“How gruesome is regime propaganda when directed at infants”
- Christopher Hitchens, “Arguably”, 2011, p.659
It was reported in Stuff for 3rd April 2021 that Leah Bell spoke at a Fairfield College Assembly a few days earlier to commemorate the battle at Orakau Pa 157 years ago. Well, well, anything wrong in that? Yes actually there is - quite a lot!
Leah Bell, it may be recalled, first had her mind poisoned by a teacher – or the teacher’s spouse – when a student at Otorohanga College. She mounted a petition based on a false version of New Zealand’s history and presented it to Nanaia Mahuta at Parliament. So she has something of a record as a political activist. It is reported that she is a “Research Consultant” for Vincent O’Malley, author of dubious accounts of New Zealand history, notably about the events at Rangiaowhia during some Waikato tribes’ Kingite Rebellion, wrongly termed a “New Zealand War”.,
As reported, the account stated that “Leah Bell won't forget the tears rolling down the elders’ cheeks as they stood at the green fields of Rangiaowhia. ‘We felt the immense grief and mamae there ... at the lack of justice given, the lack of apology for an atrocity where innocent women, children and elderly people were murdered’.”
“[O]n February 21, 1864, British forces unexpectedly attacked the flourishing agricultural centre of Rangiaowhia – burning homes and churches, killing women, children and elderly people.”
What is utterly appalling about this account is that there was never, simply never, any atrocity committed at Rangiaowhia by British forces.
“Burning homes”, “burning churches”, “Killing women, children and elderly people.” are all monstrous lies without a shred of evidence for them. Many of the Maoris had been educated at the missions but there is no contemporary record of any such events written by any of them.
* * * * *
On 5th April, I wrote accordingly to the principals of the seven Hamilton secondary schools whose students had attended the “special Assembly” at which Bell spoke.
These principals are:
Richard Crawford of Fairfield College, the host school
Virginia Crawford of Fraser High School
Mary Curran of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls
Sarah Davis of Rotorua Girls’ High School
Mary Gordon of Hamilton Girls’ High School
Catherine Gunn of Sacred Heart and
Grant Lander of St Paul’s Collegiate and also
Traci Liddell of Otorohanga College where Bell’s mind was first polluted by this fake history.
As reported in Stuff, a few days ago students from your school attended an address at Fairfield College by Leah Bell, a Research Consultant with Vincent O’Malley. The principle topic of her address was an alleged account of events at Rangiaowhia on 21st February 1864.
It is with deep concern that I advise you that while this account has been around for a long time and indeed it continues to get much publicity today, it is entirely false – a gross distortion of events on that day and a slander on General Cameron and his troops.
The damage to the minds of your students from the tale that they heard needs no emphasis from me.
Like school Principals in New Zealand, I much favour the teaching of New Zealand history in our schools, but you must surely agree that accuracy and truth in its contents are of paramount importance. There are however, significant indications that this is not likely to be the case, and that, for instance, the topic of the Treaty of Waitangi will not be presented accurately. This must surely be of concern to you as it is to me.
* * * * *
I did not receive a single reply from any one of the eight and so, on 18th April, I wrote again, addressing my letter to Richard Crawford of the host school with copies to the other principals concerned. From this letter the following are extracts:
At the beginning of this month (I do not have the exact date) an event, organized, I expect, by yourself, was held at your school with students from seven Hamilton secondary schools attending.
As reported by Ellen O’Dwyer of Stuff, a “special Assembly” was addressed by Leah Bell, a former student at Otorohanga College who has been active politically since 2014 during her schooldays. Young, articulate and well-presented, she was no doubt highly convincing when, as reported, she said she: “won't forget the tears rolling down the elders’ cheeks as they stood at the green fields of Rangiaowhia.” She continued:
“[O]n February 21, 1864, British forces unexpectedly attacked the flourishing agricultural centre of Rangiaowhia – burning homes and churches, killing women, children and elderly people.”
A simple check of historical records would show that this description of events there in 1864 is a base lie concocted soon afterwards by rebels furious at being so outwitted by the humanitarian General Cameron in the actual events of the day.
If this account masquerading as history is not stopped in its tracks, it will spread like a fire in dry bush until all schoolchildren in New Zealand are led to believe it. [present emphasis}
If New Zealand history is to be a compulsory subject in all schools, then it is of paramount importance that the truth be told and such misinformation and distortion of the truth as the present example ruthlessly excluded.
Is this or is this not a core belief of yourself and, likewise, I may ask them, of the principals of all the schools who attended?
