A Place as Important as Waitangi?
The phrase that is the title of this paper originated with an exclamation point, not a question mark, as a slogan. Local people concerned about the future of a group of historic sites near Akaroa, needed such a slogan for two purposes:
- To persuade the Banks Peninsula District Council that an area of land which connects two historic sites (and is in effect part of one of them) should not have houses built on it;
- Then to secure funding so that the land could be purchased from the Council and become part of a national historic reserve.
Making a bold assertion that places most people have never heard of are as important as the best-known historic place in the country was seen as an effective way of achieving these two goals.
Historians don’t need reminding that history can be distorted to serve political ends, and the phrase, with an exclamation point, might be seen as making an extravagant claim, to advance a particular agenda, which the facts do not support. With a question mark rather than an exclamation point, the phrase is a good starting point for an examination of the historical significance of the sites – Takapuneke, Green’s Point and Onuku – which are on the eastern side of Akaroa Harbour, immediately south of the town of Akaroa.
There are several parcels of land and features at Takapuneke and Green’s Point referred to in this paper:
- The Britomart Memorial stands on Green’s Point on a small reserve which was gazetted in 1926;
- The actual site of the Takapuneke kainga and massacre (which will be discussed later) is protected as the Takapuneke Reserve;
- The land between the Takapuneke and Britomart Reserves is owned by the Banks Peninsula District Council and was designated for residential subdivision;
- Between the land proposed for subdivision and the Takapuneke Reserve is a small pocket of freehold land around an historic house which is a private dwelling;
- On the foreshore on the far side of the Bay from Green’s Point is Akaroa’s sewage treatment works.
This is a report rather than a scholarly paper. It is not based on original research but summarises secondary sources. The second part of the report deals with the recent past, and raises important issues about site recognition and interpretation, about the role of historical research in identifying and evaluating historic places and about the management and interpretation of historic sites in a society that is struggling to become truly bicultural. The history of the sites in the second half of the twentieth century is a revealing story of one New Zealand community’s coming to terms with its past.
The starting point for the discussion of the history of the Akaroa sites is that the critical event in New Zealand’s mid nineteenth century history was the assumption of sovereignty over the country by Britain not by virtue of discovery or conquest but by virtue of a treaty signed between two independent, sovereign peoples.
That being so, how can the supremacy of Waitangi as an historic place be challenged? The argument being advanced to support such a challenge is that the story of the route to British sovereignty can be told at Takapuneke, Green’s Point and Onuku in a more complete way than at Waitangi. The proximity of sites that draw together several strands of the history of Britain’s acquiring sovereignty over New Zealand gives them a collective significance greater than their individual standing.
The history of the sites can be told relatively quickly. Takapuneke (also known as Red House Bay) was the site of a kainga of Te Maiharanui, upoko ariki of Ngai Tahu. In the period immediately after the ending of the Ngai Tahu ‘civil war’ known as the Kai Huanga feud, Te Maiharanui was spending much of his time at Takapuneke because it was a convenient base for trading with Europeans, especially in flax. One factor in the ending of the Kai Huanga feud was the threat posed to Ngai Tahu by Te Rauparaha. This is not the place to attempt to explain Te Rauparaha’s motivation for his incursions into Ngai Tahu territory, but the fact that Takapuneke was a major rival to Te Rauparaha’s Kapiti Island as a source of supply of flax may add a rational economic calculation to the motive customarily assigned to Te Rauparaha for his attack on Takapuneke – a lust for revenge.
But certainly, after the killing of leading Ngati Toa chiefs at Kaiapoi in 1829, revenge was one of Te Rauparaha’s motives. And revenge was what he achieved, in terrible fashion, at Takapuneke in November 1830. But his revenge was only achieved with the help of a British ship’s captain, Captain Stewart of the brig Elizabeth. (The sacking of Takapuneke is often referred to as ‘the brig Elizabeth incident’.) Stewart agreed, in return for a cargo of flax, to take Te Rauparaha secretly to Takapuneke and facilitate his seizing of Te Maiharanui.
