Volume 70 1961 > Volume 70, No. 2 > Maori flour mills of the Auckland Province, 1846-1860, by R. P. Hargreaves, p 227-232
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Mr. Hargreaves, Lecturer in Geography at the University of Otago, publishes some further results of his research on the history of Maori agriculture. He has published two previous articles on nineteenth century Maori agriculture in the June 1959 and December 1960 issues of this Journal.

BY THE MID- and late-1840's most of the wheat-growing tribes of the Auckland Province already possessed numerous small steel mills for grinding wheat and maize, but the capacity of these hand operated machines was limited. 1 Consequent upon the increasing use of spades and other European agricultural tools, the production of grain rose and tended to outstrip the capacity of these hand mills. Allied with this was the fact that they were expensive in terms of labour, as well as tending to break quite easily, and as they could not be repaired by the Maoris themselves the mills had to be carried to Auckland for repairs. Often, however, the tribes would not take the trouble to do this, and would just cast broken steel mills aside. On the other hand an efficient miller could dress the stones of a water- or horse-powered mill himself, and this was an argument in favour of their construction to take the place of the steel mills.

To a large extent the impetus for the erection of flour mills was given by some of the missionaries living in the Waikato. Thus it was at Aotea toward the end of 1846 that the first mill was erected with the encouragement of the Rev. Gideon Smales, the Wesleyan missionary stationed there. 2

Within the next few years a number of mills were erected around Otawhao (Te Awamutu) with the full support and assistance of the Rev. John Morgan of the Church Missionary Society. It is interesting to note that as early as 1840 Morgan was in favour of the erection of flour mills. In a letter dated Tauranga, 26 October, 1840, he wrote: 3

I know of no plan that would so tend to check the progress of disease and rescue from destruction the native population, as the erection of wind or water mills . . . If the funds of the Society allowed of it, I should recommend the erection of a mill at every station.

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Throughout his years in the Waikato, Morgan actively encouraged the Maoris to expand their agriculture and to build mills, for he considered that ‘civilization’ must go hand in hand with Christianity. 4

The Colonial Government also encouraged such activity, and as part of Grey's ‘sugar-and-flour’ policy money was advanced to different tribes to assist in the erection of mills. An Inspector of Native Mills was appointed in the early 1850's to assist in the drawing up of mill plans, supervise their erection wherever possible, and to give instruction and general assistance in their operation. That the Maoris were appreciative of the actions of the Mill Inspector is shown by the letter they wrote in 1857 appealing to the Government to reconsider their termination of the Inspector's appointment. 5

The mills were built under the direction of European millwrights, and the Electoral Roll for 1856 listed five Europeans so employed in the Waikato. 6 The Maoris themselves, however, supplied the labour to build the mill-dams and do any other necessary work. The capital required was generally earned by selling potatoes, pigs, wheat, flax and other produce in Auckland.

As far as is known all but one of the Maori mills were driven by water power. The exception was at Patumahoe where horses were used to provide motive power. At the Church Missionary Society's Station at Maraetai (Port Waikato) the mill, which ground both mission and Maori-grown wheat, was similarly powered. 7

Generally mills had only one pair of stones which varied from two feet nine inches to four feet in diameter. Many mills contained smutting and dressing machines and were run by European millers who were employed by the different tribes. In 1855 the Inspector of Native Mills reported ten European millers as compared with only three Maori millers at work. 8 This dependence on Europeans was unfortunate for those who served as millers were often unqualified and unreliable, and it too often meant that mills stood idle for want of someone to work them.

In a paper dated August 22, 1849, which was laid on the table of the Legislative Council, it was reported that six mills which were the sole property of the Maoris were in operation in the Auckland Province. 9 Seven years later some twenty-nine mills were reported to be under construction or in operation, with a further four proposed. 10 Throughout the period 1846-1860 at least thirty-seven mills were being or had been built for Maori owners.

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The concentration of mills in the Waikato district is vividly portrayed on the accompanying map (Fig. 1) and this concentration can easily be understood for this was the granary of the province during these years. Neither in North Auckland nor the East Coast were any water-powered mills to be found, despite the fact that wheat was grown in both areas. A limited supply of flour was still produced by the small steel mills.

