Town named after militiaman who killed rangatahi has Māori name restored

By Will Trafford

Above: Pākaraka which was renamed Maxwell to honour government militiaman George Maxwell who killed unarmed rangatahi in an unprovoked attack, will soon have its original name restored  / NZME

The tiny settlement of Pākaraka on the outskirts of Whanganui that for 152 years carried the name of a government militiaman who attacked and killed unarmed rangatahi in an unprovoked attack, will have its original name restored after years of lobbying by mana whenua.

Last night, Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa, the NZ Geographic Board confirmed the government will act on more than 500 submissions requesting the town of Maxwell be renamed Pākaraka.

"Land Information Minister Damien O'Connor confirmed the board's recommendation to change the name following a request from Ngāti Maika, and subsequent consultation carried out last year," chairman Anselm Haanen said in a statement yesterday.

In 1870 Pākehā settlers rebranded the town of Pākaraka, ‘Maxwelltown’ to honour George Maxwell, a founding member of the Kai-iwi Yeomanry Cavalry Volunteers, who just two years earlier had fired on a group of unarmed Māori children, attacked them with sabres and killed two boys.

"It was an unprovoked attack. The area was named 'Maxwelltown' shortly after his death and officially changed to Maxwell in 1927."

In a move supported by the Whanganui District Council, South Taranaki hāpu Ngāti Maika launched a petition to reinstate the original name of Pākaraka in August 2020.

Minister O'Connor says the name change addresses long-standing grievances for mana whenua and is part of Crown obligations under te Tiriti.

"None of the reasons given against changing outweighed the case to right this wrong.

"I am pleased we can restore the original Māori name, Pākaraka, meaning a settlement surrounded by an abundance of karaka trees," he said.