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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XV — Taranaki and the Maori Land League

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Chapter XV
Taranaki and the Maori Land League

The scene of Te Makarini's activities now changed again, he was back in Taranaki. The formation of the Maori Land League, at a great meeting of the West Coast tribes, at Manawapou, was described by Maclean, as Chief Commissioner of Lands Purchase, to the Colonial Secretary early in 1854. Maclean saw that in the interests of the Taranaki province it was urgently necessary to induce the natives to break away from this compact. At this time he was negotiating with the Taranaki tribes for the purchase of the Hua and Waiwhakaiho block estimated at from 12,000 to 14,000 acres of good agricultural land, contiguous to the town of New Plymouth, and in a report in March, 1854, he stated that an arrangement had been effected with the majority of the Maoris.

Maclean enumerated the reasons which actuated the nonsellers among the tribes to cession of any of their territory to the Government: “… Their knowledge of its increased value, and of the extreme urgency of the Europeans to obtain it; their apprehension of never being allowed to repurchase any part of what they once alienate; the fear that they should thereby lose their distinctive national character and standing and be reduced to a state of slavery and indigence.”

The sellers demanded £3,000 for the land, and in agreeing to pay this, Maclean and the other officers of the Government made the arrangement that instead of having native reserves cut out of the block which would take the best of the land, the Maoris should repurchase out of the land they had sold £1,000 worth of land with a pre-emptive right of selection at ten shillings an acre. The young Commissioner explained the advantage of this understanding, or page 68 stipulation, a plan which had not previously been tried in the purchases of Maori land. “I have every reason to expect,” he wrote, “that this arrangement will be most important in its results by giving the natives a security of tenure they never previously enjoyed, by removing all apprehension as to their inability to repurchase from the Government; by leading them to take an interest in the political institutions of the country by being qualified to take a part in them; by introducing a feature in their mode of living which must improve their circumstances, while it dispenses with the necessity that existed under the former precarious tenure and custom of living in confederate lands in large pas, ready at a moment's notice to collect and arm themselves either for defence or depredation.”

Maclean expected that this system would lead without much difficulty to the purchase of the whole of the native lands in the Taranaki province. The Maoris, he reported, had entered into the arrangement quite readily, and had deposited the £1,000 with Mr. G. S. Cooper, Sub-Commissioner, for the purchase of lands. However, the scheme did not turn out as well as was expected at first, for it became necessary to make large reserves of the best of the land for various absent Ngati-Awa chiefs, including Wi Tako Ngatata and Te Puni, who had interests in the block.

Inter-tribal disputes, in which the warriors of the Puketapu hapu and others were hotly engaged, troubled the settlement considerably in the mid-fifties, and skirmishes between the quarrelsome lords of the soil were fought even on the farms of the pakeha. In August 1855, a British garrison was established on the commanding height called Marsland Hill—formerly a strong Maori pa called Pukaka -which became the citadel of New Plymouth. The first troops to occupy the place were 276 officers and men of the 58th Regiment, with detachments of Artillery and Sappers (Royal Engineers). The ship Duke of Portland, which brought the 58th from Auckland, round the North Cape, returned in September with 210 officers and men of the 65th Regiment. The crown of the fort hill was levelled for the erection of barracks, and several guns were emplaced commanding the approaches of the little town.