If school principals do not take the initiative in this development, then the signs are unmistakeable that what is taught in our schools will be racist propaganda by part-Maori activists and their supporters in our midst. Our democracy will be destroyed and we shall become an apartheid state with a strident part-Maori elite calling the shots and acquiring all sorts of undue privileges.
Yet I have not received any acknowledgement from any of the seven school principals to whom I wrote, nor the Otorohanga Principal. If school principals cannot or will not defend our school children from racist and politically motivated lies, who will do so?
Are you willing to take responsibility to teach real New Zealand history to your students; that you will teach young New Zealanders to celebrate who they are in all their genetic diversity and cultural values; that you recognise that the social changes of the mid 19th century opened up opportunities to people in New Zealand to confront the embedded tribal violence inherited from pre-colonial days and embrace new and different values and opportunities? Will you make it clear that belligerent sullenness and gruesome misinformation typified by the present example must not be the essence of New Zealand today?
Whatever Bell may have said to the assembly, there was no church full of people burnt at Rangiaowhia – ever. I attach a press clipping, [dated 1931], reporting the state of the churches at that time when, owing it its advanced decay, the Catholic Church was dismantled.
Richard, however good your intentions, it was a mistake to invite this young woman to speak at your school. There was no slaughter of innocents at Rangiaowhia in February 1864, not one. All the principals concerned have a true account of events there, attached to my earlier email.
Telling the truth to all today’s students is the next essential step for yourself and the other principals: Virginia Crawford, Mary Curran, Sarah Davis, Catherine Gunn, Mary Gordon, Grant Lander and Traci Liddell.
With my compliments,
* * * * *
To this letter, likewise, I have not received a single reply or even an acknowledgement.
Now, just what is going on – a conspiracy of silence???
That is a fair question and should, perhaps will, send a chill rippling throughout New Zealand. If school principals will not step up and defend our young people against fake history, so obviously a political weapon of the racists within our country who would destroy our democracy, who will?
The portents are all to clear. It was not so different in Germany as the Nazis rose to power.
My attention was first drawn to the Rangiaowhia affray by my late good friend, Mary Tagg, author of “The Martyr’s Crown”, the story of the life of missionary Carl Volkner, murdered by Hau Hau rebels in 1865.[i],[ii]
She sent me a copy of a book by former Army Chaplain Frank Glen: “Australians at war in New Zealand”.[iii] In it he wrote[iv]: “[General] Cameron, with commendable humanitarianism … planned a surprise attack with selected British regular troops and, with minimal loss of life, he captured Rangiaohai [sic] settlement. [My emphasis] Sadly Frank Glen died before I could discuss this any further.
However, aided by friends who found important historical evidence, I wrote an article “We have just one true history” about this event, initially published in the March 2017 issue of the regrettably short-lived “New Zealand Voice.” This, mildly edited, was forwarded with my letter of 4th April to all the school principals concerned. And, as noted, there has not been a squeak out of any of them in return.
So here it is, mildly edited again for the present circumstances, so all who care to know may learn the true story of Rangiaowhia … .
THE TRUE STORY OF THE RANGIAOWHIA AFFRAY OF 21ST FEBRUARY 1864
The Waikato rebels’ strongly held fort of Paterangi dominated the disputed lands. General Cameron decided that an attempt to take it by main force would lead to heavy casualties on both sides which he wished to avoid. Instead he decided that a better plan would be to cut off their food supplies. This of course is a well-established military tactic. After all, Atlantic U-boats brought Britain uncomfortably close to starvation in 1943. That food source was Rangiaowhia which had become prosperous in the earlier days of peace but now the rules had changed. Cameron decided to occupy the village and destroy its gardens and orchards. making his move in pre-dawn Sunday darkness to maximise surprise and hence reduce the casualties amongst its occupants. Vincent O’Malley describes this as “all the more treacherous” utterly maligning Cameron and ignoring his motives.
Recent rediscovery of consistent accounts of three participants, two members of Cameron's force and a Maori named Potatau who was a lad at the centre of the action[v] give us now a more accurate picture of the true story than even celebrated historian James Cowan[vi] was able to achieve. It is of critical importance that the truth so revealed be told.
