Captain Hobson was succeeded as Acting-Governor by Lieutenant
Shortland, R.N., the Colonial Secretary, whose administration was
marked by one awful tragedy, which stained blood-red the short chapter
of New Zealand’s history with which he was concerned.
At Nelson, as over the whole of the Company’s domain, disputes
constantly arose between Maori and Pakeha. The Company’s settlers
appealed to the law, which had little choice but to decide against
them; the natives went about their operations in a manner peculiar to
Finding it impossible to prevent the newcomers from occupying land
which they insisted had been bought, the Maori took to destroying the
habitations of the invaders, though they rarely used violence towards
individuals, and scrupulously abstained from theft. It was unlikely
that this system of incessant pin-pricking by either side would result
in anything but poisoned wounds, and the fears of those who had
anticipated this result presently received fearful justification.
The turbulent Te Rauparaha was, by right of conquest, one of the great
landowners on the southern side of the strait, and with him was his
son-in-law, Rangihaeata, a chief of fierce, untamed passions, obsessed
by an intense, almost insane, hatred of the Pakeha, and the last man
to submit tamely to their aggression. Rangihaeata had, too, a bitter
grievance against the whites, since a woman related to him had been
killed by a settler, whom the Supreme Court acquitted of wilful murder.
With two such men in opposition to the business-like unsentimental
Company, a peaceful solution of the difficult land question was not
likely to be found.
Some sixty miles east of Nelson is the fertile valley of the Wairau,
abutting on the shores of Cloudy Bay. Having distributed the town
sections at Nelson, the Company decided upon this valley as suitable
for country lots, and sent their surveyors to fix boundaries and
prepare the land for delivery to colonists. Though instantly warned off
by the natives occupying the land, the Company’s officials proceeded
with their work.
What makes the singular persistence of the Company in this case so
difficult to understand is the fact that Te Rauparaha and his ally,
Rangihaeata, were at that very time attending the Court of the
Commissioner of Land Claims at Wellington, and they had agreed to meet
this high functionary a few days later at Cloudy Bay, in order that the
dispute about this particular valley might be adjusted. Naturally, on
hearing of the presence of surveyors on the land they regarded as their
own, the two chiefs hastened across the strait and gave the officials
the choice between suspending operations, pending the Commissioner’s
decision, or being turned off.
As no attention was paid to them, Rauparaha and Rangihaeata burned down
the hut of the chief surveyor; but, in order to show that they had no
desire to deal unjustly with men who were, after all, only carrying out
their employers’ orders, the two Maori collected the property of the
operators and rendered it to the owners. A warrant against the chiefs
for robbery and arson was immediately issued, and Mr. Thompson, the
police magistrate, determined to execute the same in person.
A day or two later Mr. Thompson started for the Wairau with fifty
persons, including the Company’s agent, Captain Wakefield, R.N.;
Captain England, J.P.; Mr. Richardson, Crown Prosecutor; Mr. Howard,
the Company’s store-keeper; Mr. Cotterell, assistant surveyor; an
interpreter, four constables, twelve special constables, and some armed
labourers. The aspect of the expedition was aggressive, and from the
Maori point of view constituted a _taua_, or war-party.
As the boats conveying the force up the Wairau river came within
hostile country, all through the long day Maori scouts watched their
course, and runners continually sped to the headquarters of the chiefs,
carrying the news of the approach of Pakeha with guns.
On the following day, Friday, the 16th of June, 1843, the Maori
camp was reached and, as usual, was found to have been chosen with
consummate skill; for its front was protected by a fairly deep, if
narrow stream, while the flanks and rear were covered by dense scrub.
The white men–whose boats had been left some six miles in their
rear–halted upon the left bank, opposite to the watchful Maori.
Puaha, a Christian native, who had all along attempted to dissuade Mr.
Thompson from bearding Te Rauparaha in his den, made a last effort to
induce the magistrate to turn back, but was impatiently waved aside.
The escort were then formed in two divisions under Captain England and
Mr. Howard, their instructions being that no one was to fire without
Athwart the stream lay a large canoe and, being permitted to use this
as a bridge, Mr. Thompson, Captain Wakefield and others crossed over.
The magistrate then produced his warrant and called upon Te Rauparaha
to surrender and yield to his authority.
“Why so?” demanded the chief.
