This story of the land that the Aldersgate Centre stands on is based on an address given by Pauline McKay to the Durham Street Methodist Congregation on 4 February 2024, the closest Sunday to Waitangi Day.

My principal source is Jocelyn Woodley’s 1990 Historical Survey of the Christchurch Methodist Mission Properties.  It was written in response to the 1989 Methodist Conference resolutions requiring land history to be researched prior to sale and purchase of land, or for information purposes even where no sale of land was contemplated. 

The other sources are information provided to us by the late Dr Terry Ryan and the Christchurch City Council and Ngāi Tahu websites.    

Jocelyn comments in her introduction, “Although some of the sources are to some degree politicised, the inescapable conclusion is that with regard to the initial Canterbury Land purchases, Ngāi Tahu have been scandalously treated.”

I will begin our story with a bit of a potted history.  

Moa hunters were the first inhabitants of this area and there were three successive waves of Māori migrants, prior to European settlement.  Waitaha, the first people of Te Waipounamu, journeyed on the Uruao waka and settled in Kā Pākihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha (the Canterbury Plains). Ngāti Māmoe followed.  Waitaha and Ngāti Māmoe became established in the wetlands on high grounds and close to sidestreams, in places such as Puari and O-Tautahi.  This was in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

Puari Pā was the name of an early Waitaha settlement that included this area. It stretched from what became the Supreme Court site up to what is now Chester Street West, extending from the banks of Ōtokaro (Avon River) at Victoria Square to Springfield Road.  There is a plaque at Rehua Marae in Springfield Road, Christchurch, that indicates the source of the freshwater springs on the northern boundary of Puari. 

We continue to honour that heritage by acknowledging Puari in the full title for this centre: Aldersgate | Your Gathering Place | Puari Huinga.

Ngāi Tahu came from the North Island and arrived after Ngāti Māmoe. By the mid-18th century, through warfare, intermarriage, and political alliances, a common allegiance to Ngāi Tahu was formed. Unlike Waitaha, Ngāi Tahu did not make their homes in the area but rather travelled here from other settlements in order to gather kai. By 1800 the Ngāi Tūāhuriri sub-tribe of Ngāi Tahu were in control of the coast from the Hurunui River in the north to Lake Ellesmere in the south. Their largest settlement was a fortified pā at Kaiapoi. This was also a major trading centre for pounamu on the West Coast. 

The land where Ōtautahi Christchurch now stands was once tussock and soggy marshland, broken by patches of native bush in Papanui, Burnside and Riccarton.  The marsh and interconnected streams provided a rich food source – a great mahinga kai (food gathering) place. 

Because of the colder winter climate in the South Island cultivation of crops like kumera was difficult – it could not be grown south of Taumutu (near Southbridge). However the area had an abundance of eels, fish and waterfowl.  Flax, raupo and the leaves of tī kōuka (cabbage trees) provided fibre for clothing, cordage and containers.  The tough flower stalks of flax were tied together to make mōkihi craft for travelling the waterways. 

Therefore many settlements were temporary while food was in season.  Jocelyn mentions that “European distate for this temporary settlement” led to the creation in 1858 of a reserve in Little Hagley Park for use as a “resting place” – however it was less accessible to the main market place where Māori and Pakeha sold produce, located in what is now Victoria Square.  Māori were considered an obstruction to the development of the European settlement of Christchurch – so they were excluded from it.  It also led to the myth that there were no Māori in Christchurch, or very few, and that they came from the North Island.  It is true that Māori migrated from the North Island, but it was in the 16th century, a long time before European settlement! 

Until recently there has been little general public awareness among the Pakeha population that Māori had a presence in this area hundreds of years before the Canterbury Association’s first four ships arrived from England in 1850. 

For us as Methodists, we need to acknowledge that the first Methodist preacher and evangelist to lead worship in Canterbury was Tawao-nui-a-Tane who visited Koukourarata (Port Levy) in 1839/40.  A stone cairn at Port Levy marks the spot.

