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King Country Pioneers

Establishishment of the famous King Country: The settlement of the heartland of Maori resistance to European expansion began in the 1880's. Its growth followed the main trunk line.

At the conclusion of the Waikato campaign in 1864, the remnants of the defeated Waikato tribes withdrew south of the Puniu River into the tribal territory of their Ngati-mania­poto allies.

King Tawhiao still com­manded considerable loyalty in this region which became known to Europeans as the King Country.

The Maori called it Rohe Potae, for tribal tradition held that Tawhiao had thrown his hat on to a large map of the North Island and the area "under the brim of the hat" signified the region he claimed as a refuge for Maori, an independent territory which no European was allowed to enter.

The boundary to the north was the Puniu River but the other bound­aries were only vaguely defined.

During the 1870s, some of the Maori leaders in the King Country, especially among Ngati-maniapoto, be­came convinced that there would be considerable advantages if the land could be surveyed and some European settlement permitted.

Waikato never supported this move, but the rift between the two tribes was not fully appreciated until meetings held in November 1882 when the tribes claiming the Rohe Potae lands separ­ated themselves from Tawhiao and his Waikato people.

Following more meetings between Maori leaders and Government representatives, on De­cember 19, 1883, an agreement was reached between S. Percy Smith, Chief Surveyor of the Auckland Provincial District, and Wahanui, Taonui, Rewi Maniapoto and other chiefs "to make an accurate survey of the external boundaries of the block in order that a Crown Grant might issue to the tribes possessing it".

Between January and July 1884 the region was surveyed and the boundaries defined for the first time.

The moves to open up the King Country were also the result of considerable European pressure to colo­nise the lands south of the Waikato confiscation boundary and also be­cause the region lay in the path of a proposed rail route linking Auckland and Wellington.

J. H. Kerry-Nicholls who travelled in the King Country in 1883 summarised the contemporary European attitude toward the region when he remarked that "something would have to be done.

The colony had greatly advanced in population, and a system of public works had been inaugurated, which made it intolerable that large centres of population should be cut off from each other by vast spaces of country which Europeans were not allowed even to traverse."

He also commented on the "outrages and breaches of the law occurring on the border, the perpetrators of which took secure refuge by fleeing to the protec­tion of Tawhaiao .... " Like most Europeans of his time, Kerry-Nicholls felt that the inevitable progress of Vic­torian civilisation should not be im­peded by the existence of an independ­ent native kingdom.

The King Country in the 1880's:

The main attraction of the King Coun­try to Europeans was the valleys of the Waipa and Puniu Rivers described by Kerry-Nicholls as "a considerable area of open country ... bounded by high fern clad hills and wooded ranges".

Lawrence Cussen, District Surveyor in charge of the triangulation of the King Country, also reported favourably on this area in 1884.

He divided the land of the northern King Country into three classes: good agricultural land; more broken country suitable for pas­toral farming, and very broken or poor country with few areas suitable for settlement but more valued for the timber and minerals it might contain.

Of the Waipa-Puniu region Cussen re­marked: "All this valley is certainly capable of being made a very fine dist­rict, possessing all the advantages of an excellent climate, good land, easy communication, and beautiful and varied scenery; whilst taken as an integral part of the Waikato settlements it should be one of the finest and most extensive agricultural tracts in the country."

South of Te Kuiti and in a strip west of the Waipa the land was more broken with limestone outcrops, rich alluvial flats with patches of kahikatea forest: "it certainly will be a very fine pastoral district."

Cussen was also enthusiastic about the valley of the Mokau: "the best agricultural and pastoral land in the King Country."

To the south and east there were other areas of open fern and tussock country but these were of much poorer quality.

Elsewhere, apart from some fern-covered valleys suitable for settle­ment, most of the region consisted of the broken ranges of the inland Wanganui hill country mainly covered with dense forests, or the bleak table­lands of Rangipo, Waimarino and Murimotu, surmounted by the volcanic cones of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

Cussen commented on the potential for timber in the King Coun­try and although he had noted outcrops of brown coal in the limestone region between Waitomo and Ohura, he was cautious about the mineral prospects of the region.

Kerry-Nicholls re­marked, however, that the region "pos­seses all the strata or rock formations in which both gold, coal, iron, and other minerals are found to exist. .... " Cussen merely noted that quartz con­taining gold was said to have been found in the Rangitoto Ranges.

There was no argument about the forest re­sources of the region.

Kerry-Nicholls described the "enormous wilderness" of the forests where trees with crowns 30 to 40 feet in diameter, rising to 100 feet or more, formed "a grand canopy of foliage."

The Maori population of the King Country in the 1880s was small, less than 4,000 said Cussen in 1884, al­though the following year he com­mented that this was probably an over­estimate and the figure might be nearer 1,500.

