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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

Chapter 3: Heke and the Flagstaff

page 14

Chapter 3: Heke and the Flagstaff

“…God made this country for us. It cannot be sliced; if it were a whale it might be sliced. Do you return to your own country, which was made by God for you. God made this land for us; it is not for any stranger or foreign nation to meddle with this sacred country.”—Hone Heke's letter to the Governor, 1845.

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON described the town on Apia Beach as the seat of the political sickness of Samoa. Cosmopolitan Kororareka was the seat of the troubles of north New Zealand; its flagstaff was the putake o te riri, in Maori phrase—the root and fount of the wars. And Hone Heke, one-time mission pupil, malcontent, and rebel general, played as bold a part in the drama of our early days as ever the patriotic Mataafa enacted in his little world under Upolu's palms in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

Hone Heke's character was curiously composite—a mingling of passionate patriotism, ambition, bravado, vanity, and a shrewdness sharpened by his partial civilization. Heke foresaw more clearly than most of his countrymen the fatal consequences to the Maori of white colonization and the flooding of the country with an alien population who would regard the native New Zealander with none of the sympathy entertained for him by the long-settled missionaries. For the mission people, of whatever denomination, Ngapuhi, like most other tribes in 1840, cherished feelings of deep regard; they knew that those devoted men and women had not come to the Maori islands to make profit out of the natives' ignorance of trade values. Many a coast trader, timber-miller, and settler, too, were held in high estimation by the tribes of the North; they had won the affections of the chiefs and people by their fair methods of business, and by kindly services in times of sickness and sorrow. But the numerous speculators and land-seekers who landed in north New Zealand by every vessel after the hoisting of the British flag furnished them with an argument for a policy of exclusion, for it seemed even then to keen-visioned men like Heke that the wholesale immigration of so strong a race must in years to come inundate the chieftainship of the Maori.

page 15
From a pencil drawing by J. A. Gilfillan] Hone Heke

From a pencil drawing by J. A. Gilfillan]
Hone Heke

At the same time, there were whites whom Ngapuhi and Te Rarawa and their kin desired strongly to encourage for reasons of self-interest. These were the captains and crews of the whale-ships—the men who were chiefly responsible at once for the material prosperity and the moral deterioration of the northern tribes. The whaleships supplied practically the whole of the trade of the Bay of Islands and Mangonui, as the kauri timber ships did that of Hokianga; and the decrease in this trade directly following the establishment of British sovereignty went far to convince Heke and Pomare, and the many others who lived to a large extent on the profits accruing from the visits of shipping, that the old regime, when every man made his own laws, was preferable to the new order.

Hone Heke was nephew to Hongi Hika, and married that chief's daughter, Hariata Rongo. He died without issue; but his elder brother, Tuhirangi, of Kaikohe, begat Hone Ngapua, who married Niu, who gave birth in 1869 to Hone Heke the Second, who came while yet a very young man to represent the Northern Maori Electorate in the New Zealand House of Representatives. page 16 Hone Heke the First engaged in the intertribal wars of the North while still a youth, and in 1830 he displayed energy and skill in a battle at Kororareka. Three years later he was one of the Ngapuhi men, under Titore, who sailed their war-canoes down the coast to Tauranga, where they attacked Otumoetai and other pas. Heke was wounded in the neck in this expedition. In 1837 he took a leading part in the fighting against Pomare and Te Mau-Paraoa, whose stockaded pa (destroyed by the British troops in 1845) stood on Otuihu, a prominent place on the cliffs above the entrance to the Waikare and Kawakawa arms of Tokerau, and about six miles from Kororareka Town.

In an interval of peace in the “thirties” young Heke lived at Paihia in the establishment of the Rev. Henry Williams (afterwards Archdeacon of Waimate), and the respect and affection for the missionaries then engendered in his mind remained a distinguishing feature of his otherwise turbulent character. It was at Paihia that he learned something of the history of the outer world—a smattering of knowledge which he turned to shrewd account in his arguments with the Government a few years later.

