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The New Zealand Reader

History Of Kororareka

page 165

History Of Kororareka.

About fifteen miles from Cape Brett, and on the same side of the Bay, juts out a promontory of considerable size. Upon the inner side of this stands Kororareka, capital of the Bay, and its port of entry. Officialism has recently been trying very hard to alter the name of this place into Russell, which action is very much deprecated by settlers, who insist upon retaining the old Native name. The reason for the proposed change is not very clear; and why this particular town should have been so singled out is equally inexplicable to the unofficial mind.

It seems to be a great pity, in any case, to bestow such names as Smithville, and Russell, and New London upon growing settlements, the future cities of a future nation. It is a pity because they are not distinctive, nor expressive of the country upon which they are grafted. How much better to retain the old Native names, which carry with them sound and meaning both original and peculiar!

In New Zealand, Native names have been very largely retained, though less so in the South than in the North. But jacks-in-office are for ever trying to perpetuate their own names, or those of individuals to whom they toady, by making them do duty for towns or counties or rivers. It is a "vulgarian atrocity," similar to that which moves a cockney soul to scratch its ignoble appellative upon pyramid or monolith.

In this particular instance it is a positive shame to hurl such an insulting degradation into our classic ground. Kororareka, under that name, is the oldest settlement in the colony. It is intimately associated with early history. Kororareka—"the beach of shells" —was once a Native kainga.* Then it became a whaling-station; and earned notoriety as a piratical stronghold, and the pandemonium of the Pacific. From that it was erected into the first capital of the colony, metropolis and seat of Government for all New Zealand, under Mr. Busby, the British Resident, and, in 1840, under Captain Hobson, the first Governor. It was plundered and burnt by Heke and Kawiti, and was a central point of the first Maori war.

* [Village—literally eating-place. Kaiha in the South Island.]

page 166

Kororareka is a quiet little village now, and is never likely to grow into much more, unless it should become a manufacturing centre. Other places must take the trade of the district eventually. Hence Kororareka will always rest its chief claim to note upon its past history; so to call it. Russell is to spoil its little romance.

As you come into sight of Kororareka from the bay you are favourably impressed by its appearance. The town stands upon a wide flat, bordered by a high beach of white shingle and shells, from the centre of which a large wharf runs out for shipping to come alongside. A street of houses, principally stores and hotels, faces the beach, and gives the place all the air of a miniature Brighton or Margate. Some other straggling streets run back from this. The background is a low, grassy range, evidently farm lands. This range shuts out all view of the bay on the other side of the promontory. To the right it merges into the mountain-track that sentinels the Waikare and Kawakawa estuaries. On the left rises an abrupt and wooded hill, fissured with many romantic little glens and hollows.

From this eminence, to which a road winds up from the town through the woods, a most magnificent view is obtainable. A great part of the panorama of this island-studded harbour lies stretched below one's feet; and on the highest crest is a certain famous flagstaff. Kororareka is not very large: the resident population is probably not more than two or three hundred. Farming industry round it is comparatively small. Its communication overland with other places is not good, and the hilly character of the contiguous land presents great difficulties in the way of the formation of roads. The place depends on its harbour, which is much used by whalers, who come here to tranship or sell oil, and to take in supplies. Quiet and dead-alive as it seems in general, there are times when a number of vessels are assembled here, and when business is consequently pretty brisk.

Before settled government and colonisation overtook New Zealand this spot had achieved an unsavoury reputation. Originally a Native town, it had become the resort of whaling-ships. Traders established themselves here, and a rowdy population of runaway sailors, ex-convicts, bad characters, and debauched Maoris filled the place. Drunkenness and riot were the general order of things; and it was page 167even said that Kororareka was developing into a nest of pirates. There was no sort of government to restrain the evil, and man's passions were transforming a natural Eden into a hell. During those days of anarchy there is no doubt that Kororareka was a sad thorn in the side of the missionaries, who were achieving wonderful results among the Native tribes. The wanton profligacy of whites in Kororareka infected their converts, and interfered sadly with the christianizing of the Maoris. Moreover, other places of a like nature began to spring up here and there on the coast.

One of the most interesting stories relating to the Bay of Islands is that of the first Maori war, which was waged around it from 1845 to 1847. It has been related often enough, and I can only find room for some very brief details. Such as they are, they are mostly gathered from the oral narrations of eye-witnesses, both English and Maori, whose testimony I feel more inclined to believe than that of some printed accounts I have seen.

