Story: Hauraki–Coromandel region

Page 6. Māori society, 1840 to 1920

All images & media in this story

Trade with Auckland

Hauraki Māori were well placed to supply Auckland’s settlers with food. Their waka (canoes) brought fish, vegetables and fruit from the Firth of Thames and the Waihou River. In the 1840s and 1850s Hauraki Māori purchased schooners and cutters for trade, easier travel and mana.

Tararū to Kauaeranga in 1849 

In his journal G. S. Cooper, New Zealand’s first treasurer and collector of customs, wrote of travelling from Tararū to Kaweranga (Parawai) mission station: ‘Our walk was about three miles in length, nearly the whole of it over a beautifully cultivated flat, inhabited by a great number of natives.’1

Yet Hauraki was a region of mountains and extensive wetlands, with only small river flats except at the mouth of the Waihou River. Scope for large-scale agriculture was limited.

Early Hauraki successes in the colonial economy were reversed by the crash in Australian food markets in 1856, increasing soil infertility and mounting debts.


Fears of European domination led to widespread support for the Kīngitanga (the Māori King movement) in Hauraki, in defence of land and independence, rather than in defiance of the Crown. The subsequent invasion of Waikato by Crown forces brought them close to Hauraki Māori land on the west side of Tīkapa Moana (the Firth of Thames). A minority of Hauraki fought Crown troops on the Great South Road and in the Hūnua Ranges until December 1863. The Crown built a line of redoubts (forts) between Pūkorokoro (Miranda) on the Firth of Thames and Pōkeno on the Waikato River, and enforced a naval blockade of the Firth of Thames.

In January 1865 the Crown confiscated the 20,000-hectare East Wairoa block, which lay in the Hūnua Ranges, alleging Hauraki involvement in the war. In Treaty of Waitangi claims hearings in the early 2000s, the Crown accepted that this action was unjust.


Auckland businesses were eager to profit from Hauraki timber. Hauraki Māori sold cutting rights to individual trees in the 1850s and to entire forests between 1860 and 1875.

Land alienation

Europeans were drawn to Hauraki before 1840 by its timber and water access. They acquired land at Coromandel Harbour, Tairua, Whangapoua, Whitianga, Hikutaiā and Paeroa.

Crown land purchasing was slow in Hauraki after 1840 and stopped altogether in the late 1850s because of Māori opposition. After 1865 the Native Land Court introduced a new land tenure system based on the ownership and sale of individual interests, which undermined tribal management and ownership of land. The Māori population in the region dropped to about 1,500 in the 1880s.

The Crown proclaimed exclusive right of purchase over large areas of Hauraki from 1872 to 1897. Sometimes divisive and questionable methods were used, such as giving credit to individuals which was secured by land owned collectively, and then taking the land if they were unable to pay their debts. Māori land might have fetched higher prices on the open market.

The proportion of Māori land in Hauraki fell from 80–90% in 1865 to 15–20% in 1899. The Crown purchased most remaining Māori land in the Hauraki Plains in the 1910s.

In the early 21st century, about 2% of Hauraki remained in Māori ownership. This land was mainly at Kennedy Bay, Mataora and Manaia.

All that glitters 

Hori Watene of Ngāti Tamaterā testified to the MacCormick Commission in 1935: ‘Where the carcass lie, the ravens will fly … That ugly carcass – gold, lay right in our midst … Why what a curse.’2


At Coromandel, the site of gold discoveries in 1852, the Crown and Māori negotiated an agreement through which Māori landowners would receive payments based on the number of miners on the field.

The two parties reached similar gold agreements at Coromandel in 1862 and at Thames in 1867. Again, the cession of mining rights entailed consultation and Māori consent. This principle changed in 1868 when, at Thames, the Crown converted miners’ rights into mining leases without Māori consent. James Mackay, as a Crown official and as a private land agent, played a leading role in gold negotiations between 1867 and 1875.

Ngāti Tamaterā of Ōhinemuri, under their chief Te Hira Te Tuiri, resisted gold mining in their district. In 1875 they were forced to yield because their land had been used as security on credit.

After 1870 the Crown sought to buy the freehold of gold-bearing land, to achieve better control of goldfields. Māori found themselves pressured into selling land, rather than leasing it for gold-mining, and lost the gold revenues.

The costs for Māori of gold extraction in Hauraki were considerable. They included a massive influx of Europeans, the disruption of communities and accelerated loss of land.

  1. G. S. Cooper, Journal of an expedition overland from Auckland to Taranaki, by way of Rotorua, Taupo, and the West Coast: undertaken in the summer of 1849–50. Auckland: Williamson and Wilson, 1851, p. 8. Back
  2. Native Affairs Department, Hauraki Goldfields, MA 13/35c, Archives New Zealand, Wellington. Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Monin, 'Hauraki–Coromandel region - Māori society, 1840 to 1920', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Paul Monin, published 15 Dec 2010, updated 1 Apr 2016