Vincent O’Malley is – or should be – notorious already for his gross distortion of history when, in an article in “The Listener” for 25th February 2017, he misrepresented as “an almost incomprehensible act of savagery” General Cameron’s humanitarian action in his almost bloodless capture of the Waikato rebels’ primary food source at Rangiaowhia.
But no! He has now produced another book entitled “The New Zealand Wars Nga Pakaranga o Aotearoa”, receiving on 18th May 2019 a nice slice of publicity from the “New Zealand Herald”[i] and even more from “The Spinoff”[ii] the day before. Once again, his lurid tales in lieu of facts do no service to historicity – the genuine recording of our actual history. Indeed his very title - “The New Zealand Wars” shows his bias since, whatever they have been called in the past, the only accurate description of those hostilities is as tribal rebellions. Whatever suffering any tribes may have endured in consequence, they were the direct result of armed conflicts which they started – often, it is fair to say, by warlike chiefs simply spoiling for a fight - Wiremu Kingi in Taranaki and Rewi Maniapoto in Waikato for example.
The “wars” were “fought between 1845 and 1872 ... from the Far North to Wairau near Blenheim”. So says the “Herald”.[iii] Well now, the “Wairau Affray”, so described today at the site, actually occurred on 17th June 1843, and was the only armed conflict in the whole of the South Island in the colonial era. As such, it hardly qualifies as a “war”. It ended with the murder of nine helpless prisoners, mostly by Te Rangihaeata whom Governor Fitzroy was powerless to bring to justice. And do recall that it was a mere ten years earlier that the Ngatitoa led by Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata had claimed possession of the Wairau Valley with the virtual extermination of its former Maori inhabitants. And recall once again, that not far away in the Marlborough Sounds in December 1773, ten members of the crew of Cook’s ship “Adventure” had been killed, cooked and eaten.[iv]
Then the so-called “Northern War” or “Heke’s War”[v] of 1844-5 precipitated by Hone Heke at the urging of the disaffected Kawiti and encouraged by the fact that the Wairau murderers escaped scot-free[vi] was mostly a series of skirmishes until the attack on Kororareka after which it was principally Maoris loyal to the Crown who did most to suppress it.
There followed spasmodic violence in Wellington and Wanganui in which Te Rauparaha broke his oath of allegiance and was interned – something for which a recent craven government apologised! Andrew Gillespie and his young son were murdered at Lower Hutt on 10th April 1846, the Gilfillans with six child victims tomahawked at Wanganui in April 1847 and the Branks family with three young children at Johnsonville in March 1849 - fifteen innocents slaughtered by tribal blood lust.[vii]
And so to Taranaki where Charles Heaphy on a mission to buy land for the New Zealand Company in 1839 found South Taranaki virtually deserted following the invasion by Waikato tribes barely a decade earlier. Returning refugees from the South and erstwhile slaves of the Waikato fell to fighting among themselves over land they sought to re-possess. In point of fact, apart from what had been bought legitimately for farm settlements (sometimes three times over)[viii] the tribes really had far more land than they knew what to do with.[ix] Nevertheless, hostilities escalated and in a little over twelve months in 1860-1, 177 settler homes and farms were destroyed by Maori rebels.[x] Intermittent hostilities in Taranaki led to the emergence of Pai Mairire, initially alleged to be a religion of peace, notwithstanding it blasphemed Christianity. It soon developed into the practice of the Hau Hau where heads of victims, both white and maori, were desecrated in wild dances around a “niu” pole.
The next serious development was the increasingly aggressive behaviour of the strong Waikato tribes and several settlers in remote districts were murdered. Indeed the Waikato developed in much detail a plan for the invasion of Auckland and the slaughter of all inhabitants, both white and Maori except those favoured few whose doors were to be marked with a cross to exclude them.[xi] It was only the return of the resolute Governor Grey which led to its abandonment.
In the hostilities which followed, two of the country’s most important tribes, Arawa and Ngapuhi, declared themselves on the side of the Queen and ready to fight. So too did Waikato tribes, Ngati Tipa, Ngati Whawhakia and many of the Ngatihaua.
Thus followed Rangariri and other battles, and the capture of the rebels food supplies at Rangiaowhia, the brilliant action which led almost immediately to the concoction by the rebels, furious at being so outwitted, of the foul lie of the burning of a church full of women and children. Persisting to the present day and parroted by O’Malley, this led to the cruel deception of students at Otorohanga College and the presentation of a petition to Parliament for a commemorative day, accepted by our culpably ignorant legislators. Do we really want any observance based on such a perversion of our history?
It was the capture of Rangiaowhia which really broke the back of the rebellion; the rebels abandoning their fort at Paterangi but holding on dramatically at Orakau for some time until starvation forced them to abandon it. It would have made sense for them to surrender peacefully but they chose to flee in the hope perhaps of surviving to fight another day but many were killed in the ensuing pursuit. In any case, Orakau was no more than a final gasp, simply not “one of the most important battles of the New Zealand Wars”[xii] as O’Malley would have it.
