By 1862 there was discontent in the Maori villages of the Waikato. The young men were bored.
They were discarding the ancient Maori rituals which, based on necessity, were carefully designed to keep everyone busy, realizing his own essential place in the life of the community.
In Hukanui, the raupo heads ripened and were ready to harvest. No matter how carefully the women plaited the little baskets, if the men did not come to help with the winnowing, what use was it? And the young men refused to come-"It's much easier to get Pakeha bread." they said, not quite realising that work was necessary to get Pakeha bread too. In the past, if they wanted fish, they went fishing; if they wanted clothes, they cut and dressed flax and made the clothes that they needed. Now the Pakeha was asking them to make fences or dig drains, or something quite different, to get bread, and it just didn't make sense.
Nor could the Maori folk understand the inflation that hit the new settlers. They found that a kit of kumaras would not buy the goods they had been accustomed to receive in exchange, and sometimes the shopkeepers wouldn't take the things they wanted to sell at all. Canoe loads of flax were just dumped and the Maoris were angry.
When they asked their farmer friends for a lamb or a pig for a hangi, the white man said that he could not afford to give any away, but the Maoris looked at the substantial little homes and the rest of the flock or herd and just didn't believe it.
To add to their discontent, the white tribe seemed to be increasing at a rate no Maori had ever seen. Always before, if they lost their land (and some areas had changed owners several times), they dreamed and planned till they were strong enough to take it back, but now there seemed to be white settlements springing up everywhere.
Those men who could see what was happening were worried, but seemed powerless to help. Just what can you give a bored young man to do? From the beginning of time, fighting seems to be the solution that mankind offers, and the idea was particularly acceptable to the young Maori who had grown up without having experienced the thrill of warfare as related by their fathers at every opportunity.
The white settlers too, were prepared to match violence with violence. The younger men were often quite glad to exchange a spade for a gun, particularly when a private was offered 50 acres of farm land and an acre for a town section after he had served for three years. An officer, of course, was to receive more-300 acres for a captain or 400 for a Field Officer.
So armed conflict came to the Waikato.
Many of the men were recruited in New South Wales, and they brought their wives and children from Australia with them. At first, they were housed in different barracks at Onehunga, Hawick and Papakura. Conditions were tough. The principal medical officer laid down the diet for women, ordering that they be entitled to 8oz. meat, l6oz. of potatoes, 1/2oz. tea and 2oz. of sugar. Nursing mothers were given an additional 1/4pint of milk a day, which was later increased to a pint when it was available. At least, they usually got something to eat. When Major Keddell, who was in charge of 70 families whose men were on active duty in other parts, complained that the Commissariat refused to supply any rations, Major Moule, who commanded the 4th. Waikato Militia Regiment, authorised him to buy some food to tide over the difficulty. In later years there were times when the settlers of Hamilton had even less to eat.
In June of 1864, Colonel Haultain was told that he had to find sites where 300-500 men could be settled in their villages and, together with General Cameron and Captain Cadell, who was in charge of the boats on the river, the sites of Kihikihi, Alexandra (Pirongia), Cambridge, and Hamilton were chosen.
In August, Captain Steele received word to take his men to their new homes in the Waikato. From Wairoa (Clevedon), Onehunga and Drury, 100 men of the 4th Waikato Militia with Capt. Steele as leader, marched to the end of the road (the bluff near Mercer) where they eagerly went aboard the barges which were towed slowly up-stream.
In one of the barges, two friends, Lieutenant Johnstone and Ensign Crawford, sat in the sun watching the land that slid slowly past. Unlike most of the other men, these two had had some experience of farming.
"Look at the brilliant green of that crop," called one of the others, "is that maize?"
" No." replied John Crawford, "That's raupo - bullrushes, and it means that the ground is very swampy. You wouldnrt grow anything on that land until you'd dug drains.''
William Johnston remarked that it looked as if a lot of them would be have to dig drains..
As they came through the narrow gap at Taupiri, they passed Rev. Ashwel1's mission station with its neat school and church. The houses looked deserted, but everywhere in the settlement were peach trees, some covered with delicate pink blossoms and others only showing promise of the plentiful harvest to come.
That night was spent at Ngaruawahia which many thought woud become the capital of the Waikato, if not of New Zealand.
Here was the only hospital in the Waikato; the Bank of New Zealand had a branch here; James Mclead's sawmill was not far away and soon the Waikato Times was printed in this town.
When the bugle woke the men next morning, a stiff white frost covered the ground and it was bitterly cold as they returned to their barges, but the sun was shining brightly when, at noon, the "Pioneer" drew up on the East bank of the river where the Memorial Park is now.
