Through the 1860s many upriver Māori challenged the authority of the colonial government. So did other Māori from the coast north-west of Whanganui. Both groups were part of a wider movement that spread across the central North Island. Whanganui, at the junction of the river and coastal routes, became a colonial strongpoint again.
The Waitōtara–Ōkehu block, along the coast north-west of Whanganui, was purchased from Ngā Rauru in July 1863, although efforts to reduce the size of tribal reserves had turned some of the tribe against the sale. Some became adherents of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) faith, while others supported the Māori King movement.
Mark Twain and Whanganui
American writer Mark Twain visited Whanganui in 1895. He saw the monument to lower-river Māori who defeated upriver Māori advancing on the town in 1864, in the battle at Moutoa Island. The inscription said they had died ‘in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism’. Twain had a different view. He thought the upriver Māori were also patriots: ‘[T]hey fought for their homes, they fought for their country; they bravely fought and bravely fell.’ 1
In May 1864, upriver Pai Mārire supporters were defeated at Moutoa Island, near Rānana, by lower river Māori led by Hōri Kīngi Te Ānaua, with support from Hoani Wiremu Hīpango and Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi. In anticipation of an attack on Whanganui, a series of redoubts (fortifications) were built along the river and on the town’s north-western outskirts. A provincial councillor, James Hewett, was killed on his farm within 3 kilometres of a redoubt in February 1865.
In response to Māori resistance in Taranaki, the Crown confiscated land from the Whanganui River to near New Plymouth in 1865, and Major General Trevor Chute carried out a ‘scorched earth’ campaign north of Waitōtara and into Taranaki in early 1866, destroying some seven pā and 20 villages. A military settlement, Wairoa (later called Waverley), was established. By late 1866 an uneasy peace prevailed, and Pākehā settlement began around Wairoa and on the Waitōtara block.
Fighting resumed in 1868, and in November the resistance led by Ngāti Ruanui leader Tītokowaru came within eight kilometres of Whanganui. Settlers flocked from the countryside to Wairoa and Whanganui. Amidst rumours that Tītokowaru would cross the Whanganui River, blockhouses and redoubts were built south of Whanganui and in Rangitīkei.
Tītokowaru’s support collapsed in February 1869, and Ngā Rauru villages and cultivations were destroyed as government troops pursued him and his followers. Many Ngā Rauru retreated to the upper Whanganui River, living there under the protection of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, until they were able to return home in 1873.
After the war
After hostilities ceased, European settlement recommenced on the plain north-west of Whanganui. It had proceeded in the meantime on the Rangitīkei coastal lowland, where the town of Marton was established in 1866.
European settlement in the north-east (inland Pātea, in the upper Rangitīkei) began in 1867 with the establishment of a sheep run on land leased from Māori, which was reached from Napier. Gold prospecting – which was never successful – prompted the first attempt to find a route between Whanganui and inland Pātea. One outcome was that H. C. Field surveyed a route to the unforested part of Waimarino, then known as the Murimotu Plain, in 1869.
That same year Whanganui became linked to Wellington by both a coach service and a telegraph line. In January 1870 the last of the British regiments – the 18th (Royal Irish) – left Whanganui. After 23 years it was no longer a garrison town.