* * * * *
On the night of 20th February at 11 o'clock, the mixed force of colonial cavalry, regular infantry, artillery and Forest Rangers paraded. Horses feet were muffled and their gear wrapped in cloth. Passing successfully close by the rebel defences in the darkness, the cavalry reached the village soon after dawn. With many Maori civilians, men and women, running away, Captain Wilson commanding the advance guard called to the women in Maori to sit down to avoid the risk of being shot. "They obeyed, and we passed them; then they got up and ran on."[vii]
Soon the troops were everywhere in the village. There was some skirmishing as Maoris began firing from their huts at the cavalrymen. "One or two of [the] snipers were women."[viii] "The Forest Rangers found the Roman Catholic church ... crammed with armed Maoris, who showed a white flag and were not pressed further."[ix] "The English church, too, was filled with Maoris, and some shots came from the windows."[x]
"It did not take long for the cavalry to clear the enemy out of Rangiaohia [sic], our infantry being far in the rear. Having accomplished our work, we had turned about and were taking prisoners as we came along, when Captain Wilson's attention was drawn to a whare, near which a struggle was going on between Corporal Little, of ours, and a huge Maori. ... I heard some days afterwards that the big Maori, whom I mentioned before as having been taken prisoner, had said that his life was saved by a man who wore a silver band round his cap, meaning Captain Wilson. "[xi]
Meantime, the boy, Potatau, leaving the house where he had spent the night, saw some troopers passing nearby. He takes up the story: "I at once ran to my father's house. I had not been long there when my grandfather [chief Hoani][xii] came to the same house. ... so that he might die with us - [Chief] Ihaia, Rawiri and his son. At this time myself and my mother went outside the house, and sat at the door of the house. I heard my father say to my grandfather: 'Let us lay down our guns and give ourselves up as prisoners.' ... My grandfather would not agree. At this time the soldiers came to us, and asked my mother in Maori: 'Are there any Maoris in the house?' She replied: 'No, there are no Maoris in the house.' My father at once said: 'Yes, there are Maoris here.' The European who spoke Maori came to the door of the house, and caught hold of my father, and handed him over to the soldiers."[xiii]
It is pretty evident that the "big Maori" who was captured was Potatau's father, Captain Wilson who had taken him turning him over to the corporal.
At this point, Captain Wilson ordered Sergeant McHale, the sole Australian volunteer in the cavalry, to enter the hut and take the occupants prisoner.[xiv]
Potatau again: "The European went inside of the house. My grandfather shot him and killed him. Some of the others dragged the body in the house. At this time my mother and self arose and went through the soldiers and between the troopers. They did not interfere with us, but allowed us to pass. We went to the house of Thomas Power, who had a Maori woman to wife. After we left we heard the soldiers firing. ... [After] the firing had ceased[, w]e at once left the place and ran off to the bush, and made for Rangitoto."[xv]
"Captain Wilson called out 'What are you shooting the Maoris for?' and jumping from his horse was into the hut in a moment. The door was so low he had to stoop to get inside. The place was full of smoke, and as Captain Wilson entered he found under him McHale's body, his feet towards the door, and face down. The captain could not see anyone else for the darkness and smoke, consequently he soon backed out, calling out that McHale had been shot, which the men no sooner heard than with their carbines they commenced to riddle the house, which was built of slabs. The firing soon brought together the whole of the cavalry, and after a while some of the 65th and Forest Rangers, also the general and staff, came up. It was after General Cameron's arrival that Colonel Nixon was shot from the door of the whare. Then, as the Maoris did not surrender when challenged for the second time, the infantry fired the house. I saw one Maori walk out of the blazing hut, his blanket singed on his back. Poor fellow! he fell within ten paces of the door whence he and his compatriots had so wantonly shot our colonel and many other good men. There was nothing now to prevent us from recovering McHale's body, but its condition was such that we could hardly distinguish it from the Maoris around him."[xvi]
Of the one who walked out of the blazing hut, Cowan says: "A tall old man, clothed in a white blanket [twisted to a white flag in some modern tales] ... emerged from the doorway of the burning house. His upstretched arms showed that he had no weapon. 'Spare him, spare him!" shouted the nearest officers. But next moment there was a thunder of shots. ... the old hero ... swayed slowly and fell dead to the ground. The episode enraged the chivalrous officers who had entreated quarter for him."
The irony of all this is that the "old hero" must have been Potatau's grandfather who had fired the shot which killed McHale and started the whole fracas. Almost the last survivor, he had realized that the game was up and walked out to meet his fate. Had he heeded his son's advice at the start to give themselves up, none of it would have happened. As it was, nearly all the casualties at Rangiaowhia occurred there. Two more men came forth from the whare and were shot dead while firing at the troops then the burning building collapsed. Besides the charred body of McHale, seven bodies were found in the ruins. One source says that two of them were daughters of Kereopa Te Rau who barbarously swallowed the eyes of murdered missionary Volkner.