“For burning the surveyor’s hut,” was the answer.
“I will not,” replied Te Rauparaha. “The huts were my property, and
whatever within them belonged to the surveyors I was careful to
restore. I do not wish to fight, as you must know, since I have already
referred my claim to the Commissioner for adjustment.”
“Then I shall compel you to come with me,” Mr. Thompson cried
excitedly. “I have the means, you see,” and he pointed to the escort
across the stream.
Te Rauparaha growled. “Nevertheless, I will not go,” he began, when
Rangihaeata, his passion in strong contrast to Te Rauparaha’s
coolness, burst into view and dared Mr. Thompson to do his worst.
“Advance with your men, Captain England,” shouted Mr. Thompson, “and
Before he could say more every Maori there leaped to his feet, and with
defiant shouts vanished into the bush.
Then followed one of those fatal errors by which great catastrophes
have often been precipitated. As Mr. Thompson’s party hurried
towards the canoe-bridge, the escort rushing down to meet them,
some one–probably highly excited and unconscious of what he was
about–fired a shot.
Not a Maori was to be seen; but from the dark scrub came a rattling
volley, which was instantly responded to by the whites. The action
at once became general, and men fell on both sides of the stream.
According to the natives’ version, one of the first to be slain–by
a chance shot–was one of Rangihaeata’s wives, and this misfortune
inflamed to madness the already incensed chief.
The escort was mostly composed of civilians who had never seen a shot
fired in anger, so that it is less remarkable that they should have
yielded to panic fear and fled, leaving their comrades to shift for
themselves. Had they even for a few minutes shown a bold front, the
affair would probably have ended disastrously, but not so tragically.
But the chance was gone; and when Rauparaha and Rangihaeata–the battle
fever on them now–rushed pell-mell over the canoe and made for the
deserted leaders, these had no choice but to throw down their arms and
yield to a superior force.
Te Rauparaha, who was somewhat in advance, checked his rush as he noted
this, and Mr. Thompson, extending empty hands, called out, “Let there
Diplomatist that he was, Te Rauparaha, even in the flush of successful
fight, probably realised the danger to the Maori cause which further
violence must entail; for he came to a halt with a growl, “It is peace!”
But Rangihaeata dashed by him, yelling, “This is the second time the
Pakeha have wounded me by slaying my relatives. Rauparaha, remember my
wife, your daughter!” flung himself at Captain England and slew him
with one stroke of his tomahawk.
Then the rage of the Maori broke forth in all its dreadful force.
Rangihaeata, an enormously powerful man, went mad with battle fury
and with his own hand killed Captain Wakefield, Mr. Thompson, Mr.
Richardson, Mr. Cotterell, John Brooks, and others, while his men
rushed right and left among the defenceless crowd and smote to slay.
Twenty-two of Mr. Thompson’s expedition were slain in this terrible
affair, seventeen of them in the massacre which followed the fight.
A few days later a Wesleyan clergyman, escorted by two boats’ crews
of whalers, arrived at the scene of the tragedy, and buried the dead
who had fallen in the fight where they lay on the banks of the Tau
Marina. For the others, who had gone down before the murderous rage of
Rangihaeata, another resting-place was chosen on a gentle rise, whence
can be seen the valley of the Wairau, cause of all the trouble and its
There could be only one issue to an affair of this sort. The prestige
of the white men was lost for the time being, and the Maori mind
became inflamed with hope that the Pakeha would realise the futility
of further contention, and leave the land to those who had originally
The colonists were divided in opinion as to the apportionment of the
blame. In and about Nelson there was, of course, only one view; but the
local authorities were elsewhere censured for their too precipitate
action. The Acting-Governor, reporting the affair to the British
Government, distinctly stated that Mr. Thompson had acted not only
without his sanction, but in direct opposition to his instructions;
that the measures taken were in the highest degree unjustifiable,
inasmuch as the question of ownership of the Wairau land was unsettled,
and actually on the point of being considered by the Commissioner.
All this is true; but no one will feel disposed to blame the rash
Englishmen, considering the price they paid for their indiscretion,
while, all other sentiments apart, nothing bad enough can be said of
Rangihaeata for his savage slaughter of a band of helpless men–men who
had flung down their arms and begged for peace.
When the news of the Wairau fight and massacre reached England, a
condition of mind was produced something similar to that which
followed the arrival of Crozet in France after the murder of Marion.
