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Opening of Kawhia Harbour

The 'opening of Kawhia Harbour' part of the process of 'opening up the King Country' by the New Zealand Government makes disturbing reading. It was a political campaign embarked on after the military conquest of the Waikato in the l860s, the confiscation of a million acres of Waikato land, and the withdrawal of the Waikato people into the King Country after their defeat.

Kawhia harbour was Tainui territory for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Pakeha, and it remained so for most of the nineteenth century, although some quite extensive blocks of land bordering the harbour were offered to Pakeha traders quite early in the century.

Just a few weeks before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, J. V. Cowell, an Englishman, who had been living at Kawhia under the protection of various Ngati Hikairo chiefs, "bought" 20,000 acres of land from two chiefs, one of whom was Kiwi Te Pihopa.

It was not until 1883, however, that the Government surveyed a small piece of land for a Kawhia township, bouyed the harbour channel, erected beacons at the heads, established a constabulary post, and declared Kawhia Harbour to be 'open'.

After the wars in Waikato were over, Government wanted access to Te Rohe Potae (King Country) for the railway and further land alienation, but they were faced by the Waikato and Maniapoto tribes, who, defeated in the Wars, had created an aukati, or border over which Pakeha were not to cross.

In the early 1870s though, Government was earnest in rebuilding relations with the Maori people. Ministers of the Crown came to the King Country to meet King Tawhiao, and discuss terms for a settlement with his people.

For their part, Tawhiao and his people were also anxious to improve relations, but naturally were suspicious of the Government. Above all, the Waikato people, who felt that the invasion of their lands had been unjust, insisted on the return of the confiscated lands, terms the settlers would not agree to, thereby forestalled the resumption of friendly relations.

Impatience set in by the early I 880s. The Minister of Native Affairs, John Bryce was determined to clear up the problems left in the wake of the Wars. Bryce visited Tawhiao at Pirongia, to tell him that: 'the flood of European civilisation and occupation was rising, and was not to be stopped. . . the followers of King Tawhiao would have to learn to live with it'.

Bryce made Tawhiao some proposals for the return of some of the confiscated land in the Waikato which Tawhiao could not accept.. Bryce failed to understand the importance Waikato placed on the return of all unjustly seized lands and their desire to control their own affairs. Tawhiao had said: 'I ask you to leave me the administration of my own land and also the control of my people'.

Early in 1883 Bryce came back to the King Country to see Wahanui and to press him into allowing surveyors into the King Country to explore a railway route. Ngati Maniapoto chiefs. reluctanly gave in to him for one reason only: they were afraid for their land if they incurred Government anger.

In April 1883, Bryce journeyed from Pirongia. to Waitara uninvited but unimpeded by Ngata Maniapoto. His speech at Waitara must have confirmed their worst fears when he announced that the King Country was now open to Europeans to surveys, roads and railways. Ngati Maniapoto, it must be said, did not fear the roads and railways but the arrival of the Pakeha and the loss of their lands which was expected to follow.


The Government's 'opening of Kawhia Harbour' was another prong of Bryce's 'attack' on the King Country, as he himself made very clear at the time: "They (Tawhiao and the Kingitanga chiefs) correctly assumed that the occupation of a township at Kawhia, and the marking-out of the channels of the harbour without Tawhiao's permission being asked or obtained, was an assertion of the soverign rights of the Queen without any recognition of the pretentions of the Maori potentate".

Ten years earlier, in 1873 the Officer Administering the Government, G.A. Arney in a handwritten despatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote that: . . ."this exclusive arbitrary control of an extensive and commodious harbour forms perhaps the most real, if not the only symbol of true sovereignty held by Tawhiao. . . (but), it may reasonably be expected that if the harbour of Kawhia be once again opened to shipping, its shores will again become the scene of European enterprise".

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Government was interested in founding a township at Kawhia not so much for any social or economic purpose, but for the purely political purpose, of impressing on Tawhiao and his people the power of the State. It was aimed at a harbour known to be a favourite of Tawhiao and his people, a very important food-gathering ground (full of named fishing places), and a place of great traditional significance (the resting-place of the Tainui canoe).

It is clear that the Tainui peoples themselves, who had welcomed shipping at Kawhia until the Waikato War, were anxious to reopen the harbour, now that times were more settled. They had only just had a flour mill erected on the very site (Pouewe) where the Government was soon to survey its township. It may be assumed that they too were expecting to reopen trade at Kawhia but apparently they had no idea whatever of the Government's intentions with respect to Kawhia.

