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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



In 1879 Te Whiti intensified his campaign against the alienation of Maori lands, and on 7 June 1879 the Hawera settlers, in some alarm, formed several volunteer regiments. Major Noakes, the officer commanding Patea militia district, visited Hawera where he yielded to the settlers' importunities to issue them with arms. On 21 June 15 Maoris from Kaupokonui crossed the Waingongoro River and began ploughing James Livingston's (1840–1915) lawn. The settlers became very excited and reported the incident to the Premier, Sir George Grey who asked the militia commander to investigate. The settlers, however, interpreted this to mean that the Government doubted the seriousness of the situation and they resolved to take separate action. On 22 June a party of 200 settlers, armed with stockwhips, assembled at Livingston's farm and escorted the Maoris and their ploughs across the river. That night a large public meeting in Hawera resolved to form a defence (vigilante) committee to protect the settlement until troops arrived. Those present pledged themselves to prevent further ploughing and, after passing a few choice pieces of advice to the Premier, the meeting adjourned without, however, having elected the committee.

All that night volunteers patrolled the settlement but no Maoris were seen. Early in the morning of 23 June, ploughmen were again reported at Livingston's farm. The Hawera Cavalry was warned and, on arrival, found 15–20 Maoris at work. These were rounded up at gunpoint and quickly returned across the river. The public meeting resumed in the evening and the chairman read a telegram from Grey which intimated that troops were on the way. On Major Noake's advice the meeting dropped its proposal to set up a defence committee and elected an “ejectment committee” with James Livingston as its “captain”.

No ploughmen crossed the Waingongoro River after the cavalry episode on 23 June; but the Hawera Cavalry, reinforced by 170 armed constables under Major Roberts, patrolled the district and arrested several groups of ploughmen at Normanby. These were tried later in the Resident Magistrate's Court at Hawera. The “Republic” concluded on 10 July 1879, when Livingston, presiding at the inevitable public meeting, read a telegram from Sir George Grey who congratulated all concerned. The meeting immediately disagreed with the Premier's assessment of the district's defence needs and sent a deputation to Wellington to voice their protest.

The “Republic” – a term jocularly applied to it by the Wanganui Herald – was a mildly amusing political extravaganza. Admittedly, it was formed by the settlers in a manner which would have pleased Rousseau. It existed to meet an emergency and lasted only until Government aid reached the district. The “Republic” was a popular movement – a “res publicae” in the classical sense. From the point of view of international law, it could never have received recognition as an independent state because it possessed only a western frontier – the Waingongoro River. During the “Republic's” existence two bloodless “battles” were fought. A defence committee was also formed at Patea, and similar movements were mooted at Carlyle and Waverley.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Tokaora School 50th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet 1907–57
  • Patea Mail 11, 25, 28 June
  • 2, 5, 9, 12 July 1879;Wanganui Weekly Herald, 28 June 1879.


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.