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Early History of Te Awamutu

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Tainui Maori first settled the Waikato area as early as the fourteenth Century. Traditionally their forebears sailed to New Zealand from Hawaikii. The Tainui canoe is buried at Kawhia and it was from there that the people consolidated and gradually spread, settling most of the Waikato and the King Country. It was a good area for settlement, with excellent growing conditions and river access. Many pa were established in Te Awamutu and districts area due to these favourable conditions.

From 1775 to approximately 1810 a number of prominent Waikato chiefs and warriors were born. This included the first Maori King, Potatau Te Wherowhero of Ngati Mahuta, Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa, Kawhia, and Hongi Hika, a Ngapuhi Chief from the north, who played a significant role in Waikato history.

It was Hongi Hika who invaded the Waipa triangle in 1822 at Matakitaki near Pirongia. The site of Matakitaki Pa and its inhabitants were well suited to traditional Maori hand-to-hand conflict but were defeated by the musket. This was the first time that European weaponry was used in the Waikato. The battle at Matakitaki Pa was where the musket overcame the taiaha.

Waikato leaders were quick to appreciate the value of the musket in battle and traders began appearing amongst the Maori people exchanging muskets for flax. This was the first contact between Waikato Maori and the Europeans.

The introduction of the musket resulted in a period of intense tribal warfare. In 1834 missionaries visited the district bringing about a change in the Maori way of life. By the 1840's after intervention from Wesleyan, Church of England and Catholic missionaries there was peace.

The name Te Awamutu refers to the end of the river; the Manga-o-hoi stream. Canoes could navigate the Manga-o-hoi stream as far as Te Awamutu and from then travel had to be overland.

At Te Awamutu were two important Pa. Otawhao, a pa on the hill which is currently Wallace Terrace and Kaipaka Pa which is to be found at the end of what is now Christie Avenue.

Otawhao, named after the Tainui tupuna Tawhao, was the first visited by missionaries in 1834. It was at Otawhao Pa that the first church is recorded in1838 and where in 1839 Reverend Ashwell asked the Whare Kura (Christian Maori) to leave and set up a separate community at "Awamutu". It was this act which led to the establishment of the Otawhao Mission station.

Under the directorship of John Morgan, who resided at the Otawhao Mission with his wife Maria from January 1841 until 1863, personal contributions to the history of the area were made in the fields of religion, education and agriculture. During these years there was a significant increase in the agricultural work undertaken by Maori in the Te Awamutu and districts area. This included the establishment of a number of flour mills which were largely funded by Maori parishioners. The resulting crops and produce supplied, amongst other places, the Auckland markets.

During this period, at the request of the parishioners, permanent church buildings were erected: St. John's (1854) at Te Awamutu and St. Paul's (1856) at Hairini (Rangiaowhia).

The mission buildings were leased by the New Zealand Government in 1862 and John Gorst as Civil Commissioner of the Waikato took over the Otawhao Mission School. From within the mission site the printing press "Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke" began printing, in Maori, opinion which opposed that of the King Movement paper "Te Hokioi". In March 1863 Ngati Maniapoto seized the government press and only after negotiation returned it onto the Queen's land at Te Ia. The seizure was one of many factors which led to the expulsion of Europeans from Te Awamutu and districts and the outbreak of the Waikato Wars (1863-1865).

In 1864 the Otawhao Mission Station became the Headquarters for the army of General Cameron.

At the conclusion of the Waikato Wars ex-militia and settlers became the first Europeans to populate Te Awamutu. This was followed by the opening up of European settlement to the area with the railway in 1880, and the further development of the economy through farming, especially dairying.

The sale in 1907 of the Otawhao Mission Farm, which consisted of 173 acres, signalled the growth of the town of Te Awamutu.

Te Awamutu is presently a town of around 10,000 people. It functions as a rural service town and comes under the Waipa District Council.

Te Awamutu has taken the rose as a symbol, and is the self-proclaimed Rose Capital of New Zealand. It is an area of great historical interest, with old churches, pa sites, redoubt sites and battlegrounds nearby.