Newspaper Article 1988 – Heretaunga land deal fair?

Heretaunga land deal fair?

Historians Kay Mooney in her History of the County of Hawke’s Bay, Mary Boyd in her City of the Plains and Patrick Parsons in the Herald Tribune’s special centenary of Hastings supplement, have all dealt effectively with the purchase of the Heretaunga Plains and the transactions by which it was acquired by Europeans last century.

This article in three parts is an attempt to examine in more detail the evidence given before the Hawke’s Bay Native Lands Alienation Commission in 1973, to comment upon it, to trace the background for the four commissioners, two pakeha and two Maori, and finally to assess the commission’s findings.


After the Land Wars between Maori and pakeha in the late 1850s and the early 1860s the Maori will to resist was broken. In the words of the historian, Sinclair, “the Land Court then quietly separated them from their lands.”

The Native Lands Act 1862 waived the Crown’s right of pre-emption over Maori land and was followed by the Native Lands Act 1865 which set up the Native Land Court… “for the investigation of titles of persons to native lands for the determination of the succession of natives to native lands…”

Floodgates open

The floodgates were opened. Clause XXIII of the 1865 Act made provision for the issue of a certificate of title “to be made and issued which certificate shall specify the names of the persons or the tribe who according to native custom own or are interested in the land… provided that no certificate shall be ordered to more than ten persons…”

The theory behind this clause in the Act of 1865 appears to have been that it would be too difficult to locate all those who had a claim to a specified area of native land, that to name ten owners was sufficient, and that those ten would naturally look after the interests of all members of the hapu.

Illegal leasing

The Ngati Kahungunu of Heretaunga soon became aware that covetous pakeha eyes were upon their land and had leased some of it to the newcomers, who were grazing their sheep on the drier parts.

Under an Ordinance of New Zealand entitled the Native Land Purchase Ordinance this arrangement between the Maori owners and the pakeha graziers was illegal.

Occasionally legal action was taken against the lessees but the law was widely ignored. Among the offending pakeha grazing sheep on parts of Heretaunga were the Reverend Samuel Williams and Mr J.D. Ormond.

Oral arrangements

These leases were made by oral arrangement and suited both parties for the time being; the Maori was not averse to receiving money or goods for what he believed to be the temporary use of his land, while even at this stage some of the pakeha had in mind the prospect of buying Heretaunga outright.

As soon as the Native Land Court was established applications were made in many parts of New Zealand for certificates of title.

A series of meetings were held to determine the lawful owners of land. In the court lengthy evidence concerning Maori tribal history, customs, and whakapapa was heard, much of it contradictory.

Ten grantees

On March 15, 1866, the people of Heretaunga made their application for a certificate of title to their land, which was to become known as the Heretaunga block. The block, containing 19,385 acres had been surveyed as the Act required by Mr William Ellison and was bounded on the south and east by the Ngaruroro River, on the north by the Ohiwia River, and on the west the the Waitio River.

Most, but not all, gave evidence in the court presided over by Judge T.H. Smith and two Maori assessors, Te Kune and Te Hemara, as to their ancestry and their claims to be owners of Heretaunga.

Eventually a Crown grant of the land was made by the court to ten grantees. During the course of the hearing much interesting tribal history, some of it conflicting, was heard, but by December 1866, final agreement among the Maori owners was reached, the court ordering that a certificate of title should be issued to the following as owners of Heretaunga:

Henare Tomoana
Manaena Tini
Matiaha Kuhukuhu
Paramena Oneone
Apera Pahoro
Karaitiana Takamoana
Te Waka Kawatini
Noa Huke
Tareha Moananui

During his evidence given to the Native Land Court Karaitiana Takamoana admitted that he had been leasing land to the pakeha since 1857.

One of the illegal lessees was Mr Thomas Tanner, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1849 and first became aware of the possibilities of transforming Heretaunga into fertile land in the early 1860s.

Lead by Tanner

Mr Tanner was to become the very active leader of a group of pakeha whose aim it was to buy the land from the Maori owners and transform the swamps of the plains by draining and irrigating it into good grassland.

To carry his schemes into effect would require the expenditure of capital, of which he was himself possessed, as were the men he persuaded to join him in his projects.

Those whom Mr Tanner first approached were the Reverend Samuel Williams, Captain J.G. Gordon, Mr J.B. Braithwaite, Captain A.H. Russell, and Mr Purvis Russell.

Except for Mr Braithwaite, who was a bank manager, all were landowners possessed of considerable capital.

The Reverend Samuel Williams asked that his share in the consortium should be taken by his brother-in-law Mr J.N. Williams, and Mr J.D. Ormond, a member of the Hawke’s Bay Provincial Council, wrote to Mr Tanner asking to take up a share.

