The Maori King
Chapter V — Potatau, the King
Potatau, the King
The fruit of this resolution was the following circular, which was sent about the Waikato district:—
‘February 12th, 1857.
‘To all Waikato,
‘This is the agreement of Ngatihaua, for Potatau to be king of New Zealand:—
‘Friends—Our desire is great that Potatau should be set up in this very year. Do not delay. Hasten the assembling of the “runangas!” Hasten the establishment of the scheme, and when it is done the documents will be collected, and the day will be fixed for instituting him. Be speedy. You will write to the remote tribes that they may hear.
From Wiremu (Tamihana) Tarapipipi, and all Ngatihaua, to Waikato, to Kereihi, Pukewau, Harapata, Toma, Ruihana, Waata Tengatete.
This was not the first proposal for the election of a king, nor the first nomination of Potatau to the office. The desire for a king had existed for six or seven years previously: the only difficulty was to find some chief to place on the throne who would be accepted by all. A meeting attended by 1,600 natives had just been held by Te Heu Heu at Taupo. Much mystery had attended this national gathering. A platform had been erected, on which was the inscription—‘Look to the land; look to the sea.’ At this meeting it was distinctly proposed that Potatau Te Wherowhero, the great chief of Waikato, should be king. When Tamihana heard of the proposal he resolved to do his best to carry it into effect. He therefore at once published the formal assent of Ngatihaua in the letter above quoted.
1 AJHR, 1860, E-1C, p. 3. [Te Kereihi was a Ngatimakuta chief at Paetai; Harapata a Ngatinaho chief at Meremere; Ruihana a Ngatikarewa chief at the Waikato Heads; ‘Toma’ may be Toma Whakapo; Waata Tengatete has not been otherwise indentified.]
When the assent of Ngatihaua, the natural supporters of Wi Nera, had thus assured Potatau's election, an unexpected difficulty arose from the old man's reluctance to accept the office. ‘I am nothing but a snail,’ he said. ‘What can a snail do?’ He declared he would be an arbitrator between the tribes, in their land quarrels, but nothing more.
At length, he was persuaded to be present at a meeting of all the Waikato tribes, summoned to Rangiriri, in April, 1857; the avowed object of which was to install him King of New Zealand.
The Government was at last aroused from its lethargy to a consciousness of the dangerous excitement which prevailed. Colonel Browne determined to attend the Rangiriri meeting in person.1 He left Auckland, accompanied by Mr McLean and Mr Richmond2 (one of the Colonial Ministry), arrived at Rangiriri, and, finding the meeting postponed, proceeded up the Waikato country, as far as Otawhao. He there fell in with Te Heu Heu, the great chief of Taupo, on his way to attend the meeting. Te Heu Heu, according to his usual custom, began to talk quietly, but soon worked himself into a towering passion. He told the Governor, that if the lowest Englishman chose to visit the Maories, he was welcome, and received all the hospitality in their power to afford, sharing their own food and shelter; but that if a chief of the highest rank visited Auckland, he was refused admittance, and neglected by all, except the Governor and one or two of the officers of Government. He said, and with truth, that Englishmen living among natives were often men of desperate character, who got drunk, and ill-treated both men and women; whose cattle trespassed on native lands, and who, instead of making compensation, abused the injured in language which, by Maori custom, ought to be punished with death. For all this they could get no redress; the English were, by degrees, obtaining the best of their lands, and the Maories would soon ‘be eaten up, and cease to be.’ For these reasons they were determined to have a King of their own, and Assemblies of their own. They would not interfere with the English in the settlements; but the laws they intended to make should be binding on all who chose to reside among the natives. Finally, he said that, in all this, they had been advised by one of our own people.
1 AJHR, 1860, F-3, Appendix A.
On his return to Rangiriri, the Governor arrived at the same time as Potatau. The natives who had already assembled, including the principal chiefs of the Lower Waikato, made speeches to the Governor, in Potatau's presence. They asked for runangas, a European magistrate, and laws. To these demands the Governor assented; he promised to send a magistrate to reside on the Waikato, who should visit the native settlements, and, with the assessors, administer justice periodically. He also promised to have a code of laws framed, applicable to the circumstances of the natives. All the men then took off their hats, and cried ‘Hurrah!’2 Potatau declared that he would be guided by the Governor's advice. He was a dying man, and should bequeath his people to the Governor's care.