The flour mill and several houses were taken down hastily before the surveyors arrived to prevent Mr Bryce from confiscating it. The Government, in chosing not to consult Tawhiao and his people about reopening Kawhia thereby ignored the prospect of co-operation. Instead, the Minister informed them of his intentions not just to erect navigational aids in the harbour, but also to lay out a township at the same time, calculated to impress on Maori people the arrival of a Pakeha presence in the harbour.

In February 1883, Bryce, William Rolleston (Minister of Lands) and his family, and a party of surveyors, came ashore at Pouewe and 'took possession of the Government property'. Bryce rode deliberately, with the Rollestons and Government officials, overland to Pirongia, thereby proclaiming to the settlers that the inland route to Kawhia, through Kingitanga lands, was also open.


Tawhiao was greatly distressed by the Government activities, expressing his opposition on many occasions. E hoa, maku te tikanga mo Kawhia, waiho ki a au te ritenga. When he met Bryce later at Kawhia (in October 1883) he made a direct plea that Kawhia be left to his people: There were other harbours he might claim, there was Kaipara, there was Manukau, there were others; but Kawhia was the last, and could it not be left to him alone?

He had not been consulted about the opening of Kawhia. Nor is it surprising the Tawhiao's people made some show of opposition to the arrival of the Pakeha in their harbour. They were very nervous of going too far, and perhaps even causing the Government to confiscate Kawhia, as it had done with their other lands. But they did make it clear to the Government that they were not happy.

There was niether powhiri nor korero, remarkable and very pointed omission which forcefully conveyed their message that the Government men were unwelcome.

As Government survey work proceeded at Kawhia, Tawhiao and his people became increasingly agitated. It must be remembered that t'hey had learnt to mistrust the Government deeply, they had no way of knowing the Government's real intentions or how much land the Government intended to claim at Kawhia (hitherto understood to be Tainui land).

Bryce had made no speeches of explanation to the tangata whenua when he visited Kawhia. In its absence, there was much unease and suspicion among the Kawhia people. As the Waikato Times reported at the end of 1882, many of the Maori are very indignant at the idea of government officials going there (to Kawhia) they say. . . that Mr Bryce is trying to drive them into a war, and that has been his intention all along. . . they will all greatly resent any European occupation of Kawhia.

Meanwhile, there were new signs of Pakeha encroachment. More buoys were laid in the harbour, the survey of the road from Aotea to Kawhia crept irrevocable towards Maori-owned land until it was only a day's work away and in September, beacons were erected at the Kawhia Heads on the southern side of the harbour.

Tawhiao's people were astonished, and dismayed, that the Government should carry out such acts in their own territory without consultation. Feeling provoked, they embarked on a programme of destruction of what they took to be Government symbols of ownership, beginning with some survey pegs for the road, and ending with the removal and breaking-up of the beacons, and the sinking of one of the buoys.

These acts were not primarily hostile but were the product of concern and uncertainty, and determination to protect the land. In this case, the aim was to elicit some sort of Government reaction, to discover exactly what Government plans for Kawhia were.

Bryce, came to Kawhia in October 1883 to meet King Tawhiao and to hear from Tawhiao himself the reason for the breaking-up of the beacons, and Maori concern as to their significance: The beacons, what did they mean'? What was the object of them'? Perhaps they implied a taking possession of the land'? . . . as Tawhiao explained, The land belongs to the Maoris where those posts were placed. If 1 have done wrong it has been on my own land.

And not only was it Maori-owned land, but it had been further guaranteed to its owners by the British Crown: 'I have a title,' said Tawhiao, 'the Treaty of Waitangi. Bryce, came with a force of 114 Armed Constabulary to talk to Tawhiao. Soon there were two small redoubts on the shores of the harbour, the force was to protect the re-erected harbour beacons, but it was sent, one assumes, as a symbol of the power of the state, to cow Tawhiao and his people in the furtherance of Pakeha law and order.

Once again, the people of the Kingitanga watched Government establish a military force on their land. Tawhiao, against confrontation with the Government, made no further moves against its various representatives at Kawhia. Instead, the following year (1884) he took all the grievances of his people, and those of many other tribes, to the Queen in England, to ask her to confirm her words given in the Treaty of Waitangi.

He did not see the Queen, since from the granting of responsible Government to the colonists, all Maori matters were to be dealt with by the Colonial Government. So the township of Kawhia remained, and the Government had succeeded again in making its point by threat of force.

In January 1884, when the town sections were auctioned, the Government made a profit on the transaction of some $4000. "The thin end of the wedge is now entered", wrote the Herald reporter, 'and the acquiring of larger areas either by lease or purchase, is only a question of time".