Land - Bruce Moon

     ~~ LAND ~~

Isolated from the rest of the world for several centuries, the pre-European Maoris of New Zealand lived in a Stone Age hunter-gatherer society, albeit kumara and some minor crops were grown in the north. Inshore fishing and what they could gather from the bush were their main food sources. Fern-root, nutritious but fibrous and hard on teeth, was the major plant source while the lack of large land animals meant that apart from the Maori rat, the kiore, birds were the source of animal protein.

With no idea of conservation, despite recent claims to the contrary, birds were hunted ruthlessly, around thirty species being driven to extinction before Europeans arrivedi, one a unique black swan only just identified,ii and the various kinds of moa in barely a century. As examination of ancient middens has revealed, often only the choice cuts were eaten, much of a moa carcass going to waste.

While the practice of cannibalism was probably brought to New Zealand by Polynesian immigrants, depletion of other food sources made it an attractive option. By time Europeans arrived it was well-established, as vividly shown by the 1772 fate of Marion du Fresne and 26 of his crew, promptly massacred and eaten for fishing innocently in a “tapu” bay.iii

As hunter-gatherers, each tribe needed a hunting area or “rohe” of its own but as intertribal warfare was their favourite sport, this meant incursions into the rohe of another tribe and often its acquisition by conquest. The process has been described by Michael King in “Moriori”iv with eyewitness accounts of those events, a mere five years before the Treaty was signed. “[V]ictims were killed by a blow ... to the temple. Afterwards, ... the heads were removed and thrown to the dogs ... Then the virile member [penis] ... was thrown to the women ... who ate this dainty morsel eagerly.” The remainder of the body was then dismembered, washed and cooked in a “hangi”.

As King continues: “[W]hat took place was simply tikanga, the traditional manner of supporting new land claims. As Rakatau noted with some satisfaction in the Native Land Court in 1870: ‘ we took possession ... in accordance with our customs ... .’ ... The outcome was nothing more nor less than what had occurred on battlefields throughout the North Island.”

By contrast and as far as I know, not a single Maori was killed and eaten by any settler from Britain as part of the process of obtaining land.

Now, hunter-gathering means that food sources are where one finds them and this is most successful when a band of individuals works together. This implied in turn that the rohe, the food-gathering area, was not held by individuals but in common by tribal members, sharing the proceeds but doing little, if anything, to improve it as a food source.1 Apart from the kumara plots, it was not farmed. It is this obsolete form of land-holding which continues under Maori title today.

This was the situation which Europeans found when they showed an interest in buying land.

Maoris on the other hand, soon began to appreciate the superior and more readily produced food which Europeans brought. Notable were pork and potatoes, described with timber and flax as their only “taonga” by 13 Ngapuhi chiefs writing to King William in 1831. When Charles Darwin, prince of observers, arrived on the 1835 visit of HMS “Beagle”, he noted on his walk to the Waimate mission: “The road [was] bordered on each side by tall fern ... we came to a little country village, where a few hovels were collected together, and some ground cultivated with potatoes.”v

Suddenly the tribes discovered that large hunter-gathering areas were no longer necessary for their support, while the variety of material goods and possessions of Europeans were attractive items much to be desired. A rapid transformation occurred of the entire tribal system of values. A veritable frenzy of land selling began, some chiefs travelling to Sydney to sell. Of course they encountered plenty of speculators ready to deal with them. The documents recording the transactions exist there today.

A summary of pre-treaty South Island purchases registered in the names of the buyers reveals the scale of this activityvi:

Nelson, Marlborough, Kaikoura: 44        Canterbury, West Coast:           6 
Banks Peninsula:                      14        Otago, West Coast:                 35 
Southland:                               66        Stewart Island, Ruapuke, etc.: 14

plus a few unregistered sales. Reserves were set aside according to the rank of individuals; from 666 acres for principal chiefs to 73 acres for free men to zero for slaves.

Loud assertions today that land was “stolen” or “dispossessed” are hypocrisy – a mockery of the truth. Some specific examples of sales were thus.

Frenchman Charles de Thierry claimed to have bought 40,000 acres at Hokianga, reputedly by exchange with Hongi Hika (usually called Shongie) of several hundred muskets.

