Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997

By Ronald W Clifton

Louis DIHARS was born about 1820 in the town of Libourne, France, which is some 100 Kilometres from the city of Bordeaux. He departed from Barcelona to come to New Zealand, travelling in a whaling ship with fellow passengers Borrel and a family named Bidois, who were later to marry into the family. Louis arrived in New Zealand about 1840 or 1842. After a short while at Akaroa he settled in the upper end of the Thames Valley and the Hauraki Plains, in the areas of Matamata, Paeroa, Te Aroha and Waihi.

He was a very tall man and according to those who knew him, in looks, he resembled the late President de Gaulle of France. Initially he did not speak English but soon learnt Maori. His friend William C Johnson spoke no French but the difficulty was overcome when they conversed with each other in Maori. Louis had a somewhat varied and exciting life style and was relatively talented. He acted as a sort of negotiator between the Maori and Pakeha in some land deals and the leasing of land for the many miners. He did some mining himself but is said to have never really worked for his living as he was a remittance man.

Louis was living among the Maori people when the first white men went into the area. He had been accepted by the local Maori inhabitants and became part of their life and environment. In 1845 he married Erena Pareraukawa, at Tauranga. Her father was Hokima. On 1 January 1850 Louis Dihars was granted by proclamation, naturalisation as a subject in the Colony of New Zealand. This was signed by Colonel Thomas Gore Browne, Governor of the Colony.

About 1864 he was living among the Maoris, and cattle herding in the upper Thames Valley. It was about this time that he was responsible for warning James Mackay of a pending ambush by the Maoris when he was on his way to have peace talks with Wiremu Tamehana. Mackay was then the magistrate for the region and was to meet Tamehana at Matamata. On the way to Kerepehi he was met by Tukukino, one of the Hau Hau persuasion. Tukukino greeted Mackay cheerfully with "If you come ashore here I'll tomahawk you". Mackay said he and his followers would shoot and went ashore for the night. Mackay continued upriver next morning as far as Tarapipipi's settlement where he was stopped and invited to leave his canoe. Meanwhile information went in the direction of the Waikato that a pakeha was going up the Piako and that they had better slip down the Waitoa and intercept and shoot him. So Mohi Te A Te Nga, and his people of the Akitai tribe prepared an ambush at the junction of the Waitoa and Piako Rivers.

Mackay and his party spent the night at the Kerepehi Island in the swamps and as there had been a flood the swamps were a sheet of water and it was possible to go over them by canoe from the Waihou to the Piako above the Waitoa junction where the ambush was waiting. They crossed over and reached the Piako River above the ambush. It was here that they met Louis Dihars. Louis handed him a letter from Tamehana. Tamehana said in the letter, "Mr Mackay, I hear you are a magistrate and are coming here. You had better go back, for men have gone up into the fern to shoot you. Don't disregard what I write to you". Louis told him where the ambush was and as he was above it, Mackay decided to continue his journey.

Mackay got a very civil reception at Peria from Tamehana, who said he would first have to consult with the Maori King Tawhaio and promised to send a message as soon as he had done so. Mackay made his way back and met the ambushers at Tarepipipi's settlement. The ambushers told him that if they had met him going up they would have shot him but now that he had been to the Chief they would leave him alone.

Land Problems

By 1873 Louis Dihars was living with his family at "Dihars Settlement", near Mackaytown. It had been twelve years since James Mackay had met Joe Banks among the 'hostile' Maoris of the Upper Thames, buying cattle from Louis Dihars and other cattle herders. There had been recurring trouble at Hikutaia with the Maoris driving cattle off the settlers on disputed land.

There was also friction with incoming settlers in the vicinity of Mackaytown. The half caste 17 year old son of Louis Dihars, Andrew, had an altercation with Frederick Cock, in which obscene language was used on both sides, including Mr Cock threatening Mrs Dihars in her home while the menfolk were away. At the resulting court case in front of Captain Fraser, 'His Worship said he was deeply sympathetic with Mr Cock and all who attempt to make a house in the wilderness'. Mr Mitchell, on the other hand did not believe in confining sympathy entirely to a man 'who came to settle on land since the country has opened'. 'They should have just a little sympathy for the father of the lad, who has been in the country for 32 years, was a settler and almost the only one in Ohinemuri, when I myself came here'.

