Ngaruawahia marks 150 years
The almost capital of New ZealandELTON SMALLMAN
It was home to the region's first brewery, printed the first Waikato Times, its roads resemble the Union Jack and it could have been the nation's capital - it is Ngaruawahia.
Residents of the bustling town are preparing to commemorate 150 years this weekend since General Duncan Cameron landed his gunboat at the junction of the Waipa and Waikato rivers. British troops steamed into the port village on December 8, 1863 a few weeks after they sacked Rangiriri Pa in a decisive and bloody victory.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the second Maori King Tawhiao told his people to flee and they headed south to the King Country for sanctuary while Cameron raised the Union Jack in victory.
He renamed the settlement Queenstown which caused an uproar in the South Island which already had the name well established.
Ngaruawahia historian Lindsay Griffiths said it had to be changed. "Seven years after that it was named Newcastle and then another seven years it changed back to Ngaruawahia."
An extract from the New Zealand Herald dated Wednesday, November 9 read: "The General has arrived at Ngaruawahia with 500 men. The English Union Jack is now proudly floating on King Matutaere [sic] Potatau's Flagstaff. Out troops met with no opposition, no sign of the enemy to be seen."
That year, a pamphlet written by a settler called for rail between Auckland and Wellington and suggested Ngaruawahia suitable as the capital of New Zealand. Mr Griffiths said Cameron's men grew the settlement and established the town as we know it today.
"The first things to be built were the brewery, the pub and the hospital and the first church was built towards the end of 1865," he said. "You've got yourself a town." Before Cameron arrived, Maori and settlers grew crops to trade with Auckland and offshore.
He said Maori lost their economic base and were forced to watch as the town was built on their former homes.
"What surprises me is that Maori have taken to the celebration when you think about why they are celebrating it and where they are going back to to celebrate it," he said. "I like to think that we look at history so we don't make the same mistakes again." Commemoration organiser Wendy Diamond said the Sunday remembrance would include speeches and a waka taua salute from Turangawaewae Marae and be a solemn affair for both Maori and Pakeha.
"The event that happened 150 years ago happened and shouldn't be forgotten but we need to look at how far we have come as a community and where we are heading together as a community."
Ngaruawahia 150-year commemoration, tomorrow, 10am at The Point.