The portrait of Hone Heke is an index to his character. His nose, though not the predatory ihu-kaka, or strong hook-nose, that distinguished some great Maori leaders, was prominent and well-shapen; his prominent jaws and chin denoted firmness and resolution. The old Kaikohe natives of to-day speak of Heke's kauae-roa, his long chin, as the salient character of his face. He was tattooed, but not with the full design of moko, such as that borne by his great kinsman and antagonist, Tamati Waka Nene.

Heke's dissatisfaction with the state of maritime trade after 1840 is scarcely to be wondered at, seeing that in addition to the returns from the sale of food-supplies to the whalemen he had collected a kind of Customs dues from visiting ships. Before the British flag was hoisted he and his cousin Titore divided a levy of £5 on each ship entering the Bay. They collected their dues from the ships outside the anchorage, boarding them in their canoes before Tapeka Point was rounded. Many ships sailed up to the anchorages off Wahapu and Otuihu, in the passage to the Kawakawa and Waikare, and here Pomare collected his toll from each ship, for he was the paramount chief of the inner waters. Pomare also was the principal agent in the disreputable but profitable business of supplying girls as temporary wives to the crews of the whaleships during their stay in port. This was a leading line of Maori traffic with the shipping in unscrupulous old Kororareka and Otuihu, which not even the strong mission influence could extirpate.

In 1841, in a Government Ordinance, Customs duties were set forth in a brief schedule. All spirits, British, paid 4s. per page 17 gallon to the Customs; all other spirits, foreign, 5s. Tobacco, after the 1st January, 1842, was to pay 1s. per pound on the manufactured article and 9d. per pound on the unmanufactured; snuff and cigars, 2s. per pound. Tea, sugar, flour, and grain were taxed £5 on every £100 of value; wine, £15 per £100; all other foreign goods, £5 per £100. In 1844 firearms were taxed 30 per cent. And when the storekeeper had passed on the increases to his customers, with no doubt a considerable extra margin of profit for the Maori trade, the warrior who came in to renew his supply of whiri, or twist tobacco, to purchase a new blanket or a musket, or to lay by a store of lead for moulding into bullets, received the clearest proof that the Treaty which he had signed had not improved his condition of life.

To this concrete evidence of trade depression was added a vague but widely diffused belief that the Treaty of Waitangi was merely a ruse of the pakeha, and that it was the secret intention of the whites, so soon as they became strong enough, to seize upon the lands of the Maori. In 1844 the news reached New Zealand that the House of Commons Committee on New Zealand Affairs had resolved that the Treaty of Waitangi was a part of a series of injudicious proceedings, and that “the acknowledgement by the local authorities of a right of property on the part of the natives of New Zealand in all wild land in these islands, after the sovereignty had been assumed by Her Majesty, was not essential to the true construction of the Treaty, and was an error which had been productive of very injurious consequences.” In other words, the Committee thought the Government should seize upon all native land not actually occupied and devote it to the use of white settlers. This report, the news of French aggression in Tahiti and Raiatea, Fitzroy's vacillating land policy, and simmering resentment over the execution of Maketu in 1842 for the murder of the Robertson family on Motu-arohia Island, all went to fan a war feeling among the Ngapuhi.

It was in 1844 that Heke came to the decision to use the setting-up of the flagstaff and the driving-away of the whalers as a take, or pretext. Shortly, he made a raid upon Kororareka with a strong war-party, on a taua muru, or punitive plundering expedition. This excursion seems to have been devised chiefly with a view to testing the temper of the whites and ascertaining what resistance he was likely to meet with in his campaign against the kara, the colours on Maiki Hill. The taua was by way of retaliation for an insult, serious in Maori eyes, offered by a woman in the township. This woman was Kotiro, a native of Taranaki, who had been led away captive by Ngapuhi fifteen years previously. She had been given to Heke as a slave. page 18 When she had been for some years at the Bay of Islands she married a Scottish blacksmith named Gray: one of her children was Sophia Hinerangi, the celebrated guide at Te Wairoa and Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, in after-years. When Gray died, Kotiro became the wife of another white man, Lord, who kept a store, lodginghouse, and butcher's shop on Kororareka beach. One day she was bathing in the bay with a number of other women when an altercation occurred. The name of Hone Heke was mentioned, whereon Kotiro contemptuously called him an “upoko poaka” (“pig's head”). This was a kanga, or curse, in Maori notion; and the women promptly sent word thereof to Heke. The taua muru was the sequel. Heke began to plunder Lord's store; the trader compromised by offering a cask of twist tobacco as compensation for the insult. This offer being accepted, Lord asked for time to procure a cask of tobacco from the rear of the store; but this time he employed in cutting the cask into halves—it was the only one he had in stock. He then endeavoured to pass the half-cask on to the Maoris as a whole one, whereupon there was a furious uproar. Heke and his men partly looted the store; the woman Kotiro they carried off.