1 [J. M. Garavel, a Catholic priest who taught at a school for Maori boys at Rangiaowhia until May 1860. He then went to Sydney where he died in the late eighteen-seventies (The Month, (Auckland), 15 January, 1920; AJHR, 1862, E-4, p. 5).]
2 AJHR, 1860, F-3, p. 46.
Meanwhile, the great meeting at Rangiriri was going on. The following account of it is abridged from The Southern Cross, of June 5th, 1857:—The guests were mustering for several days at Kahumatuku. The last to arrive were the Ngatimaniapoto. On Friday, May 10th, the whole body started down the river, at a tremendous pace, to Rangiriri, twelve miles distant. About fifty canoes conveyed the guests. The entertainers were about equal in numbers: several Europeans were with them. After the usual reception, Ngatihaua formed four deep, and, proceeding to a large open space, planted in the centre the flag of the new dynasty. This was white with a red border and two red crosses (symbols of Christianity); upon it the words ‘Potatau, King of New Zealand.’
Saturday was devoted to eating and drinking. The bill of fare included bullocks, sharks, baskets of fresh and dried eels, baskets of patiki and mataitai, bags of sugar, kits of potatoes and kumeras,1 1,500 pounds of tobacco, besides flour, &c. &c.
1 [patiki, flounder; mataitai, sea-food—probably shell-fish; kumara, sweet potato.]
On Tuesday, at ten o'clock, a long procession appeared from the southern end of the town, headed by Ngatihaua, bearing the King's flag. The Maories composing it were dressed in black cloth suits. They planted the flag as before, and arranged themselves in long rows on one side of the open space. The leaders and chief speakers were in the centre, each man provided with paper and pencil for the purpose of taking notes. There they sat for half an hour. At last, the Union-Jack was displayed on a little hill, about a quarter of a mile off. Another soon appeared, further inland. Presently a procession started from the hill, headed by Waata Kukutai, bearing the flag, and occupied part of the opposite side of the square. Immediately after, another body advanced, bearing flag No. 2, joined the other party, and both flags were planted opposite to that of the King. The third side of the square was filled by natives who had not joined either party. At the fourth side appeared the native teachers, headed by Hoera and Heta.1
Proceedings now commenced by Heta reading prayers, including that for the Queen, and Hoera gave a short discourse on temper and moderation. The following were the most remarkable speeches:—2
1 [Heta (Seth) Tarawhiti, a teacher at Taupiri; ordained and admitted to deacon's orders 1860. He was one of the Ngaungau hapu of the Ngatimahuta. Hoera (Joel) Toanui, a teacher at Kirikiriroa and a Ngatihaua chief. According to the Southern Cross report, Hoera ‘occupied a sort of moderator position’ at the meeting.]
2 [The Southern Cross report is published AJHR, 1860, F-3, p. 118 ff.; cf. another report, ibid., p. 143 ff.]
3 [Paora Te Ahura, a Ngatihaua chief.]
Takirau.1—That is the road—that word ‘friendship.’ But it applies to both sides. Our King will be friendly with the Queen. Their flags will be tied together. (Hoists the King's flag, and ties it to the Queen's.) I say, let us be like all other lands that have kings, and glory and honour. Let the blessing of God, which rests on other lands and their kings, rest upon us. If I asked the Queen to leave her throne, I should be wrong; all I ask is, that the dignity which now rests on her should rest on our King; so that this land may be in peace, and may be honoured. Let the Queen and the Pakehas occupy the coast, and be a fence round us.
Wiremu Nera.—I am a small man and a fool. Ngatihaua, be not dark, Waikato listen, Taupo attend. My name has been heard of in the old day, and sometimes it is still mentioned. I am going to speak mildly, like a father. My word is this, I promised the first Governor, when he came to see me, and I promised all the rest, that I would stick to him, and be a subject of the Queen. I intend to keep my promise, for they have kept theirs; they have taken no land. Mine was the desire to sell, and they gave me the money. Why do you bring that new flag here? There is trouble in it. I am content with the old one. It is seen all over the world, and it belongs to me. I get some of its honour! What honour can I get from your flag? It is like a fountain without water. You say we are slaves. If acknowledging that flag make me a slave, I am a slave. Let me alone.
This speech made a deep impression, for Wiremu was the most renowned warrior present; it was followed by half an hour's silence.
Wiremu Tamihana.—I am sorry my father has spoken so strongly. He has killed me. I love New Zealand. I want order and laws. The King can give us these better than the Governor; the Governor has never done anything except when a Pakeha is killed. He lets us kill each other and fight. A King would stop these evils. However, if you don't like the King pull down the flag. Let Rewi pull it down if you wish it.
