There are many part-Maoris[i] who bleat about their “loss” of land, today worth billions but worth little more than a song or a ‘fig’ of tobacco when their ancestors eagerly sold most of it to the wicked white colonials. There could hardly be a more realistic account of this process than that of Irishman, Frederick Edward Maning, the self-styled “Pakeha Maori” who arrived in the Hokianga in 1833, a twenty-one-year-old in search of adventure and the prospect of “making good”.
Maning recorded it all in his lively text, “Old New Zealand, A Tale of the Good Old Times”, 1863, an extract from which, Chapter V, pp 77-80, is the following:
I now purchased a piece of land. ... I really can’t tell to the present day who I purchased it from, for there were about fifty different claimants, every one of whom assured me that the other forty-nine were “humbugs,” and had no right whatever.The nature of the different titles of the different claimants were various. One man said his ancestors had killed off the first owners; another declared his ancestors had driven off the second party; another man, who seemed - to be listened to with more respect than ordinary, declared that his ancestor had been the first possessor of all, and had never been ousted, and that this ancestor was a huge lizard that lived in a cave on the land many ages ago, and sure enough there was the cave to prove it. Besides the principal claims there were an immense number of secondary ones - a sort of latent equities - which had lain dormant until it was known the pakeha had his eye on the land. Some of them seemed to me at the time odd enough. One man required payment because his ancestors, as he affirmed, had exercised the right of catching rats on it, but which he (the claimant) had never done, for the best of reasons i.e. - there were no rats to catch, except indeed pakeha rats, which were plenty enough, but this variety of rodent was not counted as game. Another claimed because his grandfather had been murdered on the land, and — as I am a veracious pakeha — another claimed payment because his grandfather had committed the murder! Then half the country claimed payments of various value, from one ﬁg of tobacco to a musket, on account of a certain wahi tapu, or ancient burying-ground, which was on the land, and in which every one almost had had relations or rather ancestors buried, as they could clearly make out, in old times, though no one had been deposited in it for about two hundred years, and the bones of the others had been (as they said) removed long ago to a torere in the mountains. It seemed an awkward circumstance that there was some difference of opinion as to where this same wahi tapu was situated, being, and lying, for in case of my buying the land it was stipulated that I should fence it round and make no use of it, although I had paid for it. (I, however, have put off fencing till the exact boundaries have been made out; and indeed I don’t think I shall ever be called on to do so, the fencing proviso having been made, as I now believe, to give a stronger look of reality to the existence of the sacred spot, it having been observed that I had some doubts on the subject. No mention was ever made of it after the payments had been all made and so I think I may venture to affirm that the existence of the said wahi tapu is of very doubtful authenticity, though it certainly cost me a round “lot of trade.”) There was one old man who obstinately persisted in declaring that he, and he alone, was the sole and rightful owner of the land; he seemed also to have a “fixed idea” about certain barrels of gunpowder; but as he did not prove his claim to my satisfaction, and as he had no one to back him. I of course gave him nothing; he nevertheless demanded the gunpowder about once a month for five-and-twenty years, till at last he died of old age, and I am now a landed proprietor, clear of all claims and demands, and have an undeniable right to hold my estate as long as ever I am able.
It took about three months’ negotiation before the purchase of land could be made; and indeed, I at one time gave up the idea, as I found it quite impossible to decide who to pay. If I paid one party, the others vowed I should never have possession, and to pay all seemed impossible; so at last I let all parties know that I had made up my mind not to have the land. This however, turned out to be the first step I had made in the right direction; for, thereupon, all the different claimants agreed amongst themselves to demand a certain quantity of goods, and divide them amongst themselves, afterwards. I was glad of this, for I wished to buy the land, as I thought, in case I should ever take a trip to the “colonies,” it would look well to be able to talk of “my estate in New Zealand.” The day being now come on which I was to make the payment, and all parties present, I then and there handed over to the assembled mob the price of the land, consisting of a great lot of blankets, muskets, tomahawks, tobacco, spades, axes, &c., &c.; and received in return a very dirty piece of paper with all their marks on it, I having written the terms of transfer on it in English to my own perfect satisfaction. The cost per acre to me was, as near as can be, about five and a half times what the same quantity of land would have cost me at the same time in Tasmania; but this was not of much importance, as the value of land in New Zealand then, and indeed now, being chiefly imaginary, one could just as easily suppose it to be of a very great value as a very small one; I therefore, did not complain of the cost.
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And so thereafter, Maning, when he chose, could describe himself as a “landed proprietor”, the downside of this being his obligation to appear in due course before the Government Land Commissioners to prove his fair title to his land.[ii] This he proceeded to describe, together with the additional expense to himself so entailed. He had some satisfaction, no doubt, when one of them told him he was “a damned, infernal, clever fellow, and he should like to see a good many more like me.” This must at least have been a general impression, Maning being appointed in 1865 to the newly established Native Land Court, a position he held until 1876. A man of his times with both strengths and weaknesses, his bones lie in Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland, his lively description of his early days in New Zealand giving a more than fair picture of what life was really like in those turbulent times.
[i]And I nominate Sacha McMeeking, Peter Dey, Potonga Neilson, Nuk Korako, Joshua Hitchcock, Marama Davidson (references are available)
[ii]This was of course in accordance with Hobson’s Proclamation read by him at Kororareka church on 30th January 1840, the day after his arrival in New Zealand.
Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".