Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Touring the Waikato War - A Photo Essay (Part Two)

In my previous post I discussed the first part of a recent journey around sites associated with the Waikato War, ending with Rangiriri. For the most part it is possible to track these sites from a northern to southern direction, with the first part of the war progressing from the Queen's Redoubt at Pokeno in July 1863, south to Rangiriri by November of that same year.

One site that does not quite fit this pattern is Pukekohe East Church, the scene of a significant engagement on 14 September 1863. It is some distance north of the Queen's Redoubt launching post for the invasion, indicating just how little progress the British made in the early part of the war.

A war party consisting of Ngāti Maniapoto and other iwi attacked local militia holed up in the church but came off badly, suffering as many as forty killed. In 1929 the government erected a memorial boulder to those who died.

Other memorial plaques, including one to those defending the church, were stolen in 2006.

After the Rangiriri conflict in November there seemed every prospect for peace. Governor George Grey demanded that British troops must be allowed to enter the Māori King's residence at Ngāruawāhia unimpeded before talks could take place. Early in December Cameron's men occupied the deserted settlement but Grey never came to talk peace.

Ngāruawāhia itself was strategically located at the junction of the Waikato and Waipā rivers, and its occupation allowed the British to push on further south.

By late January 1864, the British had advanced as far south as Pāterangi, where a formidable chain of defensive pā lay before them. After some weeks General Cameron concluded that a direct assault on these was too risky, instead deciding on a daring evening march around the defensive line. After setting off at around 11pm on the evening of 20 February 1864, the British forces reached the largely deserted settlement of Te Awamutu at about dawn the following morning. St John's Church, completed in the early 1850s, was the centre of John Morgan's mission station.


A number of Māori and British killed in nearby battles are buried in the adjacent cemetery, which includes a number of memorials to them.

A monument to Māori was initially commissioned by the government in the mistaken belief that those buried there were 'loyalists' or kūpapa. Although it was discovered in 1914 that they were actually Kīngitanga fighters killed in battle with the British, the government nevertheless went ahead with the memorial, which was unveiled in 1914.

Almost immediately after entering Te Awamutu, Cameron's men pushed on to Rangiaowhia, which was attacked early on a Sunday morning. The village was considered a place of refuge for women, children and the elderly. There were few defenders and a number of people were killed inside a whare that was probably deliberately torched by British troops, with one elderly man shot as he attempted to flee the burning hut. These events were remembered with great bitterness and pain many years later. Today, a Catholic cemetery and (some 200 metres up the road) St Paul's Anglican Church are all that remain of the original, flourishing settlement.

Upon hearing of the attack on Rangiaowhia, Kīngitanga men defending the Pāterangi line rushed back to aid their kin but were themselves attacked at the site of a partially constructed pā at Hairini on 22 February 1864, suffering further heavy losses.

On 23 February 1864 British troops entered and looted the deserted settlement of Kihikihi - the home of Rewi Maniapoto. In the early 1880s the government built a new cottage for Rewi in Kihikihi as an inducement for him to leave the King Country. Later a memorial to Rewi was constructed on the site, and he was buried there when he died in 1894.

Just five kilometres or so from Kihikihi, on Arapuni Road, is Ōrākau, site of what used to be called 'Rewi's Last Stand'. It was here that large numbers of Māori (as many as 160) were killed, most as they fled for their lives on the final day of the three-day siege.

It was said that the road was later run deliberately through the centre of the pā (although recent archaeological investigations by Heritage New Zealand have cast some doubt on its precise location).

In 1914 a crowd of nearly 5000 people, most of them Pākehā, gathered at Ōrākau for the unveiling of a memorial. They celebrated Ōrākau as marking 'fifty years of peace' and the birth of 'the greatest race relations in the world'.

Understandably, few Māori joined in their 'celebrations'. However, as Paul Diamond explains in this post, the sesquicentenary gathering in 2014 was of an altogether different nature.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Touring the Waikato War - A Photo Essay (Part One)

Over Waitangi weekend I spent four days touring sites associated with the Waikato War as part of research for my future book on the conflict. As I had only previously visited a handful of these sites before, the journey was important in helping me to develop a better understanding of the war. There is nothing quite like seeing with your own eyes. And some stops were completely unscheduled, like this street sign in Hamilton.