W.A.Graham's Map Of The District - 1865- I have put on Piako, Taylor and Sainsbury Roads, which, of course, were only survey lines.
Rushes and Swamp to Northward and Eastward as far as the eye can see.
Ensign Crawford was the first ashore, but the others followed quickly; their natural excitement turning to dismay at the wilderness to which they had come. Major Inman and his regiment had erected a camp and thrown up some protecting earthworks and there were a few abandoned Maori whares but the rest of the land was covered with bracken and high manuka and swampy creeks running down to the river. Away to the East was a considerable area of kahikatea bush, so at least there would be something to make their homes from when the tools arrived to do the work.
At first they pitched tents, then they built a redoubt on the hill through which the Hamilton East part of Bridge Street runs. As soon as possible each man was alloted his town section.
Wives and children were sent to Hamilton even before the houses were up, and many lived in tents as they helped to build their homes. The physical labour made the young men hungry and food was expensive and difficult to get, so every family was urged to grow as much food as they could and as quickly as possible.
In the New Zealand of 1864, there were only 172,158 white inhabitants and the entire export value of the colony was only 3,319,000 Pounds. Where was the money to come from to feed and clothe these soldiers in the Waikato? The settlers in the South, certainly did not want to pay for their upkeep, so the Government gave orders that they were to be put off pay as soon as possible. The army provided each man with 10 Pounds worth of timber; however, the timber from mills at Ngaruawahia was needed not only in Hamilton but in all other military settlements as well, so when Ebeneza Cubbons decided to build a mill in Hamilton East near Gibbons Creek, that today passes through Parana Park, the soldiers were glad indeed and willing hands helped to haul his engine from the "Blue Nose" river boat to its place,
In the New Zealand Gazette of December 1864, Hamilton statistics show males 836, females 660, garden and orchard 136 acres, in sown grass 150 acres, total under crops 290 acres. Livestock- 16 horses, 70 head of cattle, 1 sheep, 7 goats, 25 pigs, poultry 158; all within 3 months of the first men arriving.
The twelve surveyors worked without a break to get the land alloted, but many of the soldiers were not pleased with their farms.
The November ballot was out. Everyone in the settlement came to see the fun.
"I hope we get a section this time," confided Mary Ann to her friend, "but close to town. I couldn't go out to the back-blocks like the Rothwell's." Mary Ann had been one of the first wives to arrive in Hamilton, but they were still living in a tent.
"Did you see the Rothwell's go?" asked one of the other ladies. "They made the cow carry all their bedding and some of the pots and pans too."
"Thomas sold his potatoes at a jolly good profit. It won't be long before they can afford a horse." said Mary Ann "I wish we could get a start. My John's growing into a big boy now and I am afraid he will get into mischief if we haven't enough work to keep him busy."
Another mother said, as she tried to hush her baby, "I hope ours is like the Crosby's. They live on their farm but he's close enough to town to come in and work for some extra money."
"Hush," said someone, "the draw has begun."
A silence fell on the little gathering; even the children were quiet. The officers had the first choice and then the men's names were put in a bag and the numbers of the allotments in another. Captain Steele drew out the name "William Johnstone" and from the other bag he drew "Lot 140,KH Hukanui"
"Gerald Murtagh" and from the other bag "Lot 18, Komakarau"
"John Graham"; "Lot 17, Komakorau".
And so on down the list of sections to be alloted that day.
Immediately he had finished, there was a babble of voices; questioning, congratulating, commiserating.
"Where's your block, William?" asked his friend, John Crawford.
"Out past Crosby's on the edge of Lake Tunawakapeke." replied William, "Crosby says there's no track to it."
"There's a Maori foot trail," Said one of the other men, "You wouldn't get a horse along it though, and the bog is treacherous if you get off the track."
"Never mind," said John Crawford, "You can still graze your cows on my farm at Ruakura."
Gerald Murtagh and his wife were even more upset.
"Why, it's 25 miles away," she said, "I'd never get a chance to see my friend."
"It is dangerous too," said Mary Ann "there isn't even a blockhouse near."
When Gerald Murtagh and John Graham objected to their allotments they said it was too far from Hamilton, there was no chance of safety if troubles arose, and anyway the land was too swampy.
"Private Murtagh's land has a good carriage-way along the whole front of his land to a navigable creek, the Komakorau, and it is only about 2 miles to Taupiri by water," the board said in reply, and his objection was not allowed. Indeed, if about half the allotment was not under water, objections were not sustained, though Colonel Moule had been able to reject 105 out of the 418 allotments and awarded these men other land. By 1867, all the 4th Waikato Militia had received their allotments though many lived on their town sections, building up businesses in the new settlement.