Fortunately, since the Ngāi Tahu settlement with the Crown and as part of the rebuild of the city after the earthquakes there are now references to the first Māori occupants of this place.   There are several walks around the inner city tracing the first peoples on the landscape of Christchurch.  These include the Waitaha settlement at Puari. At the Pou in Victoria Square you can listen to Ngāi Tahu’s creation legend. There is a memorial and information board at The Bricks landing site across the river from Tautāhi’s Pa, which gave its name to Otautahi/Christchurch and a mahinga kai area where Ngāi Tahu had a seasonal campsite.

Kemp’s Purchase

By Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840 and following), the Crown obtained the right to first refusal for any land Māori offered for sale.  The right of pre-emption was frequently waived in favour of the New Zealand Company.  While on a visit to Port Cooper (Lyttelton) in February 1848 Govenor Grey was persuaded that the Ngāi Tahu would consider selling if sufficient reserves were set aside.   Grey instructed  the Governor of  New Munster (as the South Island was then known) to proceed with the purchase.  He nominated the price for all the land between Waitaki and Ashley Rivers as the sum of 2,000 pounds sterling – a sum which he recognised as low but justifyied it as sufficient for the small Māori population of the area.  H.T. Kemp, acting Assistant Protector of Aborigines, was dispatched to Akaroa with instructions to contact all Māori within the boundaries of the proposed purchase. 

Kemp found Ngāi Tahu less willing to sell than Grey supposed.  According to historian Harry Evison the threat of paying Ngāti Toa[1] for Ngāi Tahu land, as had happened in North Canterbury, was used to force the sale. 

Kemp made no attempt to contact more remote Ngāi Tahu, spending most of his time in Akaroa either on land or on board ship. Consequently many Ngāi Tahu were unaware of the negotiations.  Kemp’s Deed was signed by forty Ngāi Tahu on board HMS Fly at Akaroa on 12 June 1848.

It transferred to the Crown all the land between the Waitaki River and the Ashley River, excluding Banks Peninsula.  In exchange the Crown was to pay 2,000 pounds sterling and to set aside Ngāi Tahu settlements and sufficient reserves after the sale, not before, and restored to the Ngāi Tahu from Crown ownership.  Those Ngāi Tahu who had signed believed the settlement was done in good faith on both sides. 

Many had converted to Christianity and “encouraged by missionaries, some promient Ngāi Tahu believed rather optimistically that those who professed to be Christian brethren would fulfil their promises” (Jocelyn Woodley).  

The Deed contained many anomalies:

  • It was made out to the New Zealand Company instead of the Crown
  • The map attached to the Deed of Sale marked the northern boundary of the purchase just north of Kaiapoi, as agreed, but Kaiapoi was shown much further north than its actual location
  • The payment was done in instalments rather than in a lump sum.

The Reserves

In August 1848, six months after the signing of Keeps Deed, Ngāi Tahu representatives went to Wellington to ask Governor Eyre to fulfil the promises of reserves.  Again, the agent on behalf of the Governor was dishonest in his dealings with Ngāi Tahu and the reserves that were assigned to them were too small and scattered for traditional food-gathering and implementing European agricultural methods which they had adopted since the 1840s in order to trade with Europeans.    

Reserves were created at Taumutu (near Southbridge), Arowhenua near Temuka, Umukaka River, Caroline Bay in Timaru, Tuahiwi and on the northern bank of the Waitaki River.  When Walter Mantell mapped the land in 1848 he deliberately cut down the promised reserves, allowing less than four acres per head instead of the promised ten. Dissatisfaction with the small and often marginal lands set aside as reserves has formed the basis of Ngāi Tahu land claims since the 1860s.

I also read that Ngāi Tahu thought that if they gave up some of their land that would satisfy the Europeans – they did not realise that they would just want more and more. 