Preparation is important for a trip like this: many of the key Waikato War sites are poorly signposted and finding them is not always easy. I took with me three guides. One was an excellent free guide written by Neville Ritchie for the Department of Conservation. Another was David Green's Battlefields of the New Zealand Wars: A Visitor's Guide (Penguin, 2010). And the third was the Heritage New Zealand app developed specifically as a touring guide to the Waikato War.

Each included suggested itineraries. I chose to start (or rather end) my journey at a place none of the guides included. St James Anglican Church at Mangere Bridge was once the centre of a flourishing Tainui settlement in South Auckland. The church itself was built under the direction of Tamati Ngāpora, a lay preacher in the settlement and uncle of the second Māori king, Tāwhiao.


When all Māori living north of the Mangatāwhiri River were forcibly evicted from their homes just days before the British invasion of Waikato in July 1863, Tamati Ngāpora and hundreds of others were forced to abandon their homes and settlements, making their way south to join their kin in the Waikato.

Queen's Redoubt at Pokeno was base camp for the British invasion, situated as it was just a short distance north of the Mangatāwhiri River.

Although many of the original earth works have been destroyed, a Queen's Redoubt Trust established by volunteers has plans to restore the site.

At Mercer a gun turret from the river gunboat Pioneer serves as a local war memorial - but to those who fell in War World One and not the Waikato War.

At Whangamarino Redoubt one begins to get some idea as to the immense artillery power that was available to the British forces. It was from here in October 1863 that the British fired two 40-pounder Armstrong guns on the Kīngitanga defensive pā at Meremere, some two kilometres to the south (just above the large decommissioned Meremere Power Station in the photo below).

Here's the view from Meremere, looking north to Whangamarino. Note the proximity of the site to the Waikato River.

The Meremere site had been specially selected with a view to impeding British progress up the Waikato River. But a huge effort had gone into its construction, and the pā was eventually abandoned, being occupied by British forces on 1 November 1863.

What one newspaper at the time described as General Cameron's 'bloodless victory' at Meremere enabled steamers to push further up the river. Kīngitanga defenders consolidated their position at Rangiriri, where one of the most deadly and decisive conflicts of the war took place on 20-21 November 1863. Both the British and Māori suffered large losses, and more than 180 Kīngitanga defenders were captured and taken prisoner under controversial circumstances.

Today, the Rangiriri site includes a beautiful Tohu Maumahara, a memorial to all those who fell at Rangiriri, first unveiled on the anniversary of the battle in 2012.

Two large pou whenua were officially unveiled on the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2013.

Information panels installed by Heritage New Zealand provide insight into precisely what took place in each part of the remaining pā, and serve as a poignant reminder of the many who died there.

That was reinforced by a visit to the nearby Māori War and Early Settlers Cemetery.

A large unmarked mound of earth in one corner of the cemetery is believed to be the grave site of a number of Māori killed in the Rangiriri conflict.

I wondered why it had remained unmarked after all these years.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Governor: New Zealand History on Screen

In 1977 the most ambitious historical drama for television produced in New Zealand screened on TV One. The Governor was a six-part series based on the life of Sir George Grey, the two-time governor and later premier of New Zealand in the nineteenth century. Written by Keith Aberdein, based on a concept devised by Michael Noonan, and directed by Tony Isaac, The Govenor set out to shatter myths about ‘Good Governor Grey’. The Grey played in this series by British actor Corin Redgrave was a duplicitious, scheming and untrustworthy figure, responsble for bringing untold misery on Māori with his unscrupulous actions. 

New Zealand was a land of just two television channels in the 1970s but even allowing for this The Governor attracted huge audiences. It seems to be a popular myth that the series was never repeated. In fact, its popularity was such that it was shown again in 1978 (in the midst, as Trisha Dunleavy notes, of the Bastion Point occupation and a growing Pākehā awareness of historical Māori injustices)[1]. But problems with securing consent to further repeat screenings means it has never been shown again and only some episodes are available in full on the NZ on Screen website (alongside a documentary about the making of The Governor that provides an illuminating snapshot of 1970s New Zealand).