This was on Friday, 5th July, 1844. For the next three days the war-party remained in the town, the young bloods swaggering into stores and private houses alike, seizing whatever they fancied. On the 8th July the flagstaff on Maiki Hill was cut down. (Mr. Hugh Carleton, in his “Life of Henry Williams,” states that on this first occasion the flagstaff was not cut down by Heke, but by Haratua, the chief of Pakaraka. Archdeacon William Williams, he says, dissuaded Heke from the deed, which his followers, however, resolved to carry out. “Heke remained in his canoe, alleging that he had pledged his word to Archdeacon William Williams and would keep it. Whereupon Haratua jumped up, axe in hand, ran up the hill with a few followers, and cut the flagstaff down.”)

Governor Fitzroy's troubles were now approaching their climax. The news of Ngapuhi's deed prompted an urgent appeal to headquarters in Sydney for troops; there were only ninety men, a company of the 80th, in Auckland, and none at the Bay of Islands. In the second week of August the barque “Sydney”arrived at the Bay of Islands from New South Wales with 160 officers and men of the 99th Regiment. On the 24th of the month H.M.S. “Hazard” dropped anchor off Kororareka, bringing from Auckland the Governor; the Government brig “Victoria” arrived in company with the frigate, and the vessels landed a detachment of the 96th under Lieut.-Colonel Hulme; two light guns were also brought ashore. Heke had gone inland, to Kaikohe. The Governor and Hulme were for immediate page 19
From a photo]Tamati Waka Nene

From a photo]
Tamati Waka Nene

hostilities. However, a meeting was arranged at the mission station at Waimate between Fitzroy and the chiefs of Ngapuhi. At this meeting (2nd September, 1844) the Governor was accompanied by the commander of the “Hazard” and Lieut.-Colonel Hulme. Tamati Waka besought the Governor to remove the troops and redress the native grievances in respect of the Customs duties, which had caused the trouble; he and the other chiefs on their part undertook to keep Heke in check and to protect the Europeans in the district. To these requests Fitzroy agreed. He perceived the uselessness of aggressive action with his available force, and ordered the troops back to their headquarters—the 99th to Sydney and the 80th to Auckland—and he promised that the Bay would be declared a free port.

This promise was carried out, after Ngapuhi had surrendered a few muskets in token of submission and Heke had offered to erect another mast. Customs duties were abolished throughout the colony, and a property-tax substituted.

In October trouble was renewed at the Bay. Depredations on outlying settlers were begun by the restless young men. On the 10th January, 1845, the flagstaff was cut down a second page 20 time. On the preceding day Heke had visited the Acting-Consul for the United States, a storekeeper named Henry Green Smith, at Wahapu; this trader had recently replaced one Captain William Mayhew, who had been Acting-Consul since 1840. Mayhew had helped to instil into the minds of Pomare and Heke a dislike to the British flag, consequent on the imposition of Customs duties. From him and other Americans the discontented chief had heard of the successful revolt of the American colonies against England, and the lesson was not forgotten; he burned to do likewise. From Smith he obtained an American ensign, and paddled on to Kororareka; and when the flagstaff fell to a Ngapuhi axe for a second time up went the foreign colour on the carved sternpost of Heke's war-canoe. The warrior crew paraded the harbour, their kai-hautu, or fugleman, yelling a battle-song, Heke at the steering-paddle, the American flag over his head.*

