Letter 15

Sarah Harris to sister-in-law Augusta Dobson. Weekeston, New Plymouth, 29 October 1844

Weekeston October 29 1844

My Dear Augusta

It is when my little ones are asleep that I find a quiet hour to write to my dear friends. I know not how it is that you all seem dearer to us than ever & other. We are so fortunate as to have a few excellent acquaintances yet there is none like our own English ones. By this you must have received our letters acknowledging the box & its valuable contents. How can I thank you sufficiently but I trust you will say every thing to all who contributed not forgetting Elizabeth Watts & dear little Katie. I hope Emma & Stephen are in better circumstances. How does their little boy get on? Our love to them and we should like a letter. And now as I wish to give you a detailed account of what is going on here so you will excuse my giving you the trouble to thank my friends for I could fill my letter with expressions of gratitude.

New Plymouth has for a long time been in a very unsettled state owing to the land claims not being adjusted and Mr Spain the Commissioner for that purpose has at length arrived and settled it in favour of the Plymouth Company at which the natives, 300 of whom had assembled at the Court House, when they heard the result were in a great state of excitement and said sooner than give up their land they would burn all the white men’s houses. You must know my dear Augusta that when we first came here there was only a very few natives since which they have returned in great numbers being released from captivity by the Wicatoes [Waikato] who were their conquerors. Those newcomers have placed themselves on the old spots chiefly on the land cultivated by our people and they will not move off altho’ there is a great deal of land appropriated for them and as it has been clearly proved by native writing that the land has been bought and paid for, it is very tiresome. The Baccotasse [Atiawa] tribe are determined to fight for theirs on which a great number of acres are cultivated and houses built. In consequence two petitions have been sent by special messenger to Capt. Fitzroy to send soldiers to protect us and the natives have promised to wait the answer. They are in the mean time making preparations of defence and they have I am sorry to say more powder and shot than the English in this settlement. All this you must perceive is a great drawback to Edwin’s getting on as it entirely puts a stop to private surveying. He is at present engaged in making a drawing for Mr Cook who intends sending it to Mr Polansky. He also made one for Col. Wakefield of the Natives assembled at the Court House which we understand he intends having lithographed.

August. The Governor, Capt. Fitzroy, is now arrived in consequence of the petition. He came in a sloop of war at which the natives were alarmed. The Bishop also has arrived thinking he might have some influence with the natives. He has in seven days walked more than 200 miles. Shortly after His Excellency landed a deputation waited on him. When he said that he would not confirm Mr Spain’s award in consequence of the claims of the natives then in captivity not having been but that he would come again and have all examined into again. This seems rather strange as in all the decisions made by Mr Spain in the other settlements against the Company has confirmed them and in an interview which Mr Wicksteed the agent for the Company had with him after, he confessed that he had not even read Mr Spain’s report. He stayed three days and expressed himself much pleased with the place and that were he out of office he would like to reside here. The natives were also addressed by him in which he promised that their claims should be reinvestigated. The Chiefs then addressed him and one the most troublesome mentioned a list of grievances most of them untrue . This man had afterwards a most compleat set down by a Wicato [Waikato] Chief (who with a party had arrived from Wicato [Waikato]), he reminded him that he had been his slave, that he had not released him to molest the white people and that he observed the very dress he had on had been obtained from the whites and that he ought to be grateful to them. He also cautioned him to beware how he gave them further trouble.

This Chief was presented by some of the settlers with the sum of ten pounds as an acknowledgement. We are now anxiously looking forward to the second visit of Capt. Fitzroy, feeling that on his decision and on the terms he may make with the natives hang the fate of this settlement.

September. A ship has arrived from England and letters from the Company to the agent. The result was soon known by the suspension or dismissal of the two surveyors, the Harbour Master, the boat crew & from a printed report of the Company it appears they intend appealing to parliament against the vexatious delays and breach of faith on the part of the Government and that in the mean time they should stop all proceedings in the settlements.

October. Mrs Bolland the wife of our Church Missionary invited me to join a Dorcas meeting. I was obliged to refuse from indisposition. Edwin and I have since been there to a dress party, a very rare thing for me as we cannot see company, is a very good reason why we do not go out. I did manage to have Mr and Mrs Bolland to take a friendly tea and we should have made them very comfortable but for a sad accident of Emily’s. You must know I had a month before bought an earthenware set of tea things 25 shillings. On this occasion I had to borrow a tea tray which Miss Emily was so desirous of looking at that she managed to upset the whole paraphernalia just before my visitors arrived. We saved two cups and saucers, milk cup and teapot without the handle. What is worse there is not any to be bought until a ship brings some. I made an apology and we spent a very agreeable evening. Mr and Mrs B. are quite a young couple indefatigable in their duties and quite first rate. The distress is so great in this place at present owing to the land question that they give away a great part of their income. Our deprivations are not known. There are many families in our own station very badly off, some who have spent all their money before they can get their land. The Governor is hourly expected, there is an immense quantity of land cultivated and the crops looking very fine.