Even before it screened The Governor attracted controversy. With a cast of over 500 actors and repeated production overruns, the total cost eventually blew out to nearly $1.4 million (around $9.4 million in 2015 currency, making it more than likely still the most expensive drama series in New Zealand television history). Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was highly critical of the overspend and a parliamentary inquiry was ordered. It has been suggested that his real concern was the race relations can of worms the series threatened to throw open. Additionally, Muldoon was continually at war with television bosses and may have seen this as another opportunity to go on the offensive. 

I remember watching the series as a ten-year old and realising that here was something really quite special, even if I was too young to fully grasp the narrative. For another New Zealand historian, the series had a more profound impact. James Belich later recalled in his documentary series on the New Zealand Wars that, while still a student, he had worked a holiday job on the set of The Governor, digging the trenches of a reconstructed Ruapekapeka pā, and all the while thinking to himself ‘What the hell is going on here? This doesn’t look like a Māori pā, this is more like a chunk of the Western Front’. It was through this incident that Belich became curious about the wars fought in New Zealand, going on to publish a ground-breaking work on the New Zealand Wars in 1986.

Today, as I write a history of the Waikato War, I am chiefly interested in The Governor for what it says about how that war has been remembered or forgotten historically. Fortunately, episode five, ‘The Lame Seagull’, which deals with the war, is one of those available in full on the NZ on Screen website. It depicts the Waikato War as an unsavoury land grab on Grey’s part, while lauding Māori bravery at Ōrākau. The battle scenes are impressive but there is a kind of inevitability about Māori defeat that today seems somewhat dated in the light of Belich’s subsequent work emphasising Māori military achievement. Even so, the epic scale of The Governor has never been repeated on New Zealand screens. It remains absorbing viewing.

Less well-known is that a novel of the same title was also released to coincide with the television series.  I picked up a battered second-hand copy at a book fair last year. It features a somewhat gaudy cover that seems to promise a romantic tale set during a time of war (‘Based on Television One’s Million Dollar Series’), and a back-page blurb that plays up Grey’s contradictory character (‘a Christian, Victorian gentleman, torn between honourable duty and the guilty pursuit of pleasure’). It begins, as many a New Zealand drama does, in a pub room, ending on Grey’s deathbed. I have yet to read what lies between.     

[1] See Trisha Dunleavy, '"Magnificent Failure" or Subversive Triumph? The Governor' in James E. Bennett and Rebecca Beirne (eds), Making Film and Television Histories: Australia and New Zealand, London: I.B. Tauris, 2012, pp.67-72.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Haerenga: Early Māori Journeys Across the Globe

The history of Māori travel and engagement with the outside world is a remarkable one. It is explored in a new work to be released as part of the BWB Texts series in March 2015. Here is some information on the work from the publisher's website.

The Māori monarch and his entourage found sympathetic ears in the British press and public. Newspapers published tips on correct pronunciation of his name, explained his illustrious lineage and the troubled history of war and confiscation suffered by the Waikato tribes and printed sketches of the party. Socially, too, they were in high demand. London’s bobbies found it impossible to control crowds gathered to witness some of the party’s early outings.

From the late eighteenth century, Māori travellers spread out from New Zealand to Australia, Britain and the world. Most travellers eventually returned home, bringing something of their own ‘new world’ experiences with them. This book is a series of vignettes of this history of Māori travel and exploration, providing fresh light on a little known yet absorbing aspect of early New Zealand.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Waikato War in Public Memory


The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 2 December 2014
at St Ninian’s, Newcombe Crescent, Karori
at 7.45 pm.

Members and friends welcome

Our speaker is Vincent O'Malley, who will speak on 'The Waikato War in Public Memory'.
The Waikato War was a decisive turning point in New Zealand history. Yet the recent 150th anniversary passed by most New Zealanders largely unnoticed. That stands in contrast to earlier anniversaries of the same war and more especially to the current World War One centenary. This talk examines how and why the Waikato conflict has been remembered (or forgotten) historically and asks what that says about its place in current public memory.

