Lieutenant James Cook sailed across the Bay of Plenty in the Endeavour in 1769, but the region had little contact with Pākehā in the wake of that visit. This was partly because the harbours lacked the good anchorages and accessible timber of the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki Gulf. Bay of Plenty Māori may have occasionally encountered Pākehā when they travelled north. Potatoes, a new food, were already being cultivated when the missionary Samuel Marsden visited the region in 1820.
An isolated harbour
In 1820 missionary Samuel Marsden climbed the summit of Mt Hikurangi, near the Katikati entrance to Tauranga Harbour. ‘As far as I could see no ships had been at Tauranga since Captain Cook, and I saw an old chief who remembered seeing that great navigator. They are much in want of tools of every kind as they are not visited by Europeans.’ 1
Bay of Plenty Māori had many dealings with other Māori, not always happily. Ngāpuhi invaders wreaked havoc from 1818. In the late 1820s, sub-tribes from Hauraki attacked Te Papa (present-day Tauranga). This marked another phase in a long-standing competition between Hauraki and Tauranga people over the western harbour. Ngāpuhi war parties returned in the early 1830s to attack both Tauranga and Ngāi Tūhoe.
The Europeans who had reached the region by the early 1830s were valued for their trading goods. Some of them settled around Tauranga Harbour. In 1830 the Danish trader Phillip Tapsell moved to Maketū, and he operated outposts at Te Papa and Matatā. Although he was protected by the people of Te Arawa, his premises were destroyed by rival tribes in 1836.
In the early 1830s a number of missionaries travelled through the region. In 1835 the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) established Te Papa mission station. Here the English missionary Alfred Brown collected signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi, in April and May 1840. The trader and former missionary James Fedarb did the same at Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Tōrere and Te Kaha.
Impact of trade with Auckland
After 1841 Auckland, the new government town on Waitematā Harbour, attracted commerce in the upper North Island, including the Bay of Plenty.
John Lees Faulkner and Peter Dillon traded at Te Papa. Faulkner built boats at Ōtūmoetai, as did George White at Matatā and Richard White at Whakatāne. Phillip Tapsell was active in Whakatāne and Maketū along with his son-in-law George Simpkins.
In such enterprises Māori were partners or employers as well as customers. The promise of trade encouraged peacemaking – for instance between Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tūhoe in 1834, and between Ngāi Te Rangi and Te Arawa in 1845. It also enabled missionaries to range more widely. After a request from French traders at Te Puna, Catholics were active at Te Papa and Ōpōtiki from 1840 and at Maketū from 1841. More CMS missions were established at Ōpōtiki in 1840 and Maketū in 1851. But few settlers arrived, as there was plenty of land closer to Auckland.
In 1863 British forces invaded Waikato as part of a campaign to enforce government authority and obtain fertile lands for European settlement. Māori hapū from the East Coast sent war parties to support the Waikato people and the Māori sovereignty initiative known as the King movement.
At Te Kaokaoroa near Matatā on 27 and 28 April 1864, Te Arawa forces allied to the government defeated East Coast supporters of the Māori King movement. Then at Gate Pā in Tauranga on 29 April, the British were defeated by Ngāi Te Rangi defenders. The British had their revenge at Te Ranga two months later.
A prayer for the milkman
After he was pardoned by the government, the leader and prophet Te Kooti travelled through the Bay of Plenty in January 1884. Threatened with lynching by Europeans, he travelled with a bodyguard of 200 men. ‘On Judea Hill near Tauranga the party met a milkman on his early morning rounds. Crowding round him they sang hymns and prayed for his conversion, till the terrified tradesman dropped his cans and fled.’ 2
In 1865 and 1866, along the Bay of Plenty coast, the activity of the prophetic movement Pai Mārire drew Ngāti Awa and Te Whakatōhea tribes into conflict with the government. This flared after the killing of missionary Carl Völkner at Ōpōtiki on 2 March 1865, and government interpreter James Fulloon and others at Whakatāne four months later. Subsequent confiscations deprived Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Awa, Te Whakatōhea and Ngāi Tūhoe of much of their best land, although some was later returned.
The region saw more military activity during the pursuit of the outlawed Māori leader Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki between 1869 and 1872. Government forces moved deep into tracts of the Urewera where no Europeans, apart from a few missionaries, had ventured.