The New Zealand Festival 1845

This impressive panoramic print records not only a unique event in our history but also the Remuera landscape as it once was, some 170 years ago. Comparing it to the Remuera of today, it seems almost fanciful that such an occasion took place and that such a large number of Maori people was present. The majority of current Remuera residents are not Maori and there are now few Maori cultural references to be seen there.

Although the colonialist tendency to glorify European presence in artwork is definitely at work here on a grandiose scale, it nevertheless serves as a reminder of Maori attempts to make their presence felt in the ever-expanding context of colonisation. Their numbers indicated a willingness to participate as equals, rather than as a conquered people selling out to a foreign power's way of life. It would have been daunting for Governor Fitzroy and his fellow Pakeha settlers to countenance that demonstration of unconquered will in Maori people. The Governor was indeed pressured by the British imperialist need to establish itself in this area and elsewhere in Aotearoa, something that strained his own regard for Maori people. Yet Maori have remained stalwart in their efforts to extend a hand of partnership and to make their case for customary land title heard, to this very day. The New Zealand Festival can be reinterpreted in this light. It can be seen as one episode among many in our history where the mana of Maori people has needed to be renewed and re-asserted in direct response to the litany of colonialist damage that progressively saw more and more gains for Pakeha, but fewer and fewer for Maori. JD

Joseph Jenner Merrett 1816-1854

The New Zealand Festival 1845

Day and Haghe, London
Published by Samuel Augustus Tegg, 1845
The Fletcher Trust Collection

This panoramic scene shows the moment of arrival of Governor Fitzroy's party at the hui held at Remuera (Mt Hobson) during the week of 11 May 1844. Relations between settlers and Maori had become steadily worse in previous months. Fitzroy, wishing above all for a peaceful tenure of office, had adopted a conciliatory and consultative approach. This was much to the annoyance of settlers and those who, like Francis Dillon Bell, were critical of the Governor's desire to create bonds of trust and friendship between Maori and the Pakeha colonial government.

On the day, in spite of his Napoleonic equestrian pose, Fitzroy was in fact intimidated by the huge number of Maori present, realising that if anything went wrong the settlement of Auckland would be entirely in the power of more than 4000 armed Maori. His diary described a haka during which "with their muskets glittering in the sun, their tomahawks and clubs waving in the air, they stamped their wild war dance, and then, alternately, rushed thundering down the slope."

However, as so often when Maori have assembled to discuss grievances, the occasion passed happily. The Governor, too wise a man to resort to misplaced strong-armed tactics, overcame his fears, listened and assured Maori of his wish to promote peace. Later in the same year it had already become apparent in the north and in Taranaki that Fitzroy's patiently held hopes were to be dashed. Maori anger, particularly at the frequently dishonest land acquisition methods of the New Zealand Company, was to lead to the violence he most feared.PS

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