Vincent is a Pakeha New Zealander of Irish and Scottish Highland descent. He has a BA (Hons) in History (1st Class) from the University of Canterbury and completed his PhD thesis at Victoria University of Wellington in 2004. Vincent has published widely in the area of Crown and Māori historical relationships, including his recent books, The Meeting Place: Maori and Pakeha Encounters, 1642-1840 (Auckland University Press, 2012) which was a finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards for 2013, and Beyond the Imperial Frontier: The Contest for Colonial New Zealand (Bridget Williams Books, 2014). Vincent is the 2014 J D Stout Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington, where he is working on a history of the Waikato War. He has worked as a professional historian and focused mainly on Treaty of Waitangi claims research since 1993 and has prepared and presented many research reports on behalf of iwi around the country. He will have copies of his recent publication Beyond the Imperial Frontier for sale. See

Saturday, 15 November 2014

On the Waitangi Tribunal's Northland Report

The Waitangi Tribunal yesterday released its report on Stage One of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) Inquiry. Stage One of this inquiry was solely concerned with two key agreements: the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand/He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni; and the 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi. The Tribunal's own press release summarises the report's findings:

Treaty Signatories Did Not Cede Sovereignty in February 1840 – Tribunal

The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown, the Waitangi Tribunal has concluded.
The Tribunal today released its report on stage 1 of its inquiry into Te Paparahi o te Raki (the great land of the north) Treaty claims.

The report concerns the ‘meaning and effect’ of the Treaty in February 1840, when the first signings of te Tiriti took place in the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga. Stage 2 of the inquiry, which is under way, will consider events after February 1840.

‘Though Britain went into the treaty negotiation intending to acquire sovereignty, and therefore the power to make and enforce law over both Māori and Pākehā, it did not explain this to the rangatira’, the Tribunal said.

Rather, Britain’s representative William Hobson and his agents explained the Treaty as granting Britain ‘the power to control British subjects and thereby to protect Māori’, while rangatira were told that they would retain their ‘tino rangatiratanga’, their independence and full chiefly authority.

‘The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede their sovereignty to Britain’, the Tribunal concluded. ‘That is, they did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories.’

The rangatira did, however, agree ‘to share power and authority with Britain’.
‘They agreed to the Governor having authority to control British subjects in New Zealand, and thereby keep the peace and protect Māori interests’, the Tribunal said.

‘The rangatira consented to the treaty on the basis that they and the Governor were to be equals, though they were to have different roles and different spheres of influence. The detail of how this relationship would work in practice, especially where the Māori and European populations intermingled, remained to be negotiated over time on a case-by-case basis.’

The Tribunal said that, having considered all of the evidence available to it, the conclusion that Māori did not cede sovereignty in February 1840 was inescapable.

The Tribunal said nothing about how and when the Crown acquired the sovereignty that it exercises today. However, it said, the Crown ‘did not acquire that sovereignty through an informed cession by the rangatira who signed te Tiriti at Waitangi, Waimate, and Mangungu’.

The question of whether the agreement that was reached in February 1840 was honoured in subsequent interactions between the Crown and Māori will be considered during stage 2 of the inquiry.

Those findings were almost immediately being branded as wrong. Just 23 minutes after the media embargo on the Tribunal's report expired, Professor Paul Moon issued his own press release:

Tribunal’s Maori sovereignty report “re-writing history” says academic

Auckland University of Technology Professor Paul Moon – who is a Treaty specialist – has criticised the Waitangi Tribunal’s Inquiry into issues of Maori sovereignty, which has been released today, claiming it got basic aspects about the Treaty’s history wrong.

“I was shocked by some do the statements contained in the report,” says Professor Moon. “This is not a concern about some trivial detail, but over the fundamental history of our country, which the Tribunal has got manifestly wrong.”

“In particular, the Tribunal alleges that ‘Britain went into the treaty negotiation intending to acquire sovereignty, and therefore the power to make and enforce law over both Maori and Pakeha’. This is simply not true,” says Professor Moon, “and there is an overwhelming body of evidence which proves precisely the opposite. I cannot understand how the Tribunal got this so wrong.”

