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The History of the Jews in New Zealand

Chapter XI — The Maori Wars

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Chapter XI
The Maori Wars

If Hort had waited a year or two before he left New Zealand, he would have seen his dreams beginning to come true. Two important national developments took place soon after his departure—the start of the Maori Wars which flickered and flamed intermittently from 1860 to 1872, and the discovery of gold in payable quantities in the Province of Otago in 1861.

The former happy contacts between the whites and the natives had gradually given place on the part of many of the Maoris to resentment and open hostility. Money had ceased to be plentiful. Prices for their produce had dropped. The first flush of prosperity on the Australian goldfields had vanished, and thousands of migrants had turned to farming, thus reducing the demand for Maori foodstuffs. With the encouragement of the Provincial Governments, impoverished migrants, hungry for land, began to flow into New Zealand, determined to gain the coveted native holdings whether the Maoris liked it or not. Many natives overtly opposed the sale of land to Europeans. The pakeha had offended their pride and manhood. The Maoris found themselves insignificant and despised in the midst of a civilization in which they did not share. Petty government officials insulted proud and honoured Maori chiefs, and treated them in an off-hand manner. According to the Treaty of Waitangi, the natives had been promised equality. It was not given. When the Maori landowner asked for the right to vote, he was told that only those who held a Crown title could do so. They had no representation in Parliament. Nothing had been done to organize native districts where they could live according to their own tribal customs. Neither was English law enforced. Greedy, land-hungry Europeans looked on whilst native murdered native in disputes as to whether or not they should sell their inheritance to the white man.

Little had been done to provide education, and the promise that 15 per cent of all land sales would be devoted to native welfare was not honoured. Moreover, the Maoris feared that their power and strength would disappear with the alienation of their lands, and they looked with apprehension at the destruction of their nationality. Sir John Gorst, Government Commissioner in the Waikato, stated succinctly in a report: "... Despairing of obtaining these boons from the Government, the desire to withhold land altogether became nearly universal, in order to check the aggrandizement page 83 of that power which might hurt them as an enemy, but did not much benefit them as a friend." In the Taranaki district, Wiremu Kingi, who had previously befriended the Europeans, led the opposition against selling land to strangers. In the Waikato area, the opposition manifested itself in the choice of a king, Te Wherowhero, and the setting up of a flag, not in defiance of the Queen, but as a symbol that they could conduct their own affairs according to native custom.

A crafty Maori foe of Wiremu Kingi, Teira, in order to stir up trouble for Kingi, deliberately sold land to a European at Waitara in defiance of the wishes of the Taranaki chief. Kingi had lived on that very land for years. The Governor investigated Teira's rights, and came to the conclusion that he had the power to sell. Surveyors were sent to map the land, but Kingi resisted, with the consequence that the Governor sent armed troops into the area. War broke out immediately. For about twelve months the Maoris ravaged the settlements in Taranaki with the help of the King natives from the Waikato, whilst the British troops shut themselves up in New Plymouth. In May, 1861, a temporary truce prevented further bloodshed for two years.

Believing that Sir George Grey, with his understanding of the Maoris and their ways, would soon win their hearts, the Colonial Office sent him out once again to New Zealand to replace Sir Thomas Gore-Browne as Governor. Democratic in thought, but autocratic by nature, Grey did not find his task easy. Prudence demanded that he listen to the voice of the Ministers of the Crown and the vote of Parliament. Nor did the natives trust him as they had formerly. Grey had persuaded them to part with their land. Wiremu Kingi, who sought peace, did not receive the support of the Waikato tribes, flushed with their victory in the first phase of the Taranaki War. He had to follow the majority. Their influence spread to the tribes in the east around Hawkes Bay and the Bay of Plenty.

Strangely enough, Grey's own errors of judgment led to a renewal of hostilities. He had decided to give up the Government's claim to Waitara, but insisted, after a thorough investigation, that the Maoris relinquish their illegal retention of land close by at Tataraimaka. Before notifying the natives of his intention to abandon Waitara, he sent troops to oust the Maoris from Tataraimaka. The Maoris set an ambush and slew the troops. Grey's proclamation soon after, notifying the abandonment of Waitara, was taken as a sign of weakness.

