The first dealings most Taranaki Māori had with Europeans were with the crews of trading vessels. These ships stopped at Ngā Motu (now the site of New Plymouth) on voyages between Cook Strait and Hobart or Sydney from the 1820s. Māori exchanged flax and pigs for muskets and ammunition. Shipwrecks also brought Māori into contact with Europeans. When the barque Harriet was wrecked at the mouth of the Ōkahu Stream in 1834, three of the passengers – Betty Guard and her two children – were taken hostage by some Ngāti Ruanui. The chief Oaiti rescued them and they lived contentedly with the Taranaki tribe for a time. Europeans, however, assumed that Betty and her children were prisoners, and the British ship Alligator was sent to rescue them. In the process its crew burned the Taranaki pā of Te Namu, and the Ngāti Ruanui pā of Ōrangituapeka and Waimate.
From the 1830s people of Taranaki who had been enslaved and taken north by Ngāpuhi and Waikato invaders were, along with their captors, exposed to missionary teachings. When they were freed as a result of the influence of Christianity, they returned home to spread the word. By 1846 a Lutheran mission station had been established at Wārea, and missionaries of other denominations were working in the region.
Settlement and war
On 15 February 1840, agents of the New Zealand Company purchased land at Ngā Motu for the settlement of New Plymouth, and immigrants began arriving the following year. During the 1840s some blocks of land, mainly bush-covered hill country, were sold by members of the Taranaki and Te Āti Awa tribes against the wishes of the majority. The new settlers wanted land that was more suitable for farming, and pressure was put on Taranaki tribes to sell.
During the 1850s, more Māori began to resist this pressure. Tensions spilled over in Taranaki in 1859 when a faction of Te Āti Awa offered to sell land at Waitara to the government, and other members of the tribe with an interest in the land objected. War broke out between Māori and government forces in 1860, and the people of the Taranaki tribe were drawn into it. Although a ceasefire was agreed in 1861, the conflict remained unresolved and fighting began again in 1863.
In 1865 combined colonial and British forces marched north from Whanganui, establishing forts and destroying the villages and cultivations of all south Taranaki tribes. Taking the inland route to New Plymouth, the troops returned along the coast in 1866, attacking Taranaki tribal settlements on the way.
The outcome of war was that a large tract of land, including the territory of the Taranaki tribe, was confiscated by the government and sold for settlement. Initially the Taranaki tribe’s land was not occupied, but after 1878 settlers and surveyors moved into the area south of the Hangaataahua River.