The main Maori settlements were at Otorohanga, Te Kuiti and Tau­marunui. King Tawhiao's settlement was at Whatiwhaotihoe.

There were some smaller settlements in scattered clearings to the south. The population was highly mobile.

Cussen reported in 1885: "They cultivate very little, ­merely a few acres in small patches around their settlements. Their cultivations and enclosures and the settle­ments generally have a neglected appearance, and one meets everywhere with strong proofs that the population is very rapidly decreasing.

Most of the younger men work on the railway and roads under the Public Works Depart­ment, or go away to dig kauri gum in Hauraki and elsewhere, neglecting their cultivations and settlements where only old people remain."

There was little trace in the 1880s of the prosperous Maori agriculture of the Waipa Valley which had supplied so much produce for the Auckland mar­ket in the 1850s.

European Penetration:

Even before the aukati or boundary line was drawn at the Puniu River in 1864, few Europeans had penetrated the King Country region.

The Rev. Richard Matthews and his family trav­elled from Wanganui to Auckland through the King Country in 1841 and soon after the Rev. Richard Taylor journeyed up the Mokau.

Missionary activity was confined mainly to the fringes.

The Wesleyans had established a station at Kawhia in 1834 and at Arapae, near Pio Pio, in 1843. Roman Catholic and Church Missionary Soci­ety stations were located at Te Awa­mutu.

Following the opening of the King Country to Europeans, settlers began filtering south of the Puniu River to establish farms in the upper Waipa and Puniu Valleys.

The railway from Auckland, which had already reached Te Awamutu, was quickly pushed through to Te Kuiti in 1887.

European settlement of Te Kuiti dates from this year when a railway construction camp was established, including an' iron foundry to make girders for the Waiteti Viaduct.

Very gradually, work on the Main Trunk line was extended south until Taumarunui was connected in 1901.

Meanwhile, work was continu­ing from the Hunterville end but the final connection between Auckland and Wellington was not completed until November 1908.

At the turn of the century European settlements in the King Country were still small.

Otorohanga comprised 150 inhabitants (excluding Maori), Te Kuiti contained 134 Europeans, 89 males and 45 females reflecting its construction camp origin.

Only 13 European inhabitants of Taumarunui were recorded in the 1901 census, but the completion of the rail link with Te Kuiti SOon brought in more settlers, particularly timber workers eager to exploit the magnificent forests near by.

Along the western coast, villages were established to serve the surrounding farming communities at Kawhia (158), Awakino (124) and Mokau (70). A small nucleus of European settlers had penetrated the Mokau Valley around Mahoenui.

By far the largest European settle­ment in the King Country in 1901 was Raetihi with 433 people (260 males and 173 females) in the village and vicinity.

Raetihi came into existence when the Government purchased the Waimarino Block in 1887. A town was laid out over 300 acres and the sale of sections began in February 1892.

The surrounding farm land was also settled during the 1890s, mainly by small farm associations.

Until the Main Trunk and the short branch line between Ohakune and Raetihi was completed, Raetihi settlers were connected to the rest of New Zealand by a coach road running east through Ohakune to con­nect at Waiouru with a coach road from Rotorua to Hunterville via Taupo.

The coach road continued west of Raetihi to Pipiriki, a town of 233 Europeans (149 males and 84 fe­males) on the Wanganui River.

Pipiriki was also connected to Wanganui by a regular steamer service along the river which went as far as Taumarunui.

In1893 the Whangamomona area was opened up and settlement, mainly pastoral farming, slowly advanced along the route of the proposed railway link between Stratford and the Main Trunk line.

The key to the pattern of European penetration of the King Country was the railway.

There had been some con­troversy over which route would be the most suitable to connect Auckland and Wellington by a Main Trunk line.

The reasons for finally settling on the central route included shorter distance (an important consideration in trans­porting mails as well as for defence reasons), 'and generally lesser grades and easier curves (although the Raurmu Spiral section constituted a major problem).

More important, the central route "passes nearly through the centre of the North Island, thus opening up the interior, which can only be effectu­ally accomplished by a railway".

It was also "the only means of tapping the large forests of the Waimarino Block", and it was considered that royalties from timber milling would pay for con­struction of the line along this route.

In addition the line "will enable country between these forests and the Wanga­nui River to be suitably settled which would otherwise remain to a great ex­tent unproductive".

The pattern of European penetra­tion of the King Country therefore followed the railway.

It was a slow process for much of the country was difficult and only some parts were suitable for farming.

The northern King Country prospered, as an exten­sion of the Waikato dairying region in the Waipa Valley, and in the pastoral regions about Te Kuiti and the Mokau Valley.

