Merea Wikiriwhi and George Thomas Wilkinson
Hart, P. (2016). Merea Wikiriwhi and George Thomas Wilkinson. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 20), Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10329
Merea Wikiriwhi was one of the few women to invest in Te Aroha mining. Her life has been traced in as much detail as can be found because so little has survived about the lives of Maori women. As George Thomas Wilkinson’s surviving diaries reveal his importance in her life, his story was included as well, concentrating on his personal life rather than his official career. Merea was a member of several Ohinemuri hapu, with links through whakapapa to some of their more senior rangatira. Mostly living at or near Waitoki, between Paeroa and Te Aroha, she lived a frugal life, not wasting the income she received from land sales. These sales first required her to insist on her rights both in the land court and in a convoluted legal battle over a will signed in her favour by a distant relative. Over time, she would sell most of her land, but never became entirely landless. She invested in only one mining claim, but in the 1930s joined others to claim that the government was not paying them goldfields revenue for land they had sold. George Thomas Wilkinson entered her life in 1880, when he was the ‘native agent’ in Hauraki. Despite having fought against Maori and nearly being killed, his surviving diaries reveal that he lived in the manner of a Pakeha Maori with three Maori women (simultaneously for a time), having children both by Merea and the woman he would eventually marry. Wilkinson had close friendships with many Maori and Pakeha Maori, and his genuine regard for them is reflected not only in his attempting, in his official capacity, to be fair to their interests – even as he assisted the government to separate them from their land – but in particular by his affection for a young girl, Wairingiringi, who shared his house in Thames. Although he and Merea would part, he tried to ensure that her children, like all his children, would do well in a Pakeha world.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart