First European arrivals
Tūranganui-a-Kiwa people first met Europeans when Captain James Cook’s Endeavour anchored at Poverty Bay in late 1769. A conflict arose when the crew attempted to go ashore, and several Māori were killed or wounded.
European whalers and traders began to arrive on the East Coast from the late 18th century. Probably the most well-known of these was Thomas Halbert, an Englishman who disembarked from a whaling vessel at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa about 1832. He married six Māori women, including three of the Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki tribe and two of Rongowhakaata. The descendants of these unions were to rise to local and national prominence.
Later in the 1830s the Church Missionary Society extended its attention to the East Cape. William Williams established a mission station at Tūranga in 1840, and the Anglican Church became a strong influence in many Māori communities in the area.
The lure of land
In May 1840, 24 chiefs from the Tūranga (Gisborne) district (mainly Rongowhakaata, with some Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti) signed a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi. Land was then sold or leased, and more systematic European settlement of the area began. The Māori people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa made the most of business and trading opportunities. Some hapū (sub-tribes) had their own ships taking foodstuffs to the Auckland market.
The wars of the 1860s
Few people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes were drawn into the wars of the early 1860s. Fighting had broken out between Māori, who were determined to retain their land and authority, and the government, which was equally resolved to establish its dominance and gain more land for settlement. However, when the government began to confiscate Māori land the attitude of the people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa changed.
Emissaries of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) religious movement came to Poverty Bay in 1865 and made many converts. They were pursued by government forces, and in the battle of Waerenga-a-hika Māori were divided on both sides of the conflict. Prisoners taken by the government were sent to the Chatham Islands. Among their number was a Rongowhakaata man, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki.
Te Kooti and Ringatū
Te Kooti, once regarded as a promising pupil at William Williams’s mission school, had fought on the government side at Waerenga-a-hika. However, he had been imprisoned because he was thought to be a spy. The perceived injustice of this appears to have been a factor in his later actions. After religious visions, Te Kooti became the spiritual leader of his fellow prisoners and led them in a dramatic escape from the Chathams. Over 200 people seized a supply ship, the Rifleman, and forced it to sail to Poverty Bay, where it landed in July 1868. After a battle with government forces, Te Kooti decided to attack settlements at Poverty Bay. Dozens of Māori and Europeans were killed. For the next few years he was pursued into the Urewera district, and then through to the Taupō area, eluding defeat and capture until he sought refuge in the King Country. Although he was regarded with fear and suspicion by Europeans and some Māori for the rest of his life, his followers revered him as a prophet and the founder of the Ringatū faith. The name of this religion refers to the upraised hand, which was a gesture of homage to God at the conclusion of prayers.