The story is familiar – at least to South Islanders. Te Rauparaha and his taua hid below decks until Te Maiharanui came aboard. Te Maiharanui, his wife, his daughter and several other Ngai Tahu were seized without the people ashore being aware what was happening. With Te Maiharanui taken, Te Rauparaha sacked Takapuneke, slaughtering or capturing almost all its inhabitants and burning the village to the ground. Te Maiharanui and the other captives were taken back to Kapiti and Te Maiharanui and some of the other captives killed.
Stewart eventually returned to Sydney, with rather less flax than he had been expecting. New Zealand in 1830 was a lawless place and the Takapuneke massacre might have been dismissed as just another bloodthirsty incident. But Stewart’s complicity in what Te Rauparaha had done horrified the British authorities in Sydney. The attempts to bring Stewart to justice failed, but when the events were reported back to England they reinforced the arguments already being made that something had to be done about the lawless state of New Zealand. The arguments were being made on both humanitarian and economic grounds. The British Government wanted to protect ‘the unfortunate natives of New Zealand’ from falling ‘a sacrifice to their intercourse with civilized men’. (The words are those of Lord Goderich to Governor Bourke in January 1832 and refer explicitly to the brig Elizabeth incident.) It wanted also to protect the lives and properties of British subjects residing in New Zealand and safeguard ‘the very valuable trade of those islands’.
As a direct consequence of Stewart’s actions, James Busby was sent to the Bay of Islands as British Resident in 1833, the first direct intervention by the British Government in the affairs of New Zealand, which was to culminate in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Later, in the 1838 enquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Lords into the ‘present state of the islands of New Zealand’, evidence was given on the brig Elizabeth incident. For our present purposes, the important connection is that what happened at Takapuneke in 1830 contributed to, perhaps even triggered, the series of events that came to their conclusion at Waitangi in 1840.
The other main reason for Britain’s eventually deciding to assume sovereignty over New Zealand was imperial rivalry. The monument on Green’s Point is not (as some people in Akaroa anxious to milk the French connection for tourist gain still contend) the finishing post of a race for the South Island that could have been won by the French. It is not even the point at which British sovereignty over the South Island was first proclaimed. But the monument is an important physical reminder that imperial rivalries contributed to the decision of the British government to assume sovereignty over New Zealand.
On Green’s Point on 11 August 1840, officials sent south by Governor Hobson made the first effective demonstration of British sovereignty on the South Island. The demonstration was made at that time and at that place because Hobson knew the settlers of the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, supported by a French naval vessel, were about to arrive at Akaroa.
Well before the French settlers arrived in New Zealand waters, however, British sovereignty was an accomplished fact. Hobson had proclaimed sovereignty over all New Zealand on 21 May 1840, over the North Island by virtue of the Treaty and over the South Island by virtue of discovery. On 17 June 1840, Captain Bunbury, returning to the Bay of Islands with the signatures of South Island chiefs on the Treaty, proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island at Cloudy Bay by virtue of the consent of South Island chiefs to the Treaty. British sovereignty over the whole country was already secure by the time Captain Lavaud of L’Aube put into the Bay of Islands on 11 July 1840. But Lavaud’s arrival did prompt a nervous Hobson to decide he had to exercise sovereignty on the South Island, to put the matter beyond all doubt, so he despatched Captain Stanley of the Britomart to run up the flag at Akaroa. Stanley had two magistrates with him and with the flag flying from the flagpole on Green’s Point, these gentlemen convened a court of law on the Point.
The original inscription on the monument erected on Green’s Point in 1898 stated that the sovereignty of Great Britain had been formally proclaimed on the spot. Some time after 1927-28, when J.C. Andersen and T. Lindsay Buick both published books which debunked the myth that there had been a ‘race for Akaroa’ and that the South Island escaped being French by a hairsbreadth, a new plaque was affixed to the monument which states, more correctly, that Stanley demonstrated British sovereignty on the site.
