Early contact between Māori and Europeans in the King Country occurred from the late 1820s on the coast. In the early 1830s flax traders Thomas Ralph and Amos Kent, employees of Sydney-based merchant Joseph Montefiore, worked in Mōkau and Kāwhia respectively. New Plymouth traders made periodic trips to Mōkau.
Flax trader Thomas Ralph, who was based at Mōkau, was caught up in inter-tribal conflict in 1832. A war party from Aotea Harbour (north of Kāwhia Harbour) travelled down to Mōkau and found it almost empty, most of the people having gone south to fight Ngāti Tama in Taranaki. Ralph’s house was ransacked and he was taken back up north by the invaders. He was rescued by fellow trader Amos Kent and relocated his trading activities to Tolaga Bay on the East Coast.
In the early 1830s Wesleyan Methodist missionaries established mission stations in Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto territories, at the request of Waikato Māori. The first in the King Country was at Kāwhia in 1834. This was followed by two more on the Kāwhia Harbour, one on the upper Mōkau River and one at Mōkau itself.
A Lutheran mission station operated at Motukaramū, also on the upper Mōkau River.
Few Europeans settled permanently in the King Country until the late 19th century. Most of those who settled before then married Ngāti Maniapoto women and were absorbed into the iwi. Early settlers whose descendants remained in the King Country in the 21st century included Louis Hetet, William Turner, William Searancke, Nathaniel Barrett, Thomas Anderson and Robert Ormsby.
Sign here please
A small number of Ngāti Maniapoto Māori signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The missionary John Whiteley collected 10 signatures at Kāwhia between April and September 1840. The Manukau–Kāwhia copy of the treaty, as it is known, is the only surviving copy which has the signature of the colonial secretary, Willoughby Shortland, on it. In total, 540 Māori signed the treaty.
Before 1840 the only land sales in the King Country took place around Kāwhia. Land was sold to missionaries and settlers.
The government bought four blocks of land totalling about 27,300 hectares around Mōkau and Awakino between 1854 and 1857. Mōkau’s harbour and proximity to New Plymouth made it an attractive settlement prospect. Further north, around 2,400 hectares on the coast south of Albatross Point was purchased during this period.
These transactions existed on paper only for over two decades. Ngāti Maniapoto’s involvement in the King movement and growing resistance to land sales from the late 1850s made European settlement of the land impossible at the time. The blocks were not even surveyed until the 1880s.
Ngāti Maniapoto communities were skilled traders and incorporated the European farming techniques, animals and plants introduced by traders, settlers and missionaries into their local economy. In 1846 missionary Cort Schnackenberg wrote: ‘The people of Waikawau and Mangungu [north of Mōkau) are so much engaged in trading that I hardly ever meet them at home.’1
Some Māori learned to read and write at mission schools, and Christianity had a lasting impact, but Schnackenberg worried that Māori were not undergoing wholesale conversion. The 1860s wars between Māori and the colonial government in Waikato and Taranaki, followed by land confiscation in these regions, spelled the end of missionary influence in the King Country.
Ngāti Maniapoto were strong supporters of the Kīngitanga (King movement), a pan-tribal grouping based in Waikato territory. The Kīngitanga promoted Māori unity, authority and an end to land sales through the establishment of a Māori monarch. Ngāti Maniapoto hapū met at Haurua, near Ōtorohanga, in 1857, where they endorsed the choice of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero of Waikato as king. This meeting was later called Te Puna o te Roimata – the wellspring of tears – referring to the troubled times that followed.
Conflict over land and authority led to war between Māori and the government in Taranaki in 1860, and in Waikato, which was invaded by government forces in 1863. Ngāti Maniapoto fought in both wars alongside Taranaki and Waikato iwi. No fighting occurred in Ngāti Maniapoto territory.
In 1864 Kīngitanga forces led by Rewi Maniapoto of Ngāti Manaipoto were defeated at Ōrākau, near Kihikihi. Tāwhiao, the second Māori king, and some of his people retreated south of the Pūniu River, beyond the ancient aukati (boundary) between Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto. They were hosted in Ngāti Maniapoto territory until the early 1880s.