In the South Island, its tiny native population was concentrated in coastal villages near their scanty food supplies. In vast areas of the hinterland, any native who tried to settle would soon starve, as soon discovered by a remnant of Waitaha, said to have tried in the upper Waitaki. Any money or trade goods which white men offered was pure profit to eager sellers. Thusvii:

1. On 25th October 1839, Te Rauparaha of Ngatitoa sold all of the South Island north of 43º to the New Zealand Company. Sales such as this typically excluded “pahs, cultivation, burial places, and wahi tongoa” (this a term of uncertain meaning).viii

2. In February 1840, a Ngai Tahu group sold the central South Island from latitude 42º 40’ to about the mouth of the Rangitata River to the French Nanto-Bordelaise Compagnie. (Note the overlap!)

3. On 15th February 1840, Ngai Tahu sold almost all of the remainder of the South Island to Jones and Wentworth of Sydney. (To his credit, Johnny Jones came to Otago and became a genuine settler.)

There were likewise eager sellers in the North Island. Thusix:

1. On 25th October 1839, Ngatitoa sold a fifth of the North Island, on a line from the Mokau River mouth to Castlepoint.

2. On 8th November 1839, Ngatiawa sold the same area (!)

3. On 16th November 1839, 35 Wanganui chiefs sold ‘Wanganui’ from Patea to Tongariro and Manawatu to the New Zealand Company.

4. On 15th February, 1840, a consortium of 85 Ngamotu chiefs, (one a woman) sold the Ngamotu, Taranaki Block to the New Zealand Company.

These are but examples of many, an 1878 letter from chiefs Ihaia Kirikumara and Tamati Tiraurax stating that some Taranaki land had been sold three times and records exist in one case for five sales(!)

It was little better than a free-for-all and a situation which no responsible government could allow to continue. Thus, on 30th January 1840, the day after his arrival, and in accordance with his instructions from the Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, Hobson issued a proclamation requiring all existing land claims to be proved and subject to confirmation “by Her Majesty” with all subsequent claims being “considered as absolutely Null and Void”.

In the event, all pre-treaty claims were scaled back to a maximum of 2560 acres or four square miles, tidy enough amounts perhaps but a small fraction of that claimed in many cases. The intention to be fair to Maori interests must be obvious.

Moreover, looking ahead, Hobson inserted in Article second of the Treaty the provision that: “the chiefs ... grant to the chiefs [sic] Queen the exclusive right of purchasing ... land ... at such prices as may be agreed”.xi It would be hard to imagine a fairer way to protect tribal interests than this yet it was not long before would-be sellers were complaining that it prevented them from getting a higher price from private interests. We should realize today that they were times of rapid change for all concerned.

Continual bleating today about “loss” of land becomes an increasing chorus. Among the most flagrant is one from pale-faced, red-headed Sacha McMeeking, now no less than the Ngai Tahu member of the University of Canterbury Council. According to her, “the decision was to settle cheaply – accepting $170m when even the treasury value of dispossessed lands lay between $12 and $15 billion”.xii Note the word-twisting: what was sold eagerly is now “dispossessed” while the land today is nothing like the trackless waste of 1840.

And the process continues. In 2010, Ngai Tahu Corporation, registered as a charitable trust, sold Rakanui Station south of Kaikoura to Margaret Hyde, an American citizen, for several million dollars and in 2011, Ngai Tahu Forest Estates Limited, sold 18,252 hectares of central South Island land to a Swiss company for $22,888,888.xiii

Nor were this tribe utilising much of what they continued to own. The 1896 census revealed that Ngai Tahu were cultivating a mere 857.5 acres of 45,000 in their possession.

Dover Samuels speaking before the Waitangi Tribunal stated: “Maori also lost their land, their fisheries, and the rest of their culture” and "unlawful actions by the Department of Maori Affairs [led] to loss of land.”xiv - wild generalities ignoring legitimate transactions freely entered into.2

Today 5.6% of our land remains under Maori title, just 4% having been confiscated from rebel tribes in the colonial period. Though precise figures are not available, a considerable amount of land held under fee simple has Maori owners. Arowhenua Trophy winners (for Maori farmer of the year) Dean and Kristen Nikora (2008) and Barton and Nukuhia Hadfield (2013) are, I surmise, among them.

One Potonga Neilson, whose opinions are often aired in the “Wanganui Chronicle”, claims that the Taranaki tribes should receive $24 billion!xv Peter Dey in “Sunlive”xvi states that “the value of land wrongfully taken from Maori by past governments is more than $30 billion. Fair compensation is very simple. It returns what was taken or enough money to buy the equivalent of what was taken.”

