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The New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 and subsequent amendments provided for a Compensation Court to be set up to compensate certain Maori whose lands were confiscated by the Crown. Sections 5 and 6 of the Act precluded from receiving compensation any Maori who had made war or carried arms against Crown forces, assisted those who had, or who had refused to give up arms when requested. The compensation process and its outcomes added to the uncertainty, distress, and confusion among the people of Te Atiawa as to where they were to live and whether they had security of title.
Those Maori considered “rebels” could not make claims. In many cases the Court relied on the evidence of very few witnesses to determine who was a loyal and who was a rebel, rather than fully investigating the circumstances of each person affected. The Court excluded other claimants, such as those who did not appear at hearings, and many absentee iwi members. Hearings began while war was continuing, making it difficult for some claimants to attend.
All of the Compensation Court awards in northern Taranaki were based on out-of-Court settlements, which the Court did not inquire into. One such agreement was reached with the Ngati Rahiri hapu of Te Atiawa in 1866. Prior to the passing of the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, Ngati Rahiri had agreed to move off their traditional lands around Tikorangi so that the Crown could establish a blockade and military settlement there. After the war, they returned to find their traditional lands overcome with settler homes and farms for which the Crown had issued grants. The 1866 agreement promised to return all of the lands not taken up by military settlements to Ngati Rahiri people. Ngati Rahiri resisted all attempts to individualise title to this land, and in 1869 the Compensation Court issued a certificate was which gave “the Ngatirahiri Tribe” the right to occupy “all the land owned by them [in the district] not taken for military settlement”, later surveyed at 13,100 acres. However, both the award of this land, known as the Turangi block, and the 1866 agreement were then declared a “nullity” as the relevant Acts only allowed for land to be returned to individuals, rather than to iwi or hapu. In 1873 Ngati Rahiri were offered £500 as compensation for the loss of their traditional lands, but they refused to accept this money. Ngati Rahiri continued to demand that their land be returned to them, under customary title, for the next twenty years. In 1884, Ngati Rahiri finally acquiesced to the return of their lands under individualised title.
In the area corresponding roughly with the Te Atiawa rohe, awards made by the Court on the basis of these settlements were organized into four divisions: 4, 5, 6, and Waitara South. In total, the Compensation Court awarded approximately 37,200 acres in these divisions. In two of them (Waitara South and Division 6), awards were made to individuals rather than to hapu, and therefore did not reflect customary forms of land tenure. Some awardees received land outside their traditional whanau areas.
The Court’s ability to award land was compromised by the fact that by the time it began its hearings, the Crown had already disposed of most of the readily usable land in northern Taranaki to settlers. Within the 25,000 acre Waitara South block, the Crown had allocated over 14,000 acres of the more valuable land to settlers. This left only 10,000 acres that the Court could award to Te Atiawa, one thousand acres of which were coastal sand dunes. In the Ngatiawa Coast block, the Crown had given so much of the useful coastal land to military settlers that the Court’s presiding judge threatened to eject military settlers “in order to restore a fair proportion of the land to the Natives”. Compensation awards often included inland areas that were hilly, bush-clad, or difficult to access.
By 1880, the Crown had granted only 1,485 acres of the 39,943 acres awarded by the Compensation Court in the Ngatiawa Coast block, and approximately 6,130 acres of the 10,615 acre Waitara South awards. However, over 3,000 acres of the Waitara South grants had already been sold by Maori by 1880.
In 1867, the Crown also promised awards of land to the absentee owners from each iwi. ‘Te Atiawa’ absentees were awarded 2,700 acres, and absentees from Puketapu hapu were awarded 2,100 acres. By 1880, the Crown had not yet granted any of the awards that it had promised.