On October 31st., 1868, the Kirikiriroa Road Board met for the first time with Captain Steele, Lieutenent William Johnston, Captain McPherson Comrie and James Wolley as trustees.
This board controlled the destiny of the East Bank of the Waikato River from Tamahere to Taupiri, excluding Ngaruawahia until the formation of the Waikato County Council and the Road Board's complete absorption into the Council in 1920.
But by 1868, only three men had been able to build their homes in Hukanui; Andrew Primrose, George Pritchard, and Edward Malcolm.
The settlers of the Waikato had to be almost self-supporting or starve; if you wanted to make money you must be able to get your produce to market and roads were essential. Even in Hamilton itself, the roads were very bad indeed; the Kirikiriroa Road Board did its best in the country districts but there were 80 bridges to build and miles of swamp to drain, and very little money Indeed.
From Barracks To Farm.
The usual route to Auckland; river barge to "The Bluff", Mercer, and then by road was very expensive and everyone decided that a railway was absolutely necessary. Then in 1872 the government let a contract for the construction of a line from Auckland to Mercer, eventually, it was whispered to go right to Wellington, though at the time the King Country south of the Punui River was still barred to Europeans, and was until 1885.
By this time, a few men with capital to spend had arrived in the Waikato bringing work and hope to the poverty stricken settlements. Thomas Russell, who had been the Minister of Defence during the Maori Wars, gave up politics for the commercial life, establishing the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Company, the New Zealand Insurance Company, the New Zealand Land and Mortgage Company and extending the business of the Bank of New Zealand.
In the course of his business he met Captain Steele in Hamilton.
"Your land is doing well," he said, as he admired the well-kept orchard and garden at Hillcrest, "and I don't think I've seen a better crop of wheat."
Captain Steele was on his hobby horse as he talked of the potential of the Waikato Farmlands.
"It's swampy," he had to admit, "but good drainage and access to the Auckland markets would alter things.
They talked of the coming railway.
"It will have to go to Ngaruawahia, I suppose," mused Captain Steele. "Some people think that Nguarawahia will be the capital of the Waikato, but I don't, Hamilton's the place."
Thomas Russell agreed, but as he looked at the survey map he said, "There's a big bridge needed at Ngaruawahia. I wonder if it would be cheaper to take the line through Hukanui."
"Probably", answered his friend, "and it would open up hundreds of acres that are quite useless now. But it needs more capital than one man has. The drainage alone would cost thousands of pounds."
For a while the two discussed the possibility of forming a syndicate to develop the land. While Mr. Russell with his many contacts, was to endeavour to get financial backing, Mr. Steele and his son-in-law Henry Reynolds were to find suitable areas. When some of the syndicate met to discuss plans, Captain Steele suggested asking the Government for 4 blocks; Woodlands 22,000 acres Kamakorau l7,000 acres, Eureka 14,000 acres and Tauwhare l1,000 acres, and part of the village of Hukanui.
"The Government price is 5 shilling an acre," he said, "but most of this land is worthless without roads and drainage so we will suggest that if we put in about 25 miles of roads linking Taupiri and Hamilton, and then aut to the Piako and Thames, then we should be refunded 2 shillings and 6 pence an acre."
Mr. Russell told the group that the Govenor of New Zealand, the Rt. Honourable Sir James Fergusson had a son farming at Taotaoroa, so was especially interested in the development of the Waikato. He had offered to take 500 shares, and the Honourable Sir Frederick Whitaker, Superintendent of Auckland and later Premier of New Zealand, had offered to take 5,700 shares.
Thomas Russell himself took most shares (11,400) but Captain Steele took 5,700 and young Henry Reynolds l,900. Three ather men also took shares in the Piako Swamp Company.
In 1874, the Government approved the sale of 86,502 acres at the price suggested, but the next Parliment, with Sir George Grey as Premier, condemned the transaction and Grey tried hard to have it revoked. Already, an extra 35,500 Pounds had been spent on drainage, and the work being done was bringing a few necessities into many of the small homes. Both the members of Parliment for Waipa and Waikata spoke of the good being done, and the Government declined to interfere.
In 1875 the railway did come to Ngaruawahia, but they decided to build the bridge over the Waikato River at Horotui at a cast of 19,375 Pounds and the rail linked Horotiu and Te Rapa to Hamilton, but Hukanui and the Eastern side of the river were left unhelped. By 1979, prices had nat improved, and the Piako (or Waikato, as it became known), Swamp Company needed more capital, so it was incorporated in London under the name of New Zealand Land Association, the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency handling the business part of the Association, and Henry Reynolds becoming manager.