In the final incident “at the Catholic church some of Hoani Papita's men made a short stand. Twenty or thirty of them rushed into the church and fired through the windows, and it was thought at first that they intended standing a siege there, but they discovered that the weatherboards were not bullet-proof. The rangers and some Regulars attacked, and the church-walls were soon perforated with bullets. At last the defenders dashed out through the door on the northern side, and fled into the swamps."[xvii] “The churches remained intact, “two officers of the 50th Regiment live in the Catholic Church. The beautifully stained glass windows of the English church are entire.”.[xviii] Even prominent rebel leader Wiremu Tamihana admitted this, saying: “There was only one house burnt; that was the house where the Maoris died. I went there and saw it.” [xix]
Five of Cameron's men, one being Colonel Nixon, were killed at the ill-fated whare or died later of wounds. Ten Maoris died there including the chiefs Ihaia and Hoani who made the fateful decision not to surrender at the start as his son had advised him. Just two Maoris were killed in the entire remainder of the action. "About thirty prisoners, some wounded, were taken."[xx] Cameron’s own account says “About twelve natives were killed and twelve taken prisoner. I have detained 21 women and children who were found in the village”.[xxi] A little arithmetic verifies that these figures are consistent.
Searching the whares afterwards, the troops found substantial quantities of arms. So much for O’Malley’s ”place of refuge for women, children and the elderly”. A white flag was raised at the property of Thomas Power and his wife, Rahapa, née Te Hauata, where many of the women and children were sheltering unharmed and it was left strictly alone.
"After the skirmish at Rangiaohia, the troops returned and camped at Otawhao, the Rev. John Morgan's missionary station (now known as Te Awamutu), .... The slain were buried; the Maori wounded and prisoners kindly cared for, having tents pitched for their use."[xxii]
* * * * *
So there it is, pretty much the whole story, now unrecognizable in the false accounts of women and children being burned alive in the church, too readily believed by our part-Maori revisionists and their white fellow-travellers. It was not long before such stories began to circulate.
"At the great Maori meeting at Kopua, twelve months last May, Captain Wilson met two gentlemen – Wesleyan ministers – who informed him that there was but one thing the natives were sore about; namely, the kohuru [murder][xxiii] at Rangiaohia. The captain replied, 'I can explain all about that affair, for I was present. It was I who sent the man whom the Maoris shot into the hut to make prisoners. Our man was dead inside the hut before the attack commenced.'"[xxiv]
What really enraged the rebels was that they were completely out-witted by General Cameron whose name has been falsely blackened. The church-burning lie gave them a ready excuse for their failure and spread like wildfire amongst them, interpreted by O’Malley as “Maori oral histories from the time of the raid consistently refer to women and children being killed.” A lie repeated a hundred times does not become true, even if the hundredth teller is Dame Susan Devoy, too ready to believe it without checking genuine sources.[xxv] One of her minions, Pele Walker, has chimed in with “History is often contentious and debatable. There are many historical sources, including accounts from Waikato-Tainui and the NZ History website, which give different accounts from your sources as to what happened in Rangiaowhia in 1864.”[xxvi] So there you are - more hypocrisy from her office from one who does not want to know the truth.
Rusden, for example made the outrageously false statement that the official account of the fight at Ihaia's house "was the official method of telling, or concealing, that women or children were burned to death. ... Their rage at being outwitted by the flank movement which left them idle, and destroyed their food and plantations, was exaggerated by the burning of their wives and children."[xxvii]
The review of Rusden's book in the "New Zealand Herald" for 4th August 1883 is scathing about the flagrant bias in what he writes. This is readily available online by entering "G W Rusden History" and selecting the entry: "Rusden's History of New Zealand – Papers Past."[xxviii]
It may be the first of a long line of so-called histories which give grossly falsified accounts of the story of early New Zealand. It was when Potatau found this out that he came forth to say what he knew. A key witness, he was clearly a man of integrity.
In fact, Cameron's brilliant and humane action at Rangiaowhia was the beginning of the end of the rebellion in the Waikato. As historian Chris Pugsley has observed, it was the decisive action of the entire conflict, a severe economic setback for the Kingitanga and a major blow to its morale. From then on the end of resistance in the Waikato basin was only a matter of time.
* * * * *
So compare the real account with O’Malley’s lurid claim that “the assault on Rangiaowhia was an almost incomprehensible act of savagery”.
Put plainly, the outwitted rebels in their rage concocted the dastardly lie about the burning of a church full of women and children – which was all too readily repeated – as their descendants continue to do today. The Tainui tribes are one such source, a lurid 2014 example under the heading "The Latest Tainui news from Eraka's Blog" being the following.
