Barrett’s role in NZ Company land purchases

Updated 2 October 2019

The socio-economic context of the land purchases by the New Zealand Company over 1839 – 1840 was a fascinating intermingling of Māori and European cultures, divergent and convergent economic and social interests, adventure and geopolitical politics, such as:

  • Māori had invited European traders to ‘live among’ them, in order to secure muskets and other weapons to augment their capabilities in all-too frequent inter-tribal conflicts, and for the exchange of goods for European merchandise.
  • The New Zealand Company, formed to populate parts of New Zealand with migrants from an overpopulated Great Britain, was at haste to secure land purchases from Māori ahead of the British Government’s announced intent to secure a treaty with Māori for sovereignty of New Zealand, and to then prevent all private purchases of land. The Company’s plan was to buy land cheaply from Māori and resell at higher prices to settlers. The first of the company’s immigrant vessels departed England before word of land purchases having been secured.
  • Although they were fluent in te reo, missionary’s resident in New Zealand at the time were concerned about Māori rights and welfare, and refused to act as translators for the New Zealand Company.

Dicky Barrett played a pivotal role in assisting New Zealand Company representatives. Ron McLean’s thesis nicely outlines Barrett’s role as a land broker / interpreter, and some of the consequences. ‘Dicky Barrett played a key role in brokering deals between Maori and the New Zealand Company. He interpreted not only the language, but also Maori attitudes, actions and customs. Barrett drew on his family and tribal affiliations in the negotiations that obtained the land the Company wanted. All three of the transactions that Barrett was involved in were with Te Ati Awa [sic] and in particular with Rawinia Barrett’s Ngamotu and Puketapu kin. Rawinia and the Barrett children were present at all of the negotiations and their presence was influential. However, the land transactions were controversial, and the Land Claims Commission set up under William Spain in 1842 revealed that the Maori and Europeans involved in the ‘sales’ had different perceptions of the transactions. Barrett failed to bridge adequately the gap between the two cultures, and much of the confusion and bitterness that followed stemmed from this failure. However, he was not solely to blame. The Company pressed ahead with its plans, regardless of Maori opposition.’ (McLean, page 92).

Similarly, Edward Gibbon Wakefield noted that:

The acquaintance and assistance of Dicky Barrett promised to be most advantageous to us, as he was related by his wife to all the influential chiefs living at Port Nicholson.

Adventure in New Zealand, page36.

The following is a brief overview of events.

Arrival of the Tory at Te Awaiti, August 1839

The New Zealand Company’s vessel Troy, under the company’s Principal Agent,Colonel William Hayward Wakefield, arrived at Queen Charlotte Sound in mid-August 1839 and happened across the whaling station at Te Awaiti where Dicky Barrett and his family lived.

According to the Evening Post article ‘The First Ships’ (published on 3 April, 1920) Barrett informed Wakefield that, while ‘…owing to numerous inter-tribal wars the ownership of the lands was in a very unsettled state’ he apparently suggested to Wakefield that he could purchase Port Nicholson for the Company, ‘…by having a native wife who had a Family belonging to the same Tribe’ (McLean).

Quickly grasping Dicky Barrett’s potential value in securing land, the Company’s representatives wanted him to come to their assistance. Barrett, however, was not so easily persuaded to help the Company … McLean noted that in a letter that Barrett wrote to his brother, he made it clear he was not so magnanimous, or as willing to help as the Wakefield’s indicated. Rather, ‘after a great deal of persuasion I was induced to accept on the promise of a considerable sum …’ (page 94).

Another factor was that Barrett’s whaling business was struggling at the time … dwindling numbers of whales were being caught. With inducements offered by the Company, plus with added economic opportunities likely through the arrival of British settlers, Barrett was drawn to the opportunities for him and his family.

And so, on 20 September, Dicky, Rāwinia and their children boarded the Tory and sailed to Wanganui-a-Tara (Port Nicholson).

Soon after passing through the Port Nicholson heads – with James Worser Heberley as the pilot – two waka approached the Tory, carrying senior Te Atiawa rangatira, Te Puni and Te Wharepouri, both were said to be relations of Rāwinia. According to the ‘First Ships’ article, after Colonel Wakefield’s desire to found a white settlement at Port Nicholson was explained to Te Puni and Te Wharepouri, both expressed ‘the liveliest satisfaction’.

Te Wharepouri
Te Wharepouri

Te Atiawa had been resident in Te Wanganui A Tara since 1834. ‘Rawinia’s Ngāmotu kin lived at four of the eight pā in the area. Te Puni and Te Wharepouri resided at Petone and Ngauranga respectively; Wi Tako Ngatata and his father Ngatata lived at Kumototo. Wairarapa and Te Ropiha Moturoa, Te Wharepouri’s father and uncle respectively, resided at Pipitea.

According to ‘The First Ships’ article, after dropping anchor the Tory ‘…was boarded by a number of Natives, who came in two canoes from the Petone beach and greeted Barrett as an old friend and companion in past dangers’.

Rawinia, too, was welcomed by relatives, many of whom had not seen her for five years. The presence of a woman of such mana among her own people must have been influential but the European accounts ignored her. It is likely however that Rawinia used her influence to support her husband and convince her relatives to support the transaction’ (McLean). Hilary and John Mitchell also claimed that Rawinia’s presence assisted Barrett and Wakefield, as she and members of her household renewed relationships with her close relatives'(H & M Mitchell, 2014: 337).

Edward Jerningham Wakefield observed that:

Several of us landed at a large village opposite our anchorage, and witnessed the ceremony of crying over E Rangi [Rāwinia], whom many had not seen for five years … The tangi, or crying, continued for a long period.