The prosperity of the southern King Country was based partly on pastoral farming penetrating the inland Wanganui hill country, but also on the timber resources of the area.

The main economic basis for most settlements on the Ohakune-Taumarunui section of the Main Trunk line was the forest, and rough timber camps with a predomin­antly male population sprang up at intervals along the track.

In 1911 the European population of the King Country was just over 15,000, and Te Kuiti and Taumarunui were the largest towns with over 1,000 Europeans in each.

Liquor and the Law:

During the 1880s the forces of prohi­bition were gaining considerable influ­ence among the Maori of the King Country.

In 1884, G. T. Wilkinson, Government Agent, reported increas­ing sobriety among the Waikatos in their settlement at Whatiwhatihoe and among the Ngatimaniapoto generally.

"The Natives (as a body) all through the district are very much against the introduction of any kind of intoxicat­ing liquor into what is known as Native territory or the King Country."

The main influence behind this change was the Gospel Temperance Mission, a movement which originated in Massa­chusetts.

In New Zealand, its support­ers, known as the Blue Ribbon Army, pledged by personal example to spread the temperance cause in both Euro­pean and Maori communities.

Te Korimako, a Maori newspaper launched in 1882 which aimed at im­proving the social and moral condi­tions of Maori, was a staunch Blue Ribbon supporter and probably also had some influence.

Wilkinson reported in 1884 on the activities of groups of gentlemen of the Blue Ribbon who were visiting King Country settlements and getting signatures for a petition to prevent the sale of liquor in the King Country.

By September 1884, 1,400 signatures had been obtained and the petition was pre­sented to the Government through the Gospel Temperance Union.

A cover­ing letter indicated that the petition was organised "to save the Native race from that which has proved one of its greatest curses, and which has been more largely the agent in effecting its deterioration and diminution, than any other agent of which we can speak, or of all other agencies combined".

Fur­ther weight to this petition was pro­vided in November 1884 when the Ngatimaniapoto chief Wahanui went to Wellington to discuss matters re­lating to the Native Lands Settlement Bill.

Near the end of his speech to the House he said: "Another request I have to make is that the sale of spirits within our district be stopped abso­lutely" and he asked the Government to "be strong in preventing this evil coming upon us and upon our people".

On December 3 1884 the Government issued a Proclamation under Section 25 of the Licensing Act that no publi­can's licence could be granted in the Kawhia Licensing Area which com­prised all of the northern King Coun­try.

The boundaries of the Kawhia Licensing Area were tidied up later and included a larger area than that of the original Proclamation.

On March 26 1885 a similar Proclamation was made in respect of the Upper Whanga­nui Licensing Area, probably as a result of a similar petition although there is no longer any record of this.

Since the early 1900s there has been sporadic talk that prohibition in the King Country was part of a secret pact or pledge made by the Government and tied up with the sale of Maori land for the railway.

The Parliamentary Historian A. H. McLintock was asked to examine this question but could find no evidence of such a pact.

McLin­tock concluded that the original peti­tion was organised solely by the Gospel Temperance Union and there was no connection with the railway.

Even be­fore Wahanui's speech there was evi­dence of Government support.

There is no evidence in any of the speeches of politicians or newspaper reports of the period to indicate any sort of pact or pledge.

Premier Robert Stout be­lieved it was a real step towards preser­vation of the Maori people, but he also admitted that the Proclamation could be superseded by an Act of Parliament and was not therefore binding on sub­sequent Governments.

The Proclama­tion was not, therefore, irrevocable. McLintock also pointed out that the statute under which the Proclamation was made couJd apply anywhere else in New Zealand should the residents petition for it.

Not all of the Maori of the King Country were enthusiastic about pro­hibition, and even some of the signa­tories of the original petition had second thoughts.

In December 1891, Wahanui, Taonui and others applied for a licence for Otorohanga and Ka­whia.

They gave as their reasons the problem of European sly-grogging, the needs of European travellers in hotels and the spread of European customs of hospitality among the Maoris.

The Justice Department was prepared to concede a licence for Otorohanga but not for Kawhia.

Public agitation against this small concession was so great that the Government reconsid­ered the situation and the request was refused.

Wahanui tried to organise a counter-petition but this move failed and the King Country remained "dry".

The King Country is legally "wet" again now, and during the early 1960s hotels serving alcoholic liquor were constructed in most towns.

The prohi­bition period gave a special character to the region and stories of sly-groggers and outwitted magistrates, trips to the "frontier" and tales of the "Last Hotel" at Kihikihi have passed into the folk­lore of the King Country.

With its unique Maori history and pristine natural wonders, King Country is rapidly becoming the premium travel destination for New Zealand.

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