that river to its source; and on the east by the sea from the last named place to the Wairau Bluffs (dividing the Wairau Plain from Kaparatehau); on the west by a line drawn from the Bluffs (Parinui awiti) to the Wairau Gorge, from thence to Rangitahi (Lake Tennyson, Tarndale); from thence it is bounded by the range of mountains lying to the eastward of the Buller and Grey Districts, West Coast, to the pass of the Hurunui and Teremakau—this includes the whole of Awatere, Tarndale. Clarence (Waiautoa), Amuri and Waiauau country—about two and a half million acres.

"The greater part of these districts is now occupied by sheep-farmers, many of whom have purchased considerable quantities of land from the Government. Some of the settlers have been annoyed by the natives, e.g. William McRae of the Clarence, whom they have prevented from building a woolshed at the landing place on the run which he occupies. There are others in similar situations and it is therefore necessary that the Native Title should be extinguished as soon as possible to prevent disputes arising between the two races.

"I have brought two hundred pounds ($400) with me, having heard the natives are not likely to part with the land for £150. I page 7will do all in my power to induce the natives to accede to the terms offered, if I am not successful I recommend that five hundred pounds ($1,000) be allowed."

Altogether Mackay spent over three months in the area. For about a month he was engaged in prolonged discussions with the Maori Tribes, and we surmise that was when he sat on the rock which he has marked on a map of the South Bay Reserve as "Te Turu o Make" (Mackay's Stool). Once the talking was over he set about marking off the reserves.

On April 10th 1859, Mackay wrote from Christchurch to Donald McLean, "I have the honour to report that the Ngaitahu of Kaikoura and Kaiapoi have surrendered to the Crown the whole of their lands northward of the River Hurunui for the sum of three hundred pounds (£600)…I have incurred the responsibility of paying the sum of three hundred pounds, this being one hundred more than I considered the sum placed at my disposal for effecting the above object." He then gives his reasons for paying the larger sum—the natives, well aware of the market price of land refused lesser offers and threatened to evict settlers who had bought land from the Government in good faith, this would obviously be more costly in the long run; European settlers felt insecure till the matter was settled. All in all the additional price seemed the cheapest way out. In fact, Mackay added, he had difficulty in persuading the natives to accept that amount, it was only when he appeared ready to quit bargaining and leave for Christchurch that they felt they could not bear to see the ready money withdrawn. So all was signed and Mackay himself laid off the reserves as no surveyor was available. They were well marked with natural boundaries where possible, and though he feared his superiors might think them over generous, he assured them that the land was in the main poor and barely sufficient for the Maoris' needs.

And so ended the Kaikoura Purchase, and James Mackay set out overland for the West Coast, a journey not without its perils and excitements. In November 1862 after the purchase of the Coast had been accomplished, and after Mackay had reported the settlement of a claim in the Wangamoa area, the Acting Native Secretary, in acknowledging his report, added, "I am directed by the Minister of Native Affairs to inform you that he has, during a long time past, observed with pleasure that your reports generally show that what cases are taken in hand by you are really settled, and that your proceedings in this instance are entirely approved."