Founding of Auckland
In 1840 European activity shifted abruptly to the Tamaki Isthmus and Northland became a backwater. Governor Hobson, in giving his reasons for selecting Auckland as the site for the colonial capital, pointed to its central position with respect to the native population, the ease of water communication by sea and river, the excellent harbour with ready access to fresh water and valuable timber stands, and the agricultural potential of the red volcanic soils which had long been cleared of forest and were then carrying scrub and fern. The terraced earthworks of more than 20 hill forts were impressive evidence of a dense population in the past, but in 1840 there were few Maoris within 20 miles of Auckland. Settlers in southern New Zealand criticised the choice of an “off centre” site for the colonial capital, but the Governor's mission was not so much to superintend white colonisation as to ensure that strife between Maori and European would be avoided, and for this purpose Auckland was an ideal site.
The town of Auckland was laid out to the plan of Felton Mathew and by the end of 1840 a large-scale influx of officials, tradesmen, and labourers had taken place from the Bay of Islands. By 1841 the white population was 1,500 and in 1842 the first two immigrant ships direct from Britain landed some 500 Scottish settlers. Auckland was more varied in its functions than any of the “organised” settlements in central and southern New Zealand. It was an administrative and military centre and a trading port for a widely scattered hinterland. Its export list was more varied than that of any other New Zealand settlement and in 1858 included copper ore, potatoes, gold dust and kauri gum, timber, cheese, and wool. It was also a centre for boatbuilding and for other woodworking industries based on the kauri timber of the nearby Waitakere Ranges.
Distinctive were the five “pensioner villages”, forming an outer defensive screen, overlooking the main waterway approaches to Auckland. These were established by Governor Grey after the war in the Bay of Islands in 1845; in return for light military service former Imperial soldiers were granted a cottage and an acre of land. Some 700 military settlers arrived, many of them of Irish origin. They formed a pool of rural labour and in their spare time tilled their garden-farms and supplied Auckland and the shipping with vegetables, fruit, and dairy produce. Despite the emphasis on trade, administration, and industry, Auckland made more rapid progress in mixed farming during the forties and fifties than any of the southern settlements. In 1858 Auckland Province, with 30 per cent of the country's white population, had 42 per cent of the crop and sown grassland in possession of Europeans, a greater acreage in potatoes than the whole of the South Island, and came third after Canterbury and Nelson in the area of wheat grown. The undulating farmlands around Auckland, with their stone walls, hedgerows, and numerous cottages, were commended by visitors for their neat “home-like English” appearance. Indeed, the “concentration and contiguity” of settlement and the English-style mixed farming envisaged in the theorists' plans for the southern settlements of New Zealand were probably achieved more faithfully in the neighbourhood of Auckland in the 1850s than in any of the “planned” settlements of the south.
Maori agriculture also prospered in the period 1845 to 1860, especially in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty districts. European crops were enthusiastically adopted and substantial quantities of wheat, maize, and potatoes were sent by canoe and coastal vessel to Auckland for export to Australia. The collapse of the market for foodstuffs on the Australian gold-fields after 1856 and the rise of Maori nationalism in the Waikato put an end to the “golden age” of Maori arable farming.
The land laws of the Province of Auckland provided for the sale of rural Crown lands at the fixed price of 10s. per acre, but much land was acquired by speculators in 1853 and remained unfarmed for decades. Alone among the provinces Auckland set aside certain blocks for “special settlements” by organised groups of immigrants. Unique also were the free grants of 40 acres of land made to fare-paying immigrants. These could be held either as part of a group settlement or in general country lands. Group settlements were founded under these conditions in three areas of Northland: at Waipu, near Whangarei, where some 900 people of Scottish highland descent, led by Norman McLeod, arrived in 1851 and 1852 after a sojourn in Nova Scotia, Canada; on Kaipara Harbour, where the Albertland settlement of English and Scottish Nonconformists began in 1862 and attracted about 3,000 settlers; and the Bohemian settlement at Puhoi, founded in 1863. All these areas were on soils difficult to farm and were generally without road access. South of Auckland the frontier of white settlement before the Maori Wars had reached Drury and Waiuku, on the fringe of the dense bush which barred the way to the Waikato.
The census of 1861 gives some indication of the varied origins of the settlers who came to the Auckland Province before the Maori Wars. Of the overseas-born population only 50 per cent were from England; 15 per cent were from Scotland; 21 per cent were from Ireland (the highest proportion in any New Zealand province up to that date); 5 per cent were born in Australia–a proportion exceeded only in Southland; and no less than 7 per cent were designated as “other British” including Canada.
The advance of European settlement provoked suspicion and resentment among the Maoris and determination to resist further land purchases was expressed in the Waikato-based Maori “King” movement. From Auckland, merchants, land agents, and immigrant farmers looked enviously upon the open plains of the Waipa and Waikato, while in the hill country beyond the Waipa the Maniapoto tribe was the most zealous Maori advocate of a resort to war. Conflict began in July 1863 when Imperial troops under General Cameron advanced into the Waikato. The wars fell into two distinct phases. In the first, Imperial troops conducted a regular campaign with gunboats, military roads, and artillery. By April 1864 they had subdued the Waikato tribes and, shortly after, defeated their allies at Tauranga. The supporters of the Maori king retreated into the hilly fastness of the King Country, where they lived in sullen isolation until the general amnesty of 1882. The Northland Maoris took no part in the wars of the 1860s and the Arawas of the Rotorua district provided a wedge of “friendly” territory which prevented natives from the East Coast giving support to the Waikato tribes.
The second phase of the war, between 1865 and 1872, was marked by sudden raids and guerilla skirmishes. The contestants were the fanatical Hauhaus and the followers of Te Kooti on the one hand, and armed settlers, colonial volunteer forces, and friendly Maoris on the other. The fighting took place mainly in the Taupo, Opotiki, Urewera, and Poverty Bay districts.
The removal of the national capital to Wellington in 1865 and the departure of the Imperial troops caused business depression in Auckland, but despondency was soon dispelled by the opening of the Thames goldfields. Small quantities of alluvial gold had been discovered at Coromandel in 1852 and modest success followed the opening of quartz lodes there in 1862. Prospecting on the Coromandel Peninsula was delayed by the reluctance of the Maori land owners to admit miners, but negotiations for the opening of 4 square miles in the Thames district were concluded by James Mackay in 1867.
The Thames quickly became New Zealand's greatest mining camp, with some 12,000 people. The quartz was of phenomenal richness, easily mined, and readily processed by simple machinery. In 1872, when the peak yield of £1 million worth of bullion was won, Auckland investors and speculators had floated at least 130 mining companies on the field. In 1875 the goldfields were extended when the Maoris agreed to open the Ohinemuri Valley. Some 1,500 miners took off at the starting gun, but it was found that the complex sulphide ores of the district could not be worked profitably by the techniques then available.