The proximity of the site of the first effective demonstration of British sovereignty on the South Island, prompted by imperial rivalry with the French, to the site of the incident that reinforced British determination to do something about the lawless state of New Zealand means that the major strands of the story of Britain’s acquiring sovereignty over New Zealand are woven together at this one place.
At nearby Onuku, two Ngai Tahu chiefs, Iwikau and Tikao, signed the Treaty of Waitangi on 28 May 1840. There was still a lingering suspicion of British ships (the brig Elizabeth incident had occurred just ten years earlier) and the acceptance of British sovereignty by men who had lost relatives in the massacre makes their signing of the Treaty so close to the site of the massacre an important step in the reconciliation between the British and Ngai Tahu.
The signing of the Treaty at Onuku reinforces the claim that the full story of Britain’s acquiring sovereignty over New Zealand can be told here more effectively than anywhere else in the country.
There are opportunities, also, to tell a host of subsidiary stories at Takapuneke, Green’s Point and Onuku. Onuku was a key site in later nineteenth century South Island Maori history and the church and early native school there are significant historic buildings. From Green’s Point can be seen Tuhiraki, one of the South Island’s most important traditional Maori sites (it was where Rakaihautu planted the ko with which he had scooped out the South Island’s lakes) and also Onawe, an historic reserve where one of the last incidents in the story of the Ngai Tahu/Ngati Toa rivalry occurred.
The area also has other importance in European history. Cattle were landed at Takapuneke in 1839, making it the scene of the first significant European farming venture on the South Island. Green’s hotel, on the township side of Green’s Point, was an early, possibly the earliest, European commercial building in Canterbury. An old immigration barracks still stands on the Red House Bay foreshore.
But the real importance of the three main sites lies in the part the events associated with each place played in the acquisition by Britain of sovereignty over New Zealand. Whether my sketchy history is enough to warrant an assertion that the sites are, collectively, as important as Waitangi, I leave to your judgment. But whatever answer you give to the question that is the title of this paper, it has to be conceded that it is a place with a rich, important history. It has become fashionable to talk about cultural or heritage landscapes. When you stand on Green’s Point (as I hope you all will some day) history is in the magnificent landscape that surrounds you.
I want to turn now to recognition of the sites by later generations. In 1898, a monument was erected on Green’s Point, to mark Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee and to assert the significance of the site in the history of the establishment of British sovereignty over New Zealand. In 1926, the government acquired an area of 12.8 perches around the monument which was gazetted in the same year as ‘land of historic interest’.
That was pretty much it until very recently. If you were a child holidaying in Akaroa at mid century (as I was) you would be marched to Green’s Point and be expected to (and did) feel grateful that the British had beaten the French to it.
At about the same time that I was feeling a warm imperial glow standing on Green’s Point, children growing up at Onuku were being told by their kaumatua that they were not, ever, to go near or walk across Takapuneke. But there was so little awareness in the wider community that Takapuneke was a place of great significance to the local iwi that in 1965 Akaroa’s sewage treatment works were built on the southern side of the bay. It was, one historian has remarked, a time when ‘there was less awareness in the public service of cultural sensitivity’ than there was by the late 1990s.
In June 1978, using the proceeds from the sale of endowment land elsewhere in Canterbury, the local council purchased all the remaining land at Takapuneke for the stated purposes of, inter alia, residential development, rubbish disposal and sewage plant extension. The town’s rubbish dump was established off Onuku Road, immediately above the site of the Takapuneke kainga. Not mincing words, Harry Evison has described the placing of the sewage treatment works and rubbish dump at Takapuneke as ‘the ultimate in modern cultural oppression’. The establishment of the rubbish dump in 1979 was in fact opposed by the Onuku Runanga and, initially, by the Historic Places Trust, but the council proceeded on the basis of an archaeological report by Michael Trotter which concluded that it need only protect the registered archaeological site (S94/29) and that there were no objections to the dump being located at Takapuneke ‘from a Maori or archaeological point of view’. The Historic Places Trust subsequently permitted the dump to be established. The site had been recorded in 1960-61. Its boundaries were not defined, but it was stated to include north-facing terraces and midden on the southern side of the bay.
