Invaders from the north
In the 19th century the expanse of land between the Whanganui River and Kapiti Island saw two large-scale human movements.
1820s: tribal migrations
Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa from the Waikato region came armed into Manawatū and Horowhenua and challenged the local people for their lands.
1840s: European settlers
The invading hapū had been drawn by the prospect of fruitful contact with European ships and crews around Cook Strait. An inflow of immigrants from Britain began in the 1840s, but it had only lapped the edge of the region by 1870.
Te Rauparaha and Te Whatanui
The leader of the Tainui invaders was Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa. From 1822, with Te Āti Awa allies from Taranaki, he challenged the local tribes – Ngāti Apa, Rangitāne and Muaūpoko.
While Ngāti Apa were partly protected by kinship links with Ngāti Toa, both Muaūpoko and Rangitāne resisted, and paid a heavy price. A group of Ngāti Raukawa, led by Te Whatanui, joined Ngāti Toa in the south. Te Rauparaha was kin to Ngāti Raukawa through his mother, and a chief of the tribe. Rangitīkei, Manawatū and Horowhenua were won by occupation.
Te Whatanui was a benign overlord: he allowed Ngāti Apa to share territory with Ngāti Raukawa, negotiated a peaceful settlement with Rangitāne at Hotuiti, and placed the few remaining Muaūpoko people under his mana. He allocated them a small piece of land around Lake Horowhenua, bounded by Ngāti Raukawa settlements to the north and south. Together, Rangitāne, Muaūpoko and Ngāti Raukawa engaged with Pākehā in the flax trade, forming many settlements along the lower Manawatū River.
The Māori newcomers were still determining land entitlements, with some sharp quarrels, when the London-based New Zealand Company became active in the region in 1839.
The company bought 62,000 acres (26,000 hectares) in the lower Manawatū from Ngāti Raukawa, but most of the sale was voided. It came after the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, under which only the Crown could buy land from Māori.
The company’s energies went into the Whanganui settlement further up the coast, and the nearby Rangitīkei district, sold by Māori in 1851. A small settlement at Paiaka, near present-day Shannon, did not survive the 1855 earthquake. The few settlers then moved to Te Awahou on the coast, where a block of land was sold to the Crown in 1859.
The Kebbel steam mill
When Manawatū Māori saw the steam sawmill being built by the Kebbel brothers at Paiaka in the 1840s, it reminded them of the bubbling springs in the Taupō district:
‘[They] displayed the keenest interest in what was going on, and when the cast-iron chimney, forty feet high, rose from out of the heap of angles, and the steam was sent hissing through the pipes, the recollection . . . came back [of] he puia mokai, i.e. ‘tame boiling spring’. 1
At the end of the 1850s around 85,000 acres (34,000 hectares) – about half the unforested land between the Rangitīkei and the Manawatū – was being leased by Pākehā from Māori owners for grazing sheep and cattle. The few Europeans were shepherds, or ferrymen at the river crossings on the coast route from Wellington to Whanganui. That route was the only ‘road’ before the 1870s.
The leased and other land west of the ranges was only sold between 1864 and 1867. This was a different process to the fighting and land confiscation in Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki. Ngāti Raukawa did not have a long association with the land, but the negotiations over the 220,000-acre (84,000-hectare) Rangitīkei–Manawatū block took time. There was debate over who had the right to sell. Rangitāne hapū maintained that they had retained ownership of significant land blocks even after Te Rauparaha’s conquest. In contrast Ngāti Raukawa conceded Rangitāne’s right to sell the 250,000-acre (100,000-hectare) Te Ahuaturanga block in upper Manawatū.
The lower Manawatū remained rich in flax. A boom in 1869–70 improved the fortunes of Foxton, as Te Awahou was then named. So Manawatū might fairly have been described at the end of the 1860s as ‘the home of the flax trade and the terra incognita [unknown land] of everyone except the actual residents.’ 2 But with most of it now in Crown ownership, Pākehā colonisation began in earnest.