I am sorry to say that Edwin has been poorly for a few weeks. He suffers from debility. I think myself that change of diet is absolutely necessary. When we eat meat it is always pork, all the families except those who can afford mutton and beef which is 6 or 8 pence per pound, pork is 3 pence, eggs 9 pence a dozen, butter 1 shilling and sixpence, flour 2 shillings. With a small income we can live very comfortably particularly now it is a free port.

My letter has been a long time in hand but it was useless sending it until I could give you’re the full particulars. The Governor has paid us a second visit three months after the first having been unavoidably detained. He remained here three weeks causing the greatest anxiety from his proceedings. The natives of course being backed by him have risen in their demands, at one time refused to sell any portion of their land declaring that the white people should not stay and I believe the Governor thought he could have removed the settlement by paying the settlers for their outlay, giving them land elsewhere. But on making an estimate for only part he found that the expense had been so much more than he thought that it was found better to pay the natives their demands however exorbitant. After a great deal of trouble he has succeeded in purchasing about 3000 acres including the town for about 500 pounds, the natives firmly refusing to sell any more so that the settlers who are out of the block must remove into it, the Governor paying them a portion only of their outlay. He has left directions with the Government Officers here to buy more land as soon as they can induce the natives to part with it, leaving 1500 pounds to be expended in addition to the 500 pounds and we are in hopes they will succeed by & by. The Governor has employed a great number of the distraught labourers until harvest when there will be plenty for them to do. Our wheat looks well and will be fit to cut at Christmas. Our thoughts are particularly drawn to our native land at this season. The gathering together of relatives and friends makes me wish to be among them. A night or two ago I dreamed that I said it is a long time since I called at my Father’s and your parents and that I was determined I would go the next day. I awoke to disappointment wishing I might never dream again. Give our affectionate love to Dobson and tell him I long to see him with his dear children riding on his back. Ellen gives me a sweet account of them. Say everything to my dear Father, Sister and Aunt Corbyn and that I hope they will soon hear from me. Also to my second Father and Mother, Maria, Henry, Ellen, Emma, Mr Rendel, James and Elizabeth etc etc and to all who enquire for us. And now dear Augusta may God grant you whatever may be good in this world and afterwards receive you to everlasting glory through our Saviour is the sincere wish of your affectionate brother and sister-in-law

Sarah Harris

Nov. 9th 1844 Mrs Nairn often asks for Mrs Shepheard, her daughter is about to be married. Our children are all well. Send a pattern of a fashionable bonnet collar and cape. The shoes sent were too small. A Mrs Distin of Devonport is coming out, she would bring anything. Mr D was an ironmonger.


Handwritten transcript of MS letter to sister-in-law Augusta Dobson, Plymouth, England. Written in Weekeston, New Plymouth, NZ, 29 Oct 1844. Other dates include August, September, October and 9 Nov 1844. Copying date unknown. Puke Ariki. ARC2019-112. Letter 3.


Mr Spain the Commissioner for that purpose has at length arrived and settled it
Spain’s court of enquiry into Taranaki land claims opened 31 May 1844 in New Plymouth and decided 8 June in favour of the New Zealand Company. The company was awarded a Crown grant for 60,000 acres ‘situate, lying, and being in the district or settlement of New Plymouth or Taranaki in the Northern Division of New Zealand: Which said block of land commences on the north side of the Sugarloaf Islands, and extends in a northerly direction to a place called Taniwha.’ (Spain, quoted in Wells 106). Te Taniwha (Motunui) is three miles north of the Waitara River.

Wells (111) quotes the translation of a letter written by Wiremu Kīngi Whiti and other Te Atiawa Chiefs to Fitzroy on the day of Spain’s decision:

Taranaki, June 8th, 1844:
Friend Governor:–Salutations! Great is our love to you; this is our speech to you. Listen to us respecting this land, respecting Waitara. Our hearts are dark by reason of Mr. Spain’s words. Indeed the Europeans are wrong in striving for this land which was never sold by its owners, the men of Ngatiawa.

Now, when the Ngatiawa tribe went to Kapiti they left some men behind on our lands, who were surprised by the Waikatos, and some of them led away captive, who having arrived at Waikato were afterwards returned by the Waikatos to Waitara to dwell there. Others came back from Kapiti. We love the land of our ancestors; we did not receive any of the goods of Colonel Wakefield; it was wrong to buy the land which belonged to other men. There are many chiefs to whom this land belongs who are now at Waikanae and Arapaoa. It was love for the land of our forefathers that brought us back to those lands. Friend Governor our thoughts are that those lands were never settled by the Waikatos; and when we embraced Christianity, we learnt the rules of the Gospel and to dwell in peace.