Apart from Dey’s wild claims of land “wrongfully taken”, he blatantly omits the critical point that the value of land today is almost wholly owed to the hard labour and investment of settlers and of successive governments in roads, drainage, irrigation, wharves and other infrastructure.

Whether that land is worth $30 billion today is utterly beside the point. It was sold for what it was worth at the time. Governor Fitzroy, not our most successful governor, did get it exactly right on this point: ‘What is it that makes land valuable? It is labour … in addition to the price of the land it is for bringing out labourers, and tools, and seeds, and cattle, in ships; for … roads, and bridges, and surveys, and many other things. The payment for the land only is very small.”xvii

Tory, E.G. Wakefield and Whig, Normanby agreed on this aspect. In Wakefield’s words, land was to be sold to settlers at ‘a sufficient price’. This price was indeed somewhat more than that paid to Maori owners for the raw land. In providing funds for infrastructure it was the equivalent of property rates today. It may be noted also that when in due course rates were levied, owners of Maori land were at times required to pay only half the standard rate or exempted entirely from it. The gravy-trainers today conveniently forget this favoured treatment of Maori landowners.


In 1842, Rev. Samuel Ironside was the pioneer Methodist minister of the Nelson settlement. A plaque in Old St John’s church today commemorates the centenary of his arrival. Some years later he moved to Taranaki and worked as a missionary there from 1855-1858. Having retired to Sydney, he responded to intemperate criticism by a Church of England dignitary who had never been to New Zealand, his letter duly being published in the “Sydney Morning Herald” and the “Nelson Examiner”.xviii

Such objective testimony from an eyewitness, recorded soon afterwards, must be wholly superior to alleged “oral histories” passed down by word of mouth for 150 years by old men, “kaumatuas”, many of whom told what they wanted to have told and heard only what they wanted to hear.3 Be it noted too that Ironside was witness only to the first round of hostilities in Taranaki. Tribal violence increased thereafter, 177 settler homes and farmsteads being destroyed in little more than twelve months in 1860-1.xix And it got worse later! Such were the alleged “Land Wars” which we are now expected to commemorate!

Ironside’s words, lightly edited, are:

“I have lived twenty years in New Zealand in the capacity of a Wesleyan Methodist Missionary, am tolerably conversant with the language and habits of the natives, was in and out among the poor people during many of their wars, and yield to none in a sincere desire for their welfare. ...

During the whole of my twenty years' experience in that country I cannot call to mind more than one instance of murder of natives by a white man. Not an acre of land has ever been purchased from the natives except at their own repeated request, and by the free consent, as far as could be ascertained, of every individual owner.

They have now millions of acres of land unappropriated, not one tithe of which they can ever cultivate. This land has been a fruitful source of quarrel, bloodshed and violence, among themselves; and the quietly-disposed among them, lamenting over evils which they cannot remedy, namely, the unceasing strife among the various tribes about ownership and boundaries, would gladly alienate the land to the Crown, being sure of equitable payment for all they sold, large reserves for themselves and families, and the presence of English emigrants, who would be a guarantee of peace and quietness, and also furnish an excellent market for all the produce they could raise.

If the Queen could purchase their lands it would be an inestimable blessing to themselves, by removing the fruitful source of war and strife. But the violent and disorderly among them not only refuse to sell lands of which they are themselves owners, but resolutely prevent their neighbours from selling theirs.

The noted Weremu Kingi [sic], in open conference with the District Commissioner, is asked by him if the land in dispute belongs to the parties offering it for sale. He replies, "Yes, the land is theirs; but I will not let them sell it." In 1854 these violent men cruelly and in cold blood murdered seven of their fellow natives, who, unarmed, were engaged in cutting the boundaries of a piece of land which they wished Government to buy. If the Governor had had it in his power to punish those murderers as they deserved, I believe the present war would have been prevented. But they escaped through the weakness of Government, and ever since the lawless and turbulent have done things of this kind with impunity.

It is really too bad to charge the unoffending settlers with being "grasping, and unfair, and oppressive." They are in no way responsible for the war, which is an Imperial question, but have many of them, suffered the loss of all. Husbands, and sons, and fathers, and even little children, have been cruelly murdered. The houses of the settlers are burnt; their pretty English homesteads, in which they had invested their all, and on which they had expended years to toil and sacrifice, are utterly laid waste by an unprincipled mob of natives; ... .