Excitement and apprehension now possessed the Bay settlements. The “Victoria,” the Government brig, sailed into Kororareka Bay on the 17th January, and landed a small detachment of troops—a subaltern and thirty men of the 96th Regiment—who re-erected the flagstaff. The Rev. Henry Williams, at Paihia, consulted on the 18th by the Colonial Secretary and the Magistrate, advised that the flag should not be flaunted in the face of the natives, at any rate not until it could be guarded efficiently, otherwise the Maoris would have it down again. While they were speaking, Heke and his canoe flotilla, with American and other flags flying, passed close to the Paihia landing. Before it was full daylight next morning the staff was cut down for the third time and the topmast carried away; the flag itself remained in the possession of the friendly natives who were in charge of the station. Heke and his men fired a triumphant volley on the beach and danced a war-dance.

Thoroughly alarmed by this determined resistance to the establishment of British rule, Fitzroy wrote to Sir George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales, making urgent application for further military assistance. He declared that he must prepare for operations “in a woody country, at Whangarei, if not at the Bay of Islands” (there had been robberies with violence at the homes of settlers at Matakana by natives from Whangarei), and he must also take precautions for the safety of Auckland.

In compliance with this request (which did not reach Sydney till the 17th February) two companies of the 58th Regiment, the famous “Black Cuffs,” numbering 207 of all ranks, received orders to embark for Auckland, but by the time they reached the Bay of Islands (28th April, 1845) the flagstaff was down again, Kororareka Town was in ashes, and war had begun.

page 21 page 22

The opening shots were fired on the 3rd March, 1845, eight days before the final disaster. Heke had given assurances to the friendly chiefs that he would not molest the white settlers, except in retaliation for hostile measures by the Government; but the old warrior Kawiti did not exercise similar forbearance. His Ngati-Hine and allied hapus from the Kawakawa and Waiomio carried out a series of raids on isolated settlers in some of the small bays a few miles from Kororareka. On the 28th February four large war-canoes crowded with armed natives from the Kawakawa swept down the Bay and landed in front of the house occupied by Captain Wright. The marauders plundered and burned the place. Several other houses in the vicinity of the town were similarly looted and destroyed. On the 3rd March a message reached the Police Magistrate that a party of Kawiti's men, who had come down in two canoes, were plundering the house of Benjamin Turner, an old resident; his home was at the Uruti, a deep, narrow bay about two miles in rear of Kororareka. Beckham sent off to H.M.S. “Hazard” (which had arrived from Wellington on the 15th February) for assistance, and the Acting-Commander, Lieutenant Robertson, went ashore with a party of sailors armed with muskets and cutlasses. The force marched overland to Uruti, while the frigate's pinnace, carrying light guns, was sent round the coast for the purpose of cutting off the retreat of Kawiti's canoes. Both arrived too late; Turner's house and wheat-stacks were in ashes. Two horses had been taken away by a native track over the hills to Otuihu, and, with the object of recapturing these as they were being swum across the sea-arm leading to the Kawakawa River and Waikare Inlet, the pinnace, under Lieutenant Morgan, was sent in chase. Pomare's pa at Otuihu was passed, but off Opua it was seen that further pursuit was useless, and the boat put about to return to the ship. A fire was opened on the pinnace from both sides of the channel. The naval lieutenant returned the fire with grape-shot from his boat-guns and musketry. Two slight skirmishes in rear of the town followed during March.

By this time Kororareka had been placed in a condition of defence, though by no means an efficient condition; the chief thing lacking was a competent leader of the military and the white inhabitants. A timber stockade was built around Mr. Polack's house near the northern end of the beach; this was to be the refuge-place for white women and children. A blockhouse was erected on a small hill in the rear of the stockade and the town, close to the track leading to the Maiki flagstaff. Here were mounted three ship's guns. A gun was taken up to the other end of the town, at the entrance to the valley leading through to Mata-uhi Bay, in rear of Kororareka, the most likely avenue of page 23
From a drawing 1846]Hone Heke, his Wife (Hariata), and Kawiti

