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No. 29 (December 1959)
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THE MAORI BANK
AT CAMBRIDGE

During the massive and destressing land sales conducted at Cambridge in the early 1880's, the Maori people conducted their own bank, with unfortunate results which show a vivid light on the times.

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J.H. ALEXANDER

Around 1880, large sums of money were paid out at the Cambridge sittings of the Maori Land Court to owners of Maori land who had sold their interests to the Government. The money was generally deposited in the two local Banks, and if not placed upon fixed deposit, no interest was payable.

The Maoris reasoned that there must be some profit to the Europeans, otherwise they would not keep Banks, and as it was accordingly represented at a meeting that as the Europeans were making a profit by keeping the Maoris' money, there was no reason why the Maoris should not be their own Bankers and enjoy the profit themselves. A Bank to a Maori of those days was a place where money was kept for safety, to be available to the owner when required. In their Bank there were to be no advances, no overdrafts: everything would go in; nothing would go out. A Board of Directors was appointed, mostly well-known Chiefs selected from various tribes. Two half-castes who had had an English education were selected as book-keepers. The Prospectus was in Maori, a translation being as follows:—

“The Maungatautari Money House.

“Board of Directors (eight names were listed)

“Whereas it has come to the knowledge of the aforegoing Chiefs that the people of the various tribes mentioned herein (six were mentioned) have been in the habit of trading with certain Europeans:

“And whereas the Maori people so banking have been viciously wronged in their dealings with these Europeans, who have largely profited thereby.

“And whereas our hearts are sorely grieved at this robbery of our people:

“Be it known, therefore, that we, the Chiefs of the tribes aforementioned, in Council assembled, have decided to start a Bank for the benefit of the Maori People.

1.

“The Rules upon which the Bank will be conducted are—The right to share in the privileges of the Maungatautari Bank is confined to the people of the Maori race.

2.

No deposit will be accepted for a shorter term than six months.

3.

The rates of interest to be paid on deposits are:—On all sums under £20, 5 per cent; over £20 and less than £50, 10 per cent; over £50 and less than £100, 15 per cent; over £100, 20 per cent.

4.

The Bank will be open to receive deposits on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.”

The premises consisted of a large raupu whare divided into three compartments—office, “strong” room, and sleeping compartment. The clerks and some of the directors ate and slept on the premises. The treasure, some hundreds of pounds, was securely locked away in candle boxes in the strong-room.

J. F. Edgar, formerly a Maori Land Court Judge, who supplied the aforegoing information, continued as follows:—

The confidence of the Bank was almost universal. Every Maori who had a pound which he could not otherwise dispose of put it in the Bank that it might grow. True, there were a few who after a few days began to entertain misgivings and demanded their money back, but the directors were obdurate; the rules could not be broken. Some weeks after the Bank commenced business it became apparent that two or three of the directors had unlimited resources at their disposal. One became the owner of a buggy and

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pair, another commenced the erection of a house in European style, a third figured in sporting circles as the owner of a racing stud. To crown the extravagance, the armed guard were actually wearing trousers, real orthodox unmentionables, although they did occasionally wear them the wrong side foremost. Those connected with the Bank were the envy of Maoridom. Opposition Banks were talked of, and attempted without success. The customers appeared to be all used up.

The Bank was in the zenith of its power when a great Maori Mission to England was decided on. One of the speakers said the spirit of a dead ancestor had appeared to him in a dream and told him he must go to England where lived the great Pakeha Queen who would redress all wrongs. The Maoris had been robbed of their inheritance, their children were landless and their Chiefs without power or influence. Let them go to England and lay their petition before the Queen. The money of the Bank could not be spent in a better cause. At the end of six months when the depositors came for their money, and in response to the general clamour, they were told that the directors had taken all the money to England.

“Some beat the walls with their fists, others wreaked their fury on the remaining officials. As the crowd increased, the passions gathered in intensity, and the idea seemed to take hold that the money must still be in the Bank. Within a twinkling of an eye the old raupo whare was torn to the ground, the boxes which had done duty as treasure chests were smashed to pieces, books and papers were thrown to the wind, and the people, who seemed to have taken leave of their senses, jumped about in wild delirium. All at once a tongue of flame leaped forth, and before many minutes there was nothing visible of the Maungatautari Bank, the (“Whare-utu”, or Money House), but a heap of smouldering ashes.”

Some months later, after feelings had subsided, the mission returned from England. The Queen they said, was greatly grieved at the wrongs of the Maoris and would see that restitution was made to the Maori race. As for the money in the Bank that had been taken, what of that? Did they not know that it was the custom of Banks to charge interest? and the interest charge for keeping money had eaten up all the principal. With the destruction of its premises, the sole remaining asset of the Bank was irretrievably lost, and henceforth the Maungatautari Bank ceased to exist.