When I lived in Geraldine South Canterbury in the 1970s, I was told that there were no Māori people in Geraldine because they lived in Temuka. I was never told that Māori were put in Temuka on the Arowhenua reserve.

In 2022 on a visit to Geraldine I visited the local museum in which there is no acknowledgement of tangata whenua in the area – things have not changed much in 50 years.  However, I do not wish to give the wrong impression about South Canterbury – there is also a museum in Timaru dedicated to the the ancient rock drawings found near Pleasant Point. If you are in Timaru it is well worth a visit.

Almost complete absence of natives 

The story of how an eminent group of English clergy and businessmen formed a group called the Canterbury Association is more well known.  The Association aimed to establish a model Church of England Settlement in New Zealand.  Under the direction of John Robert Godley, the Association sought a site of one million acres, of which 300,000 was to be easily available for cultivation and 1,000 set aside for the town, named Christchurch for the Oxford College of the same name. 

It was to have a good harbour and “an almost complete absence of natives”.  The first intended site for Christchurch was Rapaki, within easy distance of the Port.  Local Ngāi Tahu objected and the Association was forced to look over the hills to the plains for a new town site. 

Under the terms of Kemp’s purchase, Ngāi Tahu had been promised sufficient food-gathering areas for their present and future needs.  The construction of a busy town and the later draining of the marshes meant the loss of their mahinga kai (food gathering) areas in Christchurch. 

The land on which Aldersgate Centre is located was purchased by Charles Christopher Bowen (later Sir Charles Bowen KCMG) who arrived with his family on the Charlotte Jane, one of the Canterbury Association’s first four ships, in 1850. He sold half an acre of land in Durham Street to the Methodist Church in January 1864 for £1,031.

On 28 January 1864 the Superintendent of Canterbury, Mr. Samuel Bealey, laid the foundation stone for the church. It was the first stone church built on the Canterbury Plains, and 500 people attended the opening on Christmas morning 1864, nine days after the foundation stone of the Christchurch Cathedral had been laid. 

I am told that Ngāi Tahu warned the European settlers of Christchurch about earthquakes and possibly it was not wise to build on a swamp!  The advice was ignored, with tragic consequences as we now know.   

It is worth noting that on hearing the Ngāi Tahu claim, the Waitangi Tribunal responded: “The Tribunal cannot avoid the conclusion that in acquiring from Ngāi Tahu 34.5 million acres, more than half the land mass of New Zealand, for £14,750 pounds, and leaving them with only 35,757 acres, the Crown acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty of Waitangi”.

So what does this have to do with us today?  We have acknowledged the original inhabitants of the area by including the name of their Pa in our full name and on the signage. 

In the current (temporary we hope) era of political backlash against use of te reo and dual signage, we deliberately have dual signage in the building.  We actively promote the use of te reo in our services.  Honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the first pou in our strategic plan. 

In 1983 the Methodist Church of New Zealand Te Hahi Weteriana o Aotearoa made a commitment to become a bi-cultural church, one of the first organisations to do so.  It restructured along treaty lines and established the Council of Conference (CofC); its role is to shape the vision, purpose and strategic direction of the Church.  It is 50:50 Te Tahi Māori and Tauiwi (non-Māori) – a form of co-governance, a concept that has recently been demonised by some politicians and others.  I am a member of the CofC and when I was asked to consider being nominated for it, I saw it as a chance to help the Church reinvigorate its bi-cultural journey. Up to recently I have been the only Pakeha/Palangi member which reflects the ethnic make-up of the national church.  Because of this I think that Te Hahi Weteriana can provide a model for the country on how a bi-cultural structure works in an ethnically diverse environment.

Another significant milestone in the bi-cultural journey was the election of Te Aroha Rountree as the President elect and when she takes office later this year Te Hahi will have three Wahine Māori leaders – Te Aroha (President), Tara Tautari (General Secretary) and Arapera Ngaha (Tumuaki).  I believe this will be a first for any of the (colonial) churches in Aotearoa.

Waitangi Day gives us a time to reflect on our land story: how we came to obtain this land, what as a Church we need to do to educate ourselves about the true history and what actions we can take today to rectify the injustices of the past. 

At the September 2023 CofC meeting, members of Te Taha Māori talked about how hurtful the race-baiting comments from politicians were during the election campaign.  One thing we can all do is to call out these comments – and present positive working models, based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

In 1990, to mark the 150th anniversary of Te Tiriti o Waitangi the Kaumatua of the Waitangi Tribunal called a Hui Manawhenua. The main koreorero was whether iwi should accept financial settlements from the Crown as compensation for the loss of land.

Special guests at the Hui were First Nation Peoples from Canada, Native Americans from USA and Sami from Norway. They brought their own experiences of crown/federal government settlements and what were the risks and what were the opportunities.  I was a member of the organising committee. 

In May 1995 the first historical Treaty of Waitangi grievance claim was settled when the Crown signed a Deed of Settlement with Waikato-Tainui that included cash and land valued at $170 million.  The Ngāi Tahu settlement followed in 1998:  Ngāi Tahu received economic redress in the form of a payment of $170 million plus the ability to purchase property from the Crown.

Attending the 1990 Hui were the Governor-General, Sir Paul Reeves, and Sir Robin Cook, the Chief Justice of the High Court – the man who developed the concept of the principles of the Treaty that at least one political party (currently a member of the Coalition Government) now wants to rewrite.

Sir Paul had been the Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand until in 1985 he became the country’s first Māori Governor-General. In an address to the Hui, he spoke about the Treaty as a covenant.

Today is Covenant Sunday and I thought it would be appropriate to hear Sir Paul’s words: 

“I want to look at three of the connotations of biblical covenants. My message is that without an understanding of these characteristics you cannot hope to appreciate the intensity with which Māori view the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Covenants are treaties of mutual respect between cultures that give each other the right and space to be different. Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech the Philistine after he had said ‘I have been loyal to you, so promise that you will also be loyal to me and to this country in which you are living.’ There was give and take in the relationship. Abimelech and Abraham had to accept certain limitations as well as appreciating both their own and the other’s privileges and responsibilities.

“Covenants in the Bible are totally conditioned by the need ‘to obey God’s voice’. Covenants involve choice and decision in the succession of events that make up our history. In other words, our tīpuna signed the Treaty of Waitangi and we have to make it work.

“A covenant is a sign of God’s promise: ‘I will establish my covenant not only with Abraham but also with his descendants’. A covenant says people don’t have to resign themselves to what they have. There is always the future and further possibilities. A covenant means two partners are bound to continue with each other, they recognise there will be difficulties and they accept that the continuing is done through the difficulties.

“There are two final points. One is that the biblical record shows you can’t deal with land without dealing with people. The Treaty of Waitangi is an assurance that continuing possession of the land is possible between two peoples. The present alienation of Māori from their land weakens their trust in that assurance. The rectification of injustice would mean a renewed Māori confidence and trust in the ability of humans to work together so that the earth as a whole can survive and humans can be part of that survival”.

I note Sir Paul said that we need to make Te Tiriti work because our tīpuna signed it. Our direct tīpuna may not have signed it but the Wesleyan Missionaries strongly influenced and encouraged Māori chiefs to do so.  On the 12 February 1840, 64 chiefs signed Te Tiriti at the Wesleyan Mission Station at Mangungu in the Hokianga.  It was one of the largest signings of Te Tiriti and some 3,000 people watched the proceedings.  Rev John Hobbs, the senior Wesleyan Missionary acted as Hobson’s interpreter throughout the proceedings.

Therefore I feel that we have a responsibility to make Te Tiriti work today, and for tomorrow.


[1] Ngati Toa had made several “raids” on the South Island and were feared by Ngāi Tahu. 

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