Amidst heightened tension, the King tribes of the Waikato warned Grey that an advance of troops beyond the Mangatawhiri, a stream running into the Waikato, about forty miles south of Auckland, would mean war. Julius Vogel, a member of the Jewish faith who had been elected to the House of Representatives for Otago, proposed a motion in Parliament to the effect that each Province preserve order within its own borders, subdue its own Maoris, page 84 and "enjoy the proceeds of the confiscated lands" it might take from the natives. Vogel wished to save money for his province. The Maori Wars never touched the South Island. Even in the North Island the war was confined to an area bordered in the north by the Mangatawhiri stream and in the south by a line from New Plymouth in the west to Napier in the east. The remainder of the Maoris remained loyal to the Government, as did even some tribes in the battle zone, such as the Arawa tribe of Rotorua.

Rusden, the New Zealand historian, deeply prejudiced against Vogel in particular and Jews in general, states that after discussion of Vogel's proposal "this premium upon pillage was withdrawn". It was this very scheme of confiscation which Grey adopted. He suggested the presentation of Maori land from the Waikato to the Hauraki Gulf to soldiers and volunteers, thus establishing a barrier of military settlers to defend Auckland. The Ministers comprising the Government carried the idea further by proposing the confiscation of native land for the purpose of attracting immigrants.

Grey sent a message to the hostile natives on 11 July, 1863, threatening those who waged war against Her Majesty or remained in arms with forfeiture of their lands guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi. The message did not reach the Waikato tribes until 14 July, but Grey had already commanded his forces to cross the Mangatawhiri on 12 July. Had Grey again been mistakenly precipitate or had his action been deliberate? He claimed afterwards that the Waikato tribes had made preparations to attack Auckland. Sir John Gorst scoffed at the suggestion. Probably Grey, as a skilled soldier, desired to have the matter over and done with as soon as he could. He could show grace to the rebels after he had defeated them. No doubt pressure was also brought to bear upon him by politicians and speculators who were anxious to acquire the rich native lands. Auckland merchants who had made fortunes from the preparation of war, could not be ruled out either from amongst those who wished the flames of battle to bum brightly and so serve to increase their tainted gains.

The superior numbers and weapons of the British forces and volunteers made the result of the Maori Wars a foregone conclusion. It took much longer, however, than the Government ever expected. The heights of heroic bravery with which the natives fought, their skill as bushmen, and the nature of the terrain with which they were minutely familiar, prolonged the many skirmishes from months into years. Some of Grey's generals also fought reluctantly. Perceiving the Maoris' courage and the justice of the native cause, they entered the fray half-heartedly. Once Grey himself took over the command of an assault on a pa, and captured it, without loss, with but a few hundred men. The previous commander had asked for thousands of soldiers. After the battle of Orakau in April, 1863, and the Maori abandonment of page 85 their stronghold at Maunga-Tautari, the campaign in the Waikato ended. With it the King Movement came to an end. At first negotiations for peace broke down, but on 25 May, 1865, Wiremu Tamihana surrendered on behalf of the native King. A number of Jews fought with the British forces and amongst the volunteers in the Maori Wars. Only one Jew is known to be amongst those who took up a military land grant of confiscated property presented by the Government. He was Coleman Phillips who came from Weymouth, England, to Auckland in 1846. He joined the 2nd Waikato Regiment, gained the Queen's Medal, and saw active service. He did not make a success of his holding. He sold out and entered the service of the Waikato Steamship Navigation Company as a purser. Clever, ambitious and studious, he rose to become a certificated master of a vessel, and was not satisfied till he commanded the company's fleet.

Wiremu Tamihana's peace treaty with Grey did not bring tranquillity to the whole country. A horrible aspect of the Maori Wars, which had commenced in Taranaki, spread over to the east coast. Many of the Maoris, bitterly disappointed with the encroachment of the pakeha into their land and their way of life, blamed the missionaries for their downfall. The missionary had brought the Bible. The trader had followed with his wares, and it all ended with the soldier with his guns and destruction. Converted to the teachings of Christianity to which they held with a simple faith, the natives had substituted the new religion for their own paganism, and added the tales of virtue from the Old and New Testaments to their own heroic legends. They called a settlement in Wanganui, Hihuharama, the Maori for Jerusalem. With their hatred of the Europeans, especially missionaries, growing from day to day as the fortunes of war went against them, many of the Maoris discarded their Christianity and adopted a religion which, in their minds, opposed the faith which they had been taught by the European to believe. They embraced a form of Judaism which emanated from their imaginations and from perverted ideas about which they had read in the Bible. They reverted to pagan practices and included them in their revived worship of "Atua Pai Marire". From a misrepresentation of the confessional, they claimed that the words "Pai Marire", when pronounced, sanctified any crime. They believed that legions of angels awaited them on the battlefield to assist them in their cause, and that if they went into the fight crying "Hau! Hau!" they would be invulnerable. They changed their Sabbath from Sunday to Saturday. If they drank the blood of the head of an enemy which had been cut off, they thought that the angel Gabriel would appear to them. The severed head was taken as the medium of communication with the Mighty One above. They considered the eating of an enemy's eyes as a token of final victory over the vanquished. An authority described the new religion as "a large measure of Judaism, some leading features of Mormonism, a little page 86 mesmerism, occasional ventriloquism and a large amount of cannibalism".

