John Ormsby


John Ormsby was born in 1854. His father was European. His mother was of Ngāti Maniapoto.

The 1880s were a time of growing conflict between King Tāwhiao and Ngāti Maniapoto leaders such as Rewi Maniapoto. King Tāwhiao refused to negotiate with the government until it had dealt with land grievances. Rewi and Ngāti Maniapoto, however, favoured a compromise. The government was willing to make some concessions, as it wanted to build a main trunk railway line across Ngāti Maniapoto territory.

The Native Committees Act 1883 gave Ngāti Maniapoto an opportunity to engage with the government. The Act provided for Māori committees which might assist the Native Land Court in its judgments over land title. Other Māori, bitterly disappointed that the committees had no real power, did not support them. But Ngāti Maniapoto tried hard to make their committee work.

Ormsby was the first chairman of the Kāwhia committee, which was by far the most successful. Although still a young man, Ormsby was chosen because he was a highly skilled speaker, and able to deal with Europeans.

In 1884 Ormsby also took part in the so-called 1885 Kikikihi agreement. The government wanted land for the main trunk railway. In return for Ngāti Maniapoto cooperation it offered a number of concessions to Ormsby and the other Ngāti Maniapoto chiefs – it would give the Kāwhia committee more power, reorganise the Native Land Court to remove its worst excesses, and allow Māori to keep ownership of minerals. Perhaps most importantly, Māori would not be charged rates on their lands until it was in production or under lease.

This led to a further rift with the King movement. This agreement is considered to have been a success in the short term, but the Native Land Court was not significantly reformed and later had the some negative impacts on Ngāti Maniapoto land tenure and land ownership as elsewhere in the country.

In 1886 Ormsby became an assessor of the Magistrates Court, and a Native Land Court assessor. In 1920 he rejoined the Kingitanga, and became an adviser to the King Te Rata. He died in 1927.

Adapted from the DNZB biography by M. J. Ormsby

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