The nation had yet to deal with Te Kooti’s rebellion, with O’Malley “explaining” “how the decimation of Maori in Turanga ‘completely eclipsed’ the country’s losses in Gallipoli.” We look a little further. Te Kooti of Rongowhakaata had some justification for a grudge against the government. He exacted a terrible revenge. Attacking the peaceful village of Matawhero just before midnight on 9th November 1868, 70 sleepers, many being women and children and around half being Maoris were massacred by Te Kooti, his tribe and some Tuhoe supporters.[xiii] With the rebel fort of Ngatapa captured by loyal Maoris led by Major Ropata Wahawaha, Te Kooti regrouped and attacked the twin fortified villages at the Mohaka River, killing about 60 loyal Maoris and the Lavin family whose three children were tossed in the air and impaled on bayonets.[xiv]
O’Malley says nothing of these atrocities but plenty about Turanga where there was prolonged fighting between Te Kooti’s Hau Hau and government forces. With some fast figuring, from an estimate of 16% of the rebels killed in battle in the years 1865-9, O’Malley jacks up the number of total casualties to “around 40% - an almost incomprehensible level of loss”. This he proceeds to compare with a 5.8 % casualty rate in World War I some fifty years later. He could equally have compared it with the figures for the invasion of the peaceful Chatham Islands by Maori tribes only thirty years earlier. There an estimated Moriori population of 1600 was reduced in a few short years to a mere 101, the death rate estimate: a colossal 94%.
And only a few years before that, in the capture by Waikato of the Taranaki fort of Pukerangiora, around 1300 victims were killed and eaten, many thrown alive into the ovens. Of course the Turanga tribes did not take part in these massacres but they do go to show that tribal warfare was endemic. Indeed a third of the Maori population was killed in a few decades before 1840 by other Maoris. Deaths among those of breeding age, both women and men, were particularly high and that fully explains the decline of the total Maori population for several decades into the colonial era.[xv]
O’Malley muddles the waters ever further by some extraordinary juggling in which he conflates the deaths of loyal Maoris with those of rebels. Does he seek to imply that they were all equally the victims of the wicked white colonials he is so anxious to vilify? In his hands the old adage that there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” receives confirmation at a new depth of iniquity.
O’Malley sullies the names of the 843 New Zealanders who died at Passchendaele on 12th October 1917 and of the Wellington battalion which briefly saw the Dardanelles from Chunuk Bair as 711 of their strength of 760 became casualties. And with the tattered red ensign which decorates the cover of his book he likewise demeans the merchant seamen who lost their lives to German torpedoes in the Battle of the Atlantic as they took vital supplies to a besieged Britain.
That the “New Zealand Herald” gives so much publicity to this distorted narrative leads one to question seriously its agenda. And advertising can scarcely be more perverted than the lengthy “Spinoff” piece with the claim in bold type in its first paragraph that “O’Malley explains how the decimation of Maori in Turanga ‘completely eclipsed’ the country’s losses at Gallipoli.” Yeah, right!
 I ask: why does O’Malley not quote examples such as these to provide some “balance” in his tale, for the alleged lack of which the Nelson City Council denied me my right of free speech at the Nelson Public Library in April 2018
 When recently I sent the twelve “tenets” of Pai Mairire, recorded by veteran missionary James Buller, and including “The Scriptures must all be burnt”, to Richard Ellena, Bishop of Nelson, and asked him whether they were anathema to his church, he specifically refused to answer my question.
[i] Interview with O’Malley. “New Zealand Herald”, 18th May 2019
[ii] “The Spinoff” Review of Books, Unity Press, 17th May 2019
[vi] J. Robinson, “The Kingite Rebellion”, Tross, 2016, ISBN 1 872970 48 6,
[vii] A. Plover,”Blood and Tears”, Tross, 2018, ISBN 9781872970585, Chapters 12-14
[viii] Robinson, op.cit.,p.182, in a very revealing letter from Ihaia Kirikumara and Tamati Tiraurau all should read!
[ix] S. Ironside, “Sydney Morning Herald”, 12th February 1862 and “Nelson Examiner”, 12th March 1862
[x] W I Grayling, “The War in Taranaki, during the years 1860-61”, 1862
[xi] As reported in June 1863 by James Falloon, half-caste native interpreter later killed by the Hau Haus.
[xii] “Herald Interview, op.cit.
[xiii] M. Butler, “Tribes, treaty, money, power”, Tross, 2014,ISBN 1 872970 38 9, p.50
[xiv] ibid, p.52
[xv] J. Robinson, “When two culture meet”, Tross, 2012,ISBN 1-872970-31-1, analyses this matter in depth
Bruce Moon is an historian and retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".