Sunday, August 13, 2023

Wayne Ryburn: Article 5 - Exposing History Curriculum Myths

This is the fifth of a series of eight articles exposing some of the myths about New Zealand's History, now being taught to secondary school students. 

Article 1 can be seen HERE, Article 2 HERE, Article 3 HERE, Article 4 HERE.

The Level 5 workbook for Year 10 students on the "Treaty of Waitangi - Te Tiriti o Waitangi" was published and has been in use since 2014. The page numbers and headings in the text are referenced throughout the series of articles. 

Some aspects, especially on the Taranaki and Waikato wars, are also re-taught in greater depth in the History curriculum at Year 13.

The series of articles was written as a critique to the editor of ESA publications, Jo Crichton and the author of the text book, F J Gibson. This critique was sent in October last year - to date there has been no reply.


The 4th Myth: The “Rangiaowhia massacre” 21 Feb 1864, that a “church” was deliberately burnt down including women and children. Also, the forfeiture of land due to rebellion.

A video clip on the Land wars in Taranaki and Waikato is looked at, Students can also view the RNZ Tainui clip on the Waikato wars. In this another myth has been developed re the notoriety of what is now called the Rangiaowhia Massacre.21st Feb 1864. This myth, developed in recent times, is typical of historians who often “over-reach” in developing their perspective on the New Zealand wars, It is based only on oral accounts. The emotive commentary in the clip claims that thousands lived in this village in 1864, in reality only 2-300 lived there. Also claiming it was the bread basket for Auckland, but by the late 1850's this was also untrue.

Maori fortifications at Paterangi had been skillfully skirted and and its warriors out-manoeuvred by  General Cameron who wanted an open area for a more decisive battle. The village was a crucial supply depot for warriors. The attack was also in retaliation for the  Ngati Maniapoto attack by Te Whero with 100 warriors, on the British stores depot at Cameron town on the lower Waikato. The loss of life then were nine soldiers, including two Maori, while about 20-30 Maori warriors were killed.

The myth claims that a”church” with men, women and children trapped inside was deliberately burnt down. As Piers Seed has explained a small slab dwelling was used by warriors as a block house to shoot at troops. By the end of the shoot out 10 Maori and 5 soldiers were killed or wounded. The dwelling may have erupted in flames due to intense heat generated by firing. Most of the warriors were already dead by bullets before the fire took hold. No other dwellings were burnt.  In total only 12 Maori men were killed and 12 wounded. Most of population at the village had escaped the fighting and slipped away. Those taking refuge in the two churches waved white flags and were not harmed. About 33 women and children were taken prisoner..Bishop Selwyn only arrived three days later to tend to the wounded. No women were raped or killed at the village as alleged in the video. Bishop Selwyn would have spoken up about such an atrocious act and complained about this at the time, if that had been true. The spurious claim,that Selwyn and Cameron had sent a message to the kingites that they would set Rangiaowhia aside as a place of safety for women and children is highly unlikely. As its position as a hub in the supply line was to great an opportunity not be left alone. It would appear that a letter by Wiremu Tamihana in August 1866,condemning Selwyn and Cameron has been part of the myth making process. Unfortunately oral histories are often flawed, and unreliable, dependent on who is telling the story, as they are one sided and can simply be a fabrication for a present  day audience as has been made in the video clip.

Other important features include:

Pg 36 Land confiscations

By 1864 the threat to British Sovereignty had been diminished, The Kingitanga were on the back foot. The General Assembly claimed that this was not an“acquisition of country, but to reduce the Natives to submission - conquest was secondary”. Kingitanga had been driven away from Auckland and the military threat eliminated. The majority of New Zealand historians have always insisted that the wars were over sovereignty, simply”who was in charge”. A few claim it was chiefly about land.

Grey’s proclamation in July 1863 stated that those who took part in the war against the Queen would forfeit the right to the possession of their land. Remember that customary Maori ownership by right of conquest and the displacement of inhabitants was common. After all this is how Waikato-Maniapoto claimed jurisdiction over Taranaki following the tribal conflicts of the 1820's and 1830's.

Much of the land forfeited to the Crown was similar to what happened to the Scottish Highland clans who were in rebellion against the Crown. The forfeiture of land as punishment for rebellion was what British governments had done for centuries.

Out of a total of 1,200,000 acres confiscated in the Waikato, 315,000 was later returned to Maori tribes and compensation paid of 23,000. However some tribes who had not been involved in the conflict had also lost land. Confiscation worked better in the Waikato as kingitanga had withdrawn from the region to what would be later called the king country. The  Waikato was abandoned making it easy for government surveyors and settlers to occupy.

The large scale confiscations in Taranaki were apparently implemented with confusion and in contempt of legal processes or even promises made to tribes, especially those who supported the Crown. It took nearly 20 years from 1865 on, for land declared to be confiscated to be made ready for military settlement. Loyal Maori had been promised their land would not be taken, but due to the convoluted process it was not until 1884 that lands taken from Maori and those left to Maori were finally determined and surveyed.