From a drawing 1846]
Hone Heke, his Wife (Hariata), and Kawiti

page 24 attack. Mr. C. Hector, a solicitor by profession, a man of much spirit and resolution, had charge of the blockhouse battery. For the Mata-uhi gun a crew of bluejackets and marines was sent ashore from H.M.S. “Hazard.” The civilians of the town were organized and drilled under the superintendence of Lieutenant Phillpotts, of the “Hazard.” The Government brig “Victoria” brought from Auckland forty stand of arms and a thousand rounds of ball cartridge for the Militia. As a regular garrison, there were about fifty rank and file of the 96th Regiment from Auckland, under two young officers, Lieutenant E. Barclay and Ensign J. Campbell, neither of whom, as events developed, possessed the experience needful in such a situation. Twenty of these, under the junior subaltern, were detailed as signal-station guard; the others were quartered in the barracks built on the flat, below the three-gun blockhouse. A detachment of bluejackets and marines from the “Hazard” was also stationed in the barracks. The new flagstaff had been safeguarded by the construction of a blockhouse around the foot of the mast, which had been sheathed with iron to a height of about 10 feet as a protection against the Maori tomahawk. A trench, crossed by a plank, surrounded the blockhouse, which accommodated the garrison of twenty men, besides the signalman, an old man-of-war's-man named Tapper, and his native family.

* There is a curious discrepancy between the original despatches from the Bay of Islands regarding this incident and the correspondence printed in the official publications of the day. Governor Fitzroy, or his Colonial Secretary, appears to have considered it undesirable, for reasons of international policy, to make any public reference to the American share in Heke's rebellion, hence all allusions to the United States Consul and his flag at the Bay are omitted, with the result that a hiatus in one of the blue-book despatches makes it unintelligible. In the Grey Collection of documents in the Auckland Municipal Library there are manuscript copies of a number of letters from Mr. Thomas Beckham, Police Magistrate, to Governor Fitzroy, detailing the events of January, 1845. The first of these letters, dated Russell, 10th January, 1845, is as follows:—

“It is with regret I have to inform Your Excellency that John Heke and his tribe cut down the flagstaff soon after daylight this morning, but without doing any violence to the Europeans or even entering the town. The reason for his again offering this insult seems to be a general dislike to the British Government; and it is worthy of remark that Heke was at the American Consul's yesterday, when the merits of the Treaty of Waitangi, and other political subjects connected with this colony, were discussed, after which he obtained an American ensign, which was hoisted on board his canoe immediately after our flagstaff was destroyed. Under what circumstances this flag was given I am now unable to say, but at this present crisis it looks suspicious, and is at the least very ill-judged. It is reported, but with what truth I cannot affirm, that Heke's ultimate intention is to pull down the gaol and public offices. This bad disposition does not appear to be prevalent amongst the natives generally.”

In the printed despatches, however, the words between “British Government” and “Under what circumstances” are omitted; and we are left to conclude that the mutilation, or suppression, was prompted by a desire not to implicate or offend the Americans.

In a further letter marked “Private,” dated Russell, 16th January, 1845, Mr. Beckham wrote to the Governor:—

“Heke still carries the American ensign in his canoe, and I was sorry to observe it hoisted at the Consul's this morning, as also on board the United States ships, which is quite unusual, except on the arrival or departure of American vessels, which was not the case. This circumstance confirms the suspicions mentioned in my letter of the 10th instant, and I am fearful that these disturbances in opposition to the Government have been fostered by the Americans, and I beg to suggest for Your Excellency's consideration the propriety of causing the Consul's flagstaff to be removed (if practicable), as it now stands in a very conspicuous position.”

The manuscripts in the Grey Collection show that on the 24th January Mr. Beckham, under instructions from the Governor, visited Henry Green Smith, of Wahapu, “the person at whose residence the American ensign has been so conspicuously exhibited lately,” and informed him that he (the Magistrate) was directed to prohibit the hoisting of any national flag on shore at the Bay of Islands except that of Great Britain.

Apparently Mr. Smith made a pertinent inquiry as to Mr. Beckham's authority, for on the 25th January the Magistrate wrote to him as follows:—

“In reply to your letter of this date, referring to my communication on the 24th instant relative to the prohibition of any national flag being hoisted on shore except that of Great Britain, I now do myself the honour to inform you that I did so by the directions of His Excellency the Governor, and to state that the United States flag is included in the interdiction, there being no Consul at this port.”