A universal story
Pakeha and Maori in the Hutt Valley co-existed for a time but lust for land led to the eruption of violence, with fighting across the region. Who were the people involved? What led to the conflict? What happened afterwards? Historical writer David Mcgill’
David McGill’s young hero Jamie Munro has landed in 1840 Hutt Valley in search of a new life but it is not long before trouble rears its head in paradise.
Munro and his Maori friend Koro find themselves on opposite sides of the war and both on the wrong side of the law.
‘‘The guy who had nothing in the old world, had nothing in the new world, and now – persecution,’’ McGill said.
The Hutt Valley was a garden of Eden, McGill said. Charles Heaphy had studied the valley and found 4.5 metres of fertile topsoil.
‘‘No wonder they grow enormous cabbages and pumpkins there,’’ McGill said.
‘‘Every kind of vegetable grew huge crops.
Initially the two peoples rubbed along together.
‘‘ By agreement, the Maori farmed to the north of Boulcott’s Farm and the pakeha to the south. The successful Maori farms kept the young Wellington settlement fed.
‘‘Maori were leading the way. They were getting two crops a year of potatoes in that area they were farming, near Boulcott’s Farm.
‘‘And what did they get for their efforts? Thrown out! I suppose it’s the same story all over the world.’’
The land had been promised to both Maori and pakeha, but both eventually lost out when it was all taken over by absentee landowners, he said.
‘‘ So the Scotsman came all across the world to experience the same as his father had in Scotland – dispossession.’’ It was not long before settlers’ demand for land began to encroach on the Maori share, and conflict ensued.
‘‘It leads to the battle of Boulcott’s Farm, which was a story that had interested me for many, many years – in the middle of Lower Hutt,’’ McGill said.
‘‘ It was New Zealand’s first deployment of troops against the Maori.’’
McGill said his two heroes were fictional but their tale played against a backdrop of real events and people – Boulcott’s Farm, Pauatahanui Pa, Te Rauparaha, Te Rangi- Heata and Governor George Grey.
‘‘Quite a lot of the book takes place in the jail.’’
The two young men are thrown together in the small cell where they become friends, and later enmeshed in the events of the history of the valley, and their consequences beyond.
Grey’s vindictive nature was central to the story but there was more to the man and his relationship with Maori than malice, McGill said.
After the battle, one Maori was hanged, and six others, including Te Rauparaha, were transported to Tasmania as convicts.
However, Grey learned te reo and had written down the Maori stories and Polynesian mythologies, he said. McGill loves Petone’s rich history and has written about it many times.
He had planned to use a photograph he had taken of an old sketch depicting the Battle of Boulcott’s Farm.
He handed the photo over to care of the Hutt Library, on condition it was available to him to use if he needed it.
‘‘When I went back to the Hutt Library social studies room, it had gone,’’ McGill said.
‘‘There was a children’s play area there.’’
He was unable to find his photograph and his friend, artist and author Michael O’Leary offered to paint a new image for the cover.
‘‘He has done this modern interpretation of the famous sketch of the early 1900s. It’s kind of an archetypal image of a huge Maori warrior and a tiny, little bugler.’’
A sun motif visible through a whare door and window ‘‘is like looking into the eye of the sun . . . an ironic detail,’’ McGill said.
‘‘It’s a much more interesting cover than the one I was imagining.’’
Image’s image: Artist Michael O’Leary’s re-interpretation of an early 20th century sketch of the Battle of Boulcott’s Farm in 1846.
The Promised Land by David McGill, published by Silver Owl Press, will be launched at Petone Jail Museum on November 23, at 12.30pm, and at St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki, on November 25, at 1pm. Visit www.davidmcgill.co.nz.