This also is the determination of our people; Waitara shall not be given up; the men to whom it belongs will hold it for themselves. There was not a single man of the Ngatiawa tribe who received the payment of Colonel Wakefield. These are the only men who took the payment–the men of Ngamotu and Puketapu, and they had no right in Waitara. The Ngatiawa are constantly returning to their land, on account of their attachment to the land of their birth–the land which we have cultivated and which our ancestors marked out and delivered to us.

Friend Governor, do you not love your land–England–the land of your fathers, as we also love our land at Waitara? Friend, let your thoughts be good towards us. We desire not to strive with the Europeans, but, at the same time, we do not wish to have our land settled by them; rather let them be returned to the places which have been paid for by them, lest a root of quarrel remain between us and the Europeans. Friend Governor, be kind to the natives. The places which have been justly purchased by the Europeans, let them have them, that your judgment may be just.

This is not from us only, but from all the Ngatiawa, though the greater part are absent. From Hakopa, Tipene, Te Wataraui,

Tutarahaina, Paturoi, Te Wareraka, Tamete Tiraurau, Hirini Mangonui.
By us, by all the men at Waikanae and Warekauri.
Written by me, Wiremu Kingi Whiti.

Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke (?-1882) was a Te Atiawa leader, thought to have been born in the last years of the eighteenth century, at Manukorihi pā, Waitara. He was of Ngāti Kura and Ngāti Mutunga descent, and is primarily identified with Te Atiawa. His father was Te Rere-tāwhangawhanga, who was one of the great Te Atiawa leaders of his time. His mother was Te Kehu (also known as Te Whetū-o-te-ao). Te Rangitāke, also known as Whiti, was baptised in the early 1840s, taking the name Wiremu Kīngi. His life was bound up with the great migrations on the west coast of the North Island which took place between the 1820s and 1840s. In 1848 he led a migration of nearly 600 Te Atiawa back to Waitara to settle on their ancestral lands (Te Ara).

He is at present engaged in making a drawing for Mr Cook who intends sending it to Mr Polansky
Mr Polansky is an unidentified connection and the name may be a transcription error, perhaps for Joel Samuel Polack (1807-1882), Trader, land speculator, writer, artist, who was living at Kororareka in the Bay of islands in 1844 (Te Ara).

He also made one for Col. Wakefield of the Natives assembled at the Court House
Edwin Harris made a drawing of William Spain’s land tenure meeting on Mount Eliot in June 1844.  Puke Ariki holds the untitled panorama of New Plymouth from Queen Street showing the meeting at the courthouse on Mount Eliot (A64.821).

August. The Governor, Capt. Fitzroy, is now arrived
Fitzroy despatched recently appointed Sub-Protector of Aborigines Donald McLean overland to Taranaki and arrived himself in New Plymouth on HMS Hazard. Bishop Selwyn and Wesleyan missionary John Whitely arrived in New Plymouth from Auckland and Kawhia respectively, bringing with them the Waikato leader Haupōkia Te Pakaru. At a meeting on Mount Eliot 3 Aug 1844 Fitzroy announced that he would revoke Spain’s award. In November he returned to Taranaki and proclaimed boundaries restricting the settlers to the town block and its suburbs, an area of roughly 3500 acres (Wells 107).

September. A ship has arrived from England
Wells (113) quotes Wicksteed’s report to Colonel Wakefield of 31 Aug 1844: ‘In separate despatches I have noticed the principal events of the month, namely, the arrival of the Governor at New Plymouth, with an account of his proceedings, and the arrival of the Raymond on the 29th inst., with the intelligence of the suspension of the Company’s operations. It only remains for me to state that your instructions relative to the discharge of persons in the Company’s employment at New Plymouth have this day been carried into effect. Mr. Carrington and Mr. Rogan, with the surveying men, Mr. Watson, beachmaster, Mr. Wellington Carrington, stationed at the Waitara, with the boatmen and a few persons employed upon the roads, have been discharged. Mr. Chilman, whose services as clerk to the Resident Agent and clerk of the Land Office are indispensable, is the only officer retained besides myself. Mr. Octavius Carrington continues to reside at the Surveyor’s house, taking care of the maps, instruments and other property of the Company there. He has promised to afford, without pay, the usual assistance in explaining boundaries, showing plans, and so forth, in the hope, which I have partially encouraged, of being again employed in the Company’s service.’

October. Mrs Bolland the wife of our Church Missionary invited me to join a Dorcas meeting
Dorcas Societies were sewing groups who provided clothing for their less fortunate neighbours. Sarah was several months pregnant with her sixth child, Mary Rendel Harris, but it is not clear that her condition would have prevented the Harrises from seeing company.