Eventually the shares in the leasehold were held in the following proportions: Tanner (3), J.N. Williams (2), Captain A.H. Russell (2), Captain J.G. Gordon (2), J.D. Ormond (1), Purvis Russell (1), J.B. Braithwaite (1).

Thus these seven men held 12 shares among them.

As the purchasers became the subject of some notoriety they were cynically dubbed ‘the Twelve Apostles.’ No doubt the part played by the missionary’s son, Mr Samuel Williams, was the inspiration for the apostolic title.

River change

In pre-pakeha days the Ngaruroro River must have changed its course many times, but when the pakeha arrived in the late 1840s and the early 1850s, the river was on a fairly steady course swinging south from what is now Fernhill, along the south and west sides of the present Hastings to Havelock (founded 1860), and then turning north to flow out to sea near Clive.

In 1867 a great flood occurred which altered the course of the river very considerably. After the 1867 flood and another in 1870, the Ngaruroro established its bed well west of its former course running through Fernhill in an easterly direction to the sea.

This change of course had a dramatic effect upon the Heretaunga Plains, draining much of the water from the area now occupied by Hastings and its surroundings. The land became even more desirable in the eyes of the pakeha buyers.

First had come the Native Land Court order vesting the Heretaunga block in the names of ten grantees; now a heaven-sent change in the course of the Ngaruroro, improving the drainage of the plains substantially.

Sold by 1870

By 1870 the Heretaunga block, with the exception of a portion known as the Karamu Reserve containing 1500 acres, had been sold.

Mr Tanner acquired by far the largest share amounting to nearly 6000 acres, or a third of the block, comprising the greater part of the land now occupied by the city of Hastings; Mr J.N. Williams had Frimley; Mr A.H. Russell and his brother Captain W.R. Russell had Flaxmere; Mr J.D. Ormond took 1250 acres which he named Karamu, although it was not part of the reserve of that name.

Karamu Reserve lay on the east side of Heretaunga covering an area to the south and west of Mangateretere. It suffered the fate of many Native reserves and was cut and sold to individual buyers, both Maori and pakeha.

Sale criticised

In the 1870s New Zealand was still a country of small population but the case of the Heretaunga purchase, when the names of the purchasers and the methods by which the land was acquired became known, aroused widespread criticism in Hawke’s Bay and far beyond and stimulated heated debate and recrimination in the House of Representatives.

The Stafford Ministry, the Government in 1872, took the course common to governments when they are confronted with questions which are difficult to answer: It set up a Commission of Enquiry to investigate the sale of native lands in Hawke’s Bay and to report its findings to the Government.

The required legislation was passed under the title of The Hawke’s Bay Native Lands Alienation Commission Act 1872.

Four appointees

Four commissioners were appointed, two of whom were pakeha and two Maori. The former were Mr C.W. Richmond, at the time a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, and Mr F.E. Maning, a Judge of the Native Land Court. The Maori commissioners were Wiremu Te Wheoro te Morehu Waipapa and Wiremu Hikairo.

It is from the published reports of the Alienation Commission as presented to Parliament, including as they do the evidence given by both pakeha purchasers and Maori sellers, that the details of the transactions occurring can be learned.

Following the conclusion of the evidence come the opinions of the commissioners expressed in their individual reports on the proceedings of the buyers and sellers not only of Heretaunga, which was by far the largest sale investigated, but also in a number of smaller areas of land.

Our next instalments will describe the methods used by the purchasers of Heretaunga to persuade the ten grantees to sell their shares of Heretaunga.

Captions –

Mr Tanner…an early lessee from the Maori and the man who had the first choice of the Heretaunga carve-up. He chose the eastern side of present-day Hastings, eventually being master of 5600 acres.

Sir William Russell…one of the apostles

An approximation of the carve-up of the Heretaunga block of Hawke’s Bay which stretched from Pakowhai to Longlands and Havelock North to Fernhill. Future subdivision of these blocks was to lead to the establishment of Hastings city.

Part of the carve-up became Flaxmere where Sir William Russell built this house 4.8 kilometres from Hastings.

Original digital file



Date published

19 March 1988

Format of the original

Newspaper article


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


  • [Te] Arihi
  • J B Braithwaite
  • William Ellison
  • Captain J G Gordon
  • S W Grant
  • Te Hemara
  • Wiremu Hikairo
  • Noa Huke
  • Te Waka Kawatini
  • Te Kune
  • F E Maning
  • Tareha Moananui
  • Kay Mooney
  • Paramena Oneone
  • J D Ormond
  • Apera Pahoro
  • Patrick Parsons
  • C W Richmond
  • Captain A H Russell
  • Purvis Russell
  • Captain W R Russell
  • Judge T H Smith
  • Manaena Tini
  • Matiaha Tini
  • Karaitiana Takamoana
  • Thomas Tanner
  • Henare Tomoana
  • Wiremu Te Whero te Morehu Waipapa
  • J N Williams
  • Reverend Samuel Williams

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