With the peace and prosperity brought by the missionaries, Ōtaki became a safe and attractive place in which settlers could live and work.
Probably the first person to settle who was not a whaler or trader was Robert Skipwith, a young aristocrat who arrived c1843 as Matenga Mātia’s Pākehā.
He was given Mātia’s youngest daughter, Hinenuitepo, as his wife and settled on some land at Rangiuru where he built a substantial whare with Māori help, and grazed sheep and cattle at Te Waka.
They had six children: Mary (Haehae), Frances, Lelia Horatio, Julia (Turia), Helen, and Francis Robert (Kipa Te Whatanui). They all made considerable contributions to the rich fabric of Ōtaki life.
In 1843, concerned at the number of Pākehā arriving in the wider district and grazing stock on tribal land, Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeta decided that all the settlers must go.
In a great hui at Pākakutu, they were vigorously opposed by Te Ahukaramū, who defended his right and that of other chiefs to allow settlers to graze stock on their land.
After much bitter debate, Te Rauparaha relented slightly, allowing the settlers to stay but expelling all Pākeha-owned stock north of the Ōtaki River. This was rigidly enforced until after Te Rauparaha’s death in 1849.
In one case, in 1848, Te Rauparaha expelled Skipwith for grazing sheep north of the river.
Skipwith left his family behind and moved to Wellington, where he died in 1855.
In 1844, widower Thomas Bevan and his two eldest sons, George and Edward, arrived at Waikawa to lease land for rope making under the protection of Ngāti Wehiwehi chief Paora.
The following year, Thomas’s younger children, guided by Ropina of Ngāti Wehiwehi, arrived overland on foot from Wellington. They were Margaret, 13, Thomas, 9, Mary, 11 and William, 7. This family was to make an enormous contribution to the wider district.
Thomas, the father, returned to live in Ōtaki in 1858 and set up a rope-making business and general store opposite where Hadfield Hall is today. Son George opened an accommodation house. Thomas died in Ōtaki in 1881 aged 80.
They were followed in 1847 by their cousins, the Princes; Edward, 17, to work on the joinery for Rangiātea Church and Frances, 13, who married George Bell, after whom Bell Street is named.
They were followed in 1849 by Thomas Dodds and his family: wife Mary Anne, son William and his wife Maria, daughter Mary Anne and her husband John Webber.
The men worked on construction of the mission flourmill on the Haru-a-tai Stream. In 1852, Thomas Dodds completed work on the Catholic Mission’s mill on the Waitohu Stream.
In 1858, the first Cobb & Co stagecoach arrived in Ōtaki and the fledgling township became more accessible.
As a result, Thomas and William Dodds set up an accommodation house, the Royal Arch Hotel, on the north bank of the river in the same year.
By the 1860s, several Pākehā had businesses in Ōtaki, made possible by leasing land from Māori.
The earliest were: Thomas Bevan with a general store and rope work; Richard Eagar, post office and general store; Benjamin Grey, Ferry Hotel and ferry on the south side of the river; Dr Charles Hewson, the mission doctor on Rangiuru Road; John Knox, interpreter and settler; Frederick Martin, proprietor of Martin’s Hotel; William Small, blacksmith and settler; and the Kirk family, who were leasing land firstly from Topeora, then her daughter, Rāhapa Kāhoki at Katihiku.
At this time all the land was in the hands of Ngāti Raukawa, who, encouraged by the missionaries, were prepared to lease but not sell land to the Pākehā.
Only Dr Hewson held land in his own right, after being granted eight acres (3.2 hectares) in Rangiuru Road to build a home through the good services of the New Zealand Governor, Sir George Grey.
An unofficial population in 1850 was 664. This did not say if they were Māori or Pākehā.
Dark clouds were gathering for Ōtaki, however, threatening the peace and serenity of the district.
- Part 7. The Kingites and the arrival of Pai Marire (the Hau Hau).
Bevan, T. “Reminiscences Of An Old Colonist”. Otaki Mail, 1908.
Simcox, F C. Otaki the Town and District. A H & A W Reed. Wellington. 1952.
Wakefield, A J. Adventures in New Zealand. London. Whitcombe & Tombs. Reprint. Christchurch. 1908.