Story: Northland region

Page 7. Māori society: 1840–1900

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The Treaty of Waitangi

On 5 February 1840 several hundred northern chiefs gathered at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands. They were presented with a treaty by William Hobson, representing the British Crown. Hobson wanted the chiefs to accept British sovereignty, in return for guarantees of certain Māori rights.

Signed on 6 February by over 40 chiefs, the treaty circulated around the country for six months, being signed by up to 200 northern Māori and over 300 others. Meanwhile, in May, Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty over the whole country.

Shadow or substance?

Te Rarawa chief Nōpera Pana-kareao talked about his understanding of the treaty at the Kaitāia signing in April 1840: ‘Ko te atarau o te whenua i riro i a te Kuini, ko te tinana o te whenua i waiho ki ngā Māori’. 1 (The shadow of the land will go to the Queen [of England], but the substance will remain with us.) A year later he reversed this opinion.

Challenging British control

The key benefits of the treaty expected by Māori – European settlement and trade – were short-lived. A British administration was initially established at Okiato near Kororāreka (present-day Russell), but moved south to Auckland in 1841. Much of the north’s shipping and trade also moved south. As commercial activity declined, so did local settler and Māori economies.

Dissatisfied with British control and its effects, Ngāpuhi chief Hōne Heke challenged British sovereignty in 1844–45 and war followed. It began in March 1845 with Russell largely destroyed, and ended inconclusively in January 1846. Many of the settlers who had been evacuated to Auckland stayed there.

Loss of land

The government investigated land purchases from Māori which had been made before the signing of the treaty, and made limited land grants to European settlers as a result, retaining the remainder as ‘surplus’ land. The grants were not always taken up, because the government encouraged settlers to accept equivalent land allotments elsewhere. Māori who had sold strategic sites in anticipation of reciprocal benefits of settlement, lost both.

Between 1850 and 1865 the government made extensive land purchases from Māori. After 1865 the Native Land Court made land more readily available for private as well as government purchase and transfer to settlers.

The government took no steps to create adequate reserves of land for Māori, or to hold sufficient land back from sale. By 1908 less than 20% of the entire north was in Māori control. Most of this land was isolated, under-developed, and economically marginal. An aggressive government purchasing policy had left Māori with inadequate land for their needs.

A helping hand

Māori helped early settlers establish themselves in many areas of the north. In the 1840s and 1850s they cut tracks and developed roads, built rush cottages, and cultivated crops. Europeans could buy potatoes, wheat and maize from Māori at very reasonable prices.

Māori in the economy

Māori had been drawn into a cash economy even before 1840, as the need for European goods such as flour, sugar, tools and clothing expanded. This pattern continued after 1840. Māori were keen to participate in commercial development: a few prospered, but many were only partially involved. Where land was not sold, some grew crops for sale to settlers, farmed a little or sold timber-cutting rights. Others were employed in timber-milling, coastal trade and other ventures. From the 1860s many took up gum digging. Most relied on fishing and seasonal work to supplement their income.

Appeals and petitions

From the 1870s northern Māori petitioned the colony’s government on matters such as settlers encroaching on their land and fishing grounds. In 1882 Hirini Taiwhanga led an appeal to the British government. In the 1890s northern Māori spearheaded moves to set up a pan-tribal Māori parliament. Fair government, anticipated by Māori as a benefit of European settlement, had not emerged in the north.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Claudia Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1984, p. 83. › Back
How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland region - Māori society: 1840–1900', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/northland-region/page-7 (accessed 14 November 2019)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015