Hone Heke was the leader of one of the sections into which the great Nga-Puhi Tribe had split after the death of the celebrated Hongi Hika, who expired 5th March, 1828. Captain Hobson's friend Tamati Waka was chief of another section; while Kawiti, another chief, headed a third. These persons were then paramount over pretty nearly the whole region lying between Mangonui and the Kaipara. They had been among the confederate chiefs whom the British Government recognised as independent in 1835, and their signatures were subsequently attached to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Shortly after the proclamation of New Zealand as a British possession, Governor Hobson, seeing that Kororareka was unsuited for a metropolis, removed the seat of government to the Waitemata, and there commenced a settlement which is now the City of Auckland. Order had been restored in the former place, but its importance and its trade now fell away.

The Nga-Puhi had some grievances to put up with. The trade of the Bay was much lessened; import duties raised the price of commodities, while the growing importance of Auckland gave advantages to the neighbouring tribes—the page 168Ngati-Tai, Ngati- Paoa, Waikato, and Ngai- te - Rangi— which the Nga-Puhi of the Bay of Islands had formerly monopolized.

It needed but little to foment the discontent of a somewhat turbulent ruler such as Hone Heke. In the year 1844 this chief, visiting Kororareka, and probably venting his dissatisfaction at the new régime pretty loudly, was incited by certain of the bad characters, who had previously had all their own way in the place. They taunted him with having become the slave of a woman, showing him the flag, and explaining that it meant his slavery to Queen Victoria, In such a way they proceeded to work upon his feelings, probably without other intention than to "take a rise" out of the Maori's misconception of the matter.

Hone Heke took the thing seriously. He said that he did not consider himself subject to any one. He was an independent chief, merely in alliance with the British, and had signed the Treaty of Waitangi in expectation of receiving certain rewards thereby, which, it appeared, had been changed into penalties. As for the flag, if that was an emblem of slavery, a pakeha fetish, or an insult to Maoridom, it was clear that it ought to be removed, and he was the man to do it.

Accordingly, he and his followers then present marched at once up the hill above Kororareka, and cut down the flagstaff that had been set up there. Then they withdrew quietly enough. The settlers were much disconcerted, having no means of coercing Heke, and not knowing to what this might lead. However, they set the flagstaff up again.

Hone Heke appeared once more with his band, this time in fierce anger. They cut down the restored flagstaff, and either threw it into the sea, or burnt it, or carried it off. Heke also threatened to destroy Kovorareka if any attempt was made to fly the British flag again.

H.M.S. Hazard now came up from Auckland, where considerable excitement agitated the young settlement. The flagstaff was again restored, and this time a small blockhouse was built round it, which was garrisoned by half a dozen soldiers.

Now, Hongi Hika, before his death, had enjoined a certain policy upon his successors. He had told them page 169never to make war on such pakeka as came to preach, to farm, or to trade. These were not to be plundered or maltreated in any way. They were friends whose presence could only tend to the advantage of the Maori. But the English Sovereign kept certain people whose only business was to fight. They might be known by the red coats they wore, and by having stiff necks with a collar round them. "Kill these wherever you sec them," said Hongi, "or they will kill you."

So Hone Heke sent an ultimatum into Kororareka to the effect that, on a certain specified day, he would burn the town, cut down the flagstaff, and kill the soldiers. The attack was fixed for night, and it came with exact punctuality. Most of the inhabitants Look refuge on board the Hazard with some other craft then lying in the harbour. While these prepared to guard the beach from a canoe attack, Captain Robertson, of the Hazard, with some forty marines and blue-jackets, aided also by a party of settlers, took up a position on the landward side of the town.

Hone Heke's own mind seems to have been occupied with the flagstaff. The main attack he left to Kawiti, who had joined him with five hundred men. Heke himself, with a chosen band, crept round unperceived through the bush, and lay in wait near the top of the flagstaff hill in a little dingle, which is yet pointed out to visitors. Here they lay for some hours awaiting the signal of Kawiti's attack upon the town below. While in this position, Heke kept his men quiet by reading the Bible to them, expounding as he read; for all these Nga-Puhi, whether friends or foes, were professed Christians at that period.

By-and-by the sound of firing and shouting in the town, together with the blazing of some of the houses, attracted the attention of the soldiers in the little block-house round the flagstaff. Unsuspecting any danger close at hand, they came out on to the hill, the better to descry what was doing below. Then Heke's ambush sprang suddenly up, and rushed between them and the open door of the block-house, thus capturing it, and either killing or putting to flight the startled soldiers.