In 1992 the council made plans for the land it owned at Takapuneke. Most importantly, the area around the registered archaeological site was to become a reserve and the land between the proposed new reserve and Green’s Point was to be sold for residential development.
In 1992, an archaeologist, Chris Jacomb, again gave approval, though it was guarded, to the council’s plans. Jacomb warned that there was likely to be more occupational evidence on the registered site than previously recorded, but he could see no archaeological reason why the land should not be subdivided as there were no sites on it, and thought the ‘interests of both development and the cultural resource could be accommodated’. He added, however, that ‘there may be matters of cultural sensitivity to be considered’ and reiterated a year later (when he made a further investigation of the Red House property) that ‘questions of traditional or spiritual importance will have to be a subject of further negotiation with the local Maori’.
In 1995 the future of the land which the council proposed should be used for residential development became a public issue when Harry Evison wrote an article for The Press which drew attention to the importance to the local Maori of the site of the Takapuneke massacre of 1830. The then mayor of Banks Peninsula, Noelene Allan, asked Ruth Richardson whether the Crown might purchase the land but gained ‘no sufficiently hard evidence to suggest she could persuade the Government to let that happen’.
The council then entered into negotiations with the Onuku Runanga. The outcome was a 1998 ‘Heads of Agreement’. The Council agreed to close the rubbish dump, to apologise for having previously put Akaroa’s sewage treatment works and rubbish dump in the bay, and to set up the Takapuneke Reserve to embrace the registered archaeological site and the greater part of the probable site of Te Maiharanui’s kainga. The Onuku Runanga for its part agreed that residential development of the land above Green’s Point could go ahead. But the Runanga was a reluctant party to the agreement. It stated that ‘Onuku cannot state strongly enough our grief at the past treatment of this site by past Councillors and officers of the Banks Peninsula District Council and its forbears’. It declared unequivocally that ‘the whole bay is of cultural significance’ and that ‘it is abhorrent to Onuku Runanga that this bay, which was the site of occupation and a massacre, has been defiled by both a rubbish dump and a sewage treatment plant … It would be Onuku Runanga’s preference that no further development take place in the bay’. But recognising it was part of a wider community, and after ‘long and painful discussion’, the Runanga agreed to houses being built on the northern side of the bay, subject to certain conditions, which were embodied in the Heads of Agreement. In September 1998, the apology was made to the Runanga and the tapu was lifted on the land that was proposed for residential development. The Takapuneke Reserve was not gazetted until March 2002, but by then a Reserve Committee had already drawn up plans and received funding for an interpretive structure right on the site of the massacre, which many thought inappropriate. The Committee by 2002 was in hot water with the Historic Places Trust for disturbing archaeological sites.
In 2000, the Council advertised plans to subdivide the land itself or sell it to a developer and received 14 objections. The council decided to sell the land for subdivision, but provided for the tiny Britomart Memorial Reserve to be extended, for controls to limit the visual impact of buildings on the site and for walkways to connect the Britomart and Takapuneke Reserves. Among the objectors to the subdivision in 2000 was the Akaroa Civic Trust. When it looked into the matter, the Trust quickly became aware of the great historic significance of the over-all area and was soon of the view – which the Onuku Runanga had expressed all along – that residential development of the land would be a gross desecration of wahi tapu and fatally compromise the historic values of the area.
At the 2001 annual meeting of the Trust, a young representative spoke for the Onuku Runanga about the significance of the site and stated, for the first time publicly, the Runanga’s conviction that the land proposed for subdivision was wahi tapu. After the 1830 massacre, the bodies had been left untouched and the land treated by local Maori as highly tapu. When cattle were landed at Takapuneke in 1839, one of the Europeans involved in the enterprise gathered the bones still lying on the surface and burned them. Onuku is convinced that ash from this cremation would have dispersed over the entire area, including the land that the council wanted to sell to a developer.