In a similar vein to persuading Barrett to set up a trading station at Ngamotu, Te Puni and Te Wharepouri’s advocacy for the sale of land to the New Zealand Company was in part due to their precariousness of the position. Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa and the Waikato were contesting Te Atiawa’s presence in the area. So, while other rangatira were resistant to the sale of land, all were very cognisant of the on-going threat of renewed inter-tribal conflict and the protection afforded by sourcing muskets from the New Zealand Company.

Eventually, the setting aside of one-tenth of the land for the ‘vendors’, and the prospects of more Europeans coming to help bring an end to tribal conflict, resulted in a large majority being in favour of selling all their rights to the harbour and districts under what was known by the Company as ‘The First Deed of Purchase from the Natives’. The Deed of Sale – as explained by Barrett – was signed or marked by all 16 chiefs.

It is now understood that Māori had no knowledge or experience of negotiating away the rights to their land permanently. The closest concept was a custom known as ‘tuku whenua’ where use rights may be given, but with mana whenua (power and authority over the land) remaining with the tribe. The giving of muskets and other goods would have been regarded as utu (compensation) in return for use rights (McLean).

Moreover, the 1,500 word deed written in English was reduced by Barrett to 116 words in Māori and failed to cover adequately the main provisions of the deed. There are other claims of misleading or misunderstood information. Barrett told some of the chiefs that if they signed the deed the Queen might send them presents and that the English would know they were chiefs. In any case, New Zealand company representatives were intent on acquiring land and ignored opposition to the sales even when raised by Barrett (McLean).

As it later transpired, Te Wharepouri – despite having been to Sydney with Barrett (the white population of Sydney in 1828 was 36,598 – had discounted the impact of European migration. According to Edward Jerningham Wakefield, Te Wharepouri told him that:

I know that we sold you the land, and that no more White people have come to take it than you told me. But I thought you were telling lies, and that you had not so many followers. I thought you would have nine or ten, or perhaps at each pa, as a White man to barter with the people and keep us well supplied with arms and clothing; and that I should be able to keep these White men under by hand and regulate their trade myself” (McLean, page 106).

Barrett went on to participate in land negotiations for purchase by the New Zealand Company at Queen Charlotte Sounds and what was to become New Plymouth.

According to Wells, on 8th November 1839, a deed was signed by 30 Māori signatories, and co-witnessed by Barrett, that included provision of land in Taranaki to be reserved for ‘…Mr Barrett and the children of the late Mr Love as for the Native chiefs; these two Englishmen having lived for some many years among the Ngatiawa [sic] during their wars, and  having had children born of Maori – wives on the spot, have long been considered as belonging to the tribe’ (page 34).

Wakefield used another interpreter for the negotiations with Ngati Toa in the Kapiti area, and for purchases in Nelson negotiated around the same time.


When the Tory arrived at Ngamotu in November 1839 there were less than 60 Te Atiawa living in the area, but that number included Rāwinia’s father, Eruera Te Puki ki Mahurangi. Kura Mai Te Ra, Rāwinia’s mother, had been taken captive to Kawhia in 1833 by the Waikato. She was released in December 1839. According to Dr Ernst Dieffenbach, a young naturalist travelling with the Tory.

On our arrival [at Ngamotu] being known, they [remaining Te Atiawa] assembled around Mr Barrett, and with tears welcomed their old friend. In a singing strain of lamentation they related their misfortunes and the continual inroads, of the Waikato. The scene was truly affecting, and the more so when we recollect that this small remnant had sacrificed everything to the love of their native place. I perceived in the evening how much they stood in dread of the Waikato [who] had been observed in the direction of Kawhia, and the fear that the Waikato were again on their way to Taranaki kept them awake during the greater part of the night.

Wells, page 41

Wakefield left Barrett and his family to conduct the negotiations and intended to soon return. As cited in Wells ‘History of Taranaki’, Wakefield expressed a great deal of confidence in Barrett, claiming that

… the agent I have employed is from his connection with the natives, perhaps the only man who could negotiate the bargain, I have every hope that on my return here the completion of it will be effected. 

Wells, p37

However, due to a series of events, Wakefield did not return until February 1840.

Giving the long years of hardship that he had suffered in keeping hold of his tribal lands, it is not surprising that Rāwinia’s father was initially opposed to selling the land, viewing the offer in exchange to be ‘a mere nothing’ compared to his land – despite Dicky and Rāwinia’s desire to re-establish their lives there. It was not until Barrett threatened to leave with his wife and children that a deal was done (McLean). The formal deed of sale was signed by 75 Māori individuals on 15 February 1840 – the same month as the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Similar problems with differing perceptions about the nature and extent of the deals and disputes about entitlements to sign – as transpired in Port Nicholson and elsewhere – were also the case at Ngamotu as became evident in the subsequent Land Claims Commission hearings in Wellington.

Te Atiawa today conclude that ‘many Maori were unfamiliar with the process and effects of land purchases according to English land law’.


3 thoughts on “Barrett’s role in NZ Company land purchases

  1. Pingback: Te Atiawa – Barrett Honeyfield Ancestry

  2. Pingback: Te Wanau o Wakaiwa Rawinia Barrett: Nga Tupuna – Barrett Honeyfield Tupuna / Ancestry: their lives, the times and their legacy

  3. Pingback: Eruera Te Puke Mahurangi and Kuramai-i-tera – Barrett Honeyfield Tupuna / Ancestry: their lives, the times and their legacy

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