The absence of a mill in at least the northern part of North Auckland can perhaps be explained by the continued existence of the flour mill at the Waimate Mission Station, situated at the centre of one of the more populous areas. It ground much Maori wheat. 11 Only one mill seems to have been proposed by the Maoris of North Auckland. This was at Kaikohe where it was reported in 1848 that the local tribes intended to devote the proceeds from the sale of crops to the erection of a flour mill. The resident missionary stated at the same time that due to the unsettled conditions following the late war he was doubtful if the mill would ever be built, and this proved to be the case. 12

The lack of a mill on the East Coast is as hard to understand, particularly as it appears from contemporary accounts that the production of wheat there was as great as in other areas which did possess water-powered flour mills. Thus it was estimated that 70,000 bushels of wheat were grown by the Maoris on the Turanga (Gisborne) Flats during the 1854-55 season. 13

The mills mapped did not necessarily work continuously from the time built until 1860. For example, the Aotea mill, built in 1846, was reported later to be out of commission. 14 It seems to have been repaired, however, for an 1849 list of mills shows it as being in operation once more. 15 Some seven years later though, no mill was reported to exist at Aotea, but the natives there were proposing to build one. 16

Similarly, it is possible that some of the mills mapped were never completed. In the case of the Tauranga mill, reported in 1856 as having been “standing a long time unfinished”, the death of the millwright had caused the cessation of construction work; while at Mangatea the lack of funds had resulted in the mill remaining unfinished for some time. 17

While Auckland consumed relatively large quantities of Maori flour only rarely was it exported overseas, for the quality was generally inferior. Only a few Maori mills attempted to raise the standard of their product. Thus the Tuakau mill laid down a rule that all sprouted, damp or decayed wheat would not be ground. 18 However, the market price received in Auckland was always lower than that which top-grade European-ground flour earned.

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While newspapers and the Government-sponsored Maori Messenger generally adopted the position that mills were desirable objects for all tribes to own, to be judged as proof of the growing ‘civilization’ of the indigenous population, not all contemporary observers agreed. Gorst, for example, remained unconvinced that the possession of ploughs and mills had been for the good of the Maori race. To him the effect had been “to enable them to grow produce for their own consumption, and for the purpose of purchasing the few European articles they need, in less time and with less trouble than before; to abridge the hours of labour, and increase their leisure . . . A little civilisation has made them idle”. 19 The Austrian traveller, Ferdinand Hochstetter, also argued along similar lines. 20


This, however, seems too broad a generalisation, for the break-down of the ancient tribal discipline, under which all members worked at the direction of the chief, was as much to blame. Perhaps more - 231 legitimate was the complaint of the Rev. Ashwell who (writing in 1856) was worried about the burden of debt which possession of mills, as well as other agricultural implements and coasting vessels, involved tribes in, particularly when such possessions often fell into a state of disrepair before they were fully paid for. As an example Ashwell quoted the Kaitotehe mill which he stated at the time was lying “entirely useless”. 21

With the decline of interest in agriculture in the Waikato in the latter years of the 1850's most mills gradually fell into disrepair and the milldams were allowed to break down. 22 By the end of 1858 it was reported that the Maoris were fast becoming large customers of the local European flour mills. 23 Further destruction of Maori mills occurred as a result of military activities during the Maori Wars and in the period 1870-1886 only some ten mills appear to have existed in the Auckland Province. 24 The era of Maori flour mills had passed.


As far as is known this is the first attempt to map the location of all the Maori flour mills built or under construction during the period under discussion. Contemporary maps which showed some of the mills were drawn by Morgan and Hochstetter. 25 It is possible that some mills have been omitted and the map should therefore be considered as only provisional. While an attempt has been made to show the mills in their correct locations as far as the scale will allow, this has not been possible in all cases as often exact sites are not known.

A problem in the mapping was that some mills appear twice in contemporary records under different names. Thus Mahoe was also known as Waiharakeke, Mohoaonui as Orahiri, the new mill at Rangiaowhia as Pekapekarau, Maungakawa as Otorokui, and Te Wairoa as Tarawera, while the mill at Mangarewarewa was also named Turner's after its owner. It should also be noted that the Matamata mill was not in the vicinity of the present-day township of that name, but rather near the site of the present settlement of Waharoa which more closely corresponds to the location of the original Matamata Pa.