Despairing of defeating the enemy by ordinary methods, the natives of Taranaki tried to overcome their foes by magic. After defeat in Taranaki, Hauhauism spread thence towards the east and around the coast of the Bay of Plenty. Learning from hints dropped by the natives that they had adopted the Pai Marire cult, a German missionary at Opotiki, Carl Sylvius Volkner, decided to take his wife out of the danger area to safety at Auckland. Volkner had come to New Zealand under the auspices of the North German Missionary Society, but had separated from that body and joined Bishop Selwyn. Ordained a priest of the Church of England, he took up his post at Opotiki, and quickly won the esteem and affection of the Maoris by his kindness and understanding. He had also won the respect of two Jewish brothers, Morris and Samuel Levy, who had established a store there. They were born in the island of Jersey, and during the Australian gold-rush had journeyed to Melbourne where they had bought city property and lighters for work in Port Phillip Bay. Morris Levy had gone to sea as a boy and possessed a master's ticket. Attracted by the New Zealand gold-rush, the brothers sailed for Otago in 1861. Discovering gold-digging to be harder than his own calling, Morris Levy settled in Invercargill, where he lightered and acted as a pilot to warships from his coaster, the Eclipse. During the depression in 1863, he moved north to Opotiki, where he joined with his brother Samuel in conducting a store and running the Eclipse between the Bay of Plenty and Auckland.

Volkner, believing his relationship with the Maoris to be of such a nature that he had nothing to fear from them, decided to return to Opotiki from Auckland with Morris Levy and a Rev. T. S. Grace, who assisted him in his work. As Jews, the two brothers were safe. When forsaking Christianity, the Maoris in their own eyes believed that they had adopted Judaism. On 1 March, 1864, on approaching Levy's Wharf in front of the store, those aboard the Eclipse noticed a great crowd of Maoris waiting on the bank. Samuel Levy came on board and told them that the day before, the Maoris had taken an oath to kill every missionary and soldier who came near them. When he went ashore, Captain Levy, on hearing the confirmation of his brother's story, planned to escape at nightfall, but during the day, the Maoris ordered Volkner and Grace out of the boats and tied them up. Captain Levy protested, so the natives took the two missionaries together with four members of the crew and locked them up in a whare, with twenty Maoris with double-barrelled guns on constant guard. They asked the brothers to separate their own luggage and goods from that of the others. Samuel Levy took Volkner's watch and money and hid it in the ground, but afterwards he returned them to Volkner when there seemed to be hope of release for the party. During the night, the Maoris debated the fate of their captives.

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In the morning, the brothers Levy were told that the missionaries would be shot. Captain Levy remonstrated and, in order to save their lives, he offered his boat, cargo and store for plunder to the Maoris. They accepted his bribe. At that moment, another party of half-castes approached and asked Volkner to come out to a meeting. Thinking he was freed, Volkner ran out of the whare, but the half-castes marched him off at once and told him they were going to kill him. Passing the church, Volkner asked for five minutes for prayer, which they gave him. By this time about eight hundred natives had gathered around a tree, and, in a frenzied mood, rigged up tackle taken from the schooner to the topmost branch. The Levy brothers were now helpless. Stripping Volkner of his clothes, the natives presented them to the Maori chief who put them on, he being very pleased with the watch and chain. Volkner showed no fear. When the Maoris covered his eyes with a handkerchief he shook hands with some of them. They hanged Volkner. Before life was extinct they took him down, cut off his head and drank the blood. A frightful scramble then took place amongst the women as to who could drink the most, at the same time smearing upon their faces some of the blood that dropped on the ground. The chief took the eyes out of the head and ate them before the whole crowd. The body was then thrown to the dogs.

Later, all the whites were tied up and imprisoned in a settler's hut. They thought their last moment had come, but the Maoris only robbed them, after which, with the exception of Grace, they were released.

In the evening, the Maoris assembled in the Roman Catholic chapel and placed Voikner's head in the pulpit, dancing a wild haka and screaming with the utmost frenzy. All night through the orgies went on around the church. Every half-hour, to the sound of a horrible, piercing whistle and the clamour of the church bells, they would assemble at a different spot.