Emigration was for a time suspended; for Te Rauparaha’s threat, that if
reprisals were attempted, they would be countered by the massacre of
every settler in the colony, did not encourage those who had thought of
making New Zealand their home.
To all this confusion of circumstance was added the distress of
something very like a financial crisis. The colony had no money, and
lenders were nowhere forthcoming. There were many brave hearts who
faced these and other difficulties staunchly enough; but even these
admitted that New Zealand, as a settler’s country, was in a parlous
state, and that very little capital except Hope remained upon which to
come and go.
It was hardly to be expected that those who had acquired land under
the Company should see eye to eye with those who argued that, even
after an affair so shocking as that of the Wairau, the Maori had still
a claim to receive justice at the hands of the Pakeha. So, when the
new Governor, Captain Robert Fitzroy, R.N., personally inquired into
the incident, seven months after its occurrence, it was not wonderful
that the address which the colonists presented to him at Wellington
should have been charged with the gall of bitterness. Nor was it
surprising that the natives, on their part, should have accused their
white neighbours of studied hostility towards them. Lastly, when it
was understood that the Governor laid the weight of the blame upon the
Company and their settlers, and almost exonerated Te Rauparaha and
Rangihaeata, the indignation of the former knew no bounds, and was
expressed in language both foolish and unjust.
Captain Fitzroy undoubtedly decided according to his conscience, and
with a view to safeguard the interests of the colonists, whom he
correctly judged to be too weak to risk a conflict with well-armed
natives, thoroughly versed in their own methods of warfare.
Unfortunately, the Governor’s choice of words when conveying his
decision, while it irritated the whites, conveyed to the Maori an
impression that fear, not policy, had dictated clemency, and their
bearing in consequence became arrogant.
The Maori were now alive to the value of their land, and of money as a
purchasing agent. Skilled mind-readers, they played upon the Governor’s
fears, and compelled him to allow the colonists to buy land direct from
them instead of through the Crown. Captain Fitzroy yielded; but, as he
endeavoured to compromise by extracting a tax on every acre purchased,
the Maori did not make as much as they had hoped to make, and the
unfortunate Viceroy again managed to please nobody. What between the
Maori, who used him for their own ends, and the colonists, who called
him mad, the Governor’s lot was anything but happy.
For all their shrewdness and intelligence, the Maori were not yet
sufficiently educated in the ways of the Pakeha to appreciate the
niceties of civil government, which, it seemed to them, drove away the
flourishing trade which had been theirs while yet their ports were all
in their own hands, and when every port was free. These sentiments,
skilfully fostered by unscrupulous traders, paved the way for an
outbreak. And as Kororareka had furnished excuse for the establishment
of British sovereignty, so it now provided an occasion of war, and
witnessed the first determined act of opposition to the power of the
It was a bitter blow to traders, who had been accustomed to traffic
without let or hindrance in the Bay of Islands, to find Kororareka
flaunting the British flag and demanding customs dues. Nor were the
Maori any more contented; for they had now to pay a higher price for
tobacco, blankets, and other luxuries which they had once acquired so
cheaply. Therefore, since political economy was still beyond them, they
looked elsewhere for the explanation of the change, and found it–in
the flagstaff on the hill outside Kororareka.
The flag which floated there was indeed the symbol of British
authority, and on that account sufficiently hated by the more
intelligent of the patriotic Maori, who desired to preserve their
independence; but among the ignorant natives there were not a few who
were convinced that the flagstaff itself was the very cause of the
customs dues and the irritating restrictions placed upon trade.
Therefore, when Honi (John) Heke, who had married the beautiful
daughter of the famous Hongi Ika, announced his intention of cutting
down the hated staff, he did not lack volunteers to help him in what
he, at least, intended as a deliberate defiance of Britain. For Honi
Heke was far too astute to look upon the flagstaff as anything but
what it was–a wooden pole.
Under the old Maori law a woman who married beneath her raised her
husband to her level; wherefore Honi Heke, though not himself a chief,
became elevated to the ranks of the aristocracy upon his marriage with
the “daughter of a hundred earls.” The upstart was not received with
open arms by the true nobility, though they tolerated him for his
father-in-law’s sake. Had he been one of themselves, and thus able to
command their allegiance, Heke, skilled as he was in war, might have
brought the hated Pakeha face to face with fearful odds and, perhaps,
changed the course of history in New Zealand.
