“A state is either completely democratic, or not at all” - Robin Lane Fox, ‘The Classical World’, Penguin, 2006, p.182
A bold headlined in “Te Ao Maori News” for 26th July 2022, proclaims: “New Zealand Wars massacre was real – Nanaia Mahuta.”
We have Mahuta’s reported claim in this article: “What we need to do is to be revising the historical injustices and hurt and harm in a way that builds our nation, not distract us and perpetuate further division.”
For this of course, we need the truth. We need to know the facts of our own history. This enables us to separate reality from mythology. It also forces us to acknowledge that reality, rather than creating a story by revising the facts to fulfil and perpetuate the social and political ideologies of those who promulgate them.
Mahuta dismisses claims made in a new book, “Hoani's Last Stand” by Christchurch historian Piers Steed that denies the alleged 1864 massacre of Maoris at Rangiaowhia during the so-called “New Zealand Wars.”
She says the book, “promotes anti-Māori views and is a distressing reminder for Ngāti Apakura who descend from the survivors of the attack.”
If we apply Ms Mahuta’s quoted statement to the facts of Rangiaowhia, we find that the anguish and impact of alleged atrocities experienced by the insurrectionist Waikato tribes is grossly misplaced. Indeed we could acknowledge that for civil good order disrupted, wise plans obstructed, and lives lost, the troops were more affected.
And so we address the true history of events at Rangiaowhia, based on accounts of some who took part, both troops and Maori.
At the height of the Waikato Rebellion, falsely called a “New Zealand War” by many, the wise General Cameron decided to avoid a direct attack on the strong rebel fort at Paterangi which would inevitably lead to heavy casualties amongst both the attackers and defenders.
He decided instead to cut off the rebels’ principal source of food supplies by occupying the settlement of Rangiaowhia which provided them. Accordingly, to achieve the maximum surprise and minimise casualties, on the night of Saturday, 20th February 1864, he took a strong force of troops including cavalry and militia, undetected past the rebel fort, to arrive at Rangiaowhia at dawn the following day.
Meeting first a group of women, Captain Wilson in the van called out to them in Maori to sit and they would not be harmed. They ran then into the nearby swamp and thence to the house of Thomas Power where a white flag was raised and they were left alone as Captain Wilson had assured them. Proceeding, the troops encountered small arms fire, principally from the Catholic church building, contrary to claims today that the village was undefended. Finding that the thin weatherboards of the church were not bulletproof, the defenders ran away into a swamp and were not pursued further. A search of village buildings revealed a substantial further quantity of firearms, giving the lie to one of Vincent O’Malley’s claims that it was “a place of refuge for women, children and the elderly.”
With peace evidently achieved, Captain Wilson’s attention was drawn to an occupied building, of which several descriptions have been given. It was almost certainly a substantial hut built of wooden slabs, probably with a sunken floor as a gunpit. It was categorically not a church nor a “whare karakia” of any sort whatever, but the residence of one Hoani Papita (aka “John the Baptist”). The Captain called on the occupants to come out and they would not be harmed. One man, a “huge Maori” by reports, a son of Hoani, did so with his wife and son, Potatau, who many years later told his account of events. Then the Captain ordered Sergeant McHale, an Australian, to enter the hut and call on the occupants to surrender.
That was when the real trouble started! When McHale obeyed, Hoani shot him dead at point blank range.
This precipitated the sharp encounter between the troops and the occupants who shot from gaps in its slab construction. Colonel Nixon fell, mortally wounded, with four further troops killed. The hut itself was set on fire, probably by the troops. At this point Hoani staggered out waving his white blanket, erroneously called a “white flag” at Te Awamutu museum, probably in a futile reflex act to ward off the musket balls. Officers called to the troops to hold their fire, but a fusillade cut him down.
It is all very well for armchair critics and academics to say today that the troops disobeyed an order, but in the heat of battle with their colonel fallen who can fairly blame them? When do those same armchair critics acknowledge that but for the actions of the rebels, the Rangiaowhia Incident would not have been and but for the actions of Hoani there would have been perhaps two deaths at the church and no more?