Next day, Captain Levy offered £500, then £1000, for Grace, but the offer was indignantly refused. During the negotiations another Maori chief arrived. Levy entered into discussions with him. Several days passed in bargaining, and at the end the Maoris agreed to accept a ransom on condition of the release of all Maori prisoners in Auckland. Samuel Levy volunteered to remain behind as a hostage whilst his brother sailed for the capital.

On 15 March, Captain Levy and his crew embarked. On turning from the river into the sea they found the steamer-warship Eclipse (another vessel with the same name as that of Levy's schooner) with the Bishop of New Zealand on board. He had heard of Volkner's death and had come in an endeavour to save Grace. Captain Levy informed him it would be useless to try to rescue Grace by force. Accompanied by two naval lieutenants, Levy rowed back to the settlement. The men were not around. They were sitting page 88 in council deliberating as to the action they should take, for they had seen the approach of the warship. Searching for Grace, Levy discovered him at the back of a house by the river, the women guarding him in front. Not missing the heaven-sent opportunity, Levy told Grace to jump into the boat and to lie flat. He covered him with serge coats. They pulled out as fast as possible while the women began to shout in protest. The men came running out firing their muskets, but tide and current were in favour of Levy and his men. Later, with the help of a Maori interpreter, Samuel Levy also managed to escape from the village.

At the end of the month, a public meeting held in the Supreme Courthouse in Auckland thanked the Levy brothers for their action in saving Grace. Accounts of their courage appeared in newspapers all over the world. Some fine personal sketches by Samuel Levy enabled many readers to picture the scenes which took place at Opotiki. In compensation for Captain Levy's losses, the Commissioner awarded him £328, of which £109 was in cash and the rest in scrip. However, he lost heavily through the incident. Acting as a pilot on the Huntress when it entered Opotiki in October, 1865, on a punitive expedition, gave him no material satisfaction.

Later, the Maoris gave their reasons for killing Volkner although they had been on good terms with him. They had decided that the root of all the calamity which had descended upon them was the influence of the missionaries in persuading them to part with their land. They also claimed that Volkner had, whilst in Auckland, informed the Government that the Opotiki natives were hand in glove with the rebels. Further, they had killed him as "utu". A woman of the Arawa tribe, friendly with the English, whose husband had been killed, had shot the brother of the Opotiki chief in cold blood. The law of "utu" demanded a life for a life. Volkner, as one of the English side, was the sacrifice.

Captain Levy's experience affected him deeply. He returned to England where his affairs did not prosper. News of his poverty reached New Zealand, where investigations brought to light the fact that Levy had not received his scrip. Being a modest man, he had never mentioned it. Parliament quickly rectified the omission. This enabled him, in 1871, to return to Nelson, where he died thirty years later.

Incidents provoked by the Hau Hau continued for a number of years. A major reason for the necessity of maintaining a costly defence force was the activity of a Maori chief, Te Kooti. He had fought on the side of the Government, but as he was suspected of treason and generally regarded as an undesirable, the authorities had deported him without trial to the Chatham Islands. Making himself leader of the prisoners, he seized a schooner and returned to the mainland, thirsting for revenge for the injustice which had been inflicted upon him. He descended upon the Gisborne settle- page 89 ment killing thirty-three Europeans and thirty-seven Maoris, including women and children. He looted and burned homesteads, leading the Government forces a dance all over the central portion of the country. As well as being a brilliant guerrilla fighter, he claimed to be a Maori prophet. God, he proclaimed, had revealed himself to him through a manuscript which he had found in a cave where he was hiding. He designated the document the Maori Bible. Special words therein he announced to be Hebrew commands although they really happened to be words of Maori origin. The word "Tereina", for example, he put out to be a Hebrew term used by the Almighty to Adam, which being interpreted meant, "be thou created out of my shadow". For four years Te Kooti laughed at the forces sent against him. They never caught him. Finally, he took refuge in the King Country where the Maoris were left unmolested and where for some years it was death for a pakeha to enter. Eventually Te Kooti was pardoned. The last shot in the Maori War was heard in 1872. Understanding came to both sides; wisdom prevailed. Te Kooti's prophetic cult came to be recognized as one of the official established religious denominations of New Zealand. The end of the hostilities did not bring a cessation of the land disputes. Processes of law, however, were established by which justice was done to the Maori, and opportunity given to the pakeha, but so involved were some of the claims of the Maori tribes, that Land Court suits which originated over one hundred years ago have still to receive a final judgment.