Frederick Cock brought up an awkward point about land settlement. 'If Dihars was a settler of 32 years standing, then let him go on his own land and not stay on his (Cock's) to annoy him.' The point there was that Dihars' standing was obtained among the Maoris without documentation or need of it. If he could use all the grass from the mission station at Matamata to run cattle and bring money for himself and the tribe, there was all that grassland for the using. If he wanted a place to live up the Ohinemuri from Paeroa, it was his for the asking.

In April 1875 Mr Cock bought a block of land from Te Wano Te Paoro. This block, Ouerangi, is about 1½ miles on the northern side of Mackaytown and known as "Dihars Settlement". This led to further trouble.

There was a notice that appeared in the Thames newspaper in April 1875. It appeared in both Maori and English. The English version read as follows:

To the Editor of the Newspaper.

We are desirous that you should publish this statement in connection with our selling a piece of land known as Ouerangi to Mr Cock, a report having already gone forth that the land is being held on to by Te Hira, we therefore wish that you should publish this so that what we have to say may be heard by all people, whether Maori or Pakeha. During the year 1870 we sold our share in the land to Mr Cock and we received back money in payment for the same, whereupon we signed the deed of conveyance, making the land over to him.

This is a word about another matter. We want to know if you can inform us who appointed Louis Dihars and Mr Allom to manage our affairs. We are acquainted with one of these men, who is a European and lives amongst the Maoris. He is known of old as a bad European, who breeds strife. He resides on the Ouerangi block at present and perhaps is afraid that the European who owns the land may turn him off. With regard to the other man we don't profess to have much knowledge. Mr Mackay did not tell us anything about him. We have heard that he is the person who issues miners' rights and we have also heard of his making presents to Te Hira and Mere Kuru which was flattery on his part. But he can think what he likes, if he is anxious to be Te Hira's manager, well and good, but he should not say that he is also agent to manage the business of others. Let him confine himself to the work the Government has appointed him to do. Enough---

Te Wano Te Paoro Rupene Piau

Potae Te Pora Hariata Tana

Paraone Te Maupu Te Reiti

Riki Paka

It can be seen that there was quite some strife over the land that had been given to Louis Dihars by the Maoris but taken by the Crown when the Crown Lands Act came into being. This resulted in his land being sold from beneath him.

The trouble of the land between Dihars and Frederick Cock must have been settled eventually and the differences made up as a reporter writing in 1887, recorded that he met Frederick Cock and Andrew Dihars working together at Maratoto. By this time Frederick Cock was the Ohinemuri County Chairman.

Louis Dihars died on 19 January 1907 at Waimata, Waihi, at the home of his daughter Rebecca. The cause of death is listed as being senile decay. He was buried on the 21 January 1907 at the Waihi Cemetery. His wife, Erena (Ellen) had died on 8 September 1900.

A further incident involving Louis Dihars has been recorded. It was reported that Louis at one time walked from Te Aroha to Waikino, across country. He was still in the bush at night fall so took shelter in a cavern. Something about the roof took his attention, a glitter in the rock, so he knocked a piece off and took it to Waikino with him. He handed it to the assay office at the Waikino Battery. It was not quartz, they told him, just road metal. The rock was left on a shelf for years until one day the man in charge, having nothing better to do, assayed it. The results showed around 500 ounces of gold to the ton. By then Louis was dead and the source never located.

This was not quite the end of the story as in the 1950s a Mr Anderton, grandson of Louis, stated that he had been out prospecting with Louis around the turn of the century. They had been looking around in an area in the ranges behind Mackaytown (the Te Uriwha Block) trying to relocate his find. In the original report Te Uriwha was incorrectly changed to Te Aroha. Geological evidence indicates that this (Mackaytown ranges) was more likely to be the area of his find, rather than in the direction of Te Aroha.

Note: In various records there are variants to the spelling of Dihars. The correct spelling is DIHARS, with the 'S' and the 'H' being silent and the 'I' having the French 'ee' sound and with the 'r' well sounded. The variants include: D'Ar, Dehaar, Dehar, DeHar, DeHars, DiHar, De Har, Deehar, Deear.

[The descendants of the Dihars family have held reunions in Paeroa. Mr Clifton has been involved in the organisation of the reunions. In 1992 a reunion was held at the Paeroa racecourse and was attended by more than 2000 descendants. Mr Clifton has prepared a family tree recording the descendants of Louis and Erena Dihars. It contains some 5000 names. A further reunion was held this year at Easter.]