We searched for traces of Emily Harris in Taranaki during a period of twenty years: from the Harris family’s arrival ‘off the shores of Taranaki’ in March 1841 to Emily’s departure for Hobart with the Des Voeux family in March 1861. Searching for Emily meant investigating the settler community of New Plymouth. Our understanding of Emily’s immediate world has grown, that is, the world as she would have experienced it, mostly within the town’s perimeter and outlying areas. But what about the wider context? What was happening on the land during the same period and how can our research become more relevant to the whenua of Taranaki?
This timeline seeks to present a contemporary Māori perspective. To echo the words of Ann Parsonson, author of a 1991 report to the Waitangi Tribunal, ‘The Purchase of Maori Land in Taranaki, 1839-59’: ‘the aim of this Report is to provide some understanding…’ (3). Our timeline is provisional, meant as a kind of guide or map to the growing tensions and sites of significance leading up to the war of 1860-61. People, places, events. It is difficult to keep track of everything. The timeline functions on one level as a cross-reference for the letters of Emily and her family: what was happening 29 October 1844, when Sarah Harris wrote to her sister-in-law in England? Or 14th January 1861, when Emily wrote to her mother in Nelson? On another level it is about trying to understand what ngā iwi o Taranaki were dealing with. In her introduction Parsonson summarises the wider context: ‘In these years, Taranaki Maori were subjected to unremitting pressure to sell land’ (3).
Our timeline is limited by the available sources and by our own bias about what to include in a summarising document. Parsonson acknowledges the limitations of the sources she drew on for her report, the writings of Government officials, settler diaries and weekly newspapers: ‘This is precisely what the written records of this period give us: Pakeha views of Maori communities, written from the outside’ (4). She continues: ‘Some Maori letters have survived, and some accounts of the speeches and comments of chiefs on important occasions.’ But what written records do exist cannot capture the complexity of the politics and attitudes held by the ‘some thousands of Maori living in Taranaki’ at the time.
Hopefully, the timeline, at present a sketch, will grow with our understanding of Taranaki whenua. These are the advantages of a research website: space, reach, and interactivity.
Betty Davis and Makyla Curtis
- Parsonson, Ann. Nga Whenua Tautohetohe O Taranaki. Land and Conflict in Taranaki, 1839-59 (Revision of Report No. 1 to the Waitangi Tribunal: “The Purchase of Māori Land in Taranaki, 1839-59”). 1991.
- Paterson, Lachy and Angela Wanhalla. He Reo Wahine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century. Auckland University Press, 2017.
- Porter, Frances and Charlotte Macdonald. My Hand Will Write What My Heart Dictates: The unsettled lives of women in nineteenth-century New Zealand as revealed to sisters, family and friends. Bridget Williams Books, 1996.
- Belich, James. The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict. Auckland University Press, 1986.
- Māori Niupepa Collection. New Zealand Digital Library Project, Department of Computer Science, University of Waikato.