Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The King of the Maoris

The colony of New Zealand grew rapidly greater and stronger. In 1847 Dunedin was founded by a party of Scottish settlers sent out by the Free Church of Scotland. In 1850 Canterbury was founded by the Church of England. These towns would have grown faster than they did, had not gold been discovered in Australia. For many then who had come from home, meaning to settle in New Zealand, rushed away to Australia and the gold diggings.

But things soon righted themselves, for it was not long before the fame of the grassy plains of New Zealand spread to Australia. Farmers there, hearing of these plains where not even a tree had to be cut down to clear the land, sailed over from Australia, bringing flocks with them. Soon the Canterbury pastures became as famous the world over as those of Australia. And since ways of keeping meat by freezing it have been found out, much of the mutton used in Great Britain is brought from New Zealand.

In 1852 New Zealand became a self-governing colony, and in 1854 the first New Zealand Parliament was held.

All seemed prosperous and well with the colony when once more land troubles began.

Some of the Maori chiefs had always been against selling land to the British. "The money the white man gives is soon spent," they said. "The land is gone from us for ever, and we have nothing left." Yet, year by year they saw the white people fence in more and more land for farms. So now many of these tribes banded themselves together into a Land League. The members of this league vowed to sell no more land to the white people.

About this same time too, some of the tribes made up their minds to choose a king. In choosing this king they had no thought of rebelling against the Queen. But they saw that although the governor ruled the white men and the Maoris too, when they quarrelled with the white men, they let them fight amongst themselves as much as they liked. So they desired a king who should rule the Maoris as the Queen far away ruled her people. Within the large tract of land which they had vowed never to sell, the Maori king should rule alone. Within this land no road should be made—for all roads led to slavery.

There was much talk and argument before a king was chosen. For all did not agree that a king would be good to have. But at last a brave old warrior called Te Whero-Whero Potatau was elected. A standard, too, was chosen and raised. It was a white flag with a red border, bearing two red crosses, and the words "Potatau, King of New Zealand."

But many were against the flag, as they had been against the king. "I am content with the flag of Britain," said one old warrior. "It is seen all over the world. It belongs to me. I get some of its honour. What honour can I get from your flag? It is as a fountain without water."

"Let the flag stand," said another, "but wash out the writing upon it. As for me I am a subject of the Queen."

But in spite of all objections the flag was unfurled, the king was chosen.

Potatau was now treated with royal honours. Salutes were fired, his subjects stood bareheaded before him, and backed out of his presence, while he, wrapped in an old blanket, sat upon a mat and smoked his pipe.

And sometimes while his counsellors talked and made laws, he slept peacefully, knowing not what was done.

Governor Browne paid little attention to the "King movement" as it was called. If he had, he might have turned it to good. As it was, it turned to evil.

Soon a quarrel arose which led to fighting. A Maori offered to sell to the governor some land at Waitara, not far from New Plymouth. The governor bought it, but Te Rangitake, the chief in whose country the land was, being among those who had joined the Land League, forbade the sale. "I will not give it up!" he cried; "I will not, I will not, I will not! I have spoken."

The Maori land laws were very difficult for a white man to follow. The chiefs often had a kind of feudal right over the land, and so, although it did not really belong to Te Rangitake, he had a right to forbid the sale. "These lands will not be given by us into your hands," he wrote to Governor Browne, "lest we become like the birds of the sea which are resting upon a rock. When the tide flows the rock is covered by the sea. The birds fly away because there is no resting-place for them. I will not give you the land."

But the governor decided that Te Rangitake had no right to hinder the selling of the land. So he sent men to mark it out for farms. But the men were met by all the oldest and ugliest women in the land, who hugged and kissed them till they were obliged to run away.

Then the governor sent soldiers, and seeing that peaceful means were no longer of use, the whole tribe rose in arms. Rangitake built a pah upon the land, pulled up the governor's stakes and flags and burned them, and war began.

Once more the governor sent to Australia for soldiers. Once more the land was filled with blood and war.

From pah to pah the Maoris flitted as their custom was. Settlers in terror fled from their farms, leaving their homes, their flocks and herds, to the mercy of the Maoris. Some fled from the country altogether.

At first this quarrel had nothing to do with the King movement. Indeed Te Rangitake had refused to join that. But now the king tribes came to help their fellow countrymen. The king himself was old and feeble, so the men were led by a young and warlike chief called Te Waharoa. It was he, indeed, who had been one of the principal upholders of the king, and he was called the king-maker.

In the midst of all the trouble the king died, and his son Tawhiao was chosen in his stead. But he had not the fame of his father, and had little power among the natives.

For many months the war went on, but at length, in May 1861, peace was made, the governor promising to look into Te Rangitake's claims once more.

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