Taking up his post on the Kapiti coast in 1839 as a CMS missionary, Hadfield quickly became one of the most influential figures involved in communications between Maori and Pakeha. Arriving at a time of large-scale unrest between lower north-island Maori factions — largely due to the involvement of Te Rauparaha — Hadfield found himself immersed in tribal politics and established dwellings at both Waikanae (home to Ngati-awa) and Otaki (Ngatiraukawa), travelling regularly on horseback between the two.
He embraced Te Reo, and made the friendship of Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, who would later become the central figure in the Taranaki land disputes. Hadfield's strength of character enabled him to ingratiate himself amongst the various Kapiti Coast iwi and hapu, although on at least one occasion luck played a part:
"Hereiwi, who had gone through his karakia making the kumara ground tapu, interrupted by pronouncing a curse upon me which was necessarily to lead either to my death, or to my removal from Otaki. I told him his curse would neither affect my life nor influence my proceedings, but was much more likely to injure him. I then left them. Early next morning I went to Waikanae. On my return after a few days I learnt that Hereiwi had died during the night after the affair in the kumara garden. This produced a profound impression on the Maoris, who attributed his death to his cursing me. In vain I endeavoured to explain that I had heard from some Englishmen who knew him that he had been suffering from a complaint in his lungs, and that his death was occasioned by the rupture of a large blood-vessel. Not altogether convinced they resolved not to meddle any more with me, but to allow me in future to disregard all their tapu ceremonies, and go where I liked. After that Te Matia and I were on friendly terms, at least we lived in peace."Although preferring to work amongst the Kapiti Coast tribes rather than minister to the european community forming in Wellington, Hadfield was held in high regard by all. As Baraba Macmorran relates:
Hadfield's sympathies were very largely with the Maori in all the land troubles that ensued through the years with the Government and the colonists if he thought there was the slightest exploitation of the Maori, yet even Colonel William Wakefield, head of the New Zealand Company in the country, wrote of him in 1842— "Mr. Hadfield, who was educated at Oxford, and is a single-minded and sincere minister of the Gospel, well deserves the estimation in which he is held by all parties."Hadfield's interest in the Maori language meant that he was able to understand attitudes and expectations from both sides of the race divide, and that he also understood who of his contemporaries had a good understanding of Maori. Praising Robert Maunsell in a letter to the Church Missionary Society, March 8, 1847, he wrote:
"He is by far the ablest Maori scholar in the country, and his translation, especially from the Hebrew, is really beautiful—perhaps even more so than scholars in England would consider possible . , . they are at once idiomatic and literal. Mr. Maunsell has a very accurate knowledge of the language, though he has not very clear views on the philosophy and the metaphysical part of the grammar. Archdeacon W. Williams comes next to him, though at some distance, and after him nobody."Amongst other attributes, Hadfield was a keen yachtsman, and traversed the stretch of water from Kapiti to the Marlborough sounds and Nelson a number of times, almost coming to grief once when a gale carried the sale away and the rudder broke while trying to hold the boat into the wind.
Hadfield found himself largely involved in intra- and inter-racial affairs as a peace-maker, and as Macmorran relates, he is credited with dissuading Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeta from attacking the Wellington settler population in the wake of the Wairau affair. At one point he found himself out-witting Te Heuheu's plan for an attack on certain of the Kapiti Coast tribes:
Te Heuheu was famed both for his imposing stature and for his commanding oratory and resounding voice. E. J. Wakefield in "Adventure in New Zealand" recorded that he met a large body of Port Nicholson Maoris who had been to a conference at Waikanae on the subject of a threatened attack by the Taupo war-party. "Mr. Hadfield had succeeded in frustrating all these warlike preparations," he wrote. "This gentleman had, after very laborious efforts, and in one instance at the peril of his life, managed to acquire a very extensive and honourable influence over the hitherto fierce chiefs of the Ngatiraukawa. Whatanui and part of his family had become mihanere, as well as several other chiefs of rank; and Mr. Hadfield had wisely managed to introduce the new doctrine without destroying the Maori aristocracy. He thus dissuaded Whatanui and through him the great part of the tribe from fighting. Heuheu, I heard, had been furious at this successful interference with his designs; but had ended by confessing himself fairly beaten when Mr. Hadfield calmly and courageously presented himself before him in the midst of his anger, overthrew his reasoning, and reproached the old chief in the conclave of his people with a want of the dignity and deliberation suitable to his place of patriarch."Hadfield's charisma is evident in the regard which he was held and his views deferred to, even though spending four years from 1844 through to 1849 confined to bed in Wellington as a result of illness which had plagued him throughout his life. According to Macmorran:
