Pākaraka signs to consign Maxwell to history

6:58 pm on 26 November 2022
Pākaraka marae in Whanganui.

Pākaraka means a settlement surrounded by an abundance of karaka trees and is the name of a local marae. Photo: Google Maps

A settlement on the outskirts of Whanganui will soon have signs reflecting its traditional Māori name rather than one honouring a militiaman associated with the killing of local rangatahi.

Ngā Rauru Kītahi hapū Ngāti Maika says signs identifying the village 20 kilometres west of Whanganui - more recently known as Maxwell - as Pākaraka will be put up in January.

Ngāti Maika's application to the New Zealand Geographic Board in 2021 to change the name of Maxwell to Pākaraka was upheld in February 2022.

Pākaraka means a settlement surrounded by an abundance of karaka trees and is the name of a local marae.

Whanganui District Council supported the application and assisted with community consultation, which was required as part of the renaming process.

Public submissions overwhelmingly supported the name change with 189 of the 255 received backing the renaming of Maxwell to the then proposed name of Pākaraka.

The name Maxwell has been a long-standing grievance and a reminder of historical pain for hapū members, in particular an attack on Māori children in 1868 known as the Handley Woolshed incident.

The settlement was named after Sergeant George Maxwell, a Scotsman who was a founding member of a settler militia in the 19th century.

In 1868, Maxwell's militia came upon a group of unarmed Māori children while scouting near Nukumaru.

What happened next was detailed in the historical record of Ngā Rauru Kītahi's deed of settlement with the Crown.

"On 27 November 1868, a government militia encountered a group of unarmed children of Ngā Rauru Kītahi and other iwi of Taranaki at Handley's Woolshed near Waitotara. The children were from the nearby Tauranga Ika Pa, the eldest about 10 years old.

"In an unprovoked attack, the militia fired on the group, then pursued them on horseback and attacked them with sabres.

"Two of the children were killed and others wounded."

A year after the attack, a new settlement near the scene was named Maxwelltown in his honour. In 1927, the name changed to Maxwell.

For decades, Ngāti Maika have been fighting to have the name changed back to Pākaraka, instead of one honouring a man responsible for killing their ancestors.

The Ngā Rauru Deed of Settlement referred to the Handley Woolshed incident and encouraged discussions between Whanganui District Council and the Ngā Rauru Iwi Authority or the Governance Entity about name of the town of Maxwell.

Ngāti Maika spokesperson Derek Carroll said the hapū was looking forward to an inclusive occasion to mark the signs being installed.

"Details have yet to be finalised," he said, "but this will be open to all members of the community.

"Ngāti Maika is currently liaising with Whanganui District Council and Waka Kotahi with regards to traffic management to ensure the signs can be blessed and installed safely."

Whanganui District Council chief executive David Langford said the council had provided the signs for Pākaraka and would assist with their installation in January.

"This will be a moving and historic occasion and we are pleased to be able to continue our support in this way."

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