Professor Moon is also critical of the way which the Tribunal elevates the importance of the 1835 Declaration of Independence: “The Tribunal sees the Declaration as some profound assertion of Maori Sovereignty. However, the Declaration had no international status, and was regarded by British officials at the time as ‘a silly as well as an unauthorised act.’ For some inexplicable reason, the Tribunal has again ignored all this evidence.”

Professor Moon says the most concerning aspect of the report is the way in which the Tribunal seems to be re-writing history with little apparent regard for evidence. “This report may serve the interests of some groups,” he says, “but it distorts New Zealand history in the process, and seriously undermines the Tribunal’s credibility”

Moon's comments were widely reported, on Stuff, for example, and the New Zealand Herald website. Neither media organisation seemed to consider it important to sound out the views of other Treaty experts, highlighting once again the basic historical illiteracy of much of the New Zealand media.

But what of the substance of Moon's criticisms? It is difficult to know why he objects to the notion that Britain sought to acquire sovereignty and the power to make and enforce law over both Maori and Pakeha. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Marquis of Normanby, issued instructions to William Hobson on 14 August 1839 that were unambiguous on the point. Hobson was instructed that:

Her Majesty’s Government have resolved to authorize you to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty’s sovereign authority over the whole or any parts of those islands which they may be willing to place under Her Majesty’s dominion. (GBPP, 1840 [238], p.38).

It is certainly the case that the British government did not expect to exert complete control over Maori communities from the outset. Hobson was informed that:

until they can be brought within the pale of civilized life, and trained to the adoption of its habits, they must be carefully defended in the observance of their own customs, so far as these are compatible with the universal maxims of humanity. (GBPP, 1840 [238], p.39).

That final qualification was crucial, and Hobson was further instructed that 'the savage practices of human sacrifice, and of cannibalism, must be promptly and decisively interdicted'.

What about the British government response to He Whakaputanga/the Declaration of Independence? This is what the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Glenelg, wrote to the governor of New South Wales in May 1836:

I have received a Letter from Mr. Busby, enclosing a Copy of a Declaration made by the Chiefs of the Northern Parts of New Zealand, setting forth the Independence of their Country, and declaring the Union of their respective Tribes into One State, under the Designation of the Tribes of New Zealand. I perceive that the Chiefs, at the same Time, came to the Resolution to send a Copy of their Declaration to His Majesty, to thank Him for His Acknowledgement of their Flag; and to entreat that, in return for the Friendship and Protection which they have shown and are prepared to show to such British Subjects as have settled in their Country, or resorted to its Shores for the Purposes of Trade, His Majesty will continue to be the Parent of their infant State, and its Protector from all attempts on its Independence.

With reference to the Desire which the Chiefs have expressed on this Occasion to maintain a good Understanding with His Majesty’s Subjects, it will be proper that they should be assured, in His Majesty’s Name, that He will not fail to avail himself of every Opportunity of showing His Goodwill, and of affording to those Chiefs such Support and Protection as may be consistent with a due Regard to the just Rights of others, and to the Interests of His Majesty’s Subjects. (GBPP, 1837-38, (680), p.159).

Normanby told Hobson in 1839 that the British government 'acknowledge New Zealand as a sovereign and independent state' (though he qualified that with reference to the tribal nature of its political structures). It was in part this prior acknowledgement that led the British to seek a cession of sovereignty in 1840. Particular efforts were later made to secure the signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi of those who had earlier signed He Whakaputanga. Te Wherowhero, though approached more than once to sign the Treaty, refused. Te Hapuku of Hawke's Bay (another of those to sign the Declaration) did sign the Treaty.

These are matters that have been well traversed by historians in recent decades. Indeed, as the Tribunal notes in its report, its findings are hardly controversial but reflect a wider historical consensus. The fact that it is not a unanimous consensus does not change the fact that many historians would have no difficulty with the Tribunal's findings.

(By way of disclosure, I gave expert evidence in the Stage One hearings, though not directly relating to He Whakaputanga or the Treaty. My evidence concerned the wider context of early contact and encounter between Maori and Pakeha in the north of New Zealand).