The emigrants of New Zealand are, as a body, wholly innocent of your censures. They are, and have been, honourable in their dealings with the natives. In fact, at Taranaki and its neighbourhood they dare not be otherwise, for they have been at the mercy of the natives. Government for years past has been powerless to repress and punish native crime. Trespasses by the native cattle and horses upon the cultivations of settlers have been of necessity overlooked, while the settler's horse or cow wandering upon the unfenced land of the natives, has been in many instances shot down or barbarously hacked with the tomahawk.

I speak ... of things coming under my own observation, as a missionary. I lived from 1855 to 1858 in Taranaki, where the late unhappy war raged; and was an eye-witness of the patience with which the settlers there bore repeated instances of outrage, and insult, and wrong at the hands of the natives. I hope I shall not be chargeable with want of sympathy with the natives of New Zealand in thus writing. I have given evidence of my sincere desire to their welfare during many years of toil and sacrifice among them; and were I younger in years, and able to endure the toil and exposure, I would gladly go back and labour and die among them.

But I cannot justify the rebellions in their present course, and I cannot allow the emigrants to New Zealand to be charged with fault of which they are wholly innocent, without replying to those charges.”

I am, reverend sir,

yours very faithfully,


Newtown, Sydney, January 18 1862. Sydney Morning Herald, February 12.


Compare this eyewitness account with, for instance, Rosemary McLeod’s recent guilt trip about “the English in the 19th century, their beliefs about their racial superiority, how they craved an empire, and what they were prepared to do to get it” and wonder.

Bruce Moon,
Nelson, 27th July 2017

1An exception was the extensive area of eel-trapping weirs near the Wairau River mouth, possibly constructed by pre-Maori inhabitants.

2This was part of a wider submission which received wide publicity, asking for an apology for the corporal punishment of children for speaking Maori at school. It is a glaring example of when telling less than half the truth is worse than lying. What Samuels omitted saying is (1) the policy of speaking only English in schools was a consequence of petitions from Maori parents.  In the 1870s, Maori MP Takamoana sought legislation to ensure that Maori children were taught only in English. Several petitions in a similar vein were taken to Parliament. In 1877 Wi Te Hakiro with the support of 336 signatories sought an amendment to the Native Schools Act to require teachers in Maori schools to be ignorant of the Maori language and (2) that in the days in question, corporal punishment was used universally for any breaking of school rules, whatever pupils’ racial background. Any kind of corporal punishment of children is repellent but that is how it was.

3False claims about which they are said to be “adamant”: that eye-swallower and murderer of missionary Volkner, Kereopa Te Rau was innocent and that there was church-burning at Rangiaowhia are examples.

iTm Flannery’s estimate is 28-35. In 1883, Maoris are known to have killed 646 Huia in a single month.

iiNick Rawlence, Prime News, 26th July 2017

iiiIan Wishart, “The Great Divide”, HATM Publishing, 2012, Ch. 3, ISBN 978-0-9876573-6-7

ivMichael King, “Moriori”, Viking, 1989, pp. 64-66, ISBN 978-0-670-82655-3

vCharles Darwin, “The Voyage of the Beagle”, 1839

viDetailed lists of transactions registered provided by Jean Jackson, 26th June 2017

viiJean Jackson, “Mistaken Maori Land Claims”, Book Seven, Treaty Series, Vol.2, 2002, p.5

viiiJean Jackson, op.cit., p.19

ixJean Jackson, op.cit., pp.26-27

xSee in full, B. Wells, “The History of Taranaki”, Edmondson & Avery, 1878

xiHobson’s final draft of the Treaty, 4th February 1840

xii“The Press”, p. C5, 2nd July 2011

xiii“Committee against foreign control of Aotearoa”, August 2011

xivDover Samuels, “Northern Advocate”, 5th September 2015

xvPotonga Neilson, “Wanganui Chronicle”, 17th June 2014

xviPeter Dey, “Sunlive”, 26th May 2017

xviiRobert Fitzroy, Official Report, September 1844, quoted by Ian Wishart, “The Great Divide, 2012, p.210

xviiiSamuel Ironside, “Sydney Morning Herald”, 12th February 1862 and “Nelson Examiner”, 12th March 1862

xixW I Grayling, “The War in Taranaki, during the years 1860-61”, 1862