1890 - Māori farming at Matiatia

Early Māori farmers fed Auckland

Those from Matiatia also contributed

One of the biggest and best-preserved kūmara pits on Waiheke is at Whetūmatarau, the southern headland of Matiatia Bay.

“Matiatia flat, behind the bay’s southern beachfront (now dominated by carparking) was undoubtedly a place of extensive cultivation and habitation over many centuries,” writes historian Paul Monin.

In the early colonial period, he says, “the people of Matiatia were ideally placed to engage in the food trade … For at least 20 years after 1840, Auckland’s very survival depended on food grown by Māori.

“Rapata Te Rou [who lived at Matiatia] was an exemplar of Māori enterprise in this new economy. As owner-operators of five sailing vessels in succession, he ran firewood, horticultural produce and livestock to Auckland over a thirty-year period.

“On a typical trip to Auckland on 6 December 1859, the Laura carried 10 tons of firewood, 1 ton of onions, and four passengers. This substantial early onion harvest attests to successful, large-scale gardening at Matiatia.”

By the 1890s, the firewood trade had deforested the Te Huruhi block and Māori landowners turned to sheep farming.

Statistics from the 1896 census show 1800 sheep, 65 cattle and 30 pigs; as well as 0.8ha in potatoes and 0.6ha in other crops.

Monin writes: “At Matiatia, Neho Keepa ran 300 sheep in 1909 and 1910, and his son Wiremu Tamati (Tommy) Keepa ran 125 sheep in 1914.”

But by the end of 1914, all the Māori land at Matiatia, except for Whetūmatarau Point, had been sold.

Land cleared, land lost

The firewood trade had deforested the Māori land of the Te Huruhi block by 1890, clearing the way for sheep. The Matiatia farm, managed by Rapata on behalf of 13 shareholders, carried 1,100 sheep, and had its own woolshed, dip and stockyards.

But by 1914, all of the Māori land of the Te Huruhi block (except for Whetūmataurau Point) had been sold.

  • <p>Sorting  kūmara, north Auckland, c1907. <em>Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19070530-16-2.</em></p>
  • <p>View of Auckland with Māori travelling along a ridge, 1840s. <em>Watercolour by Joseph Merrett, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2948108.</em></p>
  • <p>A  kūmara planting scene: diggers using the kō to preparing the ground for  kūmara seed. <em>From a painting by G. Lindauer in The Maori: yesterday and Today. James Cowan. Auckland : Whitcombe and Tombs, 1930, 266p. : ill. </em></p>