The Banks Peninsula District Council in a sense forced the issue by indicating it had a possible buyer for the land, but its plans to sell the land received a moral if not legal setback in May 2002 when the Historic Places Trust registered the entire area as wahi tapu.
By this time, the Onuku Runanga, supported by the Akaroa Civic Trust, was working with local M.P. Ruth Dyson to get the matter onto the national agenda. The future of the land once to be subdivided is now the subject of discussion between the Runanga, the district council and the government. The hoped for outcome is that the government will, recognising the historic importance of the sites and their potential for educating visitors about the bi-cultural foundations of modern New Zealand, buy the land from the council for a sum sufficient to satisfy the council’s requirements that it secure a ‘market return’ for endowment land and that ratepayers are not penalised because of the loss of future rate revenue from the land.
These recent developments have seen interesting interactions between the Onuku Runanga and the wider Akaroa community, as represented specifically by the Akaroa Civic Trust. Members of the Trust have valued becoming better informed about Maori perspectives on historic places and about the nature of the connections the people of Onuku have with their past, their ancestors and the land that is the common concern of both groups. Some in the Runanga became concerned that the Runanga was being side-lined by the Civic Trust’s contacts with the central government, though the Trust has always acknowledged that its role is to support the Runanga and that it is entirely Onuku’s right to decide when, where and how it will tell its part of the Takapuneke story. The Trust has also consistently stressed that it wanted only to ensure that the land was not sold for residential development. While acknowledging the right of Onuku to leadership and control of the whole process, the Trust has been concerned also that the national, bi-cultural significance of the area be recognised.
I have no conclusion to draw about a process that it still being worked through, except to say that the treatment of Takapuneke, from the time the sewage treatment works were established through to the present, is a fascinating case study in changing attitudes towards historic sites and in the development in the wider Akaroa community of a better understanding of and greater sensitivity towards Maori values in respect of land-based heritage. It also illustrates, in relation in particular to the Britomart Memorial, changes in how Pakeha New Zealanders value their own cultural heritage.
Many of those involved in the effort to have the significance of the sites I have discussed recognised and to have all of Takapuneke protected as a national historic reserve are aware how long it took Vernon Reed to achieve the same goal at Waitangi. The feeling of treading in Reed’s footsteps sustains hopes that Takapuneke, Green’s Point and Onuku will eventually be recognised as places which people concerned to understand this country’s past have to visit – places as important as Waitangi.
John Wilson email@example.com
Akaroa Centennial Celebration 20 April 1940 Souvenir Programme
Andersen, J.C. Place Names of Banks Peninsula (Wellington, 1927; Capper Press reprint, 1975)
Buick, T. Lindsay The French at Akaroa (Wellington, 1928; Capper Press reprint, 1980)
Evison, Harry C. “Akaroa Bay Outrage”, The Press, 6 January 1995
Evison, Harry C. Te Wai Pounamu The Greenstone Island (Wellington & Christchurch, 1993)
Evison, Harry C.The Long Dispute Maori Land Rights and European Colonisation in Southern New Zealand (Christchurch, 1997)
Lambourn, Alan Major Thomas Bunbury Envoy Extraordinary (Waikanae, 1995)
McNab, Robert The Old Whaling Days A History of Southern New Zealand from 1830 to 1840 (Christchurch, 1913; Golden Press reprint, 1975)
Ogilvie, Gordon Banks Peninsula Cradle of Canterbury (Wellington, 1990)
This is an edited version of a paper that John Wilson delivered at the PHANZA ‘Historywork’ conference in Wellington on 24 December 2002. A former editor of New Zealand Historic Places, John has written extensively on heritage and on local history and is currently revising his earlier book, Lost Christchurch.