Pg 34

Sir Douglas Graham, Minister for Justice, who was in charge of Treaty negotiations during the Waikato Tainui Settlement claims, may not have clearly understood the political situation of the 1860s when he made pronouncements with regards to confiscations, and the nature of rebellion. The Sims report was completely ignored by the Waitangi Tribunal's deliberations on the Waikato. It was inevitable that conflict between Crown and Kingites would occur, especially as the Kingites were becoming more confrontational over land disputes. It was simply where and when that hostilities would occur.

The Great Escape September 1864

Prisoners from the Battle of Rangiriri (November 1863),were kept initially on an old hulk, the”Marion” in the Waitemata Harbour.The 183 prisoners, including nine Waikato chiefs,were kept under guard by a group of recently arrived Bohemian settlers to Puhoi, under the leadership of Captain Martin Krippner.The governments aim was to “try” the prisoners for treason under the Suppression of Rebellion Act. No charges would be laid. They languished through the Summer, their diets improved by fishing with their gaolers, improvements were made with a recreation centre set up on the North Shore.

Eventually they were shifted to Kawau Island,owned by Governor Grey since 1862, along with another 18 rebels from Tauranga.The Rev. Ashwell,former missionary from Taupiri, made a proposition to move them from Auckland. Grey agreed to the prisoners being shifted to his island in July. Ashwell in turn became chaplain and supervisor for the rebels. Later some of the prisoners were joined by their wives and children. Conditions were much better living on land and the prisoners again often went fishing with their gaolers.However the idea of escaping and returning to the Waikato was tempting and this was duly carried out on 12th September 1864.200 prisoners escaped under the nose of HMS Falcon, with help by local Maori who provided the boats.

They landed ashore at Takatu Peninsula,to the north ot Kawau,making their way to Mt Tamahunga, where they erected a make-shift pa. Their closest neighbours were the Meiklejohn family,about a mile away. Local settler families, fearing for their safety, soon came to realise that the escapees were only hungary as they came around asking onlyfor food. Bringing money they purchased spare food from the ship building yard at Omaha. Cattle,sheep and garden produce all went missing from settler farms. When complaints were made a chief came visiting, he would value the loss and damage caused and then paid for it.

Grey left Auckland for Kawau with the aim to negotiate their return to the island but they refused. Major Cooper, from Orewa and Wiremu Pomare, a chief at Te Muri, visited the escapees at Tamahunga on the 10th October. Bringing food with them they also tried to negotiate with the escapees for their return to Kawau, but were unsuccessful.

At this time both the Meiklejohn men and their wives visited the pa on a Sunday. They were invited to lunch and to join in a church service before departing.

Local Puhoi chiefs Te Hemara and Hori Kingi then negotiated and eventually persuaded the prisoners to leave Tamahunga and come to their village at Te Muri where they would have Christmas dinner before they departed for the Waikato.

At this time about 50 of the rebels left for the Kaipara, initially they left for Puarahi Pa at the mouth of the Hoteo River. Apparently there were many hot heads amongst this group who wanted local Maori to join them and rise in rebellion. They canoed north to the Oruawharo river and crossed to the Wesleyan Mission Station at Te Aho. For the recently arrived Albertland settlers it was quite alarming to see these warriors arrive in uniform and brandishing guns.They were fed at the mission station where bugle noise and warlike cries floated over the water to settlers at Port Albert. Alarmed they were prepared to build a stockade. The Rev. Gittos reurning hastily from Auckland persueded them to be “unconcerned nor make military preparations.”

The band soon left after this returning to the Mahurangi via Pakiri and then on to Orewa marching as they went.

After four months on the 1st of January 1865,the ex prisoners eventually departed the Mahurangi. With no loss of life or even violence. They eventually crossed over to the Waitakere ranges,via the southern Kaipara. Along the way they ransacked John Mcleods store at Waitangi,near Makarau, and then some how crossed the Manukau harbour heading southwards into the Waikato. They would soon find out that due to Greys proclamation they would be dispossessed of their lands. A few rebels remained and lived on land gifted by chief Te Hemara at Opahi later called Waikato Bay.

Sourced from: Jade River, The Story of the Mahurangi RH Locker (2001) and Tall Spars, Steamers and Gum (1999) Wayne Ryburn.

Wayne Ryburn, an Auckland University graduate, with a thesis on the history of the Kaipara, has been a social science teacher for nearly 50 years.


Robert Arthur said...

I presume MPs secretaries pick up on articles such as this. But I wonder how many MPs ever trouble to obtain the textbook and read through all. Judging by Adern's inabilty to recall even the gist of the 3 Treaty articles, I suspect most mps have read even less about the topic than the average citizen scanning on here..

Murray Reid said...

At Rangiaowhia and Te Awamutu both the Catholic and Anglican missions ran boarding schools for Maori boys for over 15 years before 1864, teaching reading and writing in both languages.
Why then were there no documents written of the supposed atrocities?
Maybe because there were none?

Bruce Moon said...

The claim of a church-burning at Rangiaowhia is a foul lie, initially promoted by rebels furious at being so outwitted by the humane Genral Cameron.