"150 years ago ... at Rangiaowhia, near Te Awamutu, ... a ... massacre of innocents took place. Local Maori folk took refuge from the fighting in St Paul’s church. The church was surrounded by British soldiers. Some Maori who attempted to flee were either shot or bayoneted. The soldiers set the church ablaze, a horrific war crime took place, the non-combatants consisting of mostly women and children were burned alive." [Her emphasis]
It would be difficult to imagine a more foul lie than this.
At the site of its old mission, the Catholic church has erected a sign which says: "It was one of the most prosperous areas in New Zealand. But on Sunday 21st February 1864, the Imperial forces attacked the undefended settlement which was inhabited by women, children and the elderly. ... After the event, the Crown had confiscated and redistributed the land." This is a clear example of where telling a selected part of the truth is worse than lying.
One Tommy Wilson has repeated a tale that General Cameron "gave orders to wipe them out. His troops herded all the local Maori up like cattle and locked them in the church and then set it alight - killing all 144 inside ... only one three-year-old girl escaped ... The fearful tale when told by the granddaughter sent down a veil of deep sadness that settled across our wharenui."[xxix] This tale which he says he heard from "whakapapa" is yet another monstrous fabrication. Note his concocted tale of 144 deaths to give a spurious appearance of accuracy.
O’Malley concludes his piece with an admonitory: “Acknowledging this difficult history is not a recipe for endless division and recrimination, as some critics like to allege ... . Owning up to our troubled past requires guts and maturity.” But!! Recognizing and dealing with the multitude of lies current in New Zealand today, amongst them those related by O’Malley, is an urgent and desperately need prerequisite.
As long ago as 1815, J L Nicholas observed that "amongst the moral vices to which many of the New Zealanders are prone, may be reckoned the odious practice of lying, in which they too frequently indulge ... [it is] seldom of a harmless nature ... to serve their own interested purposes".[xxx] Quite evidently, this practice continues unabated today.[xxxi][xxxii]
* * * * *
The threat to peace and stability of the Kingite Rebellion was considerable. At one stage the rebels had concocted advanced plans to attack Auckland, killing all its inhabitants except those whose doors had been marked covertly with a white cross. Fortunately this plan was abandoned when Governor Grey returned to assume control.
From major tribes Arawa and Ngapuhi came offers to the Government to provide warriors to assist in quelling the Waikato rebellion. In the event these were not called upon.
[i]ISBN 0-473-0111-870X, 2006
[ii]As was Missionary John Whiteley and the Gascoigne family by a Waikato gang led by Wetere Te Renga in February 1869
[iii]ISBN 978-1-87742-739-8, 2011
[v]"Brett's Historical Series, ed. Thomson W Leys & H Brett, Auckland 1890
[vi]J Cowan, "The New Zealand Wars", Vol. 1, Chapter 37
[vii]"One who was there", Brett, op. cit.
[viii]Cowan, op. cit.
[ix]Cowan, op. cit.
[x]Cowan, op. cit.
[xi]"One who was there", op. cit.
[xii]Known as "John the Baptist" or "Hoani Papita"
[xiii]Potatau, Brett, op. cit
[xiv]Glen, op. cit., gives more details about McHale.
[xv]Potatau, op. cit.
[xvi]"One who was there", op. cit.
[xvii] Cowan, op. cit.
[xviii]“NZ Herald”,2, 24, 6th April 1864
[xix]“Petition of William Thompson Tarapipipi”, 1865.
[xx] Cowan, op. cit.
[xxi] “NZ Herald”,1, 96, 4th March 1864.
[xxii]"One who was there", op. cit.
[xxiii] “Kohuru” can also mean “ambush” which would be a better translation
[xxiv]"One who was there", op. cit.
[xxv] Susan Devoy, “Learning Nation’s Past A Way To Safeguard Future“, “Bay of Plenty Times”, 4th January 2017
[xxvi] Email to C. Lee, 14th February 2017
[xxvii] GW Rusden, "History of New Zealand", London, Chapman and Hall, 1883
[xxviii]Rusden was subsequently sued for libel, lost and had heavy damages awarded against him.
[xxix] T Wilson, "Kapai's Corner", "Bay of Plenty Times", 12th August 2009
[xxx] JL Nicholas, "Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand", Vol. I., 1817, pp 384-5
[xxxi] Among others who have told false tales about the Rangiaowhia affray are: JOC Phillips on air, 2/4/16, Te Ahua Maitland in “Waikato Times”, 9/12/17, Tom Roa reported by Lawrence Gullery, “stuff”, 21/2/20 and Arena Williams, MP in “The Nelson Leader (and other stuff local papers),18/2/21
[xxxii]To give some credit where it is due, “The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I,(1845-1864)”, Victoria University of Wellington, gives an account substantially in agreement with what we have written.