1 [A chief of the Ngatihinetu tribe.]
Rewi stepped forward without speaking, and in anger took the King's flag, threw it at the foot of the Union-Jack, and sat down again.
Waata Kukutai.—Let the flag stand, but wash out the writing on it. Let us not talk like children, but find out some real good for ourselves. We cannot do it by ourselves. The white men have the money, the knowledge—everything. I shall remain a subject of the Queen and look up to her flag as my flag for ever and ever. If you follow your road you will be benighted, get into a swamp, and either stick there or come out covered with mud.
Tarahawaiki got up again, rather angry, and the meeting was becoming excited, when Hoera called out, ‘Let us pray.’ All were silent, and he read prayers, and the proceedings terminated.
On Wednesday, stations were taken as before.
Potatau Te Wherowhero appeared on this day, surrounded by his friends, and occupied the fourth side of the square. After prayers he spoke as follows:—Wash me, my friends, I am covered with mud. Love gospel and friendship. Ngatihaua work, continue to work. The Kotuku2 sits upon a stump and eats the small fish; when he sees one he stoops down and catches it, lifts up his head, and swallows it. That is his constant work. Wiremu, you understand your work. When the sun shines we see him. (Here he sang a song.)
Te Heu Heu of Taupo then spoke with violence, enumerating the causes of quarrel which the Maories had against the Europeans; the indignities shown to chiefs by the lower orders in the towns, their women debauched, men made drunk, chiefs called ‘bloody Maories,’ &c. He advocated total separation of races and expulsion of Europeans by force. He was at last stopped by some of the chiefs, and compelled to sit down.
1 [A chief of the Ngatimahuta.]
2 [The white egret, Egretta alba modesta.]
3 [Hona Papita, John (the) Baptist; a chief of the Ngatihinetu tribe living at Rangiaowhia.]
Hemi Putini1 then, addressing Potatau, said, Declare yourself about the flags, you have heard our views.
Paora placed the King's flag about a yard from the Queen's, and tied them together, then marked a ring in the ground round each. Rewi deepened the ring. Kukena, uncle of Potatau, then came forward, and amidst a dead silence, lowered the flag halfmast, and tied it to the Union-Jack.
Tipene.2—Don't you be sad (to the Kingites), and don't you be joyful (to the loyal party), for though the flag is down the writing remains.
After a few more speeches and songs, the meeting separated.
On the following day the King's flag was despatched to the tribes in the south, to summon them to a larger meeting, which should either induce Potatau to accept office, or appoint someone else in his stead.
The whole party then adjourned to Ihumatao, a native village on the Manukau, about eight miles from Auckland, where a second meeting was held, at which the same men were present and made the same speeches.3
This meeting was not attended by any agent of the Government, but the Bishop of New Zealand, Mr Buddle,4 the head of the Wesleyan body, and several other missionaries and gentlemen were present. The Maories were warned by their European friends of the mischief that must ensue from the establishment of a separate sovereignty—‘Give up your King,’ said Mr C.O. Davis; ‘you will be torn to pieces by the Pakeha.’ Such warnings were not likely to deter the natives from their purpose. Maories are not easily frightened by mere threats.
1 [A nephew of Wiremu Nera.]
2 [Tipene Tahatika of the Ngatimahuta.]
3 [This meeting was in May-June 1857.]
The Governor was at last thoroughly roused to a sense of danger. He felt that the establishment of a distinct nationality in any form, would end sooner or later in collision; and that, if the agitation for a king were persisted in, it would bring about a conflict of races, and become the greatest political difficulty we had yet had to contend with in New Zealand. For these reasons he considered it highly important that the European population should in future be as little scattered as possible. Instructions were given to the Land Purchase Commissioners to endeavour to connect and consolidate crown lands, and to make no new purchases of isolated lands without special authority. But this course was adopted too late. The actual intermixture of crown and native territories throughout the North Island, and especially on the Waikato frontier, and the general unwillingness of the natives to sell more land, made such consolidation impossible. A clear line of demarcation between the territories of the rival nations could not be obtained without war and conquest.
At the same time it was confidently hoped by the Governor himself and the Colonial Ministry, that Mr Fenton's mission would allay the excitement, and avert the dangers to be apprehended from the election of a king. This mission and its results will form the subject of the following chapter.