Story: Bay of Plenty region
Page 6 – Settlers struggle: 1870 to 1900
Before the wars in the Bay of Plenty, a few Pākehā co-existed with many Māori. But by 1870 trade between Māori and Pākehā had waned, and the missions had closed. The Bay of Plenty became a fortified government zone bordering a Māori interior.
Redoubts (forts) were maintained at Tauranga, Maketū, Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki, and armed constabulary forces built roads throughout the region.
For the first time there was organised European settlement:
- Near Tauranga and Ōpōtiki in the 1860s, pensioned-off military forces were given confiscated tribal land.
- Protestant Irish immigrants from Ulster settled at Katikati and Te Puke in the 1870s and 1880s.
- In the 1890s, settlers from Canterbury in the South Island moved to the Rangitāiki swampland.
Unlike southern New Zealand provinces, the Bay of Plenty did not prosper. Farmers could not run large sheep flocks because the climate was too mild and moist, the soil too poor, or the land too forested. Gold was only found outside the district. And hopes of tourist through-traffic to the ‘Hot Lakes’ at Rotorua faded once this scenic area was accessible by road from the Waikato, from 1883. They were dashed with the completion of the rail link following the same route in 1894.
Lack of road or rail made it hard to move around the region. People usually travelled by boat. For Katikati in the early days of settlement, communication with Tauranga was mainly by water. The boats ran irregularly, and sometimes became stuck in the mangroves. There was no way through Rangitāiki swamp except by canoe. Before 1900 the main road in the vicinity of Whakatāne was the beach, while a ferry took travellers to Ōpōtiki across the entrance to Ōhiwa Harbour.
The struggle to survive
The settler groups did not flourish. There were reports from Tauranga of residents leaving by boatloads, many for the Thames goldfields. Most settlers on 50-acre (20-hectare) lots in the Ōpouriao valley sold their land to the Whakatane Cattle Company in the early 1870s. Opening in 1875, the Ōhinemuri goldfield, east of Paeroa, attracted other arrivals.
Struggling to survive, the first settlers in the Bay of Plenty experimented with sorghum, beekeeping, tobacco, and a cheese and bacon factory (all unsuccessful), and brick kilns (successful). The vicar at Katikati had an ostrich farm to supplement his meagre income. It continued until about 1920, when the last ostrich was chased by dogs into the Waitekohe River.
Capital carried some people through. At Woodlands in Katikati William Shaw had 26 men at one time clearing and ploughing land. He, John Killen and Joseph R. Smith employed so many men that relief works were never necessary there.
But nearly half of the settlers at Katikati failed in the 1880s. The Canterbury migrants temporarily abandoned their homes during massive flooding of the Rangitāiki River in 1892. They finally left a few years later as drainage problems proved too daunting.
Gold discoveries at Waihī, just outside the region, provided a boost just as returns from the goldfields at Thames and Ōhinemuri waned. In 1906 Waihī, with a population of 5,594, far overshadowed even the largest Bay of Plenty town, Tauranga, which had only 1,047 people – fewer than in 1881.