From his bed he seemed to be aware of the pulse of the whole country, feeling any change in temperature, any deviation from normal. The Rev. Cotton, Bishop Selwyn's secretary, wrote a letter on December 8, 1846, during a visit to Wellington. "On Tuesday I went to Mrs. St. Hill's, whom you may remember I liked so much on my former visit. Mr. Hadfield is still the inmate of her home and she is as kind and attentive to him as if he were her brother. . . . His influence is greater than can be expressed. He does more to preserve the peace of this district than all the soldiers, etc. Though his body is weak, his tongue is sound, as the Maoris say, and he hears through his Maori teachers who continually visit him all that is going on among the Maoris, and the mere fact of his presence in Wellington has, as I have heard from several parties, more than once prevented an attack on the town."Hadfield's insight was also appreciated by those such as Governor George Grey, with Hadfield writing in a letter of August 1, 1846:
"Affairs here would have taken a very serious turn had I not been able to give the Governor accurate information concerning the Maoris of this part of the country. . . . Since I last wrote several murders have been committed in this neighbourhood by a band of vagabonds—outcasts from various tribes amounting to about 150 under the notorious savage Te Rangihaeata. . . . The Government has apprehended Te Rauparaha and several others on suspicion of being favourable to the rebels. ... I have felt some satisfaction in being able to assist the Governor widi my advice as he appears a man sincerely intent upon doing what is right. . . . He has been in this part of the country for the last month, and he comes to me almost every day that he is in Wellington to ask my advice in some matter concerning the Maoris, and as he almost invariably acts upon advice I give him I feel a degree of responsibility which is rather too much for my state of health. I am thankful that I have not hitherto had to regret any advice I have given.Hadfield became deeply involved as a commentator on the Taranaki land wars of the 1860s, and wrote a series of pamphlets that received wide publication in New Zealand and overseas. Realising that much of the responsibility for the conflict lay with the Governor, Thomas Gore-Browne, Hadfield was unstinting in his criticism:
When a flagrant act of injustice has been committed by the Governor of a British colony in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, it is not easy to determine on what course to pursue. If, indeed, an Englishman were the sufferer, either the Courts of law or the public press would afford a sufficient guarantee that the injustice would be remedied. But when an aboriginal chief is affected by such an act of injustice, neither of these avail him: he may be two hundred miles distant from any Judge of the Supreme Court; and he fails to enlist the sympathy of the public press. Feeling deeply convinced that such an act of injustice has been committed by Colonel Browne, the Governor of this colony, in his recent forcible expulsion of William King from land inherited by him from a long line of ancestors, I venture to address your Grace, as Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, and to call your attention to the facts of the case.Publication of Hadfield's pamphlets provoked hostility from a number amongst the european community, though his criticism was aimed largely at the Govenor Gore-Browne, rather than settler government itself; to quote Macmorran at length:
The Church Missionary Society did not approve of its missionaries being involved in political controversy, and as he became more and more outspoken in his protests Hadfield was regarded with suspicion even by them for a while. But eventually they recognised the soundness of his views, and in turn exerted pressure on British Cabinet Ministers in the matter, so that Hadfield was able to write later—"I am happy to say that it has been a great comfort to me and others that the Home Government has not approved of Governor Browne's proceedings in reference to the Taranaki war. The ablest men also in the House of Representatives have condemned the Governor's conduct in the matter. Nothing has produced such a good impression on the Maoris as this last circumstance; they see there is a power now in the country to check injustice on the part of the Governor. The Maoris of my district are all quiet and peaceably disposed; but it is impossible to say how long this will last, if they see the Government persecuting those whom they most highly respect."During this early years on the Kapiti Coast Hadfield had made a close friend in William Martin, who became the Chief Justice, and was also to act as a commentator critical of the government's involvement in the Taranaki land conflicts of the 1860s, producing his own pamphlet entitled The Taranaki Question.
Hadfield wrote three pamphlets on the Taranaki war, entitled "One of England's Little Wars", "The Second Year of One of England's Little Wars", and "A Sequel to One of England's Little Wars". Of the first one he wrote to the C.M.S. on May 29, 1860— "I presume you will hear from other quarters that the state of the country is not very satisfactory. The Maoris more immediately connected with me are quiet and well-disposed. I returned from Manawatu yesterday where I had a large congregation of 130 communicants. My particular object in now writing is to say that I have joined the Bishop of Wellington in address to the Duke of Newcastle which states our conviction as to the war at Taranaki. But as that did not fully represent my views, I wished to state them more fully. I have forwarded to London a letter to the Duke of Newcastle for publication. You will receive a copy of it. I purposely abstained from sending you the manuscript that you might not in any way be responsible for it.