Heke, like his predecessor Hongi, was a born soldier. In his boyhood he
fell into Mr. Marsden’s hands, who took him to Sydney and endeavoured
to teach him a trade. But trade was not for Heke, who was often found
in the barrack-square feasting his eyes upon the soldiers, and keenly
watching their drill. Association with Mr. Marsden and the tuition
he received from the missionary enabled Heke to read and write, and
developed a mind already dangerously rich in qualities which make for
Returning to his native land, Heke joined himself to Hongi, who,
finding him an apt pupil, gladly instructed him in a sterner science
than any which good Mr. Marsden had taught him. So pleased was Hongi
with his protégé that he gave him his daughter in marriage, and it
was upon Heke that the great chief’s dying eyes were turned when he
faltered out his last advice to his followers and bade them beware of
the Pakeha in red. Deep into Heke’s heart sank that advice, and it was
with Hongi’s “word” upon his lips that he struck his first blow against
the might of Britain.
But he had a yet more sinister word of his own for the ears of the
Pakeha, hardly recovered from the shock of the Wairau massacre. “Is Te
Rauparaha to have all the honour of killing the Pakeha?” he exclaimed
as he marched his men to the flagstaff hill. “We shall see!”
This insulting speech was, perhaps, uttered deliberately, in order to
sting the Kororarekans into resistance, and thus provide Heke with
excuse and opportunity to rival the southern leader. If that were so,
he was disappointed; for, at the earnest insistence of the Police
Magistrate, the residents looked on from afar while Heke and his two
hundred malcontents hewed down the obnoxious staff and carried off the
signal balls, used to communicate with shipping outside the bay.
Wroth at this reception of his policy of conciliation, Captain Fitzroy
sent an urgent appeal for help to the Governor of New South Wales. The
answer came at once and, less than five weeks after the fall of the
flagstaff, one hundred and fifty men of the 99th Regiment, with two
field guns, landed at Kororareka and encamped there. H.M.S. _Hazard_
presently lent all the sailors who could be spared, and the little army
prepared to invade Heke’s country.
And now the little influence which Hongi’s son-in-law possessed over
the great chiefs was speedily and fortunately demonstrated. Instead
of flocking to his aid, the high chiefs besought the Governor not to
engage in war, and offered to keep Heke in order for the future. They
probably overestimated their power in this direction; but the Governor
was satisfied, and Thomas Walker Nene and twenty-three other chiefs of
note made orations at a great _korero_, and declared their loyalty
to Queen Wikitoria.
The flagstaff was then re-erected, the borrowed troops returned to
Sydney, Kororareka was again made a free port and, as the year 1844
drew to a close, the country reeled to the very edge of the pit of
Extraordinary efforts were made to avert this calamity. Auckland,
like Kororareka, was declared a free port, thousands of pounds’ worth
of debentures were issued and declared a legal tender and, as a last
resource, the Governor abolished the customs dues all over the colony.
It seemed as if no one, either on the spot or in England, quite knew
what to do for or with New Zealand and, to crown all the trouble,
the sempiternal land question once more poked up its ugly head. The
natives grew suspicious and resentful; settlers were ejected and their
homes destroyed, on the ground that they occupied debatable land, or
land actually claimed by the Maori, and everywhere was unrest and
Heke, who knew very much better, pointed to the flagstaff at Kororareka
as the cause of all this worry and, barely six months after his first
exploit, back he came with his merry men, and for the second time
levelled the detested pole. Though he was not expected–as he had been
on the first occasion,–the signal station was guarded by friendly
natives. These, however, belonged to the tribe of the turbulent Heke;
so they merely made a show of resistance, and retired to protest that
it would have been a sin and a shame to shed any man’s blood for the
sake of a bit of wood. So Honi Heke triumphed for the second time.
The belligerent operations at Kororareka had so far been in
themselves, apart from their consequences, somewhat farcical; but the
“curtain-raisers” were over, and tragic drama was to be presented after
an interval of little more than a month.
NOTE.–The private soldiers, who found a nickname for everybody,
styled Honi Heke “Johnny Hicky.” From this arose an absurd story that
Heke was an Irishman, who had taken service with the Maori in order
to avenge his country’s wrongs!