Meanwhile a furious battle was taking place in Kororareka. Captain Robertson and his small force were outflanked and driven in upon the town, fighting bravely and page 170desperately. Bub the numbers of the Maoris were too great for them to contend with. Robertson, with half his men, was killed, the rest escaping with difficulty to the ships. Then the victorious assailants rushed upon the devoted settlement, speedily joined by Heke's band on the opposite side. The stores and houses were plundered and set on fire, and soon Kororareka, was a charred and smoking heap of ruins, only the two churches being left absolutely untouched.

This was the first engagement during the war, and was a decided success for the rebels. The fall of Kororareka took place 11th March, 1845, Heke having first cut down the flagstaff in July of the previous year.

The news reached Auckland a day or two later, and something like a panic occurred there. The settlers were armed and enrolled at once, and the place prepared for defence, for it was said that Heke and Kawtti had determined to destroy that settlement as well. Had they been able to march upon it at once it is possible that their attack could not have been successfully withstood, so limited were the means of defence at that time.

But Tainati Waka, the stout-hearted friend of the British, led out his section of the Nga-Puhi at once, and took up arms against their kinsmen under Heke. He prevented the rebels from leaving their own districts, and thus saved Auckland, allowing time for reinforcements to reach New Zealand, and so for the war to be carried into Heke's own country. All through the campaign he did efficient service on our behalf, contributing much to the final establishment of peace.

Tamati Waka Nene, to give him his full name, had been a savage cannibal warrior in the days of Hongi. On one occasion he had led a tana, or war-party, of the Nga-Puhi far to the south of Hauraki Gulf, destroying and literally eating up a tribe in the Katikati district. Subsequently he embraced Christianity and civilisation; but it is evident that the old warrior spirit was strong in him to the last. He was an extremely sagacious and intelligent politician, fully comprehending the advantages that must accrue to his race from British rule. He enjoyed a Government pension for some years after the war, and when he died a handsome monument was erected over his remains in Kororareka Churchyard. It stands not far from where bullet and axe page 171marks in the old fence still show the spot where Robertson fell.

When Heke found himself pledged to war, he sent intimations to all the settlers living about Waimate, Kerikeri, and the north of the Bay—mostly missionary families. He said he had no quarrel with them, and would protect their persons and property if they would trust him. Some remained, and some took refuge in Auckland. Those who stayed were never in any way molested; Heke kept his word to them to the letter. But of those who fled he allowed his men to pillage the farms and houses, by way of utu* for not believing him.

As soon as the authorities were in a position to do so, they sent a strong force into the Bay district, to operate in conjunction with Tamati Waka's men in putting down the insurrection. Three engagements were fought, resulting in advantage to the British.

The rebels were then besieged in the fortified pa of Ohaeawai, some twenty-five miles inland. No artillery had been brought up, and the consequence was that our troops were repulsed from before this pa again and again, with severe loss. But the victory was too much for the rebels, who suffered considerably themselves, and ran short of ammunition. One night they silently evacuated the place, which was entered next day by the British, and afterwards destroyed.

Very similar experiences followed shortly after at the pa of Okaihau. Finally, in 184.7, the insurgents were beleaguered in the pa of Ruapekapeka, situated near the Waikare. This they considered impregnable, and it was indeed magnificently defended with earthworks and palisades, arranged in such a manner as to excite the wonder and admiration of engineers. A model of it was subsequently made and sent to England.

Some artillery had now been got up, with immense labour and difficulty, owing to the rugged character of the ground. These guns were brought to bear upon the pa. But the Maoris had hung quantities of loose flax over the palisades, which fell into place after the passage of a ball, and hid the breach it had made. Thus the besiegers could

* [Payment, retaliation.]

page 172not tell what they had effected, while the defenders were enabled to repair the gaps unseen.

The pa was taken in rather a curious way. It happened that no engagement had been fought on a Sunday, and the rebels, being earnest Christians, and having—as Maoris have to this day—a respect for the Sabbath, exceeding even that of the Scots, concluded that an armistice was a matter of course. When Sunday morning came they went out of the pa at the back to hold worship after their mariner. Tamati Waka's men, perceiving this, conquered their own sabbatical leanings, and, finding an opening, rushed into the pa, followed by the British troops. The disconcerted worshippers attempted to retake the pa, but were speedily routed and scattered.

This event terminated the war. The insurgents were broken and disheartened, their numbers reduced, their strongholds captured, and their ammunition exhausted. All the sections of the rebel tribe have been perfectly peaceable ever since, and take pride in the epithet earned by Tamati Waka's force, the "loyal Nga-Puhi."

W. Delisle Hay

("Brighter Britain," 1882).