I hope you will not think I have done wrong; but I feel so deeply on the subject, and think the Governor's conduct so disgraceful that I am prepared to bear any amount of blame in discharging what I consider an imperative duty in the cause of truth and justice. The letter was necessarily written very hurriedly but you may depend upon all my facts, and I hope my arguments are sound. I believe I know more on this particular subject than any other person in New Zealand."
George Clarke, Protector of the Maoris, investigated the claims to land in Taranaki before the war started, in company with the Commissioner of Lands, Mr. Spain. In his book "Early Life in New Zealand" he commented on a dispute about the rights of the absentees in this matter. ". . . and besides, Mr. Spain knew well my opinion and that of Mr. Forsaith, the Interpreter, as to the Maori law on the subject, and, what was of greater authority than ours, he knew the opinion of Mr. Hadfield."
When this first pamphlet of Hadfield's was published in England it brought forth a heated reply entitled "The Case of the War in New Zealand—from Authentic Documents", by E. Harold Browne, a professor of Divinity at Cambridge and brother of the Governor of New Zealand, Colonel Gore Browne. This in turn induced Hadfield to write his second pamphlet. He checked it with Bishop Abraham before sending it to England, and the latter could find no fault with his facts. When news of its impending publication reached the Government, Hadfield heard that the Governor and his ministers were very angry and "would like to hang me, if they could."
"The Second Year of One of England's Little Wars" begins— "The silence of the local press as to the real merits of the Taranaki war induced me to send home to England in May, 1860, a few remarks on that subject, which were published in the form of a letter to his Grace the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The letter on its return was reprinted by the local press, and became widely circulated through the Colony. Nobody here has been rash enough to attempt a refutation of a single statement contained in it. But what nobody has ventured to do here, Professor Harold Browne has not shrunk from doing in England.. .. It is almost needless to say that I see no reason to recall or modify any expression contained in the letter which has called forth such unqualified condemnation from Prof. Browne."
After quoting some of Browne's charges against him, and reiterating his own views, he continues—"Professor Browne seems to think it is a sufficient answer to my statement to quote some scraps from what he calls "authentic documents"; which authentic documents generally turn out to be extracts from Mr. Bell's reports of his own speeches, or it may be extracts from Mr. Stafford's speeches, or portions of Mr. McLean's statements. He seems to have no suspicion whatever that he is overlooking the most obvious rules which should guide men in estimating the respective value of conflicting evidence. In the first place, all the persons just alluded to are paid officers of the Government. As Mr. Stafford knows nothing of Maori matters, it is hardly worth while to attend to any of his statements. Mr, Bell knows very little more than Mr. Stafford; but it is always quite certain that he will take the Government side in any dispute; he is a personification of red-tape. I pass on, therefore, to Mr. McLean. He is the head of the Land-Purchase Department. He comes forward to defend the proceedings of his own department. What I maintain is, that according to the ordinary rules for estimating the value of testimony, his evidence ought to be received with caution as that of a witness under the influence of an undoubted bias and considerable pressure. Mr. Fox says, 'He was considered as merely the mouth-piece of the Governor to lay a one-sided statement before the House'. Mr. McLean has been convicted of the grossest misstatements as to facts, some of which appear to have been made wilfully. . . . Mr. Fox says again—'Some of his replies, on cross-examination, exhibited a degree of ignorance on common subjects both startling and suggestive'. ... It would be absurd to expect from him any information as to Maori tenure of land."
In spite of often fragile health, Octavius Hadfield enjoyed a long-life and became Bishop of Wellington (though refusing this post on the first occasion it was offered to him), and eventually Primate. He died in 1904 at the age of 91, having seen New Zealand develop from a society enjoying the early fruits of contact between Maori and Pakeha to a country on the doorstep of nationhood.
- Broad, Lowther: The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892, Chapter V
- Cowan, James: The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64): Chapter 10: Wellington Settlement and Hutt War
- Hadfield, Octavius: One of England's Little Wars
- Hadfield, Octavius: A Sequel to One of England's Little Wars
- Hadfield, Octavius: The Second Year of One of England's Little Wars
- Macmorran, Barbara: Octavius Hadfield
- Martin, William: The Taranaki Question
- Taylor, Richard: Te Ika A Maui, Chapter XXII: Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata
- Rusden, G. W.: History of New Zealand, Volume I, Chapter VII: The Wairau