Maori Land Wars


In recent times the media are urging us to commemorate the New Zealand land wars. Matakana has a direct link to the Waikato wars. After Lieutenant-General Cameron led British troops in the invasion of Waikato in July 1863, any Māori who resisted were classed as rebels and thereafter captured as prisoners. After the battle at Rangiriri 200 Māori prisoners were force-march to Auckland and held on the hulk Marion on the Waitemata.

Governor Grey had them transported on the Marion to Kawau Island, his newly acquired country home in August 1864. They were held there without trial for weeks; they had permission to cultivate their gardens for food and cut firewood for the Auckland market.  When a man-o’-war turned up, an officer asked if Māori understood the significance of the warship. They were told they were to be taken to some distant island, or left abandoned somewhere in mid-ocean. That line is omitted from every Pakeha rendering of the story.

The line may have been spoken in jest – who knows; it was enough to convince the Māori to execute an already discussed plan to escape. Early on Sunday 11 September 1864, the whole contingent of prisoners left and made their way to the eastern peak of Mt Tamahunga where they built a Pa. They did have freedom of movement and over the ensuing weeks they survived on wild pig, native pigeons, seafood from Whangateau, and the occasional poached sheep or cattle. They were desperate men who were trapped by Government policy in its quest for land, but were constrained in their relationship with Matakana populace; they had been instructed by local Māori not to harm Pakeha.

Many a Matakana story emerges about the encounters these Māori had with locals who had direct dealings with them. The popular press was fiercely anti-Māori as were the influential sections of the Government. Governor Grey took a more lenient line; he did not want a repeat of the Taranaki and Waikato wars. Some Government officials resigned in protest.

After offers of safe passage back to Waikato, none of which were trusted, Māori initiated their own departure. On 14 November 1864 in groups of 40, so as to avoid wholesale capture, they made their way down to Lower Matakana (Sandspit), crossed the Glen Eden/Matakana estuary, across Snells Beach in front of the Snell home, to the Mahurangi, and thence south to Waikato – 66 days of uneasy settlement on Tamahunga. No political heroics, no triumphal return, no peace negotiations. How close we got to a Northern war we will never know.

Extracted from ‘We Gathered Here – a History of Matakana’ by David R Grant, 2017. 

Available from Matakana Village Books, Matakana