Tītokowaru's war

Page 3 – The year of the lamb

Tītokowaru proclaimed 1867 ‘the year of the daughters … the year of the lamb’. His advocacy of peace was remarkable, given the events of the previous two years. South Taranaki had been invaded several times in an attempt to scotch any lingering threat from Ngāti Ruanui following the Taranaki War and Pai Mārire-related conflicts.

‘Scorched earth’

In early 1865 Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron advanced from Whanganui as far as the banks of the Waingongoro River, near Ōkaiawa. When Cameron returned to Whanganui, he left 750 men to garrison Pātea. At the end of the year his replacement as commander of the British troops in New Zealand, Major-General Trevor Chute, implemented a ‘scorched-earth’ policy in the area. Kaingā were razed and crops destroyed during a campaign that seriously undermined the local Māori economy.

Seized land

By 1865, 2 million acres (809,000 ha) of Taranaki land stretching from Pukearuhe in the north to the Waitōtara River in the south had been seized, at least on paper.

In June 1866, Major Thomas McDonnell took command of colonial troops in the Pātea district with instructions to survey land nominally confiscated from Ngāti Ruanui. The iwi was desperate for peace, even if it cost them some of their land. But McDonnell provoked war by making a surprise attack on the village of Pokaikai in August 1866. His drunken troops behaved appallingly; it seems that a wounded woman was raped several times. While McDonnell was only narrowly exonerated by a parliamentary commission of inquiry in 1868, many colonists supported his ruthless approach. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 25 April 1867 and appointed inspector in the new Armed Constabulary a month later.

‘Reconciliation and peace’

Tītokowaru’s quest for ‘reconciliation and peace’ was further undermined by ‘creeping confiscation’ as settlers took ‘fresh bite(s) of Maori land’. Undeterred, Tītokowaru and 140 of his followers undertook a peace march during the winter of 1867. Starting at the colonial military base at Waihī, near Hāwera, they passed through most of the surrounding villages and towns, including Pātea and Whanganui, before reaching Pipiriki on the upper Whanganui River.

Pātea Resident Magistrate James Booth acknowledged that Tītokowaru had ‘shown the most untiring energy in his efforts to bring other tribes to make peace.’ He had renounced his support for the Kīngitanga and even accepted the loss of some Ngā Ruahine land. He urged others to follow suit: ‘as for the lands, let them go, I wish to live in peace’. Some later claimed that this was simply a cover for his preparations for war. James Belich disagrees: ‘Tītokowaru’s Peace was in fact as remarkable, and unsung, an achievement as Tītokowaru’s War’.

How to cite this page

'The year of the lamb', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/titokowarus-war/year-of-the-lamb, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-Oct-2021