Within the hut’s remains several bodies were found, charred like McHale’s almost beyond recognition. That was the only building burned at Rangiaowhia. As rebel chief Wiremu Tamihana who visited the site subsequently reported “There was only one house burnt; that was the house where the Maoris died. I went there and saw it.” (Piers Seed says there is evidence for more. Some may have been burned subsequently.)
The two churches remained standing for decades, the fine glass in the Anglican church windows undamaged and two officers using the Catholic church as a billet. The main force returned to Te Awamutu with a few prisoners and tents were provided for their wounded.
So why are the facts revised out of existence? Why is this revisionism being used to create guilt and so gratify modern tribal social agenda? With both churches continuing to stand for many years thereafter (and so mocking the mythology of their destruction) why is there a cascade of lie after lie from prominent people, some claiming that a church full of women and children was burned to the ground with the occupants perishing in the flames?
Amongst them are: Tommy Wilson in the “Bay of Plenty Times”, 12/8/09 where he claimed that 144 lost their lives!!; in Eraka’s Blog in Tainui News, 7/5/14; by JOC Phillips, general editor of “Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand”, on air; 2/4/16; by Susan Devoy in the “Bay of Plenty Times”. 4/1/17; by Vincent O’Malley in “The Listener”, 25/2/17 and saying more recently “the deaths have been regarded as murder”; by members of Ngati Apakura in “Waikato Times”, 9/12/17; by deceived children of Otorohanga College including the very outspoken Leah Bell, who, in April 2021, did so to an assembly of children from seven schools in Hamilton convened by Richard Crawford of Fairfield College, and by Catholic Bishop Stephen Lowe who preached similar foul lies from his cathedral pulpit in February 2021.
None of these people, as far as I am aware, have retracted their false claims.
The recent television news article depicting a fake church burning in the background is a very nasty piece of propaganda in the same vein.
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. And so how did these monstrous lies originate? It was not long before they began to circulate. Once again, it was Captain Wilson who found out, one report being that: “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] at Rangiaohia.”[sic] In correcting them he remarked that he knew because he was there.
What becomes clear is that the rebels, furious at being so completely outwitted, proceeded to tell a variety of gross lies from which latter-day fake history has been fabricated. (Indeed they might have been pleased at the tenacity of their propaganda!)
Much has been made of the continued “anguish” suffered by members of the Ngati Apakura sub-tribe on account of the false tales of atrocities only too readily accepted by them; “anguish” which seems, if anything, to have intensified in recent years.
The great irony of all this is that their “anguish” is a consequence, not of the historical truth, but of propaganda - lies of their own people’s making in response to an incident of their own making!! Much of this contrived anguish is encapsulated in a thesis by one Hazel Wander, accepted for a master’s degree at Massey University. The first line of her abstract refers to “the hara [sin] of Rangiaowhia” and it proceeds with more brazen politicking in the same fashion. The concerns of myself and a colleague at this situation were referred to Giselle Byrnes, Provost and director of research at the university.
In her reply to my colleague, Byrnes refers to “the invasion of the Waikato” and subsequently to “the invasion of Rangiaowhia”, palpably false statements since the Waikato was British sovereign territory as a direct consequence of the Treaty of Waitangi signed by many Waikato chiefs. Entirely legitimate steps were taken to reclaim it from the rebels who were treated with much clemency afterwards,
Byrnes continues with “in terms of the thesis ... it does not matter whether the church or the whare was torched ... this is beside the point. What matters ... is that the descendants ... remember it as such ... a valid approach within the framework of Kaupapa Maori methodology.” So there you have it, my friends: the truth of events at Rangiaowhia is trumped by the blatant lies of the rebels, furious at being so outwitted by the humanitarian General Cameron. So is our nation distracted, divided and harmed.
When I endeavoured to discuss such matters somewhat deeply with the said Ms Byrnes, her response was to block my email address from her system. So much for the freedom of discussion amongst scholars, surely fundamental in any university. So does degeneration within them accelerate.
And so we have Mahuta’s reported claim “What we need to do is to be revising the historical injustices and hurt and harm in a way that builds our nation, not distract us and perpetuate further division.” Piers Seed’s new book “Hoani’s Last Stand” is a positive and valuable step in the right direction.
Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".