I am sorry to say that Edwin has been poorly for a few weeks
Edwin Harris’s delicate constitution is a recurring motif in the family’s New Zealand experience. See Emily Harris’s retrospective account of her father’s ill-suitedness for farming (#25). In a letter fragment of 1896 she outlines some earlier history: ‘I have often heard father speak of the time when he left school at the age of 18 to devote the whole of his time to painting & drawing, and in order to be allowed to draw from the antiques in the Plymouth Atheneum, he had to paint a picture to show his ability, he often told that he painted the interior of a church. I never thought of asking what became of it but there is little doubt that it was given to his father & so passed on to Uncle Henry. However father worked so hard that he became so ill that he was sent in the country to board at a farmhouse for a year & forbidden by the doctor to touch a pencil for twelve months. At the end of that time he entered the office of Uncle Rendel and became a civil engineer and surveyor.’

The Governor has paid us a second visit three months after the first
In the interval between his visits to Taranaki in August and November, Fitzroy was briefed by his Sub-Protector Thomas Forsaith about Waikato claims on the district. Wells (112) quotes from Forsaith’s report from Taranaki of 22 Oct 1844: ‘Again the Taranaki captives, released by the Waikatos from the purest and best of motives, have assumed a position of importance which can hardly be tolerated by these powerful chiefs, their former masters; and, in some instances, the emancipists have so far forgotten their obligation and the respect due to their former conquerers, as to ridicule the poverty and destitution of their present circumstances. I mention these matters because they afford a key to the interpretation of the sentiments of the Kawhia and Ngatimaniapoto Chiefs, which were formally conveyed to me on the eve of my departure, and which appear to me to involve principles bearing an important relation to the Taranaki land question, the successful settlement of which is so great a desideratum, and which your Excellency is now endeavoring to effect. I shall give these sentiments as nearly as possible in the same words in which they were delivered to me by the Chiefs, without comment:– “You are going to Taranaki; listen to our parting words. That land is ours. We claim it by right of conquest, and some part of it by possession. We have power to enforce our claim if we choose, but our inclination is for peace, not war. The Governor who is dead professed to buy the interests of the Waikatos in the lands of Taranaki, and paid Te Wherowhero for them. Te Wherowhero had a perfect right to sell his own or his tribe’s interest, but not ours. He was not the principal man in subjugating Taranaki, many were before him; we do not recognise his sale. We might insist on our right to a payment equal to that of Te Wherowhero, but we are not so very anxious about that, as we want Europeans. You have told us that the Governor will do all in his power to send them to us; now, we will wait a reasonable time; if they come, well; if not, we must go to them. We hold the late Governor’s permission to settle on any of the lands at Taranaki, provided we do not go south of Urenui. We sent the present occupants of Taranaki home to the land of their fathers, and we did so from the influence of Christian principles, but we did not send them back to assume the airs of superiority they have done, or to molest the Europeans. They have Europeans, but do not know how to treat them, while we who would treat them well, cannot get them. We are therefore determined in the event of no Europeans coming to us, to go back and resume our rights. We shall not go in hostile mood, though we shall go prepared to resist opposition. If kindly received and treated with respect by our former captives, we shall simply arrange for our joint occupation of the land. But on the contrary, if opposed we shall take the matter into our own hands, and settle the disputes with the Europeans in our own way. Go and tell the Ngatiawa that the Waikato Chiefs remind them that the land is theirs, and advise them to settle their dispute with the Europeans, or the Waikatos will settle it for them.”’

The views of the Te Atiawa leaders and those of Waikato reported by Forsaith open a window on the complexities of land ownership in Taranaki. Before the end of the year Te Rangitāke and other Te Atiawa leaders wrote again to Fitzroy, describing dissension among local hapū in the wake of the governor’s November visit. See 2 pages written 14 Dec 1844 by Wiremu Poharama, Hoani Ropiha 1850, Wiremu Kawaho, Eruera Te Puke, Piripi Hapimana, Wiremu Tana and Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke in Ngāmotu to Robert Fitzroy (Alexander Turnbull).

Nov. 9th 1844 Mrs Nairn often asks for Mrs Shepheard
John and Eliza Nairn and their family arrived in Taranaki on the William Bryan, Mar 1841. The Nairns’ daughter Elizabeth married James Ramsden in New Plymouth in 1846. See also #19 and #20 which mention visits by Katie and Frances Harris to the Nairns’. Sarah’s letter, though dated 29 Oct 1844, was written between March and November of that year in order to report on the aftermath of Spain’s award.

A Mrs Distin of Devonport is coming out
Perhaps a relative of Oriental passengers John and John S Distin, who had a farm between Te Henui and Waiwhakaiho (see note for #10 above). John Distin was allocated land 1 Jan 1844 (NZ Gazette 1883, 15 Nov, p. 1647).