  • 1. Kopatauaki
  • 2. Taupo
  • 3. Patumahoe
  • 4. Waiuku
  • 5. Kohanga
  • 6. Tuakau
  • 7. Mangatawhiri
  • 8. Kaitotehe
  • 9. Whaingaroa
  • 10. Waitetuna
  • 11. Karakariki
  • 12. Whatawhata
  • 13. Kirikiriroa
  • 14. Mangaharakeke
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  • 15. Aotea
  • 16. Mangapapa
  • 17. Mahoe
  • 18. Rangataiki
  • 19. Te Rore
  • 20. Mangarewarewa
  • 21. Te Kopua
  • 22. Mohoaonui
  • 23. Tireke
  • 24. Rangiaowhia (new mill)
  • 25. Rangiaowhia (old mill)
  • 26. Otawhao (new mill)
  • 27. Otawhao (old mill)
  • 28. Kihikihi
  • 29. Maungatautari (old mill)
  • 30. Maungatautari (new mill)
  • 31. Maungakawa
  • 32. Matamata
  • 33. Patetere
  • 34. Tauranga
  • 35. Ohinemutu
  • 36. Te Ngae
  • 37. Te Wairoa
A—Newspapers and Periodicals
  • Auckland Provincial Government Gazette, 1856, Auckland.
  • Maori Messenger, 1849-1863, Auckland.
  • Missionary Register, 1845-1852, London.
  • New Zealand Government Gazette, 1856-1857, Auckland.
  • New Zealand Government Gazette: Province of New Ulster, 1852-1853, Auckland.
  • New-Zealander, 1845-1863, Auckland.
  • Southern Cross, 1847-1852, Auckland.
B—Books and Journals
  • ASHWELL, Benjamin Yate. Letters and Journals, 1834-1869. Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library, Typescript.
  • COWAN, James, 1922a. The New Zealand Wars. Vol. 1, Wellington, Government Printer.
  • — — 1922b. The Old Frontier. Te Awamutu, Waipa Post.
  • GORST, John E., 1864. The Maori King. London, MacMillan.
  • GREENWOOD, J., 1850. Journey to Taupo from Auckland. Auckland, Williamson and Wilson.
  • HARGREAVES, R. P., 1959. “The Maori Agriculture of the Auckland Province in the Mid-Nineteenth Century.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 68:61-79.
  • — — 1960. “Maori Agriculture after the Wars.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 69:354-367.
  • HOCHSTETTER, Ferdinand, 1867. New Zealand. Stuttgart, J. C. Cotta.
  • HOCHSTETTER, Ferdinand, and PETERMAN, A., 1864. Geological and Topographical Atlas of New Zealand. Auckland, Delattre.
  • MORGAN, John. Letters and Journals, 1833-1865. Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library, Typescript.
  • OLLIVIER, Charles Morton, 1871. A Visit to the Boiling Springs of New Zealand. Christchurch, J. Hughes.
  • SMALES, Rev. Gideon, 1848. “Letters.” Wesleyan Missionary Notices, VI: 5-6.
  • WILY, Henry E. R. L. and MAUNSELL, Herbert, 1938. Robert Maunsell. A New Zealand Pioneer. Dunedin and Wellington, Reed.
1   Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for their assistance in the preparation of this paper: Mr. C. G. Hunt, Hamilton; Mr. H. A. Swarbrick, Te Awamutu; Dr. J. W. B. Robertson, Kawhia; Mr. R. G. Lister and Mr. Hugh Kidd, University of Otago; and the University of New Zealand Research Grants Committee.
2   Smales 1848:6; New-Zealander, Oct. 6, 1849.
3   Morgan:128-129.
4   Compare this with Ashwell's attitude that the first task was to Christianize the Maoris, then ‘civilisation’ would follow. Ashwell:206-7; Cowan 1922b:11.
5   Maori Messenger: Te Karere Maori, Vol. IV, No. 7, Aug. 31, 1857:41.
6   Auckland Provincial Government Gazette, Oct. 3, 1856:75-97.
7   Wily and Maunsell, 1938:98, 100.
8   N.Z. Government Gazette, Vol. IV, No. 7, March 8, 1856:54.
9   Personal communication from Acting Chief Archivist, Wellington, 10/4/59. This paper is appended to some copies of the N.Z. Government Gazette: Province of New Ulster, 1849.
10   N.Z. Government Gazette, Vol. IV, No. 22, June 20, 1856:134.
11   This was the first flour mill erected in New Zealand. It began operations in December 1834.
12   Missionary Register, July 1850:325.
13   Maori Messenger: Te Karere Maori, Vol. I, No. 1, Jan. 1855:7.
14   New-Zealander, Nov. 6, 1847. Morgan:458.
15   Personal communication from Acting Chief Archivist, Wellington, 10/4/59.
16   N.Z. Government Gazette, Vol. IV, No. 22, June 20, 1856:134.
17   N.Z. Government Gazette, Vol. IV, No. 22, June 20, 1856:134.
18   Maori Messenger: Te Karere Maori, Vol. II, No. 10, Oct. 31, 1856:3.
19   Gorst 1864:54-55.
20   Hochstetter 1867:217-218.
21   Ashwell:268.
22   See Hargreaves, 1959:76-78.
23   New-Zealander, Dec. 1, 1858.
24   Hargreaves, 1960:361.
25   Morgan: 575; Hochstetter and Petermann, 1864; Hochstetter 1867. The latter two maps are of South Auckland and the location of mills is only part of the information given.