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Lee Bissett's lecture on Broken Promises - A Review

Ngarimu Bay, formerly known to Maori as Otohi, has an interesting history, and demonstrates that ill-faith involved in the acquisition of Maori land was clearly not an exclusive 19th century phenomena. Local historian Lee Bisset’s excellent lecture on the events in the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties is a long overdue story.

While Lee made it clear she does not want to apportion blame, there may still be a reluctance by some to face facts concerning the methods used over a long period of time to accumulate, rationalise and justify acquisition by means of the English legal system that accompanied the adoption of the Tiriti.

Nineteenth century land acquisition in Hauraki was generally achieved through death – tangi – debt – alienation. Alienation in the early twentieth century was more sophisticated, but the effect was the same.

Lee’s study started when she was told on arrival in the Bay that if she dug up anything remotely Maori, she should immediately re-bury it. When I first arrived here  it was explained to me that the history of this area involved kauri, gold and Pollen Street - forget the rest, I was told. 

The advent of Paul Monin’s book – title now changed to “Hauraki Contested”, and recommended to me at the time by Vince Mravicich, caused some discomfort in the town, even though his conclusions were not entirely embraced by Ngati Maru.

One promise involved the preservation of land surrounding a significant urupa at the southern end of the Bay as reserve - this protection dated back to the first title for the land granted by Queen Victoria in 1872, subsequent to a major purchase by James Mackay. The government in the decades following changed the rules so that the legal protection of the urupa became null and void. This allowed the land of the urupa to be sold. However the Maori owners would not sell.

Eventually E N Miller promised he would build a memorial to the Te Uringahu, marking the urupa, and in return the Te Uringahu people sold Miller their land. Miller kept his promise and the memorial was erected. Miller accumulated much other land in the Bay that he consolidated, and later sold to the Hetherington family who were drapers in Thames and elsewhere. The land was subsequently subdivided and the resulting sections comprise the majority of the current built area.

However, the memorial was destroyed in the 1940's, possibly with dynamite. This disgraceful event, recalled by some current residents, is graphically depicted in Lee’s wonderful quilt illustrating the history of the Bay in a triptych form with both centuries bridged by the monument. 

Lee’s lecture at the Treasury on Wednesday was over-subscribed, and a second is now scheduled for 7pm on Monday evening at Thames South School - the numbers who have booked are too great for the Treasury.

This lecture should not be missed if you wish to get to grips with a minor, but important aspect of Thames history, presented by a meticulous researcher.



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