Life in Early Poverty Bay
In 1883 he arranged a friendly settlement of disputed titles between the original Native owners of the Whataupoko block and Mr. P. Barker, who had purchased most of the interests in it, but could get no finality and no sure title in the Courts. Mr. Barker re-sold a part of the estate for a cash payment and an indefeasible title to the interests he retained. Then the suburb of Whataupoko, so popular to-day, was surveyed, subdivided, roaded and thrown open for settlement. But the locai authorities had little desire, and perhaps no money, to build a bridge, so Mr. Rees, realising that one was indispensable, spanned the river at Peel Street. He persuaded the Natives to provide some of the funds, but had eventually to contribute a great part of the cost out of his own pocket. The bridge (known as “Rees's Folly”—the public wondering how he could expect anyone to make a home among the thick manuka, so far from the Post Office) was for years only wide enough for one vehicle from bank to bank. Later, the authorities widened it on both sides of the middle swing. When the present splendid bridge replaced it, the excellent state of preservation of the piles and other timber caused surprise.
Besides many beneficial arrangements similar to that of the Whataupoko block, local settlers had also cause to thank Mr. Rees for urging on the legislation by which they were able to convert their leaseholds into freehold titles.
For years he advocated a simpler manner of dealing with Native lands through a system of committees. He continually urged that a Commission should be set up to consider the whole question and take evidence throughout the North Island. Eventually, in 1891, the Commission was decided on, with Mr. Rees as chairman, and Mr. (later, Sir James) Carroll as a member. The report of the Commission was a valuable contribution towards the proper understanding of the need for reform.