By the late 1840s pastoral farmers in Wairarapa were pushing north in a quest for more land. The first flock of sheep in Hawke’s Bay arrived in Pourerere in 1849. Early pastoralists negotiated leases directly with Māori, which was illegal at the time, prompting the government to act so it could control all land transactions. Hawke’s Bay Māori wanted more Pākehā settlers, because they brought money and prestige, and offered the government land in exchange. In 1851 government agent Donald McLean purchased three blocks of land which totalled 254,547 hectares. More land was purchased later in the 1850s, a process which sometimes triggered conflict between Ngāti Kahungunu hapū (sub-tribes).
Hawke’s Bay saw little fighting during the New Zealand wars of the 1860s, compared to regions like Taranaki and Waikato. Land loss was not an issue for Hawke’s Bay Māori at this time, and there were no contentious European settlements in the region. However, opposition to land sales and surveying was brewing. Some chiefs were sympathetic to the Kīngitanga movement in Waikato, but few joined the conflict. Donald McLean used his influence to keep most on the government side.
Members of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) faith arrived in Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay in 1865. Battles took place at Ōmarunui and Pētane, with Pai Mārire fighters and their local supporters fighting kūpapa (neutral or ‘loyal’) Māori and colonial forces in 1866. These battles were seen as acts of rebellion and resulted in land confiscations around Mōhaka and Wairoa.
Māori resistance leader Te Kooti raided Mōhaka in 1869, killing 61 Māori and seven Europeans.
More Māori land throughout the region was purchased over the next few decades. Prices paid were generally low, and in many cases not all rightful owners were consulted before sales were made. Some deals were done in secret. These practices led to discontent and conflict amongst Māori, fewer sales, and attempts by some to stop sales altogether. This developed into the ultimately unsuccessful repudiation movement of the 1870s, which rejected all sales and leases.
Most of the Māori land purchased by the government was leased or sold to settlers who established stations to graze sheep and, in some cases, cattle. From 1862 settlers were able to buy land directly from Māori.
Many of these stations were thousands, and even tens of thousands, of acres (an acre is approximately 0.4 hectares) in size. Most were located in Central Hawke’s Bay and in the north towards Wairoa. Forest-covered southern Hawke’s Bay was largely unsettled by Europeans until the 1870s.
Fences were rare on the early pastoral stations, and many settlers could not or would not stop their sheep wandering onto other stations and Māori land without permission. Māori sometimes refused to return offending sheep until their owner paid money for the grass they had eaten. When John Harding’s sheep strayed onto George Cooper’s farm in 1863, Cooper’s brief note conveyed his annoyance: ‘I beg to give you notice that I have two of your rams … and that unless you remove them within 48 hours from the receipt of this notice I shall castrate the same.’1
Large-scale pastoralists soon dominated the region’s farming economy, and smaller operators found it difficult to buy decent land. Even small blocks of land offered for sale were often snapped up by station owners. The ambitious but cash-poor had to work on stations and try to save enough money out of wages to buy their own property. Between 1892 and 1935 the government purchased parts of 56 stations, totalling 107,154 hectares, under the Land for Settlements acts to subdivide into small farms.
Early Hawke’s Bay towns grew up after the settlement of the country blocks by pastoral runholders (farmers). Napier (1855), Havelock North (1860) and Wairoa (1865) were founded by the government, while Waipawa (1860), Waipukurau (1860s) and Hastings (1873) grew from subdivisions created by pastoralists and land speculators.
Settling the Seventy Mile Bush
The heavily forested inland area in southern Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, known as the Seventy Mile Bush, was not comprehensively settled by Europeans until the 1870s. Before this only a few pastoral stations had been established in forest clearings around present-day Dannevirke (the first in 1861). In 1870 this was one of the largest areas of land in the region still owned by Māori.
When Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel implemented an immigration and public-works scheme designed to boost economic growth in the 1870s, the Seventy Mile Bush was identified as a good place to settle new immigrants. This coincided with the plans of local politicians like John Davies Ormond and Donald McLean, who wanted to open up the forest lands for settlement and enable overland access into Hawke’s Bay from the south.
In 1871, 250,000 acres (101,171 hectares) was purchased, and this land was settled by assisted immigrants from Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1872. The Danes had no experience in felling forests, but all the groups managed to clear the land and establish small farms. The townships of Norsewood, Dannevirke and Woodville were located on the new road and rail route through the bush.