Monday, August 30, 2021

Bruce Moon: Real History – a land sale in the good old times

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.

*   *   *   *   *

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".


Unknown said...

Thank you for this colourful piece of reading in this bleak day in the bleak time of lockdown.

DeeM said...

Sounds like Maori were exactly like Pakeha - just as devious, cunning and duplicitous...but always willing to do a deal at the end of the day.
So much for the noble savage fantasy propagated by our current lot of woke academics and politicians.

Kiwi Kid said...

Thank you so much Bruce. What an insight, although it would have been more believable if only I had been told it instead, on my granddaddy’s lap.
DeeM I couldn’t agree more!

Pete said...

Well Bruce, what an interesting short account or story . Most enjoyable and an acceptable account of the early days .Seems somewhat the same nowadays as tribes lay claim to land for some obscure reason or other . Yet , we have sympathetic politicians who feel their story sounds right or true , and go to bat for these questionable claims . I cite the BED of Lake Taupo . How could anybody claim this land unless they used it and farmed it and resided on it , PRIOR to water covering it ? According to my sources , Lake Taupo was created 27,000 years ago by it being a volcano , having erupted a number of times since . This kind of predates any maori habitations . That leaves us with huge liabilities (or more pointedly the iwi who now have ownership) should it erupt again , being the owner and group who have been charging any and all for its lease or useage , with lawsuits heading into the billions . (Probably short change for some iwi groups) . I doubt if any insurance company would undertake such a policy to guarantee the iwi against any claims should it erupt during their tenure . So, who was the silly sod who gave them the land underneath all that water ? Not forgetting of course , that it also covers the air ABOVE the lake . This would mean your kids flying a kite on the beach over the water , would be liable for payment to the local iwi . SILLY ? Maybe and maybe not . Anyways , the skills developed and used today by iwi , have been honed by lawyers studying the pakeha or colonists ways and they have learned well .(or if I am not mistaken , the lawyers spearheading the drive for ownership , were in fact well heeled and hungry colonists chasing the big bucks . Nothing has changed : greed isn't confined to any ethnic group . One thing is certain : give any group an inch , and they will seek a foot : give them a foot and they will seek a yard : give them a yard , and they will want to be Prime Minister . I met a Lawyer's (a well respected one up north ) wife one day , who told me her hubby's 25 year experience was wonderful . One of the most difficult parts of his workload included maori land claims . Truly , a nightmare . Nothing has changed there : my partner , being of part maori blood , had a distasteful experience attempting to claim her part of an inheritance from her fathers estate . (he was a bit more maori than she) . In the end , being approved by the Maori Land Court , the surveyors were stopped by her distant relatives , who then laid claim to the same land . She gave up at that point , not being worth the fighting and struggling . So , it seems we have several iwi fighting over thew same land issues , all claiming to be the rightful heirs and some stupid bureauocrat helping them . What a mess we have allowed to eventuate: with our own stupidity .

Don said...

Similarly it is worth reading an eye-witness account of the signing of the Treaty by Colenso to see that the Maori did not know what it was all about and acted on the advice of the Anglican missionaries having first asked the Catholic missionaries who advised them not to sign and promptly left the proceedings. Far from being the "Foundation Document" of NZ it has become a blank cheque used by the iwi elite to dupe NZ taxpayers of millions.
The gullible Pakeha have clearly been outwitted by superior businessmen.

Jock Allison said...


Where do we get a copy of your book, Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".?

Please advise. Jock

Russell said...

The gift that just keeps giving, the same people that hounded Billy T James to his death.

Dick said...

I have his book and it is fairly worn- treated as a library book to interested friends.

One of his comments as a Judge of the new Natives Land Court, where he did a very good job, was this:- 'every native who is in actual possession of land must be held to have had a good title till someone else shows a better, (title), by kicking him off the premises.'
He was trusted, wrote clearly and was a good wrestler and boxer.
Pity our Waitangi Tribunal are so lacking in his attributes.
Doctor, later Sir John Logan Campbell wrote the tribute over his grave and states
'He was a man in a Thousand".
I do not know if that tribute has been preserved but it is worth reading

Geoffrey said...

The concept of a mobile Waihi Tapu is not unknown to me too. Some at least, seem to shift to where the prospect of commercial leverage is most propitious.

Pete said...

I have heard that some maori landowners who have built houses on maori land , do in fact pay rates . I find this a little difficult to believe , given the problems my partner had in attempting to survey ( at the Maori Land Courts direction re: her heritage from her late father) land left to her and registered with the Maori Land court and therefore certified as being an entitles person to some land as specified . (so many shares allocated by inheritance out of a total of Hectares divided by the number of shareholders ) Actual ownership of land is often in dispute , even today . How one goes about proving this , other than through the Maori Land Courts , I have no idea . My partner doesn't know wheere to begin and of course , is not in a financial position to hire lawyers . Any ideas ?