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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.


Donald McLean's Visit in 1851—Spies Out Its Fertile Lands—“A Paradise For Pastoralists”—Friendly Talks With Te Kani-a-Takirau.

When Mr. (later, Sir Donald) McLean paid his first visit to Poverty Bay in February, 1851, he was a Lands Purchase Commissioner. He had been sent to Napier in December, 1850, to buy as much land as possible in Hawke's Bay. In his journal (3 January, 1851) he states: “Turanga (Poverty Bay) is reported to me as being a fine, rich country, with 40,000 acres of deep, rich, alluvial soil.” [The Poverty Bay Flats contain 45,756 acres and are almost equally divided by the Waipaoa River.] So he decided to visit Poverty Bay and inspect what had been described to him as “A Veritable Paradise for Pastoralists.” Although he was not armed with authority to bargain with its chiefs for any of their lands, he was so greatly impressed by the fertility of the soil and the genial climate that he could not resist the temptation to put out “feelers.” When the Hawke's Bay chiefs learned of his intention, Te Moananui frankly expressed his fears that, if Poverty Bay lands were offered to the Crown, they might be considered earlier than those in Hawke's Bay which he was endeavouring to sell.

On 6 February, 1851, Mr. McLean reached Te Arai, via Wairoa, on horseback. The personnel of his party is not disclosed in his journal, nor is the identity of its principal host in Poverty Bay.

“In descending from the interior ranges, I had,” he reported to the Governor, “a splendid view of the country around Turanga Bay (it does not deserve the appellation given by the illustrious discoverer) which formed a pleasing contrast with the barren hills I had passed over. The land is rich and fertile and is intersected by three rivers, which strike their serpentine courses through handsome clumps of kahikatea and puriri forests and beside numerous wheat cultivations and groves of peach and other varieties of English fruit trees.
“We reached the first settlement on the banks of the Arai River about sunset, when the natives were returning from reaping their fields, some leading horses and others driving cattle and pet pigs before them. They gave us the usual welcome and presented us with fruit and also with honey just taken from a hive.
“The fat cattle, the large wheat stalks of last year's growth, fine alluvial soil, and contented appearance of the natives made an impression that this was certainly anything but a land of destitution or want. Nor was this impression deranged by what I subsequently saw of the beautiful Turanga Valley, which contains about 40,000 acres of splendid land covered with rich grasses and well supplied with wood and water.”
page 178

Mr. McLean spent the day after his arrival with Te Waaka Perohuka (one of the principal chiefs), who lived close to Kaupapa. He “sounded” E'Waaka (his guide) as to the natives' views on the Government's land-purchasing policy. E'Waaka said that some of the natives wished to sell their land, but that others would not do so. Incidentally, he confessed to Mr. McLean that, without the knowledge of other interested parties, he had sold a tract of land in that locality to a European named Hatereti for “spades, pots and what he called ‘shells of paua’ (meaning some money).” Subsequently, Captain W. B. Rhodes had, he added, been allowed to purchase for two blankets and some other articles “the whole of Turanga.” [Rhodes never claimed to have made any such purchase.]

Next morning Mr. McLean went to Orakaiapu pa, where (he says) he inspected “the most elegantly carved native house in New Zealand.” [Lazarus's carved house, which is now in the Dominion Museum.] Attired in handsome dog-skin mats, the chiefs assembled and, in turn, addressed him. It soon became plain that they were convinced that the real object of his visit was to ascertain whether land might be obtained by the Crown for a European township. Some of the chiefs proved in a sarcastic vein. Lazarus, whom Mr. McLean describes as “a second-rate chief,” remarked that if, in the towns from which he had come, the natives could get goods for nothing, he would think over the advisability of Poverty Bay also having a town! On the other hand, the old men were “more favourable in their sentiments, welcoming us as strangers.” Mr. McLean explained that he had no authority to treat with them for any of their lands, but he was prepared to listen to their views on the subject. His only object in visiting them was to become acquainted with the place and its people.